Glad I marched.

I abandoned my children for a day, to make sure this government doesn’t abandon all our children for ever.

What a fantastic day I’ve had!

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Thank you to the musicians, the bollywood brigade, the brass bands, the bicycle boombox (I’ll even forgive the bagpipes) and especially the drummers who simply did not stop. What glorious energy!

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Thank you to the banner-makers. Particularly awesome were the banners from various branches of the fire-fighters’ union, and those from the RMT and other transport unions. There was some really incredible handiwork and it was great to see the continuation of a proud and long-standing union tradition. 

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Thank you to the friends I met up with on purpose; the friends I bumped into by accident; the friends I didn’t manage to meet, but who checked in with me from time to time. It was lovely to share this day with you. 

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Thank you to stewards, observers, the vast majority of police officers, who helped to ensure a safe and peaceful march. 

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And thank you to the 499,999 other people who were there too. You made my day!

Marching because…?

Are you busy on Saturday?

I’m a mum, with more children than I can easily count, unless they all stand really still. I have a ‘full time’ paid job outside the home (in children’s services) which all too readily expands to take over hours that properly belong to my very much full time mothering role. Somewhere in the mix I squeeze out time to volunteer for a public health charity. So yes, I could claim I’m busy every Saturday.

This Saturday, I’ll be busy in a different way. I’ll be joining thousands of people heading for London to participate in the ‘March for the Alternative’. This march is for: Jobs. Growth. Justice.

http://marchforthealternative.org.uk/why-were-marching/messages-of-support/

Want to know why I’ll be marching? Here’s the headline:

Government spending cuts will damage public services and put more than a million out of work. They will hit the vulnerable, damage communities and undermine much of what holds us together as a society.

I am marching because I am against cuts to public service. I am in favour of the rich and corporations paying their full share of tax, banks paying a robin hood tax on transactions and public spending being used to stimulate economic growth.

There will be lots of marchers. There will be lots of reasons. I would sum most of them up like this:

  • Protecting the interests of the vulnerable.

The way a society treats the weakest & most vulnerable within it is a measure of its strength and the extent of its civilisation. Many of those marching recognise that we have choices that others, who may not be in a position to march, do not. For example, those with disabilities, both visible and invisible. Services to children with special educational needs are threatened by these cuts. 11,000 adults with “substantial” care needs lost all their support in Birmingham alone as a result of cuts in funding to local government, which led to cuts in local services. But our changing demography means adult services are needed more, not less than before.We who are marching may acknowledge that we have what we need to secure our health, our education, housing, work and plenty to eat, but we know that we must use these privileges wisely and we march for the many who do not.

Among our most vulnerable citizens are our children. Cuts have disproportionately impacted on children, young people and families. Those who become young adults in the next few years face a bleak time. This government seems to hate children and families, but our young people are our future. We should cherish them. Like other marchers, I want to save Sure Start, youth services, children’s social care, community schools, higher education & the principle of inclusion for children with special educational needs. As one marcher says: As a school governor my responsibility is to the children of today and tomorrow; how could I not [march]?

  • Commitment to public service.

Marchers genuinely love public services like the NHS, state education, adults’ and children’s social care and other vital functions. We are committed to welfare provision that secures a fair standard of living for all and protects human dignity in the face of disadvantage. We recognise that if we don’t stand up for public services today, they will be gone forever tomorrow. There’s a passionate commitment to public service here: I want to save our public services – the UK is NOT for sale!  We believe in improving public services and equality, not degrading services to create business opportunities that will increase the privilege of a share-holding few.

  • Recognition that this is about ideology, not necessity.

The cuts are economically unsound, ideologically driven and totally unfair. They are already impacting negatively on consumer confidence and economic growth. Thanks to their economic illiteracy they are likely to lead to recession, even depression. There is good reason to believe that these austerity measures will make our economy crash, causing the deficit to rise. The cuts are therefore ideological rather than economic. They point to a wish to dismantle the role of the state in people’s lives. We didn’t vote for these cuts, or at this speed, let alone for the government to take apart the public sector.  Public confidence in the cuts regime is getting worse all the time. Fewer and fewer people think the cuts are ‘fair’. Insofar as there is a financial crisis to fix, those who are marching believe that the fix should be paid for by those that caused the crisis. We think the government should make the bankers pay. Even the governor of the Bank of England agrees that those who caused the crisis are not paying for it. If we increased taxation of businesses, banks and billionaires, we wouldn’t need these many of these cuts – perhaps not any of them.

  • A concern with fairness.

