Posts Tagged ‘Mugging’

Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change

November 4, 2018

Matthew Bolton, How To Resist: Turn Protest to Power (London: Bloomsbury 2017)

About this time last week, hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets marching to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest demonstration since 2 million or so people marched against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. And as Mike commented in his blog post about it, as likely to do as much good. Blair and his corrupt gang ignored the manifest will of the people, and went ahead anyway, determined to prosecute a war whose real reasons were western imperialism and multinational corporate greed. The march failed to stop the war and the chaos it caused is still ongoing. Just as last week’s march will also fail to prevent the Tories doing whatever they want.

It’s a disgusting situation, and this book is addressed to everyone who’s fed up with it. The author, Matthew Bolton, is an organizer with the campaigning group Citizens UK and their Living Wage campaign. And the book is addressed to people, who have been on the march, and are sick and tired of being ignored. Right at the very beginning of the book, he writes

This book is for people who are angry with the way things are and want to do something about it; for people who are frustrated with the system, or worried about the direction the country is going in. For people who are upset about a particular issue, or want a greater say in the changes happening in their neighbourhood. They’ve posted their opinions on social media and they’ve shouted at something they’ve seen on the news. They’ve been on the big march and they’ve been to the ballot box, but what more can be done? This is for people who want to make a change, but they’re not sure how. (p.1)

A few pages later he describes the dangers to democracy and the increasing sense of powerlessness people now feel when decisions are taken out of their hands by politicians.

What’s at stake here is more important than simply helping people who care about particular issues to run effective campaigns. It’s about democracy. In the past, people who wanted to make a difference, and believed in change fought for democracy with sweat, blood and courage. The Chartists, the Suffragettes and other endured prison and faced death in their struggle for the chance to have a say in the governance of the country. They organized and campaigned to force the ruling elites to open up our political system to influence by the majority of the people. It is a great misunderstanding to think that they were fighting for the chance to put a cross in a box once every few years. They were fighting – week in, week out – for power. Fighting for more people to have more influence.

Over time, we have become confused. Now we have the vote, we have mistaken politics for Parliament and have come to see democracy as something to watch on television or follow on Twitter, like spectators at a football game – or worse, to switch off from it completely, losing trust in politicians, losing trust in the media, losing trust in the system. Democracy doesn’t just mean ‘to vote’, it means people power. It means embedding political action into our day-to-day lives, in our communities and workplaces. It is a vision of a society where power is distributed amongst the people, not concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s not an end state, but a constant struggle for people to fight for a seat around the decision-making table.

But it doesn’t feel like we are at the table. It feels like we are on the menu. Power is being concentrated in the hands of an increasingly small circle of people. We have a revolving door of Cabinet ministers becoming bankers, becoming newspaper editors, becoming chief executives. We have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that our democratic system would create a better future for us all. But it doesn’t look that way. By lunchtime on the first Wednesday in January, after just two-and-a-half days’ work, FTSE 100 bosses will have earned more than the average person will earn that entire year. The generation now in their twenties will be the first in modern times to be worse off than their parents. What we want for ourselves and our children – a decent job, a home, a health service, a community – is under threat. (pp. 4-5).

He then discusses how the political terrain has shifted immensely recently, with people demanding change, giving as examples the vote to Leave in the Brexit referendum and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But he also makes the point that you need a strategy and that winning campaigns are very well planned and organized. And he gives two examples: Rosa Parks and Abdul Durrant. While the action that sparked off the bus boycott that began the Civil Rights movement in earnest was presented as spontaneous in Dr. Who, in reality it was very carefully planned. The Montgomery chapter of the NAACP had been planning a boycott for a year before she refused to give up her seat. They had already tried this with three other Black passengers, but had failed to light the fuse of public indignation. This time, they found the right person with Rosa. Durrant was a leader in the East London Communities Organisation, part of Citizens UK, who worked nights as a cleaner in HSBC in Canary Wharf. He led a campaign to get better pay for workers like him, and then organized a media and mass protest to get it.

As for Bolton himself, he comes from a working/ middle class family. His father’s family were working class, his mother’s solidly middle class. He attended Cambridge university, but went to the state primary in his part of London. The local area was very rough, and his mother wanted him privately educated, and he was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a private school in Dulwich. He says that it was at this time that the stark difference between conditions in south London and the bubble of privilege in Dulwich began to grate on him. He was mugged twice in his neighbourhood, once at the point of a knife, punched several times in the face, and violently carjacked. After private secondary school, he went to sixth form at a state school that also had its fair share of problems. He describes how some of his friends from private school went on to work with a family friend in the City, which he describes as a conveyor belt to a decent university and a great career. Others had to avoid gang trouble on their way home, looked after their young siblings in the evening because their mother was working nights, scrimped and saved to pay the gas meter, and then tried to do their homework. He continues

It wasn’t just the unfairness that made me angry: it was the fact that as a society we say success is determined by how clever you are and how hard you work. If you fail, it’s your fault. That convenient lie made me angry then and it makes me angry now. (p. 21).

