Dabke dancing to tell another narrative

30 July 2015: Creative protest can change the way people engage with Israeli apartheid, says Dan Glass, who organised a Dabke-dance action to mark the first anniversary of the latest attack on Gaza

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Last weekend, on the first anniversary of the latest Gaza massacre which killed more than 2000 Palestinians, thirty dancer-activists brought the public to a standstill inside the heart of the British Museum and in a central London Barclays bank using traditional Palestinian dabke dancing.

As activists, many of us are used to marches, protests and occupations. We were thrilled to be part of the recent ‘Block the Factory’ action to shut down the ‘Elbit’ arms factory, but using dance as a form of protest and occupation to challenge ‘business as usual’ was something new for a lot of us and we felt it was surprising, hilarious and a great learning experience. It was also incredibly heart-warming to see so many people from Palestine and our allies in the UK rehearse Dabke and bring the brilliance of Palestine to life. Whilst we didn’t shut down the Barclays branch and stop the financial engineering of the illegal Israeli occupation we did learn a lot of how to surprise these institutions and throw them off their guard - skillfully and beautifully. They are used to dealing with A-B style protests and occupations, but we are keen to now see how Dabke dance could be used even more forcefully, critically and beautifully to stop business as usual.

The targets

The dancer-activists entered both sites and intervened in business as usual as a form of solidarity with the Palestinian cultural resistance against settler-colonialism, imperialism, ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid. The action was also organised In support of the Palestinian civil society call for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as the most effective way of international solidarity.

Barclays was targeted as it is a named shareholder in several major arms firms including Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin whom all play a key role in Israel’s brutal massacres of Palestinians and in the proliferation of drone technology across the world, and is helping Israel to construct and maintain its illegal apartheid Wall.

The British Museum was chosen to be highlighted as it represents the symbol of British Colonialism and we wanted to come at the heart of the empire. Not only are the most precious and sacred artefacts inside the museum stolen or illegitimately acquired, but we wanted to remind the public about Britain’s role in the start of the Zionist Project and its continuing support of the illegal Israeli neo-colonialist occupation of Palestine today. History shows that on September 11, 1922, ignoring Arab outrage, the British government proclaimed a mandate in Palestine, a follow-up to the 1917 Balfour declaration, which imperial Britain issued, with its army massed outside the gates of the city of Gaza.

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Cultural resistance tells another narrative

Cultural resistance tells another narrative about Palestine. Dabke is a representation of solidarity and cooperation, a symbol of steadfastness, love for life and determination. It is a form of art through which Palestinians express joy and gratitude to each other, and also to their land. Our message is simple: come dance with us, we will lock arms together and stomp the ground in a folkloric performance that is crucial in understanding the Palestinian identity and experiences. Cultural resistance tells another narrative about Palestine and overturns the 'occupation of the mind'. When we see graffiti art, read a Darwish poem, listen to a DAM song, watch performances by the Freedom Theatre or enjoy a Dabke dance by El Funoun – we see individuals, cultures and stories. Once stories are heard, denial of their existence is impossible.

The Dabke Flashmob on the anniversary of the Gaza massacre is only the start of a series of actions throughout the year that will contribute to bringing awareness of the Palestinian national identity. The second flashmob is planned together with our friends from Stop the Arms Fair as part of their day of action on Saturday 12th September at DSEI arms fair at ExCel (2), the world’s biggest arms fair.

Training for Transformation Palestine

This programme of cultural resistance was organised with the support of Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre. It is led by Training for Transformation Palestine in collaboration with many incredible art-activist pioneers including Friends of the Freedom Theatre UK. Training for Transformation (TFT) Palestine is human rights activism empowerment programme facilitated by some of the world’s leading popular education facilitators to build strength in overcoming the illegal Israeli occupation.

Training for Transformation (TFT) Palestine is human rights activism empowerment programme facilitated by some of the world’s leading popular education facilitators to build strength in overcoming the illegal Israeli occupation. We are currently training activists, educators and organising fundraising programmes across the world to make this programme a reality. Participants will learn with the world-renowned Training for Transformation (TfT) movement born out of Steve Biko’s ‘Black Consciousness Movement.’ The project aims to bring together activists from across Europe, Africa and their counterparts in Palestine. Participants will have the chance to reflect on the societal processes and personal voyages and gain tools to engage critically with popular education as activists to transform society. The training for transformation programme is aimed at activists who have spent a considerable time mobilising their community in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and historic Palestine.

