the Disillusioned kid
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Season Message: Revenge of the Message

I started writing seasonal posts on the blog way in 2006. Almost
a decade ago. It is now the only sign of life in an otherwise moribund blog.

Usually I post a rambling festive message as well as a compilation of images juxtaposing Christmas imagery (trees, Santa etc) with symbols of conflict (soldiers, tanks, protests etc).

The latter I dub Happy Xmas (War is Over) as an ironic nod to the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Christmas song. A not terribly subtle reference to the fact that when I began this project with the occupation of Iraq at its height and ongoing strife in occupied Palestine, war was far from over.

Over the last few years these posts have
become harder to put together. The world really did seem to be becoming more peaceful.

It doesn't feel like that this year. With the brutal Syrian civil war grinding on, the rise of ISIS, continuing conflict in Israel-Palestine and simmering tensions in Ukraine things look to be going downhill.

Perhaps this is just a question of perception. I do think there is something to Steven Pinker's argument that the world is generally, on average, becoming less violent. But that will be small consolation to those suffering this Christmas.

Closer to home, the government continues it's assault on the working class under the banner of austerity. This is unlikely to change next year even in the (unlikely) event of a Labour victory at the General Election.

The left, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen. For whatever reasons it is in abeyance and in no position to exert any real influence on national politics. (The betrayal of the local government pay strike earlier this year hasn't helped.)

It is tempting to hope for some spontaneous uprising. Nobody could have predicted in Russia in December 1916 what would happen the next year. This is true, but it misses a fundamental point.

Apparently spontaneous activity is rarely genuinely spontaneous. It is usually the product of long-standing political activity. Just because history doesn't record the day-to-day organisation of political movements doesn't reduce it's importance.

The simple reality is that this sort of activity has largely ceased in the UK. Much of the infrastructure on which it previously relied has now gone. It will take a lot of effort to rebuild it.

So there's a lot to be getting on with in 2015...

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Festivus, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holiday, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, Marxmas, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Xmas, Yalda and/or Yule! (Other holidays are available. Probably.)

Previous years: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

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Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2014


Previous years: 2006, 2007,2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2013 


Previous years: 2006, 2007,2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

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Monday, December 24, 2012

The Laziest (And Most Pointless?) Seasonal Message Yet

For a self-styled "radical" I'm a major sucker for tradition. How else to explain that fact that this blog (such as it is) only springs to life but once a year for the festive season with a duo of seasonal posts retreading much the same territory as the year before?

Nevertheless people (that is to say one single person) tell me that they enjoy this stuff and who am I too disappoint my core audience? (Apart from anything else she knows where I live.)

As I suggested above these rarely cover new territory, constituting little more than a thinly veiled excuse to convey seasonal greetings to those who continue to still visit this blog, however rarely. Rather than insulting your intelligence (the only person I have any confidence will read this has a PhD for FSM's sake) allow me to summarise the key points of the Disillusioned kid's idiosyncratic position on Christmas:
  1. Christmas is not, contrary to what you were taught at school, really a Christian festival. Rather it is a much older pagan celebration "hijacked" (the more charitable among you might prefer the term "borrowed") as part of efforts to convert the masses to the upstart religion; therefore
  2. Christians have no monopoly on celebrating at this time of year and us atheists can enjoy the tofurkey without feeling hypocritical; and
  3. The so-called "War on Christmas" is an intellectual nonsense promoted by a virulent cultural right-wing which exert undue influence on large swathes of the mainstream media (notably tabloids like the Mail)
Seems sensible, no? Good. Now we've got that out of the way we can all get back to the important business of mindless hedonism and drinking.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Festivus, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holiday, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, Marxmas, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Xmas, Yalda and/or Yule! (Other holidays are available. Probably.)

Previous years: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2012

Previous years: 2006, 2007,2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seasinal Message: The Eighth

This isn't really a blog anymore, so much as an website of vaguely coherent ramblings about Christmas. But if one thing characterises the festive season, it's tradition. Hence, here I am again.

Following on from last year, the all too real economic class war being waged by our leaders and their allies in the media has meant that the phoney cultural war has been put on the backburner. There has been little talk this year of any supposed "War on Christmas".

