Australia day, happy for who?

I have survived my first Australia Day, 26th January, a Public Holiday when one is expected to eat barbecue lamb, drink beer, listen to Triple J’s hottest one hundred, adorn oneself with Australia flags and go to the beach. We indulged in a couple of these activities, but held off from writing a pro-Australian message across our bellies in yellow and green zinc, I also decided against wearing my Australian flag bikini, fetching though it is.

Australia Day has some other names; Invasion Day and Survival Day are those which I have noticed. These are quite apt as Australia Day is a celebration of the corresponding date in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney Cove with eleven ships and declared British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of what was known as New Holland. It was the start of 200 years of assault on Aboriginal communities, including the spreading of deadly disease, murder, forced dispossession of land and separation of families, attempts to eradicate indigenous culture and language and assimilation policies that would include “breeding out” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Survival Day tag is because Indigenous people have survived this onslaught.

The impact of these events is still felt, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people  disproportionately experiencing social issues, with high instances of substance misuse, emotional difficulties, mental health problems, unemployment, poverty, low educational achievement, identity issues, short life-expectancy and contact with the criminal justice systems.

I have also noticed 26th January referred to as Amnesia Day, implying that the issues I’ve described have been forgotten. I actually don’t believe that’s the case. While I don’t doubt that to some Australia Day is just about beers, barbecues and flags, there is an awareness of what Australia Day actually celebrates amongst many people. The National Australia Day Council (NADC) has a reconciliation plan, I am unable to comment on how effective this has been however it includes the admirable goals that Australia Day will;

  • offer an appropriate mark of respect on the national day;
  • nurture pride amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and all Australians; and
  • raise awareness of the issues that still challenge the nation, such as the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderAustralians and the wider community.

It is good to be patriotic, provided the celebration of nationality doesn’t spill over into racism and xenophobia. A person should be proud of their heritage but should also recognise the faults of their ancestors and the enduring effects. We should look to ourselves and ask “what can I do to help rectify this?”, particularly when we continue to reap the rewards of past injustice.

There is a long way to go for Australia Day and it may never be the inclusive day that the NADC envisions if it is always celebrated on 26 January. However, with the will and action of enough people, perhaps Australia Day will not always have the shadow-tags of Invasion Day and Survival Day.

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An equality conundrum: how much is too much?

To everyone who reads this blog, my apologies for not having posted in a while. The primary reason for my silence was that my little family of three, is now due to become four. Everything with that and managing a two year-old, made blogging fall to somewhere near the bottom of the priority list. Our impending arrival brings more responsibility as parents, but doesn’t diminish our social responsibility and therein lies a conundrum. How much is too much for our family?

In the developed world many of us lead relative lives of luxury. Not that we have our own houses in order, in the U.K. there are 4,000,ooo children living in poverty, that’s one in three. In Australia, Aboriginal people have an average life expectancy of 59 for males and 64 for females. These circumstances are unacceptable and indicate a need for more equal distribution of wealth and resources nationally. However global inequality is much more pronounced, with one in every six people living on less than US$1 per day. This situation requires nothing short of a global revolution.

While I can hope for a global governance that is just, the obvious place to start is at home, with our own redistribution of wealth and resources. I won’t expound what we do and don’t do, but suffice to say I am unsure of how much we should be doing. My wife and I have promised ourselves that we will never live a life of luxury and greed, however to people living on less than US$1 per day, we already do.

So how much is too much? How much giving is enough? Should we take home a maximum of the national average salary per household, or the global average salary per household? Should we be living a Gandhi-like existence on bare essentials? How much should my children forgo and how much are my wife and I actually prepared to give up? I am thinking out loud, I don’t have the answers or even a strong opinion, but I’d be interested to know what you think.

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PPE top posts of 2011

I have noticed on other blogs that I follow, posts indicating the most popular articles of the year just gone. In a desperate attempt to avoid originality, I thought I would do the same. Below are some of the posts that were viewed the most and one or two of my own personal favourites.

Far and away the most read post of the year was “A riot is the language of the unheard”, which I wrote in the midst of the UK riots. What an astonishing week that was, I can’t say that many of those that expressed an opinion on this article agreed with my analysis, but I felt it was important to express an alternative view to the outpourings of anger that dominated during that week. The follow-up post, Searching for soul searching, was also well-read.

An article that has steadily maintained a number of views has been Just another teenage murder. Written in the wake of Ola Apena’s conviction for the murder of Samuel Ogunro in South London, I wanted to raise awareness of the tragedy of teenage murder, bring attention to lack of media coverage and the relationship between violent crime and inequality in society. This post was also “shared” via social media, the most.

The day we marched was a write-up of the “March for the Alternative”, massive demonstration in London against government spending cuts. It was a thrilling day, I still get tingles down my spine just thinking about it.

