Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option, by Rebecca Solnit

Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option, by Rebecca Solnit

I have celebrated writing by Rebecca Solnit many times on this blog. In this post I’m reproducing in its entirety ‘Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option’, today’s Guardian long read. Because it is a magnificent essay, one of her best pieces. Every paragraph burns with passion and sings like poetry. The Guardian’s strapline reads: ‘The true impact of activism may not be felt for a generation. That alone is reason to fight, rather than surrender to despair.’ Read on and find inspiration in these troubled times. Continue reading “Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option, by Rebecca Solnit”

Poetry that cooks: Niemoller updated for 2016

Poetry that cooks: Niemoller updated for 2016

This is by food writer Jack Monroe. I thought it deserved a wide audience.

Niemoller for 2016

Continue reading “Poetry that cooks: Niemoller updated for 2016”

Ethel Singleton: a tribute to one who struggled for better conditions

Ethel Singleton: a tribute to one who struggled for better conditions

Ethel Singleton and the Princess (Daily Post)

Ethel Singleton and the Princess (Liverpool Daily Post)

I received a sad email today that brought memories flooding back of a different and (sometimes, it seems) lost world of solidarity.  In 1968 I was a student at Liverpool University, hoping to become a journalist and meanwhile dabbling a bit in that line of work.  I learned from housing activist friends the astonishing news that the university had a bit of a sideline going, too: owning slum properties in which working class families were surviving in conditions more redolent of the 1860s than the 1960s. The tenants, however, had formed a tenants’ association and started a rent strike.  The secretary of the tenants’ association was Ethel Singleton, and this post is a tribute to her.

For today’s email came from Ethel’s daughter, Kim Singleton, informing me of her mother’s death: ‘After battling Alzheimers for a number of years, Mum died last night, peacefully in her sleep aged 81′.  This is the story of how I came to know Ethel, her husband Jim and their three children.

gazette-feature

The student newspaper expose of Liverpool University’s slum housing

I wrote this about their circumstances in a piece for the Liverpool University student newspaper:

Melville Place is about five minutes walk from the Union, the street of downcast houses, some of them boarded up and rotting, can be seen from the fourth-floor windows of the Social Studies Department.

The street looks much like the rest of Liverpool 8, and, like much of the area, houses people living in squalid and insanitary conditions reeking of the Victorian age.

But Melville Place is special, for a good number of these houses are owned by the University.

Between 1955 and 1960 the University bought up property in the street as part of its precinct-development plans, bought it apparently without inspecting it, and handed lt over to Liverpool Improved Houses Ltd to be managed until demolition in 1970.

Since then, the residents say, no one from the University has been round. They naturally feel bitter: “As far as they’re concerned,” says Mrs. Singleton, at number fifty, “we’re just a nuisance because we’re on property they want knocked down. ”

Mrs. Singleton lives at number fifty with her husband and three children. Her house is one of those owned by the University and managed by Liverpool Improved Houses Ltd. It’s a three storey, 7-roomed house, but the family live in two rooms on the ground floor and sleep in one bedroom on the first floor. The top floor is a wreck: walls just crumble when touched, huge cracks gape in the walls, a door leans on its hinges, and the back bedroom floorboards dip perceptibly as the whole building leans outwards. Rain pours in through the roof.

Houses near Senate House owned by Liverpool University liverpool-8-roger-millman-2

Liverpool University’s slums in 1968

In fact, the University owned a total of 130 slum properties adjacent to the campus, in which families experienced appalling housing conditions. The University had bought up streets of dilapidated Victorian terraces in advance of plans to extend the university campus. But it was struggling to rehouse the tenants and the housing association it employed to maintain the properties was failing to carry out repairs. In October 1968, hundreds of tenants, spread across thirty six Abercromby streets, had joined the Abercromby Tenants Association and had began to withhold all of their rent in protest at their situation. News of the strike reached students at the University, who began to assist the campaign by leafleting and providing a room in the union for meetings.

Melville Place

The Doyle kids, sharied one bedroom in a University-owned house

In the weeks that followed, while the rent strike continued, there were meetings between student representatives and University officials. But the University’s position remained unwavering: it was not directly responsible for the state of the properties – that was the job of the housing association employed by the University – and it had been assured that the City Council anticipated being able to rehouse all the families concerned within twelve months. “It is, of course, very regrettable that people should have to live in these conditions”, the University conceded.

Students picket Senate House 1 Marching to Senate House

Students join the tenants’ protest

When students and tenants learned that the new Senate House, situated a stone’s throw from the University-owned slums, was to be officially opened by Princess Alexandra, the reaction was outrage. Resentment among the tenants about Senate House had been growing as they saw the expensive new administrative block being built on their doorstep, complaining that huge amounts of money were being spent on it whilst their homes rotted. Now, to add insult to injury, £5000 was being lavished on preparations for the royal visit. The tenants, supported by students and ATACC, the city-wide Tenants Coordinating Committee, decided to picket the royal opening.

Picketing Princess Alexandra in Vine Street

Students and tenants unite to picket Princess Alexandra in Vine Street

On 15 May 1969 over a thousand tenants and students assembled outside Senate House as Princess Alexandra arrived to open the building. Later, the princess chose to visit nearby Vine Street. Across the entrance to the street was a banner with the words,” Come and visit the slums of Vine Street.”

Liverpool Echo headline

Liverpool Echo: ‘Slums this way eyeopener for Princess’

The protest received national media coverage.  Even the Daily Mail gave it front page treatment (the lesson being, perhaps, if you’re planning an effective protest, do it within earshot of royalty):

Mrs Ethel Singleton, 35, secretary of the Abercromby Tenants’ Association, which organised the demonstration with students’ help, said : “The Princess need not have come to talk to us about our grumbles, but she wanted to find out what the demonstration was all about. I explained that the demonstration and the ba nners we were carrying were nothing personal against her. She said she understood. Then we got down to talking about the conditions in our homes.

“When I told her there were no bathrooms, that we had to use outside toilets, and our only water supply was a cold tap, she was really taken aback. She asked how we bathed our children and I told her we did it in a tub in front of the fire.”

