Archive | February, 2012

Tony Balls wins Community Wrecker of the Year Award

28 Feb

When I read the Traveller Solidarity Network’s post on UK Uncut about Tony Balls, leader of Basildon council who oversaw the brutal eviction of Travellers from their homes last October, being nominated for ‘Leader of the Year’ award I genuinely thought it was a joke. It took a fair while for me to believe that this was actually for real, and I’m still feeling rather perplexed about the whole affair. The end of the blog called on us not to allow them to rewrite history in this way. That was a powerful statement, combined with memories of that shameful day in October, that saw me cycle out furiously through the streets on London to join the protest and alternative ceremony at Westminster City Hall.

A sound system blasted music and around 50 of us stood with banners and placards, danced and leafleted passers-by. Our presence there delegitimized proceedings inside and created a spectacle that passers-by were curious about. As I leafleted I had some nice conversations with people about Balls’ ludicrous nomination and what he had done to Dale Farm. One woman was shocked and said ‘I hope he doesn’t win it’ and I had a good conversation with the Sainsbury’s security guard who told me how wrong and unfair it was that they had been evicted.

A ceremony proceeded outside for the Community Wrecker of the Year award which Balls was unable to collect in person, but which Anne, a long term supporter of the Dale Farm community, accepted on his behalf. It was fortunate that he won this award, as he didn’t win the leadership award in the end – somewhat reassuring my faith in humanity.

I left at 8.30, I didn’t reckon that he would dare to exit via the front. But it turns out that he did have the chutzpah. However, he was met with angry protestors and was forced to take the back exit.

A substantive footnote has been added to history – describing how people will not tolerate racism, forced evictions, and the destruction of communities.

 The Traveller Solidarity Network are running talks all across the country over the next couple of months – see here for more details

A Simple Act…

15 Feb

Lambeth council have taken away free bus passes for the mentally ill. To them this may seem like a simple act to help make the cuts forced on them by national government. But this seemingly simple act reveals the callous and bullying approach that Lambeth council have taken in implementing these unnecessary and unjust cuts. They are choosing what they see to be an easy target to make pay for the cuts; for this isn’t the first attack on the mentally ill in Lambeth – the council have already closed down a centre providing vital services for the mentally ill.

The cuts to those suffering from mental illness are sickening acts and if we do not stand up against these, I strongly fear for what sort of society we have become – that we would deny something as small as a bus pass to the most vulnerable people, for whom this provides a lifeline. Lambeth council see this as a small cut, they do not see the tremendous pain that it will cause to those who depend on it as people’s homes become their prisons.

Lambeth council attempt to justify their abhorrent actions by claiming that their provision of free bus passes will remain one of the most generous of the London boroughs – but this simply reflects the high level of people suffering from mental health issues in the borough and actually supports the argument that we need to be doing more to address mental health in the borough rather than less. Lambeth’s high rates of people suffering from mental ill health, which is 12 times the national average, will no doubt increase as the cuts plunge more people into poverty and desperation. We should be investing money into running more mental health services for the entire community to promote mental well being and to support those dealing with mental illnesses.

But instead Lambeth council have chosen what they see to be the easy route – picking on a group who may find it more difficult to organise and speak out. They don’t appear to have predicted that this small act would enrage the rest of the community who refuse to be a part of a society which targets the most vulnerable with such bullying behaviour.

For me, the withdrawal of the bus pass has brought home to me the horrific realities of these cuts – both national and local – and the sinister ways in which they are falling on the most vulnerable.  I am disgusted by those who claim to represent us and urge everyone to resist these in the myriad ways that have and are being demonstrated. Following UK Uncut and Occupy London’s tactics, a particular emphasis on civil disobedience is necessary, as it seems now that only by taking direct action will we stop the cuts and ensure the simple and dignified act of providing bus passes for those who need them.

Join Lambeth Save Our Services demonstration outside Lambeth Town Hall on February 29th and keep in contact for further actions.

