New Left Project relaunch

By Jamie

15 June 2014

So long, suckers! New Left Project is going on a month-long summer break.

Yes, the NLP eds have told our respective bosses to shove it, offloaded our paperwork to hapless colleagues and stocked up on socks, sandals and suncream—all quite unnecessarily, alas, because it’s not that kind of holiday. 

 

What could have been: NLP in Egypt

 

What could have been: NLP in Italy

 

What could have been: NLP in India

 

What could have been: NLP in Namibia

 

Instead, we're taking a month to prepare for a big New Left Project relaunch in July.  

We’ll be back with a gorgeous new design, even-more-gorgeous new editors, new series, a book, and plenty more besides.

In the meantime, all our articles will remain accessible at the normal address and we’ll keep you updated through twitter, Facebook and our email list (scroll to bottom to subscribe).

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The Charter of Lampedusa

By Eli

11 June 2014

This is a guest post by Matt Bolton

Last October, 366 migrants drowned in the seas off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as the boat which had carried them from Libyan coast to the borders of Europe sank. Most of those on-board had fled the military dictatorship of Eritrea, paying nearly £1000 each and enduring a hazardous journey through the Sahara to secure a place. Those who were finally rescued had to wait more than four hours in the water, less than half a mile from the shores of the island, before lifeboats reached them.

The October drownings attracted international press attention, but similar stories and sinkings occur in the seas surrounding Europe's borders on virtually a weekly basis, unnoticed and unrecorded. The sight of men, woman and children desperately clinging onto the detritus of a sinking fishing boat is the cold reality underlying the 'strong borders' rhetoric of Europe's political and media class.

In response to the Lampedusa drownings, a group of primarily Italian activists, researchers and organisations working with migrants came together to produce 'The Charter of Lampedusa'. This document sets out the principles underlying the multiple struggles taking place against the European Union's border policies, asserting the universal rights of freedom of movement, freedom of choice, and the freedom to stay. It aims to transform the meaning and reality of Lampedusa from its current position as both symbol and concrete example of the barbarity of Europe's border controls, into an affirmation of the freedom and autonomy of all peoples, regardless of birthplace or citizenship status.

The Charter was recently translated into English, and published on Open Democracy with an introduction by Nicholas de Genova, Reader in Urban Geography and Director of the Cities Research Group in the Department of Geography at King's College London. He writes:

As a major site for the enactment of the European border, Lampedusa is also one of the decisive settings for the staging of the European border spectacle. In this spectacle, all the techniques and technologies of border policing are mobilized to produce the material and practical conditions of possibility for the exclusion of the “undesirables,” the illegalized migrants and unwelcome asylum-seekers. Simultaneously, this spectacle routinely and repetitively appears to verify that “Europe” is indeed a kind of earthly paradise, a place to cherish and protect against the menace of “invasion” by the wretched of the earth, a destination toward which the huddled postcolonial masses are desperate and literally dying to travel, by any and all means. Hence, when the migrants are not left to die at sea, the European authorities congratulate themselves for their muscular (militaristic) humanitarianism, “rescuing” the pathetic migrants on their pitiful unseaworthy boats, while in fact arresting them, detaining them, and frequently deporting them thereafter.  And yet, simultaneously, this border spectacle never ceases to also involve the rather less sensational inclusion of illegalized labor migrants and refugees, most of whom will eventually become “rejected asylum-seekers.”

Thus, as a major destination for migrant and refugee boats, and consequently as an inevitable locus for migrant and refugee shipwrecks and mass death, Lampedusa has become synonymous with all the calamity and shame of the European border regime.

Now, however, Lampedusa has earned yet another distinction.

The name of Lampedusa has recently become irreversibly conjoined to a proclamation and a pact dedicated to enunciating the human freedom of movement as a non-negotiable foundation for the prospect of a new way of life, on a global scale. “The Charter of Lampedusa” is the product of an intense collaboration by a diverse array of activists from numerous organizations and social movements.

The full article and the Charter itself can be read at Open Democracy.