Express It must be awful

The Daily Express: ‘It must be awful, said the Princess’

The December 2009 issue of Nerve, the cultural and social issues magazine published in Liverpool by Catalyst Media, included an article by Jim and Ethel Singleton’s daughter, Kim, entitled ‘Revolting Tenants: The Great Abercromby Rent Strike of ‘69‘.

liverpool-8-roger-millman 1

Not far from Senate House in 1968

A year later, Jim and Ethel Singleton would feature in the documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield’s first film,Who Cares? Made whilst he was a student at Essex University using a borrowed camera, it has been described as, ‘honest, raw and confrontational … a 16-minute black and white observational film that successfully communicates the resentment felt by a close-knit Liverpudlian working class community, angered at the demolition of their homes by the local council and forced to leave a neighbourhood where the same families had been living for generations, relocating to alienating high-rise flats on the outskirts of the city.’  provides a vivid insight into the housing conditions that sparked the demonstration that greeted Princess Alexandra when she opened Senate House.

The Singletons were rehoused and remained active politically; they feature again in Nick Broomfield’s third film, Behind the Rent Strike (1974) about the rent strike undertaken by 3000 tenants in Kirkby in 1973. You can see a video from 2009 of Ethel and Kim Singleton discussing Nick Broomfield’s films Behind the Rent Strike and Who Cares here. This YouTube extract from Behind the Rent Strike features Ethel:

In fact, I can think of no better way to remember Ethel than with than these perceptive words from the film:

Ethel Singleton: ‘Maybe it’s just, Nick, that I’m so sceptical…that the working-class position will ever change. I know it could change, in actual fact – the working-class position could change, but it won’t change through the media. And that’s why I’m so sceptical about the media. It won’t change through films, television, papers — it will not change because as you’ve just said it’s middle-class views. It’s controlled and owned by the middle-class who put across what is in their best interests, so in actual fact I’m very ckeptical about them ever changing the working-class position. They just cannot. The only people who can change the working-class position are the working-class themselves.’

Nick Broomfield: ‘Well what do you think of me making a film down here?’

ES: ‘Well I don’t think anything about it. You can come in, you’ll make it and it’ll have no effect. It’ll make people think for a few minutes and that’s all. But the position of the working-class won’t change. It won’t change by you making a film, or for that matter any other film-maker coming in. It just won’t make any difference. There’s been dozens of film-makers we’ve seen on local estates.’

NB: ‘Why do you think I’m making it then?’

ES: ‘I’m asking you that! Why are you making it? It’s only personal self-satisfaction, that’s all that it must be. How can you get the injustice of it all unless you actually feel deeply enough about it? And the only way to feel deeply enough about it is for it to be bloody well happening to you — and it’s not happening to you, because at the end of the three months you know that you can go back home.

I mean, how many of the working-class are actually working at something that they want to do? We have this constant economic pressure on us all the time, of trying to make ends meet, of trying to give your kids the best that you can, and the best is very little, believe me. The process of it never changes. They live a constant illusion: all the time that somehow, someday they’re gonna get out of it. Or maybe their children will do better than them. And that’s why there’s that constant struggle by many parents to try and get their kids out. But it is just really an illusion, because our position never, ever changes. Never.’

See also

Too Soon to Tell: Rebecca Solnit’s case for Hope, continued

Too Soon to Tell: Rebecca Solnit’s case for Hope, continued
Idle No More: a Canadian First Nations environmental protest against tar sands exploitation

I thought I’d pass on some inspiring thoughts from a new essay written by writer, environmental campaigner and global justice activist Rbecca Solnit (no stranger to these posts – see the links below).  Ten years ago Rebecca Solnit began writing about hope with her online essay Acts of Hope, posted at Tomdispatch in May 2003, that bleak moment when it seemed that the huge antiwar demonstrations had failed as the Bush administration launched Shock and Awe in Iraq.  Solnit says that the essay changed her life and her work, revealing how the Internet could give wings to words. What she wrote spread around the world, putting her in touch with people and movements, and led to deep conversations about the possible and the impossible.

Solnit’s message – developed in her book Hope In The Dark – might be summarized as a rebuttal of Alice’s assertion in Through the Looking Glass that ‘one can’t believe impossible things’. For Solnit that notion of the impossible represents the war being waged to inhibit our collective imagination. In that war every creative act, every thoughtful inquiry, every opening of a mind is a victory for hope.  We may not be able to discern their results immediately, but somewhere down the line there will be consequences.

Each December since the publication of Hope In The Dark, Rebecca Solnit has written an end of year essay for Tomdispatch, and now she has published a new essay that updates the vision of that first one, written in dark times ten years ago, when she ‘tried to undermine despair with the case for hope’.  In Too Soon to Tell: The Case for Hope, Continued, Solnit argues that a decade later, much has changed, and not necessarily for the better. But not entirely for the worse either:

If there is one thing we can draw from where we are now and where we were then, it’s that the unimaginable is ordinary, and the way forward is almost never a straight path you can glance down, but a labyrinth of surprises, gifts, and afflictions you prepare for by accepting your blind spots as well as your intuitions.

The nub of her philosophy is this:

If you take the long view, you’ll see how startlingly, how unexpectedly but regularly things change. Not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world suddenly. To say that is not to say that it will all come out fine in the end regardless. I’m just telling you that everything is in motion, and sometimes we are ourselves that movement.

Hope and history are sisters: one looks forward and one looks back, and they make the world spacious enough to move through freely. Obliviousness to the past and to the mutability of all things imprisons you in a shrunken present. Hopelessness often comes out of that amnesia, out of forgetting that everything is in motion, everything changes. We have a great deal of history of defeat, suffering, cruelty, and loss, and everyone should know it. But that’s not all we have.

There’s the people’s history, the counter-history that you didn’t necessarily get in school and don’t usually get on the news: the history of the battles we’ve won, of the rights we’ve gained, of the differences between then and now that those who live in forgetfulness lack. This is often the history of how individuals came together to produce that behemoth civil society, which stands astride nations and topples regimes — and mostly does it without weapons or armies. It’s a history that undermines most of what you’ve been told about authority and violence and your own powerlessness.

