We marched from Bristo Square to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, where a rally took place. Not all of our supporters marched: as we snaked our way down the Royal Mile, people hung out of their windows to watch, and to wave, and to cheer us on. This march was, I feel, a Good Thing.
It was good to see MPs talking sense, bringing up the arguments of the opposition and defeating them instead of prevaricating, because this is actually what they did. The crowds were asked, Have you ever heard a strong argument against the legalisation of same-sex marriage? Silence. That, we were told, is because there aren’t any. The arguments from our opposition are made of straw.
Marriage is about family our opposition says: this is not true, because it is neither necessary for a successful marriage that it results in having children, nor necessary for the success of parenthood that the parents be married; further, even were this true, we heard and we cheered for, the sexuality of the parents has no bearing on the children. This we know, this we have known for years, but this has yet to be reflected in the law.
Allowing same-sex marriage will redefine marriage: of course it will, but not for the worse. Just as the introduction of laws allowing women to own their own property following marriage redefined marriage for the better. Marriage needs to be redefined to reflect the society within which it takes place, or we’d still have child-brides. It has not had one uniform definition over time, and certainly in the UK it has moved from a contract joining two families for mutual benefits to one joining two lovers, any two lovers. We should allow the sex of those lovers to be no more barrier than we do the lack of financial gain in some arrangements. This we know, this we have known for years, but this too has yet to be reflected in the law.
It was good to see a religious representative (Marilyn Jackson, of the Humanist Society of Scotland) stand up and argue for her right, for the right of all religions, to perform marriage ceremonies, not just blessings, for religious same-sex couples. If this is something that churches want to do, then who is benefitted by outlawing it? And certainly there is something wrong in a nation where two atheists can stand up in a church and swear to love one another in front of a God who they don’t believe in, when two people who love each other just as much, and who believe in that God, are unable to do so. Or even in a country where an atheist same-sex couple doesn’t have the same right to stand up in church as an atheist straight couple.
It was good to see over a thousand people who care enough about equality of marriage to show it, to make an effort for it, to act for it. Because this is important, and the fact that it is important is something that needs to be shown, needs to have efforts made for it, needs to be acted for. We have to make it clear that we have no intention of giving up, whether it takes months or years for same-sex couples to be given equal rights.
We need to show our opposition that this is no fad, this is no whim, this is not some phase we as a nation are going through. This is something that we know is right, and something we will not stop fighting for.
We will continue to fight for equality with more marches, more petitions, more letters to our politicians, and with more votes for those who will support us instead of take steps and leaps backwards. We will continue to speak up and we will never give up.
Marriage equality has the support of the majority of the Scottish people. It has the support of MSPs and at least some support from religious believers who want the power to carry out the ceremonies. We will find out this spring if it has the support of the Scottish government. But of course, this doesn’t end there.
We have come a long way since 1967, when homosexuality was decriminalised in the United Kingdom, to the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005. Let’s add more dates to this path, let’s add more victories, just as over the years we have added more and more support to the fight. And let’s give our support to those fighting in the rest of the UK, and outside it, to the countries where homosexuality is still outlawed, to the countries where relationships are not recognised by the law, to the countries where discrimination is permitted or encouraged.
So, it might be a few days late, but still: happy Valentine’s Day, Scotland, and happy Valentine’s Day, Britain, and happy Valentine’s Day world, if you’re reading. This year, join this fight, and do something for love that will last.
Student leaders in South Wales will urge activists, students and local residents to join a demonstration in exposing a fascist meeting held at Samlet Social Club this Thursday evening.
In an interview today, Zahid Raja, NUS Wales Black Students Officer and UAF Wales steering committee member, told us that ‘choosing Brian, a well-known proponent of fascism, to speak on faux-issues that underpin Islamaphobic propaganda suggests to me that this is a political attempt to inject divisive politics into the local community.’
Brian Gerrish, a known fascist sympathiser, will be speaking on “Are Our Children Safe? – An Investigation of Politics and Suicide Risks” at Samlet Social Club in Swansea Enterprise Park this Thursday at 7pm.
