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The Peace News log

Image'Positive social change results mostly from connecting more deeply to the people around you than rising above them, from coordinated rather than solo action.' – Rebecca Solnit

 

In times of crisis, people often react by coming up with quick fixes, quick strategies and quick actions to address the challenges we face. Although quick responses are sometimes necessary, we need to be careful in how we articulate our demands and how we organise. Climate breakdown, white supremacy and so many other ‘crises’ in the news right now are not actually new. For many communities around the world including here in Britain, crisis is very familiar. You can see this in the profit-driven projects that impoverish and displace communities in the global south, and in the racist policies that punish migrant and refugee communities in the global north. Crisis is what many of us know.

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Extinction Rebellion (XR) deserves praise for the impact it is having in streets, in the media and in public discourse. The XR leadership should also be questioned for its approach to diversity and privilege, to climate justice, and to strategy. (This is part of a series of articles discussing XR.)

Extinction Rebellion 'nonviolence' bannerExtinction Rebellion (XR) has sprung upon us and is mobilising thousands of people to take direct action demanding radical action on climate change. They’ve filled the streets. Thousands of new people are taking action. Despite this most established environmental activists have reacted with criticism, much of which is justified.

 

Leaders

To understand XR, it is important to note that it has a defined leadership. Roger Hallam and a small group make key decisions, and those participating in XR do not have a direct say in these decisions. This is unlike many recent movements involving direct action, most of which have been non-hierarchical in some way.

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Students march against climate change on Rue de Treves next to the European Parliament in Brussels on 24 January 2019. Bence Damokos [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

 

Many schools and sixth-form colleges across the UK are unwittingly helping to fund climate change through their contributions to Local Government Pension Schemes. These Pension Schemes have £16 billion pounds of people’s pension monies invested in giant oil, coal and gas companies like Exxon and BP. By taking action in their schools, students, parents, teachers and staff can help to break the hold these companies currently have on economies and governments around the world, and make way for a just transition to renewable energy.

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Benjamin reports on Global Justice Now's recent one-day conference

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On Saturday 23 February about 200 activists met in South London to discuss 'Growth, Degrowth and Climate justice'. The one day conference, organised by Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement) proved hugely popular with tickets selling out. A larger venue was found and filled, proving that a subject which has been the preserve of university economists can now draw a non-specialist audience.

If the financial crisis of ten years ago has taught us anything it is that we cannot leave economics solely to economists. Climate campaigners too understand that the mantra of economic growth is a major obstacle to meaningful emissions reductions. The growth obsession drives ever increasing consumption and resource use. To date, no country has been able to decouple economic output from greenhouse gas emissions.

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Speakers at a London book launch describe some of the many challenges we face around race and racism and connections with other oppressions.

ImageOver 50 people gathered in London on Saturday 10 November to celebrate the launch of a new book, The Fire Now: Anti-Racist Scholarship in Times of Explicit Racial Violence.  The event was a welcome mix of hearing from different authors (people of colour and also white) about the work they had contributed, followed by a thoughtful Q and A and discussion, refreshments and more incisive observations by the rapper Lowkey and professor Akwugo Emejulu

One of the book’s editors, Azeezat Johnson, who is a researcher at Queen Mary’s University (where the event was held) welcomed everyone and explained that the impetus for the book, which contains 23 essays by a wide variety of researchers on topics from climate change to 'Laughter and the Politics of Place-Making', was the aftermath of Brexit and the upsurge in racial vilification and violence. 

Then it was over to some of the authors to explain what their chapters involved.

Remi Joseph-Salisbury, one of the book’s other editors, explained that his journey into academia had stripped him of some illusions about the connection between academic work and activism.  He pointed out that talking the talk must be matched by walking the walk.

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In some ways it is hard to believe it has now been over a century since the guns of the First World War fell silent. The 'war to end all wars' is so deeply engraved on our national consciousness that even now, when there is no living memory of the conflict, people gather to speak, remember and reflect on that awful, bloody war.

I observed the two minute silence at 11am in front of my television at home, unable to face the militarism (not to mention the crowds) taking place down the river at the Whitehall Cenotaph. The service in Tavistock Square, politely timed at 1pm for those who wished to attend both services in person, is far more my speed. Here there is no marching, no saluting, no talk of the glorious dead. Instead there is quiet reflection, poetry, and a deep sadness that far from ending all wars, 'The Great War' sowed the seeds for the next major conflict, and the Cold and proxy wars that followed. There was a theme this year at Tavistock Square, and a pledge – 'No More War – Let's Make Peace Happen'.