The British Freedom Party (a rather unimpressive splinter from the BNP now linked up with the English Defence League in an unpopular move engineered by Tommy Robinson/Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) did try and motivate the assembled Christian soldiers by recycling a story about the Red Cross from 2002. Unfortunately, the claim that they had "banned overt reference to Christmas from its 430 fundraising shops" was demolished almost immediately (having been nonsense when it was current 9 years ago) and the BFP are now pretending it didn't happen (like the Holocaust, presumably).

In place of opening a new front in the War on Christmas, it is perhaps a good opportunity to look back on what has been a truly monumental year in which we've witnessed the Middle Eastern revolutions, the Libyan war, the Eurozone crisis, the August Riots, the indignados and Occupy movements, mass public sector strikes, the phone hacking scandal and more.

I don't want to overstate the connections between any or all of these events, but I do believe they speak to a fairly serious crisis in our soi-disant leader's ability to control their populations. After the demise of the Soviet Union, capitalism reveled in its victory, never again would anything challenge the "free" market in its domination of the world.

Since then capitalism has produced a vast quantity of stuff, but it has singularly failed to buy people's loyalty. Things might have been OK when the economy was booming, but with unemployment on the rise and "austerity" likely to last for at least a decade, people are becoming increasingly disillusioned in capitalist democracy.

This isn't necessarily a positive development. There are obvious parallels with the 1930s which fueled the rise of Fascism and ultimately led to World War 2. Nevertheless, there are very real opportunities for those of us interested in serious, progressive change. What we make of those opportunities over the coming year could be hugely important.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Festivus, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holiday, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Xmas, Yalda and/or Yule! (Other holidays are available. Probably.)

Previous years: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

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Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2011

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Seventh Deadly Seasonal Message

Once again, the season of goodwill to all men is upon us. The tree is up, the lights are on and the alcohol is about to kick in.

It is now traditional that to mark this annual event I put fingers to keyboard and deposit a Christmas blog in your mental microwaves to see if it defrosts. This is now just about the only time I write here. The real world now impinges on my time more than it once did and this coupled with different focuses for my activism has meant that blogging is no longer the priority it once was.

I'm sure this is a great disappointment to many (some? any?) of you who miss my critical insights, witty prose and well-selected images, but when reality calls, what am I to do?

Returning to the traditional message, this is usually my opportunity to reflect on the nonsense of the so-called "War on Christmas" a conflict which has allegedly raged in shopping centres, schoolyards and council offices. A cynically manufactured controversy driven by a right wing which is disprate, often incoherent but ultimately all heading in the samer direction: seeking to turn back every social advance of last century from gay rights to female equality.

This year, however, I'm short on material. The leading protagonists in this conflict seem to have been relatively quiet on the subject. One assumes they have been too busy slashing public services to worry about trivial things like the wording used on Christmas decorations. The cultural phoney war has been replaced by an all too real economic class war.

It is this assault on our communities and the effectiveness of our response which will, I suspect, define 2011 politically. This may sound like a pessimistic view, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. Already we are doing better than Ireland, where meaningful resistance to the imposition of austerity did not emerge until almost 2 years after it began. This provides some hope that we may be able to avoid following them into a spiral of cuts, bailouts and worsening cuts.

But hope is no substitute for action and we have a long battle ahead of us. So far the students have shown the way, but the struggle needs to spread to other sectors: trade unions, public sector workers, the unemployed, service users and the rest of society.

So enjoy your strangled turkey, drink until you throw up your liver and revel in the spirit of the season, for tomorrow we bring down a government.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Festivus, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holiday, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

Previous years: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

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Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2010

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Episode 6: Return of the Seasonal Message

Everybody's favourite pagan drinking festival is almost upon us. The decorations are up, the lights are on, the shops are full and school children across the land are dusting off their sheep costumes for another year as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Saviour and Protector Cliff. Tradition dictates that I mark this event with some seasonal blogging, even if I haven't bothered to write anything since last xmas.

Usually, this message consists of some unoriginal reflections on the non-existent "War on Christmas" apparently being waged by an Army of Godless-Liberal-Socialist-Pinko-Homosexual-Feminist-Islamofascist-Terrorists. This year, there appears to have been a lull in hostilities with few high profile clashes.

