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.
IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY
SUNDAY, JUNE 5th IN OUR GARDEN
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.
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.
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
From the inspiring 1908 struggle of garment workers in New York – demanding higher wages and better conditions
From Petrograd, March 8, 1917 – demanding Bread and Peace
To sipping bubbly in the heart of Singapore’s financial centre, 2022
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’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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 interpretation – to be viewed with a critical eye
And this Canadian writer, Matthew Ehret writes as follows– to be read with a critical ear
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 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
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”.
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.
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.
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.
I’m in the middle of scribbling a couple more things about the bloody pandemic. Then I’m done. It’s weary keeping up with the information, misinformation and disinformation. An inner voice pleads, ‘just put up and shut up’. And then by chance, I trip up over this revealing photo and text, tears come to my ageing eyes, remembering my grandma and my mum. Simple, sentimental nostalgia of no significance. And yet………
Helen Ashton writes:
I don’t think most kids today know what an apron/pinny is. The main use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.
It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When visitors came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.
And when the weather was cold, she wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood or coal stove.
Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the autumn, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
When unexpected visitors called it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.
It will be a long time before someone invents something as useful as a good old pinny.
[And today] They would go crazy trying to figure out how many germs were on that pinny.
I don’t think I ever caught anything from a pinny – but love.
PInched from The Wigan Nostalgia Facebook page and thanks again to Helen.
“We are engaged in a war against the virus”- Boris Johnson
” In this fake war children are set to be vaccine fodder” – A concerned parent
From the very beginning, March 2020, of the utterly undemocratic imposition of COVID-inspired sweeping restrictions on social existence I feared for children and young people. Perhaps this was a knee-jerk response. After all, I have spent the last 50 years conversing with and about them – as a teacher, youth worker, lecturer and, latterly, a commentator-cum-spectator on the sidelines. Indeed in late 2008, I penned an Open Letter, arguing that youth work should side with young people and not the State; that it should not assume it knows what’s best for young people; that it should be in a critical conversation with them about how together we see the world; and that it should aspire to be ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’.In short it ought, first and foremost, to be a democratic practice. On the back of this missive, a campaign, In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW], emerged.
Against this history, given these commitments, I was perplexed from the outset at what has seemed to be the absence of debate and the utter lack of opposition to the demanded closures of children’s and young people’s provision – from playgrounds through schools and youth facilities to universities. I am being diplomatic. I was pissed off and angry. It was plain that such draconian, disproportionate action would be deeply damaging. The belated acknowledgement in the summer of 2021 that the lockdown was creating serious mental health issues for the younger generation, crocodile tears, merely confirmed my angst. Then, a humble breath taken, I recognised it was easy for me to be so moved. If I was still a practising youth worker. teacher or lecturer what would I have done during the last two years?
I find it difficult to imagine that, as a youth worker I would have caved in without protest as the youth centre was boarded up or that on the streets I would insist the young people be masked or else. I find it difficult, as a former primary school teacher, to believe I could cope with imposing upon children, I knew well with all their idiosyncrasies, the general requirement to don face coverings and keep their distance from each other and me. I find it difficult to accept that as a lecturer teaching upon a course committed to vibrant argument I would have meekly capitulated to the assault on critical thought, the depiction of the campus as a theatre of contagion and the arrival of on-line learning. As far back as Spring 2019, a modicum of independent research would have shown that masking was about obedience rather than transmission and that children/young people were in little danger from COVID and little danger to anyone else.
Of course, I’m probably deluding myself, thinking I would have swum against the conformist tide. The calculated campaign of fear disseminated without demur by the mainstream media has known no moral or ethical bounds. Management and trade unions in the public sector, along with the caring professions, armed with the ideology of ‘safetyism’, which in a trice provides both explanation and justification, have all embraced the dominant narrative with at times a nauseating pomposity. If you want to follow the unfolding of this smug self-righteousness delve into the archives of the Guardian.
