FREE JULIAN ASSANGE

I’m near to a meandering attempt to write about the increasing suppression of views opposing the voices of the powerful. As I prevaricate Priti Patel approves the extradition of Julian Assange. Indeed it is a dark day for freedom of thought, expression and interpretation. As for British democracy, it is revealed yet again as no more than at best a liberal oligarchy with no genuine accountability to its citizens.’

Extradition Statement: Patel approves extradition

Don’t extradite Julian Assange

This is a dark day for Press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination.
Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.

It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead, she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.

Foreign laws now determine the limits of press freedom in this country and the journalism that won the industry’s most prestigious prizes has been deemed an extraditable offence and worthy of a life sentence.

The path to Julian’s freedom is long and tortuous. Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system; the next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout harder on the streets, we will organise and we will make Julian’s story known to all.

Make no mistake, this has always been a political case. Julian published evidence that the country trying to extradite him committed war crimes and covered them up; tortured and rendered; bribed foreign officials; and corrupted judicial inquiries into US wrongdoing. Their revenge is to try to disappear him into the darkest recesses of their prison system for the rest of his life to deter others from holding governments to account.

We will not let that happen. Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. We will fight to return Julian to his family and to regain freedom of expression for us all.

Thanks to Tim Dawson

Yanis Varoufakis

Politician, DiEM25, Greece

“The game is up. Years of lies exposed. It was never about Sweden, Putin, Trump or Hillary. Assange was persecuted for exposing war crimes. Will those duped so far now stand with us in opposing his disappearance after a fake trial where his lawyers will not even know the charges?”

Alice Walker

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist

“Years from now people will say: Oh, if only I had known what we were losing when they abused this decent and courageous man!
I would have done something! But now, what can I do, since these days I don’t dare express what I know and think! Regret is too often the fruit of silence.”

Mairead Maguire

Nobel Peace Prize winner

“Julian Assange and his colleagues in Wikileaks have shown on numerous occasions that they are one of the last outlets of true democracy and their work for our freedom and speech”

Dunja Mijatović

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe

“Allowing Mr Assange’s extradition… would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

Reflections on the Meaning of Existence whilst Leaning on a Lamp-Post

The audience starts to assemble. Ta to Xavier

Further to my self-centred announcement of my 75th birthday, the following seeks to offer an insight into the tribulations plus a number of images of the celebratory event held at our house. I’m hoping that doing so might kick-start me into renewing the momentum of this blog. We will see. Perhaps predictably I’ve found myself in the past few days, as befits my three scores and fifteen, dwelling upon the question of what I’ve been up to in my life. Living in the birthplace of Western philosophy demands such reflection. For now, though this musing remains hazy in keeping with me being dazy for the past week or so.

My dazed condition dates back to an alarming moment when, on a longish journey home, the brakes on our stalwart Suzuki car failed. One tortuous way and another we limped to the garage where the dear girl, 22 years old was declared beyond repair. With the birthday bash only two days away, without transport, our predilection to be anxious reared its nagging head. Fortunately, neighbours and friends came to our aid as we remembered, yet again, something else we had forgotten, notably, παγάκιa, the essential ice cubes. The temperature was forecast to be 32 degrees.

A glimpse of our eclectic assortment of chairs/kαρέκλες and indeed friends. Ta to Xavier

Not a single eddy disturbed the tranquil opening to Sunday itself. Not a wisp of a breeze could be discerned. Only the animated birdsong and a cock crowing pierced the silence. It was going to be bloody hot. The start of the evening’s delights would have to be delayed. Nevertheless, the first task if we were to be ahead of ourselves was arranging the seating. Over 40 chairs had been begged and borrowed. Being diverse and inclusive by nature rather than being in thrall to some Johnny-come-lately Human Relations influencers, we refused none on the grounds of shape, size or colour. Thus, when completed, the eclectic composition of kαρέκλες fitted perfectly the natural amphitheatre provided by our back garden. We were pleased with ourselves which was to be our undoing.

Despite the resplendent garden defying our horticultural ignorance, Marilyn ventured that a couple more bursts of colour wouldn’t come amiss. All the more so as our neighbourhood pine marten seemed to take great pleasure in digging up and destroying the prettiest of our flowers. Despite it being the day of repose Mark and I volunteered to go in search. Intuitively perhaps we knew. The charming little florist in the next village, Vamos, was indeed closed. However, opposite was situated the seductive sight of the Mosaico cafe. It seemed irreverent on a hot Holy Day not to seek refreshment. Two pale ales and toast later we realised we best return at speed except we were empty-handed. In a last throw of the dice, we dashed to nearby Kalives where alas the florist was also closed. Yet two rows of plants had been left outside on the narrow pavement and this was Crete. Thus I chose two colourful offerings, nipped into the next-door craft shop where I left the money owed in the helpful hands of the unphased, artistic owner. Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ.

Mutterings aside and acknowledging the flowers in hand, Marilyn and Sara forgave our boyish antics but nonetheless, the preparations had been concertinaed. Before we knew where we were, folk were arriving, not least Maria Manousaki and the band, Hot Club de Grece. In fact, these brilliant musicians were no trouble, escaping into the shade to practise together.

