Archive for the ‘ activism ’ Category

Euthanasia: A real choice?

The debate surrounding euthanasia, much like the debate surrounding abortion, is often characterised by two polarised camps; those for whom sanctity of life is paramount, and those which place the importance on having the freedom of personal choice and bodily autonomy. Unlike abortion, where the ‘pro-choice’ argument is fiercely defended by the women’s rights movement, the ‘pro-choice’ argument over whether it is right to legalise euthanasia for elderly or disabled people is, rather patronisingly, usually made by the medical establishment “on behalf” of disabled people. Disabled people themselves often get little say in the matter.

In order to fully explore the debate around assisted suicide, we must look at the different ways in which society views disability and what the reality of life is like for people who have physical or mental impairments which affect the way they interact with the world. There are two major camps; the more dominant medical model and the less discussed social model as put forward by disability rights activists. The medical model conceptualises disability as intrinsic to the individual and as something to be cured or managed by the use of drugs or other therapy, often accused portraying disabled people as being something to be pitied and helped, rather than as people who happen to have impairments.

The social model put forwards an alternative view encompassing physical, social and environmental factors; that people may have physical or mental impairments, but it is society as a whole which disables the individual by the process of exclusion and neglect. For example, an individual with an impairment which effects their ability to walk would still be able to go about normal daily life if they had a wheelchair and everywhere they wanted to go was wheelchair accessible. They are only ‘disabled’ when their ability to do something is affected, which is usually because society has neglected to cater for their needs.

The social model is largely favoured by the disabled community, as not only does it offers more effective tactics to empower disabled people to access a higher standard of living in real terms, but it moves away from the idea of impairments being something to cure as opposed to something that is simply another aspect of someones life. This is especially relevant for people with hidden impairments, such as Aspergers Syndrome, whose “impairments” could more accurately be described as natural variance in the way people think as opposed to something that could be cured or would even warrant a cure.

Wheelchair-dancing scene from Glee! Disabled people are often ignored in the debate over euthanasia.

Often in the debate over assisted suicide, people with more ‘severe’ impairments, such as permanent neurological pain, who lead difficult lives are used to justify the pro-choice position. But the medical establishment who use disabled people as posterchildren for the pro-euthanasia cause are not passive observers of the suffering of the elderly or severely disabled people, their involvement in the treatment and care of individuals make them complicit in their suffering in their everyday life. When a person is institutionalised in a nursing home, care home or hospital; the right to choose when to wake up, what to eat, when to eat, what to do and where to go are taken away. When someone is disempowered to such a degree, no matter what their particular impairment, life must ultimately be made harder. It becomes a question of whether the care given by the medical establishment to elderly and disabled people is enough to allow people a life worth living.

Because the medical establishment often fall short of providing truly assisted living, but are often keen to propose assisted suicide, many people with physical impairments see euthanasia and assisted suicide as an attack on their community and actively campaign against it. The call for a state ban, whether it is by religious clergy or from disabled people themselves, lacks empathy for people who genuinely want to die; and often betrays a lack of understanding for long term mental health problems that include suicidal tendencies as part of their diagnosis, or the mental health problems that arise alongside a rapid deterioration of health when someone gets old. It also raises the issue of whether criminalising suicide is a useful tactic for
improving the lives of people who actively want to die.

Disabled people are frustrated with the debate, especially considering that it fundamentally decides whether they live or die and is
dominated by the clergy or medical establishment, who whilst polar-opposites in their position, share an ignorance of disability
issues and an unwillingness to listen to the voices of disabled people. The debate itself represents a false dichotomy; what is seen
as the ‘pro-choice’ position here doesnt give a viable option for disabled people to live lives worth living, and the pro-life side of
the debate hardly improves the lives of those wishing to die by criminalising them. The real ‘pro-choice’ position here is third camp; where disabled people are given assistance where they need it to live decent lives, and, if they require it, assistance to die.

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(Almost) live from Manchester occupation

On Wednesday, after a 6000 strong march through Manchester against the higher education cuts and rise in tuition fees, I was among a group of students who occupied part of the Roscoe building. We got loads of press coverage, my flatmate who has never been particularly involved in activism before got on TV, and we have pretty much been constantly giving radio interviews.

A small group of people who came out to meet the BBC reporter. You can see me if you look closely.

 

The has been minimal disruption to lectures, with many lecturers continuing normal timetabled lectures in the theatre. We figure that while we are using the space to organise against the attacks to our education, we should allow the space to continue to be used as a place of “normal academic learning” as much as possible. On Friday afternoon, when there were no timetabled lectures, we held our own. One in particular was a talk by Japhy Wilson about the crisis of capitalism which was fascinating. I have recorded the talks and discussion as audio files that are available to download below.

