Doing conferences differently

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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.

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Left Unity Northampton: Yearly report

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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

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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

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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.

Labour: The New Party of the Right

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Can we stop pretending that Labour is a centre left party now? It seems with each passing week another right wing policy comes spewing forth from the Labour party machine, or even more farcically a selection of MPs falling over themselves to appear more right wing on the key debates of the day. How long are we going to be in self denial on what the Labour party has transformed into? How long can we buy into a false belief that they are anything but on a clear course of centre right politics? If Labour taking up the rally cry of “one nation” politics didn’t send the alarm bells ringing, what will? Like the Titanic hurtling towards an ice berg, Labour are hurtling full speed ahead into the right of British politics. Ed Miliband is just the newest figure in Labours slow march to the right as it abandons its supporters. Labours continual commitment to move further right should go down in history as one of the biggest betrayals of British politics, how insane that a political party can be so divorced from its key voters and supporters that it is doing everything in its power to leave them behind. It is a damning state of affairs for British politics when come the election people will vote Labour only because they won’t hit us as hard as the Tories, or if they do, they will look apologetic and sorry about it afterwards.

The Labour party was founded out of the Trade Union movement, it was founded to ensure this movement had representation in parliament, who would of thought that when they are afraid to say they support striking workers? Or fall over themselves in trying to distance their relationship to the unions. I am going to say this loud and clear, being a trade unionist is not a crime, it is not a sin, trade union is not a dirty word to be shied away from, it is something to be proud of, and Labour are not proud of this history, and they are not proud of that legacy. Their betrayal of their founding principals continues however, Nye Bevin founded the NHS, a health system which is the marvel of the world, yet it was a Labour party some sixty (give or take) years later which begun selling off this wonderful health system to private companies, so they may profit off our sickness, now that is a big fuck you to Bevan and the proud achievements of a Labour party fighting for the people. The NHS came about to ensure that we were all given good healthcare regardless of wealth, yet now they begun the process to have a health system run on profit and based on wealth? “It will last as long as there a folk left to fight for it” Bevan once said, he would be turning in his grave if he knew his party were the ones that begun the process of dismantling it. I could go on and on, but there is a rather simple test which can prove this abandonment of socialism, look through a Labour manifesto, look for the word socialism, now look through their last five manifestos, see if you can find it, you won’t, just like they are afraid of their trade unionist past, they have abandoned their socialist principals. They even took up the rally cry of imperialism with the invasion of Iraq, they picked up the sword of imperialism and plunged it into the back of their international socialist supporters!

One Nation Conservatism championed by Benjamin Desrali is the new theme for the Labour party, and it was such an important part of Conservatism that it was only in the 1970s that its influence diminished within the Tory party, New Labour has now become One Nation Labour. Ed Miliband while citing Desrali as a key influence, also claims it is inspired by Prime Minister Attlee, the same Prime Minister that brought in a swathe of welfare reforms, chief among them the NHS, a champion of the welfare state. This being the case, how can this One Nation Labour even begin to match up to the champions that brought in the welfare state in one of the most difficult periods economically and socially this country has ever witnessed? Far from having a banker created deficit to deal with, Attlee had a myriad of problems and far from shrinking from the responsibility the Labour party had to the people of the country, he brought in reforms to help them and the welfare state he laid the foundations for and built up is being dismantled by the ConDems, and is going to continue to be attacked by Labour, at the very least if he wants to lay claim to Attlee’s legacy he could at least mount a robust defense of the welfare state instead of helping hammer in the nails of the welfare coffin.

To lay the blame solely at Ed Miliband’s feet would do him a disservice, he is very much a fruit of a Labour tree that has hacked away at its roots and one that marches relentlessly to the right, the Labour’s mass consensus and acceptance of Thatcherism. We had thirteen years of Labour government, thirteen years of chances, thirteen years for the Labour party to empower the unions, thirteen years to undo the heartless and callous actions of she who may not be named, thirteen years to regulate business interest, thirteen years to nationalise key industry, thirteen years! THIRTEEN YEARS!!! Far from being remembered as an administration that championed the interest of the working class, that reigned in big business, that gave power to the trade unions, it is remembered most of all for an imperialist war, for giving power to the banks, for creating the big brother state. The whole New Labour project was a betrayal of old Labour, a betrayal of true Labour – it should be remembered as the final nail in the coffin, and Blair the man who sold those principals down the river. To still peddle this poor excuse for a party which is anything but socialist, as a viable workers alternative is not only an insult to everyone who is a socialist, but it is in an insult to those who built up the party, an insult to all who see themselves on the side of good, on the side of equality and the side of justice! Much like Oscar Wilde wrote “the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it,” these people are perverting the socialist message and prolonging our suffering under this system. The sooner we stop letting Labour beat us up and fight back, the sooner we can be living in a just and fair society!