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Obituary of a great voice.

ImageThere are a lot of things I could say about Harry Leslie Smith. He was a husband, a father, and the son of a coal miner. He was a writer, activist, and defender of the working classes. He was a vocal campaigner for the rights of refugees. He was a survivor of poverty, of the Great Depression and of the Second World War. He was a link to our history; a voice from the past bringing us a warning of where the future could go if we fail to act. After striving tirelessly to make the world a better place, he passed away from pneumonia, with his son John at his side, at 3.39am this morning (Ontario time).

Harry's life is a story of love, of loss, of poverty and of triumph. His books, Harry's Last Stand, and Don't Let My Past Be Your Future are powerful reminders of what life was like for the working classes and indigent poor of Britain before the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. I won't try to tell Harry's story – he does it powerfully enough himself – but I will tell you that his early story is a sad one, one none of us would wish to see repeated. The death of his sister Marion from spinal tuberculosis affected Harry deeply, especially as his parents could not afford the treatment to even keep her comfortable. She died in a workhouse infirmary, like thousands of other desperate people. The was no funeral, no headstone – as Harry said; 'My family, like the rest of our community, was just too poor to afford the accoutrements of mourning.' Marion's sad and needless death must be remembered by us all; our overloaded and underfunded NHS is being allowed to disintegrate, our welfare state continues to be dismantled, and avoidable deaths like Marion's are once again becoming a feature of the lives of Britain's poor.

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The case of Henry Rivett Albrow, a conscientious objector.

Devils on HorsebackIt is the case of Henry Rivett Albrow that forms much of the plot of Devils on Horseback. When he is called before the tribunal he is erudite and eloquent in his impassioned defence of his conscience, calling himself a ‘dissident Christian’ – mainly because he cannot reconcile ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’ with the church’s acceptance of warfare. He is berated mercilessly by the members of the tribunal, with the usual nonsensical questions that are asked of pacifists; ‘what if a German raped your mother?’ Calmly and clearly Albrow states that he would not take a life to save one, but he would gladly give his own to save another – rendering moot the argument that pacifism is based in cowardice.

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The Inaugural Alternative Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture 2018

Kerry-Anne MendozaIn a tucked away corner of Rotherhithe, down a little cobbled street oozing with history, stands Sands Film Studios. Well-known amongst lefties and radicals, this unique corner of London was the perfect place to hear from a unique, leftie and often radical character, Kerry-Anne Mendoza.

Mendoza began by talking about the namesake of the lecture, Claudia Jones. Like Mendoza, Jones was a radical leftie – both women do not sit back and wait for change, they get on and make change happen. Born in Trinidad in 1915, at the height of Empire, Jones didn't keep her birth name but changed it in what she called an act of 'self-protective disinformation' - to avoid receiving judgement based purely on her race. Despite a deeply disadvantaged background, including the loss of her mother at a young age, Claudia was very able academically, and won the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship in high school. However, being a working-class woman of colour, she was prevented from pursuing higher education in an act of triple oppression. While she worked in a laundry, Jones wrote a column in the Harlem Journal. When the case of the Scottsboro Boys hit the news, Claudia became politically active, and joined the Young Communist League.

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31 October – 24 November, Jermyn Street Theatre

ImageBased on the memoirs of a real-life Canadian  flying ace, this play charts the rise of the eponymous Billy from under-achiever, to airman, to international celebrity. The latter for the astonishingly high number of air-to-air combat “victories” that he achieved  during the First World War. With a cast of only two, Charles Aitken playing the young Billy, and Oliver Beamish the elder, the play is a simple, but very effective, production.

The set is reminiscent of my great-grandfather’s shed, contributing to the sense that we, the audience, are simply having an intimate chat with Billy himself. The sense of intimacy continues throughout the play, with the audience  being made privy to the darkest parts of Billy’s wartime experiences, often using letters to his real-life fiancée Margaret as a narrative tool.

While the play uses a good dose of humour to convey its message, there is no evasion of the misery of war. Billy remarks on the casualties the Canadian Expeditionary Forces are experiencing in Europe, and concludes that he is ‘a casualty in training’. During his journey across the Atlantic, Billy’s war trauma begins to manifest itself in nightmares. And there is no sanitising the reality of troop transport, with seasickness featuring heavily.

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