Hence, where would I have found support in desiring to resist – certainly not in the trade union. little chance in the staff team and, to my chagrin, not through In Defence of Youth Work? In this context, speaking up might well have meant losing my job. However, deep in my decaying bones, I want to believe that there has been guerilla activity, which by its nature is underground. In my pretentiousness, I want to believe that with others I would have sought somehow to bring these guerillas together in some supportive form of solidarity – see the history of the Socialist Caucus and Critically Chatting Collective. You might well say, ‘dream on,Tony, dream on’.
Certainly in the coming weeks, as the pandemic narrative unravels, it would be revealing to hear the thoughts of UK youth workers, teachers and lecturers about their sense of the impact upon children and young people, upon themselves of the two years lost.
As a stimulus to reflection, I’m reposting this moving and stimulating article by a Canadian teacher, which appeared on Common Sense, one of many alternative news sites that have sprung up during the pandemic. This outlet seeks to situate its politics as rejecting both the hard Left and the hard Right. Classically it seeks to find the middle ground with all the contradictions therein. To my mind, the very categories of Left, Centre and Right are in such a state of meltdown that the vital thing is to be aware of one’s own prejudices and history, to explore expansively, be open to critical dialogue and committed at every turn to the democratic process in the struggle against authoritarianism.
I am proud to be a teacher. I’ve worked in the Canadian public school system for the past 15 years, mostly at the high school level, teaching morals and ethics.
I don’t claim to be a doctor or an expert in virology. There is a lot I don’t know. But I spend my days with our youth and they tell me a lot about their lives. And I want to tell you what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, when our school went fully remote, it was evident to me that the loss of human connection would be detrimental to our students’ development. It also became increasingly clear that the response to the pandemic would have immense consequences for students who were already on the path to long-term disengagement, potentially altering their lives permanently.
The data about learning loss and the mental health crisis is devastating. Overlooked has been the deep shame young people feel: Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease. This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.
When we finally got back into the classroom in September 2020, I was optimistic, even as we would go remote for weeks, sometimes months, whenever case numbers would rise. But things never returned to normal.
When we were physically in school, it felt like there was no longer life in the building. Maybe it was the masks that made it so no one wanted to engage in lessons, or even talk about how they spent their weekend. But it felt cold and soulless. My students weren’t allowed to gather in the halls or chat between classes. They still aren’t. Sporting events, clubs and graduation were all cancelled. These may sound like small things, but these losses were a huge deal to the students. These are rites of passages that can’t be made up.
In my classroom, the learning loss is noticeable. My students can’t concentrate and they aren’t doing the work that I assign to them. They have way less motivation compared to before the pandemic began. Some of my students chose not to come back at all, either because of fear of the virus, or because they are debilitated by social anxiety. And now they have the option to do virtual schooling from home.
One of my favorite projects that I assign each year is to my 10th grade students, who do in-depth research on any culture of their choosing. It culminates in a day of presentations. I encourage them to bring in music, props, food—whatever they need to immerse their classmates in their specific culture. A lot of my students give presentations on their own heritage. A few years back, a student of mine, a Syrian refugee, told her story about how she ended up in Canada. She brought in traditional Syrian foods, delicacies that her dad had stayed up all night cooking. It was one of the best days that I can remember. She was proud to share her story—she had struggled with homesickness—and her classmates got a lesson in empathy. Now, my students simply prepare a slideshow and email it to me individually.
My older students (grades 11 and 12) aren’t even allowed a lunch break, and are expected to come to school, go to class for five and a half hours and then go home. Children in 9th and 10th grades have to face the front of the classroom while they eat lunch during their second period class. My students used to be able to eat in the halls or the cafeteria; now that’s forbidden. Younger children are expected to follow the “mask off, voices off” rule, and are made to wear their masks outside, where they can only play with other kids in their class. Of course, outside of school, kids are going to restaurants with their families and to each other’s houses, making the rules at school feel punitive and nonsensical.
They are anxious and depressed. Previously outgoing students are now terrified at the prospect of being singled out to stand in front of the class and speak. And many of my students seem to have found comfort behind their masks. They feel exposed when their peers can see their whole face.
