Dear activists

In Uncategorized on August 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Dear activists,

We are watching the riots, we are watching the riots and we are observers.  These actions are beyond our experience and probably outside our comfort zone. How do we deal with the scared bystanders running down fire escapes to be confronted with mass vandalism?

We understand, of course we understand the causes we tell ourselves – what is the real, tangible difference between these riots and the food riots of the 1830s – poverty leads to extreme acts of survival – looting to sell in many ways is no different than stealing to eat.

I will not condemn, and I will not align myself with the state in opposition to those on the streets, because I too am on the streets so often in anger.  But where am I on the invisible line?

In revolutions of other countries external structures have provided some guidance to the dispossessed unemployed young male contingent that have provided the fodder of radical social change – those structures have been religion, the radical left, the military, tribal loyalties and a whole host of other complex social interactions.

The external structures to which the rioters can relate are gangs borne of social deprivation – gangs with codes that are outside of and often in conflict with our own codes, but aligned in their opposition to the state and oppressive structures that demand unnatural behaviours.

As activists can we rise up to the challenge and be an alternative external structure – recognising the political dimension of the rioters actions yet choosing to confront the lack of political motivation in a positive – non authoritarian/patronising manner?  Yes, I believe we can.  We can join them on the streets and stand with them on the streets, because they and us is no longer a valid distinction.  We have demonstrated the power of a smashed window and we must recognise that our politically conscious act of strategic opposition has ripples which have made waves upon a wider society we barely understand.  Now, knowing that the gulf between rioters and activists is but a step compared to the unleapable crevice that divides us with the military wing of a state.

Let us not unthinkingly educate young anger with tactics of evasion and confrontation that facilitate extreme action without consideration of the political sphere.  But let us join with them on the streets as non-participants in that with which we do not consent to, but as people sharing experience with other people and hoping that our shared experience brings us closer.  We can stand by and watch from afar, or we can stand in the middle, on this side of the police line and show solidarity with presence and anger – if not with manifestation of uncontrolled anger.

There are no images to this letter because riots are transformed in the visual.  When the rain comes and the riots disperse let us remember not the easily memorable licking flames, but the anger of which they were borne.  They were flames from the anger of discontent and out their ashes a thousand possibilities could arise – let us make sure we do not let the state’s phoenix of retribution shape the future of the rioters but provide them with a seed that might grow into strategic resistance.  We should lend our knowledge of the legal system freely to become to the arrested an external structure of support that is stronger than a gang, yet just as opposed to state sanctioned oppression through enforced deprivation.

Our role is not to condemn, and in not condemning recognise that we are also not condoning; but stand alongside and let our knowledge be shaped by new experience, whilst imparting our learned experience to contribute to the knowledge of those that act out of an inner necessity – and incomprehensible anger.  We can and should learn from those on the streets – and we can also help – because we both inhabit the far side of the moon – and when we speak each others language our message will double in strength.



Dear British Electorate

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2011 at 9:19 pm
Dear British Electorate,
So I’ve spent the last five months working for the Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign. And after five months of working for them, the night before the vote, in light of the most recent polls I have decided to write something to urge the electorate to stop and think about the choice they make in the polling station tomorrow.  I won’t include an explanation of the system, because I can’t do it as well as the Electoral Reform Society does or, surprisingly, a video about cats.  I thought I’d outline my reasons very briefly below with a short word about some of the myths that have been spread during the campaign:
Why I’ll be voting yes
I’m voting yes because I see democracy as a self-reflective and evolving process that should be constantly challenged, not as something static which we have already achieved.  I see AV as a step in this evolution and with two thirds of our constituencies not having changed hands since World War II, I view First Past the Post as a symbol of a bygone democratic process that has had its day.  It’s time to update the system and if AV is the best on offer – then that’s an opportunity I don’t want to pass up on.
In the 1950s over 90% of the population voted for the two major parties – if this were still the case then First Past the Post would still be a useful system – however, in the last election only 67% of the electorate voted for the Tories or Labour.  Conservative estimates reckon that the outcome of the 2010 general election was decided by about 100,000 voters spread throughout the most marginal seats in the country.  We need a system that actually takes into account the fact we no longer have a political system dominated by only two players.
AV will increase the marginality of 44 safe seats:  unlike the campaign’s propaganda I won’t claim it totally eliminates safe seats, but I do believe in AV as a stepping stone towards a more representative, competitive system in which politicians are unable to rely on core voters to win them their seat.
Finally – if the No campaign is successful in this referendum it sends a strong message of anti-change to the government.  It provides the government with an argument against holding referendums on important constitutional reforms.  If the No campaign wins it also demonstrates that the way to win a referendum campaign is to spread lies (which can only be challenged after the referendum has already taken place) and spend more money on glossy direct mail to everybody’s houses.
That is it – AV won’t reform the entire political system, nor will it transform all MPs and MP candidates into hardworking paragons of society, but it is a small step towards reforming a defunct, out of touch system.  For more arguments pro-AV have a look at all the fantastic research done by the Electoral Reform Society, or have a look at Gowers’ mathematical analysis here:
Why not to vote no – busting a couple of myths

