Tales from the resistance
Both Ransom’s issue and Mendoza’s book mark the resistance to this destructive neoliberal folly. The rise of Syriza in Greece, of Podemos in Spain and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star party in Italy, as well as the considerable ‘Green surge’ in Britain and the fact that the Pirate Party is leading in some polls in Iceland, indicate a sea change in public opinion, allowing anti-austerity parties to gain major support. The once-heretical challenge to the neoliberal steamroller has become the mainstream cry of the streets in cities across Europe and beyond. The recent Blockupy actions focused on the new European Central Bank in Frankfurt attest to this; one of their central slogans was ‘The fear is on the other side now’.
The day before the Blockupy actions, on 17 March, activists, occupiers and bloggers, anti-frackers, hackers and livestreamers gathered with many New Internationalist subscribers and supporters in a sprawling conservatory behind the Angel underground station in London for the launch of Mendoza’s Austerity book. The event saw us in conversation with some key figures in the resistance to austerity, from Marina Prentoulis of Syriza, the Artist Taxi Driver Mark McGowan and Russia Today’s Max Keiser to spokespeople from groups across Britain which are using direct action and civil disobedience to address the effects of this ‘con-trick of truly breathtaking proportions’. We heard from activists who fight fuel poverty, cuts to people living with disabilities, the social cleansing of the poor through forced rehousing by greedy councils, the corporate capture of democracy, the dominance of neoliberal media billionaires and the failure of a neoliberal government to address outrageous levels of tax avoidance that would make austerity unnecessary overnight. These were the kinds of people whose names you would not know, but who speak for groups that have kept the resistance alive. We called the event Tales From The Resistance.
The focus of the informal discussions was partly austerity and how people are fighting it, but also what it is going to take to have more people in Britain standing up in solidarity with this emerging global movement. We moved away from the more traditional approach of having a series of experts talking one after the other and had a more relaxed, conversational-style discussion that pushed towards something ideally less overtly political and more obviously human.
Marina Prentoulis discussed how Syriza emerged from the ‘shock’ of austerity and the ‘humanitarian crisis’ it brought upon the Greek people and how this quickly led to mass civil disobedience; but she also stressed that, at the time, the existing Left did not support the people’s movements – the Communist Party called the people’s movement ‘naïve’ and said that the people ‘did not understand capitalism’. There was no ‘Syriza banner’, explained Marina, that people all met under originally, but they were able to ‘join the dots’ and organize at a non-political grassroots level first, which then gave rise to the party and the banner. A form of visceral politics emerged, away from established political parties and, in some ways, in spite of the leftist parties.
Sarah Kwei from the Focus E15 housing action group described how the housing movement has been growing exponentially; it is something that affects everyone but it is not made of the usual leftist suspects. It is not simply things getting worse that will galvanize mass movements: ‘more shit is not what it takes to radicalize people; it takes hope… giving people hope that things can be different to this.’ This comment received spontaneous applause from the audience: Sarah had hit a raw nerve. It was a comment that was echoed by Andy Greene from Disabled People Against the Cuts, who talked about the importance of people having hope and people having value in themselves again.
Ewa Jasiewicz from Fuel Poverty Action underlined the importance of joining the dots to recognize common cause so that various groups strengthen solidarity with each other, from social housing activism to people fighting zero-hours contracts, fuel poverty activists to climate activists. She also drew attention to the ‘non-spectacular work’ involved in activism, giving the example of a recent action she took part in where nine people closed down an Israeli drone engine factory by getting onto the roof of the building: ‘It was more than nine people on that roof, it was a few dozen people, involved in planning, organizing and supporting the action… the non-spectacular work of keeping up communications, Twitter, reaching out to people, doing trainings.’
There is a global movement growing and it is likely to move very fast. From what we heard at the first Tales From The Resistance, it seems that the movement is not going to come from the established Left but from people rediscovering their sense of empowerment, their sense of hope and worth, their sense that together we can reclaim our power and reclaim something that more resembles a genuine democracy instead of a sophisticated front for a mindless and failing economic system that benefits nobody but the very, very few.
We are grateful to all those who attended the first Tales From The Resistance, to all those who spoke, but also to all those who made up an audience that was easily as lively and inspiring as the speakers. Please do join us when we hold the next Tales From The Resistance.
Below are links for all the speakers, and our film of the evening:
Kerry-anne Mendoza - scriptonitedaily.com Twitter: @Scriptonite
Marina Prentoulis from Syriza UK - syriza-uk.org
The Artist Taxi Driver - youtube.com/user/chunkymark Twitter: @chunkymark
Max Keiser - maxkeiser.com Twitter: @maxkeiser
Sarah Kwei, Sisters Uncut - facebook.com/sistersuncut Twitter: @SistersUncut
Focus E15 - Facebook Twitter: @FocusE15
Mike Sivier, Vox Political - voxpoliticalonline.com Twitter: @MidWalesMike
Ewa Jasiewicz, Fuel Poverty Action - fuelpovertyaction.org.uk Twitter: @ewajasiewicz
Andy Greene, Disabled People Against Cuts - dpac.uk.net Twitter: @dis_ppl_protest
Kam Sandhu, Real Fare - realfare.co.uk Real Media realmedia.press Twitter: @KamBass
Aisha Dodwell, Occupy Democracy - occupydemocracy.org.uk Twitter: @AishaDod
Sophia Blackwell, poet - Twitter: @sophiablackwell
Pete The Temp, poet - Twitter: @petethetemp
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