In order to achieve our aims we believe in tackling the 4 occupations in Palestine simultaneously. These are (1) The Israeli occupation of land and water (2) The Palestine Authority (PA) occupation of people on the grounds free­will (3) The developing occupation of NGO culture in Palestine which suppresses grassroots activism and and fundamentally (4) the occupation of the mind.

In the spirit of Steve Biko from the ‘Black Consciousness’ Movements quote ‘the biggest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is your mind’ ­ to achieve the creation of true empowerment and a skill-set to overcome oppression in all it’s forms. If we are to oppose great injustices we need to use all the weapons at our disposal - until the task is done. Bring on the dabke ...



Dan is part of Training for Transformation Palestine. To find out more visit www.tftpalestine.org or if your organisation would like to be added to the list of supporters please email palestinetft@gmail.com



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Free the women of Yarl’s Wood detention centre

28 July 2015: After the success of a huge protest against detention in June Movement for Justice by Any Means Possible have called another Surround Yarl’s Wood demonstration on 8 August

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On 6 June 2015 a mass demonstration was held outside one of the most important immigration detention centres in the UK, Yarl’s Wood. A thousand of protesters gathered together and marched to the back of the centre to “meet" visibly with women inside ready to join the protest from rooms overlooking the field which was animated by solidarity action.

As the field got filled up with banners, placards and rainbow flags on the other side from the narrow openings of the windows the detainees stretched their arms waving colourful clothes and, as the protest went on, messages of freedom were put up for everyone there to see.

Women inside showed strength and real power as they had to boldly confront harassment from the Serco guards and attempts by the managers of the centre to divide the women by setting up a bingo game with prizes. Serco did not win, the women won. Ex detainees like Bruk had been in contact with the women inside who they personally knew and encouraged the organising inside. Even newcomers in the centre had joined in to act in defiance of a system of abuse that has the only purpose of crushing hopes of people who have already fought for freedom and for a better life when they have left their countries of origin.

Yarl’s Wood has seen many struggles over the years and women have being speaking out against the degrading racial and sexual abuse that is systemic in detention centres, there is no reform to be done, those horrible and traumatising places have to be shut down. This is what at the demonstration protesters outside and inside have been shouting: ”Detention Centres, Shut them Down!” and ”Freedom Now”.

After the protest on 6 June text messages were sent out by some detainees who wanted to thank everyone for the powerful and beautiful protest. Marina texted “The protesting was amazing. I enjoyed every single moment. That was the time to let that anger out and put forward the craving for freedom. Yarls Wood is such a confinement and a depressing place that detainees were hoping that protesters would break the gate so we could escape. Some had their bags ready just in case. I am sure what we did will not be a waste. Thanks to everyone for such a great day”.

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We all left with a sense of our own power, citizens and non- citizens, together fighting the racist anti-immigrant attacks at the heart of the destructive austerity drive. Over the last month detainees inside have creatively asserted their voices more, writing messages like “FREEDOM, FREEDOM” on their t-shirts in a bold act of defiance and challenge to the true repressive nature of detention. Guards have responded with harassment and stalking, making threats:’ you won’t get any food’, ’you’ll be sent to prison’ or be put in ‘isolation’, for not handing over their customized t-shirts. Guards tried to spread fear through their abusive threats but they did not win. The women who asserted their dignity and power holding their ground refusing to give up their t-shirts have been winning.

We can win more and winning victories against the cynical divide -and- rule policy of scapegoating immigrants has to inspire our actions as we build and organise a movement that unites citizens and non-citizens, inside and outside detention centres, fighting for a better society where freedom and equality are for real.

That is why is important to come out from all our communities on the 8 August to Surround Yarl’s Wood and make another day where the collective power of the oppressed will resonate inside and outside detention centres.

For more information about the protest on 8 August click here.



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The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival

24 July 2015: Notes on the unique Dorset festival experience, by Jenny Nelson

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Tolpuddle village - you know, near Briantspuddle and Puddletown, in the Piddle valley of Dorset - seems an unlikely place for a political rally, with its pristine cottages and their bounteous hanging baskets. But every year thousands of socialists arrive to remember six farm workers who fought one of the earliest trade union battles in the 1830s.

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The workers and their families faced starvation when their wages were cut to a measly six shillings a week; at the time an average family needed nine shillings a week for bread alone. The men began to organise their resistance before being arrested on trumped up charges and deported to Australia. It wasn't illegal to form a union at the time, but fear of widespread revolt lead to the heaviest punishment possible being invoked for mutiny involving an oath.

