When I ask why are they poor, they call me political…
The statement from the journalist on News 24 brought on a familiar feeling of paralysis. He said to a local commentator amidst the Tottenham/London riots, “It’s not the time to be making political points.”
Back in 2005, as a political activist, I was giving out leaflets as 225,000 people converged on Edinburgh to protest about Poverty, advertising a political meeting later in the day and with information as to how poverty could really be made history. Geldof and Bono had rallied all of these people together to click their fingers and wear white (we, on the other hand, were wearing red teeshirts with “Make Capitalism history” emblazoned on them). They had been told by texting their names to a special number (yes, we had mobile phones back in 2005), their name would appear on a big electronic list at the front of the rally in the Meadows. This would ensure that Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and George Bush and all of the other world leaders would bring an end to world poverty. People believed it. It seemed at the time, that the whole world had come together to change the world for ever. And all done by the non-political act of a click of a finger or sending a text.
Lots of people took a leaflet from me. Some thanked me and read it; some shoved it in their pocket along with the tens of other leaflets from all of the other campaigns wandering around Edinburgh. Some dodged me, or in Glasgow parlance, “dingyed” me, which didn’t offend me. You see, when you are an activist giving out leaflets, you are giving something valuable to another person. Educating them; inviting them to come and learn. This small act of philanthropy, to the activist, is one small way to change the world. It makes you feel good.
When you are walking in the street and someone thrusts something in your hand, you have been given another piece of pocket junk.
Some people spoke to me and asked me questions, which was fine. I liked to chat to people about the issues. I felt quite happy standing in the sun, amongst that crowd who were there for noble reasons, imparting our knowledge.
And then three people dressed in their best white teeshirts and with well coiffed hair and expensive trainers approached me. One well spoken guy was obviously their spokes person.
“Hey mate. I really think what you are doing is disgusting!”
Disgusting. There was I, like him, making poverty history by texting and clicking and giving out leaflets (ok, he wasn’t giving out leaflets – he was someone who was to receive knowledge from me in my act of benevolence).
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“This isn’t a time to be making political points. It is a disgrace you are trying to make this political!”
Now, to be honest, I can deal with political hecklers. I have no problem in debating and discussing ideas and opposing ideology. But I wasn’t ready for that. How do you explain to someone, succinctly, that of course Poverty is a political issue? That those world leaders in the big fancy hotel in Auchterarder are making political decisions about money we have all earned and about how much of our money should go on arms/border controls and wars and how little of it to give out to people who need it. It hadn’t dawned on me that people at this demonstration didn’t think that the issues were political.
The same kind of paralysed disbelief hit me this evening when BBC reporter, Julian Worricker was interviewing someone on the streets of London. During the interview, he said to the guy that, surely this was not the time to make political points after the interviewee had mentioned the poverty and joblessness and how the cuts were hitting hard in Haringey. All evening we had heard statements from Tory politician after Tory politician saying the riots were caused by “bad people,” yet to try to contextualise the unrest was being wrong… being political.
What has led to this strange idea that we should not politically analyse problems of poverty? That we should not disagree over solutions? That we should not hold people to account when they take wrong or mistaken decisions?
This problem of fear of making political battle does not seem to be equal on both sides of the political argument. It is the left who seem to be hampered by this political paralysis.
Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.” The new derisive term used is, “you are politicising this.”
In America, the only people who were seemingly allowed to make political announcements or accusations over the debt ceiling were the right wing, Fox TV lauded Tea Party, while Obama struggled to come up with concession after concession. His trying to compromise with them led directly to the biggest fall in the stock market since 2008 and a down grading of the USA’s credit rating. We were subjected to hardass Republican after hardass Republican condemning the democrats/commies, yet after the Tea Party led crash, there have been no Democrats spitting tacks at the sell out – no political lefty bulldog saying “enough of this!” Just more concessionary words from Obama the castrated communist.
Twitter is being blamed for the London riots. But my twitter feed (usually full of lefties whispering about how bad the cuts are, while the left political establishment sit on their hands as, in actual fact, they believe in the same cuts agenda, only slower) had loads of Tories blaming the poor for their situation. Some of the vile comments I read blamed “socialism” and the “socialist” councils the areas are run by.
“Society doesn’t ghettoize these people. They gave free education which we pay for. Do it to themselves expecting state to pay.”
“10yr old looters? Created by scum to live as scum. Don’t make pathetic excuses for criminality”
“Poor boroughs maybe burning. Fires are the progeny of the people you think should get taxpayers money. Scum rioting!”
“London does not need police lines! London need police batons to deal with these vandals & criminals. Put them in concentration camps.”
These are tweets from one prominent Scottish Tory supporter. Others from right wingers urged a fight back – a call to arms, arming the shop keepers and bringing in the troops.
But there were few – if any – Labour Party members spitting tacks at how the cuts have closed 8 out of the 14 youth clubs in Tottenham in the past week alone- and the target to meet the cuts agenda is 75% of them; or the fact that only back in September last year, Home Secretary, Theresa May said, “We can cut police budget without risking violent unrest;” or that the firemen and ambulance drivers risking their lives on the streets of London have had their pay frozen and pensions decimated.
Or no-one was asking Nick Clegg, as Deputy Prime Minister, does he feel the Liberal capitulation within the coalition has allowed the Tories to bring on this summer of violence as he said they would in April 2010?
Where were the people shouting that this place has the biggest unemployment in the city? There is 1 vacancy for every 54 jobseekers? An unemployment rate of 8.8%, the highest in London and eighth highest in the country? Some of the worst deprivation ion the UK?
Instead we had local Labour MP, David Lammy making statement after statement after the initial riot, that this would harm property prices in the area, that this would harm business.
And nothing, in his first reactions, about the social causes of this unrest.
Where are the Bernie Grants, the old style Labour politicians who stood up for the people who have been ghettoised and demonised for years and years? Where were the political leaders calling for heads to roll because the disgusting cuts -political acts – that have made living in these areas even more intolerable? Where were the politicians calling for investment in jobs and education in the area? They were no-where to be seen because they don’t want to challenge the seemingly obvious fact that this was caused only by bad people, or so the rightwing tabloid (and BBC) narrative says. Bad poor people who need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. And to say otherwise would bring the wrath of the only people allowed to make political statements – the right.
Where are the Politicians with the policies that will make poverty history?
Don’t politicise poverty. They are bad people. We are all in this together.
We need our politicians to start spitting tacks, shouting, banging tables with fists. We need angry women and men verbally hauling the politicians over the coals. We need to hear people asking the right questions over and over and over again. We need to ensure the right who have taken over the Labour Party and the Condems do not get away with making statements that these riots were caused by some bad people.
This was a situation that came from a build up of social factors inflicted upon this community by Thatcher through to Cameron. We need to “politicise” the argument and stand strong.
Compromise with the right has led us to where we are financially and socially at present. We need people standing up for the good people of London and Birmingham and Glasgow – the victims of the trickle up society – the people who have been forced to live in further austerity as the bankers debt is socialised and the riches are held tightly by sociopathic offshore island profiteers.
This post was first published on the Huffington Post.