A march – 999 Call for the NHS

Reposted and lightly amended with permission from Barkingside21.

People's March for the NHSStarting off from Jarrow early today, a group of local mums from Darlington known as the #Darlomums are beginning the 999 March for the NHS. They’ll make their way 300 miles to London entirely on foot.

They’re trying to draw attention to the critical condition of the NHS as it is gradually eroded by privatisation. Following the route of the Jarrow hunger march, they’ll pass through 23 towns and cities over 21 days. On each stretch they’ll be joined by NHS workers, NHS users, and other supporters of all stripes. It looks like it’s going to be big and bold. After all, there’s so much at stake.

They’ll be in this neck of the woods on Saturday 6th September leaving Edmonton at 10am and arriving in Westminster at 3pm for a rally which is likely to be a landmark event in the campaign to keep the NHS public.

They want us to join them. Here is a day-by-day route and a place to let them know you’re coming. Being volunteers with a lot to organise, they need funds too – you can help by buying a T-Shirt and/or donating. If you use Twitter, big up @999CallforNHS with the hashtag #march4nhs . If you use Facebook, they’re here.

Here is why:

I wish Norman Geras was still here

At 70 this bright, clear, solid Marxist professor and teacher has died – Engage summarises how he got between the Jews and their foes. Neil D recalls his blogging beginnings. Haroon Siddique plots its rise. Martin in the Margins pays tribute to the man who started him blogging. Norm was a great profiler of less well-known bloggers. He had a whimsical side, attempting emails with Rosie using only one vowel. Nick Cohen calls him uxorious. Harry – the actual Harry – blogs about his methodical patience when dealing with people who could drive saints to mass murder. Ben Cohen, whom Norm taught, remembers him as patient, kind, and sympathetic to his students. I hear that tomorrow there will be a Guardian obituary worth reading.

I liked the way he didn’t allow comments on his blog, pushing people back to their own spaces to respond and let him know by email. This was unusual for the time – the vogue was for free comment. He was prescient about what chaff and distraction that can be on a blog which considers the political left, let alone the Jews.

Having given up 3 hours of my life – short, precious life if you are as ill as Norm was – to Slavoj Zizek’s Rorschach blot of a film this week, I just read this on Zizek by Norm back in 2009 with the warmth and gratitude of the vindicated. And so often vindication was Norm’s gift, which emanated from his blog and which I eagerly received.

I will miss him rubbing his hands over the cricket on Twitter, and I very much regret that he hadn’t heard from me for weeks. If I take nothing else from this it is that work is wicked if it steals your attention from your loved ones and comrades. I’m glad that Norm had such a loving family, and I am heartily sorry for their loss.

Thanks to them for being the keepers of the Normblog.

Olympic games as they are and could be

Tommie Jones and John Carlos, Mexico City Olympics, 1968I love watching the Olympics. But this week kickings (Li-Cheng wasn’t walking so well after losing the Tae Kwon Do final) and beatings (Katie Taylor), equine indignitysexualised, sometimes bandaged, contortionists, heptathlete and swimmer ambassadors for British Petroleum (the ‘Olympic family’ branding reminds me of the ones in ‘The Descendants’ who wanted to sell the wilderness and build a golf course), and an overweening sprinter who thinks he has a special relationship with God nauseated me off the couch to Farringdon’s Free Word Centre. Free Word is currently hosting a collection of captioned photographs on Politics & the Olympics including the body, national identity, extremism, the environment, security and protest.

Some things I now know. The reason there’s no branding in the stadium is not because London’s organising committee drew a courageous line (an impression you may have taken from the statements they put out when challenged about sponsorship) but because it’s in the Olympic rules.

Sexual inequality in the Olympics (see for example gymnastics) was built in from the beginning. On the admission of women to some sports in 1912, Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, showed himself to be a fine internationalist but a tedious sexist:

“[women’s sport] is not in keeping with my concept of the Olympic Games, in which I believe that we have tried, and must continue to try, to put the following expression into practice: the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism, based on internationalism, by means of fairness, in an artistic setting, with the applause of women as reward.”

In 1932 and ’36 when medallists’ hands were raised in fascist salutes, nobody got  disciplined. In 1968 Tommie Smith of the U.S. won the 200m in Mexico City and John Carlos took bronze, also for the U.S. They were suspended and banned from the Olympic Village by the International Organising Committee for the black-socked feet and black-gloved fists, symbols of black poverty and pride, which they wore to their award ceremony. The film Salute was made about this.