There was a minor skirmish in Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire. A leaflet distributed by the council outlining their festive plans referred to "Christmas Elves", "Christmas pop tunes", and a special dance "to link the Diwali and Christmas celebrations," but this wasn't good enough for the stalwart defenders of Christmas who derided the council's reference to a "Beeston Lights Switch On Event" held on November 28, almost a month before Christmas. Cue inane comments like, "We have had Christian tradition in this country for thousands of years" (about, two thousand, actually) and a promise by the council to use the term next year.

This is of course, complete nonsense. With lights on for almost a quarter of the year in many towns, it is bizarre that we should think of them only as "Christmas" lights. It should be obvious that none of this has anything to do with Christianity. Christmas is after all a pagan festival hijacked by Christians as a way of getting themselves through winter. Rather it is the latest front in an ongoing conflict raged by those who would set back what advances (in rights for women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities) have been made over the previous century.

None of this means we can't or shouldn't celebrate at this time of year. It's just that we shouldn't let a bunch of right-wing authoritarians dictate how we celebrate. Bear in mind that if we had their way we'd all be tea-total and would spend Christmas morning in church before going back to the Workhouse in the afternoon, with a quick break for bread and water if we were lucky.

One tradition I've decided not to follow this year is that of sending Christmas cards. I've never been a big card writer. I'd like to say this was driven by ethical considerations about destruction of forests, the generation of waste and the perpetuation of thoughtless consumerism. The truth, of course, is that I'm just a bit lazy. That said, this year, I have decided that instead of sending cards I'm going to send my friends an email (something I've done in past years, anyway) and donate the money to charity.

In case you're interested, I've decided to donate the money to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group dedicated to ending "the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species." Do check them out, they've done a lot of good work and put Greenpeace to shame.

Talking about environmentalism, 2009 may well be remembered as the point at which we failed to stop anthropogenic climate change. That isn't inevitable, but I think it is very likely we will look back on it as the year where it became clear that our so called leaders were not up to the job.

From the attacks on climate activists during the G20 in April, through the failure to intervene in the closure of the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight in July (despite an inspiring occupation by sacked workers), right up to the farce played out at Copenhagen, the reality of state capitalism's antagonism towards the environment is now obvious for all to see.

None of this makes climageddon inevitable, but it does mean that if we want a half decent world to live in for ourselves and future generations then we can't wait for our so called leaders to sort it out. It's down to us.

Something to think about while you're tucking into the steaming remains of a strangled turkey...

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Festivus, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holiday, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

Go forth and drink until you throw up your liver (but make sure you do it responsibly).

Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2009

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Xmas (War is Over) 2008

Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq (Dec 24)

Amritsar, India (Dec 24)

Zimbabwe Embassy, London (Dec 20)

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Episode V: The Seasonal Message Strikes Back

It's that time again. Happy shoppers are congregating in the cathedrals of consumerism, turkeys are contemplating going into hiding and Ron Wood's on tour once more. The annual celebration of Cliff Richard's birthday is a holiday replete with traditions old and new, but none more important than the Disillusioned kid seasonal message. Now in it's fifth year (no I hadn't either) this is almost the only reason this blog exists, given its inactivity over so much of the previous year. Fortunately its also a tour de force of shiny prose, witty reflections and cutting insight. (Note: prose, reflection and insight are not guaranteed.)

This is usually my opportunity to reflect on the so-called "War on Christmas" which the oxygen wasters of the right get so excited about. This year, the latest front in this war has opened up not far from me in Nottingham. Greenwood Junior School in Sneinton has got into all sorts of trouble for postponing a Christmas performance. According to the Torygraph:
Greenwood Junior School sent out a letter to parents saying the three-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which takes place between December 8 and 11, meant that Muslim children would be off school. That meant planning for the traditional nativity play were shelved because the school felt it would be too difficult to run both celebrations side by side.

The move has left parents furious. Janette Lynch, whose seven-year-old son Keanu attends the school, in Sneinton, Nottingham, said: "The head has a whole year to plan for Eid and so she should be able to plan for both religious festivals. I have never heard of this at a school. It is the first year my son has been there and a lot of the mums like me were really looking forward to seeing the children in the nativity."
Predictably, this hasn't gone down well with the fascist onanists of the BNP who quickly moved in to try and make political capital from the controversy. They grumbled, "such outrages will inevitably progress from the exception to the norm, if Britain fails to embrace the BNP and continues its present headlong plunge into the abyss."