Zahid Raja went on to say, ‘Students should resist this attempt to mainstream racism and join us outside the Samlet Social Club at 6:30pm to show that local communities in Swansea reject this kind of baseless politics that fuels racism.’
Last year in March, the Student Activist Diary reported on the successful demonstration against Nick Griffin, who was invited to speak at The Globe pub in Swansea. Keeping in that spirit, we encourage you to register a polite complaint with the Samlet Social Club by writing to them here:
Samlet Social Club
Swansea Enterprise Park
or by ringing them on 01792 516239.
+++UPDATE: From the reactions to this post, our team would like to clarify some points. This demonstration was organised by UAF Wales and was supported by NUS Wales Black Students’ Campaign who made a decision to act on the information supplied by UAF Wales, most notably the nature of the subject matter for this event. The subject matter for this event was verified from Kevin Edwards blog (a former BNP member) – click here for the screen grab.+++
Usman Ali is the Vice President (Higher Education) of the National Union of Students (NUS) UK. Having previously being elected on the NUS National Executive Committee, Block of 15 in 2009, Usman is now serving his second term as VP HE. You can follow him on twitter here.
“The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious” – John Sculley.
Our lives are built up of the choices, experiences and decisions we make. It is our learning experiences that define us as people and it’s those experiences – those opportunities – that should be open and accessible to all.
The education you receive outside the classroom is just as vital as what you receive in it. The informal learning from the friends you make from different cultures and different backgrounds; the people you meet and the impact that has on your life choices, experiences and decisions. Remove these opportunities and you take away a person’s chances.
For example, you might take away the chance for someone to join the debate society – and therefore, perhaps, to eventually become a respected politician, holding on to their values and where they have come from, whilst at the same time learning new things about the world.
The role of students’ unions in delivering on this is now more important than it has ever been before. To give back to the community – to raise the ambitions and aspirations of those around us – is a responsibility for us all. Your elected officers’ journey has been driven by their educational and social experiences. But many have not even reached the doors of university, or come close to getting any form of an education. And they are missing out on huge life-changing moments, moments that could define them as a person.
The government’s strategies, on paper, place considerable weight on the role of higher education institutions in getting working-class students into higher education. But whilst widening participation may be the avenue to upward social mobility it does not automatically create it. Simply put, the student movement now needs to deliver to the communities that have been hit the hardest by the changes in the higher education landscape.
We need to question our role as students’ unions in the context of the time we are in and the challenges we face. Aimhigher research shows us that what potential students remember the most is not the campus visit, or the buildings. It’s the interaction with real students. I honestly believe that we all have positive stories to tell, stories that might inspire people to go to university or a college. Our sports teams, our societies, our volunteers should all be out in the local community, displaying through our actions the value of higher education.
But it’s not just about our outreach work; it’s also about our in-reach work. One of the key reasons why extra-curricular activities are so important is that they develop and enhance people’s cultural capital. Someone’s lifestyle choices develop through experiences as I mentioned earlier. Getting involved in the students’ union and its activities is not background-neutral. In fact, as well as economic and social factors, a large part of why students get involved is their previous cultural experiences.
Studies show that students from working-class backgrounds choose a university based on the knowledge or cultural and social capital they have. I have always argued that if twenty percent of the students at a given institution are from “widening participation” backgrounds, but only two to three percent of those students are involved in the union, is that not more socially exclusive than the institution itself?
I would argue that, unfortunately, it is. When we discuss institutional bursaries, should we not also discuss our own bursary packages, to enable a student from a disadvantaged background to participate? Maybe a fee waiver would actually work in this instance.
These experiences will impact not only on students’ time at university, but into the work place and wider society.
For too long the debate on widening participation has been towards getting ‘them’ in, going to a certain type of uni, grades and so on. But this is only part of the story. Ensuring that the students who get in, regardless of social class, have the same opportunities is where we now have to deliver.