My poetry has had less views in number, but some people have been kind enough to tell me when something I had written particularly touched them. A visit to the Youth Offending Team was the most popular and others that were enjoyed were Daring? and Dubai Mall vs. The Labour Camp.

Upon arriving in Australia I wrote Adelaide occupied and an assumption busted, a tribute to the activists who brought the Occupy movement to my new home town.

A couple of my own favourites are actually those written by others, Memories of Northern Ireland and Memories of the Wapping Dispute. I hope to publish others’ personal accounts of past experiences, interesting people surround us and if we don’t learn from history, we won’t advance as a society. One of the most significant articles for me was Leaving the Youth Offending Service, which was a signficant event in my life and which I used to pay tribute to my colleagues who continue to toil for the young people who need it so much.

Have a Happy New Year everybody, thanks for reading.

Pat

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Barry Mizen on teenage murder

The violent loss of a son or daughter is something that most people will not ever have to endure, but for one family this became a horrific reality on Boxing Day 2011 when 18 year-old Seydou Diarrasouba was stabbed to death in Oxford Street, London. In May  2008, Barry Mizen also lost his son, Jimmy to violent crime, Mr Mizen lives a reality that most parents cannot even bear to contemplate.

When I noticed on the BBC Website that Mr Mizen had shared his thoughts about the murder of Diarrasouba, I read the article expecting condemnation and calls for tougher sentencing. Instead, I felt a tear come to my eye as Mr Mizen, after acknowledging the necessity for the perpetrator to go to prison, spoke about the folly of increasingly harsh sentences and called for “a consensus across the three main political parties about the whole issues of how young people grow in this country, what they’re subjected to, and bear in mind some of these young people have awful lives”.

How does a man who lost his son in such horrific circumstances propose such caring and considered measures for those who might commit the same acts of violence? Would many of us be able to behave in such a dignified fashion? In doing so, Mr Mizen provides a stunning example of what human beings are capable of. He shows that it is possible to see past the darkest of thoughts and emotions to propose practical and effective measures to deal with the issue of teenage violence.

What makes Mr Mizen all the more admirable however, is that he does not simply talk, he does. The Jimmy Mizen Foundation was set up with the principle aim “to help young people, up to the age of 24, play a positive role within their communities as independent and responsible individuals”.

Projects undertaken by the Foundation include; Jimmy Buses where money has been raised to provide minibuses for a local Scout group. The Cafe of Good Hope; community coffee shop which provides employment opportunities for young people and finance for the Foundation. The Safe Havens project; local business can sign up to be a safe haven for anybody in immediate danger of violence on the streets. Families United;  those families who have encountered youth violence themselves offer their support to other families who experience such tragedies. Work experience; two apprenticeships offered each year by Leathermarket JMB, with whom Jimmy Mizen was never able to take up an offered apprenticeship due to his tragic death. Lastly and most courageously, Jimmy’s parents Barry and Margaret run an Awareness Project whereby they visit schools and prisons to share Jimmy’s story, with the aim of developing an understanding of anger, aggression and the importance of forgiveness.

I am in bewildered awe of the strength and bravery of people like Barry and Margaret Mizen. They deserve our absolute and complete respect and have provided a voice of reason in the aftermath of the tragedy of another young person being snatched away before he had time to realise his potential.

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2011; A year of unrest

If 2011 could be remembered for anything, it should surely be the year that people around the globe registered their displeasure. It has been exciting, frightening and brought new concepts into the public conscience. My review will not be exhaustive, however these events are those that have captured my attention.

On 19 December 2010, 27 year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after fruit and vegetables that he was selling were confiscated by police. Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011 and never saw the astonishing “Arab Spring” that this would trigger. On 14 January after massive protests, Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down after 23 years in power.

On 25 January, protests begin in earnest in Egypt which would result in President Hosni Mubarek’s resignation being announced on 11 February 2011.  Protests continue throughout the year as slow progress towards democracy frustrates the Egyption public.

On 16 February protests begin against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime which would spark a bloody conflict between government forces and rebel groups. On 26 August 2011, the rebels move their government to the Libyan capital, Tripoli after Gaddafi is ousted.

Throughout the year, protests and rioting occur across the Middle East, including Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain and Palestine often in the face of vicious methods of control by government.

On 18 March demonstrations begin in Syria with protestors demanding political freedoms. Protests continue throughout the year and many protestors are killed and injured in attempts to quell the unrest by government forces.

On 26 March, up to half a million people take to London’s streets to protest the Government’s plans to implement massive public spending cuts and demand a Robin Hood tax on the banks, closure of tax loopholes and policies for jobs and green growth. The day is a resounding success although disappointing media coverage is disproportionately focussed on the criminal actions of a minority.