Of course, reality is rather more complicated than the knuckle draggers can understand. An Associated Press report suggests that it isn't a nativity at all, but rather a pantomime (Cinderella, in fact) and that it hasn't been cancelled, only postponed to late January.

This pattern will be familiar to students of the War on Christmas: a manufactured controversy fuelling manufactured outrage which can then be capitalised on by the political right. In America where the Christian right is a major political movement this is all a much bigger deal. Here it's rather easier to be dismissive. The recently leaked BNP membership list indicates that the BNP are not a major political force in the Nottingham city area and with several of their prominent members in the area having left the party over the last year or so (including those most likely responsible for the leak) this can't have done them many favours.

In any case, as I've argued in previous years, the fundamental premise of the War on Christmas is wrong. Christmas is only superficially a Christian festival. The timing and most of the traditions are taken wholesale from paganism and any number of religious festivals take place at this time of year. Personally as a godless atheist hedonist I intend to enjoy as many of them as possible with little or no regard for their theocratic justifications. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we abolish religion and smash the state!

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holidays, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The War on Christmas

The Greeks really know how to celebrate Christmas.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

World's smallest campaigners strike

More info here.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't let them deport my friend!

I've known Hich for years and now the bastards want to deport him to Algeria...

If you know Hich and/or can help in any way, get int touch with the campaign.

Phone: 07948590262

The press release does a pretty good job of summing up what's going on...

From a group of Nottingham residents, concerned student and academics at the University of Nottingham.
For immediate use, 24/05/08 SATURDAY

Notts Uni detainee innocent but still facing deportation

Hicham Yezza, a popular, respected and valued former PhD student and current employee of the University of Nottingham faces deportation to Algeria on Sunday 1st June. This follows his unjust arrest under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Wednesday 14th May alongside Rizwaan Sabir and their release without charge six days later.

It has subsequently become clear that these arrests, which the police had claimed related to so-called “radical materials” involved an Al Qaeda manual downloaded by Sabir as part of his research into political Islam and emailed to Yezza for printing because Sabir couldn’t afford to get it printed himself.

There has been a vocal response from lecturers and students. A petition is being circulated, letters have been sent by academics across the world and a demo is being planned for Wednesday. 28th May. This has clearly been deeply embarrassing to a government currently advocating an expansion of anti-terror powers.

On his release Hicham was re-arrested under immigration legislation and, due to confusion over his visa documentation, charged with offences relating to his immigration status. He sought legal advice and representation over these matters whilst in custody. On Friday 23rd May, he was suddenly served with a deportation notice and moved to an immigration detention centre. The deportation is being urgently appealed.

Hicham has been resident in the U.K. for 13 years, during which time he has studied for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Nottingham. He is an active member of debating societies, a prominent member of an arts and theatre group, and has written for, and edited, Ceasefire, the Nottingham Student Peace Movement magazine for the last five years.

He is well known and popular on campus amongst the university community and has established himself as a voracious reader and an authority on literature and music. An application for British citizenship was underway, and he had been planning to make his yearly trip to Wales for the Hay Festival when he was suddenly arrested.

The authorities are clearly trying to circumvent the criminal justice system and force Hicham out of the country. Normally they would have to wait for criminal proceedings to finish, but here they have managed to convince the prosecution to drop the charges in an attempt to remove him a quick, covert manner. The desire for justice is clearly not the driving force behind this, as Hicham was happy to stand trial and prove his innocence.

Hicham had a large social network and many of his friends are mobilising to prevent his deportation. Matthew Butcher, 20, a student at the University of Nottingham and member of the 2008-9 Students Union Executive, said, “This is an abhorrent abuse of due process, pursued by a government currently seeking to expand anti-terror powers. Following the debacle of the initial ‘terror’ arrests they now want to brush the whole affair under the carpet by deporting Hicham.”

Supporters have been able to talk with Hicham and he said, “The Home Office operates with a Gestapo mentality. They have no respect for human dignity and human life. They treat foreign nationals as disposable goods - the recklessness and the cavalier approach they have belongs to a totalitarian state. I thank everyone for their support - it’s been extremely heartening and humbling. I’m grateful to everyone who has come to my aid and stood with me in solidarity, from students to Members of Parliament. I think this really reflects the spirit of the generous, inclusive Britain we know - and not the faceless, brutal, draconian tactics of the Home Office.”