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Demand the Impossible 2014

By Ed

06 June 2014

Time for a plug: As well as co-editing NLP I've helped to found and run Demand the Impossible, a summer school on radical politics and activism for London youth. Applications for this year's course, which will be at City University from August 4-8, are now open. Here's the trailer for the course:

 

Pleaes pass on to any young people that may be interested in attending. More details on the site and on the flyer below. You can also read a detailed analysis of the course on the article we've cross-posted today from the journal Interface.

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The Intercept?

By Alex

22 May 2014

The following is a guest post by Michael Albert.

Some months back I spoke to Glenn Greenwald for an interview that  appeared on both ZNet and New Left Project -  just as this article is appearing on both. The interview was substantive instead of an interviewer attacking and Greenwald parrying. The goal was for it to spur constructive discussion about journalism and the First Look project and Intercept component of it. It didn't happen.

Greenwald is as quick, succinct, and clear in conversation as he appears in videos. He stuck me as likeable and certainly not the harsh fellow he is often made out to be. But some of his interview answers were troubling.

Greenwald understands the coercive possibilities of capitalist owners or the state curtailing adversarial journalism from above. That is the danger Greenwald believes will not overtake First Look/Intercept because he feels the owner, Pierre Omidyar, is sincerely committed to never imposing restrictions and, more positively, to actively establishing a journalism-friendly workplace.

Greenwald did, however, take out a little insurance when he added that even if he was wrong, and Omidyar's commitment should unexpectedly dissipate at some future time, still there was no grave danger because Greenwald and his fellow writers would block any efforts to impose restraints, and, in the unlikely event they should fail at that, Greenwald would leave the operation. Perhaps most important, Greenwald noted that freedom from coercive restrictions would apply not just to a few of the best known writers, but to everyone writing for Intercept, and presumably for First Look as well.

Okay, so far so good, but what about other dynamics that typically generate non-adversarial journalism?

Owners rarely issue coercive commands. More often, reporters censor themselves, which they describe as freely doing whatever they please. That is, reporters spontaneously self impose limits partly due to their mainstream training and partly due to wanting to endear themselves, without being forced to do so, to owners who are their source of income and tenure. And perhaps the most effective censoring dynamic is the most subtle one. A writer who operates in a hierarchical, class-stratified institution, typically rationalizes his or her  subordination as arising from the inevitability of such a structure. Soon the structure's values become second nature to the writer. Derivatively, the writer never journalistically questions those values. This type journalistic conformism may have eluded Greenwald's view of Intercept.

Another concern put to Greenwald was that First Look and Intercept could appear exemplary when viewed in isolation, but could actually turn out problematic when viewed in the context of their broader impact.

For example, suppose First Look and Intercept hire a team of progressive journalists, who thereafter no longer write for other outlets where they were previously employed. Also suppose Greenwald's prognosis of no restraints pans out perfectly so the many writers Intercept hires enjoy a welcoming environment for their work. So far, so good; but would that mean these writers would generate more and better output than if they were, instead, still employed at various other venues such as the Guardian or Rolling Stone? And would it mean their work would get as wide visibility as if their articles had appeared in those other venues first? Which gets more visibility, a Greenwald article that appears on Intercept or a Greenwald article that appears in the Guardian? What about Taibbi writing in Rolling Stone or at First Look? Will the synergy of bringing many folks into one venue even with a supportive owner outweigh the losses of their leaving other venues?

Greenwald presumably thinks the new project will enhance output, quality, and visibility, but is that certain? By putting lots of folks under one organizational roof so there is one main vehicle for the public to view their work, couldn't the number of people seeing the writers' work decline? Could the total amount of work they collectively generate decline? The verdict is still out on all that, but after many months, there is missing content at other outlets, and it's absence isn't matched by new content at First Look and Intercept, much less matched in outreach. If First Look and Intercept evolve so once they are fully operational they bring writers into proximity of one another and cause mutual aid among them, and so they also stimulate, aid, and defend writers so that writers' productivity and its quality and visibility rise, then the benefits of many writers working for one venue will likely outweigh losses due to their leaving other venues. But will that happen?

