#GrenfellTower – “never again” they say. But WHO ensures that? How? #socialmovements

Glued to the newsfeeds.  Thinking in horror of the lives cut short, women throwing babies from the ninth floor.  The courage of the firefighters, the desperation, the professionalism of the emergency staff, the NHS.

Thinking of how burning down a city for fun and profit is nothing new.  There’s a book we should all read, by some epidemiologists  (I think Chomsky put me onto it) called

A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled

plagueonyourhouses

Thinking how this is becoming a lightning rod, the visible manifestation of the years of austerity, just another name for class and race war against the most vulnerable people in society.

There is a growing sense of anger and frustration among the crowds gathered under the Westway flyover where volunteers are sorting and boxing donations.

One volunteer, Sinead O’Hare, said the fire and loss of life had tapped into a deeper sense of resentment and alienation.

“People are angry about years of Tory policy of cutting corners and costs, and refusing to take responsibility. The interests of the Tory party are closely allied to the interests of business and private landlords,” she said. SOURCE

I lived in a tower block for two years. Doesn’t count, because I felt totally safe because it was owned by University of Salford, and they took safety seriously.

And I think of how long and hard the Grenfell Action Group fought. And how they got fobbed off, threatened, ignored.  Condescended to.  I have some inkling of what it is like to go up against an incompetent and dismissive bureaucracy, a bunch of smug sneering wastes of space.

And I hear the usual cries of “never again.”

And I have  simple questions for the left.  Do we believe these claims?  Do we remember how they were made before?  And are we willing and able to think about how WE, as citizens, together,  have to make sure that this is indeed the last time that children, old people, frail people, ANY people die like this?

And do we know how to do it?  Because marches and demonstrations and appeals to the great and the good will not do this.    Getting a new government will help, sure, but how many disasters have happened under allegedly progressive/”left” governments?  How much of the insolence and arrogance and venality and inertia is baked in?

Do we understand that getting the right policy, by forcing elected politicians to make that policy, is the BEGINNING of the battle, not the end?  That implementation is often where it all falls down?

Are we willing to develop the capacity to fight back against bureaucratic inertia?

(I genuinely believe that bureaucrats take the attitude “well, if we give in on this, where would it all end? We’d have to do x, and then y, and then z. Far easier to block block block until this lot give up and piss off. The next lot will come at this with zero experience, and can be blocked and fobbed off.  We need to lower expectations and keep them low.”

If we ARE, then we need to (and I am about to shout) CHANGE THE WAY WE HOLD MEETINGS AND THE WAY WE TRY TO BRING IN NEW PEOPLE AND NEW IDEAS.

Or we can stick to our same old round of smugosphere and middleclass delusional emotacycles, and watch as more working class people and people of colour and vulnerable people die.   What kind of ally is that?

 

Citizens Gathering – we need new institutions

Last night I went to a “meeting” of, oh, let’s call it “Citizens Gathering”. After 90 minutes I came away with a very small amount of new information (nothing that I couldn’t have learnt by reading a three minute blog post) and a lot of suspicions confirmed.

I have put the word meeting in scare quotes because we were not encouraged to, um, meet, anyone.  Instead after three speeches (the second and third mercifully shorter than the first) the floor was open to… mostly more speeches and exhortations, declarations of faith. As for the question of what we do next – well, demonstrations, obvs.  One on Saturday. Another in July. Then the Tories come to Manchester in October.  There was some marginal acknowledgement that this was not enough, and that a recent thing had not gone well, but nowt concrete on what is to be done differently.

I could go on for hours, but instead I will quote one of the new Labour MPs, Marsha de Cordova

“I haven’t got the final figures, but turnout on some of our estates, among the more impoverished communities, increased massively. What’s really important is we keep these young people who have been volunteering involved and engaged, and all the CLPs have to be really opening and welcome. But I also want us to look at how we can change the dynamic and do different things to keep them engaged, because local party meetings can be pretty dry.”

It seemed to me that most (all?) of the people there were established activists (I base this on how people spoke, how they described themselves).  I didn’t see any nervous/confused looking new people.  Which is a relief,  to me at least, because it would in my opinion have been an intensely alienating experience.

Basically, we have all the organisations we need. We need different habits of meeting that help new people integrate, that help us find out what each others’ knowledge and skills are, that make the creation of new relationships and ‘weak ties’ easier.  Holding specific networking events, or doing it ‘in the pub’ is not adequate.

So, I made some predictions beforehand.  I did relatively well (#fishbarrel)

predictions

 

My friend suggested three other criteria

Prediction Correct/Incorrect comments
It will be very ‘dramatic with regard to language Yep  
It’s gonna be the system’s fault Oddly not! A few mentions of ‘neoliberalism’, maybe one or two of capitalism, but mostly about Theresa May….
“Planning” is only part of the title. Concrete, actionable, and actually game-changing plans will be absent.    

 

Other points

To be clear, I do not blame the facilitator – she did as good a job as you could expect. It was the format and the rituals of the meeting that were the damage. And that’s ALL our fault .   Having one person speak and 26 listen is incredibly inefficient. It encourages people to use everyone else as ego-fodder to meet their emotional needs.   But my effort to suggest a relatively minor innovation sank without trace, of course.  Oh well.