£250 million is a lie propagated by the no campaign.  It’s a number drawn out of thin air that claims we will need to use expensive counting machines (Australia, in 80 years of FTPT – they have never used counting machines.) – The BBC and Channel 4 fact checks both recognised this as a false claim and refuse to use it in their news stories.
The BNP support the No campaign.  Baroness Warsi was talking shit when she said it would help them come in – FPTP is far more likely to let a BNP candidate get elected as, for example in Norwich South – a candidate can get elected with only 27% of the vote – whereas under AV, 50% need to have marked the winning party on the ballot as one of their preferences.
Yes, AV is used in only three countries, but the only countries to use FPTP are ex colonies of Britain, and in the past 15 years 7 countries have moved away from FPTP.  I said above, AV is not perfect – which is why when most countries choose to tread a more democratic path, they opt for an even more representative system – but that’s not the same as saying FPTP is better than AV.
To finish:  Google it and read the blogs and articles – just take them all with a pinch of salt (we’re all a bit biased you see).  But please make an informed decision.

Dear Christiana Figueres…big business can’t be the solution.

In Climate Squad posts on December 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Dear Christiana Figueres,

I told you I’d write again, I knew it wouldn’t be too long before there was cause to express my concern at the way the talks are going.

This time I am writing to express my concern regarding some of your comments over the past few days – particularly those comments you made on the first day of the World Climate Summit, referencing the role of the private sector.  Now, the World Climate Summit bills itself as an attempt to inaugurate a “global 10-year framework to support its 300+ stakeholders’ bottom-up solutions to climate change” (read further).  Bottom-up solutions are good – you know that, I know that, I think this is something we can agree on.  I feel the point of departure might be our concept of what constitutes bottom-up, because, quite frankly, I don’t see how multinational, exploitative companies such as Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical can possibly consider themselves to be part of a bottom-up solutions.

When you called the private sector to action on Friday you advocated a fundamentally flawed perspective of market solutions, fuelling the belief that big business will save us: Big business that has brought us such wonderful solutions as biofuels and carbon trading.  You called for solutions that will operate within the current capitalist framework and you encouraged the corporate lobby to push their governments harder without considering the fact that a corporate lobby will never advocate solutions to climate change if it will affect their profit margins.  The businesses you addressed might lobby for wind-farms (if they stand to get a government contract to build them), or for the use of one, marginally greener material over another (if they happen to have a monopoly over that particular market), but they will never look at the bigger picture and, more importantly, they will never stop in their pursuit of economic growth; such is the basic tenet of capitalism: “accumulation without end”.

Despite these severe reservations about your speech at the World Climate Summit, I am fully in favour of your attempt to introduce more players into the negotiations, but I don’t think these players should be the businesses, but those organisations and individuals that are truly seeking bottom-up solutions.  Those organisations and individuals that are suffering due to the adverse effects of climate change and are denied the chance to voice their opinions on solutions.  Unlike the World Climate Summit, a once a year occasion that businesses feel obliged to send one lucky lobbyist, NGOs, grassroots campaigns and networks of individuals and groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network work year round seeking climate solutions.

So here are a few suggestions on how you might right your mistake in giving big business and the World Climate Summit its undeserved platform:

  • Let the NGOs into the talks.  Look at what they helped to achieve in Bali when they booed the USA at the final plenary.
  • If you are really that insistent on addressing the World Climate Summit, at least treat all non-governmental agents with the same rights and address the other non-governmental sector, that is actually seeking bottom-up solutions.
  • Recognise that NGOs and other environmental organisations probably know a lot more about the climate and possible solutions than businesses do.

And if you feel like going all the way:

  • Openly reject the idea that capitalism can provide any solution to climate change and will only ever exacerbate the problem;  reliance on infinite growth of material consumption, which these businesses necessarily advocate, is an impossibility in a finite world (Schumacher).

Best wishes from snowy England,


P.S.  As you may remember, I am writing as part of Climate Squad – some of whose members helped with Article 6 – which recently reached consensus in COP16 – further evidence that you should listen to some of the delegations that have travelled a long way, with considerable more knowledge and experience than any of the members of the World Climate Summit.