Protests swept the country including a march of 100,000 people on Parliament and the burgeoning trade union movement roused enough public pressure to bring about their return within three years. The tiny Dorset village has been a place of pilgrimage for trade unionists and socialists ever since the Martyrs' came home in triumph.

The festival is markedly different from other events listed on the West Dorset District Council's calendar, which this summer includes: songs of praise on the marine parade; a quilt and flower festival at Abbotsbury Church; fossil polishing; and a jazz brunch at the old tithe barn.

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Several things differentiate this festival from any other:

The Martyrs' Marquee blends traditional fête activities with niche hard left stalls. This year you could take a punt on the name of a large fluffy toy dog or support the Worker-Communist Party of Kurdistan's call to unite against Isis. There was a controversial, albeit brief appearance from Bournemouth Action for Israel, and the most popular stall generated enough JC propaganda to rival a Christian camp, in this case promoting Jeremy Corbyn's bid to become Labour leader.

Billy Bragg sang to one of the few audiences around who know the words to The Red Flag, and there was a notable array of political t-shirts, (pictured).

During the same month the government announced its greatest crack down on the unions in 30 years, it was heartening to join Sunday's proud procession through the village with dozens of beautifully embroidered banners and more than one brass band.

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We passed the old Sycamore tree, where the six were alleged to have taken the fateful oath. We passed the grave of James Hammett who wasn't present at the initial meeting under the tree, but accepted arrest on behalf of his newly-married brother whose wife was due to give birth. Wreaths were laid and his ancestors paid tribute.

The Tories claim to support working people while attacking the organisations that by definition exist to represent worker's rights. (See Red Pepper’s trade union mythbuster). This celebratory gathering was a reminder that the roots of the trade union movement run deep and although the institutions themselves are not faultless, there's a spirit that won't be broken.

In prison, one of the Martyrs George Loveless scribbled the words that formed the slogan of the weekend, 'We raise the watchword, liberty. We will, we will, we will be free!'

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Our infrastructure is headed for a crash, we must get it back on track

23 July 2015: With overdue northern rail upgrades hitting the buffers of an indefinite 'pause', Labour MEP Lucy Anderson flags up signs of a wider crisis in essential public infrastructure

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Transport infrastructure faces an alarming future at current levels of investment. Photo: George Gastin (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Failure to invest in and adapt public infrastructure in the UK, and to properly address future needs, is creating another crisis - one mirrored across the EU. This should be a huge issue for the left to take forward, but it is simply not getting enough attention.

The Institute of Civil Engineers defines infrastructure as ‘the physical assets underpinning the UK’s networks for transport, energy generation and distribution, electronic communications, solid waste management, water distribution and wastewater treatment.’ In each case, it is clear that the nation is not planning for the investment required to service the projected increase in demand from at least 10 million more people to 2035, let alone further innovation and expansion.

A 2013 assessment by the World Economic Forum ranked the UK 27th in the world on quality of infrastructure. We know that the situation is not improving, even while the IMF is pushing for countries with advanced economies to invest. Their argument suggests that if infrastructure spending increases by 0.1 per cent of GDP, it raises the level of output across the economy by about 0.4 per cent in the same year, and by 1.5 per cent within four years.

Investment in transport infrastructure in particular is falling behind across Europe. There is also growing concern about the state of maintenance and renewal of key infrastructure in ‘older’ member states such as the UK, especially in relation to rail. A study prepared in the context of the 2011 EU transport white paper concluded that securing the necessary European transport infrastructures requires investments of €1.5 trillion between 2010 and 2030.

Improving public transport infrastructure, where investment focuses on appropriate and sustainable projects, is more than just a desirable option. As the Royal Town Planning Institute acknowledges: ‘Transport infrastructure also shapes people’s decisions about where to live work and invest. It can transform and regenerate places, and it can facilitate the operation of industries which ostensibly are unrelated to it. By improving connectivity, it can help ensure greater social and economic inclusion, distributing further and wider the proceeds of growth. Moreover it delivers wider social benefits including providing access to healthcare and education and greater choice for consumers.’

In the UK, we have seen the Government refuse to commit to anything like the investment needed in transport infrastructure. The 2013 National Infrastructure Plan lacked any new money and further evidence came in June with the announcement of delays to Network Rail projects. In the meantime, the UK languishes at the bottom of the EU league table for rail electrification.