Yiannis inseparable from his guitar even during a break. Ta to Xavier

As for ourselves, our brains fled to the mountains. We forgot all sorts – the aforesaid ice, the bread, the prosecco, the beers and much more. If we’d ordered pies, them too, for sure. Meanwhile Francesca, in charge of the canapes, was serenity itself. Whilst Linda, Lizzie and Marie recognising our plight mucked in on plying guests with drinks and nibbles.

Marilyn arrives with Rosemary’s glorious orange drizzle cake. Ta to Sara

As for Marilyn and I being by default master and mistress of ceremonies we sought to pull ourselves together, to stop being mard-arsed. Marilyn floated amongst our guests, exuding welcoming warmth. I ventured to the front of proceedings with an eye on a retreating, still blazing sun, ready to capture the audience’s attention. In doing so I set aside half a century of experience. It was my wont never to speak publicly without rehearsing, indeed almost memorising the script I had written in long hand. Thus armed, I scarcely ever looked down at my scribbling. I strutted the lecture and conference hall with confidence.

Dazed but not drunk, forgetting my lines. Dimitris, our dear neighbour, who climbed up our back wall from his olive grove below, looks concerned. Ta to Sara

Yet there I was without a note in my hand. The rest is an embarrassing blur. I said something about being fortunate to grow up at a time when, under proletarian pressure, Capitalism had made a number of profound concessions to the working class, notably free education from cradle to grave. I muttered something about education being to do with the creation of questioning, active citizens, not the indoctrination of obedient, passive consumers. I declared that we were at a crossroads in a clash between the struggle for authentic democracy and the imposition of technocratic authoritarianism. All of which needed much explanation. It was neither the time nor place but whenever is? Time for a ditty though?

Thus I sang ‘Ol’ Man River’, a song of age, conformity and resistance with a falter before intoning Paul Robeson’s rewriting of the closing lines – ‘I’ll keep laughin’ instead of cryin’, I must keep fightin’ till I’m dyin’. At the end of which I departed dizzily stage left without even introducing Maria, Yiannis, Antonis and Georgos, the Hot Club. Fortunately, there was no need for such niceties. From the first strum, la pompe, the voices of violin, guitars and double-bass intertwined seemingly effortlessly in a tour de force of jazz manouche. We swung and were captivated.

Maria swinging with the Hot Club. Ta to Xavier

At the break Marilyn and I had decided, given our advancing years, to allow ourselves a nostalgic glance back to growing up in Lancashire, sitting in front of the telly watching the comic films of Gracie Fields and George Formby.

Hence I began by singing our Gracie’s signature tune, ‘Sally in our Alley’. It is now claimed there wasn’t a dry eye in the garden. Tears of emotion or laughter, we shall never know.

After which I was joined by the Backyard Boys, Phil on ukulele, John banjo and Ian washboard to deliver George’s greatest giggle of a hit, ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’. Their consummate backing was much admired. As was Phil’s account of a touching poem penned by Linda Manousaki.

Begging Sally to marry me. Ta to Sara
Leaning on a lamp-post waiting for a lass called Marilyn to pass by. Ta to Xavier
Phil reads Linda’s generous tribute to my scribbling. Ta to Xavier

Maria and the Hot Club opened the second set by generously accompanying my effort to do justice to a popular Greek number, ‘Τι είναι αυτό που λένε αγάπη;’ translated as ‘What is this thing called love?’. I will take solace in the fact that Anastasia was impressed with my performance. Once I was out of the way Maria and the Hot Club returned us to the joys of their musicianship.

Honoured to be singing ‘Τι είναι αυτό’ with these wonderful musicians. Ta to Rod
Anastasia evidently pleased with my rendition of ‘Τι είναι αυτό’ . Carsten can’t quite believe what he is hearing. Ta to Xavier

It was at this point that Marilyn and I cast off our cloak of anxiety, tried to stop stressing and sought to bask in the atmosphere of shared pleasure created in our idyllic back garden. To add to our delight the band played her special request, ‘Misty’. At the end, rapturous applause rang down our lane and folk went their separate ways.

It’s tempting to think Marilyn is listening to the ageless melody of ‘Misty’. Ta to Xavier

At a pivotal moment when the ruling class would like to divide us and consign us to a virtual world of their making, a collective experience created by improvisatory live music cocks a snook at the powerful. It belongs to us and no one else. Our gratitude is due to everyone for being involved in all manner of supportive and helpful ways. On the Sunday itself, we vowed ‘never again’ but with each passing day our affection for the occasion grows. Whatever transpires in the future as the old song goes, ‘Thanks for the memories’. The struggle ever continues but between whom?

Well, Linda and Maria seem to have enjoyed the occasion. Ta to Sara
Thanks all round. Ta to Sara
The party’s over. Ta to Xavier

Many thanks to Xavier Rouchaud, Sara Gilding and Rod Waters for the atmospheric photos.

Our bucket collection raised 325 Euros towards Medical Aid for Palestinians. Much appreciated.

Postscript.

Thanks to Rod or not as the case might be – Leaning on a Lamp-post live from Gavalohori with the Backyard Boys! Eat your heart out, George.

IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY

Across the last two months, I’ve been struggling [that word yet again] to say something worth saying about the Ukrainian debacle. My effort has been so tardy that I’m but a few weeks away from my next birthday. Whether any of my scribbling is worth the light of day remains to be seen. In the meantime, I thought you might be amused to hear of my faltering attempt to be fun-loving and light-hearted by way of holding a concert in our garden here in Gavalochori on Crete.