If we examine some Labour of past and present, we can see this growing right wing tendency consuming the soul of the party. The most iconic of these in recent memory being the abandonment of clause 4 which read: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” This arguably ensured that the constitution and the party were firmly rooted in the workers struggle, and on the side of the people against the vampiric nature of big business. Removing this from the constitution was either a retreat from the principals which made the party great, or a capitulation to Thatcherism and right wing ideological thought, but one thing it certainly wasn’t, was left wing. Now fast forward twenty years and we have a Labour party that wants to be “tough” (right wing rhetoric for harsh and unfair) on immigration and benefits, with a Labour government we will not be able to have benefits until we are 21. It goes deeper than this still Rachel Reeves has rather proudly declared “It is not an either/or question. We would be tougher [than the Conservatives],” in what kind of parallel universe do we have to reside in, when a socialist or left wing party is declaring it will be more right wing than the Tories? While Ed Balls is declaring they will go into the next general election being “tougher on immigration,” this in the wake of the UKIP scare, where we witnessed a swathe of Labour politicians falling over themselves to appear more right wing than UKIP. The party has betrayed its principals, betrayed its supporters and betrayed us all!

Finally, and this is by no means the sum of all the charges laid at the feet of a disconnected Labour party, the cuts which have hit the poorest and most vulnerable in the wake of the bankers and capitalism crisis are being forced to pay, we are being forced to see the many victories won by brave souls, brave trade unions and a brave Labour party, get ripped away before our very eyes. You would expect then a left wing Labour party to be on the offensive, racing ahead in the polls with a swathe of policies and rhetoric to reflect the dire situation we all find ourselves in, but alas this is not the case. We are met with Ed Balls “We will be cutting departmental spending in 2015-16 and not raising it, with no more borrowing to cover day-to-day spending.” Not only has the right wing Labour party followed the immigrant scapegoating lined laid down by the likes of UKIP, it has accepted the neo-liberal right wing capitalist myth, forcing every normal person to shoulder the burden of a crisis it did not create. Outside of the cost of living crisis rhetoric, which is very true, there is no real substance to it, it is just hot air, a sacrifice to appease the Labour faithful, a bone thrown for them to chew on, well lap it up, because it isn’t going to get any better. A left wing Labour party would be reversing these cuts, it would be creating equality, fairness, a system that works not for a few elites at the top, but for the majority of us.

To reflect on Labours slow zombie like shuffle to the right you can trace this slow right bound drudge with the removal of clause 4, you could argue it begun even further back as some have, but when it begun really doesn’t matter to the present situation and that is, we now have a Labour party which no longer represents the majority of workers, a Labour party which has betrayed or ignored the trade unions, a Labour party that has abandoned the principles it was founded upon, a Labour party which no longer seems to care for its roots. The reclaim Labour strategy has been argued for, for fourty odd years and within that time we have witnessed a complete betrayal by the Labour party to the people. We can mourn the Labour party, we can waste our time within the Labour party machine, fighting helpless against the ever growing tide towards the right wing, or we can work at building a new party that represents the people, this is why a new party of the left had to come into existence. After all that Labour have done to us throughout the decades people still turn out because “they’re better than the Tories” but how long is that excuse going to last? How much betrayal can we take? On the continent we have seen relatively young parties spring up and have some measure of success, this is why we need to throw off the pessimism of a new party, Labour started somewhere a century ago, and we have to start again for the workers torch is being extinguished over Westminster. We cannot continue to support a party which does not support us, it is as simple as that, so please throw off the Labour shackles, the Labour party of old is dead, the new beast is not one we want to ride.

Woe is Society

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Maaan, when you look at who runs what, how can you not feel anything but anger?

The vast amount of wealth sits in a handful of peoples bank accounts, ain’t nobody working harder than 50% of the population, I don’t care if you only sleep 1 hour a bloody night.
Power sits in the hand of a small rich elite, why the hell do we let them do all the decision making?
Every single layer of society we look at, is all controlled by the same power interests, the same small group of people, who only have their own interests at heart.

This pattern has repeated it self throughout history, and alongside this, there has been people like you and me, the disenfranchised, the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden – those that have less, those that have little, those who have nothing.

We have fought throughout the ages for a fairer and more just society, we have fought to get a little more of the pie, instead of subsisting on the crumbs. Shit we have fought to not eat pie, we have fought so we can eat cake!

Whether you actively take part in this struggle or not, this struggle is happening, you can sit on the fence, you can watch from the side lines, as our futures literally get stolen from us, or you can become an active participant, but ultimately when you moan about the way things are, the only way they are going to change, is if you take an active part, we are all powerful beyond measure.

We are the glue that runs the machine we call society, we do not need stock brokers to run society, we do need cleaners – we are the ones that are running things in all but name, why then do we not get a fair share in all this? We do the majority share of the work, without getting our just reward.

If when you were a kid someone sat you down with a contract and said to you: “Ok, we want you to work five days a week, nine hours a day, for the rest of your life, in exchange for that, we will give you a little bit of money, so you can buy your own food, and live in a house, while we take the majority of the profits, live in a bigger house, eat better food, drink better wine, be your boss we will make all your decisions for you, all you need to do, is be our slaves” – Ain’t nobody going to sign that contract.

This world is ours, all of ours, do not sign your freedom away, as the saying goes “all evil needs to triumph is for good men (people) to do nothing” – Another way is possible, we just have to make it so.

Peace, love and unity