Another concern is a possible downside of hoped for success. What if the team of writers at First Look and Intercept does produce more quality output than in the past, and the visibility of the work goes up, as well? In short, what if the project succeeds in its own terms? In this scenario, Intercept provides lots and lots of material, all free, to a wide audience spanning most or even all progressive constituencies, and then reaching out more broadly as well. Intercept would still not provide everything the alternative media for all those constituencies now provides - by a long shot - but could its relative abundance of material damage progressive media's ability to keep on providing all its additional material, albeit unintentionally? Could success for First Look/Intercept not only lead to progressive media losing some of its best and more productive contributors, due to their being hired away, but also lead to people seeing First Look/Intercept as a free source with abundant content, so why bother materially supporting or even visiting old familiar progressive media sources? If so, and if we take into account the possibility of the larger outfit in a year or two or five drifting away from being adversarial and toward conforming. Then we would have one media outfit instead of many, and the one would be less good than any of the many.

We all understand that a massive commercial store can bankrupt many smaller operations with which it partially overlaps but which in sum deliver all kinds of additional and different material. Witness the demise of local bookstores. But somehow we don't get that a big new media operation might have the same effect on many smaller media operations, including not replacing their contributions and thereby fostering a considerable loss. Of course none of this is inevitable, but its likelihood climbs dramatically if no one does anything explicit to avert the outcome.

Greenwald has indicated, at least as I hear him, that he shares these concerns, and that First Look and Intercept will certainly address these issues. I suggested three preliminary ways it might do so, and urged the need to conceive and assess various other possibilities.

1. Intercept could have an opinion section that pays good fees to progressive writers to augment their incomes and thereby take some pressure off alternative media, as well as allowing the writers' essays to continue appearing on their more accustomed sites while ensuring and even requiring that the writers keep their alternative media ties and connections.

2. Intercept could have a best of the web section and - perhaps uniquely - could generously pay a range of alternative media sites for the right to freely republish their material in that section. Of course, they wouldn't have to pay, given how the internet works - but given their financial means, they could choose to do so.

Both these efforts would get Intercept a lot of good daily content to ensure return visits on a regular basis. But both would also funnel funds into alternative media and its writers, while aiding alternative media's persistence and directing new people to its various venues.

And finally,

3. Intercept could simply give direct grants to diverse alternative media with obvious positive possibilities.

Greenwald replied that we would talk through these various options once some other initial tasks for Intercept establishing itself were complete, but after that promising beginning, and despite repeated inquiries and reminders, as ensuing months passed, such talks did not happen.

Then John Cook was hired to be "Editor in Chief" of Intercept. He was, prior to that, largely responsible for a site called Gawker. So I looked at Gawker, and to me it seemed like a kind of left gossip site. I feared that Omidyar's hiring Cook meant that Omidyar was thinking about revenues and how to bulk up audience by any means rather than only by socially-responsible means. That is, rather than having 60 or 100 opinion pieces a month each paid well and overall leaving the writers connected to other alternative media, or rather than having a best of the web section and paying regular fees to help finance the venues originating that content  - Intercept would run gossipy and otherwise socially-questionable but audience-gaining content. Did Omidyar like Cook's track record in that respect? I found Gawker as a model rather alarming. But I certainly had little to go on. Maybe Cook's inclinations will turn out to be much better than what my brief look at Gawker made me fear. Indeed, perhaps Cook was never comfortable with the Gawker approach.

However, there was another troubling facet of this hire. What, after all, is an "Editor in Chief"? What could be the role of an editor, much less of an editor on top of other editors, in a periodical that is pledged to reject editorial oversight of its writers and their content? I still wonder about that.

For example, does an Editor in Chief determine what articles run? Does an Editor in Chief assess article content, case by case, while also being able to hire and fire writers? Or are the Editor in Chief's tasks more in line with adversarial journalism…such as merely seeking to avoid redundancy, or to avoid plagiarism, while also urging (but not forcing) attention to what he sees as important issues? But if the Editor in Chief tasks are only desirable ones, couldn't they be handled by a workers council of writers instead of an elevated individual? Ultimately, is the designation "Editor in Chief" a sign of adopting a classist internal hierarchy barely distinguishable from mainstream media structure and its related logic, or is it merely a benign but poor choice of a misleading label?

