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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Did You Say Heartbreak?

Music lover and queer hero Stefan Alok Shanker tells us about the music the cool kids aren’t even listening to yet.

“I thought I was different, but it turns out lonely people are all the same”

This time, Did You Say Party is dedicated to those bad romances, to conflicting emotions, to hearts on a collision course with others, or even themselves. To those stories where you know things aren’t going to end happily.

Goodie! A feel-good mix! How do I get in on this action?
It’s easy, just go HERE , download it, unzip it, listen to it, and tell me what you think! If you liked it, feel free to send it to other people and tell them about it, I’ll give you a concilatory hug.

“I had no regrets until I met you. Now my regrets could kill me.”

It all kicks off with Summer Camp’s blissfully yearning ode to the love that won’t be returned, Ghost Train, followed by Primary1 and that Nina Persson (from the Cardigans) harmonising about growing up and being stuck in a constricting relationship over a clattering, propulsive pop song in The Blues.

Then there are those times you fall for someone that everyone else says is a creep, as Lovefoxx (from CSS) does in the gorgeous and surprisingly tender Kavinsky slow-jam Nightcall, or you fall for someone who won’t tell you what they want and keeps leading you on, as Shyvonne is in CfCf’s bouncy remix of Kingdom’s brilliant 90’s house referencing Mindreader.

Unless of course you are that creep, unsure of where you want to go with things, like Holy Ghost! in their effortlessly cool disco single, Say My Name. Or, indeed, the boys of Miike Snow who would rather continue their desctruction and search for a cure or ask for forgiveness rather than live carefully, on the housey club-banger by Crookers, Remedy. And if you do find yourself there, take a leaf out of the character in Caribou’s Odessa and get out, preferrebly over a liquid, hazy dance track with hushed vocals which is as experimental as it is wonderfully accessible.

Ali Love and Kelis are only out for one thing, covering it up with references to ‘love’ and ‘milkshake’, but it’s clear, sex is the drug they’re peddling. Ali Love in an RnB tinged, classic disco thumper Love Harder, and Tobi1Kenobi rubs Kelis against the thrilling guitar-synth crunch of Ratatat’s Seventeen Years in 17 Years of Milkshakes. It’s clear That Ali Love longs to surrender to a woman he can never satisfy, and Kelis is happiest when home-wrecking other people’s relationships, well I guess everyone needs a hobby, right?

And if you’re not sure how you feel, wrap it up in distortion. The robot protagonist in Crystal Castle’s Not In Love repeats the title as if she’s trying to reassure herself, until a glimmering synth wash comes in and expands until it fills up the song. You could even spend Four Months in the Shade with the Radio Dept., where shoegaze meets a unstoppable pushing synth pulse which lurches the whole thing forward. Javelin flip the script with a remix of In Heat by the usually noisy and messy HEALTH, turning it into a upbeat, 80s style groove but keeping the ambiguity intact.

Of course, if you can’t love, then you can at least dance. James Yuill’s remix of Let The Beat Control You ramps up the pace on the original to create neon-tinged dancefloor killer, and Crysteena by Mille is what the child of Danger, Kavinsky, and Daft Punk would sound like raised on a diet of computer games. But nowhere is this idea encapsulated more perfectly than on Robyn’s soon-to-be-classic Dancing On My Own a sad unrequited love song, with a throbbing synth line and Robyn doing some of her best emoting since The Girl and the Robot.

But what is love? Bomb The Bass enlist Kelly Polar on their answer, a cosmic electro creation-myth, Start: blinding light gives way to unending darkness, co-produced by Gui Borrato it’s a spacious and subtle reflection. Nonetheless, the most nuanced and conflicted face of love is in The Kiss by Pallers, gentle, balearic and totally irrestible, it slowly opens up: we love because we don’t have a choice, and we spend our life trying to make sense of it. After all; if it wasn’t a kiss then I don’t know what it was.

