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The Fargate Speaker June/July 2010

Sheffield Anarchist Federation | 18.06.2010 21:55 | Other Press | Sheffield

The June/July issue of the Fargate Speaker is out download and print off the PDF version and read on for the content which includes, It’s Time To Get Angry, Protest against state murders, “purple power”?, Organising in Care and Review: Four Lions.

It’s Time To Get Angry.

The dust has settled after the election (one that sometimes seemed like it’d never end) and no-one’s surprised to see that cuts in public services, jobs and welfare are on the agenda. Central government has already told councils they have to find £1.2bn in savings over the next ten months to help bring down the £156bn deficit. This means cuts in many basic services people have come to depend upon as well as cuts in pay and worse conditions for council workers.

The council, for their part, have been denouncing the cuts left, right and centre. Despite the fact that all of them were elected on the basis of Party manifestos that promised substantial “belt-tightening” and promoted the idea that we need to all make sacrifices to weather the economic storm. The protests of the council are, of course, nothing but hot air to try and give the illusion of meaningful opposition to the worst wave of austerity measures the city has seen since Thatcher’s reign in the 80s. After all, why would we need to act in our own interests when we’ve got such lovely councillors making a fuss on our behalf?

The various factions of the political class are always happy to attack each other to try and give the impression that they represent our best interests, especially in times of social and economic trouble. But none of the existing parties offer any real alternative for working people in Sheffield. If we want to stop the cuts, it’s up to us. We need to stand together and act directly to defend our jobs, conditions and public services.

Voting in elections is a completely ineffective way to make your voice heard, as many people who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the hope of progressive change, only to find their chosen candidates backing a Tory government, are now discovering. Fortunately, politics doesn’t stop at the ballot box. Fighting back collectively in our everyday lives - through strikes, occupations, and many other forms of protest - we can exercise a power that’s far more meaningful than just choosing which politician will screw us over next.

Protest against state murders

As you are probably well aware by now, the state of Israel recently caused a fresh international outcry. In the early morning of 31st May Israeli commandos stormed aid ships which were on their way to the Israeli-besieged state of Gaza to provide essential humanitarian relief to the desperate civilian population who are trapped there. We now know that nine activists were shot dead by the Israeli commandos, including possibly some as they slept.

Protests have been erupting across the world in response to this latest atrocity, including in Sheffield. On the day of the massacre, at 12pm, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in Sheffield called a demonstration outside the town hall. Over 50 people attended at short notice, with members of PSC making speeches through a mega-phone towards the gathered demonstrators. A moment of silence was also held.

On Wednesday 2nd June at 5pm there was a follow-up demonstration which was mostly like the first, but with more people, (perhaps 100 or more), and with more speeches. A couple of moments of silence were also held at this event, as well as some slogan chanting.

“purple power”?

On Sunday May 23rd a mainly liberal group held a demonstration in Sheffield as part of the nationwide purple campaign for a “fairer voting system.” Members of the Anarchist Federation attended this protest to put forward the argument that Parliament cannot be meaningfully reformed, and needs to be replaced completely. The turnout for the demonstration was fairly weak. There weren’t the same numbers as these protests have attracted in other cities, and they didn’t attract the same student support that might be expected. In the end the demonstration was just members of the local purple group handing out their literature. Members of the AF had a few discussions with those supporting the purple campaign, explaining the tradition of anti-parliamentarism in the UK and especially in Sheffield.

While the purple movement has managed to tap into some of the anger that a lot of people rightly felt after the general election, the answers they put forward are deeply flawed. If we wish to see real change then we must act for ourselves and seek change through direct action, and build a system of direct democracy where everyone has a say in decisions that affect them, instead of leaving power concentrated in the hands of politicians or bosses.

Organising in Care

Support workers and other frontline staff in care work are badly paid and often work under horrendous conditions. This is obviously bad for care workers but the stress workers face and the high turnover these conditions cause is bad for service users too because they lose continuity of care and have staff that through no fault of their own have limited experience and training. These conditions need to be challenged.

It is difficult to organise and fight when we work in isolated locations and have no contact with the majority of our colleagues in the same company and even in the same teams. This leads many to think that nothing can be done and that we must suffer in silence.

However, despite these difficulties, support workers and service users have fought cuts in pay and conditions elsewhere. In Edinburgh the ‘Support Workers Action Network’ (SWAN) has successfully fought against cuts to their pay and conditions. (Details:

We know something can be done. All care workers in Sheffield need to organise against attacks on service user’s care and staff pay and conditions. An example has been set by Edinburgh SWAN, can we follow it?

