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Articles from the Peace News log: Social Struggles
Articles from the Peace News log.
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Leon Fleming's new play concerns a brother and sister growing-up and living in Birmingham trapped in the clutches of an uncaring welfare system. The story is told with flasback scences from their childhood, mixed with the contemporary tale of two people being processed by The System TM and trying to survive....Read More
I’ve written a play, Kicked in the Sh*tter. Sounds a bit grim, but it's pretty funny.
That’s the plug over.
When I first wrote this play, I had no idea what I was writing. Or why.
But I soon realised I’d been writing about a world I know well; albeit one so much darker now, than it was when it was mine. The two characters are people I have known. More than that though; they are me, a lot of me; more than I would usually allow. That frightens me.
My play exists in an unforgiving world - one we’d see every day if we didn’t choose to close our eyes to it. It revolves around two people with their own individual mental health difficulties, struggling to hold their heads above water; fighting with the government over back-to-work assessments and the minefield that is the benefits system in the UK.
Because I lived on a council estate for a year back when I was in my early twenties, I have some idea what I’m talking about. I worked in a pub on the estate and I claimed Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit. This community was populated by very busy people. Warm, immensely generous people. Some were working, and some weren’t.
I was also surrounded by heroin addicts and people with a whole range of dependency issues and specialist needs that just weren’t being catered for as well though. These were a forgotten people. Actually, not forgotten; neglected.
This play has also forced me to acknowledge my own relationship with mental health; those unspoken of, invisible illnesses that affect so many of us.
After much dithering, we ended up driving North on Sunday night heading for Dale Farm, ducking under the Thames at Dartford, and emerging in Essex, new and alien ground for us. Breaking right towards Basildon and then onto back roads, we were anticipating blocked roads and searches, and parked discreetly some distance from the site. We needn’t have worried. Walking in, there was an extraordinary air of calm, with a few quiet words of welcome and thanks from Travellers as we walked in the growing darkness up the approach road to the main gate, below the looming scaffold towers and banners. Just a few hours later, that same route in would be blocked by an array of barricades, several massive lock-ons, and a young woman chained by the neck to the outer gates.
With no time to get bearings, we caught the tail end of a legal briefing within the walls of Camp Constant, the activist hub, then joined our friend at the Red Team meeting. Different colours were used to designate the different areas of the site for the co-ordination of the defence: Red Team, we found out, covered the main gate and a substantial length of the rather exposed-looking right flank of the site. The main gate scaffold tower gave way to an extended scaffold, tyre and wire wall, plugged with anything heavy and rigid from doors to sofas to fridges. The red team meeting was a pretty efficient affair, well-facilitated, and as inclusive and indulgent as the time and situation could permit, but with a fair few of those overenthusiastic and totally infeasible last minute suggestions that only 20 year old guys seem to capable of coming up with. Ah, to be young again! We talked about the lock-on crews and their “guardian angels”: folk whose role was to look after the locked-on with food and support, and make sure the bailiffs and police understood their precarious situation. We talked about rotas, communications, possible scenarios, the availability of blue boiler suits and masks for those wanted to remain anonymous, the presence of legal observers, about the shields that would allow us to form mobile barriers, and protect ourselves, as and when needed, and the need to stay calm and act together....Read More
Dale Farm in Essex is the UK’s largest Travellers’ community. The residents have been fighting for ten years to remain there but now 90 families of 500 people, many of them children, face eviction from 31 August. The Conservative-led Basildon Council has set aside £18 million for an eviction which could take weeks, while supporters have set up a solidarity camp at the site.
The community at Dale Farm are predominantly Irish Travellers and many have lived there for 30 years. They own the site but planning permission has refused because the land, a former scrap-yard, is designated “green belt”. Residents point out that the council has over-ridden green belt status elsewhere for development. They consider that the eviction is disguised ethnic cleansing, pandering to hostile neighbours. The Travellers have been refused alternative culturally appropriate sites, and Amnesty International argue that “Basildon Council has not engaged in genuine consultation consistent with international human rights standards”....Read More
The present state of affairs on English streets is bad enough but the situation is exacerbated by the platitudinous responses made by most politicians who seem both to have no idea of what is going on or how to respond to the situation without making it worse. The platitudes come out thick and fast: “pure criminality”; “only a minority of the population” (has Cameron any conception of what it would be like to face even a small mob of youths?); “nothing justifies such lawless behaviour”; “sections of our society are sick”; and so on.
Water cannon and plastic bullets are seemingly now on the agenda – which, arguably, if used would only escalate the violence – do you imagine that this would not trigger a tit for tat response from sections of the “youth”? Furthermore, what is the point of threatening imprisonment when the prisons are already overflowing? The present political response is on the level of Toytown’s Mr Grouser: “It ought not to be allowed”.
So what is to be done? First, to recognise that an established generation has the responsibility effectively to hand on a culture to its emergent generation. But that the present established generation has conspicuously failed to do – and I am part of that generation. That responsibility is, moreover, essentially an institutional responsibility – as Benjamin Disraeli neatly observed: “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions that can create a nation.” And English institutions have failed English children – so much so that politicians, and their hangers on, are now scurrying off to put the blame wholly on parents....Read More