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Friday, May 02, 2008

Nottingham Celebrates Mayday with Moazzam Begg

In recent years Mayday in Nottingham has once again become a major celebration with the march from the Brewhouse Yard already something of a tradition. As successful as these demonstrations have been, they have taken place on the nearest weekend to May 1st, with little happening on the day itself. This year, the Mayday Organising Committee (an off-shoot of the Nottingham Refugee Campaign Group) felt that something should be done to mark the day itself and decided to organise a rally addressed by a local asylum seeker and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg.

The event had originally been intended to take place in the International Community Centre (ICC) on Mansfield Road, but Moazzam Begg is a well-known name and a major draw, so it was felt necessary to move to the New Mechanics on North Sherwood Street. This was probably a wise decision as something like 70-80 people turned up on the day.

Before Moazzam spoke, the meeting was adressed by Amdani Juma, a local asylum seeker, familiar to anybody whose been involved in refugee issues in Nottingham. A refugee from Burundi where he was a pro-democracy activist, for which he was tortured, Amdani came to the UK in 2003 and was granted humanitarian protection. Since finding himself in Nottingham he has busied himself campaigning on refugee issues, raising awareness about AIDS, involving himself in various fora around the city and even became a member of Home Office run National Refugee Integration Forum. Despite all this, his application for Indefinite Leave to Remain was rejected by the Home Office and his appeal against this decision unsuccessful.

Amdani recounted his earliest celebration of Mayday as a child of eight in Burundi. At his instigation a one minute silence was held to remember workers across the world who had died in the struggle for a better world. His talk was wide ranging, but he stressed that he was proud to be an asylum seeker, because it meant that he was a survivor. He described his life as being like living more than one life, with his current struggle for Indefinite Leave to Remain being his fifth life. He also used the talk as an opportunity to promote the sponsored walk he is planning to undertake later in the month to raise money for an AIDS charity.

Moazzam Begg began his talk by musing on the word "Mayday," which he noted is French for "help me." An apposite phrase given his own experiences. Moazzam was one of nine British Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay by the US government. Released in 2005 without charge he has yet to receive any compensation or an apology. Since his release he has spoken widely and published a book, Enemy Combatant, in which he recounts his experiences of extra-judicial detention.

His neatly honed talk explored issues of freedom in the shadow of the "War on Terror." He noted that in surveys of "Britishness," the signing of the Magna Carta was often pointed to as a key event. The document enshrined protection against unlawful detention, a principle which was exported across the world, but which is now under attack. He pointed out that shortly after his abduction at gunpoint in front of his wife and children, his family had issued a writ of haebus corpus in the Pakistani courts. While unsuccessful, it demonstrates the idea's power.

He seemed interested in the way such high ideals had been corrupted and noted with irony the motto which had been plastered across the facility at Guantanamo: "Duty bound to protect freedom." It is this bizarre interpretation of freedom, he suggested, which allowed the US to dub the invasion of Iraq "Operation Enduring Freedom," as if freedom were something which had to be endured.

For someone detained for almost three years, Moazzam was surprisingly fair about his captors. he asserted that, while bad, Guantanamo was not the worst prison on earth. Simply the most notorious. He was clear that there were worse establishments, specifically those where people were killed or forced to see others killed. These, he explained, were what interrogators would threaten recalcitrant subjects with and a number of people being detained by the US have found them shipped to the likes of Egypt for a more thorough going-over than Americans had a taste for. In fact, his relaxed view extends so far that he hopes to tour, later this year, with a young American who had been one of his jailers.

Moazzam argued that the treatment of Muslims in the "War on Terror" with compared unfavourably with that of the Irish Catholic population in northern Ireland at the the height of "The Troubles." He pointed out that even at the height of internment, people were only being held without trial for up to three days. Now the government is seeking to give the police power to detain people for up to ninety days. He clearly saw this as a far broader issue. Noting that even former Secretary of State Colin Powell had called for the closure of Guantanamo he stressed that this would not address the problem of other, less prominent, detention centres (Bagram, Diego Garcia and others).