Recent communications to Greenwald seeking to talk about ideas for building Intercept/Alternative Media relations that could benefit both, led to replies that I should query Cook on the topic. Queries to Cook on the topic went unanswered for awhile until he finally indicated there was nothing much to talk about. Yet, by Greenwald's account, offered only weeks before, these issues are very important to pursue. So did Greenwald abdicate concern about relations with alternative media to Cook? And even as we might understand Greenwald wanting to focus only on his journalism, wouldn't distancing writing from other policy, and vice versa, be precisely the kind of worrisome organizational division of labor that might warrant concern about the project's direction?

I hope that a large institution that could and should directly aid alternative media will do so as Greenwald, Cook, and Omidyar, decide to explore ideas for good relations with alternative media and to implement those that seem best.

I also hope First Look/Intercept will soon accelerate its development to take advantage of its incredible visibility and not squander initial interest and good will.

But I also worry that the project may turn out minimally adversarial with respect to corporate power and classist hierarchy, even if it continues to address libertarian privacy concerns against government intrusion. Indeed, I suspect there may be a connection between establishing mutually beneficial ties to the rest of alternative media, or not, and remaining unstintingly adversarial, or not.

Michael Albert is founder of Z Net, Z Magazine and numerous other left media projects. He is the author most recently of Occupy Theory.

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Labour needs a grand vision

By Rhian

18 May 2014

This is a guest post by George Iordanou.*

 

However misguided the Tory vision of a future Britain might be, at least we know they have one. It is time for Labour to start thinking similarly. The numbers attest to this need: recent polls show the first Conservative lead in over two years and give Ed Miliband’s party its smallest share of the vote for four years. Ed Miliband has hired Obama's former advisor David Axelrod to help him with communicating the party’s policies - but that will not be enough if the party continues to lack a grand vision of what Britain under Labour can look like.

The Tory vision of Britain is of a country centred around its biggest asset — London — with most of its citizens in work, more foreign investment coming to the City of London, more money for life sciences going to its prestige universities, and more industries manufacturing their products in the UK. In his attempt to illustrate how the government is working towards this vision, David Cameron spends his testosterone-fuelled PMQs talking about BMW engines, Jaguar and Land Rover factories in the Midlands, and the new Honda factory that will create hundreds of new jobs. In a similar vain, his fellow Etonian comrade-in-Bullingdon, Boris Johnson, is calling for a direct train line between Oxford and Cambridge in order to enable the two universities compete with Harvard on medical research and attract more money.

The Conservatives are interested in full employment at all costs - this involves zero-hour contracts, poverty whilst in work, rising costs of living by no means matched by salaries and even more lax employment laws. It means Oxbridge folks running the country and the City being at the centre of it all, transcending the North-South divide, with London becoming a country of its own that every now and again — when their financial institutions take a hit — needs to be bailed out by the rest of us. The profits of the potential benefits of Tory Britain will go to those at the top; those privileged enough to afford the increasing costs of education and those rich enough to be able to work for free as interns in one of the most expensive cities of the world.

Whatever we believe about the Tory vision of future Britain, and irrespective of how grossly misguided their policies are, they do paint a picture of what Britain's potential might be which is fairly easy to sell to people - as long as the costs and beneficiaries are not brought up.

Labour, on the other hand, don't have a similar vision for Britain. They describe a less conservative, neo-liberal model of existing Tory Britain. We see them trying to either reverse or abolish Tory policies but we don't know what their grand picture looks like.

The way Labour has dealt with the high prices and lack of competition in the energy market is indicative of their confusion and lack of clarity and authority. Having firstly created the private oligopoly of the big six energy companies, Labour then attacked the coalition for not doing enough to ensure that there is competition in the energy market, and then they proclaimed that they will freeze energy prices. In the meantime, the six companies are still big and mighty, threatening to hold back on investment in anticipation of the increased costs and decreased profits. The ‘freeze’ is not a solution to the problem; it’s a temporary fix. Short-term solutions such as this seem sloppy when not accompanied by a grand long-term vision.

The way Labour deals with the problems in education is similar. They want to decrease the cap on tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. They don’t engage with the fact that three years ago the cap was at £3,000 and they do not explain where the money is going to come from. They also don’t address the core issues: primary and secondary education where kids attending fancy public schools have exponentially more life-chances than children attending state schools, the graduate unemployment crisis and the army of indefinitely unpaid trainees exploited by their employers, and the marketisation of education that will make Britain a culturally poor country that only trains accountants, economists, lawyers and doctors, with no emphasis on the humanities and social sciences. Labour should paint us the picture of a better Britain and then outline the step-by-step measures that it will take towards that grand vision.

