Tag Archives: activism

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

Article translated from this site.

Calais_occupation_Galou_10_impasse_des_salines-400x300 

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:

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.

 

The Beginnings of RadUni

by Michelle La Guilla

The short but exciting history of Radical University to date can be traced back to a political writing workshop, brainchild of Chris Witter, an activist with Lancaster University Against the Cuts and latterly RadUni contributor. The idea was to explore how, alongside our campaigning and protest activities – and working for our degrees – LUAC activists could expand the struggle against all forms of oppression by writing about it.  Chris envisioned writing itself as a form of struggle, and two exciting workshops were held where we not only talked passionately about our political hopes and ideas, but discovered when we shared our work that we had a pool of enormous untapped talent.

Subsequently, however, with many of us in the third, all-consuming year of degrees, the original energy started to fizzle out a little.  With essay and dissertation deadlines to meet which understandably had to be put first, articles were left unfinished or missed the SCAN (Lancaster University’s official student newspaper) deadline.  Additionally, put bluntly, some of our material was perhaps too radical for SCAN; for example, I have strong suspicions that the much shorter version of my post ‘Fear and Loathing in the Con Dem Nation’ that I wrote for SCAN was rejected not because it lacked merit but because I set out my stall in the first paragraph when I called our current leaders ‘a coterie of dead-eyed, grinning (and crucially, rich) sociopaths who literally laugh in the faces of the poor as they rob them’.*  What if, I thought, we could write without having to self-censor?  What if we could write what we really wanted, without having to factor in the bland, conservative with a small ‘c’ nature of mainstream student journalism?  What if we could create a forum whereby any activist could post at any time, giving them freedom to write what they wanted when they were able; without having to meet extra deadlines for people already drowning in deadlines?

My idea was met with general enthusiasm, but the touchpaper was really lit by the passion and involvement of my co-founder Anaïs Charles.  One cold night in March the two of us sat down together at her place to make it happen.  In a whirlwind, breathlessly exciting couple of hours we set up the blog, named it, created its look and design, and posted our original trio of finished pieces; my ‘Fear and Loathing’, Anaïs’s ‘Addicts R Us’ and Laura Clayson’s ‘Ecocide’.  During the next few days, we watched in amazement and delight as our hits mounted up and readers all over the world came to the site.  For both of us, it’s no exaggeration to say it was an emotional time. I grew up in an old Labour household with fiery left wing parents who taught me to question everything and never to blindly accept the status quo; this coupled with a modest way with words meant that really all I had ever wanted to do was write about what was really happening in the world, about dissent, about challenging power structures and living with compassion and love.  Anaïs had already founded and was, alongside Laura Clayson, the driving force behind another campus activist group, Lancaster University Against the Arms Trade.  We both agree now that without the other we could never have made it happen; our combined passion and energy, our different but complementary talents, our shared worldview and our close friendship and mutual support all combined at a special moment to give birth to Radical University.  Since then, we have gone from strength to strength, with friends, comrades and new allies alike all contributing thought provoking, incisive analysis; the creation of a Facebook page and Twitter account to grow our blog and both expand our readership and attract new talent (the day Anaïs showed me our Twitter being followed by big hitting feminist Naomi Wolf was one of the most exciting in my recent memory, though just as exciting is the fact that many Lancaster University lecturers and students now follow us and that we have been read in 20 different countries at the last count).  We’ve become multi-media with the inclusion of short films and beautiful protest art (see Anaïs ‘s short film ‘Who Profits from Apartheid’ and Ruth Malcolm’s moving and disturbing art work ‘This is Not OK’.

Paradoxically success has brought new challenges.  Our initial vision for a free flowing forum of activists posting on whatever subjects they wish at whatever time continues to be dear to our hearts; we will never sacrifice editorial freedom and organic growth for a site festooned with corporate logos – considering our radical positioning, we feel this would be not only inappropriate but ludicrous and we would never sell out in this way.  However, the nature of our own lives and those of our fellow writers means we cannot write on every single issue we would like to; our available time to do so is circumscribed by study, work, frontline activism, family commitments, and all the other minutiae of contemporary, fast moving academic and social life.  We write with passion and for free and we don’t want that to change; thus we have had to consider how we can grow our site and reach out to new readers and new talent whilst keeping our integrity.  We are also all too familiar with the phenomenon of ‘activist burnout’; sometimes the suffering and injustice we see all around us and try to fight becomes too painful, and at these times when our souls ache and our hearts hurt, forward motion can become all but impossible.  This has been an issue I personally have had to grapple with, and at times it is no exaggeration to say this has been a life and death struggle, as I documented in ‘Fear and Loathing’.

Thus we have come to the inevitability of having to expand our blog and recruit new writers. Anaïs and I have recently watched in frustration as current debates have come and gone without either of us having the time or energy to contribute pieces on these issues to RadUni. So it is with excitement that we invite you to get involved!

*We do not demonise the rich, nor do we lump them into a generalised super-category – but we recognise the undeniable links between wealth, hyper-capitalism and widespread oppression.