Category Archives: General

PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Anti-Fracking Legal Battle Update

“Today in Manchester Crown Court Sarah McGowan appealed her conviction for an action that she and Laura Clayson were arrested for on the 7th January 2014. The pair were removed by police for blockading Barton Moss Road in a bid to obstruct deliveries to IGas’ hydraulic fracturing site. Initially their charge was ‘Obstruction of a Public Highway’ but a ruling on the 12th February 2014 established that Barton Moss was in fact a private road. As a result of this ruling their charge was changed to ‘Obstruction of an Officer in the execution of their duty’. They both challenged this on the grounds that Officers could not have been obstructed in the execution of their duty in this instance if their reason for making the arrest was based on a wrongful road classification. Laura’s application to appeal wasn’t processed in time for it to be heard at the same time today.

However, after 4 hours of waiting the Judge chose to adjourn the hearing.

This was due to a similar appeal case being considered by the High Court in July. Currently there is a divergence between the Crown and Magistrates Courts on whether or not protesters were obstructing an officer in the execution of their duty. The High Court’s decision will determine whether these convictions can be upheld.

The pair hope that the High Court ruling will go in the favour of anti-fracking activists, as natural justice should stipulate that one cannot be arrested for an offence, to then have it changed by the system due to the police’s misunderstanding of the law.

Speaking from outside Court Ms McGowan spoke of her motivation to take direct action on this, “According to the World Bank,of known global fossil fuel reserves estimates of between two-thirds and four-fifths need to be left in the ground if we are to stay below 2 degrees of warming, which the scientific consensus says is the maximum amount of warming the planet can tolerate. Above this, tipping points & feedback mechanisms will kick in creating a momentum of its own.” Her co-defendant Ms Clayson echoed with similar sentiments, “hydraulic fracturing is an unviable alternative to fossil fuels. In order to display a commitment to future generations we should be making the transition to renewable energy sources, not exploring unconventional fossil fuels which only serve to line the pockets of stakeholders. Direct action is a legitimate and necessary form of protest when the state chooses to ignore scientific warnings”.

Sarah will be back in Court for the 7th August. It is expected that both defendants’ cases will be linked up by this time.

Sarah and Laura expressed gratitude and thanks to everyone who came along as Court supporters. It meant the world to them!”

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Calais’ evictions and the current migrant crisis

 What evictions?

Two evictions were due to take place in Calais: the first at a newly opened migrant squat at 10 Impasse Des Salines, an abandoned factory on the edge of the centre of town, and the second at the ‘jungles’ located near the port. The former houses 80 migrants, with many more visiting during the daytime to eat, shower and socialise, whilst the latter houses over 800. As of the 24th July, the squat was given 10 days before the eviction was to take place; however, after the prefecture met, it was decided the eviction would not happen immediately, providing, at least for now, temporary calm. The fate of the jungles remains unclear, with previous evictions taking place in May this year (2014) and in 2009. Occasionally, small victories are won at the squat with the Council coming to collect the garbage or clean the toilets.

Tell us more about the migrants?

Coming from Syria, Eritrea and everywhere in between, the migrants flee war, persecution and exile in their own countries. Most endure harrowing and life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean; from covering vast deserts with no water, to being cramped in small sailing vessels for sometimes days at a time, with hundreds of fellow migrants, many of whom die from heat exhaustion or drown in the sea. Eventually, they reach Europe and make the journey to Calais, which for many is the last stop before crossing the channel into England – a journey which also tragically costs some their lives. They have already suffered enough. Migrants typically pay smugglers to get them across each stage of the journey with funds coming through relatives who all hope for a better life. Some of the migrants had jobs, some were aid workers, others were students. Due to the British border controls, some have previously gone to the UK to study only to be deported back when their visa ran out. They ask “Is the UK good?”; within this question lay their hopes and dreams. Wanting to get across to build a better life for themselves, indeed many will proclaim that being in Calais is no life at all; they yearn for the opportunity to be educated, start a family and work. These are things taken for granted by Western society, things considered a right; but for those in Calais, they are denied all rights. The hostility of the police and the constant fear as a result means any rights they do or should have are further abused. The migrants have fled severe persecution in their countries of origin, only to be dehumanised, oppressed, and forced into poverty in this town where they remain trapped, desperately waiting to succeed on the last leg of their journey.