Full Tracklist
Summer Camp – Ghost Train
Primary1 – The Blues (ft. Nina Persson)
Kavinsky – NightCall (ft. Lovefoxx)
Holy Ghost! – Say My Name
Ali Love – Love Harder (Extended Version)
Tobi1Kenobi – 17Years of Milkshakes (Kelis vs Ratatat)
Tilly And the Wall – Let The Beat Control You (James Yuill Remix)
Kingdom – Mindreader (ft. Shyvonne, Cfcf Remix)
Crookers – Remedy (ft. Miike Snow)
Caribou – Odessa
Bomb the Bass – Start (ft. Kelly Polar)
HEALTH – In Heat (Javelin Remix)
Crystal Castles – Not In Love
The Radio Dept. – Four Months In The Shade
Mille – Crysteena
Robyn – Dancing On My Own
Pallers – The Kiss

So… where does that leave us?
Stefan

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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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Rock Star asks to be Convicted of Growing Cannabis

Guest post by ex rock-star and disabled activist Edwin Stratton, who talks about why he asked a jury to find him guilty of growing cannabis. He faces a possible sentance of up to 14 years. This is his story.

I am a disabled cannabis user, with a prescription for a cannabis spray that my Primary Care Trust will not fund. I chose to grow my own and was caught; I subsequently refused a police caution and pleaded Not Guilty. At Snaresbrook Crown Court last week, I told the jury that although my conscience is clear, they should convict me.

It seems a lifetime ago, but I was once a rock musician with a successful international career. In 2001, I developed a sensitive form of Coeliac Disease, an autoimmune condition that began to erode my health. By 2004 I was unable to play music, the pain and nausea had become intolerable and continuous, and I was suffering from malnutrition because I could no longer absorb nutrients. Then the prescription painkillers stopped working.

Cannabis

Fortunately, I discovered the benefits of cannabis. For many thousands of people cannabis is the only medicine that reduces the pain, quells the nausea, stills the tremors, lifts the depression and calms the anxiety. When prescribed pharmaceuticals fail, we have the ‘choice’ of obeying a blunt and pointless law that demands either our passive agony, or opting for a life worth living by breaking it. This is no choice at all. Who in their right mind would accept the immediate imperative of chronic, untreatable pain against the remote threat of prosecution and conviction? Because so many of us can’t derive pain relief through alternative means, and because it is a far, far safer alternative to alcohol, many millions of otherwise law-abiding Britons believe cannabis prohibition to be unfair and unworthy of obedience.

My medical predicament was acknowledged in a letter from the Minister for Policing, Crime and Drugs, Vernon Coaker, to my local MP, Harry Cohen on 21st July 2008:

“…we recognise that there are people like Mr Stratton, with severe pain and debilitating illnesses, who cannot satisfactorily alleviate their symptoms through the use of existing medication… That is why we have said that we would seek Parliament’s agreement to make any necessary changes to the law to enable the prescription of cannabis-based medicine, for the purposes of relieving pain…”I followed Mr. Coaker’s advice, and in due course my medical need for cannabis was confirmed by my pain consultant. I became one of the few people offered a prescription for cannabis in its liquid form: Sativex, on the proviso that my Primary Care Trust would fund it. But in spite of comprehensive peer-reviewed evidence, my PCT declared that Sativex is not sufficiently proven for pain relief to justify funding.

Cultivation

At first I tried buying cannabis on the street, as a less-risky proposition than growing it. But as a disabled person I felt extremely vulnerable hanging around the streets of East London. It’s also the worst of all options because dealer-weed is frequently adulterated. I have bought cannabis laced with silica and glass; I have seen it contaminated with iron filings, and even lead dust. If I am to find relief at all, the only safe solution is to grow my own.

So, in February 2008, I began growing cannabis in my spare room. Three months later, my luck ran out when a neighbouring wine bar was firebombed. The conflagration spread, the police burst into my home to evacuate and found my plants. Arrested and bailed, a week later I was offered a police caution, which I refused on principle. To accept a caution would be as absurd as not growing chamomile for headaches.

On 1st October 2008, I was charged with cultivation of cannabis. Eight days later I appeared at the Magistrates’ Court where I moved to seek permission in the High Court for a Judicial Review of the decision to stand me for trial, on the grounds of unconscionable behaviour by the government. I asserted that I should not have to be before any court, that I was only in court at all because the Home Secretary had abused his powers by not applying the law fairly and equally to all drug users.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is designed to control ‘dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs’ proportionate to the evidence of their potential for causing a ‘social problem’. A reading of its provisions reveals that the Home Secretary has misunderstood the Act, in that crucially it does not mandate prohibition, but instead provides for meaningful controls across a vast range of policy choices; it is beautifully crafted to implement whichever measures reduce social harms most effectively.

