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on the need to grieve the loss of a shiny, optimistic future to climate change. to take care of ourselves and each other. to accept loss. and to build compassionate, resilient communities, with the ingenuity to face dark times ahead.

December 11, 2017 3 comments
i wrote this quickly as a comment to a post re climate change. i’ve been thinking about this for a few months, and have had a few chats with people about it, but i’m still working things through. it seems almost blasphemous amongst activist circles, and probably mainstream, to talk about grief re climate change. like that is just accepting the status quo rather than acting to avert it.
 
06-770x425but i don’t think we have a choice. i think we need to let ourselves grieve, support each other in doing that, and recognise that we do have a major loss – the loss of the future we thought we had.
 
that is important to do because we are all human, all precious and special and deserving of care.
 
additionally, we need to be functional for the months and years and decades ahead. not still attached to our non-existant shiney future, like someone never moving on from a relationship breakup or bereavement. we need to accept that loss, and carry it with us as we take care of ourselves, our communities, all humanity, all life on this planet. we are at the beginning of a roller coaster ride and it is frightening and will require all of our ingenuity, resources, compassion, integrity and courage for us to make the best of a terrifying world. i know we’re all grasping for silver linings – here am i stopping my kneejerk grasp for an uplifting sentence but i need to fight that urge. grieving is not easy – that person is never coming back. it hurts like a punch to the gut, over and over, but then somehow you get through that. somehow the other side of grief is a life you can start reconstructing – always changed by that profound loss, but not always defined and constrained by it. and so must we, humanity, be.
 
***
 
benchmani think its not only ok, but necessary (imho) to grieve the loss of the future we were brought up to believe we had. and just like any loss – a relationship breakup, a loved one dying, a health diagnosis – going through sorrow and other elements of grieving sucks and hurts.
 
i look at people who have best adjusted to those losses, and i notice acceptance. they grieved, and they held that loss, and are able to keep living. those who have lost but not accepted, those still clinging to their dead loved one, or ex relationship, they seem in the worst way.
 
i do think we have to, probably all of us alive today, go through grief for the loss of a healthy planet, a bright future. i don’t think that’s wallowing. i think its painful and hard and feels terrifying.
 
yes we can and should do all we can to mitigate climate change, to organise our communities to be resilient and compassionate, to do what we can in the here and now for those facing horrific material and other insults; migrants facing militarised racist borders, disabled people and others facing universal credit and benefit cuts, those in palestine mown down for existing, just for some examples.
 
i don’t think that grieving is an option any more. i think refusing to allow ourselves to is negatively affecting our mental health and our ability to make progressive change. i think we need to be there for each other, to hold each other whilst we cry, to listen to each other’s pain and fear in a massage circle of emotional support. this is how we will build any kind of liveable world. denial is blunting us.

For the men re #metoo – learn about, discuss, and model good consent

October 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Seen lots of posts from men saying yes they want to be good allies to women and trans people re #metoo but don’t know what to do. Maybe something men could do is to learn about, discuss and model good consent?

For the past few years I’ve made a habit of making the first move – I realised that if I didn’t the only lovers I would have, out of the total pool of “we find each other mutually attractive” would be the ones that were also confident enough to make the first move and knew that I was interested. Even as someone who’s not particularly attractive, its been going super well. Of course I get rejections – but I take them as a positive – that means that people feel safe to say no to me. And there’s not been a single instance where a yes or a no has damaged our friendship.

In wanting to be more confident in making the first move I was also very concerned that nobody would feel harassed in any way by me.* Also it is super important that whoever I am engaging in shenanigans with actively wants it too. So instead of asking “Can I kiss you?” I ask some version of “Would you like a kiss?” For me as someone socialised as a girl/woman in this society I will say yes unless there is a clear reason for me not to. My desire is secondary to someone else’s. If you’re in my house and you ask if you can do something (eg smoke), I would have equally found it challenging to say no! You’re a guest! Of course you can do that. If you ask me instead “Would you like me to smoke in your house or would you rather I went outside?”, then my brain will actually think that through and I will admit that yes, I’d rather you went outside. The first option would have led me to just suck up the discomfort and let you smoke and deal with the nasty smell afterwards.

So since I thought about this I resolved that I would always ask someone if they wanted physical intimacy with me, not just if I can do it. And its actually quite sexy to do this. I enjoy the buildup of physical tension and vocalising this just makes it feel hotter. Plus I can be reasonably confident that the interest is mutual.

Secondly, I want to make it clear to anyone I am interested in physically, that there are no repercussions for saying no, now or in the future. Our friendship does not require my access to your body. If at any point you’re not in the mood for shenanigans, or want cuddles and kissing but no below waist interaction, or whatever, that is all fine. You will not face any physical or emotional pressure from me. Your body autonomy is important. I want whoever I am with to want me too. I have had all the shitty ways that men are socialised to respond to rejection. The sudden lack of interest in friendship. The moody responses. I’ve been yelled at and physically assaulted. I refuse to do this to anyone else, and I want them to know that their “no” has no repercussions.

Thirdly, I will not have any physically intimate interactions with someone who is in any way compromised in their ability to consent. This could be because of a power differential. But most often because they are not sober. If you have had alcohol, weed or any other drug to the point where you are more likely to have sex than when sober, than I would be taking advantage of you to go along with that. I’ve seen men circle around drunk women like moths round a flickering flame – and this is purely because they know she is more likely to agree to sex with them at this time. That’s not active consent, that’s gross. I would rather wait til you are sober and know that you have actively, mindfully, desired to become intimate with me. Having had someone get me stoned and then have sex with me (we hadn’t even kissed before) when I was too high to talk means I will always be super careful with other people around substances.

