I made my placard for #payday, UKUncut's national day of protests against corporate tax avoidance, on Wednesday night. I was going to join the Library Bloc, staging a read-in in Vodafone's flagship store on Oxford Street to publically highlight the connection between HMRC's unwillingness to force Vodafone to pay their tax in full, and the budget cuts faced by local councils which will affect hundreds of public libraries. Rye public library is new - I've only just joined it and it might have to close down. It stinks.
Getting the placard to London was a mission - on the way out of Rye it doubled as a windsail, but proved useful as a snow shield this morning when battling through the blizzard to the tube station. After five minutes on the roads I got onto the tube with an inch of snow encrusting hat, coat, bag and placard. Ah well, I thought, at least the shop will be nice and warm.
Self, bags and placard struggled down Oxford Street through slush, ice and snowfall. My boots swiftly proved not to be waterproof and by the time I reached the Vodafone shop my feet were soaked with ice water. I'd given careful thought about how to smuggle a large placard into the shop, and ended up putting it in a big John Lewis bag donated by khalinche's housemates, thereby disguising it as shopping. A picture or something. Look, I'm a good little consumer! Let me in!
The Vodafone store, when I arrived at 1pm, seemed remarkably empty. The read-in was scheduled for 1:04. I blagged my way in pretending I wanted to buy a memory card for my Sony Eriksson, but quickly established that no other activists were around. Hrm. Back outside, I phoned denny and discovered that I was at 127 Oxford Street, and the Vodafone flagship store was at 345. Buggeration! I'd already have missed the flashmob. Forlornly, I trudged back the way I'd come through hail and slush, boots steadily filling with snowmelt and feet growing numb with cold.
I found the protest underway outside the flagship store - which had pre-emptively closed before we got there. Apparently we're scary. So the day was about getting the message out, and get it out we did.
Dozens of people outside with signs saying TAX DODGERS and the Vodafone logo. An enormous banner with the figures: Amount Vodafone owes in unpaid tax: £6bn. Spending cuts to local councils: £6bn.
My placard got a lot of attention, but I'd written it with the intention that we'd be inside the shop protesting to Vodafone. Instead we were outside protesting to the public. "Pay your tax!" suddenly seemed a little accusatory; I didn't want people to think I was accusing them of tax avoidance, so I borrowed a biro and quickly scribbled 'Vodafone' above it. Not sure how visible it was.
Climate Rush had brought a songsheet of anti-capitalist carols. Some were on message, others were about climate change, which obviously I agree with but seemed a little confusing in context. They drifted off after twenty minutes or so. The rest of us stood in the snow, feet freezing to iceblocks, holding up our signs, looking friendly and hopeful and cold.
It was a quiet protest - lots of us were just reading, although I'm not convinced that did much to get the message across. But the lack of chanting went down well. People slowed down and read the signs. They were interested. Many were sympathetic. Some were shocked when we explained the situation. Vodafone's waived tax bill could have paid for every single cut to every single council in the country this year.
There were about twenty police officers, all polite and well-behaved, although cold and a bit resentful. ("God, are you lot still here?" Yes.) Lots of people with cameras. A few members of the press. I hid from the cameras behind the placard, but when they weren't flashing I smiled and made eye contact with as many passersby as I could.
The leaflets flew out of our hands - everyone wanted one. We handed out thousands. I shared out mincepies with the rest of the picket. We didn't chant but chatted to people quietly, one to one.
Things shoppers walking past me said:
"Get a job!" (I have a job. Actually I own a company. Which pays its tax. Do you?)
"Well done." (Thankyou!)
"It was £7bn wasn't it?"
To friend "Bloody protestors, they look like they've never paid tax in their life." (Let's just ignore that one.)
To small child "Look, they're angry because Vodafone didn't pay their tax and now the libraries have to shut because the government doesn't have enough money." (Look! They know about it already! It's working!)
"Well, what you're doing is alright, this is fair enough, it's nice and peaceful."
"Yeah well you keep it peaceful, we'll keep it real." (Er, please don't smash any windows!)
"How can I help?"
"What's this about? But what were Vodafone threatening the government with to make them let them off? But that's so corrupt!"
"How did they persuade them to let them off? But that's shocking. That's not fair at all."
"What can we do about it?" (Spread the word!)
"How can I find out more?" (UKuncut.org.uk!)
"Yes, I heard about that, tax dodgers the lot of them."
"It's not just Vodafone you know, they're all at it" (Yes, we know it's a much broader issue, but we're starting with this one and once people know about that, we'll broaden our targets.) "Oh, fair enough then. Good luck!"
The level of support was overwhelming. I have never been on a protest which felt so strongly as if our message was getting through, it was working, people were listening. The publicity over the last few weeks has worked. Lots of people nodded sagely, familiar with our arguments. Most - literally most - of the people who responded were on our side. That's never, ever happened to me at an action before. It was brilliant.
We stomped to keep warm. I changed my socks but the fresh ones soaked through again within minutes. Josie Long and a quiet geeky boy brought everyone tea. A man from Hungary told me that similar protests had happened in his country and they changed the law as a result; I said I'd look it up and find out more. Protestors from other groups popped by to see how we were getting on and share news of the other actions. A couple of posh men in suits told us we didn't understand the economics of the situation. We argued with them. People stopped to listen, nodded, took a leaflet. We ran out of leaflets.
At ten past 3 I decided I needed to get home and into clean clothes before I developed trench foot, handed my placard to someone else and headed off. There were only a couple of dozen of us left by that point but I felt good. People agreed with us. We were representing popular opinion. The campaign was working. We had sympathy, energy, momentum, we weren't stopped by the weather, there were thousands of us all over the country. After we'd been there for a while I found out that a group had managed to close down the smaller Vodafone store I'd started out at. We were winning.
As I left I overheard someone asking a policeman when the shop would be open. "Sorry," he replied, "Not for a while yet, I imagine."
Demo2010: policing and the philosophy of protest - last Thursday on Police State UK
- in which I talk about the tendency of the press to report the methods rather than the message of a protest; attempt to summarise the context of Demo 2010, and offer a comparison of the Millbank occupation and the G20 protest last year.
"Warning: may contain humour" - last Friday on Police State UK
- a round-up of the online response to the Twitter Joke Trial verdict, a brief discussion of bad taste and free speech, and a couple of awkward qustions.
Remember the Suffragettes: a Black Friday vigil in honour of direct action - yesterday on Open Democracy: Our Kingdom
- publicising the Black Friday vigil I'm going to tonight, and explaining why I think it's important to honour the methods, as well as the cause and sacrifice, of the suffragettes. This was a wee post thrown together after a chat with Anthony Barnett before the Open Democracy drugs policy talk on Tuesday ("can you quickly write what you just told me for Our Kingdom when you got home? Doesn't have to be long") and then it was on the front page of Open Democracy, and the most read post on the site for a brief while this morning.
Too much politics this week, not enough paying work. Which makes a difference from the previous five months' schedule of too much pub, not enough paying work. Will get there eventually!