Marilyn’s painting of the entrance to our garden

IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY

SUNDAY, JUNE 5th IN OUR GARDEN

A boy soprano in 1957
Up and coming race walker 1969

You are cordially invited to celebrate and/or commiserate with me on my grudging arrival at the grand old age of 75. Well over half a century ago I dreamt of the demise of capitalism, the creation of an authentically democratic society. Today that vision seems far, far away as many seem to be sleepwalking into an authoritarian dystopia.

On a picket line 1979
Speaking in support of JENGbA – Fighting Injustice, Wigan 2015

Yet ordinary life goes on with all its personal highs and lows. Hence I will cease being a curmudgeon and look forward to a delightful early evening of jazz performed by the wondrous Maria Manousakis and the brilliant Hot Club De Grece.

Maria and the Hot Club

On arrival at around 6ish canapes will be served, together with wine as befits our status as middle-class pensioners in exile. If we’d been in Wigan it would have been real ale and pies but you can’t have everything. The concert will kick off at 6.30 after which you will be thrown out to do as you please! No presents but, if you so wish, a bucket donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians gratefully accepted.

LA LOTTA CONTINUA  Ο ΑΓΏΝΑς ΣΥΝΕΧΊΖΕΤΑΙ  THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Sanitising and commodifying International Women’s Day

From the inspiring 1908 struggle of garment workers in New York – demanding higher wages and better conditions

(Kheel Center / Flickr)

From Petrograd, March 8, 1917demanding Bread and Peace

To sipping bubbly in the heart of Singapore’s financial centre, 2022

Zafferano

Credit Zafferano

Italian restaurant Zafferano is raising a glass to International Women’s Day with a Bellini cocktail promotion on March 7 and 8, 2022. Priced at $50++ for two glasses, the cocktails will be finished tableside with a pour of Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve NV, the signature champagne of a sixth-generation family-owned champagne house.

 Zafferano is at Ocean Financial Centre Level 43, 10 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049315.

I ask myself what am I playing at and David Bell asks, “is Vaccine Equity so obviously a good thing?”

I’d like to escape the seductive embrace of this laptop. I don’t want to be a member of the laptop class, who from behind their virtual screens, know better than those engaging physically and essentially with the material world. I tell myself it’s time to retreat into the olive groves, to inhale the sweet aroma of the herbs and flowers , to taste the pungent odour of my favourite flock of anarchic goats. I tell myself to do this is running away. In the end my ability to access both the vociferous unison of voices within the dominant class and the contradictory chorus of oft subdued voices in opposition offers in equal measure despair and hope. Hence, especially over the last two years. I’ve spent far too much time in my Greek garret ‘surfing the net’, to use an already old-fashioned turn of phrase, seeking critical thought from whomever and wherever. It has felt an obligation to do so. In the tiniest of ways it felt a contribution to that vital questioning of the status quo, of the motives of the powerful, without which, I fear. our hard-won rights and freedoms are in grave jeopardy.

With this in mind, I intend to be more relaxed about pointing you to pieces of writing, which I find stimulating. Whilst it’s always fruitful to try to find one’s own words and good for oneself, it’s not at all always necessary. In this light I recommend this article by David Bell, a public health physician based in the United States. After working in internal medicine and public health in Australia and the UK, he worked in the World Health Organization (WHO), as Programme Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, and as Director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in Bellevue, USA. He consults in biotech and global health. MBBS, MTH, PhD, FAFPHM, FRCP.

The COVAX Delusion Reinforces Pharmaceutical Colonialism

He begins:

Mass vaccination of those at minimal risk, with a vaccine that does not reduce transmission, is poor public health practice. Where this diverts financial and human resources from diseases of greater burden, it becomes a public health negative. This is orthodox, normal, and should not be controversial.

While the West is absorbed in its internal bunfights over vaccine mandates, masks and freedom, there seems one thing upon which all agree: ‘Vaccine Equity’- Ensuring those in low- and middle-income countries have the same access to Covid-19 vaccines as high-income populations. Even those skeptical of mass vaccination have been promoting the transfer of stocks to low-income populations, in preference to Western booster programs. Giving stuff to the poor is a good thing – that no good person could oppose – it shows we really care. A “global good.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi Alliance, CEPI, the World Economic Forum and governments globally are flying the humanitarian flag under the ‘COVAX’ umbrella, echoing the catchphrase “No one is safe, unless everyone is safe.”

A beguiling slogan, one that perfectly underlines the fallacy that is this entire charade and the shrewdness of its selling. If the vaccine is protective, the vaccinated are safe. If this is not true, if all remain unsafe, then this vaccine is not fit for this particular purpose. An international program costing many billions of dollars is based on empty, incoherent jargon.

To emphasize the absurdity, UNICEF has joined the rush to sell and implement this program whilst simultaneously recording the unprecedented harms the mono-virus focus of the Covid-19 response has caused to the children whose welfare UNICEF is supposed to protect. Humanity, and particularly those who claim humanitarian ideals and principles, need to pause, analyze this phrase, and then ponder a little deeper. Complacency is a betrayal of ourselves and others.