After the speakers, the discussion was opened up to the floor for questions and contributions. There was also an announcement about plans to mobilise against the BNP's Red White and Blue festival. The event is being held between 15-17 August in Denby, Derbyshire with campaigners planning to mobilise on Saturday 16 August from 9am.

All in all, this was an impressive, well attended event. The organisers are to be congratulated and there's something to build on for next year, but first there's the actual Mayday demonstration: 12 noon, Saturday May 5 starting at the Brewhouse Yard. Hopefully I'll see you there.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Nottingham Uni: The Veggie's Friend (Interview)

The University of Nottingham was recently voted the Number 1 "Most Vegetarian-Friendly UK University," in a poll conducted by Peta2, the youth wing of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In achieving first place, Nottingham beat Glasgow University, which has Vegan Society accreditation, into second place.

According to Peta2, the university has been "working alongside Vegsoc – Nottingham University Vegetarian and Vegan Society." Alex Claridge, the society's social security was kind enough to answer a few questions about what the group have actually been doing.

Links: Nottingham University | Peta2 | VegSoc

Q: What's your response to the university's success in the Peta2 poll?

AC: We’re delighted with the result, and incredibly proud of the accolade both as a society and more widely as a university. Although there have been previous animal ethics societies at the uni, this is our first year as ‘vegsoc’and, already, we’ve achieved a very great deal – although that isn’t to say there isn’t more to do! Recogition from PETA is really just the icing on the (vegan!) cake for everyone who has been involved in the society this year, and an affirmation that whatever we’ve done this far is working.

Q:What is your personal experience of being vegetarian on campus?

AC: It is probably more accurate to answer this one in terms of vegetarian and then vegan. As a vegetarian on campus, you can be sure that there will be options for you daily and usually a good selection. For vegans, Nottingham Uni is certainly better than many Universities; we’re currently going through the motions to finalise Vegan Society accreditation, and we hope to be the first English Uni and the second in the UK. In practice, this means that there will always be vegan options, which is a fantastic starting point, and beyond that we’re committed to ensuring that there will be a variety of exciting and great-tasting vegan friendly options.

Q: What have you been doing to encourage the university to become more vegetarian friendly?

AC: In terms of catering, the University have needed little encouragement! I think more and more people are recognising that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have much to offer and attract a wide variety of people from all walks of life – including both students and lecturers! Perhaps we’ve hastened the process, by offering advice, feedback and the framework for development but our progress in terms of vegan and veggie catering has very much been a co-operative effort on behalf of both our society and the university. We went to the University with solutions rather than problems; I think it is important to be positive in whatever your goal – the emphasis is on what we can do, not what we can’t.

Q: What else do you hope to get from the uni?

AC: We don’t really see our work as a case of what we can ‘get’ from the University – we are after all technically part of the same institution! Rather, we hope that we can fulfil our role as a representative group for vegetarians and vegans at the University to the very best of our abilities. We hope to continue developing food at the University in the same direction to cement the University as truly a leader in terms of veggie and vegan catering. Likewise, we are always glad to tackle issues that might be raised by individual members.

We’re also hoping to expand our sphere of influence and involvement, beyond its current realm of food, to include other issues of concern at the university. We’re acutely aware that Nottingham, for all its achievements in some areas, doesn’t have the best reputation for its involvement in vivisection. We would certainly like to encourage a more open dialogue and discussion about the role of vivisection in the University’s research and teaching, and also open up the floor for feedback and discussion with the student population. Hopefully, this is something that the University will feel able to work with us on – it would be fantastic to boast of a University that is truly leading the way in all areas for vegetarians, vegans and animal-lovers alike.

Q: What other activities has the society been involved

AC: We maintain a busy social programme, including fortnightly meals out and a weekly bar night at the wonderful alley café. We’re developing a discount card for our members to get top offers at restaurants and stores around the city, and we’re currently administering a campus wide survey to get the first comprehensive impression of veggie/vegan numbers on campus and to tailor our work with the University over coming months to student feedback and needs. Over the summer vacation period we’re hoping to produce a essential guide to veggie Nottingham to distribute to new students in September. Members are also working on a compendium of great veggie and vegan recipes to offer online. We like to be kept busy!

