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Jamie Kelsey-Fry is our roving awareness raiser and author of the ground-breaking school text book, that enables young people to make the journey from political literacy to political agency: Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit

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Corbyn’s achievement sends rare message of hope

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Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's Labour Party, leaves the Labour Party's Headquarters in London on the morning of 9 June 2017, after Britain's election © REUTERS/Marko Djurica

As May forms an unholy alliance with the DUP, there is a sense that a movement has been born, writes Jamie Kelsey-Fry.

Britain General Election of 2017 saw the biggest vote share increase for Labour since under Clement Attlee’s leadership in 1945. It was greater even than Tony Blair’s landslide victory.

Unlike Tony Blair though, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign faced two obstacles: an unprecedented media onslaught that targeted him and his allies with unrelenting, personal attacks; and a large faction of his own MPs hanging on to Blair’s vision and actively working against their leader.

Corbyn’s movement spectacularly defeated both obstacles by winning 35 new seats, turning the ‘landslide victory’ predicted by Conservatives, Labour’s Corbyn objectors, and all the corporate media commentariat – into a hung parliament.

One can only speculate how different the results would have been if all his party had been behind him, or if he had enjoyed the kind of cosy relationship that Tony Blair had with the hitherto ‘kingmaker’ media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

 

 

Theresa May now prepares to establish a new coalition with the Democratic Unionists Party (DUP). We are now looking at a government that will be even more right-wing than May. The DUP are anti-abortion, anti-LGBT rights and some are even climate change deniers.

 

In spite of all of this, this is a genuine grassroots victory. A movement has been born: whatever the corporate media and the machinations of Westminster, ordinary people from across Britain have started to see through the destructive ideology of neoliberalism and its three key tactics of deregulation, privatization and punitive austerity. All coupled with increasingly generous corporate welfare, turning a blind eye to tax avoidance schemes and the kind of casino banking practices that led to the 2008 financial crash.

Likewise, the behavior of corporate media, including the BBC, have engendered a sense of disgust and betrayal that has driven even more people to seek alternative sources of media and commentary – some that are not controlled by the small cabal of usual media owners.

Our own series of #GE2017 guest blogs started with Mark Curtis’ description of the Conservatives’ foreign policy that was almost completely absent in corporate media, showing us to be a ‘primitive warmonger’ that has no problems with brokering deals with some of the most tyrannical regimes on the planet.

This grew in horrendous relevance over the next weeks as Britain experienced two despicable terrorist attacks, and the public began to make the connections between our government’s support of despotic regimes that can be linked to the funding, training and arming of terrorist organizations. The public has begun to realize how they are misled by corporate media, which, although appearing independent and rich with views and opinions, actually seems to operate under a very controlled narrative.

Corbyn’s key slogan ‘for the many not the few’ echoes the ‘we are the 99 per cent’ rhetoric of the Occupy movement of 2011, and the movement that has built around Corbyn has shown many close parallels.

It has been easy for masses of the public – particularly the young, who have come out to vote in record numbers – to see Corbyn’s Labour as a movement that belongs to them.

His choice to use his first Prime Minister’s Question Time as a way to ask questions sent to him from ordinary members of the public – a choice that was ridiculed at the time – has become symbolic of a form of politics that genuinely listens to the public instead of dictating to them.

Likewise, Occupy was a movement that created a forum for ordinary people to be heard and come together to share their views of what they saw to be a major crisis that was not going to be fixed by the representatives and institutions that had caused it.

Occupy specifically saw that a movement needed to be created outside of the established political and corporate realities that they saw as having failed them so spectacularly.

Everywhere that Corbyn has campaigned, he has received crowds greeting him, and this has been due to his ability to tap into that much deeper notion that establishment politics is dead – it ceased to represent the people, and instead represents the demands of the corporate bodies and financial institutions.

In contrast, Theresa May, backed among others by hedge funders and dirty oil, could hardly fill a room when she made her last campaign appearances. In a very real sense, the public has awoken to the fact that the election was not about Tory versus Labour, it was more about a rare chance to challenge the rule of the 1 per cent.

As our April 2017 Populism issue highlighted, the word ‘populism’ does not need to be a dirty word associated with the rise of far right, xenophobic demagogues. It can also be a movement of the people, for the people, and a stark challenge to business as usual.

As May forms an unholy alliance with the DUP, there is the sense that British politics is about to transform, and that transformation will not be marked by corporate media, and will not be forged in the corridors of parliament: it will be found in the streets instead.

It will be found amidst the rallies and gatherings, that are only bound to grow from what Jeremy Corbyn has started by touching people, and by delivering to the 99 per cent of us that rarest of notions again: hope.

Fracking giant fails to lock up a grandmother

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Tina Louise Rothery outside Preston Combined Court on Friday morning. © Jamie Kelsey-Fry

Far from frightening off the campaigners by taking one of them to court, Cuadrilla has given them a boost, writes Jamie Kesley-Fry.

For anyone wanting to understand how destructive and devious corporations can be, the fracking industry in the UK is an ideal test case. Strategies have included the vilification of academics who challenge the assertion that fracking is safe; the abuse of police powers at the expense of protesters’ civil liberties; the inevitable revolving door between the energy industry and parliament; withholding and redacting critical reports; an astonishing PR blitzkrieg; and the use of astroturf organizations paid for by the industry.