A group of students are continuing the occupation over the weekend. I’ve been delegated to go to the national co-ordinating meeting for the Education Activist Network on Sunday, so the best way to find out more about the occupation is to check out http://www.roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com and follow us on twitter at @mancoccupation You can also follow the Education Activist Network at @edactivistnet

Download the following file to hear Japhy Wilson’s talk today: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TWZHYLTW

Download the following file to hear the open floor meeting: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=97I3RS78

Note that the files might take a few minutes to become available on megaupload. Also note that I’m not really totally sure how reliable megaupload is on a large scale. I’ve only used it to distribute files quickly to mates before. We don’t really have anyone tech-savvy here!

these files are also available on the Roscoe Occupation website. www. roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com

The Browne Review: Where next for the student movement?

The recent publication of the Browne Review will not only have lasting consequences for higher education funding and the wider university landscape, but will have massive repercussions for the student movement.

The review itself was headed up Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive at BP whose savage cost saving cuts and subsequent health and safety corner-cutting there had him accused by some pundits as “the man most responsible for the BP oil spill”. It should come as no surprise to us that his review, which was instigated by the Labour Party, would follow his trend of maximising savings by slashing expenditure. The question remains, will his proposals be as devastating to the student movement as the oil spill was to the Gulf of Mexico?

Within a context of a 25% reduction in education funding, the clear winners in the proposals will be the elite universities who will be able to claw back their funding from the pockets of students paying increased fees. Other winners include part-time students who will finally be allowed to access some reliable form of education funding. The losers in the proposals are the less prestigious universities who can’t afford to put off students with a hike in fees and arts and humanities departments who are likely to be decimated by the proposals. Needless to say, students loose out on these proposals by paying more, but working class and some minority students will be worst affected by grants and scholarships not keeping pace with the increase in fees and living costs and being able to rely on the parental handouts.

the increasing costs of education may lead to students not being able to afford clothes

Whether Lord Browne’s proposals get the nod through Parliament largely depends on the whim of whoever is holding the party whip; but it is clear that the student movement needs to look beyond traditional party politics for it solution. The Liberal Democrats, once the darling of liberal students, are set to betray the movement by voting for an increase in tuition fees on top of their support for a 25% education budget cut. Whilst the Libdems might make a show of a small back-bench rebellion on the issue; it is proof, as if proof were needed, that the Libdems were never the “progressive” party they claimed to be.

With the Labour Party’s ranks swelling with Libdem defectors, and it enjoying a long history of support from the NUS bureaucracy, it seems likely that students will increasingly turn to Labour in search of a saviour. But, as the inventors of the Browne Review, can they really be trusted? It seems that a slash and burn approach to education funding would also be on their agenda if they had managed to make it into power again, and whilst they can (and no doubt will) criticise the ConDems from the relative safety of the opposition benches, they do not represent a viable, progressive alternative for us.

So, where next? With the National Union of Students flagship graduate tax seeming more and more like re-branded tuition fees, the rank and file of the student movement will have to look elsewhere for support in the fight for fair and genuinely free education. How we respond to the current attacks on our education will be key, and its clear from looking at our movements’ history we never got anything without fighting for it.

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Fun and Games at Manchester Airport

On the 24th of May, along with 5 other people, I was arrested whilst air-side at Manchester Airport after chaining myself around the wheel of an aeroplane. 10 other activists were arrested that same day for blockading the road into the Airport’s “World Freight Centre”. I’ve been charged with “conspiracy to cause criminal damage”, and am currently on bail until late August. For legal reasons, I can’t discuss the hows of the action, but I can discuss the whys.

The aviation industry is one of the few industries which has expanded under the global recession and is a significant contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. A 2005 conservative study attributed 6.3% of British CO2 emissions to aviation, with more recent studies concluding that 17% of the UK’s “climate change effect” is caused by aviation. With the greenhouse effect, there are lots of altitude-sensitive effects to releasing emissions, which actually increases the negative effect on the environment of emissions from aviation due to those emissions being at a high altitude.

locked on around the wheel of a plane

The government and some less progressive NGO’s encourage us to focus our attention on our individual greenhouse gas emissions, whilst ignoring the ever-expanding environmental impact of industry. Whilst cutting down on our individual carbon emissions is all very well, an individuals personal use of the aviation industry pales into nothingness when compared to that of the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport which handles 170000 tonnes of freight a year, and the business giants that use such services. Climate change is a huge problem, but it is only a symptom of a greater disease – that of capitalism, the economic system that seeks infinite growth on a planet of finite resources.