It is a neutral Act. It does not imply that the Home Secretary can exempt, for example, heroin dealers or cocaine traffickers from controls under the Act. It’s neutrality also means it does not grant the Home Secretary the power to exempt similar activities involving the most socially obnoxious drugs of all: alcohol and tobacco.

My private activities involving cannabis were harmless to society compared to identical activities with alcohol and tobacco. This double-standard cannot be enshrined in a neutral Act. Therefore, in my legal submissions, I alleged that successive Home Secretaries have abused their discretionary powers under the Act. I isolated three legal errors, which give rise to a litany of unfairness and irrationality, resulting in an arbitrary drugs regime causing the unlawful, unequal treatment of people engaged in identical activities with equally or less-harmful drugs than the most popular ‘legal highs’, alcohol and tobacco. This cannot be lawful.

 

Edwin Stratton playing the drums

The unequal treatment I suffer is clear. In 2009, the supermarket behemoth Tesco was fined a meaningless £6000 and denied a liquor license for 28 days at its Blackpool branch, for “persistently selling alcohol to children”. While for my private activities which do not involve the supply of addictive, lethal drugs, and which might be said to cause a social solution (pain relief) I face up to 14 years in prison.

Unequal treatment

In 2009 the Home Office confirmed that alcohol and tobacco fall squarely within the remit of the Misuse of Drugs Act.  Now that the government has finally admitted that alcohol and tobacco are harmful drugs, the question arises as to why users of safer alternatives are irrationally singled out.

The government’s answer came in a 2006 Command Paper, Cm 6941. In spite of its acknowledgment that “alcohol and tobacco account for more health problems and deaths than illicit drugs”, the government defended its provision of civil rights to alcohol and tobacco users on the one hand, versus its criminalisation of users of ‘illegal’ drugs on the other. The government did not justify this unequal treatment on the grounds of science, or for the protection of society. For the first time ever the government admitted that the inequality of treatment is based on “historical and cultural precedents.”

‘Historical and cultural precedents’ are the stock-in-trade of discrimination, the justification for racism, sexism, homophobia and slavery. This is the ‘reason’ that smashed the genius of Oscar Wilde. The same ‘reason’ drove the criminalised homosexual Alan Turing, perhaps our greatest scientist, to depression and suicide. Today, this arbitrary justification continues to destroy the lives of thousands of ordinary people, while permitting identical activities with the most lethal drugs of all. Cannabis has never caused a fatality, where alcohol and tobacco cause over 150,000 deaths every year in the UK.

At the High Court, I claimed that the government’s justification for the inequality of treatment I suffer is irrational, unfair and illegal. I argued that it is disproportionately restrictive of my civil rights and freedom of choice to deny access to safer alternatives to alcohol; that it is invasive of my privacy, and abusive of my freedom of thought. I insisted that a fair trial was impossible, and asked the High Court to prohibit my trial.

On July 1st, 2009, the High Court refused me permission for Judicial Review, ruling that there had not been an abuse of power even if the government did admit to arbitrarily prohibiting ‘illegal’ drugs on the grounds of ‘historical and cultural precedents’, rather than for the protection of society as the law demands. The High Court adjudicated that the law as applied to me, but not to users of the more-harmful drug alcohol was NOT discriminatory, and therefore was not unlawful. I was sent back to the Magistrates’ Court, and committed for trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Trial

My trial began on Monday 26th April 2010. On the Tuesday, His Honour Judge Tudor Owen ruled that there had been noabuse of power by the Home Secretary, and even had there been, the Crown Court is not the place to rule that the law is wrong. The judge told me that the place to argue that the law itself is bad is the Court of Appeal.

On the Wednesday, I was tried for cultivating cannabis. I represented myself, but was forbidden from defending on the grounds of medical necessity, that option having been eliminated at the Court of Appeal in 2005. I could not argue an abuse of power; the Judge having ruled that out the day before. I had no defence in law.