Free education

13 Feb

Last week, I had the best unemployment day yet (although this is not to undermine the often grim reality of being unemployed – unemployed people face stigma, pitiful benefits, and often suffer lower life expectancies in comparison to their waged counterparts – however, sometimes it can be fun to have free time). After three years of intensive study at university (I know people have this idea of students as lazy, but it is quite hard work, and what with all the pressure on yourself as a result of the debt you’ve taken on as well), I finally felt relaxed and well rested. Browsing the internet I also found loads of interesting things that were going on around London for free – I got really excited and started adding them to my diary. Whilst there are lots of things I miss about student life, including the generous bursary that I received, I realised that it’s perfectly possible to get yourself a top education for free. And with the ludicrous fees that are now being charged, as well as the changes that the government are trying to impose on universities which will mean they become even more commercialised than they already are, perhaps free education is the way forward. I thought I’d share some of my discoveries – and if you have any ideas, please feel free to contribute.

As well as being free, it is important that education is critical, and that it isn’t just understood as lectures and reading books, but can be conceived of in different ways, ways that are fun, inclusive, and participatory. Hopefully I’ll discover more sites of alternative pedagogy during my unemployed travels and I’ll be sure to report back.

As well as Free education, perhaps I should expand also to include Free London. I was in Waterstones the other day and found a nice little book called ‘Tired of London, Tired of Life: One Thing to Do a Day in London’ by Tom Jones. It had lots of good suggestions about cool things to do in our wonderful metropolis (did you know the street lamps in Covent Garden and along Green Park and the Mall are gas lamps? pretty cool), however, some of these included visiting fancy cafes, and other extravagant things, so perhaps I could do an alternative that focussed on free explorations, places, and activities.

Free education

Tent City University – Occupy London St Paul’s

Tent City has largely wound down now, but in it’s heyday, it hosted some great speakers and many lively debates – although perhaps it was a little too set on the conventional academic format of lecturer lectures at audience then audience gets to ask questions. Maybe it could have attempted to push the boundaries a little bit and experimented with different ways of learning that weren’t dependent on old middle class white men. This criticism aside, Tent City shows us that we can make our own free and open spaces for learning. I hope we’ll give this a try again sometime soon.

Public lectures at the London School of Economics

I’ve been attending loads of these recently – Paul Mason on why it’s kicking off everywhere, New Economics Foundation on the 21 hour working week, and Richard Sennett on cooperation – there’s a huge programme of really interesting talks and sometimes they even have a reception afterwards with hummus and pitta! Check their website for new additions to the programme and for other free festivals that are held at the LSE – for example, Wednesday 29th February-Saturday 3rd March is the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival.

The British Library (and the Wellcome library just down the road opposite Euston Station)

Here you can access any book published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The British Library also has exhibitions on as well as numerous reading rooms where you can sit and work (once you’ve registered to become a member, which is free and open to everyone). I’ve been meaning to go there to read the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest as it sounds like an exciting read.

Or how about the Women’s library


Obviously, the internet is a brilliant free resource. I’m sure there’s loads of great websites with videos and all sorts (oh yes, mustn’t forget David Harvey’s video lecture course on Marx’s Capital – I’ve been meaning to do this for years! And Capital volume 2 is being added – but maybe it’s a bit overwhelming to know where to start. That’s where I’ve found Twitter so useful. Basically I’ve followed a load of people who I think seem cool and interesting – through this I’ve found all sorts of interesting articles that they’ve included in their tweets or shout outs for events. You can also pretty much just tweet a question that’s been bothering you and I’m sure someone would get back to you with an answer.


Walking around the city, whether by yourself or in a group, is also a great way to learn about your local area or other parts of London. Experiencing the city first hand is one of the best ways of learning geography. There are all sorts of fascinating objects placed around the city.

These are just some ideas for getting yourself free education, this will be updated…