Daily life?

 Each day is a struggle for survival. Forced into a constant game of cat and mouse with the French police and local fascist group Sauvons Calais, the migrants seek refuge where they can; many stay at the squat, and those that can’t often come during the day before returning to their respective crossing points at night. Food is cooked by migrants at the squat, provided by organisations such as Calais Ouverture et Humanitie (COH) and more recently Emaus, whilst donations are regularly received from locals. Activists provide English classes and legal workshops to prepare the migrants for when they arrive. However, due to local mayor Natacha Buchart they face constant police brutality, with many being found whilst trying to cross and returned, some are bought back multiple times each night having been unsuccessful. Occasionally, an effort is successful and a migrant will manage to board one of the lorries in one way or another, only to find several hours later that the lorry has driven to some other European destination as opposed to crossing the channel. They will then have to once again travel hundreds of miles back to Calais, in order to pursue their relentless efforts to reach the British coast. Exhausted from their nightly efforts, they will sleep before attending a Food Distribution ran by Salam, a charity, in the evening.

Any solutions?

Calais is a humanitarian disaster, and the future for its migrant population remains bleak. What is needed is for Buchart to recognize that it is France’s problem happening not just in her town but also at Dunkirke. Buchart’s reasoning is that the problem shouldn’t be Calais’ issue, it should be Britain that adapts its border policy, thereby allowing Buchart to disrespect, abuse and deny any rights the migrants had or should have. In contrast, over 500 people and many local and national organisations rallied to support the initial opening of the Impasse squat – proving the scale of support that exists. This support has to continue if the migrants are going to survive with an urgent appeal for people to come and support both squat and occupants. Britain’s border policy needs to be more flexible and remove itself from the Dublin 2 regulation which is hampering asylum efforts by forcing the migrants to cross illegally. However whilst long term solutions can be proposed, an immediate solution has to be found: Buchart needs to offer more asylum applications or at the very least provide housing, food and resources to these people. The situation needs to be re-evaluated by Buchart with both compassion and empathy.

In solidarity,

Ruth and Daniel

Twitter: @NoBordersLancs

FB: Lancaster NoBorders

All images credited to Calais Ouverture et Humanitie

Article written for Novara Media – see novaramedia.com

A response to ‘7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict’

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A response to Ali A. Rizvi’s ‘7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict’ published in The Huffington Post

Nikhil Datta & James Duckworth

Some of you may have seen Ali A. Rivzi’s Huff Post article trending recently, which ultimately calls for some balance to be taken when observing the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is a well-constructed piece that to a large number may seem convincing. Nevertheless, it is riddled with fallacious arguments, cherry picked facts, apologism for military aggression, and comes with a pre-supposition that Hamas are no more than an Al-Qaeda equivalent who seeks nothing but nihilistic destruction. As a result we felt it necessary to give a point by point response.

Prior to that however, we just want to make clear what is meant by ‘Anti-Israel,’ in this instance it simply means being opposed to their foreign policy (what they perceive to be as their domestic policy), similarly how we would stand as being ‘Anti-America’ in the same regard. The key concern in this instance is with the monstrosity of Israel’s horrific ongoing engagement with Palestine, and with any disingenous apologism for it.

1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?

The situations in Syria and Iraq are incomparable to the one in Israel/Palestine. These are effectively countries mired in civil war, and at least there is a certain symmetry to the battles going on there; whereas what’s happening in Israel is the ruthless invasion of a much smaller, weaker country by a mini-superpower, whose borders this weaker state lies within. It almost resembles a refugee camp being flattened by its host nation.

Further to that, if you really want to draw comparisons, we should draw a more accurate one; i.e. the subject of unjust invasion of a weaker country by a superpower. One of this article’s points is that there has been no comparable outcry to other global tragedies being perpetrated. But what about Iraq? Three million were motivated to march on London in 2003. There have been numerous organised efforts to prevent the invasion and since then to pull out – Stop the War, CND were involved, MP’s resigned, etc etc. The author is using the argument that “Because nobody speaks up about Syria and ISIS, protests against Israeli foreign policy must be based on an undercurrent of Anti-Semitism.” Nonsense; a fallacious argument designed to silence protest. Comparisons to other outcries can be drawn, if we look in the right places.

