Kindness doesn’t kill, cuts do!

Standard

i_want_change

A campaign recently launched in Northampton called “Kill with Kindness” (yes that is its real name), has the aim of encouraging people not to be kind to homeless people.

It declares that homeless people are drunks and drug addicts and by giving them money you are therefore feeding their habits and killing them.

It declares that you should instead give your money to charity which has already been butchered in this county, maybe its time the council supported its services properly, so we didn’t have to prop them up!

This campaign is dehumanising, demonising and degrading and feeds into the myth that homeless people are to blame for their situation.

Not all homeless people are drunks, and not all of them are drug addicts and any campaign which starts off with this assumption is very insulting and damaging.

Instead of attacking the powerless, vulnerable and poor, they should run a campaign that tackles the root causes. Why not have a campaign called “help the homeless” or “home the homeless” – why run a campaign that sends the message that homeless are undeserving of kindness?

This campaign takes place within a backdrop of our county council butchering its services, meaning more adults are going to be vulnerable, and ultimately thrown on the scrapheap.

When are they going to tackle the underlying problems and come up with proper solutions to these problems? Homelessness, addiction – they take away our support network and then have the cheek to say we’re less than human (not worthy of kindness).

Social housing programs are few and far between not only in Northampton but the whole country, social enterprises and charities have had their funding cut and removed by local government, meaning less services and support for the homeless.

Homeless people are wait for it – people too. If a homeless person spends a couple of quid on alcohol, then who are we stop them? Would it be better if they drunk a bottle of wine a day?

What are the underlying causes of homelessness addiction? I don’t think the cause of these problems are created by the kindness of strangers, or by homeless people getting a few quid begging.

More than likely the causes of these problems relate to where they find themselves I.e on the streets, mental health related, there are a myriad of reasons why a homeless person may drink but one thing we can be certain of it definitely isn’t kindness that is killing them.

[each week I will pick a local news story and cover it with my own opinion, the news article this blog is in relation to can be found here: http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/local/shoppers-in-northampton-urged-not-to-give-money-to-beggars-in-the-town-centre-1-6600489%5D

Advertisements

Left Unity: Two steps forward, one step back.

Standard

Left Unity’s internal elections are fast approaching, the yearly elections we have to stop the kind of cult worship, and long standing power-grabs that can and have existed in the past. I would encourage everyone to get actively involved, the more new people we can get standing for positions the better, but not only do we need to encourage those who are new to politics to get engaged, we need to support them – politics and especially the left can be quite a scary place.

While the officers have done some great things this past year, building a party is no easy task, there have been mistakes made, and there have been allegations thrown around. Words all too familiar to anyone that has been on the left for more than a day, undemocratic, Stalinist, conspiracies, you know how the list goes on and on.

I can’t help but think this is part of the internalised culture that exists within the left, a kind of internal paranoia, scepticism, and cynicism. Where every mistake is seen as an intentional act of power hungry megalomania, or when a certain decision doesn’t happen in the way we want it to, rather than the fault be within incompetence or political difference, it is calculated political manoeuvrings or subverting the will of the party.

I won’t be going into detail about each and every issue or allegation that has been hurled around this past year, instead I think all of us need to have a steadfast resolve in improving the parties infrastructure, to improving our internal democracy, transparency and accountability.

Some have abandoned Left Unity and wrote it off as a failure, which to me seems a bit short sighted when we haven’t even had our second election. The party is still being built, have we done everything right this past year? No. Are we a perfect organisation? No. The important thing is however, we can shape Left Unity, it is up to us what kind of party we are involved in.

Once the dust of the election settles there are definitely things that need to be looked at and improved, we need to look at how the party operates, how we communicate with one another, how we formulate policy and ultimately how we improve on the foundations and principles we were founded on.

The party system of old is dead, it doesn’t belong in the 21st century, it isn’t suited to the internet age, and we need to be looking at how the internal workings of Left Unity can be upgraded and incorporated so that every single member has the maximum amount of power.