There is another obscure option available for people who represent themselves: ‘jury nullification’. For three centuries juries have had the power to pass a verdict on whether the law itself is wrong. The jury may acquit the defendant, regardless of the evidence or the facts, if they think the law is bad. Judges don’t tell juries they have this power, so few jurors know about it, and lawyers are not permitted to mention it.

Jury nullification would seem sensible for the purposes of damage-limitation. But, if the jury were to acquit me, my journey would immediately stop. Two years of groundwork, of developing and refining arguments, of trying to make an impact on drugs policy, would be over. I would be acquitted, but nothing would have changed. I still risk arrest, prosecution and jail if I dare to address my symptoms.

Clearly, acquittal would be an unsatisfactory outcome. I felt that I needed to come out of my trial with more substance than the mere cessation of proceedings. What value is an acquittal if it affects nobody but me, and then only in the short term? Many thousands of people in similar situations to mine can’t even stand up, let alone stand up for themselves in Court, so it falls to me to do it for them.

The Judge’s instruction that the Court of Appeal is the venue to challenge a bad law made it clear. Per His Honour’s assertion, if I wished to take the matter forward to a potentially more meaningful conclusion for all of us, and not just for me, I would have to be convicted. Only then could I go to the Court of Appeal to exercise a Rizla-thin chance, but a chance nonetheless, at challenging a dreadful law.

Witness

I took the stand determined to tell the whole truth. I argued on behalf of sick people and for adults who choose to relax in the evening with a safer drug than a glass of wine. I told the jury I agree with Professor Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who was sacked for making his scientifically-based opinions public. I admitted my sinful enjoyment of smoking cannabis; only when the pain subsides can I enjoy life. I explained how vicious the law is, how sick people like me, in addition to responsible adults enjoying a cultural choice, are caught in the law’s dragnet for private, peaceful activities affecting nobody else. I told them that guilt is as appropriate to me as would be to them if they chose to brew a demijohn of wine; I had no option but to plead Not Guilty on principle. I said that my activities were partly an act of civil disobedience, and reminded the jury of the words of Martin Luther King – that it is our duty to disobey unjust laws.

I repeated the directions of the Judge: that this Court has no power to rule on a bad law, or to make exemptions from it. I then relayed His Honour’s assertion that the place to argue that the law itself is bad is the Court of Appeal.

I informed the jury that they have the power to acquit me if they think the law is wrong, even in spite of the facts and the evidence:


“…but I will not be asking you to do that today.”
 

I want to go to the Court of Appeal, but if I am acquitted, that is the end of the matter, and I will be in the same position next week if I choose to grow cannabis. I will be liable to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, and nothing has changed. My ambition is to challenge this appalling law, therefore I ask that you convict.”


“Ladies and gentlemen, if you have any sympathy for me, if you think it is unjust for sick people to be persecuted in this way, you will pass a verdict of guilty. Please help me out here today by convicting me.”Verdict

The jury returned after less than a minute to pass the verdict I had demanded of their consciences: Guilty. I flashed a grateful smile at the honourable twelve, and gave them two thumbs up. Most of the jurors returned my smile, apparently happy to have granted my wish.

Thanks to government intransigence, my conviction is an opportunity to argue my case at the Court of Appeal, in an attempt to help myself and many thousands of people to live a better quality of life.

Sentencing will take place at Snaresbrook Crown Court on May 26th, 2010.

This blog usually talks about drugs, queers, sex and anarchism. Subscribe by clicking the button on the right.

Fuck the Police! or, Fuck the Police?

This is going to be an attempt at a blog post that attempts to deal with my personal life. Big steps. Scary, I know.

The other day, I happened to come across a certain gentleman’s profile on fitlads, as you do. I decided he was pretty enough to have a go at striking up conversation with, and so I made a flippant remark about something he had put in his profile. We got chatting, and over the next few days we found we had a fair bit in common. The boy (lets call him Paul, because actually I don’t know his real name and “Paul” is nice enough) is a bit of a geek, likes going out on the odd occassion and talks about cleaning just enough to make it clear that he would tidy up after me if we ever got married and went all Stepford Gay. Perfect. Until the conversation moves round to what we do with our time. I tell him I’m a layabout student, and he tells me… wait for it… that he works for the filth.