In the debate over railway infrastructure, Labour has acknowledged that the UK has one of the most expensive and outdated railway services of Europe, and said that they will consider renationalising the railway service to reduce red-tape, private profits and other costs. They even gave the example of the East Coast Railway line that was nationalised after the company that run it went bust, noting that the now nationalised line is as profitable as the rest. Even in this instance of Labour taking a step in the right direction, however, they are still hesitant and wary of not disappointing the average voter who they assume is not likely to support re-nationalisation.

As the polls show, Labour's current attitude of making Tory policies a little less severe on working people is not working. The time has come for Miliband to articulate a more holistic vision of what the UK will look like under Labour, and to stimulate the imagination of British people.

 

* George Iordanou is a PhD Candidate in Poltical Theory at the University of Warwick and blogs at www.iordanou.org

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Seeking a resolution to the housing crisis

By Jamie

06 May 2014

A guest post by Christine Haigh, of the Radical Housing Network and London Renters.

Almost a year ago, a group of friends organised an event called Open House. Not the nation-wide sneak peek granted by property owners such as Battersea Power Station, but a week of talks, films, workshops and events in a squatted space near Elephant and Castle, which focused on the housing crisis currently being felt most acutely in London. The week’s events were sandwiched between two meetings which aimed to get those already involved in activism around housing issues – from anti-gentrification campaigns to renters’ groups and squatting projects – talking about how to link up their struggles.

One year on, there’s already much to show for the collaboration. The event lead to the setting up of the Radical Housing Network, involving a diverse and growing range of groups based on a shared analysis of the root causes of the housing crisis and a demand for decent housing for all.  

Six months on from Open House, the growing network decided to work together to organise a follow-up event, this time with a more localised element, enabling groups organising in different parts of the capital to spread the word in their local communities, and with a greater focus on taking action.

In fact, action ended up coming first: in March the network organised resistance to the global property fair held annually in Cannes known as MIPIM (Le marché international des professionnels de l'immobilier - the International Market of Real Estate Professionals). Here, developers, financiers and local politicians meet together to do deals that lead to dispossession and public housing sell-offs. 

Members of groups that are part of the network disrupted a cycle ride to the event in Cannes that started from London’s City Hall and later in the day turned up to protest plans by London mayor Boris Johnson to attend. The following week, two members of the network went to Cannes to take part in a mock tribunal organised by the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City, presenting case studies of the devastation caused by developers involved in MIPIM, including on the Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle and the South Kilburn estate in Brent.

Then, last weekend, the network organised the Housing Weekender, which continued this work. The Saturday saw events happening around the city. There was an ‘inequality bus tour’ around areas of north-west London where people’s right to housing is under threat from regeneration projects, including West Hendon Estate and South Kilburn Estate. There was also a grilling of local council candidates by Hackney renters group Digs at Hackney Town Hall. In New Cross in south-east London, local activists organised a full day of films, discussions and housing co-op tours and Haringey saw a meeting and information stall hosted by local housing action groups. In Brixton there was a film night showcasing the work of groups campaigning against a local estate sell-off and for private tenants’ rights . The event also included films and a discussion with some of the E15 Mothers who have been fighting displacement from their hostel in east London, whose dynamic and inspiring campaign has given a human face to the injustice of the current housing system.

On the Sunday, people converged in central London for a day of talks and discussions covering the roots of the housing crisis, tactics for action and alternative ways of meeting our housing needs. Particularly interesting was a discussion around the benefits and limitations of approaches like housing co-operatives and the role of public housing. In another session social geographer Danny Dorling and housing lawyer Liz Davies led a thorough and informative analysis of the current housing situation, which covered its origins and what we can do about it. But the final half hour of the day was perhaps the most inspiring. Participants talked about how valuable it was to meet other groups and to share knowledge, skills and ideas. People also highlighted the increasing sense of solidarity between groups working on different but related issues, from renters’ rights groups to housing co-ops and squatting campaigns.