George Osborne has found spare cash to enable cuts in corporation tax. But when VAT has risen hitting the poorest hardest, this cannot be right. We have found money to bail out Irish banks (as well as our own) and now even money to engage in a war, yet we can’t find money to fund DLA, EMA or adequate levels of housing benefit to some of our most disadvantaged citizens. How can this be fair?  Many of us share this view: I’m sick of the rich avoiding tax while the government threatens cuts to services needed by the vulnerable. The government and the bankers seem to be conveniently “all in this together” to advantage themselves and each other financially. The rest of us must work together as they do; our objective being to ensure that the state meets the needs of those who don’t have the resources to dominate the political landscape through lobbying and political funding.

  • To create a society we can be proud of.

Marchers know that issues of fairness, equality, the protection of the vulnerable and the preservation of a public service ethos will help to create and sustain a better future for all. We want to be able to look our children in the eye when they one day ask us how the choices we made now led to the world they will inherit. Like others committing time and energy to this protest, I would feel ashamed if i didn’t. We believe in protecting and advocating for our most vulnerable; we believe in speaking up & standing up for the kind of society we want us all to live in. We believe in employment rights, in justice, in equality.

  • Because we can. Because we must.

This is a democracy. We have a democratic duty to raise our voices. This overprivileged government with its cabinet of millionaires is shielded from the impact of the cuts. We must make them feel the consequences of their careless decisions. Alone I am only one. It is easy to feel powerless. But when we march together we are many and we are strong. The time is now. There’s no point getting angry after the time to make a difference has been and gone. Bad things happen when good people sit by and do nothing. We won’t sit by while public service and civil society is destroyed.

 

I have pulled together this list of reasons from the twitter hastag #iammarchingbecause Where I have quoted a tweet directly, I have highlighted it in the text, but I haven’t been able to credit the originators. If you’re on twitter, I would encourage you to have a rummage in this hashtag, and if you plan to march, add reasons of your own.

I will sign off with two of my favourite finds:

I want to bring down this government and strike fear into the heart of the next one.

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men. << and women.

I plan to be very busy on Saturday. How about you?

The police taking sides: a follow up.

Quick update on this issue. The print edition of the Observer today runs an article under the headline: Police share anger of protesters over spending cuts as union march looms. Here’s the online version:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/20/police-support-protesters-growing

I still have some problems with the way the police spokesperson describes the current situation for the police, for example:

“The great irony is that officers policing marches like the TUC are actually facing greater detriment than many of those protesting against the cuts”.

To me this implies that the greatest police concern (at least as it is articulated here) is their own terms and conditions. I hugely sympathise with all those who (like me) are facing worse terms and conditions of employment, or job losses, in the coming months and years because this government is making public services pay for the failings of the banks and their (government) regulators. But the March 26 March is not about individual terms and conditions, or even individual services and sectors. The march is about the future of public service in this country. This is the reason for the march:

Government spending cuts will damage public services and put more than a million out of work. They will hit the vulnerable, damage communities and undermine much of what holds us together as a society.

We shouldn’t be measuring whose cuts are bigger or smaller, whose cuts hurt more or less. This is about the society that we are. The society that we want to be. When a job is lost is it better or worse that it is a police officer’s, a nurse’s, or a family support worker’s? Let’s not play that game. Cuts in one service shunt problems into another service to be dealt with there. In this sense, we really are all in it together. 

Some of the divisions between the police and other protesters have been played out in responses to my blog from last weekend. 

@Responseplod says:

some excellent points raised there. My concern is that you failed to mention the mindless thugs in the last protests who destroyed the real reason the genuine protesters were there for and that’s why certain tactics had to be used. You can’t stand there and sift out those causing trouble from those that are not because as you know, they disappear among the genuine protesters. #solidarity #ProtectOurPolice

so who do I as an officer complain to when bottles of piss, fence posts ripped up concrete fire extinguishers etc are thrown at me by people hidden amongst the genuine protesters? Do I run home to my mum? No, I have to stand there and take it. Is that fair? No!

I’m all up for suggestions. I would like you to give my management a better idea for controlling demos when they go badly wrong and if you can prevent the “rent a mob” who hijack lawful demos. As most cover the face they cannot be seen on cctv and therefore harder to trace. Trouble is, its difficult to work out whos who and most importantly….who can be trusted not to spoil it for those that are there.

