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Review of 'Alternatives' meeting in Telford

Wrekin Stop War | 16.06.2006 06:44 | Anti-militarism | Migration | Social Struggles | Birmingham

Positives and negatives to take from the 'Alternatives' meeting on 10 June

After general discussion at our group meeting on Tuesday evening, I think all agreed that our Alternatives meeting on 10 June was a success in many ways. However, we also think that there were lessons to learn for future events too.

The attendance was around twenty and although we were aware that some local anti-war activists would be attending the StWC Annual Conference in London, we were disappointed with this number. The small matter of England’s first game of the world cup might not have helped, although we do doubt that peace meeting -v- football was a realistic target to set ourselves given the current national fervour.

On the other hand, we did attract people from as far afield as Manchester and whatever the attendance, I feel that those present were treated to three inspiring speakers and interesting debate arising from audience questions.

Bruce Kent from the Movement for the Abolition of War, spoke of his optimism for future successes of the anti-war movement, stating that we should take advantage of the current anti-war feeling, particularly the growing opposition to the replacement of Trident. He noted that despite the Government’s commitment to an ‘open debate’ on nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the only argument NOT allowed at the debating table is that we will get rid of both. He also touched on the more far-reaching social and financial implications of war and the arms trade.

His organisation are distributing a comprehensive document entitled “Warfare or Welfare? Disarmament for Development in the 21st Century: A Human Security Approach.” This is produced by the International Peace Bureau and covers all aspects of our current war culture from economic globalisation to gender perspectives.

At the end of the session, an audience member challenged Bruce with the assertion that he had ‘pussy-footed’ around the issue of Israel and Palestine, and suggested that Israel’s American-assisted expansion, both geographically and militarily, is one of the main causes of the problems in the Middle East.

Bruce's response acknowledged the problems and he expressed his disgust at the use of water rationing to oppress the Palestinian people. He also stressed the importance of not just focusing on Israeli Zionists but also the increasing power of the Christian Right, as, in many cases, one is supporting the other.

Another audience member asked about Iraq and asked if Bruce believes war to be justifiable in the case of a violent dictator like Saddam Hussein. He replied that he would never rule out war 100% but highlighted the dangers of creating dictators only to depose them when they want their own way. He also highlighted the problems that the invasion of Iraq war has caused, in the country itself and the wider world. Other audience members agreed with this and pointed to a century of British interference in Iraq, installing and removing several Saddam-esque characters.

He was also asked about the peace movement highlighting the civilian casualties of war and the questioner wondered if civilian deaths actually help make war a reality and easier to oppose rather than the out-dated concept of two armies on one field of battle with no outside involvement.

I have to admit that I found this question a little odd at first but it does have relevance when considering the general nimbyism of the human race. That said, many people in Britain don’t care who’s dying in Iraq, whether it’s civilians or not. They just know that it’s happening thousands of miles away so doesn’t directly affect them and even the London bombings haven’t really brought it home for most.

The next speaker was from Food not Bombs who talked about the work of the organisation in helping homeless people and working for peace.

Food not Bombs is a worldwide collective of local ‘chapters’ who give free food to homeless people. This isn’t just charity, it is done with the purpose of empowering the homeless, by involving them in the work of FnB to help themselves and others. They believe that the climate of globalisation and war are responsible for social injustices like homelessness and that grassroots action and activism is a good way to work against this.

The speaker expanded on the core principles of Food not Bombs and identified the collective’s commitment to anarchism, non-violence and vegetarianism/veganism. The group has no hierarchy and they try to make decisions by general consensus rather than majority rule.

The speaker used some excellent quotes highlighting the peaceful and co-operative side of anarchism most often overlooked in the media/establishment politics and explained that in addition to being better for health and hygiene, vegetarianism is important to the non-violent principals of FnB.

However, the speaker was also keen to stress that Food not Bombs is not an exclusive group and individuals do not have to comply rigidly with the organisation’s principals to join their food stalls and campaigns, merely respect them when they are representing FnB.