Then the conversation turned to what comes next. People are keen to keep building what is a young but already vibrant network, talking to other groups that aren’t yet actively involved and working out how they can be included and supported. Next month the network will facilitate a session on the housing crisis at the Spark, a week of events on the fight for social justice in the UK and around the world. And another focal point is likely to be the first MIPIM event held in the UK, which is coming to London in October. 

While we’re a very long way from a resolution, there are already some signs that the work of groups involved in the network are having an impact. Last week the Labour party published proposals for modest reforms to private renting. Renters groups involved in the network have been quick to point out that the plans are too little, too late – but it is evidence that housing has become an issue that politicians feel they can no longer ignore, and that large parts of the electorate want to see change on. And there’s little doubt that campaigning by groups involved in the Radical Housing Network have helped get us to this stage. The challenge for the network now is to make sure wholesale action to genuinely fix the broken housing system cannot be avoided.

You can read our principles and find out which groups are already members of the network at http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/. To find our more or get involved, contact housingnetwork[at]lists[dot]riseup[dot]net.

Christine Haigh is a member of Lambeth Renters, which is part of the Radical Housing Network and London Renters, a coalition of private tenants’ groups from across the capital.

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Immigrants telling their own stories

By Eli

05 May 2014

Discussions of race and immigration have been all over the media in the last few weeks. This is of course thanks largely to UKIP and the nasty racist rhetoric they have been using in their European election campaign. But discussions have also been had about the language of racism in the wake of the unpleasant BBC footage which emerged last week, of Jeremy Clarkson using the N-word.  It’s been notable that, in most mainstream coverage of all this, the voices have all been rather white and British. There have been some excellent correctives to this, most notably Musa Okwonga’s piece in the New Statesman and this Observer piece by Shaista Aziz. But the basic problem remains: in nearly all mainstream media discussions of race and immigration, immigrants and people of colour are practically invisible; rarely are they given a voice.

Migrant Voice is an organisation which seeks to remedy this situation. Their mission is to “transform how migrants are seen and heard in the media: from passive, disempowered and marginalised victims, to makers of their own media content”. They run many initiatives to this end, such as the Ask a migrant feature on their website, and at the end of April they launched their documentary Faces of Our City: Stories of Migration Past and Present at Europe House, in Westminster. The documentary was made by migrants involved in MV and its intention is to tell a story we are not often told, about the experiences of migrants in London and the ways in which migrants and non-migrants successfully live together in the city.

The film itself is a simple portrayal of immigration and integration in London, using three strands to tell its story. It opens with Sara, who describes her family’s immigration to the East End of London from Eastern Europe as she walks round Whitechapel. She talks about her own feelings about her family’s history and interviews current residents about their experiences of migration. The second part of the film - and possibly the most powerful - follows Mariko, a young Japanese woman who was involved in community action last year against the UKBA raids in Walthamstow. Here, we see British people and migrants working in solidarity to oppose the intimidatory actions of UKBA and to make people aware of their rights. The final part of the film shows Simone and Ricardo and their work at the community organisation Abras in Willesden, helping and advising Brazilian immigrants in London. The film is a no-frills account of the immigrant experience in London. There is no fancy editing or effects - just people telling their stories. Easy enough to do, you’d have thought, yet still something we rarely see in the mainstream media.

At the event the film was followed by a panel debate about the ways in which migrants’ engagement in the upcoming European elections can be used to combat the rise of far-right parties. On the panel was the Green MEP Jean Lambert, Jackie Minor from  the European Commision and Simon Woolley from Operation Black Vote. Minor talked of the dissonance between people’s everyday experiences of immigration and their attitudes to immigration policy: she cited one poll in which 70 per cent of people said that they would ban unskilled migrants to this country but in which just 25 percent of people said that immigration affects their everyday lives. Lambert talked about the alliances and networks being formed within the European Parliament to combat the far right and Woolley talked of the importance of migrants exercising their franchise to make their voices heard.

Contributions from the floor raised important questions about the ways in which the three main parties in Britain have pandered to and often actively encouraged anti-immigrant sentiment. One contributor talked about the importance of incorporating LGBTQ voices into the debate and another raised the crucial issue of low literacy among many migrant groups (indirectly pointing to wider questions about cuts to ESOL provision). This discussion showed that racism and anti-immigrant policy are problems that will not be solved by voting alone.