Moreover, just because an injustice is being perpetrated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about it. This is like a man charged with assaulting his wife appearing in court, and his advocate arguing “What’s the issue? There are loads of other wife beaters out there.” What we would say is, know when to pick your battles. What the hell can we do about ISIS or Syria? Invade the Middle East again? However, if the West (especially the US) can be persuaded to turn their backs on Israel’s foreign policy, there’s a realistic chance of ending the massacre while there are still some people left alive in Palestine.

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?

As is well known, individual religions have many different interpretations, sub-denominations and splinter factions. And need it be said that most religious texts carry with them no small number of contradictions and abrogations, and that therefore any political decisions taken in the name of religion are going to be based on cherry-picked verses to support their desired interpretation? For example, a homophobic Christian needs only to look to Leviticus 20:13 to find this gem – ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’ Obviously not all Christians are homophobic, and not all homophobic individuals are Christians; conflating Zionism with Judaism is the equivalent of synonymising homophobia with Christianity.

Furthermore there are a number of Jewish organizations who protest Israeli policy – Jews for Justice, Anarchists against Wall, Jews Against Genocide, the True Torah Jews… Perhaps the key difference when identifying the difference between Judaism and Zionism is that one has the ability to function harmoniously with other groups of society, the other carries an inherent and bloody external cost.

3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?

‘If Israel truly wanted to destroy Gaza,it could do so within a day, right from the air’, writes Rizvi. As Noam Chomsky has clearly pointed out before, Israel’s key desire is to maintain the status quo, over the past 60 years they have slowly expanded and swallowed up what was previously Palestinian land. If they were to wipe out an entire nation in one fell swoop they would arguably score a lot less friends. Israel is following a depressingly familiar pattern: they look for a reason to break the ceasefire, and then slowly but surely demolish what is left of the refugee camp-cum-prison that is known as Gaza. It’s a slower strategy, but one that is far easier to sell to the international media.

4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields?

Information in this paragraph isn’t just misleading, it’s entirely inaccurate. To begin with, the UNRWA school that rockets were stored in was in fact vacant (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/isolated-weapons-find-vacant-unrwa-school-cannot-justify-israels-gaza-slaughter); furthermore a number of Human Rights Watch investigations into this claim have shown that there is no evidence that the ‘human shields’ argument is true. Gaza being as densely populated as it is, it’s almost impossible not to fire rockets from residential areas, and as a 2009 Amnesty report pointed out ‘there is no evidence that they did so with the intent of shielding themselves.’

The same report also pointed out ‘In the past, Israeli soldiers have frequently taken over Palestinian homes, effectively imprisoning their occupants, to use as military observation and firing positions. In other cases, they have forced Palestinian civilians, at gunpoint, to go before them into buildings from which they feared attack.’

5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza?

The 2005 Withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip seems to be being sold as some form of gift to the Palestinians, when in reality they still had no control over their borders, sea or airspace and the territory was still a fraction of the original land that was meant to exist in 1947. Rather than criticizing the Gazans for looking a gift horse in the mouth, perhaps their resistance should be celebrated as showing that they were not willing to become infected by some form of Stockholm syndrome.

Moreover, more attention is needed to the point that Gazan-Palestinians had no control over their sea- there are two major gas fields in Palestinian waters which rightfully belong to them. However, following his 2001 election victory, Ariel Sharon stated “Israel would never buy gas from Palestine”, and since has contested their ownership both legally and through force.

Finally the 2005 withdrawal of Gaza did not come without expense to the West Bank, as Chomsky points out in his 2009 article in Peace News: “It made more sense to turn Gaza into the world’s largest prison and to transfer settlers to the West Bank, much more valuable territory, where Israel is quite explicit about its intentions, in word and more importantly in deed. One goal is to annex the arable land, water supplies, and pleasant suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that lie within the separation wall, irrelevantly declared illegal by the World Court. That includes a vastly expanded Jerusalem, in violation of Security Council orders that go back 40 years, also irrelevant. Israel has also been taking over the Jordan Valley, about one-third of the West Bank.”