Q: The group recently changed it's name from Animal Ethics Society to Vegetarian and Vegan Society. Can you say someting about the thinking behind this change and what it has meant in terms of your activities?

AC: The name change was, in many ways, one of practicality rather than any deeper meaning! The society is generally known as vegsoc - with the official title more one for forms and paperwork. Vegsoc is considerably easier to say, write and brand than Animal Ethics for a start. The society does have a different approach to the previous Animal Ethics society, although I would argue our aims are much the same - broadly speaking, we're in it for the animals. From the outset, our focus has been on showing the fun side of vegetarianism and veganism and dispelling any myths that people may have. We totally re-branded the society, and we've enjoyed a busy social schedule and met lots of new members along the way.

There are a million and one ways you could run a society under the banner of vegetarianism, but our particular take is that by creating a friendly, accessible, and relaxed atmosphere for would-be members and the curious we're doing our bit to take vegetarianism, and particularly veganism, to the masses. Recently, we've had a week of meals and vegan buffets and we had, at times, 50% non-vegetarians dining with us - non-vegetarians who chose to come to our events, on the basis of great food, and a good time. Veggies for the world, albeit one meal at a time! That isn't to say we don't have members who are interested in the academic, philosophical or campaigning side of things - certainly, we're glad to talk to anyone about the 'more serious' side of animal ethics - but there is no reason you can't have fun in the process. No egos, no attitudes, no nonsense - let the good (veg) times roll.

Q: As a society you've lobbied university authorities. You've also hosted former ALF-member Keith Mann an advocate of property destruction. Can you say something about the benefits of these very different campaigning methods?

AC: It was our pleasure to receive Keith, and we’d be interested in hosting similar talks in the future. The event itself offered our members and the local community alike a fantastic opportunity to watch ‘Behind the Mask’, an award-winning documentary considering the animal rights movement as a whole and also, the much-publicised Animal Liberation Front. Keith’s broad experience of the animal rights movement, and integral role in the documentary made him a fantastic speaker to introduce the film and also talk about his much-acclaimed book From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.

As a society we are strictly peaceful and campaign entirely within legal means for progress and change. Our approach is drastically different from that of direct action, however we also feel it is important to foster a wider awareness of the animal rights movement as a whole – both on an academic and a practical level. Detractors are keen to blurry the lines of distinction, or tarnish the animal rights movement as ‘extremist’ which is, I hasten to add, almost always unfounded. There is nothing extreme about opposing animal cruelty, and the issues at hand enjoy support from an ever-increasing and incredibly diverse cross-section of the general public. The best defence therefore, from would-be detractors, is to know your facts!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

New Old Coal for Notts

A coal mining firm is considering reopening a pit in Nottinghamshire which could be the deepest in the UK and one of the largest in Europe.

According to the BBC, Doncaster-based UK Coal are looking at reopening the Harnworth pit which closed in 2006. The pit is likely to reopen later this year, and could, they claim, create 400 jobs, although production would not actually be restarted for a further three years. Studies are being carried out at the moment, but the company believes there could be as much as 40 million tons of coal available at the pit.

Jeff Wood, vice president of the Union for Democratic Mineworkers (UDM, most famous for scabbing during the Miners' Strike), welcomed the reopening of the pit, coming, as it does, when the Wellbeck colliery in Nottinghamshire is coming to the end of its workable life and facing closure by the end of the year: "The good news is... there's now an opportunity to transfer to Harworth, which could potentially mean another 20 to 25 years of work."

With coal power a central concern of various climate change action networks, the reopening of Harnworth may not pass entirely unopposed. All the coal produced by UK Coal goes to customers in this country. The biggest of these are Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire, which in 2006 was the target of the first Climate Camp, as well as power firms EDF and E.ON. The latter has already been visited by local climate campaigners on more than one occasion. Last year, activists came close to shutting down the the E.ON-run Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station and on April 1 this year, the company's offices on Mount Street, Nottingham were blockaded as part of Fossil Fools Day.

Links: Camp for Climate Action | Climate IMC | The Coal Hole | Eastside Climate Action | Network for Climate Action

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Interview with NUT activist

On April 24, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) will hold the first national teachers strike in more than twenty years. Angry at a below inflation pay award, NUT members across the country have voted for industrial action at a ratio of four to one.

