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From Cairo to London: People Power

Former Adelaide Advertiser journo, and now UK based media whizkid Amy Freeborn kindly responded to a Webdiary request for a local's-eye view of the London protests by writing this piece. Many thanks, Amy!


From Cairo to London: People Power By Amy Freeborn

London has seen more protests on its streets in the past six months than in the more than six years I’ve been living in the city.

Students marched in November 2010 over news that Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister, had U-turned on his pre-election pledge to scrap university tuition fees, and was now supporting (as part of his place in the coalition government) the move to raise fees from around £3000 per year up to £9000.

Students flooded the city centre, placards in hand, calling on the government to give them what they’d been promised. Unfortunately, it was the clashes, rather than the popular discontent, that made the headlines - windows of government buildings were smashed, a celebrity’s child swung from a union jack flag, and a youth was sentenced to jail for throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of a building and narrowly missing police below.

But the police came under fire too. They were criticised for their tactics in dealing with the protesters, which included kettling – holding large numbers of people in confined spaces and not allowing them to leave -and liberal baton use. In one incident police were filmed violently pulling a cerebral palsy sufferer from his wheelchair and dragging him across the pavement, while another student protester ended up in hospital fighting for his life with serious head injuries allegedly inflicted by police.

In December student anger segued into protests against UK businesses that don’t pay corporation tax in the UK because their ‘headquarters’ are based overseas. Stores including Topshop and Vodafone in the city’s main shopping strip, Oxford Street, were forced to close when they were overwhelmed by protesters.

The Royals were even caught in the fray when the Rolls Royce in which they were travelling to the theatre turned down a street occupied by anti-cuts/anti-tax dodge protesters – the car was kicked, egged and Prince Charles’ wife Camilla even allegedly received a poke in the ribs with a stick through an open window.

Throughout the early months of 2011 people in the UK continued to take to express anger at their government, as did citizens around the world. Many, with much more serious issues than our own – such as dictatorial leaders –rose up, and in one case, toppled a regime.

In January, the people of Syria began protesting the 40-year-strong ‘emergency law’ government of Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar al-Assad. Simultaneously Egyptian citizens began a campaign of civil resistance against their leader and on February 11th President Hosni Mubarak resigned. Next came Bahrain, whose people began staging demonstrations aimed at achieving greater political freedom by ousting the ruling monarchy. At the same time Libyan anti-government protests called for the resignation of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi; Gaddafi has so far refused to yield, and currently UN forces are attacking Gaddafi military posts to prevent the dictator killing the countrymen that oppose him.

The power of, and results possible through peaceful protest reported from around the world seemed to galvanise the UK public in such a way that an all-encompassing demonstration which took place this past weekend (March 26th) in London attracted half a million people.

The ‘March for the Alternative’, organised by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), aimed to show the country’s solidarity against coalition government public sector cuts and the risk therein to jobs, growth and justice, to student fee increases and governmental blind-eye-turning on the paying of UK corporation tax, and anything else that plagued the hearts and minds of the ordinary wo/man.

It was billed as the biggest union-organised event for a generation and pitched to attract people from all walks of life – from pensioners to families, doctors, nurses and students, those wishing to show solidarity with African and Middle Eastern freedom fighters, from first-timers to anarchists – and all parts of the country (buses and trains were chartered especially).

In an effort to keep things peaceful and professional, organisers drafted in stewards to show protesters where to go and how to go about it, and police were briefed in advance on best, safest and most protester-friendly practice.

An estimated 500,000 people turned out, and while a minority faction did cause damage and clash with police (some windows were broken, graffiti was daubed, 200 arrests were made, 84 injuries reported), the general consensus from organisers, the (rational) media, and those who attended, was that it was a peaceful, positive and successful event.

Trades Union Congress General Secretary Brendan Barber had this to say in his rally speech:

:"Together we are sending a clear message to the government: that we are strong and united, that we will fight their savage cuts and that we will not let them destroy people's services, people's jobs and people's lives.

“Young and old, black and white, men and women, we come from every walk of life and every part of Britain.

“Let our message go out loud and clear. This is just the beginning of our campaign - and we will fight the government's brutal cuts in our workplaces and our communities. We are speaking for the people of Britain. David Cameron, if you want to meet the Big Society, we're here.”

