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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.

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Ebola – nothing more than my ramblings

August 28, 2014 4 comments

So the WHO have published a roadmap to stopping worldwide Ebola transmission in the next six months. $490m is all they’re estimating is needed! That’s about half of what we paid for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, or a third of the Edinburgh tram system. And its all relatively straight forward. That’s the thing. The public health nerd in me loves that this is so understood. That there is best practice waiting to be rolled out. And as a nurse, that I have a very limited knowledge of Ebola, yet the treatments that can make such a massive difference to patient outcomes are providing basic nursing care (I don’t mean the experimental antibody serum which has been given to four so far, but the hygiene measures and symptomatic treatment such as rehydration, pain control and coagulation support that is available locally).

My alarm bells went off reading about the metrics – obviously measuring ebola incidence is essential to evaluating the response, and that’s quite right. That is the only thing that matters. But achieving metrics and targets have a habit of damaging the actual thing to be improved. An easy example is how achieving the 4 hour wait in A&Es led to patients being kept in ambulances outside the unit, and I think have led to other stupidities within hospitals, such as non A&E units set up that are really nothing more than holding pens for patients, meaning they frequently end up in 3 different settings, including destination ward, leading to disorientation and chances for errors due to lack of continuity of care. In terms of Ebola I worry that the metrics could become localised as targets, as they’ll be passed down through chains of officials, each also wanting to individually look good, and then pressure put to not diagnose in order to reduce official transmission figures in that way.

So yes, as you might have guessed, I was doing some early feasibility research on going out to volunteer. In general, loose cannon volunteers are worse than useless in disaster areas. And due to the massive personal risks involved, I would only want to go with an organisation I trust to have sufficient capability and experience to keep healthcare workers as safe as possible. Anyway, the good news for my mum is that MSF are actively looking for medical staff to go out, but not nurses. And I’d be more useful after my tropical nursing diploma anyway, which is due to be completed end of January. So my existing plans for next 5 months aren’t changing at this time.

I’m glad that I chose to study nursing, that I got myself to capable general nurse status, have my public health masters, and am on track to have tropical nursing diploma within 6 months. I like it that I have found a way to make a meaningful difference in the world that fits well my nerdy/science brain, together with my other characteristics such as liking to have work that is physical as well as mental, and practically help people and problem solve. I haven’t the capability or temperament for counselling, or emotional trauma work, but I do like to help people. I like that I have made myself into a person that can be useful in crises because that is what I’ve wanted since watching M.A.S.H. as a kid :)

Yeah, ebola. So, probably 20 000 people will die because economic inequality and war and power and racism mean that this epidemic was able to get so horrific. But it is well within our human capabilities to bring it under control, and we probably will.

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.

Buddha cafe, Mamallapuram. Western travellers with the world at our feet

February 2, 2014 1 comment

My previous post, on how I don’t feel guilty, just deeply aware, about my privilege hopefully frames this post.

In Buddha cafe, Mamallapuram eating scrambled eggs on buttered toast, in a nice hippy setting, watching Otthavadai Street below me. We really do have this part of India (/most of the planet) well set up for us Westerners :/ Everybody is trying to cater to our wants and needs. Trying their hardest to tempt us to part with our over valued hard currency with seductive consumerist offerings.

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We are in luxury here. Tropical setting. The best locations are converted into hotels for us, rooftop restaurants styled and catering for us along the seafront. Whatever goods or postcards or trinkets might suit our Western tastes for that exotic flavour of India (with questionable authenticity. Guys you’re in Tamil Nadu not Tibet!) are endlessly brought before us by locals to whom what is mere pennies to us, is life sustaining rupees to them. We irritably say No, if we acknowledge them at all, until we need something at which time it is effortlessly there for us. These endless pretty “ethnic” trinkets that we can casually wear in trendy bars back home as nonchalant evidence that we are in the ranks of the sophisticated and have travelled, have floated around exotic places: “Oh this? I picked it up for pennies from a local in a saree on a beach in Mamallapuram. Isn’t it darling!”

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And me? Here I sit drinking coffee made to suit my western tastes at 5x (£0.50) what I pay when I sit in a local cafe, but instead of a whitewalled, metal tabled place on the street, I have a wooden table, yellow half walls, framed with bamboo and thatching so its bright and airy, pretty lights, gentle music, cushions on the floor if I want to sit at one of the floor tables, and, if I choose, fellow travellers around to share smug tales of where we’ve been and what you really must do, see, experience in the next place.

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My scrambled eggs and buttered toast were 3x what I paid for yesterday’s breakfast of idli (steamed rice cakes) and omelette in a cafe otherwise entirely filled with Indians. But the eggs were done (more or less) to my Western tastes and instead of constant curious stares from locals* making me feel a self conscious novelty item as I eat alien food, I’m in a Western environment eating comfort food from my childhood, looking down on Othavadai St and its UK festival or Brighton style colourful hippy shops. Today I’m leaving the Indian and international tourist hub of Mamallapuram and so I’m treating myself to the easy comfort of a place much like one I’d hang out in Glasgow (imagine mono in the tropics) and not feel too challenged about my place in the world.

