The ones to watch

Friday, 21st September 2007 at 7:47 UTC 8 comments

Sometimes I get really downbeat about the lack of people across the world who are standing up to oppression. Its happened a lot lately, especially because there’s hardly anything going on in the UK now the summer is over, and most of the opportunities that do exist right now for doing political actions are being missed. Given I’m part of the human race and should by now know its tendency to be ever-resistant of repression, its weird how it takes me until there’s a few random news stories here and there before I actually remember that somewhere, as ever, someone is resisting.

When I say that there’s little going on in the UK, note the totally unresponsive millions affected by the sudden rise in student loan interest as it has switched to a different method of calculating inflation, and you’ll see what I mean (this could add serious years to people’s loan repayments). 2006 saw a sudden upward bump in the amount of resistance going on in the UK, with thousands taking to the streets nationwide, both locally and in an impressive Emergency National Demo in London (we’re talking the Lebanon crises) followed by the first Climate Camp, and rounded off with at least 2 major marches in London and the beginnings of Faslane 365.

This year, we’ve got a Climate March, a Stop the War march which isn’t even on a Saturday, a national day of action that many groups seem determined to remain deaf towards and not much else. Even the NoBorders camp, which is taking place now, seems a bit of downer. Now, this may be the after effects of having witnessed an Earth-shatteringly amazing mobilisation in the summer, but it still kind of sucks to see so little coming out of it.

But Britain is only one country, and very often the activity isn’t going on in our country. Sometimes it doesn’t look a lot like the action some of us are used to, like in Taiwan where there’s been a major protest of over 100,000 people (in a territory China wants to claim is its own) pressing their own government to carry out a referendum that the government already wants to carry out. To some, this might seem a bit of a waste of time, but this is no ordinary referendum; this is Taiwan deciding whether or not it wants to represent itself at the United Nations, separate of the authoritarian nation that claims sovereignty as the only group of people capable of representing Taiwan’s needs.

For all the faults of the UN, when a nation decides to make a move towards independence against a nation the size and strength of China, we owe them respect, and we probably also owe them some support. These people are marching for a tiny step towards some vague notion of freedom which I could easily dismiss, yet in the face of one of the world’s most dangerous super-powers, this is perhaps as brave as Alaska declaring independence and taking its oil fields with it. For all I could disagree with them, I wish them every success and hope they succeed in some real way.

Then we have Burma, where Buddhist monks are standing up to a regime more interested in playing with its water cannons than accepting that the time for such blatant forms of dictatorship is over. In a culture and a conflict I have little understanding of, here are a bunch of monks, religious people like myself, making a stand. The BBC reports that they marched in silence (never seen how this is empowering), but that they fought back when attacked (which could raise a whole other debate). Yahoo managed to report on the situation by day three (Thursday)

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the people of Burma are finding strength, they’re on the march, and it may only be a matter of time before they finally claim a victory, which may not last all that long (representative democracy is only a partial solution to dictatorship, leaving space plenty of room for elites to dominate just as effectively, if over shorter periods of time), but here democracy of a sort is rising and people are doing something. I find this inspiring, despite my cynicism over the possibilities for success either at a basic or a deep-down level. Again, good luck to them.

There are other places where struggles are taking place that we do not hear about. These are struggles in which people are fighting for their lives, yet their lives are not worth the time of day for news agencies and media outlets to report. That doesn’t mean they’re not there.

But amidst all the quiet here in the UK, there’s one campaign which has really caught my eye, and continues to do so. The more I learn and see of it, the more impressed I am with the spirit of the campaign, and how deeply rooted in culture and community it seems to be. In a way, I just guess I’m glad no political party has got its hands on the campaign. I’m talking about the campaign to free Krek and Mers which I wrote about a few days ago.

I’ve now seen photos of the “Skate and Graf Jam”, and I’m left wondering why the hell anyone still thinks marches are a good idea in this country: it was colourful, youthful and by all accounts exciting. T-shirts have sold out (and thankfully look nothing like the Stop the War ones which are getting so predictable). I’m inspired by the creativity, the freshness and the heartfelt determination to stand up to injustice that is being taken up across the UK, and even the world it seems, mostly by people with no idea of how to write to their MP or whatever.

And its been particularly exciting to see where the debate has swung on the Facebook group, with someone actually raising the issue of crimes against property being different to crimes against people, and some interesting historical analysis (and trust the activist to start using jargon!). Maybe, somewhere below all the apathy and the quite short-sighted politics going on in Britain there really is still a desire for justice, democracy and liberty.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Asia, Culture, democracy, Free Space, Free Speech, Human Rights, News, Participation.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jon Searles  |  Friday, 21st September 2007 at 8:51 UTC

    “I’ve now seen photos of the “Skate and Graf Jam”, and I’m left wondering why the hell anyone still thinks marches are a good idea in this country: it was colourful, youthful and by all accounts exciting. T-shirts have sold out (and thankfully look nothing like the Stop the War ones which are getting so predictable). I’m inspired by the creativity, the freshness and the heartfelt determination to stand up to injustice that is being taken up across the UK, and even the world it seems, mostly by people with no idea of how to write to their MP or whatever.”

    Except, although we agree on most things, I’m not clear on why intimidating public transport users is left-wing or progressive. Given the explosion of grafitti on the London Underground and the mainline railway system in the past few years, and the car advertising on stations, I’ve often wondered how many of the vandals are paid by the car dealerships or the auto industry. I would be a brilliant thing to do, if one had absolutely no morals, and while GM may not be doing this exactly, it seems unfathomable to me that a local dealership wouldn’t try it eventually.