@SaadaabJanaab replied firmly:

no-one’s saying you should! You go and arrest that bastard and there’ll be plenty of us willing to help…

I shouldn’t have to suffer for said individual and neither should thousands of innocent people… Even if you can’t spot the perp there and then, kettling huge crowds does nothing to increase the likelihood of you catching that person, and only turns more people against you. If anything, we’re all at greater risk by being contained and even if there is cctv footage of the criminal, and I accept that kettling could be a way to scour the crowd trying to find them – but police don’t enter kettles, you’re just as likely to find that person out of the kettle ie next day etc, the cost (I don’t mean monetary) of holding all those people is far less than what you’ll achieve.

I can see both points of view. But these disagreements need to be put to one side on 26 March. I understand that individuals and communities who have been on the receiving end of some of the gross injustices caused by poor policing in the past will find it hard, if not impossible, to stand up for the interests of a strong, well-funded, well-managed police service. But standing shoulder to shoulder with people we like and agree with is not #solidarity. It is tribalism.

Solidarity means standing side-by-side with people with whom we have disagreements, people we don’t like much, maybe even people we can’t stand, because the common interest that we share – at that moment – is bigger than the causes of our disagreements and dislike. 

My own sector – children’s services – supports vulnerable children, young people and families. Children, young people and families are hugely, disproportionately affected by the current round of cuts, both to direct benefits that they receive and to the support services they rely on. Yet our young people represent and carry all our best hopes for a civilised future. I am marching in their interests, not my own, on 26 March.

I will resist any policing that infringes my democratic right to protest this injustice. But I will stand in solidarity with any member of the police force who is happy to stand by me in support of jobs, growth and justice.

See you there. 

@itsmotherswork

 

Postscript: @PoliceFedChair rather making my point for me this morning in these tweets: 

@nick_clegg @lfeatherstone @MrCliveC Did the LibDem manifesto really promise 3,000 extra police? & the students think they’ve been let down!

@lfeatherstone Do LibDems support 20% cuts to policing that’ll hit the most vulnerable in society most. NHS 0%, Defence 7%, Police 20% Why?

Police pay review b’cos G’vnt & Winsor say we’re paid more than some in the public sector. Why no review then for judges, doctors & MP’s?

Instead of setting police up in ‘competition’ with other individuals or sectors facing cuts (and don’t believe the NHS is immune because of the technical 0% change in funding – there’s a catastrophe happening in the NHS right now) how about pushing for Jobs. Growth. Justice. that will benefit the nation through having good public services and infrastructure across all sectors. 

It’s a strain to hold onto #solidarity when a potential partner seeks differentiation in this way. But we need to hang onto it. 

 



 

 

 



The Police. Whose side are they on?

The police make me angry. The police keep me and my family safe. The police breach our rights. The police are professional colleagues I respect. The police are the bad guys. The police are public servants facing cuts too.

It’s a conundrum.

I first put on my marching boots in the 1980s. I’ve been subjected to physical force by uniformed officers who couldn’t be held accountable because they wouldn’t display their badge numbers. More than 20 years ago I was squeezed with other protesters into a breathless crush on Hungerford Bridge before the term ‘kettling’ had ever been used to describe this containment technique. I spent years thinking of the police as, at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, ‘the enemy’.

Then my work brought me into professional contact with the police. I found exactly what you find whenever you start to work closely with an organisation you didn’t understand before: the police force is stuffed full of people who are, in their own way, as dedicated to excellence in public service as I am. There are people who are passionate about child protection; people who are energetic activists pushing to see that perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice; there are those who have arrived at just the right balance of humour, cynicism and wry boundary-setting to enable them to engage really well with young people who would otherwise find themselves in big trouble; front-line officers who work hard to get to know and understand the communities they serve; backroom staff who go the extra mile to support their front-line colleagues, despite frequent lack of credit.  Of course, I’ve met the thuggish, the discriminatory, the obtuse, the stereotypical too. But on a day-to-day basis, the police are among my professional partners, earning and deserving my respect.

Now, like so many other public sector workers, their profession is under attack. They are among those who are – as Mervyn King (Governor of the Bank of England) points out – paying for this financial crisis, despite being in no way responsible for causing it. Staff numbers will be cut, terms and conditions will be worsened. The same amount of work will need to be done by fewer people, who will – generally – be worse paid than before. If policing suffers as a result of this crisis, the public – the whole of society – will suffer too.

I will be marching again on March 26 in support of all our public services; to protect them from decimation, to protect them from politicisation; to protect them from inappropriate privatisation. This includes policing. I hope to be marching in #solidarity with those who want to protect our police.