The constitution was a start but that was it, a start, it wasn’t the end it was the beginning. We are not doing this in a vacuum, we can build on what has come before, we can look to how Syriza and how Podemos operate. I however don’t want to build a party like Podemos or like Syriza, I want to build a party like Left Unity, one that we can call our own.

So how do we do this? Left Unity needs to adopt direct democracy internally in the realms of decision making, I’ve already wrote a small piece on how we can improve conferences which will have a knock on effect. We need to be as open as we possibly can about as much as we can, we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear.

We really need to rip up the rule book of organisation, and try out radical new ways out engaging members, supporters and non-members alike. In the meantime however and of a matter of urgency we need to improve communication, when there is a lack of communication, people who make allegations have free reign on opinion, and in the age of the internet that means they can influence others, as information spreads so quickly now.

Members area of the websites needs to be improved to accommodate more information, as well as a way for members to interact with one another, at the moment the main area of communication across the whole of Left Unity nationally is an unofficial Facebook group, which had to get shut down once already, it is ridiculous.

Left Unity needs to step up to the plate and embrace the internet, just running with the website idea each member could have their own profile, there can be some form of internal message board where we can communicate with one another, there can be an official statement one for Left Unity to keep everyone up to date with what is going on, with disputes, problems, etc.

Mass Skype meetings? Email? Forums? Apps? Polls? There is literally an untold amount of ways we can communicate with one another and keep each other informed, there is no excuse in this day and age – we are not living in the dark ages.

The very structure of how Left Unity operates could easily fall into the trap of alienation of its core supporter by making them feel powerless and disengaged with the whole creative and informative process. Branches have a lot of power, but they are not being supported enough. How many effective and operational branches do we have? What steps are we taking to improve upon these?

The majority of the problems I alluded to earlier were directly caused because a lack of communication, so lets go back to the constitution and see how we can be more transparent, lets go back to the spirit of 45 and lets see what we can do to improve the party we founded, and that we are building here. The future is ours, we only need to grab it!

Doing conferences differently

Standard

Our conference has been and gone, but our commitment to a new kind of politics should be as strong as the fire from whence it came. It is great we have made it to our one year mark but the journey we set out on is far from complete, the masterpiece we are carving out on the political landscape still needs plenty of chiseling.

Ideally it will never be finished as the party adapts and changes along with the rest of society. We need to adapt to the challenges we face, discard what is useless while promoting that which is useful.

Politics needs to be open, it needs to be inclusive but most importantly, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. I could only attend Sunday and after being there for the first hour I felt like I wanted to walk out. It felt like a big waste of my time, and it shouldn’t be that way.

So how can we improve on our conference format? Where can we take our inspiration from? Podemos regardless of their politics held their conference in a football stadium with 20k people, with many more taking part online. We are calling for delegate conferences at 2000 members, is that the sum of our ambition and inventiveness?

We can implement these four things to improve our conferences:

  1. Conference should signal the start of a voting period which takes place online and via post.
  2. Greater use of social media i.e tweeting and facebook discussions so there is online participation
  3. Skype or video conference software in use to allow those watching online a way to interact with the conference
  4. A mechanism for internal referendums needs to come into existence

Conference should be where we have discussions, debates, workshops – a place to feel plugged into the wider LU machine. Debates it seems were rushed at times, large swathes of votes get pushed off the agenda. How we are doing things now is not only impractical in this day and age, it isn’t working.

If we were to have two day conferences which used multiple rooms and fulfilled multiple purposes, we could not only accomplish more, we would have a better experience.

As it stands conference exists for those with the funds, time and capability to participate. This creates less internal democracy, where we have the tyranny of the attendee and it just doesn’t have to be that way in the 21st century.

We are really starting to utilisize modern techniques of media, the website is coming on and the Facebook page is doing great. The more effective and inclusive we are at this during conference, the more people we can include in our debates.

