Tag Archives: politics

Margaret Thatcher Day? Really?

Earlier today on Facebook a friend posted a link to a 38 Degrees petition to “Stop naming the August Bank Holiday as Margaret Thatcher Day”. I think in the back of my mind I knew that there was some sort of proposal to rename a holiday in honour of the Iron Lady but I had successfully blocked it from conscious thought. I see a lot of requests to sign petitions and because they are from generally like-minded Facebook friends I often agree with the cause. Sometimes I sign but there are so many that I do have to pick and choose. I would have signed this one but since it is an issue that the Government is responsible for I first checked the HM Government e-petitions website where I found petition 52411 created by Alan Jones “We oppose the poposal to change the August Bank Holday to Margaret Thatcher Day” (yes there really are two missing letters in petition title). I can’t agree with Alan’s suggestion of Winston Churchill Day as a possible alternative but I signed anyway. The advantage of the HM Government e-petition system over the likes of Avaaz and 38 Degrees is that the Government responds to petitions that receive more than 10,000 signatures and considers them for debate should they pass the 100,000 threshold. This petition has reached 48,165 signatures and the relevant Government department has responded. Apparently the proposal was put forward in a Private Members Bill introduced by Peter Bone MP but “there is no precedent for naming public holidays after individuals and the Government has no plans to do so”. What I want to know is what the hell was Peter thinking? For many the only really appropriate way to observe Margaret Thatcher Day would be full on rioting, and August seems like a prime month for it.
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Papua Merdeka

The Lani SIngers

The Lani SIngers

Papua is the historical name for New Guinea – the world’s second largest island after Greenland. The eastern half of the island is a country called Papua New Guinea (PNG) while the western half is occupied by Indonesia. Merdeka is a word in the Indonesian and Malay language meaning independence or freedom. Papua Merdeka is a rallying call of the people of West Papua in their struggle to end the Indonesian occupation and win their right to self determination. For more historical detail you could start with the Wikipedia article about the Papua conflict.
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Bikes and Badgers

I hadn’t been on Critical Mass in London since last year’s Olympic Critical Mass and with a good weather forecast for the last day of May I was quite keen to attend. I also wanted to go to a couple of events on Saturday so when a friend in Highgate asked me to have a look at her garden and offered a bed for the night I decided to make a weekend of it. On Friday afternoon I gave my fixie a good clean and packed a few things in a rucksack then caught the train to Kings Cross. I was early so I stopped off in Brunswick Square to chill out before heading down to the South Bank where a good crowd had gathered. I never normally wear a helmet but I have a GoPro camera that I wanted to try out so I had bought a basic lid and stuck one of the supplied mounts to it. When the Mass seemed nearly ready to leave I hit record and strapped it to my head, hoping it was pointing in more or less the right direction. We started out by going round the IMAX roundabout and across Waterloo Bridge before diving down into the Strand Underpass and emerging on Kingsway. After that we just basically kept going straight up Southampton Row and Eversholt Street into Camden and on to Chalk Farm. The first turn was a right onto Prince of Wales Road, at which point I decided to drop out because I was relatively close to where I would be sleeping. I pulled over and waited for a friend who only appeared after several hundred other bikes had passed. I got some reasonably good footage with the GoPro but there are lots of boring bits so if I am going to upload any of it I will have to do some serious editing first. We rode back to Camden Lock together to get something to eat at inSpiral then I said goodbye and cycled up past Kentish Town to Highgate. I got there about ten thirty and found my friend somewhat the worse for wear after an ill-advised Thursday night bender, so we just had a cup of tea before crashing out.
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London Anarchist Bookfair 2012

The 2012 London Anarchist Bookfair took place on October 27th at Queen Mary, University of London but I have been too busy to blog about it – until now. I went to London on the Friday evening where I met up with some fellow members of Bicycology who were also in town for the Bookfair. We ate at Indian Veg on Chapel Market and then cycled to Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town where we had been offered crash space. In the morning we cycled to Kings Cross to pick up another Bicycologist and then rode together along the Regent’s Canal towpath to Mile End, arriving at Queen Mary before noon.
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The Dude Abides

The Coen Brothers have been responsible for some excellent films including The Big Lebowski starring Jeff Bridges as The Dude, who is introduced as quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County. In the scene where he is lying in bed with Maude she says “Tell me about yourself Jeffrey” and he responds by saying that he was one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement and one of the Seattle Seven, hinting at a less lazy past.

Recently I came across an 18 minute video by Jeff Feuerzeig called “The Dude” which explains that the character was actually based on a real person called Jeff Dowd. Jeff is an American film producer and political activist who really was one of the Seattle Seven and went to jail briefly following a violent protest against the Vietnam War. The Seattle Seven were all members of the Seattle Liberation Front.