Knowing the depths to which the corporations and their partners in parliament have already sunk in order to force through the deeply unpopular industry, it should have been no surprise that Cuadrilla UK, one of the key fracking companies, would see fit to try to send a grandmother to prison. But the hundreds of people who gathered outside Preston Combined Court on Friday morning were deeply shocked that even Cuadrilla actually would stoop so low.

Tina Louise Rothery was facing prison due to the company’s legal wrangling. Her real ‘crime’ (and one she is proud of) is that she has been a thorn in Cuadrilla’s side ever since she began protesting, after the company was responsible for causing a series of minor earthquakes in 2011.

Rothery is the perfect nemesis for the kind of reckless capitalism that fracking embodies. Far from being hardened frontline activists or stereotypical leftists or anarchists, she and her ‘knitting nannas’ like tea, cake and going to see their grandchildren in school plays. What they don’t like is bullies seeking to profit by creating major threats to the environment and to the well-being of the community. Listen to Rothery or any of the other yellow-and-black clad nannas, and you are listening to the majority view: not the marginal, but the mainstream. The only thing that makes them different is that a fracking firm is set to drill near where they live, so they have looked into the truth behind this profoundly destructive extraction technique and have been galvanized into taking action.

Before going into court, Rothery gave a moving speech in which she thanked Cuadrilla ‘for showing us who you really are [and] for the amazing network that grew as a result of their action against me.’ Referencing the corporate media’s propensity for ignoring the anti-fracking struggle and obfuscating the truth about it, she added: ‘Another thing we have to thank Cuadrilla for is the advance of independent media… amazing investigative journalism that you can trust, that is honest and true, done without bias and without influence and with no pension partners invested in the energy industry.’

This is a real David and Goliath story, not only in the way that huge energy corporations, with their armies of compliant politicians and their blitzkrieg of PR propaganda, are struggling to crush dissent, but also in the way that mass movements against corporate power are growing and linking up globally and beginning to find success.

Related: Fracking – four things you need to know

In the five years of Britain’s anti-fracking movement, people have become increasingly cogent in their understanding of the ways in which corporate power works against the well-being of people. Around the fires at anti-fracking camps, people now discuss the revolving door of politics, the nefarious connivance between ‘bought’ academics and the corporations that fund them, and the role of corporate media. These conversations are becoming increasingly common among people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum, as is the palpable sense of betrayal that inevitably ensues.

Later on Friday afternoon, to riotous cheers, the announcement came that Rothery’s case was being dropped. Cuadrilla and its lawyers had failed to have this grandmother imprisoned, and instead of breaking her spirit and discouraging others from standing up against them, they had given a huge boost to the movement and shed more light on the moral and ethical vacuum at the heart of the fracking industry. In an impromptu speech, Rothery highlighted how the reprehensible behaviour of Cuadrilla underlined the importance of the movement remaining morally sound, based on nonviolence and compassion. And, she added, ‘I will never stop.’

Disabled people lead the fight against austerity

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Westminster: A DPAC protest against benefit cuts © Artists Against Blacklisting

In February 2011, New Internationalist editor David Ransom helmed an issue called ‘The Great Rebellion’ where he outlined a ‘con-trick of truly breathtaking proportions’, played out across the Majority World by unscrupulous financial institutions and abetted by the World Bank and the IMF.

As much of the Majority World had wised up to the devastating practice, it was being turned on those countries that had devised it instead.

What was termed as ‘structural adjustment’ in the Majority World phase, was now being called ‘austerity measures’ in the Minority World phase, though the con-trick was essentially the same: the citizens of countries were being made to pay for vast debts that they had no hand in creating, allowing the market to privatize national assets while imposing outrageous cuts and levies on the population.

Ransom outlined the dangers ahead, of inevitable spiraling national debt, the rising power of unaccountable, undemocratic, opaque corporations and financial institutions and the crippling onslaught of brutal cuts.

‘Tories can’t help themselves but be Tories, and they will get to everybody eventually. If they haven’t got to you yet, sit tight because they will’

Five years later, the global debt has risen to $152T dollars, austerity programs continue to crush vast sections of societies as in Greece and Spain, fossil fuel generated climate change is ripping our environment apart, yet the leaders of the Minority World are all staunch supporters of continuing with this neoliberal course that serves nobody but the financial elites that have brought about these vast debts in the first place.

While the attack on peoples’ lives through social welfare cuts continues unabated, there has been no sign of accompanying cuts to corporate welfare.

A banner by DPAC gives space to all the people who have died because of sanctions and benefit cuts

Paula Peters

The resistance begins at the raw front lines of those impacted first and impacted the hardest. The UK grassroots direct action group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), run by disabled people, has grown out of that immediate need to hit back against crushing austerity. Their story is a microcosm of the neoliberal story, including its construction, its destructive effects and how to fight back.

Without learning from DPAC, and having active solidarity with them, the various pockets of resistance risk remaining fractured and ineffective.

In 2010, UK chancellor George Osborne announced cuts of 20 per cent to disabled people, despite the fact that the government’s own figures stated only 0.5 per cent of claimants to be potentially fraudulent.

Disabled people have been forced to pay nine times more than the average citizen to reduce the budget deficit and people with high or complex support needs have been forced to pay 19 times more. From the failed Bedroom Tax, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and the closing of the Independent Living Fund, it has been relentless. The UK has become the first country in the world to use the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to be investigated for 'grave and systemic violations' of disabled peoples’ rights and it is telling that the Tory government has since refused to make public the findings.