This is not simply a matter of spending cuts. Sixty per cent of economic infrastructure is already in private hands, raising serious concerns about the ability of democratically elected politicians to take decisive action to plan for the future.

Our experience of rail privatisation is evidence that the private sector will not fill those public investment gaps. The 2012 Rebuilding Rail report demonstrated that genuine private investment in the railways has been minimal when compared with contributions from the public purse and passengers. As outlined in the Labour-commissioned Armitt Review: ‘Whilst the private sector can provide some resources on a speculative basis in the early stages of project development, over the long term, funding of infrastructure can only come from three sources – national taxation, local taxation and user charging’.

In the coming years, it is incumbent upon supporters of socialist and green policies from all parts of the Labour and trade union movement and beyond to campaign hard for change to long-term investment policies.

Lucy Anderson is a Labour MEP for London and spokesperson for the European Parliamentary Labour Party on transport



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The aviation fight is back on

15 July 2015: Kara Moses writes on direct action against airport expansion at Heathrow airport

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Kara wearing arm tubes on the runway at Heathrow.

Five years after David Cameron unequivocally cancelled plans for a new runway with his now embarrassingly infamous 'No ifs no buts, no third runway' pledge, the £20 million Airport Commission that Cameron commissioned is now published, recommending a new third runway be built at Heathrow.

Within two weeks of the commission’s publication, the resistance has sprung into spirited action, with three kick-ass direct actions in a fortnight. The day after the report’s release, local resident Neil Keveren blocked the entrance tunnel to the airport with a van draped in a ‘Residents Against Expansion’ banner. The following week, head of the Airport Commission Howard Davies’ address to the £800-a-ticket Runways UK conference was stormed by polar bears wielding a banner reading ‘Any New Runway is Just Plane Stupid’, just at the moment he said that the decision over airport expansion would be made ‘by people in this room’ – those people being aviation industry bigwigs.

Pro-expansion astro-turf group Back Heathrow responded to the conference invasion on Twitter with mild disappointment, saying Plane Stupid ‘used to be edgy’. Little did they know that the group had plans for something ever so slightly more edgy the following week.

In the wee hours of the morning, I and twelve other Plane Stupid activists stormed Heathrow’s northern runway, not long before it was due to go live with carbon-pumping machines taking off for short-haul destinations as unjustifiably close as Newcastle. A tripod draped in white sheets provided a prominent iceberg seat for our polar bear, as we constructed a fence around it and locked on to the fence and tripod feet with D-locks and some pretty hefty arm tubes and waited for the police to rock up. We managed to construct our fortress before an army of police cars and vans, fire engines, and eventually snow ploughs and cherry pickers encircled us to block us off from the media gathering at the fence. Thankfully we were tweeting and livestreaming the whole thing to feed the media shitstorm that ensued.

That media shitstorm, which saw coverage from all the major UK print, online and broadcast outlets to worldwide media outlets as far away as Australia, Russia and the US, has successfully shifted the discourse around airport expansion to include climate change. This is no longer a debate around whether to expand Gatwick or Heathrow. This is now a debate around whether we should even be considering any airport expansion at all when we are already failing to address climate change, failing to meet our already inadequate targets that aim to keep the climate at a level that will still see mass disruption and destruction of our planet. It’s runways or a safe climate – we can’t have both.

A new runway would also destroy local communities, demolishing the village of Harmondsworth and making life in Sipson, which would sit at the end of the proposed runway, unbearable. This felt very poignant at the moment we were released from Heathrow Police Station, to receive huge hugs and hearty thanks by a local resident for ‘helping to protect my village and way of life.’

The real cost

The problem here is not the average family taking an annual holiday, and that is not what is driving the expansion. Nor – despite what the pro-expansion lobby would have you believe – is it even business flights, which have been in decline for 15 years. What is actually driving demand for more runways is wealthy frequent flyers. The 10-15 per cent of the UK population who flew three or more times last year took a whopping 70 per cent of all of UK flights. 57 per cent actually took no flights at all, with the rest taking just one or two. And the strongest predictors of frequent flyer status? A salary of over £115,000 and ownership of a second home abroad. Not only that, the most popular destinations from the areas with the most frequent flyers are tax havens. The facts speak for themselves – this is about a rich minority living luxury lifestyles, while the rest of us pay the real cost.

The Airport Commission gave a list of caveats for Heathrow expansion, including a ban on night flights and legislation against ever building a fourth runway – both of which Heathrow has apparently rejected, showing how little they care about anything but profit. In fact our group of runway blockaders have received lifetime bans from entering the Heathrow complex – unless as ‘bona fide’ air passengers (for which we’d need written permission) – ie they don’t want us anywhere near them, but they’ll still take our money.