Below is the text of the talk I gave on Saturday at the dotActivist conference, with added hyperlinks. It was a really good day, and great to meet people and listen to the other talks. I was particularly pleased to finally understand the concept of the Pareto Front, and I thought the visionOntv project looked really interesting, although I didn't find time to get interviewed (have been invited to come back and do so later).
Despite my nerves and the fact that I was the only speaker who didn't use slides, my talk seemed to go okay. I spoke from the below text rather than notes, but found it easier than I'd expected to speak conversationally rather than sticking woodenly to the script (although I did have to refer to it a couple of times when I got stuck). The only hiccup was a missing page, but thankfully my lovely lady khalinche brought it forth from where it had got mixed up with some other papers, and I was able to continue after only a minor comic interlude. People listened, made notes, and said nice things afterwards about my subject matter and speaking style. Apparently all those hours improvising on camera and sitting in lectures haven't been for nothing! So I'm pleased, and next time will indulge in less terror-induced procrastination and have a go at using slides.
( The Elephant in the Room: web activism and the state )
Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my last (f-locked) entry, especially biascut whose advice helped me climb down from a serious panic last Friday night. Since reading your helpful reassurance and suggestions, attending ORGCon and making a point of speaking into the mic as much as I could get away with (I felt slightly justified in being a nuisance by the shortage of women on the panels/being called to ask questions) and thinking about what I'm going to say a lot more, I am feeling more confident and less panicky. It's not going to be great, but I can certainly pull something together, and I don't think there are as many holes in my theme as I'd realised.
I spent a couple of hours yesterday emailing various grassroots web organisers and asking them some ( questions ), and I've got some useful answers back already, particularly from the person who preferred to be interviewed by phone. Turns out I like giving phone interviews. (Is "give" the correct verb for the interviewer? Shouldn't it be "take" or something?)
I also finally, after much tearing of hair and swearing at the screen, sent my bio and abstract off to Turnfront. (I HATE writing bios). Here is what they say:
Helen is a web designer and developer with a background in web strategy and online marketing. She has a keen interest in activism and online campaigning; in 2009 she co-founded Police State UK, a website reporting on civil liberties issues, and she was closely involved with the Get a Vote and Hang 'em campaigns during the 2010 election. Helen is a member of the Open Rights Group, and her interests include open data, service design and the democratising power of the internet.
The elephant in the room: web activism and the state
Labour's government was the first under which the web became a significant vehicle for activists, and had a poor track record for engaging with grassroots social enterprise in a productive way. Internet projects have tended to be the 'elephant in the room' in government discussions about social engagement. I'm intending to explore the role of online, third sector social services in developing a healthy democracy, and how the state tends to engage with such services, hoping to offer recommendations for future collaboration in the light of the Coalition's "Big Society" proposals. The talk will aim to kickstart a discussion about the most effective ways for the state and web activists to work together to improve our society, and I look forward to hearing any ideas or experiences you would like to contribute.
The rest of the speakers/talks are described here. I feel a bit academically out-classed, but I think my topic is interesting and current and relevant. My only anxiety is that everyone listening will know it all already, but I discovered at ORGCon that audiences love talks on topics they're already familiar and arguments they agree with, as long as they get some nifty soundbites out of it and to ask some questions at the end which make them look clever. And chances are there'll be at least something new for most people.
So yeah. I have far more thoughts than I can probably squeeze into 20-30 minutes, which is a nice position to be in; now I just need to write a structure/plan and practise speaking from notes in front of a mirror. If any of you lot want to come, it's in Kings Cross on Saturday Aug 6 from 10-4ish, and tickets are £15 for individuals. I'm not sure if familiar faces would make me more nervous than not, but if I freak out on the day and decide to cut it short and open the floor for discussion early, you could make yourself useful by asking intelligent questions, which would help! There'll probably be a video or something I can post here afterwards, either way.
I've just sent the following email to all my candidates except Labour, Tory and UKIP (because I am not considering voting for them) through this handy website.
( This got long. )
Feel free to nick any/all of the above questions - the observant among you will have noticed that I've cobbled together most of them from the Liberty Central list, the Power 2010 leaderboard, and the Pirate Party UK manifesto.
I'll be surprised if any of them answer all of the questions, but Denny tells me he'd be delighted to receive an email like that, so here's hoping.
I'd previously thought that Neville Watson, as a high-profile Independent and POC, stood the best chance of ousting Lammy in Tottenham, but as time passes I'm less convinced. I got a leaflet from TUSC (the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) through the door which was surprisingly credible, so I'm considering going along to their election rally next Tuesday to see what they have to say. Their candidate Jenny Sutton is on twitter (the only one I've found so far apart from Lammy) and seems very sound. I've heard absolutely nothing from the Green or Lib Dem candidates so far - in fact I'm wondering if there are any Lib Dems in Tottenham - so the answers I get really will be a significant factor in who I decide to vote for.
This is a bit thirteenth hour, but it's important, so.
Dear David Lammy
I'm writing to you because I'm very worried that the Government, driven by Lord Mandelson, intends to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without full Parliamentary debate.
This bill is highly controversial and contains many measures that are potentially damaging. Enough people are unhappy about the bill in its current form that the Liberal Democrats were forced to officially reconsider their position at their spring conference. Many of the Lords recognise the dangerous potential of this bill, but it will not get proper scrutiny unless MPs stand up and insist on a full debate.
Clauses in this bill will damage schools and small businesses (including my own small web business) as well as innocent people who rely on the Internet. It will allow the Government to disconnect people it suspects of copyright infringement, which is worrying not only because proper investigations may not occur before disconnection, resulting in effective punishment without trial, but because the Internet is one of the most exciting tools our society has for inclusivity and social mobility. Disconnection - which would apply to all members of an affected household, including children - will impact on individuals' ability to inform and educate themselves, engage with society, interact and converse with other people nationally and internationally and involve themselves with important issues they care about. This bill will make public wifi punitively difficult to maintain, which will effectively disconnect a lot of poorer people from the Internet, who cannot afford their own connection at home. Its greatest impact will be on those who are most vulnerable.
Disconnection is a draconian measure which has no place in a free society which is trying to improve public resources and services. The Internet is the biggest, best free public resource we have. Access to it should be a fundamental civil right.
Industry experts, Internet service providers (like Talk Talk and BT), music industry professionals such as Billy Bragg, activists such as Mark Thomas and huge web companies like Google and Yahoo all strongly oppose this bill. It is worded without proper consultation to the realities of the industry, by people who do not seem to know the difference between a web host and an ISP. This issue is complex and deserves full scrutiny before punitive legislation is passed.
I am writing to you today as your constituent and a struggling small business owner to ask you to do all you can to ensure the Government doesn't just rush this bill through. This bill will have far-reaching consequences and it desperately needs proper scrutiny before it is passed. Please do not deny us our democratic right to full and rigorous debate.