As Patti Smith once sang, and recent examples around the world have shown, the people have the power. What remains to be seen is whether the British government – elected by the people to serve the people – will acknowledge that.

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Coalitions see "reds" under the bed

West Australian senator Scott Ludlam last year demanded an arms embargo on Israel, which he described as "a rogue state", while South Australian colleague Sarah Hanson-Young addressed a rally where protesters called on Australia to sever ties with the Jewish state.

The stance by the two senators conflicts with Senator Brown's assurance last week that his federal party was not anti-Israel and did not support the NSW branch of the party advocating sanctions against Israel.

The Coalition last night labelled the Greens "reds", while the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council called on Senator Hanson-Young to visit Israel before jumping to conclusions.

What about all those UN resolutions?

 The UN has issued number of resolutions saying that the strategic relationship with the United States encourages Israel to pursue aggressive and expansionist policies and practices.

Why are we so quick to support no fly zones in Libya and ignore UN resolutions on Israel?

It seems very hypocritical to me and anyone that argues the case is call a red.

Let's have a real debate rather than the two major parties just ignoring an issue that has been festering in the Middle East for nearly 60 years.

A game of Chess

I look forward to Wallerstein's fortnightly column. His latest is an analysis on the actions in Libya. 

A milestone in the history of humanitarianism?

 It would be a fine step toward ending global impunity for atrocities if a SWAT team of Libyans and coalition forces swooped down one day and seized Colonel Qaddafi to face trial in The Hague. It’s the kind of thing that no one can predict, but it’s an ending that would leave this Libyan incursion remembered not only for the lives it saved, but also as a milestone in the history of humanitarianism.

As millions of protesters fight for their freedom on the streets, the dictators that use bullets to cut down the people asking for freedom should be charged with murder. A true milestone would be if the leaders of the free world said all who fire on unarmed protesters will be prosecuted in the International Court of Justice.

Article 94 establishes the duty of all UN members to comply with decisions of the Court involving them. If parties do not comply, the issue may be taken before the Security Council for enforcement action

All humans have the right to be free.

All who are free should fight to set others free.

L'il Alex

Noticed there is some controversy in Britain about Cameron's aggressive privatisation of jails, amongst many things. 

Had me thinking of A Clockwork Orange, a cult film by Kubrick, from my era.

Amy Freeborn is an inadvertant precious resource gifted us here - she's on the ground there and unless I'm wrong is warning us to be very alert as to this sort of politics visiting this country.

We need to save ourselves, really, a lot of grief.

"Extremist call for a boycott on Israel"?

Mr Howard, who yesterday met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior ministers in Israel, said the Greens' moves to impose a boycott had "not gone unnoticed in Israel". He said it was absurd for the Greens to move for a boycott against Israel, and accused Labor of not doing enough to distance itself from the "alliance".

"At a time when the Middle East is in complete turmoil over the fight for democratic rights, it is astounding anyone would advocate a boycott on the only stable democracy in the region," he told The Weekend Australian. "The recent claims of so-called 'extreme positions' on climate change is . . . nothing compared to this extremist call for a boycott on Israel."

Why is ok for the UN to attack Gaddafi to enforce UN sanctions and extremist to call for a boycott on Israel, a country that continues to ignore UN sanctions?

Israel has violated countless UN resolutions and amassed weapons of mass destruction, say those who oppose this war. Why then is Iraq singled out for yet more punishment while the Israelis get off scot-free?

This question is no longer being asked by Arabs alone. “No war against Iraq, Free Palestine” has become the slogan of anti-war demonstrators in Europe and America. The two conflicts have become entwined in the public mind in a way that the West's politicians cannot ignore.

Murderers all, but why not?

John, that's a long sentence. Let's shorten it a bit.

Why is it ok for the UN to attack Gaddafi?

"To prevent civilian deaths."

The problem with Libya is not Gaddafi, he is only a symptom of it. It is not aridity. Neither of them are to blame for a society in which rape of women is punishable by imprisonment of any woman who complains. Neither is to blame for the fact that Libya is an essentially, fundamentally, beastly and vicious society. Something else is to blame for that. No reform is in sight, none can be procured by the greatest military might conceivable, regardless of the presence or absence of Gaddafi.