This could be something as simple as a few words describing the topic we are currently discussing, or detailing a specific workshop. To more time consumed infographs, detailed information, pictures and videos.

The more people we can engage in our debates, whether they are members or not – the better they will be and to this end we should utilise video conferencing software. We have less spare time, but more things to do – we are overworked and should have the luxury of engaging with politics how we choose.

If you suffer from anxiety the conference atmosphere might not be for you, but why should you then be excluded from having a voice? If you are a single mother working two jobs, why should you then be excluded from having a voice? If you cannot get to the conference without physical support and are unable to get it, why then should you be excluded from having a political voice?

We have a great part in our constitution which allows us to have e-conferences on specific issues, this is great and needs to be expanded so there is a mechanism for members to call party-wide referendums.

This will ensure that if an important event takes place, we can react to it quickly and with the backing of the majority of the party. The greater power the membership can have over the decision making process, and more importantly the easier it is for us to wield that power, the more inclined we will be to do so.

We need to digest our politics how we digest everything else in the 21st century, that is at our convenience and quickly. Political participation needs to be brought dragging and screaming into the 21st century, and if we are to be doing politics differently, we need to be doing it with more than just words.

Left Unity Northampton: Yearly report

Standard

156080_785734551483506_8847416059930975912_n

Our year anniversary approaches and what a year it has been! A massive thank you is in order to everyone that has supported us this far. We are new to the Northampton political scene but we have been at its forefront, and we may still be finding our feet but it is safe to say we have had an impact.

In this article I will briefly mention some of the great things we have took part in, and how we are running as a branch of Left Unity, so that we can reflect on how far we have come and look at where we may be heading. Strictly speaking we have been running for over a year but we became a political party in November, some of the things mentioned will have took place beforehand.

We really hit the ground running in Northampton and things are really coming together and it just wouldn’t of been possible without the hard work and dedication of our members, approaching everything with enthusiasm and dedication week after week and while it has not all been plain sailing it is safe to say we have come along way.

The article shall be split into three sections, branch development, local and national as these are the three main areas of interest. Before I start however I think Bianca Todd deserves a massive shout out for all the hard work she has put in to Northampton branch and representing us on a national side as well, she has worked tirelessly for little reward this past year and a bit, so thank you Bianca!

Branch

Our branch meets on a weekly basis at the same place and on the same time, 7pm Cafe Del Sol and every Wednesday. It took us a while to find this format but it works well for us, as we get to keep each other up to date with any developments, react quickly to anything and can discuss what we would like to do, the majority of these meetings are more like a coffee with friends than a political party meeting.

Our meetings started off being less frequent and in the back room of a pub, which is all well and good if like me you enjoy a drink but we realised that this was not the most inviting of places for non-members, which led us to the cafe and it is working better.

We have been wrestling with how to make our meetings more inclusive and accessible, and to this end we have set up a Skype account. We text our members when ever we are meeting, on top of the standard e-mail, as well as provide lifts for people if getting there is a problem or the weather is a bit rubbish.

The most interesting thing for me at least, is we are not sticking to a rigid model, we are adapting as we grow, we are adapting as people come and join in, we are not looking for definite answers but are trying to shape our branch around the realities we are facing at any time, so if I had to sum it up in one word, I think our branch development has been flexible.

All in all we seem to have fell into a good groove, attendance figures go up and down as people are unable to attend every week, our rationale behind weekly meetings however is that if you go to a martial art class or a night class it will be every week.

There are some new and interesting developments coming out, we want to have a meeting in the day, as we believe night time meetings are excluding certain groups (single mothers), and we want to carry out a “ttt” – tea, toast and talk to remedy that.

On top of all this we also have a student society, the first in the country and this has helped give us a little bit of a headway into the student union, it has provided us with some funds which we sorely needed and means our branch is supported by a university contingent.