The Open Rights Group have teamed up with 38 Degrees to create an easy web form if you want to write to your MP about this. Literally the only chance we have to stop this bill being rushed through before the election is if MPs, especially front-benchers, speak out to insist on full and proper debate. Thousands of people have already written to their MPs in the last couple of days; if enough people do, there's a chance we can still stop Labour from passing yet another piece of repressive and badly-worded legislation before the election.
For the last few days I've been helping denny with a secret project. This morning it became not-so-secret.
For each vote coming up in Parliament, I will put a poll on this website. Every voter living in Hackney South and Shoreditch will have a login for the site, and will be able to vote in the polls using their computer or their mobile phone.
Whatever the majority vote is, I will vote that way.
My partner denny is running for Parliament as an independent candidate, on a platform of direct digital democracy. This is very exciting! If he's elected, he'll use his communications budget to develop a secure site for the polls, based on authenticated individual logins and the electoral roll for his constituency. (Non-constituents may have a separate poll, but their vote won't be counted.) Many aspects of the idea will be refined democratically through the website, and engagement is very strongly encouraged. The hope is that other candidates will eventually want to stand on a similar platform - and in fact in the last few hours he's already had an enquiry or two along these lines.
The campaign is launching quite late in the day, so he needs all the help he can get. If you believe in the need for bottom-up democratic reform and think the idea has potential, please help spread the word. If you could post about the campaign on twitter, facebook, LJ or other social media that would be brilliant - his main chance of publicity is through word-of-mouth. In addition, he is particularly looking for:
- journalists and bloggers who might be interested in covering the campaign;
- magazine, newspaper or website editors who would like to run an article;
- people to print and/or distribute leaflets or sheets of stickers (an office printer will do);
- printers who might be able to offer a discount on print runs;
- people to design promotional materials such as leaflets, postcards, business cards (I'm doing my best, but I'm already very short of time - I can send you all the assets and resources you need);
- people to write to papers, journalists, MPs, Lords or other public figures, to call their attention to the campaign and ask if they're able to help.
He also needs donations to cover the compulsory deposit and campaign costs, but publicity is just as important at this stage - if not more so.
There's already been an exciting response from the internets so far today. Stoke Newington People ran an unsolicited article by Seamus McCauley, and blogger Jonathan MacDonald surprised us with a second. Twitter seems to like the idea. Online publicity is his main hope of success, especially if the campaign is covered in local and national papers, but of course it doesn't translate to support in his constituency, so he'll be canvassing and doing all the normal things as well. Any support you can give would be very much appreciated.
Edit: Wow. Thanks so much for all the responses and criticism; it's been a fascinating discussion. I'm sorry I don't have time to reply to every comment individually, but check this thread for my general response to people's concerns.
I've just signed the Power 2010 pledge (you should too). I've been following the campaign with interest from the start, and voted on 20 or so reform ideas, three of which made it into the top five. Here's the message I sent accompanying my signature:
I support the Pledge because I think it's an awe-inspiring demonstration of grassroots activism, and sets an interesting precedent for the value of the web in democratic reform. The internet has radically altered the way we engage politically, and the future of our democracy needs to take that into account.
I voted for the following reforms:
- Introduce a proportional voting system
The two main parties, both unpopular with so many people in this country, have dominated Parliament for too long. First Past the Post in its current form is unrepresentative and undemocratic. The Government is too easily able to manipulate the system to increase their own power, as Labour did by re-writing the constituency boundaries in their favour before the last election, and as the Tories did by destroying the trade unions before that. Power should be devolved to allow small parties and independents more chance to have an impact on policy.
- Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state
I believe compulsory ID cards attached to a national database, the DNA database and several other national databases constitute an infringement of personal privacy and civil liberties. I do not think the cost in money, time and effort is worth the benefit to society, and I do not trust either of the two biggest parties to use databases ethically, responsibly and securely. While databases are sometimes essential for the provision of public services, separation between departments should be maintained, and I don't think the Government should generally have access to that data except in exceptional circumstances. We have seen enough evidence of data breaches and database-related abuses of power to know that the current Government cannot be trusted, and without a radical reform of our democratic system I do not believe future Governments will be any more trustworthy.
- Draw up a written constitution
England's government has historically operated based on tradition and precedent. Our society has seen radical changes in the last century, with the rise of social equality and the information revolution, and the onset of climate change. How things were done in the past is not always the best way to proceed. We should draw up a new constitution that reflects modern values going into the 21st Century, which should enshrine and protect such things as equality for all and the rights and liberties of the citizen, and prevent future Governments from undermining these basic principles. A written constitution is particularly important in a system with proportional representation, which lacks the conservative safeguards of FPTP.
I did not vote for English Votes for English Laws, as I think the United Kingdom is strengthened by being as united as possible.
I also did not vote for an elected second chamber, as I feel the value of the Lords is in their ability to engage in long-term thinking without having to play popularity games. I think the hereditary and class-based aspects of the House of Lords are deeply flawed, and would like to see a second house with a more diverse membership and equal representation from different sectors of society. However, any second house should be set up so that it can continue to offer checks and balances to the Commons - the two houses should not be identical. I might be in favour of an elected second house with a substantially longer term, but I think there are other options. Still, I would like to see reform of the Houses and would be happy to see the question put to a referendum.
I'm still thinking a lot of this stuff through; it's incredibly thorny and complicated and I don't pretend to have all the answers. I think that reflects more or less my current state of thinking on these specific issues, though.
Someone (probably denny) sent me a link to this list of independent candidates running in the next election on Your Next MP. 28 so far - one the ex-leader of the BNP - including only two women. Which is interesting in itself - why so few female Independent candidates?
Anyway, I idly scanned the list to see if there's an Independent standing in my constituency. And - what are the odds? - there is! Disappointingly, there's no information about him on the website (in fact, there doesn't seem to be any information about any of them on the website, which somewhat limits its usefulness). So I'm doing a bit of investigating.
Neville Watson is apparently an executive member of the Independent Network. His campaign page seems very community-focussed, which is good, I think, but doesn't tell me much about his more general policies. He talks about mental health support, alternative education, working with young people to reduce crime, providing farmer's markets for people to sell locally-grown organic produce, affordable low cost housing and energy conservation projects. He seems to be an active social worker with youth groups, managing the local football club, doing volunteer work prisoners and psychiatric patients. Which are all good things. He seems to be passionate, engaged and inspired on a local level.
But an MP isn't just a local leader - they're also an elected representative. And his campaign says nothing about his wider politics - nothing on how he's likely to vote in Parliament. One page of his site says both "he believes in equality and justice for all" and "a strong family unit is imperative for the development of our children", which leaves an amibiguous impression - does he favour the conservative idea of the family, or feminism and LGBT rights? Race politics are arguably more of an issue in Tottenham, and he addresses that to some extent, but there are a lot of gaps. How does he feel about civil liberties? The war on terror? Democratic reform? When you're voting for a member of a party, you can (to some extent) look to the policies of their party for anything they don't specifically mention. With an Independent, there are no such guidelines.