The revelation that some stores would rather destroy surplus food than give it to homeless people was just one of many facts arising from the eye-opening talk and with reports of local homelessness rising rapidly, Wrekin Stop War are now investigating setting up a Shropshire Chapter of Food not Bombs.

The speaker was asked by an audience member if people ever seem worried or put off Food not Bombs by a misinterpretation of ‘anarchism’ as aggressive and chaotic. The speaker responded that most people who become involved in the group often already have knowledge of its anarchist principles and understand the context in which it used. Those that don’t never seem to mind when they find out, having seen the positive work of the group in action.

The third speaker of the day was from Birmingham No Borders group, which is part of the No Border worldwide activist network.

This group seeks an end to invisible borders dictated by geographical and financial concerns and whilst working towards this they are also supporting those criminalized for not recognising these borders.

The speaker managed to convey the humiliation heaped on asylum seekers and refugees, despite the fact that many are already fleeing torture and the threat of death.

The speaker showed the audience the ‘ration book’ given to some asylum seekers, which contains food coupons for those who are not even allowed cash to buy food.

As well as being administered by a private firm, these coupons are only redeemable at corporate giants like Tesco and McDonalds. As the vendor is also exempt from giving change, this £35.00 per week does not go very far!

The speaker also gave a worrying report of asylum seekers being accosted and detained by ‘snatch squads’ operating from the signing centres, which are compulsory for them to attend. These signing centres are a weekly obligation and as they are often miles from where asylum seekers are housed, it is very difficult for them to comply (especially the ones who aren’t allowed to have money).

The speaker talked about the hunger strike undertaken by inmates at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Detention Centres after a No Borders demo in April, which also spread to several other centres across the UK. Despite the fact that some detainees are still on hunger strike some 2 months later, this is not reported in the media.

At the end, a member of the audience asked the speaker if he thought a world of no borders was possible. He replied that in his personal opinion, yes, and he also reiterated that geographical borders are inevitably drawn up on economic lines anyway and are most often used an instrument of government control rather than keeping those within safe.

Despite their promises, Radio Shropshire didn’t turn up to report on the meeting and I was disappointed that when Bruce Kent left to catch his train, people started to put their chairs way and the meeting broke up. I felt there was more time for debate and that it was just getting warmed up (and not just literally with the weather!)

We publicised the meeting in the local press and the posters were widely distributed to individuals, other groups and in as many public places as we could get to put them up. Most traders in Wellington said no but I believe that people in Oakengates were a lot more accommodating so a big ‘thank you’ to them!

Perhaps most people will remember Saturday 10 June as England’s first match of the 2006 World Cup (those who can remember it at all) and who am I to belittle this self-proclaimed bastion of working class comradery.

Our speakers addressed the issues of war, environmental destruction, poverty and discrimination that are festering beneath the fake national unity and pride whipped up by the World Cup. These are the things that really pose a threat to our future, not weighing our fruit in kilos, having the wrong national anthem or other ‘threats’ to a national identity that actually doesn’t exist beyond the glorification of military conquest.

We all worked hard to organise and publicise the meeting and although the attendance was lower than hoped for, I certainly do not feel that our time and effort were wasted. Of course, a meeting of 20 people isn’t going to change the world but people at the meeting told me that they had learned something and I certainly did, so if all 20 of us tell more people what we learned, the ripple effect of our meeting has already begun.

Perhaps I’m being too optimistic about any possibility of reversing the ingrained culture of competition and consumption; and I certainly found Bruce Kent’s faith in lobbying politicians extremely hopeful if somewhat misguided. That said, if we don’t approach our activism with at least a hope of change, there’s not much point in carrying on.

I’m glad that I will remember Saturday 10 June 2006 as a day that strengthened my desire for change and hope that the relatively few others lucky enough to share it felt the same way. I think we scored a pretty cool victory for independent, grass roots activism and unlike England, we managed to do so without the help of the opposition!


Wrekin Stop War


Display the following 2 comments

  1. linkorama :) — one of brum noborders
  2. Impressed by the meeting - Great to learn about Food Not Bombs — Keith McHenry