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Articles from the Peace News log: Radical Lives

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

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 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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A play written and performed by Tayo Aluko. 


Piano accompaniment by Michael Conliffe. Directed by Olusola Oyelele. Designed by Phil Newman. 4th-20th May 2012. Warehouse Theatre, Dingwall Road, Croydon CR0 2NF. £12/£11. Box office 020 8680 4060. Further performances: 26, 27 August, Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse.

If you get off a train at East Croydon, you may well gaze around and wonder which of the towering office blocks is the infamous Lunar House that ‘processes’ foreigners and refugees; the building that decides who is welcome in this land and who is not. Look around and you will find, overshadowed by the rise of concrete, The Warehouse Theatre. “Oh look” you’ll say, “a proper theatre”. It is intimate, adventurous, has no Corporate Identity. It is a place of Art in the making.

Showing here until Sunday 20th May is ‘Call Paul Robeson’, a profoundly moving one-man play written and performed by Tayo Aluko. An elderly Robeson looks back at the trajectory of his life through a super-star singing career, academic and intellectual achievements and his love of women, humanity and justice. His political commitment was first stirred by talking to Welsh miners in London and led him to his understanding that the struggles of 1930s British workers were just as much a product of capitalism as the African-American slavery his own father was born into. It was his statement, “The Artist must take sides, he must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative” made in support of the Spanish Republicans that defined his intellectual and creative life. For this commitment he was ‘called’ by the Committee on Un-American Activities; was harassed and persecuted by the US government; not welcome in his own country but forbidden to leave.

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Malcolm Pittock uses PN's 75th birthday as an opportunity to reflect on a lifetime of peace activism

ImageKeep on keeping on

I have been a peace campaigner more or less continuously since I was imprisoned as an unconditionalist conscientious objector from September 1954 to January 1955, and over nearly 60 years have learned the necessity of keeping on keeping on. Many in the peace movement fall by the wayside. Some – and this is particularly true of politicians – end up as enemies of the movement they once supported; others, perhaps even more inexplicably, without any change of belief, after a period of activity suddenly decide they have had enough, and are never seen again.

To ensure that this does not happen in your own case, you must pace yourself, decide what volume of activity you can sustain while still leading a normal life, and stick to it over decades. Otherwise you are likely to burn out.

Brian Haw, whose death has saddened me and, I am sure, many others as well, was unique in that only death could end his total commitment to working for peace no matter what the personal cost. That is why he was a great man.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

Looking back, looking forward

So Peace News was first published on 6th June 1936.  6th June was also, as it happens,  the date of  other momentous events – the D-day landings in 1944, the publication of  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, the bombing of Haiphong during the Vietnam War in 1972.

2011 seems to be a year of  significant anniversaries: 75 years of Peace News… 50 Years of Amnesty International…  and good grief, very nearly 10 years  of our local peace group,  Bangor & Ynys Môn Peace & Justice.  Still meeting every week, still attracting new members, and most importantly still part of a lively network of independent groups campaigning across Wales for peace and justice, many of them set up during the tumultuous autumn of 2001.

On the agenda for our Bangor meeting on 6 June 2011 were plans for a poetry reading for the Shaker Aamer campaign, as well as options for a public meeting to consider the Arab Spring in relation to the situation in Palestine.  There were discussions about Bradley Manning, about the use of depleted uranium weapons and about the next Gaza flotilla.  Also discussed was an inspiring letter from Bustan Qaraaqa, a community permaculture project established in Palestine by former Bangor Students.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

ImagePeace News is 75. Happy birthday! Today is another anniversary; it’s two years  since my Mum’s death so I’m feeling somber, remembering the failings in the hospital care she received and our struggle to get her home so she could die as well as she had lived: in peace, with her family, in familiar surroundings. Time was short, and when some of the things that should have happened to facilitate this did not and our questions met with poor excuses, we blew the whistle to get things moving. Although this had the desired effect and there was soon a proper package of support in place, we were treated with suspicion and downright hostility by some of the professionals involved and we know that their displeasure was communicated to Mum, causing her a lot of distress. It helps that the ultimate outcome was three months of excellent care at home before she died, but I’m still upset about the way it was dealt with.

I’m also reflecting today on the recent revelations of abuse at a Bristol care home, exposed last week in a BBC Panorama programme. The authorities had simply ignored the concerns raised by the care worker, which allowed the abuse to continue. I wonder about this unidentified whistle-blower’s future career prospects. I had a conversation about whistle-blowing recently with a work colleague who has been working in learning disability services for years. She said that in almost all whistle-blowing cases she was aware of, the person exposing the abuse had subsequently found themselves investigated: either fabricated allegations or a big fuss made about a small transgression. Without exception, they had been bullied, victimised, ostracised, made ill and eventually hounded out of their jobs, giving the lie to workplace whistle-blowing policies and ‘protection of vulnerable adults’ training which imply that the authorities will be grateful to have these matters, which workers have a duty to report, brought to their attention.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June.

Arrested for Attempted Street Theatre

It was 5.30 pm on the eve of the royal wedding. “The Government of the Dead” street theatre troupe had just built a 12-foot high guillotine, topped with the banner headline “Some Cuts Are Necessary”.

We’d added an effigy of Prince Andrew with a rather long neck – easier to chop through. We’d pinned on him the knight grand cross of the royal victorian order, the bauble his mum had given him four weeks earlier. And then there were Andrew’s friends – cardboard cut-outs of a whole bunch of arms dealers, dictators and torturers on the guest list for the joyful occasion. Our banner read: “‘BAE Systems: Exporters of blood across the globe, by Royal Appointment”.

These theatrical props had been packed away in our van, but we were so ahead of time we decided to celebrate with a drink at our local pub. On returning a little later, we noticed someone loitering around: evidently a plain-clothes cop.

I was just getting my keys out ready to drive off, when 25 uniformed officers swooped on us from five vehicles. A woman police officer announced: “You are under arrest!” “Why?”, I asked. “For conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.”

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Angie Zelter on what she was doing (and thinking) on 6 June 2011 - the day Peace News turned 75.

I was 60 on world environment day – 5th June 2011 and a few days later took a 2-day hike along the Offa’s Dyke path, with panoramic views of the welsh borders, a contested area for so many centuries, I had time to reflect on years of campaigning for peace and environmental justice.

I often feel despair, and wonder what’s the point of all our protests when Britain is still threatening mass destruction by renewing its nuclear arsenal[1], still sells weapons to repressive regimes, still supports Israel despite its criminal occupation of Palestine[2], and is embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Libya that are killing in the name of democracy and human rights. I think how our foreign policy has not changed in hundreds of years[3] and how little human beings have progressed in their relations to each other over the millennia.

We have still not learnt to truly respect all peoples and treat others as we would like to be treated, we have not learnt how to prevent the abuse of power, nor prevent vast disparities of wealth building up. We have no idea how to implement true democracy.[4] Our technological progress has been at the expense of wisdom and compassion.

I go and tend my allotment because at least I can see the tangible results of my labour in the fruit and vegetables there. But I wonder how long it will be before private enterprise takes away even these little patches of soil, when it will try privatising the rain and the sun. Yes I have been “down” some of these days. I look around and I see such wonderful potential in people and our beautiful planet but despair at the various capitalist, hierarchical, patriarchal, fundamentalist, ideological structures that distort and prevent its fruition.

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