Migrant Voice and organisations like them are working hard to open up spaces in which immigrants can tell their own stories and in which the dominant narratives can be challenged. We need to create more spaces like this and we all have a responsibility to help make this happen.

 

You can watch the film Faces of Our City here: 

 

 

 

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Hacktivism: The Unlocking Ideas Hackathon

By Alice

29 April 2014

Guest post from the People’s History Museum.

Unlocking Ideas Worth Fighting For, a collaborative project between the People’s History Museum and the Working Class Movement Library, is excited to announce details of its 24 hour hackathon weekend.

From 1.00pm on Saturday 7 June  to 1.00pm on Sunday 8 June, Unlocking Ideas Worth Fighting For is inviting programmers, campaigners, designers and anyone in between to team up in Salford’s Islington Mill and create the next generation of protest tools.

During the last two centuries the people demanded change by taking to the street. From the Chartists to the suffragettes to the peace movement, those demanding change expressed their views publicly by bearing the tools of protest; placards, banners and posters. 

Now, activism is being redefined by the digital age. MyDavidCameron.com started this process; we’re looking at where it goes from here: could campaign music make the world a better place?  Could short notice protests be bigger and better?  Could movements realise what material has the biggest impact?

Get inspired by these questions and more and use the digitised collections of the People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library to hack new ways of speaking truth to power.

WiFi will be supplied and enabled by the fantastic Get Me Connected making sure you can get connected on the device (or devices) of your choice at any time. Food will be provided and our event hosts, Islington Mill, will kindly be putting on an honesty bar for the event.  Booking is via eventbrite and please check the People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library events pages for more information. Hacktivism is a free event, suitable for adults.

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*Indefinite* strike action at Lambeth College. Solidarity needed!

By Ed

28 April 2014

UCU members at Lambeth College are taking indefinite strike action from this Thursday 1st May. This bold and militant move is a response to a remarkable assault on pay and conditions by management, who are attempting to impose new contracts which include the following changes:

• Increased working hours
• Extended working week
• Annual leave cut by 2 weeks
• Increased contact hour time by 1 hour
• Additional duties for no remuneration
• A link between pay increments and capability
• Reduced notice of redundancy
• Drastically reduced sick pay

Management are initially attempting to impose these contracts on new staff, current staff who are promoted or wish to change their fraction and will also affect current hourly-paid staff. However, management documents also state that the new contract of employment may be rolled out across the board for all existing staff.

This dispute is of huge significance; if the new contracts are allowed to go through it will set a dangerous precedent for the sector and more widely. This is happening in a further education sector which is already being hit by funding cuts, frequent restructuring and in which staff already deal with unacceptably high workloads. So support for the strike is crucial - to boost the morale of the UCU workers, to show public condemnation of management's actions and also to increase the likelihood of Lambeth College Unison joining the strike as well - they are currently balloting for action. Here's how you can show your solidarity:

• On Thursday 1st May, in addition to picket lines at the Brixton and Vauxhall Centres, there will be a Mass Picket at 7am outside the  Clapham Centre, 45 Clapham Common Southside (Clapham Common tube station, Northern Line) to which trade unions and other supporters are invited.
• That evening there will be a solidarity strike rally at 6pm in the evening, at the Karibu Centre, Gresham Road, Brixton, called by Lambeth College UCU, Lambeth College Unison and London Region UCU, where there will be hot food, and placard-painting activities for children
• Send messages of support to Branch Secretary, Mandy Brown, at mandybrowncow@yahoo.com.
• Donate to the strike fund:

 > Make cheques payable to J. Eldon and send to Mandy Brown c/o Lambeth Trades Council, Hambrook House, Porden Road, London SW2 5RW.

 > Bank details: Halifax, Acc Name: J Eldon. Sort Code: 11- 01- 07. Acc No: 11242869

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All Atheists Are Not White Men

By Chitra

25 April 2014

This is a guest post by Amit Singh.