He concludes:

In the end, this is about truth, and speaking it. The mass media, sharing ownership with key pharmaceutical companies, is no longer able to speak truth to power. 

COVAX is a vehicle by which a very powerful and wealthy group seeks to impose a new paradigm on global public health, with centralized, pharma-based interventions replacing community-driven healthcare and national health sovereignty. We cannot afford to leave it as a side issue to the local battles that we face, or our successes will be pyrrhic. The corporatist, centralized health paradigm that COVAX epitomizes is a fog of delusion that seeks to ensnare us all.

Rose-tinted spectacles indeed: Dave Backwith questions my naivete

In this guest blog, Dave Backwith, a dear friend and comrade takes me to task in respect of my naive support for the truckers and their supporters in Canada. In the end I continue to disagree with him about how best to understand what’s going on. Momentarily it’s tempting to enter into a point-scoring argument, which might remind us both of our involvement in Marxist polemics back in our younger days. This would be deeply unhelpful. As it is I’m scribbling something about ‘why I believe what I believe’, which seeks to trace the conflict between dominant and dissident ideas in the unfolding of my consciousness, however false and flawed. In doing so I end up musing upon why I find it ground-breaking that we can now watch live streams of what’s happening on the ground in Ottawa, of interviews with participants and of daily press conferences as a counter to the opinions expressed in the mainstream media or that of a hate researcher! Of course. both must be gazed upon with a critical eye.

SHOULD WE KEEP ON TRUCKING?

Tony says readers, “might be wary of my rose-tinted version of events”.  Well, yes: rose-tinted is certainly how it looks to me.  I don’t get the unqualified support for the truckers and it’s not obvious to me that the blockade is a ‘joyous festival of the oppressed’ which the left should welcome – far from it.

The global spread of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement and that the Canadian Truckers’ ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ had over 300,000 signatures before it was withdrawn, suggest that the truckers’ grievances are widely held.  But what those grievances are isn’t entirely clear.  According to David Maynard, the Ottawa resident Tony quotes at length, their “overwhelming concern” is that Covid vaccine mandates are “creating an untouchable class of Canadians”.  The truckers, Maynard asserts are:

“…our moral conscience reminding us – with every blow of their horns – what we should have never forgotten: We are not a country that makes an untouchable class out of our citizens”.

This claim about the country Canada is doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, as the history of its indigenous peoples shows.  It also overlooks the fact that capitalism, by its nature, marginalises and ostracises people all the time.  Maynard, nonetheless, seems to have arrived at this view because he went out his front door, talked to some truckers and found that they are run-of-the-mill, friendly folk and not “a monstrous faceless occupying mob”.

It seems to me that Maynard sets up a false dichotomy: the ‘monstrous mob’ against the conscience of the nation.  On one side are the horn-honking, racist neo-Nazis, on the other the culturally diverse, polite, friendly folk he meets.  Maynard seems to accept a truckers’ claim that, “No one’s a Nazi here” and finds, “not a hint of anti-vax conspiracy theories or deranged ideology”.  During his stroll among the truckers Maynard doesn’t meet any racists, misogynists or Nazi’s. 

The implication is pretty clear. The, “white supremacists, racists, hatemongers, pseudo-Trumpian grifters, and even QAnon-style nutters” which, according to Maynard, the media say are encamped outside his window, are an invention of reporters remote from the blockade: they don’t really exist.  And yet reports of less than saintly behaviour by the truckers are not hard to find.  The Guardian, for instance, reports spreading anger at the protest among Ottawa residents and finds, “that truckers and their supporters had harassed or threatened locals”. Reuters, meanwhile, reports that:

  • Some convoy participants have been photographed with racist flags and accused by residents of vandalizing pro-LGBTQ businesses.
  • Cornerstone Housing for Women, an emergency shelter, said in a statement that “Women and staff are scared to go outside of the shelter, especially women of color.”

The reporter, Julie Gordon, adds that, “three women were heralded as heroes in shawls after a photo of them blocking a truck on a residential street went viral on social media”. She quotes one of the women, Marika Morris, as saying, “That was the only way to communicate that we don’t want them to terrorize us and we don’t want them to occupy our streets”.  Meanwhile Pam Palmater,  an Indigenous lawyer, contrasts the apparent reluctance of the police to remove the blockade with the policing of  indigenous people’s protests, “It’s OK if angry white men do it, because they are politically aligned with you, but it’s not OK if Indigenous people peacefully protect their own rights”.

All this amounts to a very different view of the protest from Maynard’s. These and other reports suggest to me that the picture is a lot more nuanced and contradictory than the one he paints.  They also raise the question of whose freedom the ‘Freedom Convoys’ are so determined to defend.  The vast majority (over 80%) of Canadians have been vaccinated against covid – as have most truckers.  Vaccination does not, of course stop transmission of the virus and it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get covid.  But it is very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19  (Canada.ca).  Yet Maynard perversely claims that “refusal to take the vaccine, however misguided, only hurts the unvaccinated person”.  This is nonsense and suggests a very individualistic mindset.  Humans are, lest we forget, social beings who live in complex societies.  What we do, what happens to us, inevitably affects other people (e.g. health care professionals, friends and family). The freedom asserted by the protestors is individual freedom; it is, as George Monbiot puts it, “freedom from the decencies owed to other people, freedom from the obligations of civic life”.