To finish, let me return to the quote with which I began. I genuinely, deeply believe that students’ unions can help people. People who have never engaged with us – as we have not engaged with them – can see the possibilities before they become obvious. That is where the unions’ future belongs.
The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious.
|Notes from the Editor | Our Opinion:
This is an important piece regarding Widening Participation (WP). It outlines how important Student Unions are in shaping student interaction and the lives of WP students for the better. However, we also shouldn’t expect WP just to happen, magically, in all aspects of student life. We need to be at the forefront on the delivery of this agenda.
Usman quite rightly asks ‘if twenty percent of the students at a given institution are from “widening participation” backgrounds, but only two to three percent of those students are involved in the union, is that not more socially exclusive than the institution itself?’ Looking at the people who get involved with activities in your students’ union, how many are from Widening Participation backgrounds? Does the percentage of WP students involved in your SU match the percentage of WP students at your institution? – StudentActivistDiary.co.uk
After the motion to disaffiliate had been passed at a General Meeting, a statement was released, saying that ‘we could no longer remain within an institution whose democratic failings we feel increasingly threaten to undermine its positive work’. The statement raised several specific issues, including the way in which ‘one of Labour Students’ worst kept secrets is the prominent role of the outgoing Exec in choosing and encouraging a chosen group of candidates to run for positions, with little to no attention focused on encouraging others to enter the race’, as well as the ‘undemocratic culture’ of having a Constitution which is not available online or at the request of members.
OULC continued, ‘We remain committed to fighting for the values that brought us into Labour Students in Oxford and elsewhere, but these wouldn’t be in keeping with our continued presence in an organisation whose democratic deficit increasingly stifles efforts at meaningful reform and improvement.’
But just under twelve months later, it appears that little has improved. In a recent blog post by Jon Chambers, Chair of Hull University Labour Club, Labour Students is criticised again for its democratic failings. Chambers explains how – with one month to go – a venue is yet to be announced for the Conference at which the Chair, Secretary and Campaigns and Membership Officer – the three paid officers of the organisations – are elected. This, he says, means that ‘Labour Clubs will have to spend over the odds to get there – or worse, won’t go at all’. He goes on to criticise the lack of information that is available to members regarding the elections and poor communication from Labour Students. He also states that ‘uncontested elections every year are no coincidence.’
Those who have spoken out have themselves been attacked. The day after OULC made their decision to disaffiliate, Wes Streeting – a former NUS President – tweeted about his hopes that ‘no Labour MPs will now speak at the club’. Mr Chambers also came under fire, via Twitter, from the Treasurer of Swansea Labour Students, John Bayliss. Bayliss tweeted ‘@jonwillchambers For bringing Labour Students into disrepute through unsubstantiated accusations you should resign as chair! #ShameOnYo’.
Others, however, were more supportive of Chambers’ blog. In an exclusive interview, Kevin Feeney (Co-Chair elect of OULC), yesterday said that ‘Jon makes some good points which echo much of what caused OULC to disaffiliate initially. Clearly there are still issues with Labour Students, and the more widely these are recognised and accepted, the more likely it is that they can be properly addressed’. He went on to say that ‘there needs to be a recognition of past failings on both parts (from Labour Students and Labour Clubs), and then Labour Students should take real, concrete action to rectify the democratic deficit at their heart.’
After reading this, many may begin to ask themselves why. ‘Why should I care about this? I’m not even a member of the Labour Party.’ However, Labour Students’ strong links to the National Union of Students mean the democratic failings spelled out above should concern us all.
The Chair of Labour Students holds a lot of sway within the NUS. Indeed, the job description states that ‘the Chair…works most closely with the NUS Group, holding meetings ahead of NEC meetings and assisting with matters related to HE Funding and other student relevant issues.’