Hopefully after the recent publicity campaign most people are already aware of the Israeli athletes murdered in the name of Palestine at the 1972 Munich Olympics, assisted by German neo-Nazis to the dismay of the German establishment. There were no commemorative minutes of silence, prompting Philo to delve into some of the International Organising Committee’s more unsavoury influences. For the London 2012 Olympics, Britain spent more on security than it did on the athletes (which isn’t to say it would have been better to let the clear and present security threat – consider Atlanta 96 – sink the Olympics).

The Cold War was sporty. In Melbourne 1956 with the Hungarian Revolution ongoing, a Soviet water polo player punched a Hungarian water polo player in what became called the Blood in the Water match. Poland’s Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz was delighted to stick it up the Soviet-supporting crowd in the 1980 Moscow games. Opening ceremonies got especially silly in those times, notably the aforementioned Moscow games with its patriotic human mosaics, and the Los Angeles games which followed in ’84 where Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was played by 84 men.

For anybody bothered by flag flying and talk of nations, in 1936 the People’s Olympiad, scheduled for Barcelona, was cancelled by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Its planning is well documented at the University of Warwick. There was one flag for all (if it was this one then no wonder that didn’t take off) and chess was included, though not the barbaric and back then uninvented sport of chess boxing.

And if you haven’t yet found last month’s spoof Olympics edition newspaper London Late, it’s here – a superior protest rag (gsoh) collaboratively produced by groups who are trying to bring various of the Olympic sponsors to justice, namely the London Mining Network, War on Want (not a fan but this is probably their finest hour), the Bhopal Medical Appeal for the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide gas explosion, the oil campaign group Platform and the Tar Sands Network. From the selection on its middle pages, something good by Mau Mau.

So now I plan to return to gape at the sporn in the knowledge that I’ve heard, even amplified, some of what wanted to be heard and amplified. Yes, it is a shame I didn’t get my act together in advance.

My favourite Olympic performance so far is Russia’s synchronised swimming duet on the theme of puppets, along with the Italian duet’s swum biography of Frieda Kahlo. Mo “Look mate, this is my country” Farah is a legend, of course. We have tickets to Paralympic athletics finals in September.

But I think I may well, with the skepticism you should always reserve for people referred to as French intellectuals, have a read of Marc Perelman’s diatribe against organised sport as a “project of a society without projects”.

Occupy London

Anti-austerity protesters are peacefully and unintentionally occupying St Pauls with the consent of Canon Giles Fraser (canon chancellor of St Pauls and former militant socialist) after the police headed them off from approaching the stock exchange.

The initial statement. It’s not bad, and it’s not good enough. But it’s good it exists.

On #3 of the statement, how do we refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis? Tax protests don’t work. Not paying taxes is for Tea Party types. Now Cantona’s proposal is coming of age with Move Your Money – closing bank accounts in irresponsible banks. But then again how much are we worth anyway? As a population aren’t we in debt to the eyeballs? And isn’t this our crisis as well as the banks’? And if it is, maybe there is no we because the young didn’t get themselves in debt to the eyeballs.

But if there is a we, there’s a lot that can be done through consumption and lifestyle. Buy as little as possible. Make a shared agreement to live as modestly as if we were materially equal. Set out our rations, live by them, and put our money into the Coop with a view to contributing it into a shared fund. We arrange to tax ourselves. We take over the Coop and make it a people’s bank. We work out what we can do to live in dignity and we set up a parallel system with a view to starving the old one out and wooing its functionaries over.

Accounts from Occupy London in The Guardian, the AWL (“It would be wrong to be snooty about a protest movement because all of its members are not fully worked-out Marxists”),

The government’s consultation on squatting contained a question which led SQUASH to surmise that they were going to take a broad view of illegal occupation which included stuff like this. Peaceful protest is a precious right, and it is a good thing to gather in the streets, spend the night, and trade ideas about what lies between where we are now and a world where everybody can be confident about their material future. I wonder if I can persuade anybody to stay there with me.

Hashtags #occupylsx (may be on borrowed time), #occupy (for global protests), and #occupylondon.