Civil society is our power, our joy, and our possibility, and it has written a lot of the history in the last few years, as well as the last half century. If you doubt our power, see how it terrifies those at the top, and remember that they fight it best by convincing us it doesn’t exist. It does exist, though, like lava beneath the earth, and when it erupts, the surface of the earth is remade.

Things change. And people sometimes have the power to make that happen, if and when they come together and act (and occasionally act alone, as did writers Rachel Carson and Harriet Beecher Stowe — or Mohammed Bouazizi, the young man whose suicide triggered the Arab Spring).

If you fix your eye on where we started out, you’ll see that we’ve come a long way by those means. If you look forward, you’ll see that we have a long way to go — and that sometimes we go backward when we forget that we fought for the eight-hour workday or workplace safety or women’s rights or voting rights or affordable education, forget that we won them, that they’re precious, and that we can lose them again. There’s much to be proud of, there’s much to mourn, there’s much yet to do, and the job of doing it is ours, a heavy gift to carry. And it’s made to be carried, by people who are unstoppable, who are movements, who are change itself.

Solnit doesn’t deny that at the present juncture, things look grim, with the Arab Spring stalled, the Occupy movement dissipated, and resistance in places like Greece and Spain fading. Then there’s climate change; as she was writing the essay:

The news just came in that we reached 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the highest level in more than five million years. This is terrible news on a scale that eclipses everything else, because it encompasses everything else. We are wrecking our world, for everyone for all time, or at least the next several thousand years.

The last time CO2 levels were so high was probably in the Pliocene epoch, between 3.2m and 5m years ago, when Earth’s climate was much warmer than today.  But, argues Solnit, there are people ‘doing extraordinary things to save the world’:

For you, for us, for generations unborn, for species yet to be named, for the oceans and sub-Saharan Africans and Arctic dwellers and everyone in-between, for the whole unbearably beautiful symphony of life on Earth that is imperilled.

Occupy Sandy
Occupy Sandy: one of the examples given by Solnit of activism that has morphed out of Occupy

But Solnit is sustained by the memory that in 2003, there was no climate movement to speak of (at least in the United States). Now, she says, things have changed.

There’s a vibrant climate movement in North America. If you haven’t quite taken that in, it might be because it’s working on so many disparate fronts that are often treated separately: mountaintop coal removal, coal-fired power plants (closing 145 existing ones to date and preventing more than 150 planned ones from opening), fracking, oil exploration in the Arctic, the Tar Sands pipeline, and 350.org’s juggernaut of a campus campaign to promote disinvestment from oil, gas, and coal companies. Only started in November 2012, there are already divestment movements under way on more than 380 college and university campuses, and now cities are getting on board. It has significant victories; it will have more.

And though global climate agreements have proved feeble

Some countries – notably Germany, with Denmark not far behind – have done remarkable things when it comes to promoting non-fossil-fuel renewable energy. Copenhagen, for example, in the cold gray north, is on track to become a carbon-neutral city by 2025 (and in the meantime reduced its carbon emissions 25% between 2005 and 2011). The United States has a host of promising smaller projects. To offer just two examples, Los Angeles has committed to being coal-free by 2025, while San Francisco will offer its citizens electricity from 100% renewable and carbon-neutral sources and its supervisors just voted to divest the city’s fossil-fuel stocks.

And though Occupy may have faded from the news, it ‘began to say what needed to be said about greed and capitalism, exposing a brutality that had long been hushed up, revealing both the victims of debt and the rigged economy that created it’.  Moreover, Occupy has morphed into ‘thousands of local gatherings and networks’ such as Occupy Sandy, still doing vital work in the destruction zone of that hurricane, and Strike Debt, a movement challenging ‘the immorality of the student, medical, and housing debt that is destroying so many lives’.  She cites the xample, too, of Idle No More, the Canada-based movement of indigenous power and resistance to a Canadian government that has gone in for environmental destruction on a grand scale. Founded by four women in November 2012, it’s spread across North America, sparking environmental actions and new coalitions around environmental and climate issues.

Strike Debt
A Strike Debt protest

Read the essay in full: it’s inspiring.  This is how Rebecca Solnit sums up her message:

Here’s what I’m saying: you should wake up amazed every day of your life, because if I had told you in 1988 that, within three years, the Soviet satellite states would liberate themselves non-violently and the Soviet Union would cease to exist, you would have thought I was crazy. If I had told you in 1990 that South America was on its way to liberating itself and becoming a continent of progressive and democratic experiments, you would have considered me delusional. If, in November 2010, I had told you that, within months, the autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who had dominated Egypt since 1981, would be overthrown by 18 days of popular uprisings, or that the dictators of Tunisia and Libya would be ousted, all in the same year, you would have institutionalized me. If I told you on September 16, 2011, that a bunch of kids sitting in a park in lower Manhattan would rock the country, you’d say I was beyond delusional. You would have, if you believed as the despairing do, that the future is invariably going to look like the present, only more so. It won’t.

I still value hope, but I see it as only part of what’s required, a starting point. Think of it as the match but not the tinder or the blaze. To matter, to change the world, you also need devotion and will and you need to act. Hope is only where it begins, though I’ve also seen people toil on without regard to hope, to what they believe is possible. They live on principle and they gamble, and sometimes they even win, or sometimes the goal they were aiming for is reached long after their deaths. Still, it’s action that gets you there. When what was once hoped for is realized, it falls into the background, becomes the new normal; and we hope for or carp about something else.

The future is bigger than our imaginations. It’s unimaginable, and then it comes anyway. To meet it we need to keep going, to walk past what we can imagine. We need to be unstoppable. And here’s what it takes: you don’t stop walking to congratulate yourself; you don’t stop walking to wallow in despair; you don’t stop because your own life got too comfortable or too rough; you don’t stop because you won; you don’t stop because you lost. There’s more to win, more to lose, others who need you.

You don’t stop walking because there is no way forward. Of course there is no way. You walk the path into being, you make the way, and if you do it well, others can follow the route. You look backward to grasp the long history you’re moving forward from, the paths others have made, the road you came in on. You look forward to possibility. That’s what we mean by hope, and you look past it into the impossible and that doesn’t stop you either. But mostly you just walk, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. That’s what makes you unstoppable.