The current MP in Tottenham is David Lammy - a Labour minister whom I am inclined to distrust. His voting record goes against many of my principles, and he seems to tow the party line most of the time. On the other hand, I remember hearing from steerpikelet that he spoke very well at the Labour party conference, and the left seems to generally approve of him, although I'm not clear on exactly why. He's never responded satisfactorily to any of my letters - he leaves it late enough to reply that I have marked my letter "unanswered" on writetothem before I heard back from him, and I've only ever got form letters vaguely related to my question. (For instance, when I wrote to him expressing my concerns about police brutality and strategy during protests, I got a form letter six weeks later about Ian Tomlinson, which completely ignored my actual question.)
This election is the biggest opportunity Independents are likely to get for some time. (If the Tories get in, the current democratic system is rigged to keep them in for two or three terms - the yo-yo effect between the two big parties is well-established. Democratic reform is necessary to undermine that, and what are the chances of the Tories voting for something that will decrease their chance of staying in power?) The MPs expenses scandal combined with general disillusionment with the two-party system is going to give Independent candidates a better chance than they've had in years. Neville Watson, like David Lammy¹, is an Afro-Caribbean (important in a constituency with the racial demographic of Tottenham) family man (Tottenham is very Christian, and the last six MPs have been male). Lammy's expenses record isn't too bad, but it seems to me that Watson has a reasonable chance.
Locally, he may be as good a bet as the LibDem or Green candidates (or better - David Schmitz doesn't have much of interest to say). But in Parliament? I have no way of telling. Of course, I may well not be here anyway - even if we move in March, I might well be voting here as I'm not sure there'll be time to get on the electoral register of our new constituency before the election. So in some ways it's in my interest to vote for a national representative rather than a good local MP. But I'm not sure if that's missing the point.
1. And, apparently, the 2010 UKIP candidate, although he's not listed on Your Next MP so I'm not sure what's going on there.
Many of my friends have had good things to say about the new electric cigarette things, smokers and non-smokers alike. I'm not a smoker (well, not of cigarettes) but I'm a fan: they're shiny, they light up blue when you draw on them, and they don't contain tobacco, which means no nasty-smelling smoke, no tar, no carcinogens. In case anyone's not heard of them, they're dinky cigarette-shaped nicotine vaporisers, and I've seen them come in amazingly cute little shiny metal packs where the "cigarette pack" is the charger. As far as I'm concerned it's an example of How Tech Should Be Used.
The Government is apparently less convinced. They have just released a public consultation to determine whether to bring all nicotine containing products – with the exception of tobacco and tobacco products - within the medicines licensing regime. This would require all currently unlicensed nicotine containing products on the market, such as electronic cigarettes, to apply to the MHRA for a medicines Marketing Authorisation.
In case it's not clear why this would be stupid, it would clamp down on electric cigarettes and nicotine patches/gels - the sociable, healthy ways to feed your nicotine addiction - without the restriction applying to tobacco products, being the antisocial, unhealthy ways. It's not clear what the consequences of the medicine license would be - perhaps they'd be prescription only, they'd probably be more expensive - but it would almost certainly discourage their use. The hypocrisy involved in putting these constraints on non-tobacco products and not on tobacco products is really quite astounding. The cynical might suggest that although electric cigarettes are more healthy, the fact that the generate less revenue for the Treasury in the form of tobacco tax might be a reason for the Government to want to place stricter controls on them (i.e. licensing fees).
It's a public consultation, which means they're seeking responses. My understanding is that the Government usually gets far fewer responses to these things than one might expect, meaning that anyone who bothers to respond is likely to have their response at least read (although of course that's no guarantee it'll be taken into account). The consultations are downloadable here, and the response form is here. If you're a user or supporter of electric cigarettes, I'd encourage you to respond.
The Home Office has just announced its revised plans to keep the DNA profiles of innocent people on the National DNA Database, despite an EU ruling that this constitutes a breach of human rights. The new policy, under which DNA samples can be taken from any individual stopped by police for an arrestable offence, permits retention of these samples for six years regardless of whether the individual was convicted or released without charge.
This directly contravenes the decision made by the European Court of Human Rights in the S and Marper case last December, in which all 17 judges unanimously ruled that the UK policy of indefinitely retaining DNA samples from people who had not committed a crime was illegal under EU law.
The Association of Chief Police Officers claimed that this ruling would seriously limit their use of DNA technology. They therefore advised chief constables to ignore the EU decision, and since the Strasbourg ruling, while the Home Office drafts new legislation in response to the EU's decision, police have added DNA profiles of over 90 000 people who have never been convicted of an offense to the database. Various proposals have been submitted, condemned by human rights organisations, rewritten, resubmitted - and no response to the EU ruling is yet to pass through Parliament. The current set of plans, if passed, are likely to be in contempt of the EU court, and will no doubt provoke another long-winded round of litigation. The Home Office is clearly making every attempt to avoid the strongly-worded recommendations of the ECHR, and while the UK legislators drag their feet, every day more innocent people are added to a criminal database.( So what's the problem? )
I've been thinking about online democracy a lot since my post the other day. Some of it's pretty exciting.
Mostly I'm just overwhelmed at how big the conversation is. I'm seeing new stuff everywhere I look. I think these next few months, the closing months of the failed New Labour project when no-one really wants Cameron to be Prime Minister, are going to be key for the conversation about democratic reform. I don't think there's time for anything to happen now but the energy is now, before the change happens, when everyone's excited by the possibilities. After the Tories get in I expect the fire will go out of the talk for a bit, but then we have the next four years to actually make something happen.
Anyway, so I've talked about Open Up, and linked a couple of the huge number of blog posts in the wake of the success of the Trafigura/Jan Moir temporary collectives. Seriously, these articles are everywhere. Here's another one. This isn't new, of course: people have been talking about reforming democracy online since Usenet, and I still think of MySociety as the pioneers in using online technologies to improve the quality of our democracy.
But recently ... I dunno, maybe I've just been getting more involved, but it feels like in the last twelve months it's really been gaining momentum. Our Kingdom has an ongoing conversation about democratic reform, and Guy Aitchison, the dude who runs it, is also heavily involved with the Power 2010 campaign.
Then there's 38 Degrees, and Louder, The Downing Street Project ... and that's just in the UK: worldwide it seems that new social innovation campaigns like The Girl Effect and the World Appreciative Enquiry Conference are springing up all over the place. Then there's thinktanks like IPPR which seem to overlap a surprising amount with the grassroots movements. It's inspiring and hopeful - so many people agreeing things need to change, and pouring so much ideas and energy and time into working towards that! - but also chaotic and dizzying. There's just so much of it! To what extent are all these different groups even aware of each other? Are they duplicating each other's work, are they all trying to reinvent the wheel? If none of this has any effect on the current system, is it so much shouting to the void? Are the messages reaching the people who need to hear them, or is it just a big echo chamber? With so many diverse groups, all with their own agenda, won't they just drown each other out? Do we need to get together and find points of commonality? Is that even possible?