Another reason why I’m wary of Tony’s endorsement of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ is the similarities the convoy has with the populist mob which stormed the US Capitol last January last year. Tracey Lindeman describes the Ottawa protest as “overwhelmingly white” and says that what began,

“as a demonstration against vaccine mandates for truckers… has morphed into protest against broader public health measures – and as a rallying point for both conspiracy theorists and opponents of the government of Justin Trudeau”.

According to ‘hate researcher’ Dan Panneton, the Ottawa convoy includes, “a motley array of Western separatists, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, antisemites, Islamophobes and other extremists”.  And, he says, “Several of the convoy organizers have a history of white nationalist and racist activism; and (according to George Monbiot) of attacks on trade unions.  The convoys have also been endorsed by the likes of Donald Trump and Elon Musk.   To all this Lindeman detects the ‘same undercurrent of populism’ as fed the Capitol insurrection’, “a powerful current fed by disinformation, conspiratorial thinking and deepening social divides”.

Monbiot depicts the Freedom Convoy as an ‘incoherent protest’, typical of recent popularist demonstrations.  These are, he says:  

“gatherings whose aims are simultaneously petty and grandiose. Their immediate objectives are small and often risible… The underlying aims are open-ended, massive and impossible to fulfil”. 

Thus the Freedom Convoy’s demands go from the lifting of vaccine mandates, to removal of all Covid related public health measures to removal of the government.  Monbiot says such movements are likely to occur in hard times, particularly with growing inequality. After decades of neo-liberalism the Covid pandemic, gave a further boost to inequality.  During the pandemic the world’s 10 richest men have more than doubled their wealth, while 163 million people have been pushed below the poverty line.  Inequality is socially corrosive; it eats away at solidarity and fosters individualism.  In doing so it plays to conspiracy theories.  It is after all true that, in the age of tech billionaires, a very wealthy, largely unaccountable elite wield enormous power.  

Truck drivers have not been spared the ravages of neo-liberalism: it’s a tough, insecure, badly paid job.  And the left is, as Tony says, weak, struggling to offer a convincing alternative to people on the wrong end of the growing social divide.  So it’s not hard to see why popularism might have its appeal. That’s one thing. Portraying the ‘Freedom Convoy’ as, “the spontaneous rise of struggle from below” which we should celebrate is another.

Dave Backwith

POSTSCRIPT

I cobbled this together last night and intended to put it up without further comment but time stands still for no person. The police have moved in and arrested some of the organisers. And, evidently, even my bank account is under threat of being frozen because I’ve sent a donation to the truckers and have supported ‘indirectly’ their protest. Perhaps this is what I have come to, a hapless supporter of violent, illegitimate right-wing insurrection. And, thus, I presume all those dismissive of the Freedom Convoy’s credentials can only welcome in the interests of democracy the ‘necessary’ assault on its presence and motives.

For what it is worth a lawyer, sympathetic to the protest, offers a differing interpretationto be viewed with a critical eye

And this Canadian writer, Matthew Ehret writes as follows to be read with a critical ear

Ottawa Freedom Convoy Tears Down Illusion of Democracy in North America

Fifty Years since Saltley and the Closing of the Gates

It’s a few days late, but not too late to remember the remarkable expression of solidarity displayed on the streets of Birmingham fifty years ago. It was a significant moment for me. In many ways, I was up my own arse in my obsessive focus on my athletic goals but the strain of self-centredness was beginning to tell. I was increasingly perturbed by the day-to-day inequalities haunting the lives of many of the children in the primary school, within which I taught. However, I didn’t really have a grip on any social or political analysis of the reasons for this social injustice. Being a miner’s son, though, meant that I was following the escalating dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Tory government. I was confused but the gut feeling of respect and admiration prompted by the events of February 10th, 1972 marked a first stumbling step on my still unfinished political journey. There are more than a few, who think that my support for the growing collective resistance to the authoritarianism of the State today, however imperfect and contrary, is a sign that I’ve gone off the rails. I don’t think so and it’s interesting to quote Arthur Scargill, who I respected but never hero-worshipped, on his reading of the Battle of Saltley Gate.

To the eternal credit of the workers in Birmingham, they joined the miners on 10 February 1972.

These workers were not merely supporting a struggle on their own behalf: they were supporting their brothers and sisters in a struggle, not against an employer, but against the state.

On that day, everything I believed in, as a trade unionist and as a socialist, crystallised.

I would recommend this article by Emily Ingram in the Tribune for a revealing insight into memories of that momentous week – Fifty Years since the Battle of Saltley Gate

THE SALTLEY GATE MURAL – Thanks to news.limited

And to get a feeling of the atmosphere see this video from the outstanding Banner Theatre.

Remembering Steve Waterhouse – A youth worker’s youth worker

I can’t believe it’s six years since my dear friend and comrade, Steve Waterhouse died so tragically. By chance, a week or so ago, sifting through old boxes, I came across this photo of Steve and I demonstrating in Chesterfield against the privatisation of the NHS. Taken in the late 1980s we were marching particularly in support of the striking Scarsdale Hospital cleaners. Ironically, the government of the time was not calling on us to save the NHS, its policies being to the contrary.