Around this time of year, we start planning for the prom, which is held in June. Usually, my students would already be chatting constantly about who’s asking who, what they’re planning on wearing, and how excited they are. This year, they’ve barely discussed it at all. When they do, they tell me that they don’t want to get their hopes up, since they’re assuming it will get cancelled like it has for the past couple of years.
It’s the same deal with universities. My students say, “If university is going to be just like this then what’s the point?” I have my own children, a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, who have spent almost a third of their lives in lockdown. They’ve become so used to cancellations that they don’t even feel disappointed anymore.
I think all of my students are angry to some degree, but I hear it most from the kids who are athletes. They were told that if they got the vaccine, everything would go back to normal, and they could go back to the rink or the court. Some sports were back for a while but, as of Christmas, because of the recent wave of Covid-19 cases, club and varsity sports are all cancelled once again. A lot of the athletes are missing chances to get seen by coaches and get scholarships.
I try to take time at the beginning of class to ask my kids how they’re doing. Recently, one of my 11th grade students raised his hand and said that he wasn’t doing well, that he doesn’t want to keep living like this, but that he knows that no one is coming to save them. The other kids all nodded in agreement. They feel lied to—and I can’t blame them.
What’s most worrisome to me is that they feel deep worry and shame over the prospect of breaking the rules.
Teenage girls are notoriously empathetic. I see that many of my students, but especially the female ones, feel a heavy burden of responsibility. Right before Christmas, one of my brightest 12th graders confided in me that she was terrified of taking her mask off. She told me that she didn’t want to get anyone sick or kill anybody. She was worried she would be held responsible for someone dying.
What am I supposed to say? That 23 children have died from Covid in Canada during the whole of the pandemic and she is much more likely to kill someone driving a car? That kids in Scandinavia, Sweden, and the Netherlands largely haven’t had to wear masks at school and haven’t seen outbreaks because of it? That masks are not a magic shield against the virus, and that even if she were to pass it along to a classmate, the risk of them getting seriously sick is minuscule?
I want to tell her that she can remove her mask, and socialize with her friends without being worried.
But I am expected to enforce the rules.
At the beginning of the pandemic, adults shamed kids for wanting to play at the park or hang out with their friends. We kept hearing, “They’ll be fine. They’re resilient.” It’s true that humans, by nature, are very resilient. But they also break. And my students are breaking. Some have already broken.
When we look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of history, I believe it will be clear that we betrayed our children. The risks of this pandemic were never to them, but they were forced to carry the burden of it. It’s enough. It’s time for a return to normal life and put an end to the bureaucratic policies that aren’t making society safer, but are sacrificing our children’s mental, emotional, and physical health.
Our children need life on the highest volume. And they need it now.
Anyone who has followed my scribblings knows that I approach behavioural psychology with extreme caution. This concern predates COVID by decades – see Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes for something written in the last decade. In previous posts, I have voiced my concern at the explicit and conscious stoking of fear fuelled by the SAGE Behavioural Group in the UK. At the heart of its cynical propaganda has been the mask. A month or so ago I ended a section on masks as follows:
In essence, the mask seeks to muzzle us into obedience. It confirms that we are in dire danger. Itdemands that we police one another into compliance. It is the visible expression of the desire to divide us from one another, to undermine our humanity. It is about social and political control. It serves no other purpose.
The Mitsotakis government in Greece is determined to keep us in our place – at least until the tourist season starts. Thus, as I write, we are under mandatory manners to wear face coverings inside [preferably duplex] and in the great outdoors. There are heavy fines to pay if we are disobedient. Pragmatic contempt is to be seen. No masks in the villages, masks worn or in readiness in the big towns. And, as for out in the olive groves, foothills and mountains we are at one with nature and humanity, looking each other in the eye.
Nevertheless, I was thinking of rehearsing the arguments once more but I’ve been saved the trouble by a challenging piece, composed by Gary Sidley, a retired NHS consultant clinical psychologist and a founder member of the Smile Free campaign to remove all mask mandates. It poses disturbing questions for the trade unions, the bureaucrats and the members, together with educators on the ground, be they, lecturers, teachers or youth workers.
Let’s face it -Governments use masking to force compliance, not fight viruses