This influence – from a person appointed by questionable means – is serious enough, but the Chair of Labour Students also has a role in selecting those that run the NUS. A significant number of NUS officers are themselves members of the Labour Party, and many of these seek to be official Labour Students’ candidates. The Chair of Labour Students is highly influential in this, as they are part of the three-person team that recommends potential Labour Students’ candidates. As recommendation almost certainly leads to being an official candidate, and being a Labour Students’ candidate leads almost certainly to election, the Chair of Labour Students has a significant role in choosing many of our national student representatives.
So it should concern us all that democracy within Labour Students has been found wanting; more so that, after the publicised disaffiliation of OULC, little seems to have improved. With the influence of those in the highest offices of the organisation so fareaching within the student movement as a whole, we should all be encouraging those we know within Labour to make a stand. The democratic changes needed in Labour Students have been long overdue.
The Ukrainian authorities must launch a fresh investigation into the death in custody of a student, Amnesty International said after two police officers suspected of responsibility for his death yesterday walked free following a court hearing in Kiev.
A 20th birthday celebration becomes sour.
Ihor Indilo was arrested on 16 May 2010 after a disagreement with a security guard at the dormitory where he lived about a missing ID card. He had been out celebrating on the eve of his 20th birthday.
Police said he was drunk and aggressive when detained, although the security guard has since testified that he was neither.
Off-duty officer Sergei Prihodko detained Ihor Indilo at about 8.15pm and drove him and a friend to Shevchenkivsky police station, where he was interrogated by Prihodko and another officer, Sergei Kovalenko, in the presence of the friend.
Minutes later, an ambulance was called to the interview room because Ihor Indilo was unconscious, although he was not thoroughly examined.
CCTV footage at 9.49pm shows Sergei Prihodko dragging Ihor Indilo into a cell and leaving him on the floor, the ambulance crew having left.
The footage shows the student’s condition deteriorating through the night; he staggers and falls in the prison cell, until he ceases moving at around 3am.
Autopsy points to alleged police brutality.
Police left him unattended in the cell until they discovered his body at 4.51am. Officers claim they checked his pulse and breathing and that he was still alive, but the CCTV footage shows an officer simply discovering his body, dragging him and then rolling him over.
The following morning Ihor Indilo’s parents were told that he had choked to death but when they saw his body they noticed numerous bruises. The autopsy also found blood in his stomach, which may have been caused by a blow to the abdomen.
Officers tried on ‘minor’ negligence charges over the death of a 19-year-old.
Police then claimed Ihor Indilo died as a result of falling from a 50 cm bench in the cell because he was drunk. Indilo does not appear drunk in CCTV footage of him entering the police station.
Sergei Prihodko was charged with “abuse of power that results in pain or denigrates a person’s dignity,” in relation to having dragged Indilo across the floor.
Sergei Kovalenko was charged with “neglect of official duty without grave consequences”, in relation to allowing Sergei Prihodko to carry out these actions.
Both officers were only tried on minor negligence charges over the death of 19-year-old Ihor Indilo. One of them, Sergei Prihodko, was given a five-year suspended sentence, while the other, Sergei Kovalenko, was granted amnesty by the court.
Ihor Indilo died from a fractured skull and internal bleeding in May 2010 after being arrested and interrogated by the two officers in Kyiv. His family suspect Sergei Prihodko inflicted the fatal injury.
Amnesty UK: this is a litmus test for the Ukrainian justice system.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:
“Charging the two police officers with minor negligence when there is strong evidence to suggest that their behaviour resulted in Ihor Indilo’s death shows a shocking disregard for human life.
The Ukrainian authorities must conduct a thorough investigation and bring charges against the two men that would allow the court to consider whether the officers were, through their actions or failure to act, responsible for Indilo’s death.
If so, they must be sentenced appropriately.
This case has become a litmus test for the Ukrainian justice system’s ability to seriously deal with allegations of police abuse. Its failure to do so highlights the need for systemic reform.”
Students took to the streets after yesterday’s verdict to protest against police abuse and the Ukrainian authorities’ continued reluctance to deal with it.