Probably not, but today I've been thinking not about campaigns but about the tools they use. Yesterday I was utterly thrilled to read The Future of Politics is Mutual, which is by an awesome person I hadn't heard of before, called Hannah Nicklin. It's on the differences between the traditional press and online media, narrative vs information and the information economy, and the concept of wikipolitics.
( What is Wikipolitics? )
I don't think we've come close to hitting on the answer on it yet. I don't think a wikipolitics project as described would be likely to have wings: it would probably just turn into a community of hypergeeks bickering over details. I think Wave has the potential to be useful in the longterm but it's not ready yet, and neither is society.
There are a couple of "unconferences" on this stuff happening this week: Open 09 and £1.40. I can't get to either, but I'll be interested in hearing if the discussions went anywhere useful.
I don't know how to harness the energy of this conversation into action. I don't know how to get the disparate online groups to work together. But I think there's something in this, I really do.
I think the only way to fix our current broken democracy is to decentralise it to some extent. I think the internet not only offers strong models for governance in the form of open source ethics and the open source community, but also a unique opportunity for discourse, collaboration and development.
Anyway. This is me brainstorming. Feel free to join in.
Police State UK have just run a special series of articles on public order policing, surrounding the inaugural public meeting of the new MPA Civil Liberties Panel last Thursday.
Holding the Met to account - by me on Wed 4 Nov 2009 at 23:40
The key issue in the wake of the G20 is accountability. Of the 276 complaints made to the IPCC, very few cases have been investigated or upheld. The IPCC has instructed the MPS to discount any complaints where the officer in question cannot be identified. This is enormously problematic: in what appeared to be a deliberate and calculated effort, hundreds of officers removed their identifying numerals during the policing of G20. This alone constitutes grounds for complaint - Paul Stephenson has called it "completely unacceptable" for police on duty not to wear their numerals - but it also allows the IPCC to dismiss any allegations of excessive force made against officers who removed their ID. Any police inclined to use disproportionate force in a public order situation is thereby given a "get out of jail free" card. Read more »
A mandate for change? - by me on Thu 5 Nov 2009 at 18:17
"Today is all about listening to you - we're not here to speak for the Met, nor to defend them," said Victoria Borwick, chair of the MPA's newly convened Civil Liberties Panel, opening this morning's public meeting. The scope of the meeting - an evidence gathering session on public order policing, and more specifically the G20 demonstrations in April - had been unclear to some. Many people had brought questions demanding immediate answers, but instead their concerns have been 'noted', with no clear idea if answers will be forthcoming. Read more »
Whatever happened to peaceful protest? - by Anna Bragga on Fri 6 Nov 2009 at 14:04
After yesterday's inaugural public meeting of the panel, I am left with an all pervading sense of gloom that no matter how well presented our arguments, no matter how much documented evidence we produce (from citizen journalists to accredited professionals), and no matter how many lawyers and experts we bring in, little will change. Read more »
Deterring Peaceful Protest - by denny on Sun 8 Nov 2009 at 20:33
There's been some good news lately as far as the policing of protest is concerned... the well-established public-order policing policy of 'hit them until they stop, then hit them a bit more' seems to be going out of favour. This is certainly a good thing. Nobody likes being hit over the head, and any reduction in such violence is to be celebrated. However, one of the important concerns such violence raised was that people would be (and have been) put off attending protests due to the possibility of police violence - and while this one issue is now being addressed, there are still plenty of other factors being used to deter protestors from showing up to any given protest. Read more »
Damned if they do, damned if they don't - by me on Mon 9 Nov 2009 at 19:16
Anonymity is increasingly difficult to maintain in the UK. We are tracked and recorded everywhere we go, and the police have access to national databases. The basic precautions necessary to try and slip through the net of police information-gathering require a level of personal inconvenience which many would find off-putting. And yet the alternative is being entered into the FIT/NECTU/etc system of harassment; I can see how facing a choice between the two would put people off attending demos at all. Read more »
We've also updated the site design a bit to add our Twitter feed and hopefully make the articles a bit easier to read. We're still working on the changes - we eventually want fluid width articles, I'm nagging Denny for the option of longer lead text on the homepage, and I want to improve the usability of the sidebar links. But we're at the "it'll do" stage with a lot of this due to having no time at all.
Please do create a free account on the site so you can post comments and submit articles. We welcome all contributions from anyone interested in civil liberties in the UK.
Couple of good articles on the sacking of David Nutt, which I find abhorrent for all the obvious reasons, plus those articulated by JQP in his two "Expertease" articles written at the start of this year.
This isn't the first time this issue has been on our radar. Drugs legislation is one of the easiest targets. Then there was the debate about Green Party science policy earlier this year. Now this, which some commentators have compared to the way policy on ID cards continues to ignore expert advice. Detecting a bit of a theme?
[Democracy] relies on one very important variable, which British society has utterly failed to deliver: accurate information.
In theory, democracy works for the benefit of mankind because the government responds to public demands. This requires two things to be fulfilled. The public have to be rational, which sometimes pertains, and it has to have access to reliable information, or else its demands rest on false assumptions. But the media, its main source of information, does not deliver. It provides truth, yes, but it also spews out myths and nonsense to substantiate its editorial agenda.
(Drugs policy and the death of reason, politics.co.uk, Monday, 02, Nov 2009 12:00)
Ah, everyone's favourite rant about democracy and the media! Excellent: I always enjoy having someone else do this one for me. It even includes references to Plato, if not to the process of Athenian democracy itself.
You all know this already, but just in case: Athenian democracy worked because it was tiny. Something in the region of 60,000 adult male citizens had the right to vote at any one point in the mid-5th century BC - a figure that dropped during wartime. Start with a small city-state and then exclude women, children and adolscents, immigrants, slaves, criminals and anyone who hasn't completed military training. The result is a direct democracy, where those involved are small enough to sit in a single assembly, watch political speakers and satirical theatre as a single audience, and participate in the same big debate. More oligarchy than democracy by modern standards. (Is more complicated than this, but you get the idea. Feel free to comment if you think I'm misrepresenting.)
Modern democracies which aim at representing the demands of the whole population - including, even more recently, women - can't be directly representational (until we develop secure tech for remote voting) and they can't be directly informed. Our representation is a mess, and so is our information. I mean the internet is great and all, but so far it mostly seems to be resulting in more people sharing opinion than data. (Peer-reviewed science has massive class and accessibility issues - is wikipedia the closest thing we have to democratic information?)
Anyway, so I'm sure you all know my feelings on policy and the meeja. What I found kind of interesting reading the post-Nutt-sacking commentary (har) is the fact that no-one's thought to relate this issue to climate science. Which seems a bit odd. Look at this paragraph from that Nutt vs ID cards article:
That's not to say politicians should blindly and slavishly heed scientific advice without any other considerations. Of course not. The whole nature of politics is about balancing various constituencies of interest. But politicians should be able to explain the reason for their decisions when they choose to ignore independent expert advice and press ahead with proposals that potentially put the UK population at greater risk.