Then I realised that although this blog is dedicated to Steve, along with Malcolm Ball, the obituary I penned at the time for IDYW has never appeared here. Hence I’m taking this opportunity to put the record straight. I think the piece still resonates.

RIP Steve Waterhouse : A youth worker’s youth worker

Steve W

I first met Steve Waterhouse in late 1984, drawn together by both youth work and the Miners’ Strike.  He was a part-time youth worker in Shirebrook, a pit village at the heart of community resistance to Thatcherite violence. I was the newly appointed District Community Education Officer, ostensibly his boss. Steve was a young, fresh-faced, passionate anarchist with a marvellous gift for relating to people, already a significant figure in the local music scene and co-founder in 1983 of a jobless youngsters’ Open Shop. I was a more wrinkled, yet passionate socialist, not keen on management’s right to manage. We hit it off right away. Indeed we got closer on our train journey to the Department of Education and Science, where I had to convince a panel that Steve was a diamond, despite having a trivial conviction for cannabis possession. They were suitably impressed, which thankfully meant that later Steve could pursue a full-time qualification.

We became fellow Bolsover Bucket Bangers, the name our diverse Community Education team adopted in the face of criticism that we took the progressive policies of the Derbyshire County Council too seriously. Steve was not interested in pretence. He was committed to what in those days we called a radical youth work praxis, opposed to exploitation and oppression in all its forms.

Crucially, though, and this is reflected across his whole career, he never sought to convert a young person to his way of seeing the world. He wanted simply, but not so simply, to be in a questioning, always respectful conversation with young people, which was lightened at every turn by his quick-witted sense of humour. That this was so is reflected in the outpouring of grief and love from hundreds of those he touched across thirty years of work with young people. Time and time again we read messages on Facebook that say, “Steve and I hardly ever agreed with one another, but he meant so much to me”.

SteveDawn
Steve and Dawn 1987 supporting Silentnight workers

He was deeply involved in the Community and Youth Workers Union and in our Socialist Caucus through the late ’80s, into the ’90s. I remember us arguing the toss about the nature of the capitalist state in the back garden of the Exeter Community Centre. Reluctantly I confessed to him that I thought he was much closer to the truth than my dogmatic assertions allowed. He didn’t hold it against me. As I left Derbyshire under a cloud, pursued by leading figures of the Council, he was my supportive case-worker as Audit sought to find transgressions within my travel claims. His faith in my integrity saw me through.

His move to Liverpool saw him become the key youth worker at what was to become the highly regarded Interchill Project. A comment from one of the original members says a great deal.

A guy walks into the interview room at Interchill and sits down confidently although slightly nervous. His name was Steve Waterhouse. Being Interviewed by a group of teenagers wasn’t what he was expecting. But we wanted to pick the right person ourselves to manage our youth facility. Needless to say, regardless of his dodgy socks 😂 Steve was our man. And the service and inspiration he went on to provide for the young people of Speke & Garston over the years will never be forgotten. It is with great sadness and disbelief to hear of his recent passing. A true peoples person and a father figure and advisor to so many. Steve you will be sadly missed.

Steve canoe
Steve canoeing. Ta to Tracey Ramsey

With Interchill falling foul of cuts, he moved over into the Liverpool Youth Service, where his outstanding endeavours were rewarded with an award for his dedication. As you might expect Steve was embarrassed by the attention.

In the early days of the In Defence of Youth Work campaign, Steve and I were reunited in the struggle to defend a young person-centred, process-led youth work. In retrospect, though it’s clear that the assault on open youth work, on his beliefs and values, was taking its toll on this remarkable bloke. It’s easy to say, but I don’t think he realised how much he had influenced young people’s lives.

Listen to just a few of the moving comments made:

I can’t believe this news. He was an important person to me. He changed how I felt about so much. Inspirational is just a word, but he changed my life and so many people around him. He loved people and wanted the best for them. The world has lost a fantastic human and I will miss him so much. Xx

I remember first meeting him at Interchill when I was 16 and being amazed at the set up. How he inspired young people to take control of their own services and supported them while maintaining excellent relationships. He was always warm, engaging and funny and such an integral part of my early youth work experience.

A few years ago Steve stayed with me on holiday and we had a surreal discussion on the terrace at the back of our house. In the teeth of all his own practice, Steve was arguing that youth work was just a job.  Hardly able to believe my ears I responded that he didn’t really believe this, that the youth work, we believed in, was closer to something we might dub a calling.  Given our atheism, this was not a calling from a deity, but a calling from all those past and present, who have sought in concert control over their own lives. It seemed to me that Steve’s denial that night of his own commitment was an expression of the mental and physical exhaustion that can accompany always giving of yourself, expecting little back in return.

To return to Facebook with all its contradictions this is where young and old have returned their love and gratitude, however belatedly, to a very special bloke. And, I don’t think Steve would think me opportunistic in saying to politicians and management alike, ‘if you want to grasp the significance of youth work, bin your manufactured outcomes and read the reactions of people to Steve’s passing. Take a breath and have the vision to see beyond tomorrow’s soulless data’.

Let me finish by saying that Steve’s way of being with young people was rooted in his anarchism, in his rejection of imposed authority and his belief in the creativity of those written off by the system. If Steve had faith, dented though it might have been, it was in our ability to create a more just and equal world. Together we could never accept that the present state of play is the best that humanity can come up with. I can but shed a tear at realising that we will never chat critically again; that we will never link arms again in the struggle against injustice; that we will never again laugh together at our pretensions. He was a dear friend and comrade or as one message defined him, ‘a youth worker’s youth worker’. Like so many others I loved him and I regret not conveying this enough in recent years.