Andy Greene, member of the national steering committee for DPAC, tells me, ‘What you have is the people who are engaged most with the state, disabled people because of the nature of impairment, being the first in the firing line when these public services and the welfare state start to be dismantled in the name of austerity... and the fall out is that peoples’ lives shrink or people die.’

‘Until we understand that it is the same oppression that oppresses us in many different forms and until we physically take part in addressing these oppressions, then there is no real movement’

On 7 September, as the Rio Paralympics opened, 150 people gathered across the road from Downing Street in London as part of a day of action by DPAC. Three women took it in turns reading names that have been sewn on to a beautifully wrought cloth banner. One of them falters as she gets to one name and she apologizes. ‘He was my brother,’ she says.

Written in black along the top are the words ‘Deaths due to sanctions and benefit cuts’. It is impossible not to be deeply moved when witnessing such powerful testimony.

The day of action carries on with the crowd, mostly people with impairments and in wheelchairs, blockading Westminster Bridge to raise awareness about welfare sanctions deaths. The protest was swamped by police instantly, outnumbering the protesters. Clearly a specific strategy has been worked out to deal with DPAC as police took to threatening the Personal Assistants for many of the disabled activists with arrest, which would mean leaving on their own people with high or complex needs that assistance is essential. An unmarked van pulled up with specialist equipment to detain and take away wheelchair users; the two non-uniformed men started liaising closely with the senior officer in charge immediately.

It was clear to me that DPAC are seen as ‘dangerous’ enough to the state to warrant such carefully structured tactics. From such political policing, to withholding the findings of the UN report and even the Department for Welfare and Pensions dodging Freedom Of Information requests, the outrage of the deaths of thousands of people with disabilities linked to their benefit sanctions is something that the government of the sixth richest country in the world would rather we don’t stop to think about too much.

Andy Greene, quoted above, member of the national steering committee for DPAC

Artists Against Blacklisting

I ask Greene more about the specific effects of austerity on disabled people and he outlines a litany of devastating circumstances that are being experienced by people across the country.

One situation that is common is what Greene calls ‘shit or sandwich’, where many disabled peoples’ support has been cut so dramatically that there is not enough time for their help to feed them as well as assist them to use the toilet so they are left with having to choose between the two.

Greene explains the extraordinary rationale behind this treatment, ‘The thinking is that this sanction is designed to encourage them to do more for themselves, even though they can’t possibly do so.’

This point, where ideology overrides reality, is central to neoliberal thought. States need to create a narrative to justify their actions, however egregious. For a resistance movement to be successful, it is essential to isolate this false narrative and pull it apart.

A Tale of Two Models is an essential document on this and central to DPAC as it describes the construction of the state’s ‘ideological cover for attacking disabled people’ as the author, DPAC co-founder Debbie Jolly says in the introduction.

The two models referred to are the ‘social model’ and the ‘biopsychosocial’ (BPS) model. Jolly explains how the BPS model uses a hugely distorted rationale to assert that disabled people can somehow ‘think themselves out of being disabled’ and ‘work will set them free’.

She says it has been created and propagated by a criminal insurance company known for profiteering from the misery of disabled people, administered by a failed banker who admitted he ‘didn’t know anything about welfare at all’, and legitimized by corporate funded academics as well as supported by the big disability charities.

The opposing ‘social model’ was created by people living with disabilities and sees the problem as being how society views disability, how this can create far greater barriers than actual physical or mental impairments themselves.

The government only recognizes the BPS model, masquerading as a legitimate model for understanding disability and the social model is ignored, even by the big disability charities, which have betrayed the cause by towing the government line rather than risk losing their huge funding streams. In tones that echo David Ransom’s ‘Great Rebellion’, Jolly ends her article by saying that this distortion of reality by parties seeking to profit by other people’s misery ‘amounts to the biggest government benefit fraud in social welfare and human rights in contemporary history.’

‘Either we value the difference in each other and the contribution that we all make to each others’ lives or we value each other as people who are able to contribute to a market system, that either we are a net receiver or a net generator of income’

The insidious, market driven strategizing she details, is a textbook case of how neoliberal ideology undermines the role of the state, perverting it to serve corporate greed in every way possible while throwing to the side any semblance of serving the needs of the people.

A key component is establishing a narrative to ‘legitimize’ what are in reality crimes against humanity at the hands of a market driven ideology, which ultimately nobody is in control of. It is an example of the corporate capture of politics. The process is smoothed by a compliant neoliberal press whose negative depictions of disabled people on benefits have been directly linked to a 41 per cent increase in hate crimes against disabled people.

‘The bottom line is this,’ Greene tells me. ‘Either we value the difference in each other and the contribution that we all make to each others’ lives, in terms of 'we are all human beings and we value each other for the very sense that we exist' or we value each other as people who are able to contribute to a market system, that either we are a net receiver or a net generator of income.’

He adds that even though we are discussing the attack on disabled people in the UK, the destructive forces of neoliberalism is a global problem.

‘We are at the tipping point now, huge swathes of the world’s population are about to be culled over the next few years due to the effects of climate change and corporate backed wars for the last resources and we have to realign our whole value system and question ourselves about what are our priorities as a species.’