In October, President Viktor Yanukovych called on the Prosecutor General to personally review the case after extensive media coverage of the case.
The Prosecutor General publicly criticised the Kiev prosecutor’s office’s handling of the case but did not intervene to ensure the officers were tried under the appropriate charges.
Source: Amnesty International UK.
Lawrence, born in September of 1974, was brutally killed – in a racially-motivated murder – while waiting for a bus in south-east London, in April of 1993. He was just eighteen years old.
He was killed by a gang of young, white, racist men who stabbed him in a wholly unprovoked attack. The last word he heard before dying was “nigger”.
The murder sparked a national outcry; even right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail published a picture of four of the alleged gang, claiming that they were Lawrence’s murderers. If they were wrong, they invited the aforementioned men to sue them.
The men never sued.
Eighteen years on, two of those men – Gary Dobson and David Norris – were convicted of murder. This means that Stephen Lawrence’s parents had to lobby and raise awareness of his case for longer than he was alive.
The first case failed owing to problems within the Metropolitan Police, which was deemed “institutionally racist” by an inquiry. Institutional racism isn’t a new term; it was coined by a Black Power activist, Stokley Carmichael, in the 1970s.
The man who led the inquiry after Lawrence’s murder was called Lord Macpherson, and his explanation of the institutional racism to which Stephen Lawrence’s case was subjected is more or less identical to Carmichael’s interpretation of institutional racism. The similarities are uncanny; it’s testament to how little things have changed.
It doesn’t stop there. We’ve had our own experiences of racism within the police force rearing their ugly head in Wales. Think of the Lynette White case.
Lynette White was a white woman who was brutally stabbed. She died in her flat. Those interviewed for statements were seen to be “vulnerable” members of society; one man named Stephen Miller, White’s boyfriend and pimp, would eventually confess – after being worn down by nineteen hours of questioning. He had a mental age of an eleven year old. He was denied access to a lawyer during this time.
His confession wasn’t taken seriously. When it was presented at the appeal, the overseeing lord, Lord Taylor, said that the police had ‘bullied and hectored’ Miller. No DNA evidence from him was found on the scene which might have tied him to the murder.
Mark Grommek, a man who went on record to make a statement, said he knew nothing of the murder. Yet later that afternoon, he gave a detailed statement. His friend, Paul Atkins, told the police that Grommek killed White, but later changed it to say that he himself was the killer. His statement contained four different accounts of the murder, and, again, was subsequently not taken seriously. No DNA from these men was found at the scene, despite their falsified confessions.
A statement was taken from a woman who was put under hypnotherapy and later used in evidence. Another statement taken and used was from a different woman, deemed to have mild mental retardation, with an IQ of fifty-five. She too was considered to have been ‘bullied’ into making a statement.
The police were given a clear description of a man apparently observed leaving the scene by witnesses – a white man. But they decided to arrest nine men, all of whom were black. Then it was whittled down to five, and then three men – who were still all black.
Despite no physical evidence tying these three men of colour to the scene, in 1989 they were jailed for life. Three years later, the appeal headed by Lord Taylor declared their convictions ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’, and they were released. The real killer was eventually brought to justice through DNA evidence.
This resulted in four of the witnesses going on trial a few years later. All – apart from Paul Atkins, who was deemed unfit to stand trial – were found guilty of perjury. Two further witnesses were also found guilty of perjury during a later case.
When all of these things came to light the police were put on trial for the framing of three men (known as the Cardiff Three) in 2009. It was called the biggest police anti-corruption trial in British history, and the biggest police trial in British history.
It fell through.
The police never gave an apology for ruining the lives of the Cardiff Three, for falsifying evidence, or for bullying vulnerable people into making false statements which later helped to convict them.
But this was not the first time the police framed black men for a murder they did not commit. In the 1920s, a Somali sailor named Hussein Mattan was framed for murder. He was hanged. The police issued an apology to his wife and revoked the conviction – in 1998.