Atheism is growing increasingly prominent in the western world but the way it is presented makes it seem a particularly white and male way of thinking. Not only is this inaccurate, but it also sidelines the long histories and contributions of women and black peoples.

In 2006, Wired magazine identified Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel C Dennet as ‘a band of intellectual brothers’ ushering in what has been termed ‘New Atheism,’ putting a popular, cool and arguably smug spin on non-believing.  Their brand of atheism has been popularized through their books such as Letter to a Christian Nation, God is Not Great and The God Delusion. These men have become the faces of atheism and with their books, magazine columns and popular websites. They are now full-time career atheists.

So, where are the women?

Despite women contributing to the development of atheist thinking for centuries (in 1770s France for instance), their work is regularly overlooked and doesn’t gain the same degree of attention. Prior to Dawkins and Hitchens publishing their books, Jennifer Michael Hecht wrote Doubt and Susan Jacoby authored Freethinkers in 2004. Both of these books received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but neither had the same impact as later works of Dawkins and Hitchens on a global scale.

These women are not trotted out to the media in the same way as the ‘New Atheists’ are. Despite their immense contribution to atheist literature and thinking, women continue to be ignored in what is a conscious masculinisation of atheism.

Not only does this representation of atheism marginalise women but it also fails to take note of the number of places where atheism originated.

There is a rich history of atheism and questioning the existence of God in Indian philosophy. Atheist philosophy can be found in fifth century BCE India, potentially even earlier. Early schools such as Carvaka claimed the Vedas (holy Hindu texts) were made up by men, had no religious basis and were generally sceptical about the existence of God. The Samkhya school of philosophy concludes there is no way to definitively prove God existed. This is not dissimilar to the views presented by Richard Dawkins who has admitted that whilst those who practice a religion cannot prove the existence of God, he is unable to prove that God doesn’t exist. Indeed, if one follows one of these schools of thought, it is possible to practice Hinduism in the spiritual sense, whilst not believing in God.

Communities and groups on the African continent such as Pygmies and some Zulu communities also have a history of non-believing, as observed by American historian William Durant (albeit such analysis is contentious). Science, reason and critical thinking inform such philosophies.

Indeed, atheist networks are becoming more common across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Not believing in a Supreme Being is not exclusively western, nor should it be viewed as such. However, prominent atheists such as the Nigerian Leo Igwe rarely get the same level of air-time as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. These views and voices too often go unheard.

Atheism, as presented by predominantly white men, is seen as a form of modernity achieved through white western liberal enlightenment. Despite there being a rich history and continuation of atheism in Asia and Africa it is widely believed that atheism is a ‘phenomenon with its roots in Europe,‘ seen by the new atheists as being the next step on from secularism in a progression to a more civilised society. This in turn presents a euro-centric view of events.

Such atheism and associated ideas of white liberalism has become intertwined with right wing neo-conservatism. Sam Harris went as far as to say, "It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam." Indeed, Richard Dawkins doesn’t waste any time pretending to be subtle, once describing Islam as the ‘greatest force for evil in the world today.’

Such atheism seems to specifically single out Islam, presenting a clash of civilizations, with western liberalism threatened by the innate backwardness and intolerance of Islam. Sam Harris goes as far as to suggest that Muslims lack honesty. Such intolerance has led Noam Chomsky to describe these new atheists as ‘religious fanatics.’ 

Behind this arrogance and obnoxious overtones there is a real lack of originality, which isn’t often picked up on. Dawkins positions himself as one of the forefathers of atheism presenting ideas in his book (as Harris and Hitchens did before them) as original and cutting edge, as obvious, as corroborated by… science and reason.

They associate atheism with western science and reason and project ideas of white male superiority on other races and ethnicities presented as backwards in their analysis. This fails to acknowledge the advances of reason, science and logic made in communities and countries around the world. Rarely do we hear about roots of atheism outside Europe or about atheists from other parts of the world.

Throughout history people all of the world and raised in different faiths and none have doubted the belief in God. This is not a new phenomenon, nor should it be seen as one, as shown by people like, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Susan Jacoby, Leo Igwe and members of the Ex Muslim Forum.

This white male ‘band of intellectual brothers’ have hijacked the atheist narrative. It is now time to reclaim it.

You can follow Amit Singh on Twitter here.

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