Local

Each local area is different so a little bit of info on shoe town needs to be said, Northampton doesn’t have any strong left wing groups, meaning there is a big gap for a political party like Left Unity to fill and we have been busy trying to fill it. We are very big on localism in Northampton and are doing everything we can to lay the foundations for a strong and active left wing political movement within the town.

We have taken part in national protests but instead of heading to the big ones, we have held our own little ones, we have taken part in local campaigns and will be standing a few local councillors, as well as supporting strikers as when needed. We have regularly featured in the local rags and Bianca now has her very own blog on one of their websites.

In terms of actions, we have led some, while taking part in others. We organised the national Atos Demo’s I and II, as well as #BootOutBoots. We organised the 999 March for the NHS Northampton leg (with help from Left Unity Milton Keynes). We also held our own homesnotspikes protest against a shop that uses them in our town. We also took part in the Bedroom Tax Sleepout and the bedroom tax demo.

On top of that we have been active with the People’s Assembly and Reclaim NHS, as well as supporting the Fbu strikes, the pathologists #lockedout and national strike action. Finally we supported the campaign for independent pcc and had a LU stall at freshers fair, these are the traditional work we have engaged in with the town and as you can see we have been fairly busy.

I’m pretty certain there are things I have forgotten as well, It seems that a month doesn’t go by where we haven’t took part in some form of local action or held some event.

We have been trying to think of more fun and inventive ways to engage the town and carry out politics in a new and exciting way, one of our most successful actions being a thing called BooksWithBenefits. We handed out free books to the public, while chatting to them about politics and publicised anti-cuts meetings while doing so.

We have took the approach locally to carry out solidarity actions with those fighting cuts, one of these was going around the town and handing out food to some of our homeless people, as we feel we should not be talking about ourselves about these issues but be on the streets where it matters most.

Finally we have begun a monthly speakerscafe, where we invite people to come and have a chat with us one week about a certain topic and depending on the issue being raised can be fairly successful.

National

It is a wonder with how busy we are at a local level how we have any time to do the same nationally, and again Bianca has been tireless on this front. I don’t think a month has gone by where she hasn’t had to travel to this place or that, and a day hasn’t gone by where she hasn’t had to either give an interview over the phone or speak to this person or that.

This is on top of regular attendance to the standard NC and EC meetings, so on a national front Bianca has been our main champion but she hasn’t been our only one! Jade who recently moved to Abu Dhabi was an integral member of the womans caucus, while I was instrumental in the formation of the youth caucus. We have also taken part in a few of the national rallies in London, as well as People’s Assembly meetings.

Jade travelled to My Belly Is Mine demo and various woman caucus’s meetings, as well as representing them on the NC and EC, with the great work she was doing it was a loss for us when she left to pastures anew. We travelled to support the Birmingham Occupation, where Bianca gave a talk, which can be found online.

We also attended the Homes Not Spikes protest outside of Tesco, which successful saw the removal of the spikes. On top of this we have attended various festivals around the country, and Bianca got down to support the Focus15 Mothers. On top of organising the 999 March in Northampton, we met them in London and carried the NHS banner through central London.

We attended conference, founding and 1 year on and are always keeping an eye out for new national protests which grab our attention, but local comes first.

Looking to the future….

We are always learning and adapting to how we can change and grow to be more inclusive and how we can improve the party, the movement and our branch. Looking for new ideas and new opportunities, I think the over riding philosophy of the branch is solidarity not charity, in that we want to help people who are struggling with their lives and believe fundamentally that this is how the movement will grow in our town and beyond.

We have set up a Skype account so people unable to attend our meetings and events can take part, this has been a big hit with parents unable to get child care and has allowed greater level of participation.

We still have quite a lot of areas of improvement, and are standing a few councillors in the local elections but all in all it has been a positive year, and if we continue like we have been doing this next one will be to. Things are coming together slowly, but steadily.

Thanks once again for everyone that has made it possible, lets make 2015 be our year. We are also looking to support our comrades on a regional level in any way possible, so that we can have a strong and active region of friends and comrades.