This ‘bigger picture’ goes part way to explaining why DPAC are the only direct action group in the UK who come out to physically support a very wide range of other anti-cuts and anti-neoliberal grassroots groups. From trade unions to Sisters Uncut, Fuel Poverty Action to Reclaim the Power, you will find DPAC there on the ground supporting.

When I ask Greene about this, he describes the opening scenes of the spoof Western film Blazing Saddles, where a wagon train of white settlers that has one wagon of Afro-American settlers is attacked by first nation Indians. The white people form a wagon train circle to protect themselves and the one black family circle on their own as the first nations Indians attack them all.

‘That’s the image of the political movement in the eighties and the disabled peoples’ movement in the eighties, you’ve got two groups of people sharing exactly the same experiences on the exact same road understanding the exact same pressures that are attacking them, doing the same things, like taking action and political movement building but still completely separate from each other.’

He says that the movement now is no different and that without wide reaching solidarity, various groups are fighting from a very weak position.

‘Until we understand that it is the same oppression that oppresses us in many different forms and until we actually physically take part in addressing these oppressions in ourselves and in the way all these groups bisect, then there is no real movement.’

DPAC's banner

DPAC

Despite their being probably the most prolific grassroots group in the country in terms of direct action, even forcing their cause into the Houses of Parliament itself twice, the amount of physical support for DPAC reciprocated from people in the wider movement is negligible.

Until that changes and people stand in solidarity with DPAC, using direct action and civil disobedience, putting their bodies in front of their convictions, then the UK movement against neoliberalism risks remaining fragmented, ineffective and easily dismissed or ignored by the right wing press and government.

Greene’s challenge to decide whether we value life in terms of economic standing or by the simple fact of existence drives at the heart of our current problem of mass civil obedience, where the reality of what is happening still hasn’t struck most people.

Neoliberalism, like the BPS model, relies on us believing in a flimsy ideological cover for the truth that we have been conned into paying off a debt that we didn’t create, by the people that did. A group such as DPAC, with such hard-won experience and deep understanding of the struggle is a key to building a movement in the UK that can connect with the growing global movement to end this ‘con-trick of breathtaking proportions’.

As Greene says, ‘Tories can’t help themselves but be Tories, and they will get to everybody eventually.'

‘If they haven’t got to you yet, well sit tight because they will.’

Find more about DPAC at dpac.uk.net or on Twitter @Dis_PPL_Protest

The UK Occupy movement five years on and the growth of direct democracy

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The first assembly on the first day of Occupy London, October 2011. by Jamie Kelsey-Fry

Being among thousands of people shaping a new vision of what the world could be like was intoxicating, writes Jamie Kelsey-Fry.

Five years ago, on 15 October 2011, around three thousand people turned up at the London Stock Exchange to form the UK response to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Occupy was inspired by the Arab Spring and the 15M movement in Spain and was the beginning of a global response to what was seen as the corporate capture of politics, democracy and life itself by a neoliberal economic system that served only the wishes of ‘the 1%’.

Blocked by barriers and police from getting in to the square, people started to set up tents in the shadows of St Paul’s Cathedral next to it. The camp lasted for four and a half months and was joined by 42 other Occupy camps across the UK and Ireland and a few months later, at its height, Occupy had more than 800 camps globally.

One of the core founding aspects of Occupy was that decisions were to be made by using direct or participatory democracy at general assemblies. That is, there were no leaders and the voice of the people decided everything. I had seen this method of organizing being used by grassroots groups like Climate Camp and at the anti-G8 camp in Scotland in 2005 but I’d never participated in the kind of regular peoples’ assemblies that characterized the heart of the Occupy London camp, where hundreds of people would take part in deliberations and decisions over everything, from matters connected to the day to day running of the camp to the political visions and ideas projected by it.

The experience of being part of thousands of people shaping a new vision of what the world could be like was intoxicating, feeling deeply betrayed and sold out by current political parties, we all became high on hope. The first time this happened was within 24 hours of starting the occupation, as the first responsibility for the assembly was to provide a response to the accusation that we stood for nothing. The initial statement was first announced at 7.30am on 16 October after many rounds of assemblies and break out groups where thousands of people had fed into the process before the final document was arrived at.

When human beings come together and ‘do’ politics for themselves, we all have a very similar vision. The Occupy London initial statement and their further statements echo the results of direct democracy globally; people want the same thing, from the Occupy camps in the US to the kinds of statements coming out of the Icelandic ‘pots and pans’ revolution and their ensuing peoples’ constitution to the kinds of political visions that came from Tahrir Square in Egypt, the 15M movement in Spain and the anti-corporate uprisings in Argentina in 2002.

Today, this process is manifested in the Icelandic Pirate Party, Podemos in Spain and the Alternative Party in Denmark, all brave approaches to developing a new politics based on facilitating direct democracy, genuine engagement with the will of the people and doing away with the closed shop of corporate captured politics.

The January 2015 issue of New Internationalist magazine was guest edited by the co-founder of the Icelandic Pirate Party Birgitta Jonsdottir, who focused on these new approaches to politics and specially the potential for new digital democracies. As we were told by a spokesperson from 15M at an assembly in the first week of the Occupy London camp, even though this new movement may be anti-capitalist, it does not mean going backwards to communism but forwards to something new that people themselves create together rather than relying on representatives who inevitably fail us by building on old failed ideologies.

Occupy was a simple, visceral message as opposed to a complex or intellectual political argument; capitalism is broken, neoliberalism and the cult of consumerism is enslaving humanity and representational democracy no longer represents the people but represents corporate interests and the greed of the 1% only.