Governments have been ignoring expert advice on climate change for, gosh, several decades now. I'm outraged about that, but I'm not surprised. It's not even really news, apart from in the "shit continues to hit fan" sense - but that's not unusual either.
If the outrage over the Home Office not only disregarding the recommendations of its chosen experts, but actually punishing those experts for telling the truth, leads to it happening less, well, great: perhaps they'll start listening to expert advice on environmental policy. Drugs legislation is a relatively quiet issue - you don't get many people willing to protest about it, and most public figures avoid speaking out on it unless they're happy to be branded a filthy munter.
Climate change should be a considerably less risky thing to talk about: surely most people believe that saving the human race from extinction is a generally good thing, even if they're not willing to act personally to help the cause. I mean, to oversimplify dramatically, this is one of the reasons we have laws, right? To encourage people to do the right thing even if they might not always want to?
Not only does policy fly in the face of scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, those who complain loudly about this are treated far worse by the state than those outraged at scandal of David Nutt's illegitimate sacking. Climate change doesn't seem to make it into any of the commentary on governments ignoring their experts. Is the issue becoming so marginalised that no-one's willing to include it in their analysis? Perhaps they're all just trying to avoid being labelled domestic extremists. In which case, the re-branding of climate activists as a marginal, undesirable group by the police is clearly starting to take effect.
The Defend Peaceful Protest meeting last week was exciting. People are still talking about policing and protest: the so-called "media storm" following the G20 looks like it might turn out to be a shift in consciousness after all. And, of course, the police and the state are still struggling with the issue of accountability as it applies to them, so there's work to be done there. denny is running a mailing list for discussion, news and updates - let us know if you'd like to be added to it (there's also a facebook group).
I seem to have volunteered to write up the public MPA meeting on November 5th for PSUK/LibCon/OurKingdom etc, so I want to get my head properly around the issues in advance of the MPA meeting, and if I'm linking people to PSUK it would be nice if there was some recent content on it. (On which note, anyone want to talk about civil liberties, dissent, privacy, surveillance, or policing in the UK? We'd really really love to hear from you - it was never intended to just be me and Denny.) So I'll be at the meeting in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and then then there's a civil liberties protest that evening in Parliament Square: what better way of remembering the fifth of November? Anyway, you should come to the protest if you care about such things, it'll be good.
All of which has motivated me to get back into political blogging again. It was one of the things to be sacrificed this summer in the name of Not Being So Exhausted All The Time, which was fair enough, but now I have an enormous backlog of issues I want to talk about. I've literally spent the whole day sorting through my open tabs, filing links and articles into topics, jotting down thoughts, running ideas past denny and bard and getting them to fill in the gaps for me. (JQP calls me his Chief Research Otter, but I reckon they're both mine.)
So now I have a big pile of Things To Write About, which is a bit overwhelming but I feel better for organising it all a bit. Quite a lot of it doesn't really fit on PSUK, so I might end up shoving stuff on here unless I can write something good enough that I wouldn't be ashamed to submit it to the news sites.
I won't always have lots to say about stuff, in which case it'll end up linked here as well (although the best way of following what I'm reading/interested in is my twitter, which sees far more activity these days than this journal). Like the three excellent articles I've read today on the role of the internet in democracy:
How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet by the late Adams, Douglas Adams. Originally published in 1999 and still relevant and true.
‘Interactivity’ is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport – the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.
I expect that history will show ‘normal’ mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’
‘Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.’
‘What was the Restoration again, please, miss?’
‘The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.’
The end of Adams' article dates it somewhat, so here are two articles from this week, continuing the theme in light of the recent events surrounding Trafigura and Jan Moir, to bring you up to speed:
Poles, Politeness and Politics in the age of Twitter by Stephen Fry, October 19th, 2009
A tweet is a 140 word expression of what’s on one’s mind, what one is doing or dreaming of. No one, not Biz Stone and the other founders of the service, not you nor I and certainly not anyone in the mainstream or techno press, ever had the faintest idea what Twitter would become. We still do not know what it will become. Some of those who dismissed it as it rose in popularity will now be slinking embarrassedly to the sign-on page, while political ginger groups of all kinds, right left, religious secular, fanatical and mild, will be sitting around wondering how to harness its power. ‘Political consultants’ who had never heard of the service six months ago will be hiring themselves out as experts who can create a ‘powerful, influential and profitable Twitter brand’. And the moronic and gullible clients will line up for this new nostrum like prairie settlers queuing for snake oil and salvation.
“If a twazzock like Stephen Fry can wield such influence,” the mainstream parties and their think tanks will be saying, “just imagine what we can do if we get our Twitter strategy right.”
Well, I contend that I do not wield influence. I contend that Twitter users are not sheep but living, dreaming, thinking, hoping human beings with minds, opinions and aspirations of their own. Of the 860,000 or so who follow me the overwhelming majority are too self-respecting, independent-minded and free-thinking to have their opinions formed or minds made up for them in any sphere, least of all Twitter.
Perhaps the foregoing is the most fatuous and maddening aspect of the press’s (perfectly understandable) fear, fascination and dread of Twitter: the insulting notion that twitterers are wavy reeds that can be blown this way or that by the urgings of a few prominent ‘opinion formers’. It is hooey, it is insulting hooey and it is wicked hooey. The press dreads Twitter for all kinds of reasons. Celebrities (whose doings sell even broadsheet newspapers these days) can cut them out of the loop and speak direct to their fans which is of course most humiliating and undermining. But also perhaps the deadwood press loathes Twitter because it is like looking in a time mirror. Twitter is to the public arena what the press itself was two hundred and fifty years ago — a new and potent force in democracy, a thorn in side of the established order of things.
And, published today, Can't stop the blog: what the internet has done for ideas by Laurie Penny (aka steerpikelet.
The American abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said that '"What gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind." The internet has had the equivalent impact of the advent of atomic warfare on the world of ideas, making individual thinkers part of a chain reaction whose power can be immediate and devastating. Marshall McLuhan observed in 'The Gutenberg Galaxy that "societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication". The British are desperate to see our creakily ancient institutions - newspapers and political parties dominated by wealthy Oxbridge graduates and a parliamentary system where official communication between the two houses is still overseen by the hereditary figure of Black Rod - reshaped by the internet.
Which leads me neatly to the two new ideas I've seen this week to ise the internet as a tool to "reshape democracy". The first is PartyStarter.org, an as yet embryonic idea rejected by the 4ip call for ideas, but published to see if anyone else wants to pick up the baton.
Membership of the main UK political parties has steadily declined since the 1970s. Disaffection with parties and politicians is at an all time high. Yet despite this, the big parties have hardly changed their structure since being formed in the 19th and 20th centuries (see http://www.paulmiller.org/partypoopers.
htm for background on the slow demise of political parties in the UK and internationally).