Rebecca Solnit: lecture on Hope, May 2011

See also

Occupy London: a photo essay

What can we do today so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?
– Paulo Freire

When I was in London last week I visited the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s, then established for more more than four months but under threat of eviction.  I wandered through the camp, listening to conversations and taking photos with the idea of creating a photo essay that would give some sense of the camp and its daily routine (see below).  There were still a hundred or so tents pitched in front and to the side of the cathedral, along with the larger tents that housed the library, kitchen and other shared facilities.  It was a quiet day: some protesters were chatting in their tents, some were engaged in cleaning and other chores, while a couple of guys from Anonymous were in discussion with passers-by at the foot of the cathedral steps.

Last night, activists were told by bailiffs that they had five minutes to pack their tents and leave or they would be obstructing the court order. The eviction began shortly after midnight and the area had been cleared peacefully by the early hours.  There will be much debate, now, about the extent of the Occupy movement’s achievement, now that most of the camps here in the UK, in the US and elsewhere have been cleared.  Last night, Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s whose famous intervention of 16 October when he asked the police to leave and recognise our right to assemble, was prevented from crossing the police lines to reach the Occupy camp.  His first reaction this morning was to say:

Occupy does not herald the beginnings of a world revolution. But it has given many world leaders a good kick in the pants and made them know, in no uncertain terms, the degree of frustration that exists about an economic system that, among its many other crimes, rewards the rich with huge bonuses and penalises the poor with cuts to welfare.

But to St Paul’s, the existence of the camp has been seen too much in terms of a little local difficulty – graffiti, hassle, problems with income and visitor numbers. This is a mistake of perspective that comes about through years of ingrained thinking that the building is the purpose of the cathedral. After a decade-long fundraising campaign to find £42m needed to clean the building, it may be inevitable that the cathedral’s whole administrative infrastructure is bent towards this end. Thus it becomes just too easy to worship Christopher Wren and not the God who spoke of the rich having to give up all their possessions. Which is why the forcible eviction of Occupy will be far more a failure for the church than it will be a failure for the camp.”

Just last week Naomi Colvin and Ronan McNern, two members of the St Paul’s Occupy camp, wrote in The Guardian about the significance of the last four months:

Four months on and we’ve had the world come to visit. Christians, investment bankers, homeless people, trade unionists, Conservative MPs, Jesse Jackson, students, pensioners, Thom Yorke, rightwing thinktanks, Jarvis Cocker, the great and the good, ordinary Londoners, Vivienne Westwood and many more. All have come to Occupy London to explore what they know to be true – that, no, this system is not right – and that we need to talk about the elephant in the room.  We’ve forced a political debate about inequality – previously one of the great unmentionables. More than that, we’ve opened up a physical and metaphorical space for conversation in a way that hasn’t happened in decades.

This morning, George Barda, who had been camped outside St Paul’s for the duration, said:

The main thing to focus on is the reasons we are here and not the drama of what happened last night. Millions of people are already suffering from the cuts and they have barely got going. And these cuts are entirely unnecessary, they’re economically illiterate and there is money to pay for the things we need, it’s just in the hands of the people at the top.

Earlier, Barda had argued:

It is gratifying to see all major parties now being forced to engage at least rhetorically with the Occupy agenda, but we have a long way to go for ‘moral capitalism’ to become more than a cover for a subservience to vested interests that so many of the cabinet themselves epitomise.

John Christensen, head of the Tax Justice Network and member of the OECD taskforce on tax and development has called the City of London, ‘the money-launderer’s destination of choice’, saying the Corporation was responsible for extraordinary damage to the interests of democratic society. Occupy had, he said, already had a provable positive national impact by stimulating a debate about the unaccountability of the City and the perilous and immoral state of the economy.

Alex Aldridge writing in The Guardian, asked whether Occupy ‘transform itself from a thrilling five-month PR stunt to a lasting political movement championing the end of profit obsession’?

Yesterday in The Guardian, Gary Younge, assessed the significance of the Occupy movement, particularly in the country where it originated:

The legacy of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is still in the making. Those who believe it came from nowhere and has disappeared just as quickly are wrong on both counts. Most occupiers were already politically active in a range of campaigns. What the occupations did was bring them together in one place and refract their disparate messages through the broader lens of inequality. The occupations were less an isolated outpouring of discontent than a decisive, dynamic moment in an evolving process. […]

The trouble is (as London’s St Paul’s protesters, whose appeal against eviction was denied last week, can testify) that while this home offered space for debate and organisation … vulnerable to harassment and eviction by the state, it was only a matter of time before they were moved on. […]

Younge quoted on of the founding organisers of OWS as asserting that the movement was always about values and about reconfiguring the relationship between people and profit so that people are privileged, not profit.  Younge concluded his piece:

Its importance doesn’t lie in what it means, but in what it does. It started by changing how people think about the world they live in; now it’s strengthening their confidence to change it.

There’s a long and thoughtful piece on the Open Democracy site, An Excess of Democracy,  written by Hilary Wainwright, veteran of struggles from the 1970s onwards.  In it, she quotes John Maynard Keynes:

To convert the businessman into the profiteer is to strike a blow at capitalism because it destroys the psychological equilibrium which permits the perpetuance of unequal rewards…The businessman is only tolerable so long as his gains can be held to bear some relation to what, roughly and in some sense, his activities have contributed to society.

That may, indeed, be the great success of the Occupy movement – to at least begin to transform cultural attitudes so that  the businessman is regarded as the profiteer.  Highly relevant on the morning we learn of tax avoidance by Barclays bank so outrageous that even a Conservative government has had to take action.  Wainwright concludes:

In the 60s and 70s, we began to lay the foundations in democratic civil society of an alternative political economy – including a different kind of state. You could say we were rudely interrupted in our work.  If we can recover what was potentially powerful and join with new generations with capacities and visions way beyond our own, we can collectively be stronger.