6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel?

This point suggests that Hamas want Gazans to die so as to fuel some sort of twisted PR campaign, which, when considered against the effectiveness of Hasbara, Israel’s ongoing ‘public diplomacy’ campaign, is almost comedic, as well as being factually wrong.
(See point 4 re: the human shields fallacy.)

All this point really highlights is how technologically and militarily asymmetrical the conflict is, and the argument that Hamas spend all their resources on armaments rather than protecting civilians is, once again, factually wrong. It’s important to bear in mind that Hamas are a democratically elected party, and one of the key reasons they were elected (aside from the failings of Fatah) is that they have support amongst Palestinians as a result of the number of charitable organizations they run.

Finally, this point (and indeed the entire article) seems to demonise any form of resistance from Palestinians. Putting aside the fact that Israel cast the first stone in this current battle, Hamas is left with a choice; fight back or live, degraded and destitute, under blockade, within the “world’s largest prison”, at the mercy of a trigger-happy and awesomely powerful military force.

7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?

Finally, the author mentions some realities: “Settlement expansion is simply incomprehensible. No one really understands the point of it. Virtually every US administration — from Nixon to Bush to Obama — has unequivocally opposed it. There is no justification for it except a Biblical one.” And then Christopher Hitchens: “I’m afraid I know too much about the history of the conflict to think of Israel as just a tiny, little island surrounded by a sea of ravening wolves and so on. I mean, I know quite a lot about how that state was founded, and the amount of violence and dispossession that involved.” I completely agree that “there are now at least two or three generations of Israelis who were born and raised in this land, to whom it really is a home, and who are often held accountable and made to pay for historical atrocities that are no fault of their own.”

Nobody with any sense of compassion wants to see a similar fate brought upon the Israelis, in the same way that we can’t expect to see the US population forcibly ejected from North America, or the Spanish and Portugese from South America. Not only would it be unfeasible, it would be monstrous. But let’s not forget that Hamas have been putting forward a two-state solution for years, consistently approaching the US with diplomatic suggestions. There is plenty of evidence they want to make it work. You get factions and variations of opinion within any organisation, but this notion that they are nothing but a nihilistic organisation seeking nothing but the utter destruction of Israel is propaganda.

Bear in mind, on the other hand, this reality: In the first three months following the November 2012 cease-fire, not a single rocket came out of the Palestinian territories. Israel, however, carried out numerous unprovoked attacks and incursions, killing innocent civilians and violating the cease-fire.

In an interview with Ha’aretz, former Israeli PM Ehud Barak was asked what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian:

“I would have joined a terrorist organization.”

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Bibliography:
http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/25156-five-misconceptions-about-the-israel-palestine-conflict
http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/isolated-weapons-find-vacant-unrwa-school-cannot-justify-israels-gaza-slaughter
http://www.globalresearch.ca/war-and-natural-gas-the-israeli-invasion-and-gaza-s-offshore-gas-fields/
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/the-palestinian-resistance-and-its-enemies/
http://peacenews.info/node/3866/noam-chomsky-gaza

Calais: Support for the Galou Occupation from 28th July to 6th August

Article translated from this site.

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There is a strangely calm atmosphere at the Galou squat today, despite yesterday’s verdict of expulsion. We play with cards, we prepare meals, we wash clothes, we sweep the grounds and discuss things while we drink tea. More and more women turn up during the day – there are also a lot more of them in the ‘jungle’, since the welcome spot planned for them and entrusted by Solid’R’s headquarters are full.

The general assembly planned for 3pm starts late, due to various bits of information and things to sort out. The bailiff is coming by next week to notify us of the verdict, and the 10-day time period during which we’ll need to vacate the premises will only be enforced from that point on.

What was expressed yesterday has been confirmed: the inhabitants want to stay, and won’t leave of their own accord at the end of those ten days. A common consensus is outlined in discussions. The process is a long one to put in place between people who don’t all know one another, or who have only been acquainted for a short period of time; who share neither the same language nor culture but find themselves implementing a common democratic process.