Aside, it’s really important to put something between your tent groundsheet and the concrete or you’ll wreck its lining at which stage it’s tempting to throw it away, contravening item #7 of the statement – the bit about caring for the planet. Second aside – they’re allowing booze. That may be a problem. Aggro, alcoholic dyspraxia, damage and mess are bad for protests.

Update: Norm has focus – he’s looking for proposals.

A donation page with a list of immediate needs to keep the protest going in the meantime.

A colleague who was down there yesterday at the general assembly said that the amplification was so bad that Twitter was the only way those at the peripheries could hear  and so cast their vote. Mustn’t rely on personal technologies though, smart phone batteries don’t last –  tapping street lights is very dangerous and more than a bit freeloadery. Electric pedals powering an amp would be better.

The Indymedia-hosted chat is compelling – a groping towards a purpose and plan peppered with requests for information about toilets.

The London Declaration for Global Peace & Resistance against Extremism 2011

Just found a link to this BBC report on the Casuals United blog (who are amusingly and incorrectly trying to take credit).

Back on September 25th “about 12,000 Muslims gathered at Wembley Arena for Islamic group Minhaj-ul-Quran’s Peace for Humanity Conference where a campaign launched to get one million signatories by 2012 for this online declaration of peace.

Apart from the entire absence of environmental concerns in the declaration, and the now standard over-emphasis on the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a cause of world unpeace, this is my kind of declaration. Even if you, like some of my readers to my political right and left, favour hitting things and people to get your stuff done and find his determinedly non-violent stance cramps your style, this declaration should be read (by susceptible non-Muslims, anyway) as an antidote to the anti-Muslim suspicion and consequent stereotyping which hounds these times, and as a light shining ahead to a more together global society. These were the parts I liked best:

7. We reject as mistaken and spurious any assertions made by both Muslims and non-Muslims that the world is currently locked in an inexorable struggle between Islam and the West and we commit ourselves, through positive and mutually respectful engagement and dialogue, to oppose any and all claims of clashes of civilisations or the incompatibility of the values in various regions, states and communities.

9. Whereas we do not overlook the real or perceived grievances that may serve as a causative fuel for terrorist violence, and we call upon all national and local governments to address those grievances with haste and resolve, we commit ourselves to the non-violent resolution of those issues as well as to the removal through education and dialogue of conspiracy theories that seem to blinker some peoples’ worldviews.

15. We declare that there is no difference between an Arab and a Jew, between a Muslim and a Christian, between a Hindu and a Sikh, between a black person and a white person, or between a man and a woman. All humans are equal and must be treated with equal respect, dignity, compassion, equality, solidarity and justice.

16. We unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism (including when sometimes it is disingenuously clothed as anti-Zionism), Islamophobia (including when it is sometimes disingenuously dressed up as patriotism) and all other forms of racism and xenophobia.

19. We call on all governments to protect minorities against all hatred, intimidation and violence, especially from ultra-nationalism or religious intolerance.

The conference’s keynote presentation was given by Minaj ul-Quran founder Dr Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a classically trained cleric – of Sufi persuasion – from Pakistan now based in Canada. One particular contribution of his was an enormous review of Islam’s pronouncements on terrorism, which led to his issuing a 512 page fatwa proscribing terror and detailing the principles and terms of engagement for just war. To return to where we began (the approving Casuals):

Amid all this fatwa flashing, many Muslims fear divide and rule – and suspect that someone, somewhere will use Dr Tahir ul-Qadri to further that agenda. The scholar sees this as the signs of paranoia brought on by a weakness – and his answer is to expand his organisation’s mission in the UK beyond its 10 mosques and 5,000 members. So will Dr Qadri’s fatwa do some good or end up on the great big pile of similar denouncements? An hour after he delivered his address, the former leader of al-Muhajiroun, a group recently banned for extremism, turned up at the doorstep of a news channel and asked to go on air to counter Dr Qadri. Would he have bothered if the scholar was such an irrelevance in the battle for hearts and minds?”

It sounds as if, if the Casuals and their ilk try to claim Qadri, he will know how to put them in their place.

Travels in Nihilon

A few more angry thoughts about the outbreak.