Our action was one in a series of actions by the environmental movement targeting airports due for expansion. In 2007, the Camp for Climate Action targeted Heathrow Airport, blockading the headquarters of the British Airport Authority, whilst Plane Stupid activists boarded a barge transporting an Airbus A380 wing. In 2008, 57 Plane Stupid activists occupied a runway at Stanstead Airport, shutting it down and causing 56 RyanAir flights to be cancelled. In 2009, the Climate9 occupied the taxiway and terminal roof at Aberdeen Airport. They wore golfing clothes to highlight the millionaire Donald Trump’s support of  expansion in order to bring more business to his nearby golf course. The group have since launched a public campaign and have been harassed by the police and private detectives. Along with the hard work of local campaigns, these direct actions have been instrumental in stopping airport expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead. Whilst its important that our movement celebrates its success’, we must not rest on our laurels and let airport expansion through the back door at regional airports such as Manchester, East Midlands, or Aberdeen where there is less media interest.

(I'm on the right)

Its not just environmental problems that airport expansion at Manchester would cause. Airport expansionists argue that the plans to make Manchester the “Heathrow of the North” would support the local economy by bringing money into the area and providing more employment in the area. However, in his recent report, the economist and former advisor to the Treasury, Brendon Sewill calculates that Manchester Airport currently represents a total deficit of £2.2 billion to the local area, set to rise on airport expansion. Indeed, the construction of the Terminal 2 in the 1990’s promised to create 50000 jobs, but fell short; creating fewer temporary jobs that in no way helped create the sustainable, meaningful local economy it promised to do.

Our action coincided with the scheduled 5-day BA cabin crew strikes. Willie Walsh and British Airways turned to the courts to ban the action, a threat to everyone’s right to strike, which was later overturned by an appeal on behalf of the BASSA, the cabin crew union. The strikes arose out of a dispute over pay and conditions. BA has in turn harassed more prominent members of BASSA, and removed “travel perks” (considered essential by most workers) from those engaged in previous industrial action. At the time of our action, 5 BASSA branch officials had been fired by BA during the current dispute, and over 50 workers currently face disciplinaries relating to the strike, mostly on ridiculous issues such as participating in discussions on union forums or receiving and forwarding emails from private accounts. It is important to show solidarity with airport workers, especially those involved in the industrial disputes, whist arguing for a just transition to stave off global climate change. The changes needed to prevent climate change should not be used as an excuse to restrict workers rights and extract more profit.

World Frieght Centre blockade

The airport is by the Manchester Airport Group, which Manchester City Council has a 55% stake, and the other 45% is made up by 9 other local authorities. Manchester City Council plan to reduce Manchester’s carbon emissions by 41% by 2020, but refuse to take into account the airports emissions. With the council being complicit in the airports destructive behaviour, it seems that there is little that Mancunians can do within the “legitimate” channels of local democracy. Whilst the residents of Hasty Lane face loosing their homes, and the ancient woodland surrounding the airport facing the chop with the proposed plans of expansion, the council refuses to listen to the residents concerns in any meaningful way. With the councils lack of caring, and the urgency of the need to prevent climate change, concerned citizens have no choice to take direct and illegal actions to protect workers rights and the future of out planet.

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What is Marriage?

Yesterday I gave a speech at York University about the institution of marriage and how it relates to me. Here is the transcript.

In order to examine what marriage is today, its important to see it within its historical and social context. Marriage first became something that fully involved the state when common-law marriage for practical purposes was abolished under the marriage act of 1753. Before then, legal marriage was mainly a practice of the aristocratic and bourgeois classes; its main purpose to secure business relationships between rich families and appropriate property away from women and the working classes.
As the UK moved from mercentilism to industrialism to a neo-liberal, ostensibly capitalist economic system, the way that legal marriage was used in society changed from being something that was used solely to secure business relationships between privileged families and something that was more accessible to some sections of the working classes. This is seen as a sign of liberal progression by some commentators, but I’m not convinced.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production within society is privately owned. The ruling class, who are the owners of the means of production, have the most economic power, and therefore more political power within our society. They seek to extend their economic and political power by exploiting those who don’t own the means of production, the working class, by forcing them to labour in order to produce surplus value, so they can extract profit. The ruling class seeks to ensure their continued domination by using a tactic of “divide and conquer”; encouraging racism, homophobia, disablism and other forms of bigotry to take root in communities, so the working classes are fighting amongst themselves as opposed to combating the root cause of their exploitation – capitalism and the ruling class.