“PSCO’s main duties include dealing with anti-social behaviour, minor crimes, and being the highly-visable, ever present eyes of the State on the streets.

He’s a PSCO. A Police Community Support Officer. All I really knew about PCSO’s were that they are the fake police that get sent out to annoy teenagers in the city centre and help old ladies cross the road. So I did a bit of research. There is a fair few of them, about 13500, and they dont have any powers of arrest beyond your average citizens arrest. Their main duties include dealing with anti-social behaviour, minor crimes and being the highly-visable, ever present eyes of the State on the streets.


So, not as bad as you average, truncheon wielding riot cop, but still something that I have reservations about persuing. Why? Well, for me the police service exist to fulfil the state’s wishes; to be the mechanism of ‘legitimate’ state violence and to enforce what are, in the most part unjust laws. Whilst some duties they perform are valuable, the police as an institution are racist and homophobic, and constitute a weapon that the state uses to control the working class through fear of imprisonment. The police are the enforcers of a criminal justice system where black people are 7 times more likely to be imprisoned, but actually less likely to commit the crime in the first place, where queer people and people with learning difficulties and disabilities are over-represented in prison through the un/conscious bigotryof the police, judges, lawyers and juries working within that system. Paul, even though he is just a PCSO,is complicit within that system and so, even though he is gay, actively promotes the homophobia, racism and bigotry that system represents.

“Whilst some duties they perform are valuable, the police as an institution are racist and homophobic, and constitute a weapon that the state uses to control the working class through fear of imprisonment.”

The other day he wrote that he made his first arrest on his own. He had caught a guy trying to steal a crate of beer from a supermarket (with multi-million pound profit margins which could stand to loose a few quid). For a minor crime such as this, the poor guy would probably have some form of fine, and now has a criminal record. For someone who can’t afford a crate of beer, getting stuck with a fine is probably not the most helpful thing in the world… and lets face it, if someone is desperate enough to risk their freedom for a beer they probably deserve a pint or twenty. Wasn’t Paul just doing his job? Well, yes, its not as if Paul makes the laws or has much say in the strategy of how they are enforced. He did, however, choose to take on that job, as well as make the personal choice to enforce this particular law in this particular case. After all, a crime isnt a crime unless your caught.

Arguably the catalyst of the queer rights movement, the Stonewall Riots were a series of clashes with the police as cops raided the Stonewall Inn, and were resisted by a group of radical queers, transvestites and street kids who had had enough. A year later, to mark the anniversary of the riots, the Pride parade was born. Explicitly political, it demanded action on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and expressed solidarity with other oppressed groups. Over coming years, pride started to become less political as it became more about parties and the pink pound. An important moment in the evolution of pride was when the Gay Police Association starting marching in the parade, causing a schism between the commercial and political elements of Pride, the political elements boycotting the parade.

“The police, by their very nature, cannot be members of our community because they are agents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and so represent a threat, even if the indivivual police officer is gay, bi or trans themselves.

The reason the queer community exists is not simply because we share non-comformist sexualities and gender identities, but through self defense. We are safer standing together against the endemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia we face in wider society than standing alone. The police, by their very nature, cannot be members of our community because they are agents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and so represent a threat, even if the indivivual police officer is gay, bi or trans themselves.

So, what does this mean for poor old Paul? Your’e not going to sleep with him just because of his job? Yup. Just as I wouldnt buy Coca Cola because their company murders trade unionists in Columbia, I wouldnt sleep with a policeman because his job entails the systematic harrassment of political activists, the locking up of working class people and the supporting of a homophobic, racist and otherwise discriminatory status quo. If he didnt have the uniform, and was doing the same, most people would shun him. What exactly is it about the uniform that makes Pauls actions OK?
So, sorry Paul, I’m not going to be sleeping with you any time soon. If you feel like changing your occupation, give me a call 🙂

*remember most of our laws are about private property, and a significant amount of people in prison are non-violent drug offenders, these people shouldnt be there.

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