If you are interested in talking to other care workers about issues you be facing in your workplace or maybe just looking to share experiences with other workers in the city. email:

Review: Four Lions

‘Four Lions’ (Chris Morris, 2010) has been released for some time now. Released is an apt verb, as from pre-production onwards it sounded as if it could do as much damage to the bourgeois psyche as the aforementiond beasts of the title. It was set to become the most controversial film of the year, quite understandably given its sensitive portrayal of radical Islamic terrorists, who also happened to be British. You can picture the Daily Mail headlines now, probably featuring the words ‘disgusting’ and ‘outrage’ but then that could describe any Daily Mail headline that is not about white people. However, I found ‘Sex and the City 2’ more insulting to Western and Islamic cultures than ‘Four Lions’. The research Chris Morris underwent was extensive and the film is the result of those three years worth of interviews across the Islamic community. The film is water-tight. At no point is there an impression that these characters are representatives of the wider Islamic community. The subplot featuring Riz Ahmed’s brother makes it perfectly clear that the majority of Muslims do not approve of the fundamentalists claiming to be Muslims, whilst everyone else seems to think they are terrorists themselves.

I am not sure what I expected of ‘Four Lions’ but I was not disappointed. It is hilarious. Some of the laughs are drawn from the aspiring terrorists’ ineptitude, which had a distinctly Ealing comedies flavour. Carry On Jihad if you will. This does not detract from the subject matter, which is at times incredibly scary. I have never found a Weetabix so threatening in my life. Its emphasis on the virtue of letting people think for themselves is admirable in a culture saturated with party politics and religion trying to compartmentalise the opinions of millions. So don’t take my word for it. See it and make your own mind up.

Five anarchist stars go to the film in terms of supporting the local culture. The film has nearly made back its budget of £2.5 million, which is miniscule compared to most of the fodder on general release.Much of the action takes place in Meadowhall, Meersbrook, Attercliffe and on various Supertrams. The only part where Chris Morris’ research fails is when there are TV screens broadcasting news on the blue route service to Halfway – but nobody is perfect. Please support local film production by seeing this brilliant film. Creative arts are becoming dangerously close to being completely centralised in London. With Sheffield Independent Film declaring bancruptcy, there is no better time to get some grassroots growing.

Sheffield Anarchist Federation
- Homepage: http://ttp://


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The Mental Environment

19.06.2010 07:41

Where our fate as humans will be decided.

Your mind, a clear mountain stream running burbling through the rocks. Until Pepsi stands up, unzips its billion-dollar ad budget, and takes a leak, staining it forever brown. Your brain, a verdant old-growth forest, until it dies the death of a thousand swooshes. Your soul, filled with the crystal fresh air of early morning, until Philip Morris blows in a cloud of its seductive smoke.

No. Mental environmentalism may be the most important notion of this new century, but the only way to start this discussion is by admitting the analogy is not exact. Whatever the mental environment is, it’s not a pristine wilderness untrammeled by people. It’s not the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the Antarctic biosphere. No, the mental environment has been shaped by culture as long as we’ve been, well, human.

The mind is, among other things, a tool for collecting, storing, weighing images and ideas. Perhaps earlier in our primate evolution our brains worked differently, but for millions of years we have been shaping our own minds and the minds of those around us. Our mental environment is not the Yosemite of John Muir or Ansel Adams. It has always been more like Central Park, a landscaped reflection of human notions. Every generation, every community, has had a mental environment. The culture. The zeitgeist. It is that almost invisible fog of assumptions in which we live our lives, the set of images and ideas we barely notice because they are so common as to be both banal and overwhelming.

What’s more, this is not the first moment that our mental environment has been polluted. We’ve seen all kinds of toxins poured into the infostream. Check out a Leni Riefenstahl movie if you want to see what I mean. Try to imagine life during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The state, the church have time and again become mentally oppressive until eventually a resistance emerged — a resistance that, from Martin Luther to Vaclav Havel, said at least in part: “We want our minds back.” Not all the way back: We’ve never owned our minds entirely. But more of our minds, in better shape.