And yet… and yet…

The behaviour of UK police towards protesters and demonstrators in the recent (and distant) past has significantly undermined that solidarity. Of course the police must uphold the law and keep the public safe, but our democratic rights include a legitimate right to protest. In many cases the police have used spurious powers, dangerous tactics or outright violence to inhibit people’s ability to excercise that right.

For solidarity to be possible, this must stop.

The police can manage large crowds and difficult situations without resorting to kettling; football violence has been contained without mounted police charges. Policing doesn’t have to be thuggish or intimidatory in order to be effective.   

The police are now asking for public support in the face of cuts. On twitter the hastag #protectourpolice is up and running and I have been following the responses and engagement with interest. Among many very good arguments for throwing our support behind the police, I have noticed three unwelcome threads. The first is a tendency to single out the police for support while seeming relaxed about the other cuts. Here is a good example: “The irony is, those policing the demos face harsher cuts than those protesting #ProtectOurPolice”

  • Let’s not get into a ‘my cuts are bigger than your cuts’ competition. We need teachers and nurses, social workers and sexual health workers, local government officers and coastguards, civil servants and family support workers as well as police. And we need them all to be respected and properly rewarded for the vital work they do.

Second, I have seen some police commentators denigrating other emergency services – stating for example that the fire brigade or ambulance service won’t attend incidents unless the police are there first. This may sometimes be true, although in my experience it depends on the nature of the emergency, but even where that is the case, it’s not necessary to knock another service in order to make the case for your own.

  • Let’s show some mutual respect for the important work that all our organisations do, by standing together in support of a network of public services that collectively provide the robust social infrastructure that enables all of society to function well.

Finally, I have seen some commentary that suggests that it is only cuts to front-line officers that matter. As someone who works in a service where back office staff have been subjected to efficiency measures (by which I mean that jobs have been cut), I know only too well that the work these people have been doing is real, necessary and doesn’t go away. When back office jobs are lost, that work gets passed instead to front-line workers, compromising their ability to do their own jobs well and in most cases leading to the use of an over-qualified and more expensive resource to do work that could be more effectively carried out elsewhere. This will be true in the police service too, where cuts to back office staff will inevitably impact on a front-line, which is in any case facing cuts too.

  • Let’s tell the truth about the value of so-called ‘back office’ work and let’s value our colleagues who help to create and sustain the environment in which front-line staff can do their jobs well.

In Wisconsin, some really dastardly tactics have been employed to attack public services and public servants. This video shows what happened when the police were asked to clear protesters from the Capitol building in Madison:

As you can see, the police in Wisconsin saw themselves as part of a bigger picture and showed solidarity with other public service workers. They fairly, squarely, safely and respectfully took sides.

I value the police service, both personally and professionally. I would be pleased and proud to march against cuts to policing at the same time as I march against cuts to the other hugely important services that so many of us take for granted. As twitter is used to organise and manage support for the March for the Alternative on 26 March, I think marchers should be considering showing support for the police as part of that march. As for the police, I don’t think that the hashtag #protectourpolice should ever be tweeted alone. I believe it should always be tweeted with #solidarity in support of other public service workers too.

It’s time, maybe, for our police to take sides.

How little we value these women. How much we indulge these men.

My younger daughter is three. Her intelligence and humour shine out of her. She is exuberant, irrepressible, magnificent. I begin to see the womanly space she will carve in the world in the future – if she is permitted to carry on growing up with the style and verve with which she has begun.

 

Snuggled in bed next to me she is playing with a toy vehicle; a robot-truck. It ‘speaks’. It says “You can never have too much power”. She presses the sound button over and over, hearing this message again and again. It’s a great thing to be told when you are small and soft and vulnerable. I love her fiercely and protectively. I know the truth about the world she is growing up in. I wonder if she will ever have enough power, let alone too much.

 

I read the Saturday papers and I am struck by this story of so-called ‘Crossbow Cannibal’ Stephen Grifiths.

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/05/crossbow-cannibal-stephen-griffiths?INTCMP=SRCH

 

Griffiths is known to have murdered three women:

·         Susie Rushworth

·         Shelley Armitage

·         Suzanne Blamires

The headline says ‘He killed because it was easy’. The article shows that in the same area where the Yorkshire Ripper had stalked and killed his victims in the 1970s a new serial killer again began murdering women with apparent impunity, thirty years later. Other women in other cities have also been casually murdered because their apparent invisibility makes it possible. Stephen Griffiths was eventually caught when – according to the article – ‘the police got a lucky break’. A caretaker, reviewing footage from private security cameras, spotted a woman fleeing from Griffiths’ building, ‘followed by a man who grappled her to the ground, shot her twice at point-blank range through the back of the head with a crossbow and dragged her back into the flat’. How ‘lucky’ for the police.