The weekend should see a collective consensus emerging. In the meantime, from the demands of the inhabitants, calls to join and mobilise are circulating like this one.

SUPPORT FOR THE GALOU OCCUPATION
FROM 28TH JULY TO 6TH AUGUST – CALAIS AND EVERYWHERE ELSE

2nd July: the space is organised for the distribution of meals, occupied for a month by migrants and three squats are evacuated. More than 600 people are stopped, more than 200 placed in retention. Released little by little, these people return to Calais.

12 July: at the end of a demonstration, the unused buildings of the Galou factory are opened and occupied by migrants and supporters. Showers are constructed, tents and toilets given by Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World). The old manager’s house is also used for sleeping. A kitchen and living space are created. The solidarity of Calaisians and NGOs provide everyday necessities and allow for the preparation of meals. Language lessons and concerts are organised. Over one hundred people live here, but the space also serves as a resource for other migrants across Calais.

24th July: verdict of Calais’s Civil Court is seized by the owner, inhabitants have 10 days to leave the building which will then make squatters liable for eviction. This ten day period commences as soon as the bailiff comes to deliver the verdict, which is possible as of Monday.

The inhabitants don’t want to leave before an alternative solution is found. They ask for all those who are ready to support them to mobilise:

Detention and Injustice

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Guantanamo bay, 2014. Shaker Aamer, Britain’s last remaining resident is still waiting to be sent home having been cleared for release by both the Bush Administration in 2006 and Obama in 2009. Instead, Aamer writes in a piece relayed through his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith in February on the anniversary of his imprisonment “I feel lonely and lost. Not knowing my future is the worst torture. I am living just to die. I am confused about everything and everyone.” In the months that followed his health further declined when on the 14th April he asked a federal judge to release him because he was chronically ill, both mentally and physically. According to the motion submitted to the Columbia district court, it is unlikely Aamer will ever fully recover. However it is no surprise that after a decade of torture and unimaginable abuse and suffering, his future looks bleak at best. The US have been stalling and pushing for him to be sent to Saudi Arabia where he will more than likely be silenced. The difficulty with Aamer is due to how the War on Terror was conducted, more specifically how suspected terrorists were rounded up. Aamer was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 whilst working for a charity having previously worked for the US as a translator. Instead, the Northern Alliance, the US’s proxy army, was paid for any ‘Arab looking guy.” Aamer speaks fluent English which gives him and the rest of the camp a voice of protest much to the dismay of the US.

Aamer’s case is not only tragic as it highlights the failures of Obama’s foreign policy as at least under Bush, over 500 detainees were released, it calls into question the very nature of the war we are meant to be fighting. The supposed terrorists held at Guantanamo bay is a myth when estimates suggest only 5% of those are guilty. However this is not a denial that guilty people are held there, this is a refusal to accept that the US is doing all it can to get innocent men out of the nightmare they were forced into. The issue stems in part from finding countries that will repatriate them however the UK has repatriated other detainees therefore Aamer should be no exception. It shouldn’t have to fall to the US to make an exception on grounds of ill health, when Aamer has never seen one of his children who was born on February 14th 2001, the day he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, it should be common practise to release proven innocent prisoners. This therefore is not a war that has been won, false imprisonment, torture and abuse not exclusive to Guantanamo Bay but also Bagram and other facilities used. Instead, this is a war that even Afghanistan has realized is unjust with Karzai releasing, much to the US’s anger, prisoners from Bagram on account of their innocence. What we see now is a failed attempt to rebuild Afghanistan from the outside, we intervened in their civil war and it failed – now is the time to withdraw and let the Afghan population regain their identity. Elections are beginning to take place and glimmers of hope are emerging for the procurement of women’s rights.

The future therefore for Aamer and all of the other detainees held is uncertain; hunger striking is the last bastion of protest these men have to gain the rights they are legally entitled to. It is a protest that should be reported more in the media as justice requires people to be aware and understand. The more the US attempts to cover the daily abuse’s up, the more these men get forgotten and the longer justice goes un-served.