In researching my facts for this blog post I came across a 2008 interview of Jeff Dowd by Jon Zelazny on Eight Million Stories. Well worth a read.

Drama on Hans Crescent

When I learned that Julian Assange was to give a 2pm speech today at the Ecuadorian Embassy it seemed important enough that I should make an effort so after an early lunch I got on the train to London with my bike. It was raining lightly when I emerged from Kings Cross Station but it didn’t last long and I stayed reasonably dry on the ride over to Knightsbridge. It was about 1.30pm when I pulled up outside Harrods on Hans Crescent and locked up my bike. There was quite a crowd gathered already but they were confined to the pavements by barriers and the police were obviously intent on keeping the roads open to traffic. Because Julian was liable to arrest if he left the building his speech was to be delivered from a balcony and although the PA system was probably fine for people opposite the Embassy the reflections from buildings made voices unintelligible for anyone further away. There was a huge police presence with a particularly heavy cordon immediately in front of the Embassy building and a multitude of vans parked up in the area. The world’s press was there too with several outside broadcast units, perhaps a dozen video teams and dozens of photographers.

Julian Assange about to make a speech from a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy

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Love no have no Government

The title of this post is taken from the words of “Time Conquer”, a track on the album “Time Boom X De Devil Dead” by Lee Scratch Perry and Dub Syndicate. When the album was first released in 1987 I was living in the United States doing post graduate research at Dartmouth Collage in Hanover New Hampshire. Before leaving England in 1985 my primary musical influence had been the legendary John Peel whose show on BBC Radio 1 I listened to religiously. Peel did play some reggae and I didn’t dislike it but I was more into bands like The Cocteau Twins and The Fall.

Arriving in Hanover I found the locals to be generally very welcoming but in some ways I had more in common with other international students and in 1988 I moved into a shared house at 19 Maple Street with people from counties like Guyana, India and Pakistan. Remember this was during the Apartheid era and Dartmouth Collage had significant investments in South Africa, something which the Dartmouth Community for Divestment (DCD) were trying to change. There were a few South African students who regularly visited 19 Maple and their personal experience of Apartheid made them key figures in the campaign. They often turned up in the evening and “held court” in our living room. I don’t remember contributing a great deal to the discussions but I listened attentively and I guess that is the time I really started developing a serious political consciousness, aided in large part I think by two things – cannabis and reggae.

I had somehow managed to reach my twenties without ever coming across cannabis. One day while visiting a friend in nearby Thetford he told me he had grown some in his back yard and asked if I wanted to try it. I had never even smoked a cigarette before so I was a bit hesitant but after watching him load a pipe with pure weed and take a toke I just followed suit and waited for something to happen. The effect came on quickly and was like nothing I had ever experienced – consciousness expanding is probably the best way to describe it. The world was never really quite the same again.

Something that people who have tried cannabis generally agree on is that it enhances the experience of listening to music. The herb is used as a sacrament in the Rastafari movement so it was perhaps inevitable that reggae featured heavily in the soundtrack to life at 19 Maple Street. It was great to listen to while stoned but it was also both spiritual and political. There was Bob Marley of course. I particularly remember the album “Rastaman Vibration” with tracks like “Crazy Baldhead”, “Rat Race”, and “War” (featuring lyrics derived from the words of a speech by Haile Selassie to the United Nations). After returning to England I started learning to play reggae by jamming with friends and I found that what drives it is the rhythm section, consisting of drum kit and electric bass guitar. In the case of Bob Marley’s band it was Carlton Barrett on drums and his brother Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass who were essential to the music that made Bob an international superstar. The Barrett Brothers also played with Lee “Scratch” Perry but on the album “Time Boom X De Devil Dead” it was Lincoln “Style” Scott on drums and Errol “Flabba” Holt (gotta love those names) on bass. Time Boom was a particular favourite at 19 Maple and I still love it – Perry inhabits that intersection of madness and pure genius. The album opens with a track called “S.D.I.”, referring to the U.S. Strategic Defence Initiative (aka Star Wars). Other tracks include “Allergic to Lies” and the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, “Time Conquer”, which includes the lyrics “Cursed are all liars and blessed are the people who speak the truth”. Perry made a lot of music before Time Boom, and has made a lot more since – I recently discovered his 2004 album Panic in Babylon with great tracks like “Voodoo” and “I Am a Psychiatrist”.