Rather than focusing on getting more people to join the existing parties, PartyStarter will encourage and help people to set up their own political parties. It is based on the belief that innovation in the way that parties organise and operate is more likely to come from new ’start-up’ parties than from existing parties.
denny has pointed out that we already have lots of political parties (including enthusiastic and lively new parties like the Pirate Party), but they don't stand a chance of gaining power under the current first past the post system. So perhaps not that useful, although it's good to see ideas being shared, and I think this sort of thing is indicative of the general mood for electoral reform and grassroots political change.
Open Up Now is an exciting new campaign for just that, based on small steps which seem fairly credible.
The way Parliament is run and government does business must change - and getting the best possible people into office is the starting point.
That's why we want the people, not the politicians, to select who stands for election. That's why we want Open Primaries in every constituency, where the people select their own candidates, and where anyone can put themselves forward to be a candidate. That's why we want all current MPs to agree to stand for re-selection in an Open Primary. We want this before the next General Election. And this is what Open Up is calling on every political party to do.
You should read Heather Brooke's excellent article on transparency, MP nominations and party whips. I don't know if Open Up will acheive their aims - it seems a stretch, although I've signed the petition and it seems to be gaining a decent amount of momentum for a new campaign. But I seem to be seeing an increasing number of calls for reform, and they seem to be getting increasingly credible. Or am I just looking properly for the first time? Either way, it's excited. Now we just have to make a few of them start to stick.
Thanks to denny for pointing me at 10:10, a scheme through which individuals and businesses pledge to reduce their emissions by 10% in 2010:
Everyone's looking for something to do about climate change. What’s needed is something straightforward, immediate and meaningful. I think I've found it.
Today I joined thousands of individuals and organisations from across the country to unite behind one simple idea: that by working together we can achieve a 10% cut in carbon emissions during 2010. It’s called 10:10, and everyone can be a part of it.
Cutting 10% in one year is a bold target, but for most of us it’s an achievable one, and is in line with what scientists say we need right now. By signing up to 10:10 we’re not just promising to reduce our own emissions – we’re becoming part of a national drive to hit this ambitious goal country-wide. In our homes, in our workplaces, our schools and our hospitals, our galleries and football clubs and universities, we’ll be backing each other up as we take the first steps on the road to becoming a low-carbon society.
To find out more and sign up go to www.1010uk.org
To read coverage of the campaign from the Guardian go to www.guardian.co.uk/10-10
I just signed up; it's all stuff I'm trying to do anyway, and if enough people join the scheme, it will help put much-needed pressure on politicians to start meeting targets. The UK started the industrial revolution, we should be the first to visibly start reducing the problems its caused. A lot of political will and an enormous shift in the public consciousness is going to be necessary, but I think it's achievable. And the more countries commit to reducing carbon emissions, the greater a chance we have of persuading the big multinationals to follow suit.
- "Climate Change Casino" set up in the City - with at least one police officer joining in!
- Climate Camp Day 2 live blog
- Climate Camp in pictures
- Labour Mayor of Lewisham condemns the camp as "patronising and selfish" ...
- ... whereas the local Lib Dem and Green councillors are supportive.
(photo by denny!)
- Corporate lobbyists sow doubt about science in their clients' minds. Climate Camp is teaching the skills to expose them.
- Contrary to popular belief, Climate Camp is not about fighting the police – it's about fighting climate change - the article I would have written yesterday if I hadn't been distracted by trying to make this point in the comments on LibCon.
- Revolting Peasants - Whitechapel Anarchist Group's version of their clash with police in the camp on Wednesday night.
- As a result of this, the WAG were politely asked to leave the camp, and the camp decided it would be less disruptive to meet with police outside the camp in future, given how many of its members are victims of police brutality. Click here to read their press statement.
Feminism links, via various people, but most of them from gavagai. Sorry if I've posted any of these before; between IRC, facebook, twitter and here it's sometimes hard to keep track what goes where.
- A Few Things To Stop Doing When You Find a Feminist Blog by Fugitivus, whose writing I am devouring at the moment.
- Misogyny: up close and personal on CiF, originally posted as The terrible bargain we have regretfully struck" on Shakesville. Delighted to see it on the Guardian, but I'd recommend not reading the comments.
- No more Mr. Nice Guy - analysis of the Sodini shooting by Kate Harding.
- Standing Out in the Crowd: on women in open source; and in a related note, click here if you feel like explaining to a clueless open source dude what that's like.
- Women in fiction: why more awesome women in fiction makes for better fiction as well as gender equality.
- 18th Century humour by the inimitable cavalorn. E.g. "AMERICAN: Yonder House is Tiny & we have Thrice its size at Home ENGLISHMAN: No doubt Sir for 'tis the BEDLAM-HOUSE."
- A giggle-worthy tale of Dragons, Knights, and the cancellation of Big Brother by John Q Publican
- Men at their most masculine: a photo-essay
- Inspirational Blind Photographers and their Portfolios
Last August, thousands of people camped out at Kingsnorth power station to protest against the continued use of coal power in the UK. Despite eye-witness reports and video evidence that police abused stop and search powers, removed their badge numbers, employed sleep deprivation tactics, harassed journalists, arrested any protesters who tried to demand their legal rights, and engaged in unprovoked violence against peaceful protesters and their private property, the police were not meaningfully challenged by anyone with the authority to do so. In fact, it wasn't until after events were repeated at the G20 protests in April 2009 that official questions were asked about the policing of dissent in the UK.
Early this year, cyber-liberties activist Cory Doctorow wrote an article for the Guardian about the Kingsnorth camp.
We've known about all this since last August - seven months and more. It was on national news. It was on the web. Anyone who cared about the issue knew everything they needed to know about it. And everyone had the opportunity to find out about it: remember, it was included in national news broadcasts, covered in the major papers - it was everywhere.
And yet ... nothing much has happened in the intervening eight months. Simply knowing that the police misbehaved does nothing to bring them to account.
Transparency means nothing unless it is accompanied by the rule of law. It means nothing unless it is set in a system of good and responsible government, of oversight of authority that expeditiously and effectively handles citizen complaints. Transparency means nothing without justice.
Ironically, the article was delayed due to an administrative error, resulting in its publication shortly after the G20 protests. It was already true, even before the same mistakes were made all over again: and in April, it could just as easily have been talking about the events earlier that month. The Met have lied, again and again, about events on the day and the strategies that led to them. The Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner have placed blame solely on 'rogue' individual officers, denying all knowledge of deliberate and systematic use of violence. Hundreds if not thousands of officers were pictured engaging in unprovoked and disproportionate violence, but almost none have lost their stripes or their jobs. The senior officers in charge of the operation have got away scot-free. No officer who illegally detained or criminally assaulted a member of the public has been arrested or charged.
Next week, the Camp for Climate Action is returning to London for a week-long gathering of sustainable living and activism training. The campers are braced for the worst; Legal Observers, MPs and journalists will be present, and you can bet that if the police engage in unprovoked violence, YouTube and Flickr will instantly be flooded with evidence. But will that transparency lead to justice?
For a host of reasons - the death of Ian Tomlinson certainly, changing media attitudes towards police seen to have 'got away' with shooting Jean Charles de Menezes perhaps, or even that battering articulate middle-class liberals rather than working-class black teenagers is always a more high risk strategy - whatever they may have been, the political landscape had clearly changed.