Yesterday, as a result of our action, 22 flights were cancelled and many more were delayed, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon. There are much better ways though to save large amounts of carbon being unnecessarily pumped into the atmosphere than invading a runway at 4am and sitting in the rain for hours with your arms inside giant tubes – for example, not building any more runways, at Heathrow or elsewhere.

This is just the start. If we can pull this off in a fortnight, imagine what a united movement can do over the next five months before Cameron makes his final decision. Now is the time for local residents, environmental activists, NGOs, trade unions and anyone who wants a safe climate to come together once more and win this fight again. We did it before. We’ll do it again. No ifs, no buts. And, unlike Cameron, we actually mean it.

Sign a petition against new runways here.



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How we beat the frackers in Lancashire

3 July 2015: Pam Foster from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking tells the story of a weekend of furious campaigning

The eyes of the world were on Lancashire County Council on Monday 29 June – and Little Plumpton, a quiet rural spot in the Fylde, situated in West Lancashire. The previous week had seen a previous planning application to frack the Fylde village of Roseacre thrown out by Lancashire’s councillors and another, for seismic arrays at the same site, rather bizarrely given the stamp of approval.

The planning officer had recommended that the application to frack at Little Plumpton (Preston New Road) be given the go-ahead as there were no valid reasons for turning it down. If they turned it down and fracking firm Cuadrilla appealed, the officer said there could be steep financial penalties for the council. A vote to refuse Cuadrilla’s application to frack Preston New Road was taken, resulting in seven in favour, seven against and one abstention. It was decided to adjourn until the following Monday as councillors asked for that advice to be provided in writing. We had been so close to getting this application refused – now the agony was to be prolonged until the following week.

So we had one weekend. What could we do? The Frack Free Lancashire machine, which represents almost 40 local groups, went into overdrive. Both the Preston New Road Action Group and Friends of the Earth each obtained independent legal advice that confirmed the view that the committee would have valid reasons for refusal on grounds of noise and landscape, and that the risk would be small if it went to appeal. How were we to get this information to the councillors though? The planning officer had made it very clear that there would be no further opportunity for public participation, or for members of the public to circulate written evidence collected over the weekend to any of the councillors.

The value of having many small grass roots groups under the Frack Free Lancashire umbrella is that we are able to act nimbly and quickly. It didn’t matter that it was the weekend – this precious legal advice was hand-delivered to all the relevant councillors, along with greetings cards and good wishes expressing our empathy for them. We have always appreciated the pressures they were under – meddling from central government, conflicting advice, tons of documents, and now the threat of financial penalties. We also needed to tell them that we’d decided that in the event of an appeal, we would crowdfund in order to raise the necessary cash to pay for any costs incurred.

Crunch time

Monday dawned and we found ourselves back in the council chamber, enviously leaving some of our colleagues outside in the sunshine, where a large crowd of supporters was gathering – much larger than we had dared hoped for. After all, many people had taken time off work, re-jigged schedules or had travelled from outside Lancashire in order to offer support the previous week.

We were nervous – this was crunch time. Most of us admitted that we hadn’t slept well over the weekend. The national and local press had gone into overdrive and nearly all, without exception, were predicting that permission was bound to be granted and that Lancashire was about to become the test ground for fracking in the UK.

A tetchy atmosphere pervaded the council chamber, with the chair and councillors sniping at each other. It was agreed that there would be a ten minute adjournment to look at our new legal advice received over the weekend. It seemed that the councillors were to see it after all. It was being taken seriously.

It was a tense time. Would the council take on board this latest legal advice and make a decision based on the best interests of the community and the people they represented, or would they kowtow to the wishes of a planning pfficer who was under pressure from George Osborne to make planning an easy passage for Cuadrilla? We dared to hope that this new information might be influential. The councillors came back in, there was more discussion – they took a vote 9-4, with one abstention. The chamber erupted with a noisy standing ovation. We had won! Minutes later the committee unanimously voted to also throw out plans for seismic arrays at Little Plumpton.

We emerged from the chamber into the sunshine and to the sounds of hundreds of happy people. Amid all the hugs and kisses was a general air of astonishment. We always believed that we could stop this but we had been faced with the very real possibility that the democratic process could be determined by councillors’ fear of legal fees.