These are specifically Welsh cases; they happened here. Just because the Metropolitan Police have been called out on their racism doesn’t mean that other police forces walk free. There are dozens of other cases involving miscarriages of justice, but they just aren’t reported. It’s simply testament to the tireless campaigning of Stephen Lawrence’s family that the Metropolitan Police did not manage to get away with their racism.
People of colour in the UK are more likely to be stopped and searched under the Stop and Search law; in fact, it’s over 70% more likely that they will be stopped than their white counterparts. They’re over-policed as perpetrators and under-policed as victims. According to statistics, they are also more likely to be jailed for offences where Caucasian people would be let off.
Of course the UK police system is institutionally racist. In fact, it’s just one of a number of racist institutions. You’re more than three times more likely to be expelled from school if you’re black. You’re also much less likely to be put in the top streams for your GCSEs – resulting in ethnic minorities being less likely to achieve 5 A*-Cs at GCSE level.
The bringing to justice of Stephen Lawrence’s killers was a victory for us all. But there are many victories in every sector of society yet to be won when it comes to the insidious institutionalisation of racism.
62% of Swansea’s student voters want to see NUS move to ‘One Student One Vote’ – Student Activist Diary can reveal.
Examining the results from the NUS UK Delegate elections we can see that three out of four candidates elected had One Student One Vote in their manifesto’s – a clear message to NUS that students in Swansea are not happy with the current set up and want to see change. This news comes as Zahid Raja a member of the NUS Wales National Executive Committee and Luke James who is Swansea University Students Union President are set to propose a motion to enshrine what the voters have said into Student Union policy.
At NUS UK National Conference in 2010, Michael Chessum who is on the NUS UK National Executive Council took to the stage telling us how ‘We have 7 million members but only 700 people who vote in the policy decision’ He described NUS conferences to be ‘dominated by factions that do not reflect the voices of the students on the ground.’
In March, University Central London Union passed a vote of no confidence in both the NUS and the standing National NUS President of the day. The frustration of their students was not dissimilar to the frustration of those here. UCLU’s Student Paper said: “The motion, passed by a two-thirds majority, was the result of a common feeling that the NUS had not supported student activism in the face of tuition fee rises and education cuts.” It was argued that “…their inability to respond to students’ needs was, in part, due to an indirect electoral system. The motion declared that ‘700 delegates cannot properly represent a national union of seven million’ and called for ‘One member, one vote – for a more democratic National Union’.” Harrowing words coming from one of the most active Unions in the country.
Zahid Raja a third year student at Swansea University and a member of the National Executive Committee for NUS Wales said, “I think Swansea Students have spoken clearly on this issue – it’s only entirely proper that we listen to them and make sure that our Students Union does it’s best to shift NUS towards One Student One Vote. That means lobbying other Student Unions about this idea, it means joining other Student Unions like Oxford University Students Union, University of Central London Union and other activists to beat the cliques and deliver what students deserve – real democracy.”
You can have a chance to join the debate and vote for the One Student One Vote motion this evening at 6pm at Café West. This publication strongly suggests that students come this evening and voice what they said through the ballots. Click here for the facebook event page.
In his recent ‘Fuel Poverty Review’, professor John Hills predicts that by the end of 2011, around 4.1 million homes in Britain will be considered to be living in ‘fuel poverty’. This situation, the review has noted, could directly contribute to the deaths of just under 3,000 people over the coming winter; a toll higher than the average seasonal number of fatalities in road-accidents.
Students across the UK are attempting to save money at the expense of their own health. Government statistics on fuel poverty indicate that students living in affordable yet energy-inefficient accommodation make up a large percentage of those recognised to be living in ‘fuel poverty’ by the ‘Living in Wales’ report, 2008. Swansea students in private accommodation are being let down by prepayment meters which charge a higher rate for energy than other types of meters, inefficient appliances, and poorly insulated housing. All of these things mean a situation in which keeping warm is an artificially expensive dream for students. There is no doubt that living in fuel poverty is devastating for both physical and mental health.