These are the photos I took last Tuesday at Occupy London:

See also

Signs Of Occupation – Occupy London

Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere

We’ve had revolution in Tunisia;  in Egypt Mubarak is teetering; in Yemen, Jordan and Syria suddenly protests have appeared. In Greece strikes and riots continue to protest the financial crisis. This week Ahdaf Soueif, author of  The Map of Love, reported from Tahrir Square:

Four generations, more than a million people (according to the army count at 2pm) are here. They are all doing what they have not been able to do for decades; each and every one is having their say in their own way and insisting on being counted. Their dominant demand, of course, is for Mubarak to step down.

In the regime’s response to this people’s revolution they have displayed the same brutality, dullness, dishonesty and predictability that have characterised their 30-year rule. They have shot and gassed their citizens, lied to them and about them, threatened them with F16s, tried to foist a “new” cabinet on them – everything except the decent thing: go.

Meanwhile the citizens on the ground have come into their own. Tahrir is about dignity and image as much as it is about the economy and corruption.

So, asks Paul Mason of BBC’s Newsnight, What’s going on?  This is his answer, in 20 bullet points:

1. At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future

2. …with access to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and eg Yfrog so they can express themselves in a variety of situations ranging from parliamentary democracy to tyrrany.

3. Therefore truth moves faster than lies, and propaganda becomes flammable.

4. They are not prone to traditional and endemic ideologies: Labourism, Islamism, Fianna Fail Catholicism etc… in fact hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected.

5. Women very numerous as the backbone of movements. After twenty years of modernised labour markets and higher-education access the “archetypal” protest leader, organizer, facilitator, spokesperson now is an educated young woman.

6. Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas before – and the quintessential experience of the 20th century – was the killing of dissent within movements, the channeling of movements and their bureaucratisaton.

7. Memes: “A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.” (Wikipedia) – so what happens is that ideas arise, are very quickly “market tested” and either take off, bubble under, insinuate themselves or if they are deemed no good they disappear. Ideas self-replicate like genes. Prior to the internet this theory (see Richard Dawkins, 1976) seemed an over-statement but you can now clearly trace the evolution of memes.

8. They all seem to know each other: not only is the network more powerful than the hierarchy – but the ad-hoc network has become easier to form. So if you “follow” somebody from the UCL occupation on Twitter, as I have done, you can easily run into a radical blogger from Egypt, or a lecturer in peaceful resistance in California who mainly does work on Burma so then there are the Burmese tweets to follow. During the early 20th century people would ride hanging on the undersides of train carriages across borders just to make links like these.

9. The specifics of economic failure: the rise of mass access to university-level education is a given. Maybe soon even 50% in higher education will be not enough. In most of the world this is being funded by personal indebtedess – so people are making a rational judgement to go into debt so they will be better paid later. However the prospect of ten years of fiscal retrenchment in some countries means they now know they will be poorer than their parents. And the effect has been like throwing a light switch; the prosperity story is replaced with the doom story, even if for individuals reality will be more complex, and not as bad as they expect.

10.This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because – even where you get rapid economic growth – it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.

11.To amplify: I can’t find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations – but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.

12.The weakness of organised labour means there’s a changed relationship between the radicalized middle class, the poor and the organised workforce. The world looks more like 19th century Paris – heavy predomination of the “progressive” intelligentsia, intermixing with the slum-dwellers at numerous social interfaces (cabarets in the 19C, raves now); huge social fear of the excluded poor but also many rags to riches stories celebrated in the media (Fifty Cent etc); meanwhile the solidaristic culture and respectability of organized labour is still there but, as in Egypt, they find themselves a “stage army” to be marched on and off the scene of history.

13.This leads to a loss of fear among the young radicals of any movement: they can pick and choose; there is no confrontation they can’t retreat from. They can “have a day off” from protesting, occupying: whereas twith he old working-class based movements, their place in the ranks of battle was determined and they couldn’t retreat once things started. You couldn’t “have a day off” from the miners’ strike if you lived in a pit village.

14.In addition to a day off, you can “mix and match”: I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they’re writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week.

15. People just know more than they used to. Dictatorships rely not just on the suppression of news but on the suppression of narratives and truth. More or less everything you need to know to make sense of the world is available as freely downloadable content on the internet: and it’s not pre-digested for you by your teachers, parents, priests, imams. For example there are huge numbers of facts available to me now about the subjects I studied at university that were not known when I was there in the 1980s. Then whole academic terms would be spent disputing basic facts, or trying to research them. Now that is still true but the plane of reasoning can be more complex because people have an instant reference source for the undisputed premises of arguments. It’s as if physics has been replaced by quantum physics, but in every discipline.

16.There is no Cold War, and the War on Terror is not as effective as the Cold War was in solidifying elites against change. Egypt is proving to be a worked example of this: though it is highly likely things will spiral out of control, post Mubarak – as in all the colour revolutons – the dire warnings of the US right that this will lead to Islamism are a “meme” that has not taken off. In fact you could make an interesting study of how the meme starts, blossoms and fades away over the space of 12 days. To be clear: I am not saying they are wrong – only that the fear of an Islamist takeover in Egypt has not been strong enough to swing the US presidency or the media behind Mubarak.

17. It is – with international pressure and some powerful NGOs – possible to bring down a repressive government without having to spend years in the jungle as a guerilla, or years in the urban underground: instead the oppositional youth – both in the west in repressive regimes like Tunisia/Egypt, and above all in China – live in a virtual undergrowth online and through digital comms networks. The internet is not key here – it is for example the things people swap by text message, the music they swap with each other etc: the hidden meanings in graffiti, street art etc which those in authority fail to spot.

18. People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic: young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various “revolutions” in their own lives as part of an “exodus” from oppression, not – as previous generations did – as a “diversion into the personal”. While Foucault could tell Gilles Deleuze: “We had to wait until the nineteenth century before we began to understand the nature of exploitation, and to this day, we have yet to fully comprehend the nature of power”,- that’s probably changed.

19. As the algebraic sum of all these factors it feels like the protest “meme” that is sweeping the world – if that premise is indeed true – is profoundly less radical on economics than the one that swept the world in the 1910s and 1920s; they don’t seek a total overturn: they seek a moderation of excesses. However on politics the common theme is the dissolution of centralized power and the demand for “autonomy” and personal freedom in addition to formal democracy and an end to corrupt, family based power-elites.