Also relevant is the context for making an advance. I will endeavour that you will always have an easy out. That you won’t feel reliant on my continuing good will for a place to sleep, or introductions into social circles etc. That I will explicitly say that my good will does not require you being interested in intimacy with me.

Fourthly, I will be honest with you about me. You will know I am non monogamous and my sexual health status, such as when I was most recently tested. In terms of the former, it is important to me that you make an informed decision to have sex with me, and don’t assume that this means we will have, ever, an exclusive monogamous relationship. We will also have a discussion about safer sex, and we will go with the highest common denominator – you want barriers for everything, fine.

***

But its one thing me doing (or aspiring) to do all this in private. I know from personal experience that many people do not have this base level of consent practice. And what I’ve developed as my personal ethical standards around this has mostly been because of fuckups – my own or other peoples. We just don’t get taught what consent really means. We don’t talk about it or share our own practices.

One thing I really appreciate in the polyamory community is that there is a lot of modelling of safer sex practices. Regular testing and communication of results and risks is normal and expected. I don’t even think twice about bringing sexual health up with other people because I’m so used to it being a regular conversation.

I want the same around consent. I especially want men to be talking to each other about it. It might feel awkward, but you all say you want to do something in response to #metoo, and that might involve some initial discomfort. But I’m betting there is a lot of lack of knowledge and awareness. Nobody wants to admit to ignorance. “of course I always get consent” – because the alternative, in our binary world, is that you are a rapist. Well this thinking helps no-one. It stops people being able to ask questions, express doubts and concerns, work through scenarios, develop nuanced ethics.

So that’s my personal response to the many men who are asking “what can we do to help?” – educate yourself, think deeply and discuss with other men what good consent really means. I’m definitely not saying that my personally developed standards are the best in the world. I’m just trying to practice what I’m preaching and open up conversations about what good consent should mean.

 

* When I was a teenager I did not do this. I barely even asked for consent. At least one person I had sexual intimacy with, whilst she didn’t say no, I later found out did not want more than kissing with me. When, years later, I found this out I was obviously super shooken up and hence have put a lot of thought into ensuring I don’t make same mistake again.

When I feel you have my back. From an antizionist Jew to the left on challenging antisemitism

March 30, 2017 2 comments

17436035_1218953451550743_7199866630498237987_oOn challenging antisemitism by the left. What it means to me as a Jew with progressive values when Jackie Walker and Gilad Atzmon are being hosted in Glasgow this week.

Couple of things have happened in past few days in Glasgow to prompt this post. I actually found out about these in reverse order, but I’m starting with the easiest one to write about, Gilad Atzmon. My discussion and feelings about Jackie Walker being hosted by SPSC are down below.

Last night Gilad Atzmon played a gig at Tchai Ovna : a hippy/lefty tea shop in Glasgow. A friend casually mentioned it, after the gig had started. I was pretty wtf?! But by this time there was nothing to be done. So I’ve informed the venue of Gilad’s antisemitism and am, until told otherwise, assuming that they didn’t know of this beforehand. However they know now and if they book him again I will be more active against it.

I have only met Atzmon once – I went with a friend to a gig as he’s a really good saxophonist. My friend introduced me to him afterwards, and I was initially very happy about this, not just because the gig had been great. I like to meet other antizionist Jews as it can be a lonely path. At most Jewish cultural/religious events I avoid talk of Israel as I won’t lie, but also I hate confrontation and turning a spiritual occasion into a heated political argument. Jewish practise nurtures and calms me. Like doing yoga or whatever works for you. I feel at peace and nourished at this deep down level. I don’t know why it has this effect, but I don’t need to understand it to value it in my life, as it harms no-one else. I tend to have a separation between my different hobbies, interests, and choices. Those who also straddle intersections I often feel a connection and bond with as its exciting and useful for me to be able to discuss issues that relate to our shared intersections and I find helps me understand whats going on for me.

However the initial joy at being invited by Atzmon to sit and chat with him turned to confusion and then revulsion as he began denouncing what he sees as typical Jewish tribalism, as a superiority complex of being Jewish, and how Jews have brought centuries of persecution onto ourselves. After arguing for a short while (I have confrontation and find heated/aggressive verbal dialogue deeply unpleasant) I left. Subsequently I’ve discovered how antisemitic he is. To find examples I had a quick look at his blog and here are some recent examples:

an  arrogant yeshiva boy is subject to a historical continuum of harassment. Seemingly, Alliel didn’t bother to ask himself why is he chased and abused time after time by so many people in so many places.

Source: http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2017/3/16/alliel-a-window-into-tribal-arrogance

“If I were a Jew,” [David Irving] said, “I would ask myself why it always happens to us?” At the time, I was a still Jew but I took up Irving’s challenge. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw so I decided to leave the tribe and I stopped being a Jew.

Source : http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2017/2/16/exactly-who-is-it-that-is-in-denial

Although discovering that this alternative/lefty venue is hosting him shocked me, I don’t feel utterly powerless to challenge it. And that’s because over the years I have felt that many within the left will have my back when it comes to challenging antisemitism. It’s really moving to me to feel this. That especially within the Palestine solidarity movement but in the wider left I am not alone facing those prejudiced against me. It gives me a safety, and a courage. It gives me strength to fight alongside others against their oppressions knowing that they also have my back when it comes to antisemitism. It feels like we really can stand all together and be strong and united and beautiful and really bring about meaningful change to a world where all are liberated and free and safe.