References

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/shaker-aamer/shaker-aamer-guantanamo-bay_b_4781575.html

http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/04/15/gravely-ill-shaker-aamer-asks-us-judge-to-order-his-release-from-guantanamo/

https://www.aclu.org/national-security/guantanamo-numbers

Image Credit

Steve Latimer

PRESS RELEASE: UKIP BILLBOARD IMPROVED

On behalf of an anonymous submission –

PRESS RELEASE; FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

On the morning of the 16th of May, the UKIP billboard on Scottforth Road, Lancaster, was improved. A Hitler moustache was added to Nigel Farage’s face, the Antifa logo was added over the UKIP logo, Antifa stickers were added to the nearby bus shelter, their statements and web links were removed, and the statement ‘NO FASCISM HERE!!!’ was added.

UKIP are a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic and bigoted party.  We do not approve of fascist propaganda in our community.

Mainstream media has proven itself to be unable to stand up to the permeation of racist, fascist propaganda. It’s time to spread the message of unity, diversity and equality. We take this action in solidarity with our brothers and sisters fighting fascism in Europe and across the world; we are inspired by your actions and resilience.

Yours,

Lancaster Antifa

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Why playing ‘more activist than thou’ is a game with no winners

by Michelle La Guilla

In March of last year, a small controversy erupted concerning this blog and the other blog I co-run, kickingtoryassonwelfare@wordpress.com.  (My response is embarrassingly belated; I’ve been kind of missing in action).  I had posted a piece on KTA advocating the declaration of lawful rebellion, according to an old paragraph in the Magna Carta and achievable by simply writing to the Queen: http://kickingtoryassonwelfare.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/when-all-else-fails-write-to-the-queen/  Soon after, Will Taylor published a strongly worded piece on Rad Uni whereby he critiqued the KTA piece as, essentially, advocating going cap in hand to figures from the establishment and the elite asking for a better deal; something which, in Taylor’s view, ‘surrenders political agency to the already powerful . . . so much better to organise amongst the powerless to increase their agency’.  You can read the whole piece here: https://radicaluniversity.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/why-writing-to-the-queen-and-lawful-rebellion-is-a-monumental-waste-of-time/

 

Well, yes.  Despite causing a minor hullabaloo at the time, prompting us to create a safe spaces policy for Rad Uni (obviously a good thing) due to the original wording of Taylor’s piece, and whereby I was pretty damn pissed off to be put in the position of either censoring Rad Uni or be, as I felt at the time, humiliated on a forum which I had created; despite all this, I by and large agreed with Taylor’s points.  Since the publication of the KTA piece, which I wrote semi-ironically after seeing lawful rebellion discussed in one of the welfare campaigning groups I belong to on facebook (and admittedly knowing very little about it beyond this), I’ve come to agree that it was perhaps a naïve move considering the history of lawful rebellion and its co-option by lots of highly unpleasant right wing elements.  Yet I stand by my original intention in writing the piece.

 

Taylor’s piece in its final form was articulate and well argued; however, it’s my belief that he and I were looking at the same issue from utterly different angles.  My intention in writing the KTA piece was simultaneously quite light hearted – no one really thinks that writing to the queen will effect change, that she will receive such a letter and immediately exclaim ‘I had no idea things were so bad, let me immediately depose the government!’ – but also a serious attempt to offer something practical KTA readers could do.  We know the queen doesn’t give a shit; however, what Taylor in my view failed to consider is that KTA is a forum aimed at the most powerless people in society; our readers are on benefits; some are disabled or mentally ill; they are by and large not people that get listened to, rather in the current climate they are daily heinously slandered.  They – we, because I am among that number; on benefits due to severe mental health problems all my adult life – are also, scandalously, still dying; just this week the Guardian reported on a man with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and an eating disorder who starved to death after being found fit to work, despite a letter from his GP stating he was ‘extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever’ (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/28/man-starved-to-death-after-benefits-cut). 