  1. This couldn’t have happened a hundred years ago – the kids would have felt ashamed and if not ashamed then afraid of the consequences. They would have known the shopkeepers back then, and probably many of the makers too.
  2. Luxury in the media has reached disgusting levels. There aren’t good role models. Even the survivalists and self-sufficientists (Tom and Barbara excepted) are inauthentically roly poly. Imagine a population of Ray Mearses and Hugh Fearnley Tits – the countryside would look as if locusts had been through.
  3. Advertising, product placement, game shows. Pernicious forms of aspiration. Having and getting, as a way of being yourself. They fuel the web, the free city papers and commercial television, and they helped to pressure cook what happened last week.
  4. Their parents aren’t able or willing.
  5. You can’t stick two fingers up at the police without committing a crime. There was a huge current of wanting to fuck the police. I’m not sure what else the police stand for in these kids’ minds, but definitely protection of something they don’t have a stake in.
  6. Can’t a sense of entitlement to luxury consumer goods turn into politics?
  7. Ed Miliband is right to worry about those who don’t feel they have a stake in society, but he is wrong to say it’s “ridiculous” to compare looters to bankers. There is plenty to compare about them. And these children grew up under a Labour government that believed in trickle down – the poor patiently waiting to receive the crumbs from the table of the rich.
  8. I feel for the police, like I always do. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
  9. Grant Shapps, David Cameron, and all who think like you – are you completely mad?
  10. Definitely the Spirit Level people are right. But it is possible to go too far with equality. If everything comes for free it makes people just as foul.
  11. Protection from the EDL? I’m for a nice big police force and a better IPCC.

Afterthought - another man died of his injuries last night. As well as thieves the arsonists and killers were abroad. I wonder whether they were opportunists waiting for their free run of the city, or whether they also stole, and whether thieves also burned and killed?

More afterthought: reading today’s Observer was a good experience. Peter Beaumont, who usually covers wars in other lands, has a substantial piece in which he talks to Clasford Stirling, one of those men I sometimes hear about who sublimate young rage into football. He says “The confrontation with the police before the looting happened. It was total anger. I’ve never seen young people face to face with the police like that.” And youthworker Alvin Carpio, who “says that … within the groups at the forefront of the trouble – criminal street gangs and local groups of youths who describe themselves as being in “gangs” – a sense of responsibility and loyalty does exist; it is simply misdirected. “There are communities within communities with their own rules”” and that “how for some with few paths available for them to follow, the figure in their community with the big car, the drugs and money appears to offer an alternative.”.

Also in The Observer, epidemiologist Gary Slutkin takes a public health approach to gang violence and rioting as if it were an infection. He questions conventional law enforcement of “community crackdowns, arrests and harsher penalities, heavy-handed suppression techniques, pointing to a (D.C.-based) Justice Policy Institute report (somewhere in their website?) which shows that these tactics have little of their intended effects but create deeper divisions between police and community.

Tracy McVeigh goes to the Hoxton the fashion students don’t visit, to interview nervous underfed kids in cheap, worn clothes who join gangs to defend their patch from the gangs in the next estate, or who have to scurry through the safest route to get a takeaway, and for whom youth clubs are one of a few safe spaces where somebody cares. Fewer than a quarter of those arrested for last week’s violence were under 18.

Tim Adams attends an overnight sitting at Horseferry Road magistrates court and is struck by the bleary eyed banality of the accused and the Dickensian quality of the prosecution. Yes, I’m with him to a certain extent. But he also completely excludes the victims from his reckoning. On the preceding page is a photograph of an 89 year old shop keeper, not very prosperous-looking, who lost everything. What about him? Nobody is much talking about restorative justice, but surely if these looters are so bewildered the morning after, it could work here?

Then I leafed through the Observer Magazine which is a stinky publication full of adverts for the kind of aspirational – i.e. useless, wasteful, environment squandering – products its journalists are now commiserating with people for stealing, and I felt kind of queasy. I get The Observer for the journalists but it makes me cringe in equal measures.

I listened to last year’s RSA debate between the authors of The Spirit Level and some of their critics. In a nutshell the critics query the evidence. They say that raising everybody’s wealth will improve outcomes on a wide range of health and social indices. I thought that the hypothesis that more unequal societies are worse was well defended – and not only in statistical terms. For example – and topically – Richard Wilkinson (one of the authors of The Spirit Level) on the link between inequality and violence,

“Because violence is triggered by disrespect, humiliation, loss of face, being looked down on an in a more unequal society we judge each other more by social status, competition increases and so people get more sensitive to it.”