Cameron and Obama and our own (forget his name - my ruddy memory) knew with absolute clarity, right at the beginning, that fomenting and assisting civil war as they intended to do would vastly increase the number of civilian deaths, that the way to minimize civilian deaths was to intervene on the side of Gaddafi, as his friends, and thus moderate his government's actions in putting an end to the rebellion. To end it, not prolong it. When it was ended something would have been started from which great things might have come.

Gaddafi was and is certain to go, there was going to be and certainly is going to be a Libya without him. To demand that a nation evolve and transform in time for the evening news instead of over the centuries it used to take, and launch gratuitous military attacks against it if it doesn't, is ... at best deception and pretence.

It could not possibly, could not conceivably, have been their intention, Obama's and his co-conspirators, to minimize civilian deaths. Absolutely to the contrary, they saw an opportunity to "get" Gaddafi over the Lockerbie bombing, which caused a tiny number of deaths, to do that by engineering, and by direct military attack causing, a great number of deaths.

Which raises a question about democracy. Just the velvet glove over the iron fist? Whose fist? What is really going on?

I read with amusement in the Australian today that Al Qaida has got involved on the rebel side. Obama, Osama, Cameron, Sarkozi, what a cute bunch!

Will you make your voice heard?

In the end, that's what Saturday's events were all about: democracy. This is not about the politics of right and left – this is the politics of right and wrong. We all have a right to participate in our democracy, a fundamental part of which is peaceful protest. It is distressing and disappointing to witness the unfolding media narrative, in which my actions have been confused with those of groups whose tactics I have no interest in adopting.

You may agree with what your government is doing now, but that might not always be the case. One day, the government might do something that you consider morally wrong, or an infringement of your rights. If that day comes, will you simply wait four years to put a cross on a piece of paper? Or will you make your voice heard?

writes an activist in the Guardian.

Democracy gives us the right to protest. We have paid for this right in blood over the centuries.

In countries where there is no democracy the same price will have to be paid. Dictators do not give up easily, all strength to those that are fighting today.

Strong democracies may have to help those that are fighting for their freedom today.

Vicious Circle

As usual in these things, John, it's been the very few who've committed violent acts that have attracted the publicity.  Frinstance,.. AdelaideNow ran the headline "Anarchy in the UK" and one of the UK right-wing rags (can't remember which) ran with the rather pithy "Ritzkrieg."

It reminds me of when we all came out to protest Iraq, and Howard, in addressing us via speaking to the few ratbags, did a good job of makings sure very few came out again.

It's a dangerous media cycle... if confrontation and violence are what gets the publicity glory, then that's what the journos will be given, and ultimately this may spin into a level of rebellion that nobody wants to see.  And those who feel the futilility of their causes being unheard may well applaud and join. 

What comes after the revolution?

People across the globe are marching in an effort to change their government. The problem is the people who are ready to bring down a government often have nothing to replace it with. The UK is a great example: anarchists, unemployed and various other factions would find it very difficult to agree on what needs to be changed.

In the Arab world we have Sunni, Shites, even Al Qaeda trying to replace dictators with dictators.

Democracy is still the only good way to change a government. Those who still haven't forced democracy on to their leaders will always have to fight for change with blood. We can only hope that democracy is the outcome for those trying to overthrow dictators.

For those of us living in democracies we only have to wait for the next election. While we wait we have the luxury of non violent protest.

Pearls before swine

On the contrary, the people don't have the power. That's why they are taking to the streets- and it's a desperate fight the world over.

As to the article, Freeborn spent some time on Clegg, an individual for whom spinelessness is a way of life.  A sort of Blair, but lacking the ethics and intelligence.  And believe me, you don't want to know what I think of Blair's integrity and intelligence, either.

The gifted Guardian cartoonist  Rowson often depicts Clegg as a Pinocchio, but with the strings firmly in High Tory Cameron's grasp.

It is a loathsome government that succeeded one that was spectacular for its weakness, like right wing Labor in Australia.

Cameron is what the folk of NSW have just landed themselves with and what the country will end up with, if it is ever so troppo as to vote in that crackpot Abbott.

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