With real terms pay cuts being the in thing in the public sector right now, civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and further education lecturers in the University and College Union (UCU) have also voted to strike on the same day.

In Nottingham there will be a march from The Forest Recreation Ground at 10am, with a rally at the Congregation Hall, Castle Gate at 11am. Speakers will include Martin Sleath (Unison - who aren't striking), Mary Pope (PCS), Helen Bowler (UCU) and Liam Conway (NUT).

To give some insight into why teachers are striking, I interviewed Liam Conway, the Joint Secretary of Notts NUT and began by asking him what his impressive sounding title actually entails.

Q: For those of us unfamiliar with the intricacies of union bureaucracy can you explain exactly what a joint secretary is and what you do?

LC: A joint secretary is just an elected lay official who represents members in various situations, such as with the local authority, in schools etc. Normally it is a single secretary but for the last 3 years it has been a joint secretary in Notts. Other things secretaries or other officers may do is sort out communication with members, newsletters, emails, phone calls, letters etc. Finally the most important part of this role for me is mobilising members to fight for something, in this case pay and to avoid getting dragged into pointless bureacracy or meetings with the local auhority which have no serious objective of interest or value to teachers and other staff in schools. And - not to forget - keep pressure on the union leadership to fight the government, an activity that has produced a result in the first time for years in our case.

Q: Can you briefly explain how we got to where we are today? Why are you striking?

LC: 3 year pay cut up to 2007. Further proposed 3 year pay cut 2008-11. That's it in a nutshell, though there is stuff about a co-ordinated response with other public sector unions confronting Brown's 2% pay freeze. There are now 3 unions on strike on April 24th - NUT, UCU, PCS.

Q: What will be happening in Nottingham/Nottinghamshire? Can we expect to see picket lines outside schools in the county?

LC: There will be some picket lines at some big schools - depending on their strategic importance. Some schools will be closed completely to staff as well as students, so no pickets needed. We haven't finally discussed exactly which schools will have pickets. Of course there is nothing to stop any of the 500 schools in the city and county organising their own pickets and we would encourage this followed by attendance at the rally in Nottingham on April 24.

Q: What is your response the claim made by government spokesmen that this action will only harm children's education?

LC: A bit rich coming from a government that has re-introduced selection, given a whole new meaning to the idea of a gradgrind curriculum, saturated the lives of children with pointless and damaging tests, officially (according to Unicef) made our children some of the most unhappy in the world. Nuff said? Oh and strikes are also very educative - much more than a SAT.

Q: Can you say something about the NUT's pay campaign beyond the national strike?

LC: The Conference decision at Easter was to see what the 24th April was like - strength of the action, membership involvement etc. then consider another ballot. Sadly, against our judgement, the National Executive narrowly rejected a proposal to ballot for discontinuous action which would have allowed us to call action when and where we want. This action results from a ballot for a one day strke only.

Q: If, as seems likely, the government doesn't fold after a one day strike, what is likely to be the union's next step?

LC: I think I've answered that above, but there is no certainty here, even if April 24 is fantastically successful in terms of particpation and mood etc. I will be fighting and campaign for the action to be stepped up and spread across the public sector. We can now see the economy is close to melt down - workers should not carry the can for the crap the bosses have created.

Q: Teachers are a heavily unionised group, but rather than being organised by a single union membership is split across three bodies (NUT, NASUWT, ATL). What has been the response of the other unions to the NUT's decision to strike?

LC: At the moment all the teaching unions other than the NUT are in a social partnership deal with the government and appear prepared to do anything the government asks in return for a place at the negotiating table. Over the past few years they have conceded on a whole number of important issues detrimental to teachers. They are opposed to action on pay currently

Q: This strike, and the pay award which precipitated it, come at a time when the government is increasingly calling on public sector workers to tighten their belts and accept meagre pay awards. How do you see the situation faced by teachers fitting into this broader context and do you think striking could have a positive impact beyond those in the teaching profession?

LC: Striking is the basic self-defence for any worker. In my view teachers are workers, wage slaves etc. What option do they have when their pay is being cut. And there is all the stuff about New Labour's education policies which are extremely detrimental to children - their health as well as their education.

Links: NUT | Nottingham City NUT | Nottinghamshire NUT

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