You might be wondering what exactly this has to do with marriage. Well, the institution of marriage and the concept of “family” it supports, has evolved into another tool to divide the working class by splitting communities in to atomised nuclear family units. This isolates individuals from their neighbours, and decreases the shared resources within a community, increasing profits for those in power. The concept of the family is then further used to exploit a right wing agenda – one recent example being the attack on the LGBT community in defence of the “family” by members of the conservative party. Its interesting that most political acts which supposedly support the “family” could arguably be seen as attacks on the community, and the working class as a whole.
The notion of the family and the institution of marriage is part of this process of division alongside forces such as racism and misogyny, and in some ways they both depend upon each other for their very existence – division in one area of public life giving rise to another form of division. From 1753 onwards, the state entered our bedrooms in order to police our relationships; granting legal marriages to those that were deemed fit of privilege. Now the state wishes most people to enter into marriages, giving them minor financial incentives in order to further atomise the working classes t the benefit of those in power. Whilst I have no issue with people living together, or publicly showing commitment to each other, buying into the institution of marriage is essentially supporting and aiding your own oppression by the state and the ruling class. Whilst there might be a some rare cases in which the benefits of marriage outweigh the disadvantages, such as marrying an asylum seeker to save them from a greater oppression, in most cases marriage represents a misinformed backing of the state and capitalism*

On the subject of gay marriage, I’m sure others speaking tonight will talk about issues of assimilation and heteronormativity. It is my question to ask, then, is advocating incremental change in fighting for the ability of queers to marry progressive? If we ifght for so-called equality within a framework controlled by heteronormative elite, how are me liberated?Is it better then, instead of arguing for gay marriage, to argue for the abolition of marriage altogether, to take direct action against the root causes of our oppression and move towards a society in which hierarchy and division no longer exist and power is held by the community and not the ruling elite?

* In case some of you don’t know me personally, I am currently married, going through a divorce. I married my best friend to take advantage of a relatively large pot of money that would become available to us through student loans and various bursaries should we show we are “independent” of our parents. Obviously, at the time I thought that action was justified, and it has, and will continue (even after the divorce goes through) to massively improve my standard of living whilst I’m a student, and will be essential to my affording to do a masters after this current degree. Im obviously still campaigning for free education and grants for all students though!

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I recently joined formspring. Feel free to ask me things, and if your question is interesting enough, Ill write a blog about it: http://www.formspring.me/charliethescarf

What is Terror? The Personal and the Political

Activist Tami Peterson talks about her own personal experiences of terror and its relevance to the student movement, in this beautifully articulated piece. Thanks to Tami for letting me share this.

There’s been a lot of talk about “terror” and a lot of people saying that what happened with the siege of the aid ship and the wars that continue to rage in Afghanistan and Iraq are nothing to do with students and should not be of concern. Well I’m a student and these issues do matter to me, and not only do they matter they effect me dramatically both personally and politically. While I don’t expect people to agree with me, I do expect to not have my experiences discounted. So for all of my fellow students who cannot speak out about their experiences of terror and the private outrage they feel that their experiences and views are considered “not relevant” I share my own:
What is terror? For me it’s something incredibly personal. The memory of my heart thumping, chest pumping, stopping and my blood running cold. It’s shouting, screaming, chaos. It’s watching people jump out of buildings twisting and turning grotesquely before hitting the ground, burning paper fluttering slowly down like a confetti parade and fireballs high above your head. It’s desperation. It’s “MISSING” notices which fill the square a few days later. It’s knowing most of them weren’t “missing” at all. It’s looking down into grey dust and seeing shoes and glasses and not remembering if I saw a body. It’s that police officer who saved my life by screaming at me to run the other way and not knowing if they perished themselves. It’s looking into the face of death and thinking “Ok, that’s it, I’m dead” and then always feeling a bit guilty that I actually made it. It’s the shopkeeper being threatened for being a “fucking terrorist” the next day as I stood there impotent. It’s the shame I felt at not having jumped to his defense. It’s the cowardice I felt at having hid my political books in a box under my bed the next day just in case they finally did make use of that file they’ve had on me since I was sixteen. It’s the fear of not having any idea which titles would be considered subversive. It’s yet another apocalyptic nightmare where I am trying to escape from more terror, bombed out city landscapes and US military jets never knowing if they are there to protect or harm. It’s the eternal sound of a screeching descending plane, PLANE #2, as it heads towards the WTC, a sound which relives itself daily, hourly in the flight path above my head. It’s wondering if the fear I feel upon looking up will ever leave or if I am stuck with it forever. It’s the inability to live without feeling terrible anxiety at low level noise, a horrendous rumbling like when they fell, a rumbling so loud it reverberates forever in my brain. It’s the embarrassment of jumping when there’s a sudden noise. It’s the shame of being unable to take a bus without a panic attack after 7/7 for weeks. It’s the shame of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s the embarrassment of nearly passing out on the stairs during a fire drill because of having a flashback. It’s being monitored on the health registry watch list just in case we all get sick from breathing in the dust. What is terror?