A view of New York City's business skyscrapers Randy Pertiet under a Creative Commons Licence

It’s not a new message but Occupy was the first time that the message was being amplified globally within one movement linked together by the internet.

We got to find out what real democracy looked like close up; painful, messy and fraught with contradictions. But at its best, direct democracy is testament to the fact that we are greater than the sum of our parts and when human beings come together to share their thoughts and feelings and develop their ideas for change together, we have a far more sustainable and inspiring vision of what is possible for humanity than anything suggested by the moribund politics that we have become used to from the Houses of Parliament.

We realized that traditional politics is failing us dramatically and the world is too precious and fragile to trust to the current system. Our only chance to survive as a species is to become politically active in our every day lives, to stop passing on responsibility to representatives and to step up and take responsibility ourselves and work together to develop new systems that serve us and the planet first and put sustainability at the centre instead of profit. Direct democracy is our future because without it, we won’t have one.

Jamie Kelsey-Fry is a contributing editor to New Internationalist. Follow him on Twitter.

Rêve Générale to Panama Papers

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under a Creative Commons Licence

Four days ago the #nuitdebout movement was born and, in a mass outpouring of fury at the government, it has since taken France by storm. As I write, there are around 35 towns and cities across the country planning general assemblies, through direct democracy, tonight.

Demonstrations against new labour laws provided soil for the movement to grow, but activist in France John Jordan explained to me, ‘It’s not just the new labour laws… It's the boiling over of rage and the desire to construct something new from the bottom up whilst deposing a system made by the elite for the elite, a system that everyone knows is broken and cannot be fixed.’

One of the key slogans that the movement is using goes back to the student demonstrations in 2006 against the precarious future young people were facing; ‘Rêve Générale’ is a play on the phrase for a general strike but instead of the normal understanding, it is referring to the chance to have a ‘general dream’; to focus on not just reform but out and out systemic change.

This movement has grown exponentially in a matter of days and tonight is set to see hundreds of thousands of people attending assemblies as part of #nuitdebout. Last night, there were 21,000 people in Paris alone.

Since the November Paris attacks last year, French police have been using extreme methods to discourage protests. Police tactics have included immediate prison sentences for arrestees, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and tear gas but this has not discouraged people from disobeying. If reports from the ground are accurate, the police will not be able to contain or restrain so many if they use such tactics, which may even severely backfire if authorities try.

Another form of Rêve Générale is in motion 3,663 miles away from Paris, in the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavík. There too, thousands of people are likely to fill the streets tonight. The massive leak from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, only two days ago, revealed the secret financial dealings of the Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, specifically relating to offshore firm Wintris, owned by his wife and himself. Smari McCarthy, chairman of the board of the European Pirate Party, head of the technology team behind the Panama Leaks at OCCRP and one of the key figures in the ‘pots and pans’ direct democracy movement that followed the economic collapse in Iceland in 2008 tells me ‘People are angry because the prime minister lied about his assets, hid the fact that he was de-facto negotiating with himself on behalf of the government, and because he's so utterly shameless about it.’

In disgust at these revelations, 22,000 people surrounded the Icelandic parliament yesterday calling for the prime minister to resign. For a country with a population of around 330,000 this is a remarkable situation. Gunnlaugsson has refused to resign, has evaded interviews and bizarrely told journalists to look at his Facebook page for updates. ‘The prime minister has requested that the parliament be dissolved, but the president said no for now, although the situation is changing very quickly. I hope this will be a chance for Iceland to finally get the political change that it demanded after the collapse,” says McCarthy.

Guðjón Idir, Director at the International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) which is closely aligned with Birgitta Jonsdottir, the ‘poetician’ MP for the Icelandic Pirate Party, who are leading election polls currently, told me today that ‘The prime minister is finished. There will most likely be new elections but the question is when? Will there be a minority coalition government until then or will there be a hit and run election now, which may prove problematic for smaller parties and new parties, who do not have election-machine-mechanisms ready to go… What we are seeing now is the reason why we need a new constitution, which brings forth democratic reform and tools for the public to keep power in check.’ Shortly after we had this conversation, reports came out from Iceland that the Prime Minister had resigned.

These same people, part of the Icelandic Pirate Party and IMMI, were behind the crowd sourced constitution that took place in the ‘pots and pans’ revolution in 2008. It was a radical new vision of how a government can be in service to a population, it was a Rêve Générale being actualized but the incoming and now disgraced government betrayed the people and failed to enact the constitution.

Tonight there will be hundreds of thousands of people in France and in Iceland coming together to dream of systemic change to their governments, revolutionary change, and not mere reform but a ‘Rêve Générale’.

As activist John Jordan told me, ‘Some say what is happening is more like a “plateau” than a movement, a state of intensity and potentiality that keeps going. A plateau is the opposite of a linear excitement that leads to a singular aim, the fore play leading to orgasm, the insurrection leading to revolution. What is happening here is something totally different, an intensity that lasts and transforms itself, that rises and falls like the tides and the seasons, but that never gives up.’

This situation may not be restricted to just these two countries. The Panama Papers, as with the mass leaks we see through WikiLeaks, make it clear that the 1 per cent are making a mockery of democracy and punishing the ordinary citizens with inhuman austerity and draconian measures while they hide away billions for themselves. Everybody now has a right to come together and take part in the Rêve Générale.