So I feel deeply inside that if Atzmon again is booked to play this venue, that if I ask of it, others, not just Jews, will join me in publicly condemning them for giving this racist a stage. I feel secure in that and its incredibly moving to have that surety. Its just so beautiful and affirming and powerful and empowering.

Jackie Walker

[EDITED TO ADD : I have been told that she actually said she hadn’t heard a definition of anti-semitism she agreed with in the context of a particular workshop which was stating that criticism of israel was anti-semitic. Will update the text within this post when I know more but wanted to clarify that this is in contention as early as possible]

Sometimes antizionism is labelled antisemitism. Jewdas have a really cool primer on how to criticise Israel without being antisemitic and a longer piece discussing what antisemitism is and isn’t.

Last year Jackie Walker was in the media for being expelled and then reaccepted into the Labour Party on the basis of several comments she has made, in different formats, that many (including me) find problematic about Jewish people (which she identifies as also)

I consider “no platforming” an extreme tactic that should be kept for extreme cases where it is likely that a speech by someone will cause harm to another. In the case of Jackie Walker I disagree with her on very many things, and I do feel a bit threatened by her assertion (originally from known antisemites Louis Farrakan’s Nation of Islam) that “many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade” (source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/anti-semitism-row-momentum-organiser-jackie-walker-readmitted-to-labour-party-following-racism-a7053966.html ) as this is the kind of language that supports and promotes anti-semitism. However I am not calling for her to be no platformed.

For a wider discussion of things she’s said try hope not hate. In brief she has joined predominantly antisemitic calls for Holocaust memorial day to focus on other genocides, however it already does. Antisemites seek to minimise the Nazi holocaust and so she stands in particularly bad company, as well as being ill-informed in making this call. She has also said she can’t find a definition of antisemitism she can work with, which again is kinda weird – jewdas have a couple of good ones (linked above) and its really just a basic antiracist stance with basic knowledge of the historical and current slurs, smears and falsehoods used against Jews.

Again, to be super clear, despite this I am not calling for her to be no platformed.

I do find it hard to swallow though that the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) are hosting her in Glasgow tonight. They claim she is “Accused of anti-Semitism for her anti-Zionist position” (source : https://www.facebook.com/events/376828286014487/ ) Which is just the inverse of zionist claims that all criticisms of israel are antisemitic. I am not in any way against her anti-zionism. Dismissing objections to her as coming purely from a Zionist standpoint is ridiculous and hurtful.

There are hundreds of excellent speakers about Palestine in the UK who are not tarred with her associations with antisemitism. It was not necessary of the SPSC to host her. It is provocative and divisive.

I have had over a decade within the anti-occupation, Palestine solidarity movement and I know that antisemitism and dismissal of such is a minority view. As I stated above I have felt that people have had my back. But what about someone new to challenging the Israeli occupation of Palestine? What if this is what they see – that being anti-occupation means supporting someone who has said what Jackie Walker has said only last year? She has not meaningfully retracted any of it, as far as I can tell, and I did go to look.

If this was more than an occasional one-off event I don’t know how welcome or comfortable I would feel within progressive movements. This kind of behaviour reinforces zionists’ narrative that we need a strong nation state because nobody else will be there for us. It chases Jews back into the hands of Jewish nationalism. Plenty of Palestinians are ready to condemn antisemitism and the movement purporting to support them should do the same.

ct-muslim-and-jewish-fathers-protest-with-their-children-video-20170131.jpg

Housework as self care; don’t create a second patient was never just about immediate danger

Tired of being tired? Chilling out and stepping off the hedonic treadmill contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue

Buying a product because the emptiness of the hedonic treadmill of consumer capitalism has in all probability exhausted you is like taking a cold drink because you’re chilly.

Ok, so this is obv just written from my perspective.

Today I had a scheduled “day off”. They don’t happen often – I’ve pretty much always got something on, between paid work (of which I’ve been doing a ton for past month or so in order to pay off London/India trip debts), activism, meetings/workshops/discussions, hobbies, supporting people in various ways, socialising, spending time with those who are important to me and more political activism. Past couple of months have been even more intense with Rachel’s anniversary, Pesach (for which I helped a friend with first night seder, and then hosted one for 8-10 people on 2nd night) and 3 house guests who each stayed 3-5 days. Looking back at my diary, there was just one day in April where I wasn’t busy for at least 8 hours, and on that day I was still up early and helping a houseguest get ready and go for his train. I ended up very frazzled by the end. I was even more unreliable than normal and was almost in tears from it all. I had so little time to myself, with almost constant human interaction, and I really do find that draining, even though I enjoy time with people.

Anyway, May has started much better. Had a fun Mayday, though after a few hours on Buchanan St, which inevitably included lots of people I was very happy to see and catch up with, I left the others for a precious few hours alone at home, before heading to Cristicuff’s election workshop, and then a fun evening in a local pub including my only adult karaoke performance; 3 of us dedicated “Tell Me Lies” to all those participating in the election, though we needed to clarify before we started that yes, that includes the SNP candidates, and no we were Anarchists not hairdressers! Saturday was busy with helping flatmate move out, and then big important conversations with a longterm lover. Sunday and Monday were 12 hour shifts in an unpleasant ward. So last night I really needed some fun so went to a couple of pubs with couple different groups of friends.