At one point someone acknowledged that there will be more problems after a possible Corbyn Prime Ministership begin.  And he said – totally incorrectly, imo- “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”   Nope. We need to be building the structures to hold any future Labour government’s feet to the fire.  Has the experience of living under the total Labour dominance of Manchester City Council taught us nothing?  Seems not.

The  turnout at this thing was mostly plus 40 (or 50). There were about 6 of the 27 there who were under 30 I reckon. Everyone white. Male to female ration 2:1.

 

 

Film Review: The Mummy

mummy.jpg“The horror, the horror” said Kurtz.  He may have been talking about this film, which as a horror movie is a horror.

Tom Cruise is some sort of US army Indiana Jones (I’d love to see his job description) who stumbles on a tomb in Iraq of an Egyptian naughty daddy-killing and inevitably not-quite-dead princess, played gamely by Sofia Boutella. As you do  (contra the other negative reviews, I think they explain the Egypt/Iraq thing adequately).  Meanwhile, in London, the Crossrail tunnel excavation stumbles on a tomb of some crusaders who brought… back…

Oh look, you really don’t want to know.

There’s a lot of stumbling in this film.  Stumbling over cliches, stumbling over plot holes, stumbling over some of the most painful dialogue every committed to page/papyrus/stone tablets.

There is one indescribably bad scene involving Russel Crowe and some drugs which made me think that everyone involved in the writing, pitching, greenlighting, casting, directing etceteraing of this movie must have been on drugs.  And not good ones either.

It’s more boring than that Crossrail tunnel machine.  It’s cliches are older than the Mummy herself.  The lack of chemistry between the stars is startling.  NOTHING about this film works, not even the destroying bits of London stuff (London has and will be destroyed in far more satisfying fashion).  The tube tracks are missing its third rail, but that’s probably to stop the audience jumping in, a la Purple Rose of Cairo, to put themselves out of their misery.  There are scraps of rotten stuff falling off everywhere – I’m not talking about the Mummy’s artfully arranged bandages (no nipples please, we’re Puritans), I’m talking the vestiges of other films – American Werewolf in London, various zombie films, the aforementioned Indiana Jones.

The one glimmer, that there might be some useful ways of thinking about (female) sexual desire never comes to any kind of, erm, climax.  Other than it is Dangerous and Bad, and will lead either to the end of the world or having your life’s work stolen by some toothy ageing American.

You’ve wasted your time reading this review. I implore you, do not throw good time after bad.

Thoughts on ‘what next’? #2ndGE2017

Interested in any good articles people have read on what happens in the next six months. My thinking, fwiw is this –

May cannot expect to cling on for more than a few months. The DUP deal is inherently unstable, and there are any number of domestic landmines.

The thing that is saving her at the minute (and by the time I finish typing this post things may have changed) is that there is no clear alternative who can fight an election campaign (the conventional wisdom – for what that is worth – expects one in October). Boris Johnson wants the gig, but his negatives are very very high. Amber Rudd is in a real marginal constituency now. Fallon, Hammond etc – give me a break. Ruth Davidson is an MSP, not an MP, so would have to be parachuted into a safe seat – not an easy thing to do on the sly.

Labour now look like “winners” – apparently lots of people have been googling ‘join Labour’. Problems for them are

a) risk of cult of personality

b) boring people with boring meetings

c) sustaining momentum (no pun intended).

d) Its EU/Brexit position – hmmm – will it be able to finesse the issue? Will we see a rise of the remainers?

Mainstream media seems a bit stuffed in terms of its ability to influence voters (young people just do not buy newspapers).

As Craig Murray writes

I suspect that what happened is that the mainstream media realised it is losing influence, and tried to compensate by becoming so shrill and biased it simply lost all respect. This election may be the one where social media finally routed the press barons. They may in turn start to wonder if it is worth sinking millions into a newspaper if it can’t buy an election

So, the government loses its majority thanks to dead/retiring MPs, no way ending austerity because nobody would believe them, no way of continuing it because of unwhippable marginal MPs (Zac Goldsmith).  Heathrow decision still not made, Brexit negotiations going horribly.

Big business will be furious. I mean, beyond furious.

A general election in October-November, by which time May will have been replaced (everybody knows she cannot campaign her way across a wheatfield).

Labour, with extra resources, targets lots of the marginals, wins more seats, ends up with say 300, taken from Tories and SNP. Forms government?

Am I dreaming? What am I missing??

Manchester and the ‘what to do’ question…

Manchester is famous the world over for its football, its music and now, sadly, for being the latest in an ever-lengthening list of European cities that have suffered terrrorist atrocities- Madrid, London, Oslo, Brussels, Berlin, Nice, Paris – in recent years. (And globally the list takes in Oklahoma City, Boston, Mumbai, Baghdad and so very many others).

Manchester has had terrorist incidents before, (such as the IRA bombing in 1996) but Monday night’s atrocity is on a different level of horror.