Mass civil obedience is killing us

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by Plane Stupid

Defendants from direct action environmental group Plane Stupid may face prison terms. Jamie Kelsey-Fry reports.

‘All I can say is that other people in history have spent time in prison for taking a principled stance on issues and we will spend time in prison and we will continue campaigning when we come out.’ So said Melanie Strickland Monday as she left Willesden Magistrates Court in west London after her and 12 other defendants from direct action environmental group Plane Stupid had been told that they were to expect a prison term when they return to be sentenced on 24 February for aggravated trespass and entering the security restricted area of London Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) north runway to protest against plans for a third runway.

One colleague in the court’s public gallery reported that she found it sickening how long the judge spent detailing the costs of the action to LHR and the Aviation Authority ‘as if the plight of those dying now from climate change can be costed.’ The judge ‘then proceeded to point out that none of the defendants knew anybody who had died from climate change or who were threatened by climate change.’ It is an extraordinary statement to make, as if not knowing a victim of a mass crime makes it untenable that you should speak out against that crime and that, even though people are dying, the loss of profits to a huge corporation is somehow a factor to be taken into consideration.

RELATED: Stop Aviation, Stop Co2lonialism by Plane Stupid

I count Melanie as a good friend who I met in that melting pot of hope and civil disobedience that was the Occupy London camp outside the London Stock Exchange in 2011. She is quietly spoken, impeccably polite and holds down a good job at a well-known health charity. She is a young woman who has made the choice to put her body in front of her convictions and whose actions are performed with dignity, humility and carefully thought out principles. It would be easy to see her as being heroic but she isn’t. Taking direct action to fight for a sustainable future for younger generations is acting as a dignified human being should. Extremist behavior is not taking action.

People like Melanie are the best hope that the young of the world have for inheriting a future that is not utterly destroyed by catastrophic climate change and perpetual wars over the last resources. Occupy taught us about the corporate capture of politics, that governments are dictated to by those who have funded them or who lobby them or who promise them lucrative jobs in the future. That will always mean business stays ‘as usual’.

The staggering wealth of the fossil fuel corporations means that they have every door in government open to them. Many in government slip with ease from the houses of parliament into the boardrooms of such companies and vice versa through systems of secondment, rotating workers through positions while opening access to favours of power and privilege. Accountancy firms write tax legislation and energy providers write energy legislation.

RELATED: Heathrow expansion? Plane stupid, by Melanie Strickland

Even though climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, he who pays the piper still calls the tune and dealing with climate change, leaving all fossil fuels in the ground and making the transition to infinite free renewable energy just isn’t on the playlist. It seems however, that sending people to prison for challenging the status quo is.

We do not have the ability to lobby government in the same way that these huge corporations can, members of Plane Stupid don’t have the $355,000 needed to get ‘premier league’ time with David Cameron. The people of Lancashire who are set to have several fracking operations commence in their communities do not have the kind of money to donate to the party as the $27 million that major hedge funders in Britain were able to stump up to bolster the Conservative’s election campaign. Disabled People Against Cuts do not have the kind of preferential access to Chancellor George Osborne as his best man Peter Davies does, whose hedge fund made $51 million from the selling off of the Royal Mail.

What we do have is Melanie Strickland and the Heathrow 13, and all those who are dignified human beings already taking action, groups like Disabled People Against Cuts, Reclaim the Power and UK Uncut. These people are the peoples’ lobby, they act for us and our children and the people in the majority world who are already on the front line of climate change, they act not in their private interests but in the interest of the greater good.

The US historian and activist Howard Zinn famously said ‘Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the grand thieves are running the country.’ That is our problem and now is the time to deal with that problem and you are the person to deal with it.

You can start by coming to Willesden Magistrates Court on 24 February to show solidarity or send messages of support to Plane Stupid.

To the (inflatable) barricades!

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Inflatable sculpture in front of Jardin d´Alice. by Artúr van Balen

Hundreds of people from the climate justice movement have remained in Paris, despite the state of emergency. They are determined to defy the protest ban and have the last word, Jamie Kelsey-Fry reports.

Around 60 climate justice activists are huddled around workbenches in a sprawling warehouse in Jardin D’Alice, a convergence centre in the Robespierre district of Paris. They are making disobedient art for the protests planned around the Cop21 climate conference, scheduled to begin in three days.

Ben Peters, from Oakland, California has just finished making his first inflatable cobblestone, a striking piece of activist art that is likely to become ubiquitous throughout what is becoming known as the ‘Redlines’ movement. I ask Ben what his reaction is to the recent terrorist attacks here, the state of emergency and the resulting ban on protest. 'I think it has become even more important to show that an alternative future is possible and that people are willing to fight for it.'

Mona Caron from San Francisco agrees. 'I immediately thought of the connections to oil and this intractable cascading from the Bush wars. Not only do we need to stop extracting oil for the sake of the environment but it is also the source of conflict and terrorism.’ 'Fundamentalism and capitalism feed off each other,' adds her artistic collaborator David Solnit. 'In the US we watched the elites use 9/11 as an excuse to shut down on our rights to protest.’