The book describes the strategy he has devised over years of campaigning to affect change. It starts off by identifying the issue you are particularly angry about – it could be anything – and identifying the people in authority who may be able to do something about it. He rejects the idea that powerlessness is somehow noble, and recommends instead that protestors concentrate on developing their power, as well as appealing to those that already have it to help them through their self-interest. The book also talks about the correct strategy to adopt in meetings and talks with those in authority and so on. It is all about mobilizing popular protest for peaceful change. After the introduction, pieces of which I’ve quoted above, it has the following chapters:

1. If You Want Change, You Need Power

2. Appreciating Self-Interest

3. Practical Tools to Build Power

4. Turning Problems Into Issues

5. The Action is in the Reaction

6. Practical Tools to Build a Campaign

7. Unusual Allies and Creative Tactics

8. Finding the Time.

9. The Iron Rule.

I’m afraid I didn’t finish reading the book, and have no experience of campaigning myself, so I can’t really judge how useful and applicable it is. But just reading it, it seems to be a very useful guide with sensible, badly needed advice for people wanting to mount effective campaigns on the issues that matter to them. And Bolton is absolutely right about the rising, obscene inequalities in our society and the crisis of democracy that has developed through the emergence of a corrupt, self-interest and interlinked media-political-banking complex.

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Book Review: The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship

June 4, 2016

By Mark Hollingsworth (London: Pluto Press Ltd 1986).

Press Dissent Pic

I found this in one of the second-hand bookshops in Cheltenham. Although it came out thirty years ago, and covers the major issues of that decade, it’s still acutely relevant. The press and media is still overwhelmingly right-wing, and bitterly hostile to anything like genuine Socialism. This is shown by their refusal to cover Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, the uncritical support given to farcical and frankly libellous accusations of anti-Semitism, and its complete and utter failure to give to proper coverage to protests and demonstrations against the government’s austerity programme. One of the most flagrantly biased in this campaign is the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who has been booed and hissed by audiences at speaking events because of her blatant Tory bias, as recently covered in several of Mike’s posts over at Vox Political.

Individual chapters deal with the press’ attacks on and vilification of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and the GLC, press racism, Peter Tatchell and the Bermondsey bye-election, the Greenham women’s peace camp, the 1983 General Election, and the miner’s strike. The conclusion considers what may be done to alter this terrible situation. There are also four appendices. The first gives the commercial interests of the companies owning the British press. The second give the circulation figures for the national papers. The third lists the Fleet Street editors, and the fourth gives the NUJ code of professional conduct.

I remember many of these controversies from when I was growing up in the 1980s, but reading through the book I was shocked and amazed at the sheer venom and bile poured out on the people and causes featured in the book. Many of the ad hominem attacks sound like the kind of personal vilification Stalin meted out to his political opponents just before sending them to the gulags. It also shows how times have changed that the homophobia that was so prevalent in the 1980s, and which comes out particularly strongly in the press’ attacks on Peter Tatchell, is probably even more shocking now. And then there’s the attempts by the press to play down and demonise the women’s peace camp at Greenham common, which is shocking in its bias and repeated spiking of any positive articles or discussions of what they were doing. And if the press couldn’t simply distort the truth, they made it up, as shown in their articles about Black criminality and racist aggression against Whites, and the Miner’s Strike. There they fabricated a story about how the miners were all Communists – a standard line of attack on most of the left-wingers featured in the book – but were also being given paramilitary training by the IRA in Ireland.

Tony Benn

The book states that the businessmen, who worked with Benn had a high opinion of him. They found him clear and rational. John Shore, the chief executive of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, who dealt with Benn as the local MP for 14 years, says of him ‘I certainly never found him bonkers. He always presented in all his dealings with us a well-reasoned response to anything that we put to him.’ The Evening News, however, discussing Benn’s supposed political ambitions at the time of the EEC referendum in 1975, screamed that ‘Benn has gone too far to be treated as a joke… now he is seen in some quarters as a vampire, a fanatic and a bully.’ (p. 47). The Sunday Express ran a photograph of Benn, adding a Hitler moustache under the headline ‘Frightening Sketch of Wedgie’. It then went on to portray him very much as a traitor. It said, ‘In 1940 we knew we had no enemies within our own shores, that we were all united against Hitler. Can we say the same thing now? Could you, for example, be absolutely positively sure on whose side you would find people like Anthony Wedgwood Benn?’ Benn, the book notes, had volunteered and served as an RAF pilot during the War.