The pattern is familiar now – the attack, the rolling media coverage, the hashtags, the facebook ‘safe status’ search, the heartbreaking circulation of photographs of the missing – young, innocent people – the tales of heroism, the diligent professional work of the emergency services, the skill of the medical staff, followed by speculation about the perpetrators and their motives, the resolute sombre speeches of national leaders, and the solidarity expressed by other politicians, especially those from cities recently afflicted.

Also there are vigils. Last night thousands of us gathered in front of the Town Hall for a much needed vigil and show of solidarity, unity. The city had been on edge all day. Sirens and helicopters, people compulsively checking updates on social media and news feeds. The now all-too-familiar messages of solidarity from other cities that have been the subject of attack in the recent past. And when (not, sadly, if) the next attack happens, then Manchester’s leaders will themselves be signing condolence books and sending tweets.

I was with my wife and friends, and although we heard some of the poem, we heard little of the speeches of assorted political and religious leaders (it was a bit like that opening scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – blessed are the cheesemakers).

Of course, the words were not the point. The point was that Manchester rejects the idiocy of hate, divisions based on class, religion or race.  Manchester is cosmopolitian, and very determined to say that way.

What can we do?

The blood banks are full to overflowing – for now. But giving blood is a really good thing to do, part of the gift relationship. A work colleague wrote yesterday “Fear of needles not withstanding, I tried to give blood this morning because I am O-. However, they are a bit overwhelmed and can’t register me yet. I should have registered before. Anyway, if you are a registered, universal donor, you are exactly who they are looking for right now!”

Perhaps put a note in your diary for a fortnight, or a month’s time from now?

I personally don’t think the choice of target – where young women gather to hear about women’s power – was an accident. Neither do people like Australian commentator Greg Sheridan. So, continuing to support increased opportunities for everyone (while recognising the historical and systemic barriers that women have faced)

Contesting some of the ways that this atrocity will be used. I think there are two things here. Firstly, people outside the UK (and within it) have some very weird (by that I mean “wrong”) ideas about how things are. Remember the terrorism “expert” who claimed in 2015 that Birmingham was a ‘no-go’ zone?

To quote a wise friend

please push back against people with very transparent agendas who will use this event to talk about Manchester as some kind of “war zone”, or make references to “no-go zones” where lots of South Asian immigrants live. I’ve already seen people pushing that narrative, and it couldn’t be more wrong. Manchester is a beautiful city full of sports, music, and history, and it is made all the better by its diversity….. Muslim taxi drivers offered free rides to get people away from the arena. Muslim doctors worked overtime to help the victims…. And today, as the smoke is clearing, people are dusting themselves off, helping and comforting the victims, and getting on with their lives. Manchester is resilient and it will survive this.”

My wife, who speaks both Arabic and acerbic spent time yesterday doing precisely this kind of ‘push back’ work on Twitter and Facebook, against those who want to stir up hatred and stupidity.  It’s a Sisyphean challenge of course. Or perhaps, more like cleaning out the Augean stables.

Secondly, the attack may be used as part of the ongoing power grab by the State, for ever more control, surveillance. This is really tricky, because on the one hand there is a need for more frontline staff, but at the same time swelling budgets end up swelling the scope of the state’s reach into private lives. Troops on the streets is, at the very least, ‘unsettling.’  Those who try to exchange freedom for safety often end up with neither.

On the Manchester bombing – safety, fear, solidarity

Facebook messages come through every minute – people marking themselves as “safe.”

Twenty two people are not, and sixty more are physically wounded.  The psychological wounds for others who were there, for the emergency services, and for others further afield (loved ones, friends) will take time to be obvious, longer still to heal (if they ever do).

Already the familiar patterns are kicking in.  The election campaigning suspended, the newsfeeds full.  We all know the rituals now, of a twenty-first century terror attack in the West.  The hashtags, the solemn declarations, the “Je suis” marches, the sombre faces of politicians telling us what we know, having no more to say than anyone else,  but having to fulfil that role.  We look for solace.

We will learn more of the attacker who committed this mass murder.  Arrests will be made, trials held.  Recriminations will be launched about “why wasn’t more done?”, “why wasn’t this spotted?”

We are scared. We do not want to admit – cannot admit- what we have been told;  that while there is a lot that can be done to make these massacres less likely, the risk can never be removed altogether.

This is not the first attack, it will not be the last.  And the blood banks are full already, so we wonder what solidarity looks like, how do you HELP in a situation like this?  Beyond the grieving, and the listening to the fears and terrors, and supporting those who have suffered, what is to be done?  how?

Ideas?

When you think climate change, think “dam”…. #3MT

Here’s me giving my spiel in the “Three Minute Thesis” heat at University of Manchester

Here’s the slide I used.

hoover dam3

 

And… I’m through to the Three Minute Thesis Final to be held on Wednesday June 7, between 2pm and 3:30pm in University Place Lecture Theatre A. You can register for a (free!) ticket

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/university-of-manchester-three-minute-thesis-final-2017-tickets-34791162303.

 

 

Words, ideas, videos