I speak with Camille Libre, from the mass movement for environmental and social justice in France known as Zone A Défendre (ZAD). ZAD are fully aware of how aggressive the policing can be, since one of their own, Remi Fraisse, was killed a year ago by a police stun grenade. Camille explains how he feels about defying the ban on protest. 'I don’t give a fuck about the government… What happens in Cop21 is incredibly important and I don’t trust the governments at all. We need massive change and we will fight for that. I hope that more people come. This is an attack on nature and we must defend nature for future generations. Nothing is more important than this.' He tells me that if I speak to anyone in ZAD they will say the same and then, with a smile, he adds they will also say that their name is Camille Libre.

Over the day I speak to several young French people here and all echo the thoughts of ‘Camille’. Many say that the terrorist attacks are being used by the government to shut down protest. Some are angry that even though protest has been banned, the authorities are still allowing the corporate sponsored Solutions 21 exhibition to go ahead and a large music event.

There is a pervasive sense of courage in the face of extreme adversity. When I ask people if they are frightened, they say that they are but that they are also completely determined, and that they are proud to be able to be here and take action. One unnamed young French woman goes further: 'With climate change we are talking about unimaginable violence, violence on a massive scale. Climate change is a war, the biggest war we have ever seen. We must represent everyone and we must act now. If you do not come here to fight for climate justice, act in your own homes, in your own towns and cities.'

Artur Van Balen from Tools For Action is the young German who developed the giant inflatable cobblestones that are being made for the actions here and in Britain as part of the Redlines movement. I ask him what Redlines signifies to him. 'Redlines is a visual meme that represents the lines that must not be crossed if we are to have a sustainable planet for all.' He goes on to detail how the current conflict in Syria can be connected to drought caused by climate change.

The first Redlines action took place in Germany, when 1,500 people shut down the biggest open cast coal mining operation in Europe. The first in Britain was a smaller action where a group called ‘Matt Ridley’s Conscience’ shut down an open cast coalmine near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

All the activists here stress that the Redlines actions planned for the coming days here in Paris are the start of a movement that will not stop with the end of Cop21. In fact, this marks the start of a global movement that will continue until the Redlines are no longer being crossed by those who intend to continue business as usual at all costs, even at the cost of a sustainable planet for all.

As we were practicing using the inflatable cobblestones in the street outside, an elderly man was inadvertently blocked in his car. He asked us what we were doing. When we explained, he said, 'Thank god for you young people, you are our brightest hope.'

*If you're in Paris, help Tools for Action make more inflatables! *

Tales from the resistance

Austerity book launch

© Blacklist Support Group

Structural adjustment, or ‘austerity’, was called ‘a con-trick of truly breathtaking proportions’ in David Ransom’s ‘The Great Rebellion’ issue of New Internationalist in 2011. Kerry-anne Mendoza’s Austerity: the demolition of the welfare state and the rise of the zombie economy tracks the journey of the con into present times: ‘The real economy is being fed to the Zombie Economy – a night-of-the-living-dead economy that consumes value and defecates debt.’

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

Jamie Kelsey Fry - jamiekelseyfry.org   Twitter: @JamieKelseyFry

Film of the first Tales From The Resistance: Part 1 Part 2


Arresting behaviour: smiling rambler turns warrior of justice

Paul Mobbs at Downing Street

Paul Mobbs shows his 'web of influence' map to police at Downing Street. © Jamie Kelsey Fry

A small group gathers outside Westminster tube station in London. It is Thursday 5 March, and we are here at the request of environmental researcher and author Paul Mobbs. This smiling rambler from Banbury is kitted out in walking boots, khaki shorts and a colourful shirt. An unlikely avenging warrior of justice, perhaps, but then, you haven’t met Paul Mobbs before, or read his research.

Our group consists of three filmmakers, a journalist and a scientist. Mobbs explains that he has called us so that we can witness and document his attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of four members of the Cabinet in Downing Street, for misconduct in public office with regards to their connection to the fracking industry. None of us bat an eyelid; we all know him well. All of us are aware of his profound knowledge on the subject and the wide-reaching respect people have for him, as well as his unique and inspiring take on activism and the fact that he is a dedicated Quaker.

Paul Mobbs has spent the past six years researching onshore extreme extraction techniques, particularly high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. He has published his work often and has provided presentations on fracking to communities across Britain. Significantly, the shale industry regularly adds him to panels discussing fracking as well.

Mobbs’ reports on onshore unconventional extraction are comprehensive bodies of research, dissecting what can seem to be a carefully constructed propaganda blitzkrieg emanating from governmental and corporate bodies that have become so entwined that at times it has been difficult to tell them apart. Mobbs created a map depicting this ‘web of influence’ between industry and government in 2013 that quickly became ubiquitous in the anti-fracking movement. Fracking seemed to be a glaring example of a government that has no interest in the well-being or democratic concerns of the public and has only the interest of big business within their considerations.    

Mobbs reminds us that Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to the Confederation of British Industry in 2012 began a process whereby business could be more streamlined by limiting the capacity for judicial reviews, limiting the ability for the public to call for reviews and slashing the amount of time required for consultations. Cameron said that he wanted to ‘eliminate bureaucratic rubbish’ because ‘frankly, we need this buccaneering, deal-making, hungry spirit now more than ever.’

This buccaneering spirit has resulted in the fracking industry being pushed through without any genuine recourse to seeking a social mandate or, in fact, paying any heed to the mounting bodies of evidence, including the government’s own reports, that show fracking to have severe potential risks to health and environment.