The events of the G20 were a turning point in public opinion. The press has largely abandoned its original campaign of misinformation, and the Evening Standard, which published some of the worst of the pro-police propaganda, has officially changed its colours, and recently ran a ssympathetic story about a woman whose complaint was upheld by the IPCC.
Although the various committees (such as the new Civil Liberties panel formed by the MPA, which seems to be more interested in future policy than justice for past wrongs), investigative bodies and reports commissioned since April have not resulted in any substantive consequences for the Met or TSG, the former does seem to realise that all eyes are on them this time.
The police's new, all-smiles approach to the August camp, conspicuously lacking any apology or admission of previous guilt, has been called a "charm offensive" by journalists. The Metropolitan Police's PR campaign includes a twitter account (presumably in response to the Campers' successful use of live social media to co-ordinate their event), a change in senior personnel, and meetings with Climate Camp legal advisors. A bitter pill, one suspects, to the police liaisons who tried repeatedly to engage with the Met before the April camp, and were not only rejected, but subsequently blamed for the "lack of dialogue" cited as a factor in the escalation of events.
Common sense suggests that the police are going to behave next week. The camp will probably not obstruct a major road or airport, and nor is it likely to take place in the heart of the City. Of course, similar circumstances didn't help the Kingsnorth protesters, but the Met are doing their best to convince the activists - and the world - that "the policing will be reasonable if the Camp is reasonable". But if it isn't, nothing we've seen so far suggests that those responsible will be brought to account.
If the Met's PR campaign extends to not engaging in mindless violence, as well as just saying they won't, then the August camp could be seen by some as an anticlimax. But the primary narrative for activists is not one of a street war between protesters and police, but one of raising awareness about the issues of climate change and sustainable energy. When the media isn't pretending that nothing happened, coverage of protests gone wrong generates more discussion about policing than it does of these issues. The police have proved themselves keen in the past to silence inconvenient dissent; next week's activists can only hope that the greater public scrutiny focussed on the Met will enable their voices to be heard.
(originally posted on Police State UK)
I'll be joining the Climate Camp swoop next Wednesday with a few friends. I'm not camping (work, boo), but we'll aim to stay until the camp is established, and defend the location if necessary. I'm going half as an eco-activist, half as an amateur journalist/observer. Click here for details of how to be involved on the day, and sign up for text alerts.
I should know better than to open up this can of worms again on LJ, but there are two really worthwhile discussions going on which you should read:
On rape and men by cereta, challenging the non-sexist or non-sexist-identified men who always protest that "not all men are like that" to stop telling women they're wrong about their own experiences, and start actually challenging sexism where they encounter it.
You're the guy who would never rape a girl passed out on your bed (who, for that matter, knows that such an act would be rape), or the woman in the village your battalion/troop/whatever is overrunning. You're the guy who wouldn't do such a thing even when his buddies were heckling him, telling him he's a fag and a pussy if he doesn't. Even more, you're the guy who would stop his frat brother from raping that girl, and get her home. You're the guy who would stop his comrades, or at least report them.
Now, here's my question: where the fuck are you?
It's a challenging post, and the thread is full of heart-warming stories of men who didn't rape someone, which didn't particularly surprise me. I know an awful lot of men who are prepared to be decent when in a situation with a drunk or vulnerable woman; who will not only fail to rape her, but will look after her and make sure she gets home okay. That's not really the issue, for me. The issue is that I also know an awful lot of men who aren't prepared to be decent in those situations, and most of my friends have been raped or sexually assaulted once or multiple times, because no-one is prepared to challenge the sexist fuckwits. To tell them to shut up when they make rape jokes. To get them to chill out when they're drunk and yelling at strange women. To tell them to their face that they were out of order when they groped a woman in a club, or pestered someone for sex after they'd already said no, or carried on messing around with her after she passed out.
Before you join in the next conversation about rape protesting that "not all men are like that", think about how much you've done lately to challenge the idea that men are entitled to look at/comment on/touch/fuck women's bodies and if the woman objects or resists she's a stuck-up bitch; as cereta put it, "the idea that if a woman is not actively preventing a man from sticking his penis into her (and even then, if she's an enemy), he is doing nothing wrong, and hey, who can blame him?"
The second post I want to point you at is Perusing Penises in the Park (no, seriously) and some street harassment stories, khalinche's response to cereta. This is not so much about sexual violence or living in fear of rape, but the ubiquity of sexual harassment, especially if you live in the city:
I suppose the point of this long, long post is to do what I always try to do - tell a story. Today it's the story of what it's like to live with the constant possibility of having your appearance or person commented on, loudly, by strangers, and of being on your guard many times a day. It is not about my fear of being raped, because that doesn't figure in my life as much as in those of some of the commentators at the linked post. It is about men feeling that they have a right to talk and shout to me about what they want to do and what they think of my body. It is about trying to get through to the men who don't do this quite how common it is and how it affects the lives of most women.
I had limited success expressing this a year ago; and the number of men who told me then that I was wrong, that this was nothing to do with gender, that if I'd only been more sensible I could have avoided it, only proves how necessary this conversation continues to be. khalinche's post is excellent, and deserves a wide audience.
Edit: Talking about this in IRC, I ended uo looking up this post by Kate Harding, which has a lot of practical suggestions on how men who aren't like that can act to confront harassment and sexism where they encounter it, and why it's important that they do.
I've written a couple of articles this week for Police State UK:
Connecting the Dots
While some writers have linked the policing of the G20 to the history of policing and political dissent, even the independent media have mostly failed to situate this connection in a wider context.
How about this for context: The last couple of years has seen a stream of increasingly repressive legislation, denying the conscience of the individual moral agency and responsibility, and curtailing the rights of the many to protect the few. (So the excuse goes; but do we, the public, really need legal protection from people who look at kinky porn or photograph policemen?) Scare-mongering propaganda urging people to report suspicious behaviour among their neighbours. Ubiquitous surveillance enhanced by new technology; endless strategies designed to make it easier to keep tabs on people, such as centralised databases; internet surveillance; making Oyster cards the cheapest way of using the Tube. Exaggerating the threat of an illusory enemy as an excuse to treat the general public as guilty until proven innocent. Terrorism is less dangerous than bird flu or sunbathing; and yet Section 44 uses it as the excuse to grant the Met stop and search powers which intimidate and inconvenience countless members of the general public.
Call me paranoid, but there's a pattern here. And it's getting worse.
MPA defend peaceful protest
Tim Godwin and Chris Allison accepted responsibility in vague terms for events, while denying any specific culpability, and persistently washed their hands of the actions of "individuals". They couldn't give detailed answers on the subjects of any pending investigations. But they were also reasonably conciliatory, and accepted the need for a review of police strategy, to "learn lessons for the future".
However, I'm cautiously optimistic that if the Members of the MPA have anything to do with it, the investigation will be sympathetic and conscientious.