A lot of what I do can feel like “obligation” – even though I choose how I fill my life and have more control over it than most. Its partly because my long/medium term plans involve commitments to people/groups/activities. And partly because I wanna do all the things, dammit! And have lots of interests and people/communities I care about and want to nurture the connection with. But I do end up rundown on an overly regular basis. Am trying to do better with it. Get into healthier habits. Which neatly segues on to the point of this post :)

Along with all of you who don’t have an unproblematic relationship with yourself, I have problems prioritising things that only benefit me. And since I now don’t have a flatmate, that now includes housework. Not that I was great at it before, but I did feel an obligation to do all of our washing up every few days. However, what with recent busyness and whatnot, I’d got to the point yesterday where I didn’t have any clean crockery left, and my laundrymite was reaching for the ceiling. I just was doing everything else. So today, with the video chat companionship/dj’ing of a friend in a different city who was doing similar, I began tackling the housework. And as I did it, I realised that by actively choosing to nurture my nest, when it is only me who will be affected by it, I was telling myself something important: looking after myself is worth my time. I deserve a nice living space. I care about myself enough for that to be on my schedule.

Doc, still very missed and massive influence on my life, said, but tragically didn’t practice, “Don’t create a second patient”. As someone caring for the health of others, whether first aider or nurse – but equally valid to probably everyone be you a parent, friend, social worker, community organiser etc – your first duty to those you would help, is to keep yourself able to provide that help by not incapacitating yourself. In the street medic workshops where he first drummed this into us, the examples were those familiar to all those who know DR ABCDE, such as check for oncoming traffic or exposed live electricity wires before rushing to help. In this setting the dangers are all immediate ones that would acutely stop you from giving first aid, and add to the patient load of other firstaiders and emergency services. Early on I started thinking about gloves and other PPE in a similar way – if I’m ill because I did not protect myself than how can I help anyone else? And after Doc died, as the waves of grief induced anger coursed through me, I realised that he’d never actually applied that principle to himself properly either – as he rushed from disaster zone to international workshop, his life characterised by trauma, heroism and international travel, he might have been a PITA about his goddamned fresh grapefruit juice and organic meat (I really hope at least someone reading this got a chuckle of reminiscence from that!) he ran himself into the ground. And we lost a dear uncle, friend, trainer, carer and precious elder. By not taking care of himself properly, he (imho) contributed to his own death.

I don’t have some pithy ending to this post. It was just a lot of different stuff that ties together for me and I wanted to write down. Maybe others will have similar reflections. And maybe I’ll read this back over in 10 years when I’ve forgotten all this again. At the very least, I’m giving personal language to all of you who are in my life to get through my thick skull next time I’m being an idiot ;)

Reflections on how we ran the negotiations with uni management during Free Hetherington occupation

March 30, 2015 Leave a comment

I just wrote this as a response to someone asking for advice on running negotiations during university occupations. Posting it here for other’s information, and as a personal thing for re-reflecting on later. I possibly will expand on it later.

***

So I’m just one of the people that was involved in the occupation. There were some internal divisions about how to handle the negotiations and I was deeply on one side of the debate. Just to let you know that this is not a neutral response!

For most of the negotiations we insisted, and won, full representation by all the occupiers when meeting with the uni managements. this felt powerful and i feel was when we were at our most successful in gaining concessions. For example it was directly after a mass meeting with them, during which you could visibly see them realising how strong and united we were, that they agreed to let us have the Hetherington back, after forcibly evicting us that day. We had responded to the eviction by occupying their management suite and so we were in a position of some strength. However this was not an isolated incident of us gaining concessions and being empowered by our insistence on mass meetings. Gaining that as an initial demand gave us strength for our actual negotiations. It also gave us directly moral courage during the meetings, versus smaller meetings (I was involved with a couple before we began insisting that they meet with all of us, or none) where they could use personal manipulation and wear us down.

Towards the end, we (democratically decided by a vote, but i opposed at the time and still think was a mistake) agreed to the management’s demands that we choose a small team (4-6 – I refused to be a part of it) who would meet directly with management and negotiate.

Those negotiations ended up with very wooly sounding agreements. These were, again democratically by vote, agreed upon, but most of those agreeing were burnt out by the long occupation and “would have agreed to a cup of tea if it meant we could move on”

These agreements are posted on our wordpress somewhere. They were not kept to by management, but obviously after the occupation had ended we were in no position to force them to keep their word :(

Arbitrary mass arrests at otherwise positive #london2NYC #blacklivesmatter demo at Westfield shopping centre London

December 11, 2014 Leave a comment

***If you or anyone you know was arrested last night please make sure you’re in contact with Green and Black Cross (GBC) and attend the defendants meeting this Saturday, 13th Dec, 2pm in LARC, 62 Fieldgate St, E1 1ES organised by the GBC / LDMG who organised the legal support on the demonstration last night***

Joint statement by the organisers of the demo last night on the arrests.

***

This is just me scribbling something down because of the arbitrary nature of the arrests that happened at the end of the demonstration last night. If you want more detail about the earlier part, I live tweeted most of the evening, as did others.

