Archives for posts with tag: Activism and Peace Work

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Twenty years ago I would regularly tramp up to Plymouth Hoe to raise a sociopolitical fuss about something. Usually, at that time it was the Criminal Justice Bill, the one that took away your right to silence while under arrest. Well, it didn’t, except that  ‘it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.’ What a busy copper with a quota might make out of that I leave to your imagination.

So we didn’t get the Bill stopped, but we made a noise, and there was at least a sense that people in the UK could be roused to some form of caring about the slow erosion of their rights that has been taking place for half a century. I remember standing on the steps of Charles Cross Police Station shouting slogans until two fellow protesters, who had been nicked for swearing within earshot of a police officer, were released. There were about fifty of us.

Recently, I’ve felt like I’m living in a nineties flashback. I’m utterly broke, marginalised and angry. I’m listening to Senser and Sacred Reich, and going to protest events. Pretty soon, I’ll buy a pair of second-hand combat boots and fail to do the laces all the way up. Then you will know that the revolution has arrived.

On Saturday, I was excited to be doing my protesting on the Hoe again. I hurried home from my saturday morning appointment with my daughter ( a visit to ‘Soft Play’, something like the assault course at Lympstone in bright primary colours) to change my Primarni jeans for combats and shove waterproof trousers into the pocket of my ragged coat. I fortified my self with some Public Enemy and toast, and set off.

Arrival

Two slices of toast and too much coffee sat resentfully in my belly as I walked through grey drizzle to the Hoe. The tarmac expanse of the Hoe seemed empty. Two elderly women and an equally venerable man with a stick walked calmly by. The didn’t look much like the forces of peaceful revolution, but they did look peaceful.

At the far end of the Hoe I saw some coned off parking and headed towards it. To my left, the Wheel, Plymouth’s cargo-cult London Eye, turned slowly, pausing every minute or two to allow hopeful tourists to embark and disappointed tourists to escape. The Wheel doesn’t extend the seaward horizon far enough to be any different from just standing on the Hoe, and the landward view of Plymouth City Centre’s concrete and cardboard bleakness is hardly edifying. A gently somersaulting pallid pachyderm.

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There appeared to be no unusual activity on the Hoe at all. Dog walkers and mums with pushchairs were my only companions. I began to wonder if I was even in the right place. Was this supposed to be in Freedom park, or Central park? I noticed a group of people milling around between me and Smeaton’s Tower, and began to head towards them, but soon deduced from their bright man-made fabrics and rucksacks slung on both shoulders that they were in fact foreign students, and thus slightly less useful politically than even british students these days. They began to dissipate as I approached.

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As I passed though the cloud of peach fuzz moustaches and iPhones like a neutrino through candyfloss, I drew my phone to text my friend James, hoping to find out where I should be. Almost as I did so I spotted James standing at the base of Smeaton’s Tower. The gentleman with the green mohawk in the Victorian iron shelter near the tower could only be Wheelie, our organiser. A few other people milled around in the drizzle.

The greeting James and I shared perfectly captures the moment.

‘How’s it going?’ I asked.

James looked around him with a wry expression and replied; ‘Yeah.’

‘Innit.’ I agreed.

We stood in the swirling moisture for a moment.

‘The brave man does not fear the rain on his face,’ I observed, ‘But the wise man seeks shelter.’

Over in the shelter, Chris ‘Wheelie’ Wilshire was characteristically upbeat. ‘Quality over quantity,’ he grinned, and commented on an almost complete death of hatred. Hate can’t bear the rain. One-nil to us.

We hung around a bit, while families took photos of themselves standing at the base of the light house. We talked about World War Z and allegations of Facebook jiggery-pokery. I sat up on the central divide of the shelter and looked out at the steely expanse of the sound, naval vessels out near the breakwater, and turned my gaze from the Citadel all the way around to Mount Edgcumbe and Devils point, seeing the fortifications of old wars.

The best soldiers are often those with the bleakest backgrounds. When much of the military stone work around Plymouth was put in place, the British Army really was the best in the world, not only in spite of, but because of the fact that most of its recruits were attracted mainly by the fringe benefits of Army employment; like eating more days than not, a half pint of rum or pint of wine guaranteed daily, and military service being a generally preferable alternative to hanging or transportation, rather than any desire to be professional soldiers.

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I wonder briefly if that’s the purpose. Do the elite envisage a return to a way of war that burns men like straw, and need to degrade us to the point that fighting at the front, killing the man in front of you, who is no different from the man next to you, is a better option than enduring the home front? No, don’t be silly, I thought. If it get’s that far the war will be all over in an afternoon.

James broke into my increasingly dismal musing.

‘Have you tried the tapas bar down on the water front?’

My brain made the same noise as an old stereo needle dragged recklessly across the orignal cast recording of ‘Cats.’

‘James! This is a left-wing protest dude!’ I spluttered. ‘It’s not Yuppies Against Hate! Tapas!’

‘Tapas is like carefully sliced and prepared hate’ laughed Chris.

‘Served on crispy corporate recklessness,’ agreed James, gravely.

The gathering peaked here, at nine people. Sixty had agreed to come on Facebook, with thirty-eight maybes. Not many, but some. Some is better than none, but it was hard not to feel disappointed at such a level of literally fair weather activism. Will we never have a people’s revolution in this country for no other reason than the weather? Iceland managed it, so apathy must be the real reason.