Hats off to Lancashire councillors who had the courage to listen to their constituents. What a great victory for localism – and what a huge blow to a government that said it was 'going all out for fracking'!



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Towards an international social movement on housing

2 July 2015: Jacob Wills writes from a Europe-wide meeting on housing struggles, held in Athens

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As negotiations rage over the future of Europe and the lives of the Greek people, another less conflictual debate was happening in Athens. Europe's housing movements gathered to discuss the way forward across the continent, and build the relationships of trust needed to underlie any international movement. For once, there is some small linkage between these meetings. With some activists now working for the state, Greek left movements are finding it easier to influence their government than in living memory – just look at the coming referendum on the moneylenders' austerity. It can be an uneasy relationship, as strident interventions from some autonomous squatting communities demonstrate, but it gives hope to all of us visiting from more hostile climates.

The European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City began to meet at sites of struggle two years ago in response to the worsening crisis across the continent. Despite the huge array of issues and contexts, conveyed in Athens both through a public conference and a two day internal meeting, there are remarkable similarities in the 16 participating countries. Spiralling rents, evictions, state funding of the private sector, and the criminalisation of homelessness are occurring all over, but so are peer support groups, blockades of the banks and courts, and the squatting of empty buildings to house migrant families. This sharing of tactics and strategies has given a huge motivational boost to participants, including the three of us attending from London's Radical Housing Network.

We hosted the coalition's last meeting, during which we briefly shut down the MIPIM real estate fair's first venture to London, and held a counter conference of 1,000 people in a squatted social centre. Along with some inspirational local campaigns and the mass March for Homes, this gave us the confidence to start speaking of a housing movement and not just a struggle. Organising on a European level has given perspective on our power, with mass movements in Spain, Greece and France amongst others winning concrete gains, often in the face of stiff opposition. Opportunities to learn the detailed organisational strategies behind these successes are few and far between, rarely featuring in mainstream or even independent media reports. Meanwhile there is a surprising amount of interest in the London scenario, as a grim taste of the hyper-financialised Europe to come. With booming London house prices giving George Osborne most of his much-vaunted GDP growth, policies will continue to escalate our crisis over at least the next decade. We need all the help we can get.

It's not just solidarity for our local and city-wide struggles we're exploring though, but also the potential for common action. We will be campaigning against the privatisation and financialisation of public assets at this year's MIPIM property market in October, before it skulks back to Cannes in March 2016. And from October 10-20th this year we'll be taking concerted European action on the issue of homes standing empty while evictions abound. These disgraceful policies forcibly break up communities and lives on the whims of profit-makers, while developers land-bank and empty out estates, and buy-to-leave investors laugh the short distance all the way to the bank. As the Focus E15 occupation of the Carpenters estate demonstrated so forcefully, these homes need people, and these people need homes.

It's not just the problem that's a common European one, it's also the targets. With huge transnational landlords controlling hundreds of thousands of units across borders, the potential for effective international action and solidarity increases. As states begin to say no to international financiers, and researchers begin to get organised too, we're slowly putting in place the conditions for an international social movement to emerge.



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The Liberty Tree

23 June 2015: Chris Jury on why he wrote his new play The Liberty Tree, an agitprop musical that aims to be as entertaining as it is political

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“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”
Berthold Brecht

“The Liberty Tree is ‘effin brilliant! If you haven’t seen it, you better get down to The Cockpit in June or regret it forever!”
UCU trade union activist


The Liberty Tree is an agitprop, political musical playing at The Cockpit, in Marylebone, London, from 24th-27th June, and is a deliberate attempt to use theatre as a tool to bring about progressive political change – but it’s also a romping, hilarious, feel-good antidote to the austerity agenda and a great night-out for anyone sick to death of being over-worked, underpaid and powerless to do anything about it.

I wrote the play as a response to a perceived crisis of political education in the UK. It appears to me that many young people have been told little of the history and character of our social democracy and how we got to be supposedly free citizens in a free country, let alone that it is possible to resist the exploitation they are all too aware they are experiencing in the workplace. And the entire cast and crew are all students and young activists – this is ‘community theatre’ but with a community of young people defined by their common experience of capitalism rather than geography.

Visually the production is inspired by the 18th century political cartoons of Gillray, Cruickshank and Hogarth, and the work of 19th century artists such as Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham, who were in turn influenced by William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement.

The show is part of a tradition of British political theatre going back to the Workers Theatre Movement of the 1920s and 30s, the Unity Theatre movement that followed it, and on to the late 1970s ‘agitprop’ movement led by companies such as 7:84, Red Ladder, C.A.S.T, Belt And Braces, North West Spanner and Monstrous Regiment.