 

The point I was trying to make – arguably rather poorly – was that with all these odds and injustices stacked against you, sometimes you just have to do something, that the outcome isn’t necessarily the point, the point is to – as Anais put it quite beautifully during the whole short lived acrimony – own your own reality.  To say, by whatever means are available to you, not in my name.  This is wrong.  I dissent.  And those means aren’t equitably distributed; when you’re housebound by disability, or struggling with severe depression and the hideous revolving door of medical/appeal/medical, a letter or a signature on an online petition may genuinely be the most you can do. Not that they are ‘medicals’; no doctors are involved; and regarding that revolving door, I was called to another assessment while my first was still under appeal.  I was told by welfare rights that unfortunately this was in fact lawful, as I was appealing my fitness for work related activity and they would be testing my fitness to work.  Such pedantic semantics and relentless hounding, for people who are already ill, can easily crush the spirit completely; hence the many suicides and hence how doubly important it is to be able to do anything, however small and ultimately inconsequential, that feels like fighting back. 

 

Not everyone is able to engage in street protest and direct action, for a multiplicity of reasons; therefore to suggest implicitly or explicitly that these are the only worthwhile forms of resistance is both offensive and facile.  Mental illness and disability do, unfortunately, often breed isolation whether that’s because of mobility issues, the horrible feeling of not wanting to inflict your deep depression on others, or being literally too afraid to leave the house.  ‘Organising amongst the powerless’ is a wonderful ideal, but it can be very difficult to achieve in practice.  I can no longer go to street protests due to my anxiety, with the very real fear of police violence and kettling compounded by my panic reaction to busy streets and crowds.  But I do what I can; I blog, and even when I was in the grips of suicidal depression last year, signing online petitions enabled me to feel I was still fighting the good fight in my own small way.  It was the only thing I was physically and mentally able to do, and hopefully the petitions achieved what they were aiming for; but on a personal level, when I was utterly broken and utterly powerless, they made me feel I was still using my voice even though it was hushed to a whisper.  At such times, ANYTHING that helps you to feel, if only ever so slightly, more in control of your own destiny is a good thing.

 

Of course there’s also a broader issue here; many activists do, unfortunately, have a somewhat condescending attitude to clicktivism, which I am defining here as any political action done via computer, such as blogging, writing to MPs, signing online petitions, even posting political content on social media.  Yet clicktivism can be an incredibly powerful tool; I’d suggest that both Rad Uni and KTA in their different ways have been dynamic forces for good.  Rad Uni acts as a political voice for any left wing writer with something to say; a branch of Lancaster University Anti Capitalists (formerly Lancaster University Against the Cuts, in whose writing group its first seeds were sown), collecting LUAC press releases and comment in easily accessible form; and a showcase for comment, art, series, even poetry, on a broad range of activist issues.  KTA, on the other hand, was set up by myself and Laura C in response to the devastatingly unjust cuts to benefits and in particular the death toll after Atos assessments.  As well as posting pieces on the relevant issues, we also give support, advice and signposting via our email address; we don’t pretend to be experts and always direct people to welfare rights and CAB in addition to ourselves, but we do know enough to give useful information and, crucially, the reassurance that people don’t have to struggle on alone with this.  We’ve had countless messages of thanks and I think that personal support is the reason why; I know as well as anyone how isolating, frightening and overwhelming it is to wrestle with a benefits system which aims only to shed claimants at any cost and as such is no longer fit for purpose.  One piece I wrote, again in March last year, about negotiating ESA and the work capability assessments, has had almost 5000 hits at last count and I am still receiving lovely messages about it today.  This kind of thing is quieter, more low key than street protest for sure; but I feel that Laura and I have done a great deal of good with KTA and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of in my whole life.

 

It’s all too easy – and unfortunately, common – to dismiss those not out on the streets protesting by taking a ‘more activist than thou’ attitude.  Yet this is hugely counterproductive, belittling and alienating those who already feel forgotten.  Street protest and direct action are hugely important and I salute the bravery and commitment of those who risk police brutality and arrest to stand up for their cause; if, however, this twists into an attitude of disdain and superiority for those who can’t, we risk selling out the very powerless and oppressed populations we claim to stand for.  And if that is the case, how are we any better than the right wingers who preach that the poor and dispossessed are in fact workshy and feckless?  Sneering at fellow activists – at fellow human beings – is a dangerous game, and it can never have any winners.