On 30 June 2011, at least 12,000 schools are closed or partly closed as Teachers go on strike over proposed pension reforms. On 30 November up to 2 million public sector workers go on strike over the plans.

No review of social unrest would be complete without an acknowledgement of the UK riots between 6 August and 9 August during which thousands took to the streets in an orgy of destruction and criminality. Initial explanations by leading politicians are proved to be inaccurate by later analysis of the demographic of those involved. The proof of social exclusion of those involved is disorganised and violent symptom of a society creaking under pressure of inequality.

On 17 September Occupy Wall Street protests begin in New York demanding social justice and equality. After global media reporting of 700  arrests at Brooklyn Bridge on 1 October, the movement proliferates, reaching 951 occupations in 82 countries with many continuing at the year’s end. The slogan “We are the 99%” enters the worldwide, public conscious.

On 9 November students take to the streets once again to protest against increased tuition fees. In contrast the student demonstration in 2010 when Tory headquarters were invaded and disorder included the now-notorious fire-extinguisher incident, this passed off largely peacefully although undercover police tactics are captured and criticised after publication on Youtube.

Financial chaos and policy proposals in Europe results in anti-austerity protests and riots in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Economic powerhouses in the eurozone make desperate attempts to save the euro and come under increasing domestic pressure. This results in the resignation of Italian, Portugese and Greek Prime Minister’s.

Throughout the year the public profile of UK Uncut continues to grow with creative civil disobedience actions that capture media attention and campaign against tax avoidance. Local and specialised groups form such as Art Uncut which receives significant media attention during an action at Glastonbury Music Festival.

It’s been an eventful year. Some of these events have resulted in tangible changes to society, most notably the regime changes in the Middle East. Others, the results are less clear.

The most exciting thing about this year is how people have become politicised and increasingly socially aware. Student activism, considered dormant for some time, is particularly exciting; those who were involved are developing and refining their political ideas, one can only hope that they maintain the ideals that took them onto the streets,  they are our future political leaders. However, any event that catches the attention of the wider public, as the March for the Alternative has and how UK Uncut and Occupy  continue to do, is of benefit. Anything that sparks debate and discussion of the issues, has the potential to inspire opinion and action. Without these things, the world will never change. Those who believe that change is not possible should regard the Arab Spring as evidence to the contrary. For anyone that desires change, we should take the persistence and extraordinary bravery of those on the streets in the Middle East, as inspiration.

Many of those involved may never know what results there were of their actions, or what the knock-on effect could be. The results may be distant and they may not even be realised. However every little bit, done by every individual, brings social justice and equality just a little closer.

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PPE Christmas message

It’s that time of year again, trees are decorated, tinsel is strategically draped, presents are bought and possibly wrapped, Christmas songs play incessantly in every shop although they don’t seem to be filling the santa hat-wearing staff with cheer.

I love Christmas. I love shutting down my work computer and heading home to see my family. I love eating lots of food, drinking a bit too much, playing silly games and just being in the warmth of people who I love and who love me. It’s a great time of year, togetherness and the exchanging of gifts makes everyone feel good.

Those of us who look forward to Christmas and have the option to immerse ourselves completely in the festivities, should always remember how lucky we are. For many people, Christmas is lonely, cold or just as hard as the rest of the year. There are those who have bigger concerns than whether Grandma and Uncle Jimmy are going to argue again, or if they will have to play charades under threat of being denied a mince-pie. So it’s a time to remember that petty differences are just that, petty. It’s a time to remember that if you have a family who love one another and genuinely care for each other, you really are doing rather well and you should enjoy it.

It’s also a time to think about those who are not so lucky; people who couldn’t afford a gift for their son or daughter, don’t have a home and a family to go to or who will just continue their fight for survival like any other day of the year. This is not a call to feel guilty, just a nudge to remember how lucky many of us are, often through accident of birth.

So have a very Merry Christmas everybody, enjoy it thoroughly and indulge. But while you’re at it spare a thought for the less fortunate and maybe squeeze in a New Year’s resolution to do a little bit more for someone who needs it.

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Daring?

Dare to feel the stomach pangs
of a starving child, dare
to understand the sorrow
of a desperate mother, dare
to feel the helplessness
of the father who cannot protect.

Dare to feel the fear
of a community persecuted
for reason of colour, race or religion.

Dare to feel the pain
of the tortured who writes,
speaks or stands proud.

Dare to imagine the frustration
of the oppressed
in every country and continent.
Dare to imagine children’s dreams smashed
before growing into the spectacular
never chased with unbounded joy.

Dare to see your everything destroyed
loved ones gone
by metal hatred flying
at the bidding of those far away.

Dare to be the abused
the forgotten and ignored.
Dare to be an unperson
of the unpeople.

Dare to believe that there is another way
and dare to fight for it.

Posted in inequality, poem, political poetry | 1 Comment