What is terror? For me it’s something incredibly political. It’s the understanding that government officials on the television are telling me, yet again, that that horrible day is somehow a justification for the unleashing of shouting, screaming, chaos, descending planes onto others and that the context doesn’t matter, because it’s all to fight terror. It’s the feeling of helplessness that this appears to be accepted. It’s the mental images I get of people, people, people, huddled, scared, crying, thinking they will die, it is nightmares come to life. It is the apocalypse made real, but for others. It’s the media pumping out yet again more justification for terror. More terror, pure terror. It’s leftists telling me that they didn’t condemn 9/11 because there are lots of bad things happening in the world. It’s people telling me they shouldn’t condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza because Israel is always against terror and the Palestinians are always terrorists. It’s my government telling me that I should support sending terror to Afghanistan and Iraq in order to end terror. It’s people calling me a supporter of terrorists because I oppose terror while using the actual terror that I’ve experienced as a reason for calling me a terrorist supporter. It’s every attempt by a regime to impose terror on its people. It’s every attempt by a group to terrorise others in an attempt to claim they are responding to terror by using terror. It’s getting screamed at as myself and other protestors stood on the streets of NYC to oppose the US war in Afghanistan because they say we support terror. It’s my great frustration with their belief that I was standing there to support terror when I was trying to oppose it. It’s fellow demonstrators yelling at me on anti-war demos because I tell them that their conspiracies about 9/11 are offensive, particularly when they don’t give a damn about supporting workers dying from the toxic dust. It’s Muslim students being harassed for being “terrorists” when they have never touched a weapon by those who have been trained in weaponry. It’s women having the hijab ripped off by racist thugs on trains. It’s people I love being considered suspected terrorists in the name of protecting me from terror. What is terror?

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IDAHO Kiss-in attacked by riot cops and neo-fascists

On Tuesday May 18th, LGBT activists held a kiss in against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Saint-Jeans Place, Lyon, characterised by growing tensions between Kiss-in participants and counter-demonstrators. The Kiss-in was originally planned to take place on Saturday, to mark IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, but the demonstration was deemed illegal by the council in Rhone for “administrative reasons”. Lesbian and Gay Pride of Lyon (LGP Lyon) consequently denounced the “lack of firmness and courage of the Rhone council” considering them to have “yielded to the pressure of the right wing catholic movement”, who organised an intense campaign to ban the “gathering of homosexual extremists” and calling for public funding to LGP Lyon to be halted. Young People for France, the youth wing of the right wing conservative Movement for France party, which forms part of Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidential majority, made up part of the counter-demonstration.

300 participants of the Kiss-in gathered around Saint-Jeans Place, but were blocked by riot cops barring access to the square, apparently to avid a confrontation between the Kiss-in and the hundred young catholic extremists and fascists who had taken the right hand side of the square. The two groups held banners and placards, chanting slogans at each other, “Enough of this gang who don’t respect transpeople, dykes and fags!” and “Enough of catholic-phobia” (They don’t translate well from French). The president of the LGP Lyon said “Our demonstration is authorised, not theirs. I don’t see why it should be shocking for us to embrace in public. And we shall be back again next year, especially if Cardinal Barbarin (The archbishop of Lyon) does not condemn the actions of the counter-demonstrators”.

Some kisses between participants could be exchanged before the police issued an evacuation order at 21.30. Demonstrators were forcibly evicted from the square with tear-gas, and two catholic extremists were arrested. The Kiss-in participants left quickly, but the catholic extremists resisted the order.

LGBT Associations have said that they are pleased with the amount of people who mobilised for the Kiss-in, but question the management of the demonstration by the council of Rhone, calling it “calamitous”. A joint press-release signed by various LGBT, human rights and anti-fascist organisations was published asking ”Why wasn’t the right to demonstrate peacefully for gay rights not respected? Why were the extremists, gathering illegally in Saint-Jeans Place, allowed to spread their hate? Why were the demonstrators for human rights, acting non-violently, violently evicted by the police without reason?”

Videos and the original report from the event (in French) can be found here. Apologies if I messed up the translation! 🙂

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