State of the enslaved

Standard

We look to states steeped in sacrifice
built with the blood of countless millions
we look to them for our security
if you ask me that is utter lunacy

All that they protect is our suffering
while enforcing our inequality
all that they protect is their own interests
remember kids they know best

If I’m free why am i bound in servitude
enslaved to the kings of cash
If I’m free why am i locked in routine
our future is foreseen

Our shouts are seen in the silence
We doth protest too much!
Our shouts are met with violence
In this land of surveillance

Left Unity: In Principle & In Practice

Standard

unity-is-strength

Left Unity was and still is a very ambitious initiative which sought to not only unite various strands of the left but to spread the left message to the massive chunk of people not engaging with the left, or politics in general. We have had some degree of success in this regard, bringing in members from ex-Labour, the far left, and general activists. What do we do now to move the project of Left Unity forward, where do we go from here?

As it stands presently Left Unity has members who are involved in other political projects and other political organisations, these people have put their toe into the water but have yet to take the plunge. We should be looking at why, and how we can assimilate not only them, but their organisations within our ranks. This is imperative not only for the success of Left Unity but for the success of the left in general.

The system we have in place now was fine prior to our becoming a party and standing in elections, but the organisation has moved forward, we cannot have such an overlap between groups, not only is it confusing but it leaves Left Unity open to infiltration and a situation could arise where we are left with mud on our face, we can be brought into disrepute. At the moment groups can freely take part in Left Unity, with all the benefits going to their organisation but what do we get in return? Absolutely nothing.

There are various ways how we can remedy this situation, I will list them here before going into more detail, these are:

  • LU can open up talks with organisations and groups to discuss what we can get out of allowing their members to organise within our ranks.
  • We can expand on our internal structure to allow these groups to come within the Left Unity structure and operate officially as extensions of Left Unity, in a similar fashion to tendencies.
  • These groups can become amalgamated into Left Unity ceasing to exist.
  • Becoming a member of Left Unity means members have to renounce membership to previous groups/organisations

As a member of Left Unity and only Left Unity, I feel like our internal democracy can be subverted by outside organisations who can all lump together to impose their organisations will on our organisation. As a member of Left Unity, I have no say, or knowledge of what their organisation gets up to, yet they know everything about us. Even worse than this, as a member I have no say over what organisations can do this, there is no policy in place to ensure this process is two way. At the moment we are giving everything, and getting nothing in return, that is why we could open up talks with the groups involved with Left Unity and work at how they can organise within our party, and how the membership can hold these organisations and their representatives within Left Unity to account. This could range from something as simple as a democratically agreed list of “affiliate organisations” to something much more in depth.

As it stands we have a very rudimentary way to allow groups to form within the party in the form of tendencies, we could expand on this structure so that pre-existing groups can become part of Left Unity, retaining most of their individual identity. This can improve our internal democracy, it means that members of various organisations can be held accountable to the membership of Left Unity, it ensures that we cannot be put into disrepute by groups of people who are part of this group and that organisation. It will also promote lively debate within Left Unity, as various tendencies operate officially within our structure to promote their views, instead of doing this from the outside and from within. We could accommodate them expanding what rights tendencies have, fleshing out how they operate within the party while promoting healthy democratic debate.

Amalgamating the various organisations of those involved would be something similar to what historically happened to the Labour party, and would definitely make the left a lot stronger than it is. At the moment we are like a hundred people all pulling in different directions, if we united under one organisation, we would be one hundred people pulling in the same direction. However Left Unity are still the new kids on the block and how successful we are going to be is still being decided by the jury, one thing is for certain we will be as successful as those committed to Left Unity make us. There is that age old workers maxim, unity is strength and this holds as true today as it did one hundred years ago, the left is in a mess because of its disunity, Left Unity exists to remedy that. Everyone involved must want some form of left unity, or at least recognise the need for it.