* Polite greetings in the local language together with smiling connections with local women relaxes the subject, and object, of their staring.

Privilege, oppression and guilt

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

I wrote this as a followup to my previous post about the privilege of travelling as a reply to those sweet souls of you who told me not to feel guilty. :)

I don’t feel guilty or defensive about the privileges I have, such as being white, English and able bodied. And nor should you about yours. The point is to be aware of them, to avoid using them to trample on others and to seek to challenge the systems that uphold them whenever we can.

Understand that life is easier for us because of them and that that is normally invisible to us. That someone without our privileges has to work harder to achieve the same things and that if, instead they are in a poorer situation than us, it is likely because of how society benefits us rather than anything innately better or worse about either of us.

Don’t feel guilty just because society has been structured by others with our privileges to benefit those like us – we did not make those systems of oppression and they are beyond our individual power to defeat single handedly. Feel guilty only if and when you use your privilege to harm someone without it. And even then just feeling guilty is missing the point. We are all human, and therefore perfectly imperfect and constantly able and needing to grow and learn and develop and improve ourselves. Be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a child that hurts someone else because they didn’t yet know better. Apologise to the person you’ve done wrong to, without needing or expecting necessarily their forgiveness – they’ve likely had this happen way too many times before so don’t make this about you needing absolution from them. Making them relate to you is part of the self importance of privilege. Teach yourself about how that particular system of oppression functions. Become aware how you might benefit from it in a range of situations so that you can become better at avoiding trampling over someone next time. For example if you have male privilege, be aware that your voice will be listened to above a female voice, and that you have been socialised to dominate conversations whilst females have been socialised to yield and make space.

Lastly, and most importantly, though we are not at fault (unless you are!!) for bringing about systems of oppression, we should never collude in their maintenance. As a white person I should never (unless it would be dangerous) be silent in the face of racism but should always challenge it. Having the freedom and power that privilege has given me means I have the responsibility to do whatever is within my means to oppose the oppression of others, but always taking my lead from them rather than furthering their oppression by using my privilege to take a lead in their struggle!!

Privilege and oppression are complex systems, developed and maintained through millions of interactions, “common sense” ideas and official laws and processes. We all benefit from some systems of oppression (eg I am white) and are oppressed by others (eg I am female). Because we are social animals we have evolved to quickly absorb and learn the rules and dynamics of whatever society we are born into so that we can negotiate our life in it. This means the systems and rules within whatever society we are brought up in are normally invisible and neutral to us unless we put effort into understanding them. But they are not our fault, and learning about our privileges is not to beat ourselves up about them. Do not abuse your privilege. Do not use them to take advantage of others. Do not maintain or build systems of oppression by colluding with them. Be part of beautiful, vibrant human endeavours to live in a world free of oppression.

Do I deserve to be travelling? Hard work or privilege?

January 31, 2014 4 comments

I’m in India! Travelling through this beautiful sub continent for just over 2 more months. And its amazing. So interesting, challenging, fun, frustrating, intriguing, irritating, luxurious, uncomfortable … Really its constant intense experiences and interactions except when its a long boring wait for a bus, someone to do something they said they would etc. And its warm and the sky is blue and I can be outside and walking and seeing things and it’s January and if I were in glasgow it would be dark, cold, wet with icey pavements trapping me indoors. But I made this trip instead. Well, sort of.

So I’ve been planning this trip for about a year. There was a lot to organise and I had to work 2-3 extra shifts every week for months and months to save up to pay for it. I found this hard and tiring as I’m a bank nurse so I’m working in different wards all the time, meaning each shift is more challenging as I’m having to hit fresh ground running each day. And I guess that’s what friends and family and people I met through work meant when, as the departure date was approaching, they (you!) told me I deserved the trip.

But now I’m here, and I’ve met a fair few Indian nurses, and I know that yes I worked to come but it was much easier for me to save up to come to India than it would be for them to do it the other way round.

I was born white, middle class with a South East of England accent. This makes it easier to get taken seriously, for example in uni or job interviews. I am given the benefit of the doubt more than I would if I had a working class accent or wasn’t white. In general interactions with strangers are empowering as I am assumed, because of my social markers, to be more intelligent, respectable and trustworthy than average. This leads to me feeling more confident and less hesitant as I’m constantly getting messages from those around me that I am competent. This confidence in turn spirals upwards as I am then given ever more credibility.

Being female does detract a bit from this – I can’t begin to count how many times this has happened, but minimum of once a month it is wrongly assumed that a male nearby has more technical experience or knowledge than me. And of course that usual female experience of being talked over by men, and being expected to yield in interactions. This does damage my confidence and willingness to speak but as I said, in other ways I am privileged*.