20. Technology has – in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera – expanded the space and power of the individual.

Liar, Liar!

Liar, Liar!

Captain Ska

Captain Ska

Here’s a bit of fun at the expense of the Con-Dems: there’s a push on to get Captain Ska’s dismantling of the Coalition’s promises to number 1 for Christmas.  Excerpts from the speeches of George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg are intercut with the lyric, ‘He’s a liar, liar’, sung along to a reggae beat. Even better, all proceeds from the single will go to causes helping those affected by the cuts, including the homeless charityCrisis , the Disability Alliance, Women’s Health Matters and to the anti-cuts campaigning website, False Economy.

There’s a fine tradition of satirical YouTube videos.  Remember this, back in May during the election campaign?

Just so we don’t forget those Lib-Dem promises:

The Captain Ska track seems to capture the zeitgeist like nothing since the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’was number 1 for three weeks at the time of the Brixton and Toxteth riots. That lyric, too, seems apt again:

Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown

Long ago and far away: Dylan’s Witmark demos

Bob Dylan in 1962

Bob Dylan in 1962

Ramblin’ outa the wild West,
Leavin’ the towns I love the best.
Thought I’d seen some ups and down,
Til I come into New York town.
People goin’ down to the ground,
Buildings goin’ up to the sky.

Wintertime in New York town,
The wind blowin’ snow around.
Walk around with nowhere to go,
Somebody could freeze right to the bone.
I froze right to the bone.

I swung on to my old guitar,
Grabbed hold of a subway car,
And after a rocking, reeling, rolling ride,
I landed up on the downtown side;
Greenwich Village.

I walked down there and ended up
In one of them coffee-houses on the block.
Got on the stage to sing and play,
Man there said, “Come back some other day,
You sound like a hillbilly;
We want folk singers here.”

Well, I got a harmonica job, begun to play,
Blowin’ my lungs out for a dollar a day.
I blowed inside out and upside down.
The man there said he loved m’ sound,
He was ravin’ about how he loved m’ sound;
Dollar a day’s worth.
– Bob Dylan, ‘Talking New York’, 1961

America was changing. I had a feeling of destiny and I was riding the changes. My consciousness was beginning to change, too, change and stretch. One thing for sure, if I wanted to compose folk songs I would need some kind of new template, some philosophical identity that wouldn’t burn out. It would have to come on its own from the outside. Without knowing it in so many words, it was beginning to happen.
– Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1

Sometime in June 1963, probably via Radio Luxembourg, I first heard Peter Paul and Mary’s polished version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’.  A few weeks later, listening to coverage of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, I heard them sing it live from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial.  That was the first time I heard Dylan himself, singing ‘When The Ship Comes In’ and ‘Only a Pawn In Their Game’.

Dylan had only become known outside the New York folk scene in the previous month or so: he had he played the Newport Folk Festival for the first time, and had released his second album, Freewheelin’.  That LP and its successor Times They Are A-Changin’ gained a place alongside the Peter Paul and Mary single in my record collection: more than music, they were my conscience, the moment in history, the spirit of the time.

Peter Paul and Mary first heard ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ amongst the demos that Bob Dylan made for the prestigious music publishers M. Witmark & Sons. The Witmarks were Prussian immigrants who established the company in 1885, only 8 years after Edison had patented his phonograph.  Their business was songs, which is where the money was in the music industry.  Artists would record their songs for publishing companies so they could be heard by other artists who might cover their songs. Witmark’s studio, where Dylan recorded his demos, was a small 6×8 foot space where songs were recorded before being transcribed into sheet music. In the opening pages of Chronicles Volume 1, Dylan describes the scene in the cold New York winter when he first began laying down demos:

Outside the wind was blowing, straggling cloud wisps, snow whirling in the red lanterned streets, city types scuffling around, bundled up – salesmen in rabbit fur earmuffs hawking gimmicks, chestnut vendors, steam rising out of manholes…

I opened my guitar case, took the guitar out and began fingering the strings. The room was cluttered – boxes of sheet music stacked up, recording dates of artists posted on bulletin boards, black lacquered discs, acetates with white labels scrambled around, signed photos of entertainers, glossy portraits – Jerry Vale, Al Martino, The Andrews Sisters (Lou was married to one of them), Nat King Cole, Patti Page, The Crew Cuts – a couple of console reel-to-reel tape recorders, big dark brown wooden desk full of hodgepodge.

The Witmark demos – many of them, at least – have been around on bootlegs for decades, and one or two have turned up on previous official Dylan releases.  But now we have this new collection – The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 – that features all the Witmarks. Rough and raw, with false starts and Dylan forgetting the lyrics at times, it provides fascinating documentation of the speed at which Dylan’s art was moving in this period.  Here are near-on 50 songs –  all written before Dylan’s 24th birthday – that include works of genius such as ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’, and ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’.  The set opens with  conventional, Guthrie-styled folk material such as ‘Hard Times In New York Town’, moves speedily through the folk-protest anthems and social commentary of ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’ before concluding, a mere two years later with Dylan striking out for new shores on ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’.

I can’t say when it occurred to me to write my own songs. I couldn’t have come up with anything comparable or halfway close to the folk song lyrics I was singing to define the way I felt about the world. I guess it happens to you by degrees. You just don’t wake up one day and decide that you need to write songs, especially if you’re a singer who has plenty of them and you’re learning more every day. Opportunities may come along for you to convert something – something that exists into something that didn’t yet. That might be the beginning of it. Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain. It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in.  You want to write songs that are bigger than life.
– Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1

Among the notable songs officially released here for the first time is ‘Long Ago and Far Away’, one of several songs where he turned a spiritual into a civil rights anthem.  Rather like ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, it poses a series of rhetorical questions that probe contemporary events:

The chains of slaves
They dragged the ground
With heads and hearts hung low.
But it was during Lincoln’s time
And it was long ago.
Long ago, far away;
Things like that don’t happen
No more, nowadays.

The war guns they went off wild,
The whole world bled its blood.
Men’s bodies floated on the edge
Of oceans made of mud.
Long ago, far away;
Those kind of things don’t happen
No more, nowadays.