    Also, what “injustice” is addressed by graffitti which advocates neo-nazism.

    For example….

    In my hometown, there were once a couple of guys who were arrested for spraypainting swaztikas on the supermarket……backwards, thus illustrating the typical intelligence level of a vandal. I won’t reprint the caption, but it was almost as much of a hilarious mutilation of the English language as the swastika was a hilarious example of incompetent white racist morons trying to be the new SS.

    Hatred of (other) poor people, as in the case I saw grafitti in Utica, NY, which read “How do you buy spray paint with food stamps?” It’s very ironic how fascists on welfare love to hate other, non-fascists on welfare.

    Along the same lines, one of my main memories of visiting Geneva was grafitti that I saw in French saying, roughly translated “Fire, the ideal solution to squatters.”

    Also, this is indirect but……I’ve rarely seen grafitti in London, New York City, or other Western non-Meditteranean countries which does not promote the racist stereotype that all African-Americans (and now frequently all “black” people) are only truly “black” if they’re involved in violent criminal activity.

    In fact, the image of grafitti in the Western non-Mediterranean countries is that it is inherently “black,” even though for years it was associated more with Latin American or Mediterranean culture, not that spray painted obscenities and genitals (or swastikas) on an elementary school wall has anything in common with spraying a cartoon of a politician (or slumlord) on the side of an abandoned building. If I were an African-American civil rights leader, I think that this would not merely annoy me, but would enrage me. The only thing that keeps me from instantly protesting something like this is that, as a white person who doesn’t own a record company, I don’t feel that I can make much of a difference.

    What baffles me the most, though, is how the popularity, even today, goes to the black leaders who promote this stereotype instead of sending the clear message that racist stereotyping of African-Americans is WRONG. Along this line, however much some white wannabe gansta’ rappers from Burnley with 15 ASBOs and a drug problem disagree, I don’t think that Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Colin Powell, or Barak Obama would agree with the assessment that neo-Nazi grafitti or grafitti promoting the notion that “black” equals “criminal” is somehow left-wing or progressive. White British kids who beat immigrants and the elderly to death for the fun of it just don’t seem “black” to me. In fact, most British black people I’ve met are so responsible and educated as to be almost boring, not that I’m complaining, and Nazism just doesn’t equal progressive or left wing to me, for some reason. 🙂

    Ummmm…..sorry for the long and rambling post. 🙂

    Reply
  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Saturday, 22nd September 2007 at 0:20 UTC

    Think you might have gone way off of topic there, and I’m a bit surprised you’d think I was saying all graffiti was equally OK. Some of it is really shit as artwork goes, including most of the neo-Nazi stuff, but I would certainly say that a community empowered to remove that stuff is much better empowered.

    To me what actually makes Krek into a decent artist is the fact that his output wasn’t the hate-filled stuff we all get rather used to. What slightly saddens me is that this story involves kids from well off homes, while dozens of other cases no doubt go unseen.

    The sickest story about graffiti removal I’ve ever heard is of a University I know fairly well (not York) that paid to have the racist stuff painted over in the library but left the homophobic stuff still showing. Now that’s wrong.

    Reply
  • 3. Jon Searles  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 10:37 UTC

    Hmmm…I tried to reply to this, but it didn’t work. 😦

    Reply
  • 4. Duck  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 17:20 UTC

    Having had SWP-ers with megaphones shouting ‘VICTORY TO THE INTIFADA’ in my ear round London rather too much – I can definitely see the advantage of a silent march.
    Before the big Febrary 15th STW demo a few years ago, I was at a silent Quaker protest outside Bush House (BBC HQ) in London. It was amazing.
    However, I’m not so sure about the silent candlelit vigil held after dark when David Blunkett came to York Uni. Fortunately his security guards were kind enough to read him some of the placards, but I suspect someone really hadn’t thought that one through properly.

    Reply
  • 5. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 23rd September 2007 at 19:29 UTC

    Candles and dogs? I suppose the dog was a guide dog, but still, that could be really dangerous!
    Silent marches do have a place, but then, its also worth noting that the minutes silence is becoming much less popular of late, with people bursting into applause instead most of the time. Might write a post about this sometime.

    Reply
  • 6. Jonathan  |  Monday, 24th September 2007 at 10:23 UTC

    “Sometimes I get really downbeat about the lack of people across the world who are standing up to oppression. Its happened a lot lately, especially because there’s hardly anything going on in the UK now the summer is over, and most of the opportunities that do exist right now for doing political actions are being missed.”

    there’s always the option of taking pro-active action in our local communities and building lasting struggles instead of waiting for yet another mass spectacle to manifest itself.

    Reply
  • 7. Duck  |  Tuesday, 25th September 2007 at 11:45 UTC

    Tea-lights in jam-jars aren’t *that* much of a hazard. Guide dogs are trained to cope with much worse.
    It was perhaps not that well considered though.

    Reply
  • 8. Brown on Burma « Graham’s Grumbles  |  Thursday, 27th September 2007 at 9:50 UTC

    […] overdue. Well, I did talk about the situation in Burma right when it started, but it was one of three signs of people power in the big wide world that I focused on. At that stage, this was simply an unusual protest, […]

    Reply

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