I was born with an intelligent brain and a reasonably healthy body – I am very short sighted, clumsy, short and have rosacea but I’m definitely at the able bodied end of the spectrum, especially as I live in a time and place where I can get glasses! I’d have been much more disabled otherwise! Being smart and healthy and able bodied has allowed me to work and to travel – India would be about impossible for a wheelchair user, or someone with a compromised immune system. Working to save up, and the trip itself, would have also been incredibly challenging if I had chronic pain, poor mental health etc etc.

Being female does make travel more dangerous due to sexism and rape culture** but my other privileges protect me from much of that – eg being black would mean I was seen as less credible and therefore would be an easier target for a sexual predator. Being older as a female makes me less desirable in this society so I am less harassed and sexually assaulted now than when I travelled in my twenties. If I were transgender (rather than just androgynous and genderfluid) travel in many places would again be much more dangerous and there would be a constant fear of being discovered and in what brutal way I might be punished for not conforming to societal gender norms.

Another massive privilege I was born with is geographical. I have a passport from a white, high income country meaning I can get tourist visas more easily as it is not assumed that I am secretly an economic migrant (though actually specifically for India having a UK passport makes obtaining a visa much more expensive, though still cheaper than for an Indian to obtain a UK visa) Crucially, though I’m not high earning in UK terms (I make roughly £1400 a month when working full time), because the UK is near the top of the economic food chain and has a history of imperialism leading to wealth, I was able to save enough to live and travel in India for 4 months, in a way not accessible for the average Indian to do in reverse. So just by the luck of being born in the UK I have life choices in much of the rest of the world.

But this trip was definitely not handed to me on a plate. It was hard work to save up to come and to organise my life to enable that, by minimising expenditure and commitments. I could have not fought inertia, and then I’d still be in Glasgow now.

So do I deserve this? Was I able to come on this amazing trip of a lifetime to India because of my hard work or because I am so privileged by society?

Why yes. ;)

* the idea that everybody is privileged and oppressed in different ways by different axis (eg race, gender, class) is called intersectionality.

** rape culture is the commonly accepted ideas, systems, language etc that encourage and enable sexual assaults. This includes sexual objectification of women so that they are dehumanised and seen as things to prey on for sex rather than people with desires of their own and the right to their own bodily autonomy. Also ideas that females should be modest and have specific proven, displayed virtues (be it clothing, alcohol consumption, being out on their own at night, being a sex worker etc) or that otherwise anything that happens to them is their own fault and the actual perpetrators are let off the hook.

Dhoom 3 – fun and great twist on white James Bond using non white countries as exotic playground

December 26, 2013 1 comment

Dhoom 3 was amazing! Such a good movie. Really high production values and lots of fun. I think as my first Bollywood film it may have set future expectations unrealistically high. And the big baddie was a white corporate exec called Warren Anderson! Surely it can’t be a coincidence that this is exactly shared with Union Carbide’s chief exec, himself responsible for the corporate manslaughter of thousands here in Bhopal?!

USA was used as the exotic backdrop and the white cops were kinda dumb and useless and needing the assistance of the smart (in all senses of the word) Indian cops. It was the Indians who had the fancy moves during the chase scenes and the white cops who had the big smash ups. In fact apart from one white character (and she could speak Hindi) the white guys were either dumb or evil. But after decades of the reverse (eg this year’s “Captain Phillips”) this seemed just!

In particular a river chase scene invoked all those James Bonds where river boats are ripped through – but this time its brown guys using a white city as a playground. Somehow I enjoyed that. And I really like that unapologetic self-confidence rather than the internalised-racism self-cringe.

I thought my initial 2 days of travel plus jet lag had intensified and clouded my emotions and so biased my love-at-first-sight reaction to even Mumbai airport, but no, its getting deeper every day. I became unmotivated to learn any more Hindi last week as it won’t be useful after I travel south next month, but I’ve picked it up again this week (today I learned to (sort of / badly) count to 100) because I think I will come back here, to Bhopal. And so much of the north to see I will have to make at least one more trip to this gorgeous country.

Also on the way home and still feeling invigorated from the movie, I got my hair cut right back – I’d let it grow to about an inch so it would be less shocking out here. But after a fortnight I realised that the best thing I can do is wear Indian clothes, which anyway are gorgeous. I am white and that is enough to get stared at off the beaten track. I can’t fade into comfortable background however long my hair gets, so I might as well have the hairstyle I want! India is very diverse so can probably handle this weird chick with shaved head. So I went into a barber’s, showed him a photo of me with a shorn head (I long ago learned that I will otherwise get disbelief that I understand what I am asking for) and now am again bald. :)

Endnote : the gender politics in D3 were pretty standard – female characters pretty and used for love interest and eye candy. Please don’t go see this movie thinking its particularly progressive. I just enjoyed it that’s all.