One man had much money,
One man had not enough to eat,
One man lived just like a king,
The other man begged on the street.
Long ago, far away;
These things don’t happen
No more, nowadays.

One man died of a knife so sharp,
One man died from the bullet of a gun,
One man died of a broken heart
To see the lynchin’ of his son.
Long ago, far away;
Things like that don’t happen
No more, nowadays.

And to talk of peace and brotherhood,
Oh, what might be the cost!
A man he did it long ago
And they hung him on a cross.
Long ago, far away;
Things like that don’t happen
No more, nowadays, do they?

One of the most perceptive accounts of Dylan’s trajectory in this period is Ian MacDonald’s essay – ‘Wild Mercury: A Tale of Two Dylans‘ (published in The People’s Music, 2001) – in which he writes:

‘Hard Times In New York City’ [which opens The Witmark Demos 1962-1964] is an act – or part of one. Though it may sound like it, this isn’t some visionary farm-boy new in town from deepest Oklahoma, but a shrewd middle-class Jewish college-dropout who, a mere two-and-a-half years back, signed off from high-school, recording his Yearbook ambition as “To join Little Richard”. He’s been a folk guitarist for little longer, having previously played rock-and-roll electric and piano. He took up harmonica a year ago.

“Bob Dylan” was as much the artistic invention (fiction) of Robert Allen Zimmerman as Ziggy Stardust was of David Robert Jones, alias David Bowie. This isn’t to say that Zimmerman didn’t, at one time, fully inhabit the role, just as Bowie “became” Ziggy. But there are creative limits to such personae – not to mention the risk of becoming identified with them and going gradually mad. In Bowie’s case, the role soon began to play him; within a year of assuming the persona of Ziggy, he had to get rid of him or crack up. For Bob Zimmerman at 20, there was a more immediate peril: exposure.

Bob Zimmerman had made a coolly considered decision in 1959 to dump his beloved rock’n’roll, which he saw to be in temporary recession, swapping his Little Richard persona (“Elston Gram”) for a folk version of himself: “Bob Dylan.” It wasn’t as if he’d arrived at this new concept by a sequence of absent-minded lapses.

Once he knew what he wanted to do, precisely how he meant to get himself heard, Zimmerman moved with astonishing speed. Shifting smartly from an early flirtation with the monumental style of Odetta, he hoovered up everything he needed from his friends’ folk-blues records, sometimes “borrowing them without permission” by the arm-load. But his first real stroke of luck was meeting singer-guitarist Spider John Koerner on campus in Minneapolis.

Three years his senior, Koerner was a former student who’d got into folk guitar in 1958, had an epiphany, dropped out, and driven aimlessly around America for a year, living the extempore road-movie life of pioneer Beats Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady. How far Dylan borrowed from Koerner and how far vice-versa is moot; certainly, Koerner’s style and Dylan’s early sound bear a more than casual similarity. As for Kerouac’s On the Road, that came to Zimmerman (now calling himself Bob Dylan) from Minneapolis hipster Dave Whitaker. As soon as he’d read this cult novel, Dylan saw what he had to do. Rather than go home to Hibbing for the summer vacation, he hit the road to Denver, seeking experience, and further brains to pick, in that city’s folk scene. (Five years into his career, he would cryptically salute the adventures of Kerouac and Cassady in ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’.)

In Denver, he found Judy Collins singing ‘Maid of Constant Sorrow’ – thangyew! He also discovered singer-guitarist Jesse Fuller, playing carnival harmonica in a neck-harness – taxi! Arriving back in Minneapolis a short while later (having quit Denver at speed in connection with items “borrowed” from someone’s record collection), he was handed Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory. The penny dropped, big time. Within weeks, “Bob Dylan” was Woody Guthrie – and, to do him justice, he got extremely good at it in amazingly short order. The antidote to any simple-minded kleptomaniac theory of Dylan is this: from a standing start in two-and-a-half years, he turned himself into the most convincing and compelling folk performer in America. Only genuine musical talent, creative ability of the highest order, and formidable self-belief could pull that off.

The carefully studied counterfeit character who turned up on November 20, 1961 at Columbia’s studio A in Manhattan to record his debut album, Bob Dylan, was anything but a simple fake. Rather he was the real thing in folk-drag, made powerful, indeed unforgettable, by his innate resources of artistry and personal intensity – the deep feeling which drove him then and still does today. The propulsion in his style came from R&B and rock’n’roll, but its inner integrity was inescapable.

Ideas Worth Fighting For

Ideas Worth Fighting For

Yesterday, in Manchester, I also paid a visit for the first time to the People’s History Museum in its impressive new building on Left Bank, by the Irwell. There’s a lot to see – too much to take in on one visit.

As the first industrial city, Manchester was at the forefront of radical thought and reform – a centre for Trades Unionism, the Labour and Suffragette movements, and the Co-operative Society (in nearby Rochdale), so it is a fitting location for a museum charting the dramatic struggle for British democracy and workers’ rights – Ideas Worth Fighting For, in the words of the museum’s own slogan. The Museum has been extensively redeveloped, with a four-storey extension to the original Pump House which once supplied power to some of the mills and wound the clock on the Town Hall.

The collections of the Trades Union Congress, Labour Party and the Co-op have been augmented by a number of other organisations, including the Communist Party of Great Britain. Material from these sources and some personal political papers can be studied in the Labour History Archive, in the basement of the new building. The two main galleries tell the story of Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries, starting with the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

On 19 August 1819 a reform meeting held on St Peter’s Field in Manchester attracted over 60,000 mill workers and their families demanding the reform of parliamentary representation. Shortly after the meeting began, local magistrates called on the military authorities to arrest Henry Hunt, the radical orator, and several others on the hustings with him, and to disperse the crowd. Cavalry charged into the crowd with sabres drawn, leaving 15 people dead and around 700 injured. The massacre was given the name Peterloo in ironic comparison to the Battle of Waterloo, which had taken place four years earlier.

The_Massacre_of_Peterloo

Despite the horror evoked by the massacre, Peterloo’s immediate effect was to cause the government to crack down on reform, with the passing of what became known as the Six Acts. But it also led to the foundation of The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) and in a survey conducted by The Guardian in 2006, Peterloo came second to the Putney Debates as the event from British history that most deserved a proper monument or a memorial (at the moment there’s just a small plaque in St Peter’s Square).