Which brings us to the present moment, the moment that we have to deal with, the moment out of which we have to stage our singular resistance. The mental environment is under siege from a particularly difficult variety of pollution. To understand it, consider an analogy from the physical world, where carbon dioxide is threatening to warm the planet disastrously. Taken in small doses, carbon dioxide is not dangerous, just as the occasional commercial or billboard is hardly a problem. In fact, CO2 in small quantities isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as most chemicals, just as Ronald McDonald couldn’t do the same kind of damage as, say, Joseph Goebbels. But every act of a modern life releases carbon into the atmosphere. Spewed from the rear ends of a billion cars and factories and furnaces, this constant pollution now seems likely to raise global temperatures five degrees in this century, altering everything from rainfall to ice-melt to wind speed. Similarly, the modern consumer economy sends up an almost infinite blitz of information and enticement, till the air is so thick with it that every feature of our society is changed. In neither case is it pollution in the usual sense, easily cleaned with a smokestack filter or combated with a more wholesome image. Instead, it’s a volume problem. In the case of the so-called information society, it may be the largest psychological experiment in history.

Here’s another way of saying it: We are the first few generations to receive most of our sense of the world mediated rather than direct, to have it arrive through one screen or another instead of from contact with other human beings or with nature.

If the mental environment we live in has a single distinctive feature, the way that oxygen defines our atmosphere, it is self-absorption. That’s what a mental environment gone awry has produced; that is the toxic outcome of our era’s unique pollution. Some years ago, working on a book, I watched every word and image that came across the largest cable system in the world in a 24-hour period — more than 2,000 hours of ads and infomercials, music videos and sitcoms. If you boiled this stew down to its basic ingredient, this is what you found, repeated ad infinitum: You are the most important thing on Earth, the heaviest object in the universe. From the fawning flattery of the programming to the mind-messing nastiness of the commercials, it continually posited a world of extreme individualism. Even more than, say, violence, that’s the message that flows out the coaxial cable. Characters on television may turn violent to get what they want now, but it’s the what-they-want-now that lies nearer the heart of the problem.

This hyperindividualism is a relatively new phenomenon in our lives. For most of human history, people have put something else near the center — the tribe, the gods, the natural world. But a consumer society can’t tolerate that, because having something else at the center complicates consumption.

This appeal to us as individual fragments grows ever more powerful and precise. Most of the new technologies premise their appeal (especially to advertisers) on their ability to target with frightening accuracy our locations and our psyches.

So far, the assaults on our mental environment have been mainly from the outside, but we are seeing sorties on the inside too. Already we see psychopharmacology rampant, the ranks of people who need such medicine swelled by a creeping malaise: a gradual redefinition of our foibles, of our tiny personal tragedies. There are pills for the camera-shy, for “shopper’s remorse,” for the stresses of personal bankruptcy — it’s getting crowded in the collective bummer tent. Before long, genetic engineers may well be able to literally tweak the brains of our children, offering them “extra intelligence” or perhaps docility, upgraded memory at the price of downgraded meaning. Improved individuals, at the price of whatever individuality should mean in its sweetest sense.

But. The human mind and heart are not dead yet; indeed there are signs that we’ve reached the moment of resistance, that a million Vaclav Havels, albeit often tongue-tied and unsure precisely of their mission, are rising from different corners to challenge this assault. If you ask me what I remember from the WTO battle in Seattle, it is not the sting of rubber bullets or the choke of gas; it is a jaunty balloon rising above the melee with this message painted on its side: “Wake Up Muggles.” If you’ve read Harry Potter, then you know: Muggles are all of us, living in a world of magic but unable to see it, focused as we are on television and mall. But we are waking, in sufficient numbers to ensure there will be the same kind of fight for the mental environment as there has been for the physical one. And, of course, the fights will overlap.

Mental environmentalists may well lose, just like their colleagues working in the physical world. Global warming may be too much to overcome, and so may genetic engineering or push media or the simple warm-bath skill of those designers and marketers who would sap our lives for their own advancement. But the fight itself holds tremendous possibility. The liberation from self-absorption comes most of all in the battle to help others and in the vision of a world that makes sense to our minds, a world where no single idea (“buy”) holds sway.

Forget monoculture, in our fields or in our heads; imagine instead a thousand different communities, adapted to the physical places they inhabit, sharing insight and difference, appreciating small scale and large heart. Where no musician sells 10 million copies, but 10 million musicians sing each night. Where we are freed from consumer identity and idolatry to be much more ourselves. Where we have our heads back.

Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information, and is the pioneer behind the movement. His latest book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Barnsley Bill

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