The Police arrived, two WPCs on mountain bikes cycling along the seafront. They passed by without even seeming to notice us. They don’t need to. The narcotics fed into the populace through their LCD’s suppressing dissent and protest far more effectively than nightstick and water cannons.

Make no mistake, peace in your country in this era does not indicate that revolution is not needed. The countries in which rebellion and revolution are even now taking place are the ones that are not irreversibly advanced down the path of quiescence and have a chance to save themselves. Those of us anesthetized by celebrities, consumption and self-regard slip further from freedom every day and do not notice, or even care.

In coming conflicts, we in the ‘civilised west’ may come to realise we are not the global good guys we like to think we are, but by then it will be too late and we will have no choice but to fight, like Sven, Porta and the Old’Un, not to win the war, but for personal survival.

Getting cold and wet now, the gathering began to disperse. James and I tramped wetly across the tarmac of the Hoe, past the monuments to Drake and the war dead, down past the Holiday Inn and into the concrete heart of a wet and dreary Plymouth. Thousands braved the rain to come here and buy things, nine came to suggest that perhaps buying things isn’t the be all and end all.

‘What you said about the rain…’

‘Yeah?’

‘That was an Egg Shen quote, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

I’ve been posting, commenting, and shouting about socio-political stuff on The Facebook for a little while now, and some people have been confused. Some think I’m a socialist, a typical lefty. Others can’t decide what they think I think. I’m going to try to clear things up, or maybe just muddy the water some more.

I try very hard to avoid being pigeonholed as an ‘ist.’ If it’s possible at all to draw any conclusions from the last couple of thousand years of ethical philosophy, then they are; treat others as you would expect them to treat you, and be extremely suspicious of any who claim a direct line to moral truth. The first is the so-called Golden Rule, and pops up all over the place where people talk rationally about how best one might go about living, and is familiar to anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Bible, or even The Water Babies. The second abjures against subscribing to any pattern of thought that assumes an objective truth, of which they are the keepers. All religions, and most political ideologies fall into this definition.

Thus, I don’t call myself a socialist or anarchist, even though aspects of them appeal to me, because to anchor oneself to an ideology, especially in a polarised political climate such as the present, is to automatically refuse to consider validity in any other.  I don’t even call myself an atheist any more, as that is slowly becoming bogged down in dogma and ideological purity; I was blocked from commenting on the Holes in the Foam facepunch page after questioning the words of the Holy Madelyn O’Hair.

To refuse to engage rationally with another human being because their views are not exactly congruent with your own is foolish and arrogant, and ideological purity offers you this handy salve for cognitive dissonance.

It may come as a surprise, then, that there is one ideology I am prepared to embrace wholeheartedly; it is a totalitarian, elitist ideology.  The pseudo-Samurai ethic of traditional Shotokan Karate, which stresses self-discipline, fighting spirit and contempt for pain.   It is an ideology I apply only to myself and to students who have voluntarily entered the dojo to train.  A world run by the rigid Japanese etiquette and parade ground spirit of a karate dojo would be hell for most!  It is an aspect of my personality that I am pleased by rules and systematic hardship…it is an aspect of my intellect that I realise that what is true for me is not true for everyone.

Submitting to compulsion can be acceptable then, if one is doing so voluntarily in full knowledge and understanding, accepting that it is not permitted to attempt to enforce it upon others.

So a strong personal ideology, but no fixed political ideology, beyond the two statements of ethical philosophy mentioned above.  I’m not a lefty, either, or at least I’m not just a lefty.  The spectrum of left and right is lacking at least one axis if you ask me.  I was going to launch into a whole description of a certain geeky game’s system for describing the moral/ethical state of a character, but I decided not to.  Suffice to say, I consider myself neutral-good.

I appreciate the safety brought by the rule of law, but resent it’s interfering in private matters, and am incensed when it is used to marginalize and punish the vulnerable.  Not enough law is a bad thing, but so is too much.  I think it is far more important to do good than do well, and to take more than you need at the expense of another is the worst crime in the world.  If I can go back into the carbon and water cycles leaving the world one Planck Length better than when I arrived, I will consider my life worthwhile.

What I want for the world is freedom, with the understanding that freedom implies responsibility for one’s own actions; justice, with the understanding that justice means everyone gets what they deserve and need, not that I always get what I want; tolerance, with the understanding that tolerating something doesn’t mean you have to pretend you like it; and rationality, with the understanding that rational thought is just another instinctive process.

Peace.   I want Peace.   Between nations, ethnicities, religions, ideologies, towns, football team supporters, and individuals, with the understanding that peace requires constant maintenance, adjustment and nurturing to remain peaceful.

We are ruled by people who do not want these things.  People who profit from our misery, from our pain, but more subtly from our obedience, inertia and irrationality, bending the world in the direction that suits them.

They want control, justice for themselves and oppression for the masses.  They want us hating and fighting each other so that we do not notice, and turn upon, them.  They want us stupid, quiescent, fat and lazy.  They want the material profit and power our dumb compliance gives them.

War.  They want War.  War keeps us afraid and foolish, accepting oppression of our own freedoms in the belief that it hinders ‘the enemy.’  War culls the poor, keeping our numbers manageable, allows tyrannical laws to be passed by frightened governments without a squeak from the even more terrified populace, and brings profit and power into the hands of those who will never have to shoot another man or bring shrapnel home with them.

In a lawful evil world , the neutral good man becomes restless.  I am finding it increasingly hard to sit still.