Learning about what was happening in South Africa was just the start – the Apartheid government did not have a monopoly on oppression! I remember meeting the Deputy Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour when he came to Dartmouth at the invitation of the International Students Association and gave an enlightening talk about the history of Palestine. Then there was the situation in Central America (the Iran-Contra affair had come to light in November 1986) as well as domestic issues relating to the treatment of African and Native Americans. On the Dartmouth campus itself there were problems with racism, sexism and homophobia, particularly within some of the Fraternities. I was undergoing a process of radicalisation during which I had to question many of my own views. In one case I remember a long discussion with a friend about abortion. I hadn’t really thought about it much before but if anything I guess I had previously been “pro-life” (that is certainly the position I was arguing). After several hours I understood the errors in my previous thinking and I have been staunchly “pro-choice” ever since (and the friend who convinced me was male and from Pakistan).

So some reggae was politically contentious, like the track “Abortion” from the 1983 album “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by Black Uhuru. To the extent that Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion grounded in the Old Testament it shares certain sexist and homophobic tendencies with the three main Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), tendencies that are undoubtedly revealed in some reggae music. These problems were of course discussed (and to a limited extent excused on the basis of cultural differences) but they couldn’t negate the positive messages in what we listened to.

Another 19 Maple favourite was Forces of Victory by Linton Kwesi Johnson from 1979, and again it was music that had a lasting influence on me. Later I discovered his other early albums, “Dread Beat an’ Blood from 1978 and “Bass Culture” from 1980. I returned to England in 1990 and a year later he released “Tings An’ Times” which features some fantastic guest solos on flute, violin, accordion etc. The amazing thing is that Linton is probably more famous as a poet than as a musician, having become only the second living poet (after Alan Ginsburg) to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

Hanover is situated on the Connecticut River and crossing the bridge takes you into Norwich Vermont. Of course things looked pretty similar on the other side but it felt very different. The state of New Hampshire (Live Free or Die) seemed more business oriented whereas Vermont (Green Mountain State) was possibly unique at the time in having a Socialist mayor (Bernie Sanders, Mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989). We even referred to it as The People’s Republic of Vermont. Burlington also hosted the Vermont Reggae Festival, a free annual event that began in 1986. I don’t think I was at the first one but I did go at least twice and possibly three times. Unlike just about every outdoor festival I have been to since then it only had one stage so there were no clashing sound systems. It also had the massive speaker stacks required for a proper outdoor reggae amplification – even when I went for a swim out in Lake Champlain I could still feel the bass.

Eventually it became clear that I was not going to finish my PhD in plasma physics so I said goodbye to New Hampshire and returned to England. I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do next so I got in touch with one of the Dartmouth radicals who had graduated and moved to London maybe a year earlier. He was working for an organisation called the Newham Monitoring Project which I got involved with on an occasional basis, but he also put me on to a group called the Trafalgar Square Defendants’ Campaign. The TSDC had only recently formed with the purpose of supporting all those arrested at the Poll Tax Riot and helping to coordinate their legal defence. It was run by and for defendants but there was a huge amount of work to do and any help was greatly appreciated – I remember sending out newsletters to supporters, logging video footage, attending court appearances etc. That was my introduction to the London anarchist scene and I still see some of the people I met back then at the annual London Anarchist Bookfair.

I have rambled on long enough but I just want to complete the circle. A few years ago I was flicking through a zine and came across a top ten list of albums chosen by anarchists. It probably featured Crass and Chumbawamba but I was pleased to see that it also included “Time Boom X De Devil Dead” – as Perry said, love no have no government.

London Anarchist Bookfair 2011

I went to London on Saturday for the Anarchist Bookfair which was again held at Queen Mary, University of London on Mile End Road. My first bookfair was in 2003 and I haven’t missed one yet, though this year I didn’t get there till about 3pm. Normally I spend most of the day wandering around the stalls and chatting or watching the cabaret but this year I went to a couple of meetings which I will briefly report on.

At 4pm Steve Ash of the London Anarchist Forum (LAF) introduced a session called “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum”. The LAF used to meet regularly and the first meeting I attended was in 2004 at Conway Hall when Ron Heisler gave a fascinating talk entitled “Has the Anarchist Movement Been Infiltrated By Freemasonry?”. After that I was a regular attendee but numbers declined and the forum has been essentially dormant for a couple of years (though there has been some activity on an associated Facebook group). This meeting was intended to be a relaunch event but unfortunately it wasn’t well attended. Steve talked about his recent publication “Unstructured Anarchy”, which is basically a critique of The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman. There was good discussion amongst the few people present but I can’t see it leading to a LAF revival (I would like to be proved wrong on that).