There are clear problems with expecting the solution to come from conventional energy-sources. Recent years have seen attempts by many energy companies to repackage old fossil-fuel solutions; i.e. E.ON’s support for ‘New Coal’. However, the appalling efficiency rating of just 45% for these new coal-powered units highlights the urgency with which we need a more sustainable solution.
To be able to bring about the changes needed to make greener energy solutions, such as the 100% renewable energy tariff provided by the company Ecotricity, more available to financially strained students, what is needed is a strong, eco-conscious current within the students movement. Past and on-going initiatives such Climate Camp, and NUS campaigns such ‘Student Switch Off’, and ‘Green Impact’ demonstrate to us an existing willingness to fight for such changes. It is now necessary, more than ever, for environmentally conscious students to show the rest of the student movement that the commitment to future generations as embodied in the anti-cuts movement should be linked to the commitment to protect the environment we share.
The incident, which sparked outrage from Swansea University’s gay community, occurred at Reflex, a venue on Wind Street in Swansea’s city centre. A student who is a member of Swansea University’s Law Society Committee told us “…if it was a straight couple nobody would’ve said anything at all.” The group of students were also allegedly told ‘if you want to do that, go to a gay bar’. Understandably, the group left.
It happened in the early hours of 19th October. The student witness added “…they said that ‘people are uncomfortable with it’ meaning that nobody actually complained of it or they would have said they had complaints”.
This clearly needs to be investigated and the onus is now on Reflex to demonstrate if this kind of homophobia is a widespread problem or just a localised incident. Either way, the fact that this may have happened is both alarming and ridiculous. Students in Swansea must act now to show that a place where homophobia happens is not somewhere we want to go.
Members of Swansea University’s gay community have called on Reflex to apologise: we ask all of our readers to sign the petition found by clicking here. The Student Activist Diary – both its contributors and its members – have also been asked to boycott the bar until it responds adequately to this farce.
Reflex Swansea have replied denying the allegations. Their complaints mechanism appears to be flawed which explains why their policy may be under abuse. Campaigners continue to call for Reflex Swansea to apologise. The petition which you can access by clicking here has now reached 138 in a matter of hours.
There is a certain something about activism that makes me want to read books out loud to grown strangers on the Docklands Light Railway early in the morning. Admittedly, I’m usually one of your average eye-contact avoiding Londoners; the sort you might spy-out on the Northern Line during rush hour, periodically switching gaze between the advertising, tube map, and ground. However, once every so often, things that happen in this city give reason for some of us to break down a few barriers. Of course, sometimes the reason in question may not seem so straight forward. Let this never detract from the importance of the cause, or of the way in which you may come to meet one of us enraged folk.
Recently, the band ‘Star F***ing Hipsters’ spat the words “for every innocent that gets murdered in the fray, we’ll fight 3,000 miles away” in to the ears of alienated ‘crust-punks’ everywhere. Upon hearing these lyrics, I came to a revelation; I had just found the most conveniently crass quote possible to insert into this article. For it just so happens that roughly 3,000 miles away from the ‘Defence and Security Equipment international’ (DSEi) arms-trade fair in east London is the less-than-liberal kingdom of Bahrain.