Our best tribute to Steve’s memory is to continue defending the tradition of improvisatory and empathetic youth work he symbolised – a way of being with young people that is ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’. But a way of being, as many have testified, that brings enormous rewards; that truly has an authentic impact on young people’s lives.

I’ll sign off, Steve, in our time-honoured way.

In love and struggle,

Tony

Keep on Trucking against Authoritarianism

In the last few days, I’ve been trying to finish one last piece [for now?] on the ‘pandemic’ – a list of questions I’ve asked myself over these painful two years. I’ve set these thoughts aside. It is surreal to scribble in the abstract when resistance becomes real. A massive convoy of trucks and heavy goods vehicles has arrived and is arriving across borders and states in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. The truckers, applauded and joined by thousands of Canadians in the teeth of the elements. are on the one hand protesting against vaccine mandates. On the other, they are heading a wider movement of opposition to the undemocratic imposition of enforced restrictions on society as a whole.

Outside of Canada the silence hanging over this remarkable surge of collective action is shattering. We ought to be shocked yet it is no surprise. Even as the mainstream COVID narrative unravels the media remains in denial – best not to cover this remarkable story at all. Inside Canada, the Prime Minister and former World Economic Forum Young Leader, Trudeau, aided by the press and television, sneers at the truckers, no more than a fringe irritant and smears them as misogynist and racist. In his eyes, they are backward, prejudiced and, heaven help us, disobedient.

As best I can tell at this moment the Left [whatever that quite means today?] is yet again nowhere to be seen. Some time ago, a long time ago, you might have expected the Left to welcome the spontaneous rise of struggle from below, even if it then desired to become its leadership. Today all bets are off. In truth I’m not sure what the Left would see as an authentic expression of the resistance of the ‘demos’. In the truckers’ case, they may be persona non grata as their union bureaucracy condemns them. Perhaps the Left, abandoning the notion of contradiction, paints remarkably the blunt truckers as self-centred individualists and sophisticated Trudeau as the voice of the collective, the greater good.

For what it’s worth I salute the truckers, expelled from Facebook as I write. I salute the thousands of their supporters. From what I can gather their occupation of Ottawa seems overwhelmingly cooperative and communal, even joyous. If I dare quote Lenin in a rare, romantic moment, it is ‘a festival of the oppressed’. I want to believe that if I was in Canada I would move heaven and high snow to be in Ottawa tomorrow, answering the call for a multitude on the streets. The more who are there, the less chance of violent reprisal. I remain anxious as to how tomorrow might play out.

I accept utterly you might be wary of my rose-tinted version of events. Who am I listening to? Well, for one, I’m listening to this Ottawa resident, a data scientist called David Maybury – see his blog, The Reformed Physicist. I’m copying in full his post yesterday in the hope you will read it.

A night with the untouchables

I live in downtown Ottawa, right in the middle of the trucker convoy protest. They are literally camped out below my bedroom window. My new neighbours moved in on Friday and they seem determined to stay. I have read a lot about what my new neighbours are supposedly like, mostly from reporters and columnists who write from distant vantage points somewhere in the media heartland of Canada. Apparently the people who inhabit the patch of asphalt next to my bedroom are white supremacists, racists, hatemongers, pseudo-Trumpian grifters, and even QAnon-style nutters. I have a perfect view down Kent Street – the absolute ground zero of the convoy. In the morning, I see some protesters emerge from their trucks to stretch their legs, but mostly throughout the day they remain in their cabs honking their horns. At night I see small groups huddled in quiet conversations in their new found companionship. There is no honking at night. What I haven’t noticed, not even once, are reporters from any of Canada’s news agencies walking among the trucks to find out who these people are. So last night, I decided to do just that – I introduced myself to my new neighbours.

The Convoy on Kent Street. February 2, 2022.

At 10pm I started my walk along – and in – Kent Street. I felt nervous. Would these people shout at me? My clothes, my demeanour, even the way I walk screamed that I’m an outsider. All the trucks were aglow in the late evening mist, idling to maintain warmth, but all with ominously dark interiors. Standing in the middle of the convoy, I felt completely alone as though these giant monsters weren’t piloted by people but were instead autonomous transformer robots from some science fiction universe that had gone into recharging mode for the night. As I moved along I started to notice smatterings of people grouped together between the cabs sharing cigarettes or enjoying light laughs. I kept quiet and moved on. Nearby, I spotted a heavy duty pickup truck, and seeing the silhouette of a person in the driver’s seat, I waved. A young man, probably in his mid 20s, rolled down the window, said hello and I introduced myself. His girlfriend was reclined against the passenger side door with a pillow to prop her up as she watched a movie on her phone. I could easily tell it’s been an uncomfortable few nights. I asked how they felt and I told them I lived across the street. Immediate surprise washed over the young man’s face. He said, “You must hate us. But no one honks past 6pm!” That’s true. As someone who lives right on top of the convoy, there is no noise at night. I said, “No, I don’t hate anyone, but I wanted to find out about you.” The two were from Sudbury Ontario, having arrived on Friday with the bulk of the truckers. I ask what they hoped to achieve, and what they wanted. The young woman in the passenger seat moved forward, excited to share. They said that they didn’t want a country that forced people to get medical treatments such as vaccines. There was no hint of conspiracy theories in their conversation with me, not a hint of racist overtones or hateful demagoguery. I didn’t ask them if they had taken the vaccine, but they were adamant that they were not anti-vaxers.