The narrative structure of the play is a taken from The Wizard Of Oz, and this is a statement of our primary commitment to put on a piece of political theatre that above all entertains the audience. So while I hope the audience get a lot out of the show in terms of political ideas and information, above all I hope they have a bloody good time. Fingers crossed.

Chris Jury is artistic director of Public Domain Productions and an award-winning actor, writer and director, best known for playing Eric Catchpole in 5 series of BBC antique classic Lovejoy. www.chrisjury.co.uk



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Four reasons to join the Frackanpada

19 June 2015: Claire Fauset looks ahead to an international anti-fracking camp in the Basque Country next month

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What better way to resist fossil fuel expansion and capitalism this summer than to occupy a beautiful site slated for destruction, sharing tactics and ideas with people taking action from across Europe?

People fighting fracking and campaigning for a more just and sustainable energy and economic system will come together this summer for an international anti-fracking camp in the Basque Country, Spain. The Frackanpada will take place from the 13-19 July and here's a few reasons why you might want to pack your tent and sunblock for a trip to the Basque Country:

1. The industry is trying to get a foothold in Europe, so our resistance must be Europe-wide.

The fracking industry is eyeing up the trillions of cubic metres of gas spread across the European Union's member states as though it were a single resource. The stronger a grip the industry gets in any one location the more power it will have to push expansion elsewhere in the continent. With strong resistance in almost every country in Europe where the industry has tried to drill, including bans in the largest economies of France and Germany, Spain is the latest country to have caught the eye of the frackers. They hope to start drilling in the Basque-Cantabrian Basin in the northern part of the state in 2016. The locals have other plans!

2. 2015 is an important year for opposing fossil fuel expansion

2015 sees world governments meeting again in Europe to attempt to make a binding treaty to tackle climate change. At best the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris in December will be a corporate-friendly programme with targets that fail to tackle the scale of the problem. Tackling climate change means keeping fossil fuels in the ground and the most effective strategy is to fight for that goal and to connect these struggles up across Europe: stopping the fracking industry through actions like the Frackanpada, opposing the coal industry through actions like the climate camp in Germany where thousands of participants will shut down the giant open cast mines in the Rhineland coal fields, through to campaigning for divestment from fossil fuels and resisting the economic system that values profit over life.

3. The Basque Country has a strong history of defence of the land against infrastructure development

The anti-fracking movement in the Basque Country is inspired by a long history of struggle against exploitative development, for protection of the land. The anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s prevented five nuclear power stations being built along the Basque coast and has kept that industry out of the country to this day. The movement to oppose the high speed train line that will cut through the countryside, and which offers no benefit to local people, has been going since the early 1990s and is still a major focus of resistance.

Recently the Basque Country has been mobilised in one of the largest disobedience initiatives ever undertaken in Europe in solidarity with young people who have been jailed for six years for their political dissent on the issue of Basque independence. As police came to arrest the young people, the population turned out in force and formed human walls around them in protection.

4. Holidarity

If I can't dance it's not my revolution, and the Frackanpada offers an opportunity for a holiday and solidarity action all rolled into one.

The Frackanpada will take place on common land owned by the local village of Subijana de Alava near the capital Gasteiz. The village has welcomed the camp onto their land, which is also on the site of an old conventional gas well and sits around the Subijana aquifer, a major resource for the entire region and massively at risk of contamination if fracking commences.

As you might expect, there will be updates on the anti-fracking campaigns across Europe and further afield, workshops linking this issue to broader struggles against climate change and fossil fuel extraction, in defence of the land, and the search for alternatives to energy and economic systems. But aware that we are more than these struggles, the camp's programme includes walks up the nearby mountains and along the waterways we are seeking to protect, a march in the capital and the creation of land art to warn off the fracking industry, concerts featuring some of the best Basque music and a fair of local produce and alternatives and traditional dances. The whole experience will be an adventure of resistance, solidarity and movement-building. Go to this page to buddy up for transport.

frackanpada.frackingez.org



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Free Prisoners of the Oil Games

10 June 2015: Yesterday Red Pepper co-editor Emma Hughes was refused entry into Azerbaijan ahead of the European Games. She wrote this in detention in Baku

Baku2015



As I sit detained in Heydar Aliyev international airport Baku is tantalisingly close. The broad surface of Heydar Aliyev Prospekti stretches out in front of me. A year ago to the day I took a taxi along this freeway – catching glimpses of the Baku Olympic Stadium which was under construction. Today the national stadium is just three days away from the opening ceremony of the first European Games.