It felt like a positive and strong and good natured demonstration. I spoke to lots of bystanders who were curious about what was going on, and they were all supportive once I explained we were there because of Eric Garner. People did not seem to feel threatened, as they walked past and through the demonstration, both whilst we were outside and inside the shopping centre. Although a couple of shops closed doors or pulled security grills over themselves, the vast majority did not. Nor was there any need to as protesters filed past them, singing out
chants, with spontaneous die-ins. I did not witness any scuffles between protesters and security or police. We entered the Westfield through an open door in the second entrance way that we got to, opposite the Christmas fair thing. The security guards and police were intermingling with the crowd. At one point a lot more police came down an escalator towards us and we all moved away from them. Another line formed, however a tall white man walked up to the line and the police
let him through, so I decided to also try to walk through in the same place, and the police let me through as well. Once through I saw that a ginger haired man was being arrested. I did not see him before, and they were putting handcuffs on him at the time I first saw him. I walked over and spoke briefly, and offered to put a “bust card” into his pocket, which he agreed to. He told me his name and I gave this name to a marked legal observer who was nearby.

The crowd continued through the shopping centre and at about 9pm we left Westfield shopping centre. At that point a lot of people left the demo, I presume because it was late and cold and raining. A group continued up towards the roundabout and the main road, above the bus
station. We walked along the road and onto the West Cross Route. At this location there was a concrete wall and the “pavement” of the dual carriageway. There was another die-in. Suddenly lots more police arrived, with heavier looking uniforms on, and in a sort of formation
that looked like they were about to make physical barriers and “kettle” people. I moved across the road and onto the roundabout to not get trapped. Most people managed to stay outside of the kettle. It seemed to me that it was often the more inexperienced and young protesters who got caught. I spoke to one man who’s 17 year old cousin was one of those who were encircled, and that previously she’d been with some of her friends.

The nature of the arrests seemed very arbitrary. It did not seem in any way led by intelligence, as alleged incidents were so much earlier in the evening. It seemed that those caught in the kettle and subsequently arrested were just unlucky, as most of us managed to avoid this by crossing the road away from the larger group as the police approached. There were no altercations or violent events prior to the arrests. We were a substantial distance from the shopping centre, which was where the alleged altercations happened, according to the media.

This just seemed to be about gathering names and addresses of some of those that were there, and attempting to intimidate folks from attending future demonstrations. And that’s shit – there were so many there last night who hadn’t been on a demonstration before, but were so moved by the overt racism of what happened to Eric Garner and Michael Brown that they came out to protest. And that’s the only way we’re going to see the changes that are so necessary. We need to support those that were arrested, so that instead of their overwhelming memory of last night is a cold, lonely night in the cells, its that the kind of solidarity that they were offering to the victims of racist policing, is in turn offered to them when they need it.

On squatting, homelessness and haircuts

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

When I was eighteen I moved back to London on my own, away from my parents and the small town in which I’d survived my teens. Working as an office runner for Saachi and Saachi in pre minimum wage days, the pay was terrible – all my coworkers were young guys still living with their parents. A platonic friend had let me stay in his spare room until I could find something better. That plan was shortlived – within a couple of weeks he’d acquired a new girlfriend, and she was not keen on me staying there. Refusing to give up on London so quickly, I spent a few days rotating amongst my new workmates’ sofas and then discovered by chance that there were a lot of squats out in East London, where folks were protesting the building of the M11 Link Road, so I headed over and ended up living there for a few months.

I lived in a few different places along the route, until I ended up in a big old shop which had been abandoned years before. The shopfront was huge, and above it there was a 2 floor apartment that would have originally been used by the shopkeeper. The flat looked to have been abandoned years before the shop itself, and had been reoccupied by pigeons. The squatters were taking a room each and doing the disgusting cleanup needed. I couldn’t face that though, and stayed in the shopfront, keeping my stuff out the way during the day and pulling out my bedroll at night. The original squatters were super sweet, and looking back on it, had probably seen my vulnerability as a young female, and so invited me in. We had communal meals, rotated tasks and talked about green politics, the state of the world, philosophy and history. I quit my shitty job at some point and threw myself into the campaign against the road, and against the Criminal Justice Bill which was about to become law.

To get to the shop from the rest of the protest site I would shortcut across a small park with some benches in the middle, always occupied by a few street drinkers. They felt threatening to me, though I don’t recall them ever even saying anything to me. They had unkempt shaggy hair and filthy old clothes and random bags of belongings. As I hurriedly walked past, they stank of stale sweat and alcohol. One evening I got back to the shop and, to my horror, was introduced to one of them, John, who was coming to live with us. I felt like me home was being invaded by one of the people I looked to it to escape from. The squatters had taken me in however, and though I felt really uncomfortable about this old alcoholic moving in, I didn’t feel able to say anything.

As I said above, though I really should probably have taken responsibility for cleaning out one of the rooms above, the stench and filth of years of being used as a pigeon loft had put me off. John however just got stuck in. Full of enthusiasm he carried out to the bins bags and bags of yuck, and began bleaching the surfaces, which I had to admire. I was out most days working on the campaigns, or skipping for food or whatever. John didn’t seem to notice how warey I was of him, and was friendly and welcoming when I got home.

One evening he asked me for a favour. Could I please cut his hair for him? He had scissors ready and insisted he trusted me, though I kept telling him I’d never done it before. His hair was below his shoulders, neglected from living on the streets. I had no clue where to begin, but he was kneeling on the floor expectantly, telling me he was sure I could do it. Ok, here goes!

It was actually easier than I thought it would be, and kinda fun! I quickly chopped off the ragtails, and copied what I’d seen hairdressers do, took chunks of it between my fingers following the arch of his head upwards, I shaped a close crop, leaving it a bit longer on top. It took a while, as I experimented and figured out how to not leave choppy steps, but sort of merge it all together. My fingers were covered in grease from his unwashed hair, but I figured I could wash them and they were still cleaner than his were after he’d been cleaning the upstairs rooms! Afterwards he was really thankful, and had a shower and a shave. I felt much more relaxed around him too. But for other reasons, a few weeks later I moved out as I’d found a new place.