The next man I ran into was standing in front of the big trucks at the head of the intersection. Past middle age and slightly rotund, he had a face that suggests a lifetime of working outdoors. I introduced myself and he told me he was from Cochrane, Ontario. He also proudly pointed out that he was the block captain who helped maintain order. I thought, oh no, he might be the one person keeping a lid on things; is it all that precarious? I delicately asked how hard his job was to keep the peace but I quickly learned that’s not really what he did. He organized the garbage collection among the cabs, put together snow removal crews to shovel the sidewalks and clear the snow that accumulates on the road. He even has a salting crew for the sidewalks. He proudly bellowed in an irrepressible laugh “We’re taking care of the roads and sidewalks better than the city.” I waved goodbye and continued to the next block.

My next encounter was with a man dressed in dark blue shop-floor coveralls. A wiry man of upper middle age, he seemed taciturn and stood a bit separated from the small crowd that formed behind his cab for a late night smoke. He hailed from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. He owned his own rig, but he only drove truck occasionally, his main job being a self-employed heavy duty mechanic. He closed his shop to drive to Ottawa, because he said, “I don’t want my new granddaughter to live in a country that would strip the livelihood from someone for not getting vaccinated.” He introduced me to the group beside us. A younger crowd, I can remember their bearded faces, from Athabasca, Alberta, and Swift Current Saskatchewan. The weather had warmed, and it began to rain slightly, but they too were excited to tell me why they came to Ottawa. They felt that they needed to stand up to a government that doesn’t understand what their lives are like. To be honest, I don’t know what their lives are like either – a group of young men who work outside all day with tools that they don’t even own. Vaccine mandates are a bridge too far for them. But again, not a hint of anti-vax conspiracy theories or deranged ideology.

I made my way back through the trucks, my next stop leading me to a man of East Indian descent in conversation with a young man from Sylvan Lake, Alberta. They told me how they were following the news of O’Toole’s departure from the Conservative leadership and that they didn’t like how in government so much power has pooled into so few hands.

The rain began to get harder; I moved quickly through the intersection to the next block. This time I waved at a driver in one of the big rigs. Through the rain it was hard to see him, but he introduced himself, an older man, he had driven up from New Brunswick to lend his support. Just behind him some young men from Gaspésie, Quebec introduced themselves to me in their best English. At that time people started to notice me – this man from Ottawa who lives across the street – just having honest conversations with the convoy. Many felt a deep sense of abuse by a powerful government and that no one thinks they matter.

Behind the crowd from Gaspésie sat a stretch van, the kind you often see associated with industrial cleaners. I could see the shadow of a man leaning out from the back as he placed a small charcoal BBQ on the sidewalk next to his vehicle. He introduced himself and told me he was from one of the reservations on Manitoulin Island. Here I was in conversation with an Indigenous man who was fiercely proud to be part of the convoy. He showed me his medicine wheel and he pointed to its colours, red, black, white, and yellow. He said there is a message of healing in there for all the human races, that we can come together because we are all human. He said, “If you ever find yourself on Manitoulin Island, come to my reserve, I would love to show you my community.” I realized that I was witnessing something profound; I don’t know how to fully express it.

As the night wore on and the rain turned to snow, those conversations repeated themselves. The man from Newfoundland with his bullmastiff, a young couple from British Columbia, the group from Winnipeg that together form what they call “Manitoba Corner ” all of them with similar stories. At Manitoba Corner a boisterous heavily tattooed man spoke to me from the cab of his dually pickup truck – a man who had a look that would have fit right in on the set of some motorcycle movie – pointed out that there are no symbols of hate in the convoy. He said, “Yes there was some clown with a Nazi flag on the weekend, and we don’t know where he’s from, but I’ll tell you what, if we see anyone with a Nazi flag or a Confederate flag, we’ll kick his fucking teeth in. No one’s a Nazi here.” Manitoba Corner all gave a shout out to that.

As I finally made my way back home, after talking to dozens of truckers into the night, I realized I met someone from every province except PEI. They all have a deep love for this country. They believe in it. They believe in Canadians. These are the people that Canada relies on to build its infrastructure, deliver its goods, and fill the ranks of its military in times of war. The overwhelming concern they have is that the vaccine mandates are creating an untouchable class of Canadians. They didn’t make high-falutin arguments from Plato’s Republic, Locke’s treatises, or Bagehot’s interpretation of Westminster parliamentary systems. Instead, they see their government willing to push a class of people outside the boundaries of society, deny them a livelihood, and deny them full membership in the most welcoming country in the world; and they said enough. Last night I learned my new neighbours are not a monstrous faceless occupying mob. They are our moral conscience reminding us – with every blow of their horns – what we should have never forgotten: We are not a country that makes an untouchable class out of our citizens.

David Maynard

Thanks to Julius Ruechel at https://www.juliusruechel.com/ for the photos.