I was always expecting this visit to be difficult, although I did think I'd at least make it into the country. Since my last trip here the situation in Azerbaijan has rapidly deteriorated. Civil society has been stamped on hard with journalists, academics, lawyers, bloggers and democracy activists all being jailed. Many of the people I met before are now in jail, hiding or have fled the country.

These Games, a subsidary of the Olympics, are being used to goldwash a corrupt regime and the oil company that serves it – BP. The purpose of them is to present the Aliyev family as progressive and open to the world. In reality it has an appalling record of human rights abuse, crushing freedom of speech and assembly, and incarcerating any voices of opposition.

BP is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan. Since 1994, when BP became the operator of the biggest oil field in Azerbaijan, the corporation and the Aliyev government have become evermore intertwined. The Aliyevs depend upon BP to maintain the supply of oil revenues into the state and the personal finances of the First Family. The oil wealth brought by BP has entrenched the Aliyev regime and failed to raise living standards for the majority of Azeris. BP in turn is dependent upon the oil production in Azerbaijan and the staunch support of the Aliyevs when the company hits troubles in other oil provinces.

The sixteen days of the Games will be used to showcase Baku to the international community. What neither competing teams, visiting fans nor the media will see is the massive inequality in Azerbaijan and the growing dissent.

While I face many hours in detention for speaking out against BP and the Aliyevs, political prisoners in Azerbaijan face many years in jail. This year alone has seen wave after wave of arrests.

The charismatic young democracy activist Rasul Jafarov, who founded the Sport for Rights campaign, has been sentenced to 6.5 years. Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil was imprisoned for reveling the how the elite grabbed and squandered the country’s money.

Leyla Yunus, one of the country’s most respected human rights advocates, and her husband, Arif Yunus, were charged with treason – a sentence that could see them spending the rest of their lives in jail. Human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev was arrested a few days after Rasul. Eight months later, in April 2015, he was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail. There are serious concerns about Leyla, Arif’s and Intigam’s health.

After many months in detention, eight activists from the youth movement NIDA! were sentenced to between six and eight years in prison. Opposition politicians such as Ilgar Mammadov were also given long sentences. The election monitor Anar Mammadli was sentenced to five and a half years in prison and the founder of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Emin Huseynov, was forced into hiding in the Swiss Embassy after being stopped from leaving the country. Emin is still there and has now been charged with tax evasion and abuse of powers, meaning that were he to leave the embassy he would immediately be arrested.

Isa Shahmarly, a former chair of the Free (Azad) LGBT group, hung himself with a rainbow flag in his Baku apartment, writing in a note that Azerbaijan society was “not for me”.

Seymour Hezi, a columnist with the Azadliq newspaper, was attacked at a bus stop. When he tried to defend himself with a bottle he had in his hand, he was arrested by police who appeared to be watching from close by.

Ilgar Nasibov, a journalist who worked ay the Nakhchivan Resource Centre, the only independent rights group in the region, was beaten unconscious and left with multiple broken bones and temporary loss of vision in one eye.

Three weeks after Khadija Ismayil’s arrest, the offices at Radio Free Europe were raided and shut down. Staff were detained for questioning and their computers seized. The station must now operate from outside the country.

Such a list of names, brutalities and injustice. The past year in Azerbaijan has seen a burgeoning movement full of creativity and optimism stamped on hard. Far from presenting a more liberal face as it prepares for the eyes of Europe to be turned in its direction, the regime has been getting ever more repressive as it clamps down on dissent in the run up to the Oil Games. BP carry on regardless remaining resolute in their support for the Games and the Aliyevs.

The democracy movement appears all but destroyed. Yet most of those in prison understood where their politics, journalism, blogging, monitoring, legal work and other activism would lead. This is what makes them remarkable. As Intigam Aliyev said when he was sentenced, “In this country it is a crime to have an alternative opinion, to talk about election fraud and discuss issues of political prisoners. I do not regret my arrest. Even while in prison I plan to continue my work. Through our arrests our struggle continues.”

Emma Hughes is a co-editor at Red Pepper magazine and a campaigner with Platform. She is part of the Sport for Rights campaign, which is working to highlight cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the European Games.

All that Glitters – Sport, BP and Repression in Azerbaijan,a new book from Platform London will be published this Friday 12 June



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