I stayed in the same room for a 5pm session with Paul Cudenec who who gave a talk based on the themes that inspired his booklet “We Anarchangels of Creative Destruction”. He started out talking about “traditional values”. As you might expect, these are not the so called “traditional values” that Tories typically harp on about, things like empire, nationalism, respect for the church, the monarchy, money etc. He was talking about much older and more universal, natural, human, and “spiritual” values that can be found in pagan folklore, gnostic scriptures and indigenous wisdom. He talked a lot about Perennial Philosophy, which (according to Wikipedia) is “the notion of the universal recurrence of philosophical insight independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity or consciousness (anthropological universals)”. He argued that these “universal” values are similar to those of collectivist anarchists and that anarchists would benefit from less hostility towards spirituality. He also argued that we each need to follow what is essentially a spiritual path to rid ourselves of ego and then come back down to earth to effect change. This lead to his second thread, which was that the “system” is now so broken and power so entrenched that it can not be reformed but must essentially be destroyed to make way for the new (which many anarchists would accept). He mentioned the ancient Upanishads which tell of a gradual descent from the Golden Age (Satya Yuga) to the Dark Age (Kali Yuga), which will end in destruction, followed by the dawning of a new Satya Yuga. Hence the anarchangels of creative destruction. Lively debate ensued.

After these two meetings it was nice to get outside, where a 19 strong French anarchist brass band called Les Judas were still rocking out. When they finished their set I got on my bike and headed back to Kings Cross, stopping briefly at Freedom Bookshop where people were starting to arrive for the traditional post-bookfair gathering. Despite missing most of the day it was still well worth the trip to London and I expect I will be back again next year.

Extradition Fever

What the hell is William Hague playing at? Of course there is a desire for justice to be seen to be done in the case of the 1984 killing of PC Fletcher but to pressure the NTC in Libya to simply “hand over” a suspect at this time is madness. Surely security must be established over there first, a constitution, elections, stuff like that. An elected government in Libya with a mandate from the people could then negotiate an extradition treaty with Britain and if one were established a request could be made to extradite the suspect.

To call for extra-judicial action by the NTC at this point, when Libyans are still being gunned down by snipers and struggling to establish essential services is insensitive to say the least. In fact it is worse than that. Handing over any Libyan citizen to a foreign power could prove deeply divisive and may lead to a power struggle and factional fighting amongst the disparate rebel groups. Unity is what is needed right now and any attempt to force the NTC into taking such premature action would be highly irresponsible. How many more families must loose their loved ones in the name of justice?

HM Government e-petitions

The mySociety No 10 Petitions website ran from 2006 to 2010, and was perhaps the largest non-partisan democracy site by volume of users ever, with over 8m signatures from over 5m unique email addresses. According to my own records I signed 31 petitions on the site but since there was no system of user accounts it was not possible to view a list of petitions you had signed (I wrote to them in January 2010 about this but never received a response).

After the last general election when New Labour finally got the boot, the ConDem coalition suspended the No 10 petition site and announced that they were working on a replacement which has recently gone live under the name HM Government e-petitions. The headline feature of the new system is that any petition receiving more than 100,000 signature will be “eligible for debate in the House of Commons”.

Earlier today I came across a link to a petition on the new site asking to Allow the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors. This is something that I strongly support and the petition was well written by Peter Reynolds of CLEAR who I met in April at 420 London. I had no hesitation in signing up.

The first thing I noticed is that like the old system there is no way to create an account. Each time you sign a petition you have to enter your name and email address, confirm you are a UK citizen or resident, give your postal address, solve a CAPTCHA (provided by reCAPTCHA), tick a box if you want to receive email about the petition, tick a box to accept the terms and conditions and then click to sign – you then receive an email with a link to click in order to confirm your signature. There is no list of signatures available to view and if you can’t remember whether or not you have signed a particular petition there does not appear to be any way to find out (which is why I keep my own record of all petitions I sign). I am not the only one who is disappointed by the lack of accounts and Paul Smith created a petition to Have ‘accounts’ on epetition site which I also signed.

The terms and conditions state that petitions will be accepted and published providing they call on the government for a specific action, do not substantially duplicate an existing open e-petition, and meet further criteria below. There is clearly a problem with the system because (for example) there are many different petitions all calling for the return of capital punishment. The biggest one (Restore Capital Punishment, 15,319 signatures) was created by Paul Staines (the right-wing blogger also known as Guido Fawkes). Reassuringly there is an even bigger Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment which has 22,594 signatures including mine.

Looking through the list of petitions I decided to sign three more before calling it a day: Stop the Badger Cull, Legalise cannabis and UN Membership for and UK recognition of Palestine.