***

A few years later I was at a demo in London. I can’t remember what about. A pleasant looking middle aged couple approached me, the man seeming really pleased to see me, but I had to admit to him that I couldn’t remember who he was. Well, of course it was John. Story was, after I’d left, he’d began a romance with the florist next door and now they were happily married. He’d spotted her and had wanted to smarten himself up, I presume hence the haircut! And then I learned even more. He had been much younger than I’d first thought, and had only been living on the streets for about 18 months. In a really short time he’d lost his job, and then his partner had left him and he’d lost his home and that was how he’d ended up out there. He was drinking because it was cold and miserable and suddenly he’d gone from having a half decent life to being outcast.

***

He thanked me, but never knew how much I had judged him. How much I’d just seen that stereotype of street drinker and hadn’t thought about how he’d ended up there, or how he might move on. The squatters who’d taken us both, and who knows how many others, were making good use of abandoned buildings, creating a home and small community that transformed John and I in different ways. For John it saved him from a brutal and probably short life on the streets. Though his eagerness to get his life together was what made most difference to him, as I can imagine others wouldn’t have found such a dramatic change. That he was relatively newly homeless must have helped – he didn’t yet have years of drinking and ill-health to contend with. I don’t know why the squatters invited John particularly in to the shop – maybe they’d already interacted enough to realise that it would be mutually beneficial. I was brought face to face with my prejudices, and also experienced communal living in a non capitalist environment. Squatting is now much more difficult due to laws brought in to target such terrible people. Did I mention yet how the building was empty, abandoned, given over to pigeons before the squatters moved in and transformed it into a home? That the only reason at John and I ended up there was due to poorly paid or insecure work?

Anyway, I didn’t want to end on a downer as to me this is a really uplifting memory. I’ve probably got some of the details wrong, but I’ll never forget the sensation of John’s greasy, matted hair as I snipped it off, nor the shock of the handsome, happy man he was just a few years later. :) Yayy for the squatters who took us both in and who put so their time and energy into creating such a great little communal home.

You did your best, now please take care of yourselves. Post #indyref love and hugs

September 19, 2014 1 comment

I’m sad for all my friends who feel so upset and disenchanted and have had their hopes for today dashed. I’m unhappy because Cameron et al get to be super smug and that they once again had it their own way. I’m not sad because of the actual result, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to offer all of you who are sad hugs, affection and that, as you have been saying all along, it didn’t end yesterday, whatever the outcome.

mountain-sunset-wallpaperTake some time out for yourselves to mourn and grieve a lost campaign. Take a break – most of you have been working on this for a couple of years and built up to a feverpitch in the closing weeks and days. Look after each other. Cry. But also go for walks in beautiful places. Share tasty and nutritious food. Listen to music. Have a well earned holiday. Encourage each other to rest and recover. You’re all awesome and I’m looking forward to working with you all again in the coming months and years and decades. There remains a world to win. But that can wait while you look after yourselves as human beings first. You are as deserving of a good life as the millions that your activism aims to help. And by taking care of yourselves you set a good example to all those new activists that have been brought in, about how sustainability is fractal and applies to the individual as well as communities and the world.

You all did your best. I’m not saying that as someone who was involved, but as a spectator, and therefore reasonably objective. This was one fight in the long war. I know it was one you poured your energy and hearts and minds and souls into for the past 2 years, and I know well how it feels to have done that, and lost. But there will be more. Because we have a world to win, whereas the ruling class can only lose. We will keep fighting. We will keep organising and surprising them as well as ourselves with our creativity and passion and energy and determination.

l-Puppy-HugsLet your compassion for others be mirrored in your compassion for yourselves and those you’ve been working with. Bake cakes for each other. Offer your shoulders to cry on, and then mourn together. Its ok. We’re all human beings and acknowledging that we’re hurting is an important part of healing.

You’re all awesome. I know we didn’t fight together this time, but we will again in the future. But just now, take some time out and goddamn rest! The struggle will continue. x

None of the above – why I spoiled my #indyref ballot paper

September 18, 2014 2 comments

ballot paperSo although I have been planning this blog post, and indeed what I would write on my ballot paper, for a couple of years, in the end I’m just hurriedly writing it late at night, and I scribbled on my ballot paper on the bus home on Tuesday night just in time to post it for it to be counted.

I could have written this any time, but as many of you know I’ve been partly avoiding those conversations, and the long drawn out attempts at conversion that follow. At least now its too late for you all to make me your target! Also, I’ve been hella busy the last couple of years.

One person, on finding out that I wasn’t going to be voting yes, half jokingly called me a sofa activist and explained that this was because I wasn’t part of the yes movement and therefore clearly was just one of those activists who sit on their sofa all the time rather than trying to bring about change. Happily for my ego, a couple of friends were there who told him that I was more politically active than anyone else there. Not sure if that’s true, but who am I to argue? ;) I’ve more frequently been accused of being a Brit Nationalist. Because everyone’s got to have a nationalism, and if I’m not Team Saltire I must be Butcher’s Apron instead? Kind of like when Glaswegian’s ask you which football team you support, and anything other than Rangers or Celtic results in a “No, but which one do you really support”. Or “What religion are you?” and responding Jewish has them ask whether I’m Catholic or Protestant.