Ralph Miliband

This kind of smear was repeated a few years ago against Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. Ralph Miliband was a Jewish immigrant from Belgium, and a committed and respected Marxist intellectual. He also fought for Britain in the Second World War. Nevertheless, the Mail denounced him in a long, ranting column as ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

Ken Livingstone

On the 27th September 1981, the Sunday Express denounced Red Ken as ‘The IRA-loving, poof-loving, Marxist leader of the GLC Mr Ken Livingstone’. The papers hated him for subsidizing gay and feminist organisations, and for championing the Nationalist cause in Northern Ireland. In their attacks, they published a series of articles by psychiatrists and psychologists supposedly diagnosing Leninspart as a clinical maniac. This was a gross misrepresentation of what the doctors had actually said. They made clear that they were discussing a type of personality, and not specific individuals, and duly complained.

Peter Tatchell

As for Peter Tatchell, not only did he suffer because of his sexuality, they also tried linking, spuriously and unfairly, with Militant Tendency. One reported told Tatchell that ‘We’re going to dig up everything you have ever said or done from the day you were born’. Questions were asked whether he ever visited gay brothels. They also turned up outside one of his neighbours, claiming to be officers from Southwark Council, claiming that they were investigating complaints that he had been holding loud, all-male parties during the night. They went away disappointed when the neighbour told them otherwise.

Fleet Street Racism

The book also shows how prevalent and pernicious was the racism in Fleet Street. Newspaper editors frankly said that aspiring Black journos shouldn’t try getting into journalism, because they wouldn’t be valued and would find their careers blocked, no matter how good or respected they were in their countries of origin. A Sun editor, discussing what kind of image they should put on the front page to show happy folk winning the Scum lottery, said that they should put ‘darkies’ on it, as no-one wanted to see that. And the Dirty Digger, Rupert Murdoch, himself said to Harold Evans, the editor of the Times, regarding a Black protest march, that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by a crack over the head with a police baton. Asians were more than 50 times likely to suffer a racial attack than Whites, and Blacks more than 35 times. But there was absolutely no interest in reporting these racist attacks. One journo said that the newspapers were not interested in crimes and tragedies where the victims were either working class or Black. And while they claimed that Whites were being racially attacked by Blacks at every opportunity, they were keen to do the complete opposite involving racial attacks on Blacks and Asians. This was shown in the press’ treatment of an arson attack on a Black household, that killed 13 people. The press described it merely as arson, and did not interview any of the grieving relatives, even when it was clear that it was a racial attack, and members of the British Movement were jailed for violence and making firebombs. The statistics were also flagrantly manipulated, with non-violent crimes included with violent robberies to produce a grossly inflated picture of violent Black criminality responsible for drug-dealing and mugging, and ample space given to extreme right-wingers like Harvey Proctor and Enoch Powell demanding their repatriation.

Greenham Common Women

The Greenham women were repeatedly ignored. One female editor on the Times, responsible for ‘Look’, the newspaper’s women’s supplement, tried to have a sympathetic article on them published. Despite having successfully edited the women’s sections for the Grauniad and Observer, she was sacked. There were repeated attempts to uncover violent incidents committed by them, and they were accused of being agents of Moscow and supporters of the IRA.

The Miners

This was also one of the accusations aimed at the miners. One of their organisers had gone to Dublin seeking funding from sympathetic trade unionists in Eire. The papers claimed he had gone off to get the IRA to train them in paramilitary tactics they could use against the police. Someone, however, took the trouble of actually interviewing the Irish mining union, which had given its support to the British miners. They stated very clearly that they weren’t connected to the IRA, and not only weren’t providing any kind of ‘paramilitary training’, they didn’t even know how.

Dealing with the Press in the Age of the Internet

The picture given is of a frankly out of control press, that lies as easily as most people breathe. It is corrupt and deeply mendacious. But the book also gives clues on how it can be dealt with. Apart from its own suggestions in the final chapter, Hollingsworth notes that at one point the coverage of Tony Benn became markedly less hysterical, more level and less biased, because Benn took control of the situation. Instead of letting the mainstream press set the agenda, Benn was refusing to give interviews to them, preferring instead to talk to other magazines and journals.

This might give a clue on how to handle the latest biased reporting by the Beeb and the press, including not just right-wing papers, but also the Graon and Indie. The net now provides an alternative outlet for news, one that is actually preferred by the younger generation. The old, lamestream media like the Beeb are under threat, and they know it. Hence the rants by Beeb hacks in the Radio Times lamenting the fact that the political consensus previously created through everyone in the nation getting their news from the same sources, is vanishing. There are, of course, negative aspects to this. Mike says one of the problems is the decline in investigative reporting. But people are turning to the alternative media – the internet with its blogs and vlogs, because the mainstream press and the BBC have shown themselves consistently uninterested in anything like objective, unbiased reporting.

This is a crisis in journalism, but it also presents new opportunities for better reporting from a media not quite so dominated by the old media giants. And if people are abandoning the Beeb and the dead tree press, then they can only blame themselves. More and more people are sick and tired of their bias, and their hounding and vilification of those they despise as enemies of capitalism and the Tory party. If they want to regain some of the public trust they’ve lost, they can do so by redressing the issue of balance. In fact, as their readerships decline despite them becoming more extreme and opinionated, their survival depends on it.