Although now caught and convicted – like Peter Sutcliffe who killed 13 women in the same area, or Steve Wright, who murdered five women in Ipswich* – he was able to kill multiple times because he operated in an area where the women are routinely disregarded and where violence against them is tolerated. The article draws to a close with this chilling comment: ‘The beatings and rapes continue; six weeks ago, Louise was tied up and raped multiple times by a 50-year-old judo instructor. “There’s no point in me complaining to police,” she says. “It’s normal.”’

Just how much are we willing to indulge these men?

On the same morning, online, I pick up this article:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1363062/The-face-teenager-beaten-badly-6ft-2in-boxer-boyfriend-medics-tell-boy-girl.html

Tirion Lewis, the 19-year old victim of her boxer boyfriend was not a sex-worker, and was therefore not quite so invisible. In fact, she was in a car outside the family home when the attack on her began. But her neither her visibility, nor the fact that she was with a friend when her boyfriend attacked her, protected her from his irrational, unjustifiable rage. He beat her so badly she was unrecognisable. Her recovery is described as ‘miraculous’, but18 months after the attack her brain injuries still affect her.

 

How do we protect our daughters?

 

The previous week I read this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1360801/Haydor-Khan-cleared-rape-climbing-wrong-bed.html

 

This report disgusts me for two reasons. The first is because the very definition of rape is that the sex that takes place is without consent. There are many ‘he says / she says’ arguments about rape which hinge on whether or not consent was given. But the way the story is presented here it seems that the defendant’s case is not that the woman he attacked consented to sex, but simply that he had sex with the wrong woman. Oops. Does that make it all right? Can it really be an adequate defence against rape to say what amounts to: “I was so drunk I didn’t care who I was having sex with, let alone whether she said yes or not”. It shouldn’t be. After Khan had sex with this woman without – apparently – checking who she was or whether she wanted to have sex with him, it is alleged that he made off with her mobile phone.

 

The other reason for my disgust is because the Daily Mail closes this report with some paragraphs of information about another case in which a woman has been convicted of false claims of abduction and rape. So the Daily Mail manages to conflate the first story with the false allegation story. Imagine what it must feel like to be the woman who went to bed alone in a hotel room and then woke in the dark in the middle of the night to find a stranger on top of her; imagine being brave enough to call the police, to follow the case through to court, to be made ‘visible’ in this most intrusive and painful of ways, and then to be told the assault was in some way not a crime because the man in question was too pissed to know what he was doing. Then imagine how it must feel to be written about in the same article as a woman who made her story up.

 

How do we protect ourselves?

 

Finally I saw this: http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2011/03/video-of-massacre-of-women-on-ivory-coast/

 

These women were far from invisible. There were up to 5,000 of them. In full view on a public street. These women, engaged in a peaceful protest in the Ivory Coast were gunned down by the security forces. The Ivory Coast’s leader Laurent Gbagbo was defeated in an election last November but clings to power. 5,000 visible women, standing up against one man with too much power. The women were attacked with tanks and machine guns. Up to eight women, including one who was pregnant, are thought to have been killed on the spot.

In an account of these killings given to the BBC World Service, one of the women says: “If we assume that we are in a democratic country, then our duty is to march again and again. We, the women of Ivory Coast, will continue our action. Laurent Gbagbo wants to rule the country by force. Suppose he killed all of the women of Ivory Coast, whose ruler would he be?”

 

I find the bravery of this woman astonishing and humbling. I choose to imagine that her three-year old self was as clever and funny, as lively and unsquashable as the special little person snuggled next to me.

 

Where and when we will take hold of our power? How do we hold hands around the world on International Women’s Day, with our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and – above all – our daughters? How do we carve out our womanly space in the world? How do we make sure we are visible, audible, valued?

 

And when will we stop indulging these men?

 

Postscript: 

 Only five years after the killings, the story of these murders has now been turned into a a new ‘show’ – London Road – about the effect of the 2006 Ipswich Murders upon the community in which the serial killer and his victims lived. I make no comment about the artistic merits of the performances – I have not seen it, nor do I intend to. According to this article by Catherine Bennett (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/17/catherine-bennett-london-road?INTCMP=SRCH ), the message of the show is “There is always a silver lining”. I see no silver lining in this story. I see this as another example of how little we value these women.