Apparently #indyref has brought a new hope and optimism and wave of activism to Scotland. Apparently if I’m not voting yes its because I’m lacking confidence in Scotland’s ability to “do it ourselves”, “go alone” and “rule ourselves”. I need to be shown the economic facts and figures. What’s more I’m pro foodbanks and austerity. Because voting yes is the only way to get rid of these. In fact that’s why so many on the left deserted or diverted anti bedroom tax organising into yes campaigning :( However, as those clever folks at kittens explain, austerity is an inevitable and necessary strategy by governments within our current capitalist system. “Independence” as offered by indyref does not really free the people of Scotland from the logic of capitalism and that logic leads to austerity, no matter the claimed ideology of those in power. To me, jumping up and down about whether the government is in London or Edinburgh is about as important as whether it’s Labour, Tory or SNP; that is, it affects only details. It describes what sort of scraps we might get. Labour will still cut the NHS and bring in the bedroom tax, and take us into wars. And so too if the government is based in Scotland – its not the tories that are the problem but capitalism and representative democracy.

Another repeated argument I’ve had has been that a government in Edinburgh is easier for us to march on than one in London. That we will feel more empowered by being geographically closer. I lived in south london in one of the poorest areas in the UK for years, a mile or two from Whitehall; I promise that did not make me feel empowered! Organising in my communities, in my workplace, and taking action to directly solve our own problems is what makes me feel empowered, not hearing Big Ben toll.

The romantic in me would love a Scottish passport. And a yes vote would also piss off some people I really dislike, including but not limited to the leadership of all the main UK wide political parties, neofascists, the Daily Mail and Tory voters everywhere. Ooo, and the orange people. Definitely not forgetting them. :) But those are not rational reasons for making a decision.

The most compelling reason I’ve had to vote yes is because of migration. A Scottish government would have different demographic problems to a UK one, and that might bring in more xenophilic policies. There might be less attacks on asylum seekers, less ridiculous conditions on those wanting to come here. I spent many months considering whether I should vote yes for this reason. It was more plausible a probable outcome from a yes vote than that the UK would give up trident. However I was also weighing up other plausible outcomes from a yes vote, and one stood out very strongly – that corporations would have more power to undermine workers’ rights by blackmailing a smaller state that they would relocate south of the border otherwise. Salmond has repeatedly said he wants Scotland to be business friendly. And even if he’s not in power, that’s exactly what every party will do under capitalism. These conflicting issues, that of migration vs “business friendliness” meant that even when I just looked at what changes were plausible it did not give me a clear direction to vote.

I do not act to be awkward or different, I act despite this. Despite it being an unpopular choice. Despite the peer pressure. I have learned that the only approval I actually need is my own. I need to be able to look myself in the eyes and know that I acted in accordance with what I believed to be right at the time. I have in the past acted out of expediency. I have been convinced by others to put aside my misgivings and that the end justifies the means. That I should support something because it will lead to gains in the future, though it was not in itself something I supported. I was wrong. We have no way of accurately predicting the results of any of our actions, especially in something so complex as social change. There are too many interacting variables and unknowns, and unknown unknowns ;) … Rather than attempting the impossible and futile task of picking from what the possible outcomes are of my actions, instead I chose to align my actions to my principles and beliefs. In doing this I am not trying to manipulate others, or compromising for possible benefit ahead, but creating what I want in the here and now. I organise using direct democracy. And I do not agree to things that are against my principles because they might have a positive outcome in the future. When I look back, I am proud of those times I did what I felt to be right at the time, or at least refused to condone something I disagreed with. I am glad that I did not vote to accept the pitiful offer we at the Free Hetherington ended up taking – I was outvoted but I’m still proud that I took the position that I did, and that history showed to be accurate – the University management ignored all of those agreements in the following few months anyway, and we sold out Crichton Campus too. But that’s another, very long, post. I’ve abstained frequently on things, and often wanted my abstention recorded. Its part of being able to look myself in the eyes – I don’t vote for things I don’t agree with.

There’s a bunch of other things I’d like to write about here. About how Scotland is just older than the UK, but really has no more logic. Nationality is a social construct. That the yes campaign has actively harmed the class struggle, not just by diverting every activist and progressive campaign, but by encouraging cross class allegiances and obfuscating power relations. Despite claims that Scottish nationalism is not like UKIP’s brand, but “civic”, I’ve frequently heard talk of the “English”, whether non ethnic Scots should be allowed to vote, versus expat Scots. I’ve heard a lot about how finally we will have those like us in power – no, we will remain with the ruling class in power and their “ethnicity” is irrelevant compared to their role in governing us for capital. And this “If someone walks up to you in the street, and asks you to choose between a dish of shite and a dish of vomit, you wouldnae want to pick either.” (https://www.facebook.com/notes/jens-m%C3%B8lgaard/my-thoughts-on-the-referendum/10205136903610568)

I’m going to end with a quote from an awesome friend. Massive urgings to read the rest of her post.

A referendum isn’t direct democracy – it’s a question framed by those in power offering a choice they are willing to give, which of course is why it’s a question I don’t even particularly want to answer, because what they’re willing to offer is another capitalist state.

http://edinburghanarchists.noflag.org.uk/2014/09/referendum-rant-from-an-immigrant/

Whichever the outcome is, I won’t be too sad. As I said, a yes appeals to me for many emotive reasons. But a no is not bad. Whatever the outcome I’ll still be working with incredible people on projects that I do see as being the seeds of a truly better society. And I’ll know I rejected two options, when I disagreed with them both.