The ‘Arab Spring’ which broke out earlier this year left a profound mark on Bahrain, a country many human rights groups deem an ‘authoritarian regime’. Unfortunately, the immediate history of this young popular movement follows a similar line to other recent movements in the region. The Sunni-dominated elite of Bahrain have overseen the bloodshed of mostly Shia peaceful protestors. In light of this fact, how does the British government respond? Well, it seems that concerns regarding Bahrain among the top level defence authorities in this country do not concern the protesters, but the weapons being turned on them. The list of dodgy delegations invited by the British government to the DSEi fair does not end at Bahrain; among others, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan were all in attendance. The British government, behaving like a naughty kid confessing to a cookie-jar robbery, only released the list of invitees the day before the DSEi exhibition was due to open after pressure for information from national newspapers. The message of this action by the government is loud and clear; our hugely subsidised arms industry is more important than the subsequent risk put to hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
Big money is sacred. The holiness of the billions of dollars in the pockets of the visiting delegations to the DSEi arms fair is part of the same unfortunate situation which keeps the public from being allowed access to the highly guarded fortresses in which these moguls operate. Indeed, sound investment requires the prerequisite of lack of dissent. Fortunately, as long as the description ‘being difficult’ exists, there shall be those to fit it. At 9.30 am on the 13th September, I was sat amongst a sea of glum faces on the Docklands Light Railway. These were not necessarily unhappy people I was sitting with, they were relatively well-off businessmen making a killing in a subsidised trade. These people were merely being humbled with some facts about the by-products of their business; they especially seemed to like the story of how a couple of activists and a school group managed to purchase banned equipment commonly used for torture from a giant arms-producer! We parted ways at Custom House station. They bound for an extravagant reception; I bound for the pavement outside the station. Luckily, the Critical Mass bloc (cyclist activists) had arrived, with an obnoxiously loud sound system in tow. After the initial round of ‘murdering scum’ a sense of dissatisfaction set in. The culprits were where they have always been, just beyond the reach of justice.
Until we finally reached the vehicle entrance to the Excel Centre, our miniature roaming protest carnival navigated the residential streets of Newham. The locals not already outraged by the localised gun-running orgy stopped to ask carefully worded questions. Discreetly, so as to hide my intentions from the pursuing police Forward Information Team (FIT), I begun to prepare my ultimate revenge. The front gates of the exhibition fell clearly into view; I was patiently biding my time. Blockading the road failed, the group was forced back onto the pavement. My ultimate retribution suddenly gained new meaning. In the pocket of my hoody, my hand fell on the trigger. In a moment of sheer justice-inspired rage, I turned my weapon on a nearby policeman. The jet of clear, crisp water fell just short of his regulation boots, the policeman was slightly bemused. As I examined my pistol for faults, I heard a roughened, yet polite voice boom ‘let us see that, please sir’. Apparently, the government had heeded the protest’s demands and the police were beginning the crackdown on all forms of firearms. As if! In fact, my 99p brightly coloured plastic water gun had been deemed a security threat; “we can’t be sure of what’s inside it, sir!” Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the Russian delegation’s convoy leaving the conference; they were there to market a new brand of Kalashnikov.
Police officers were already present and waiting when, ‘affinity group’ by ‘affinity group’, the roaming protest arrived at the headquarters of the flagship corporation of the international arms-trade: BAE Systems. By 5 o’clock, around 60 activists – armed with the knowledge of BAE System’s disregard for US trading regulations, the economies of African countries, and human life world-wide – had coated themselves in red paint and ‘played dead’ on an otherwise quiet Westminster road. The few clouds in a mostly clear blue sky rolled past, the trees in BAE Systems HQ’s personal roof garden were caught by a gentle breeze. I was awoken about half an hour later by a fellow protestor informing me that we were moving on; rule number one, for the sake of objective, never fall asleep mid-direct action. The Forward Information Team (FIT) was snapping away, capturing my incriminating tiredness; “we’ve caught you mildly relaxed, sir!”
The arms industry is an industry not exactly new to appearing behind innocent façades. Sometimes, the link can appear fairly indirect, e.g. research funding for universities. Sometimes, very occasionally, the innocent façade comes in the form of a large, famous physical destination. As the protest dispersed and reconvened outside the National Gallery by Trafalgar Square, the confused inquisitions of the public at large were slightly overwhelming. Fortunately, the task of appealing to the rich tapestry of people that can be found in central London on any given afternoon is a task that most activists, young and old, are well familiar with. The protesters begun their loud-mouthed rants, engaged startled tourists, confronted the arriving guests of BAE System’s luxurious gallery banquet; before too long, the square was covered in leaflets proclaiming ‘THIS IS NOT OK!’