Now Mobbs pulls out his latest, far more developed ‘web of influence’ that he is publishing today. The map details a situation in which the wishes of industry are so well represented within government that neither genuine democracy nor even the remotest doubt as to the wisdom in the dash for fracked gas are able to be part of any decision-making. He gives as an example a letter from Chancellor George Osborne that shows how politicians are being advised to fast-track fracking and to respond to the ‘asks’ of drilling company Cuadrilla.

We proceed to Downing Street and watch as Mobbs reports a crime and asks the armed police on the gate duty to make an arrest for him. His good nature and clear arguments eventually see three officers carefully listening to his arguments for two hours. Despite Paul’s arguments being faultless, the officers finally state that they are only responsible for ensuring safety for those in Downing Street and cannot effect an arrest themselves. This gives Mobbs legal recourse to then insist on making the arrest himself, at which the gate duty, who has clearly come to like him, shows dismay. Eventually, Mobbs is arrested around 3pm under a highways section of the Terrorism Act and taken to Charring Cross station where he is kept until around 10pm. He is then released, having being charged with what he later says is not dissimilar to a parking fine.

Fracking looks like a war on democracy, so toxic that the government sees it as a vote loser and wants to keep the new licensing round out of the public until after the election. But a serious crime has been reported and it is now the duty of the police to investigate this crime. The fact that they have been provided with ample documentation and evidence has been well recorded. The smiling rambler may well prove to be the warrior of justice after all.

Follow Jamie on twitter: @JamieKelseyFry

Occupy Democracy returns to Parliament Square

This is what democracy looks like

ale under a Creative Commons Licence

From the very beginning, the Occupy movement was always markedly different from any existing campaigns or grassroots movements. No leaders, no pre-made ideologies, no single issue, but a very broad appeal, lots of surprises and remarkably photogenic and newsworthy. The tactic was nothing new, but this was occupation on a massive scale, with over 800 camps globally at one point in 2011. Occupy London had four sites alone at one time: the St Paul’s or LSX camp; the Finsbury Square camp; the Bank of Ideas squatted bank, and the School of Ideas squatted school. Occupy was a beacon for new ideas, for genuine participatory democracy and for hope in times blighted by the excesses of greed, inequality, injustice and corporate-led, empty democracy.

If we thought 2011 were bad times, 2014 makes them rosy in comparison. Far deeper debt and inequality, more severe austerity, a massive rise in food banks, the fools’-gold vanity project known as fracking, secret trade deals designed to kill off the last vestiges of democracy and usher in global corporatocracy, the realization of Thatcher’s dream of privatizing the National Health Service, the rise of the UK Independence Party (party of choice for the 1 per cent) and a mainstream media that has congealed into a spineless blob of dutiful inanity. Despite (or because of) such inclement climes, a hardier Occupy returns.

The target is as clearly defined as the first camps in 2011. First it was the financial institutions of the London Stock Exchange and the City of London Corporation. In October this year, Occupy’s ‘Tarpaulin revolution’ targeted the home of democracy itself, or at least, the place where democracy is supposedly housed: Parliament The nine-day camp became a place where people were able to learn about the reasons why democracy, the political system and the economy are failing and where they could discuss the solutions and how to reclaim democracy and fight for a fair and sustainable future. If the level of police harassment is proportionate to the level of credible and cogent alternatives being developed, then Occupy Democracy was creating a perfect new world with bells on down there.

As with the original Occupy movement, it is clear to all those who participate that those who have created the crisis cannot be the same who fix it and that the only genuine political agency left in Britain are the efforts to generate vast grassroots movements that will eventually drown out and sterilize the virulent plague of deceit, greed and corruption that politics has become. Make no mistake, Occupy is less and less an extremist position peopled by fringe outsiders and more and more it is you, your neighbour and everybody in between. Perhaps a you that has been pushed just a little bit further into despair with modern Britain or sprinkled with a few sparks of hope or righteous anger, but they are you. We are told that these are domestic extremists, but the extremists are more and more those who sit and do nothing or who still believe that free-market economics and modern-day parliamentarians have all that is needed to put us back on the track to a fairer, more sustainable and equal Britain.

Occupier John Sinha tells me: ‘The main political parties no longer represent us. They have been captured by corporations and their lobbyists, and their policies are largely the same. Decisions are made for the benefit of corporations and the super-rich – not for the 99 per cent. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, while corporations pay an ever-decreasing amount of tax. The inequality is only going to get worse if we don’t act.’ Three years ago, this kind of Occupy rhetoric was fresh and compelling for the vast majority of British people, who were confronted by these ideas for the first time. Now they are becoming more mainstream realizations. Increasingly people in Britain and, in fact, the globally disenfranchized and cheated, are realizing that their last hope for a genuinely decent future is not through who they vote for but in how they, in huge numbers, represent themselves and shape their futures through direct action and creative mass civil disobedience. The spin machines have run out of lies, the political treadmills have come off their hinges and all that’s left is the sham that had always been there.

So what are you going to do about it? This current crisis is the best chance we have had in a generation to force change to happen. Far from being alone and powerless, we are many, and we have the power to make anything happen.  

From 6pm on Friday 21 November, Occupy Democracy returns to London’s Parliament Square for a long weekend of creative dissent, the construction of alternatives and building a new movement together. Occupy is an idea whose time has come. As the late, great Howard Zinn said, the real problem is not mass civil disobedience; the real problem is mass civil obedience. If you are someone who is still conscious and caring, nothing should keep you from taking part in the crucible for new politics, in the bloated shadows of the old.

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