Gaza, demonstrations, frustrations, privilege

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

I really don’t have a clear argument that I’m making, I’m just writing down my thoughts really, which are swirling and confused and distressed and contradictory.

The assault on the Gazans continue. I continue to not know how to respond. I sometimes make it along to the demonstrations here. But what do they mean? What do they achieve? A wonderful friend in Israel tells me how their demonstrations in Tel Aviv are attacked by right wing thugs. I feel so proud of the Israeli peace and anti occupation movements for their courage, not just in standing up to the uniformed and ununiformed forces that try to physically terrorise them into silence, but also for standing by their convictions, their ethics, against wider social pressures. I think of how glad and hopeful and beautiful it is to learn about the German anti Nazis in the 30s and 40s. How their bravery and personal strength and decency and personal honour inspires us today, though their resistance could be painted as a pointless act of suicide. Should we protest because, even though it feels like it doesn’t achieve change*, it is important in and of itself to demonstrate our convictions?

 

Smashed in the face with a riot shield during a demonstration in 1994I was reading 500 Years of Resistance – the comic book – its introduced by Ward Churchill whose “Pacifism as Pathology” I revered at a certain point in my convoluted, ever-evolving relationship with violence. For example, those pictures to the right were taken seconds after I stopped being a pacifist, hit in the face by a police riot shield having sat in the road directly at their feet as they prepared to clear a road of our demonstration. Anyway, my response to Hill’s book was increasing horror, not just at the brutality of the European colonisers as they stole land and resources from the native peoples, but alse at the way Hill and Churchill seemed to celebrate the indiginous’ violent responses. And I was aware, that Churchill would quite rightly point out the priviledge of my position, living as a White person in 21st century UK. Yet still the killings distressed me. I don’t mean the armed, self defence against active attacks, but the cold blooded massacres and executions that are also described, and what I felt was glorification of the numbers killed in battle. I happened to have reached this book in my “To Read” pile at the same time as this latest war on the Gazans, and they swirl around in my brain together. Killing. Racism leading to dehumanisation of people making more pallatable their destruction. Lives treated as disposable junk. Individuals under assault because of their ethnicity and where their homes happen to be.

I don’t follow the news at all anymore. Ah the privilege. I get to not know about bombs firing clouds of indiscriminant murderous darts into residential areas, about hospitals destroyed and vital, in the sense of necessary to life, medical supplies being systematically blockaded from where they are needed. I get to not know about these things because the same act of random chance that meant a Gazan was born into an occupied warzone, led to my being born here. If I choose to, I can not know the details of the horror that is ongoing there, but if I’d been born there I would have no such option because the reality would surround me. And if I find merely reading about what is going on there is distressing, what must it be like for that to be your lived experience?

Other brave, beautiful friends, this time from outwith the Middle East have shared this “Sunday night after seeing the Shayjaia pictures was the worst night. Then, realising that when internationals were announced as being in Al Wafa hospital, Israel called to force evacuation before bombing it, and there were no casualties, wheras yesterday they bombed Al Aqsa hospital (without internationals in it as far as I know) with no warning which resulted in 5 dead and 60-70 injured staff and patients. And we don’t think there are any internationals at all currently free to ride with the ambulances.” The need for international peace volunteers to be in Gaza is clear. (I know people I trust who are fundraising to pay their airfare to try to get over. If you want to contribute, please message me, or leave a comment below and I’ll put you in touch) Why don’t I go? My initial reaction to my friend was to jump at going too. Why did I decide not to? Partly because of my pre-existing plans. I’m on a planned out pathway that will mean I have a lot more skills and knowledge in nursing in low resourse areas come January. That’s something I decided I wanted, and mapped out how to get there, have almost finished paying for the course (a diploma in tropical nursing) and have been organising my living and working arrangements for the temporary move to London for the 5 months of the course. I have a transcontinental loved one coming to visit me for 6 weeks in just over a fortnight (Woooot!!!) I’ve got a two week trip planned and paid for starting on Friday. So there’s all that. Which reminds me of one of Doc’s stories about contacting doctors during the Wounded Knee occupation/stand off in 1973. The doctors had all talked big about civil rights and wanting to support the movements of the day, so Doc had thought it would be easy to fulfill the occupiers request for medical support, however one after another each of the doctors had a “reason” for apologising, saying how much they’d love to go, but unfortunately they have a golf weekend planned, or whatever. All except one doctor who admitted straight out that it was totally what he believed in, but the Feds had guns, it was an armed standoff, and he was too scared to go. Anyway, Doc had some basic first aid skills at that point, so got back to the occupiers and explained the situation, and ended up going himself and being a part of what he later described to me as freedom, even though they were surrounded by guns. Oh yeah, and one of best bits of that story is that the doctor who had actually admitted his fears to Doc ended up going to Wounded Knee after all :)

So yes, I am scared. Its a terrifying war zone. The weapons being used are indiscriminantly killing and maiming people in Gaza. Even without being hit there’s the trauma of being surrounded by all that horror. By witnessing carnage. By being unable to switch off let alone sleep because of constant fear of the ongoing military assault.

And I have that choice. I can give in to inertia and not go to Gaza. I wasn’t born there. For the million that were, my nightmare is their lived reality, because the Israeli government, military and supporters decided that for them.

* Unlike other activism I am involved with, for example http://glasgowsolnet.wordpress.com/ which does offer a direct pathway to meaningful change in the short and long terms.