There are displays of banners, cartoons, leaflets and photographs showing the birth of democratic ideas and movements for reform such as  the Levellers, the Chartists and individuals such as John Wilkes, Tom Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Cobbett and Francis Burdett.

One of the banners on display is a Liverpool Tinplate Workers’ banner, made in 1821  for the celebration of the coronation of King George IV. It’s a type of banner known as a colour. A colour had a Union Jack in the corner, similar to those still carried by army regiments. This suggests that the society saw itself as patriotic rather than the potentially subversive organisation envisaged by the government and employers. This is the oldest surviving trade union banner in the world.

Another aspect of this section is all about how women had to fight for the right to vote on the same terms as men.   Includes the formation of the Manchester Suffrage Society 1867 and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst and her sisters in 1903.

This installation – Where do we go from here? – by Bill Longshaw can be seen currently in the foyer of the People’s History Museum.

Blair Peach: justice at last?

The 1970s was a pretty grim decade in Britain, with polarisation between left and right and an increasingly repressive response to political turmoil by the forces of the state. The bleakest moment came on 23 April 1979 with the killing of  Blair Peach, a 33-year old special needs teacher, whose skull was crushed by a single blow to the head during an Anti-Nazi League demonstration outside Southall town hall, where the National Front was holding a St George’s Day election rally.  Peach had gained prominence as an anti-racism campaigner when leading a successful campaign to close a National Front building in the middle of the Bangladeshi community near Brick Lane in east London.

Now, at last, the Metropolitan Police have released the file on Blair Peach’s death, following a 31-year campaign by friends and family of Peach for full disclosure of the Met’s inquiry into the death, and pressure from The Guardian and the organisation Inquest in the aftermath of the death last year of Ian Tomlinson, who died after being attacked by police at the G20 protests in London. The officer filmed striking Tomlinson was a member of the territorial support group, which replaced the disbanded Special Patrol Group (SPG) in 1987. The documents published today confirm conclusively that Peach was killed by one or more members of an SPG unit.

The centrepiece of the released documentation is the report of the Metropolitan Police inquiry into the circumstances of Peach’s death, by Commander John Cass. The Cass report was suppressed in 1980 by the late Dr John Burton, the coroner who oversaw the inquest into Peach’s death, who recently revealed documents confirm as being biased in favour of the police.

Cass concluded that Peach was “almost certainly” killed by one of six SPG officers, some of whom then lied to cover up the actions of their colleague. After reviewing hundreds of pages of evidence, he reached his conclusion: that it could “reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow”. Cass had narrowed his investigation down to six SPG officers in carrier U11, the first vehicle to arrive in Beachcroft Avenue, the suburban street where Peach was found stumbling around, barely able to talk. Moments earlier, 14 witnesses had seen “a police officer hit the deceased on the head”.

One of the men in U11 was Alan Murray, who retired from the Met soon after the death and now lectures – can you believe this? – on corporate social responsibility at Sheffield University. Though his name, like those of the others, has been redacted from the released documents, The Guardian is reporting that he is the most likely the one to have struck the fatal blow. Another member of the carrier was Tony Lake, an SPG sergeant, who later became chief constable of Lincolnshire police, chaired the national DNA database and was awarded an OBE when he retired two years ago.

For the last 31 years these men have lived comfortable lives.  Blair Peach was denied his future life, while his partner, Celia Stubbs has lived with the consequences of the police action, whilst campaigning tirelessly for the answer to the question: ‘Who Killed Blair Peach?’  At each anniversary of his death, Stubbs called for the release of the Cass report. Each time her request was rejected.

The turning point was the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson on 1 April last year.  Unlike Peach, Tomlinson, 47, was not a protester, but a newspaper seller who was trying to walk home through the G20 protests near the Bank of England when he was attacked from behind by a member of the Met’s Territorial Support Group. He collapsed and died shortly after.

Both Peach and Tomlinson were thought to have fallen victim to the excessive force of the Met’s specially trained riot squad. In the case of Peach, it was the feared Special Patrol Group (SPG), which after Peach’s death became mired in controversy and was eventually disbanded. It was replaced in 1987 by the Territorial Support Group. An officer from the TSG was filmed striking Tomlinson from behind and pushing him to the ground. A year on, no charges have been brought against the officer.

In the case of Blair Peach, it appears that the Metropolitan police are suggesting that no officer will face any further action as a consequence of the release of the Cass report.

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According to Inquest, there have been 954 deaths in police custody in England and Wales since 1990. Not a single policeman has been charged, much less prosecuted, for any of these deaths.

Returning to the issue of deaths on political demonstrations at the hands of the police, in  1974 Kevin Gately was was the first person to be killed on a political demonstration in Great Britain in 55 years. He was a second year student at Warwick Universitywho died as a result of injuries received in the Red Lion Square demonstration in London on 15 June 1974.

Fellow students who were with Gately said that he was injured after several charges and counter-charges involving mounted police, and several newspapers at the time alleged that his death may have been the result of a blow from a mounted police truncheon. However, neither a coroner’s inquest nor a public inquiry headed by Lord Scarman could find conclusive evidence to prove or disprove this claim.

The Red Lion Square demonstration was an attempt to stop the National Front holding a meeting at Conway Hall in the square. Gately was not a member of any political group or party, and  had no experience of demonstrations before Red Lion Square.

A Kevin Gately Memorial Painting hangs in the Warwick University Students’ Union, and was restored in 2004. It is displayed alongside contemporary telegrams of support from many other students’ unions and a copy of Socialist Worker from the week following Gately’s death. The painting is symbolic of the anti-fascist struggle and contains neither a representation of Gately nor of the events of June 1974.

Chilling footnote

As reported in today’s Guardian, one paragraph of the Cass report states:

‘Without condoning the death I refer to Archbold 38th edition para 2528: ‘In case of riot or rebellious assembly the officers endeavouring to disperse the riot are justified in killing them at common law if the riot cannot otherwise be suppressed’.

Does this paragraph in Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, or something similar, still apply in law?

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