Making members renounce political affiliation to other organisations, would cause a lot of work for Left Unity. First and foremost our membership would drop slightly, secondly we would come under attack by these organisations. All of which will distract us from our real concerns, fighting capitalism and helping those feel its effects. However it isn’t all negative, it would ensure that the people left are committed to Left Unity and Left Unity alone, we would be free from internal distractions brought about through various outside influences, and we would all be working towards the improvement and betterment of Left Unity. This would therefore empower the membership who are left to have full control over the organisation, the only problem would be just how many activists we lose and the danger of LU falling into the trap of sectarianism.

What path Left Unity should take, I am not one hundred percent sure, one thing is for certain though this debate needs to be had, and it needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. We are leaving ourselves open to attack from within and while this may not be a massive problem at the moment, as we grow it will become a much bigger possibility. We need people who are taking Left Unity seriously, and are committed to the project wholeheartedly, we need to work at improving our grassroots structure and our democracy, empowering the membership to take Left Unity on the journey they want it to. It is very bizarre that we can have people not involved with Left Unity at all, in a completely separate organisation influencing our policy through having their members in this position, or voting on that motion. In the long run this leaves us as members completely powerless over our own destinies. The first step in finding a resolution to this, is Left Unity having this debate and discussing what kind of party we truly want this to be. We can hold a meeting with all these organisations, get their input, get your input as a member, this is our party, lets ensure it succeeds.

BooksWithBenefits – LU Northampton

Standard

Image

Left Unity Northampton took to Abington Street on a lovely sunny day, the gods themselves were happy with our small measure of kindness we were about to bring to the streets. We were there carrying out our BooksWithBenefits project, the premise of which is we collect unwanted books off people then in turn hand them out for free, a concept some people just could not get their head around, as we were greeted with “why would you do this?” “what’s the catch?” “that’s strange?” As they eagerly poured over the treasure trove of books in front of them. All the while political discussions were taking place and stories were being shared.

LU Northampton wanted a way to engage with the public and highlight political issues, so we formulated a way to do something nice for people while doing just that. We wanted to do something positive to highlight cuts to public services, sanctions on benefits and even the prison book ban.
We were never going to sell papers, and saw no point in just having a stall that does nothing, so the idea was born. Book donations flooded in and within each book we placed a Left Unity flier publicising a political discussion around cuts and sanctions, while at the same time giving out broadsheets to people who were genuinely interested to know who these strange nice people were giving away free books.

Every single person we engaged with on a political level had not heard of us either locally or nationally and this was there first ever experience of Left Unity. They can now look back on that positively and see that we want to do something good for our community, as we were not after anything off them personally, we were giving something back. All in all the event was a great success, we engaged with people we would not have done so otherwise, and overwhelmingly people wanted to have books which could teach them something and give them knowledge. One of the books we gave out was the first English book the person had ever owned, a memory which is likely to stay with her.

While we were greeted with a lot of “no thanks” after asking people if they wanted a free book our success can be measured, we gave away quite a few books, formed new relationships with people and let people know what Left Unity is about. New people will be turning up to our discussion on cuts and sanctions next week and now LU Northampton is (until we run out of books) going to have regular engagement with the public. You can’t build a new kind of politics on old foundations, and that is what we were doing, laying new foundations for Left Unity in our town, one that can be inclusive. Far more important though than actually doing something nice, were the political discussions and engagement we had, which were all positive.

This wouldn’t of been possible without the kind people of Northampton who donated books to the project in there hundreds, so a big thank you to them and to everyone in LU Northampton who made it possible. Even while we were handing out free books people were offering to donate more books. Afterwards when we reflected on the event we decided a couple of things, first and foremost to have a big sign that stated we were giving away free books and secondly to hold it on a regular basis. Most importantly what we can take from this is we need to do more events like this where we get to engage with the public and show them what we are about, while doing a good deed, politics needs to be reconnected to the people and Left Unity has to do that if it is to build a mass movement.