28 May 2010

Perception, taste and people's priorities

Hope people don't think this is too trite - I thought it was interesting and exemplifies much about the way we live today.


In Washington DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $200 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . .

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life

26 May 2010

25 May 2010

The Greeks Get It

This was sent to me this morning - am posting up as I think it's interesting and worth a discussion if anyone's up for it.

We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

OR this

The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’

The Greeks Get It

Posted on May 24, 2010

By Chris Hedges

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

The former right-wing government of Greece lied about the size of the country’s budget deficit. It was not 3.7 percent of gross domestic product but 13.6 percent. And it now looks like the economies of Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal are as bad as Greece’s, which is why the euro has lost 20 percent of its value in the last few months. The few hundred billion in bailouts for other faltering European states, like our own bailouts, have only forestalled disaster. This is why the U.S. stock exchange is in free fall and gold is rocketing upward. American banks do not have heavy exposure in Greece, but Greece, as most economists concede, is only the start. Wall Street is deeply invested in other European states, and when the unraveling begins the foundations of our own economy will rumble and crack as loudly as the collapse in Athens. The corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts or see credit evaporate. They have the money and the power to hurt us. There will be more unemployment, more personal and commercial bankruptcies, more foreclosures and more human misery. And the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive. We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of European leaders.

“The euro is in danger,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel
told lawmakers last week as she called on them to approve Germany’s portion of the bailout plan. “If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.”

Beyond Europe means us. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the current government of George Papandreou, did what the Republicans did under George W. Bush. They looted taxpayer funds to enrich their corporate masters and bankrupt the country. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars from individual retirement and pension accounts slowly built up over years by citizens who had been honest and industrious. They used mass propaganda to make the population afraid of terrorists and surrender civil liberties, including habeas corpus. And while Bush and Karamanlis, along with the corporate criminal class they abetted, live in unparalleled luxury, ordinary working men and women are told they must endure even more pain and suffering to make amends. It is feudal rape. And there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.

We have seen these austerity measures before. Latin Americans, like the Russians, were forced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to gut social services, end subsidies on basic goods and food, and decimate the income levels of the middle class—the foundation of democracy—in the name of fiscal responsibility. Small entrepreneurs, especially farmers, were wiped out. State industries were sold off by corrupt government officials to capitalists for a fraction of their value. Utilities and state services were privatized.

What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

Dwight Macdonald laid out the consequences of a culture such as ours, where the waging of war was “the normal mode of existence.” The concept of perpetual war, which eluded the theorists behind the 19th and early 20th century reform and social movements, including Karl Marx, has left social reformers unable to deal with this effective mechanism of mass control. The old reformists had limited their focus to internal class struggle and, as Macdonald noted, never worked out “an adequate theory of the political significance of war.” Until that gap is filled, Macdonald warned, “modern socialism will continue to have a somewhat academic flavor.”
Macdonald detailed in his 1946 essay “The Root Is Man” the marriage between capitalism and permanent war. He despaired of an effective resistance until the permanent war economy, and the mentality that went with it, was defeated. Macdonald, who was an anarchist, saw that the Marxists and the liberal class in Western democracies had both mistakenly placed their faith for human progress in the goodness of the state. This faith, he noted, was a huge error. The state, whether in the capitalist United States or the communist Soviet Union, eventually devoured its children. And it did this by using the organs of mass propaganda to keep its populations afraid and in a state of endless war. It did this by insisting that human beings be sacrificed before the sacred idol of the market or the utopian worker’s paradise. The war state provides a constant stream of enemies, whether the German Hun, the Bolshevik, the Nazi, the Soviet agent or the Islamic terrorist. Fear and war, Macdonald understood, was the mechanism that let oligarchs pillage in the name of national security.

“Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become the architects of their own enslavement,” he wrote. “This does not make the slavery less, but on the contrary more— a paradox there is no space to unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous future enemy of socialism.”

Macdonald argued that democratic states had to dismantle the permanent war economy and the propaganda that came with it. They had to act and govern according to the non-historical and more esoteric values of truth, justice, equality and empathy. Our liberal class, from the church and the university to the press and the Democratic Party, by paying homage to the practical dictates required by hollow statecraft and legislation, has lost its moral voice. Liberals serve false gods. The belief in progress through war, science, technology and consumption has been used to justify the trampling of these non-historical values. And the blind acceptance of the dictates of globalization, the tragic and false belief that globalization is a form of inevitable progress, is perhaps the quintessential illustration of Macdonald’s point. The choice is not between the needs of the market and human beings. There should be no choice. And until we break free from serving the fiction of human progress, whether that comes in the form of corporate capitalism or any other utopian vision, we will continue to emasculate ourselves and perpetuate needless human misery. As the crowds of strikers in Athens understand, it is not the banks that are important but the people who raise children, build communities and sustain life. And when a government forgets whom it serves and why it exists, it must be replaced.

“The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology,” Macdonald wrote in “The Root Is Man.” “The Radical puts Man there. The Progressive’s attitude is optimistic both about human nature (which he thinks is good, hence all that is needed is to change institutions so as to give this goodness a chance to work) and about the possibility of understanding history through scientific method. The Radical is, if not exactly pessimistic, at least more sensitive to the dual nature; he is skeptical about the ability of science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the tragic element in man’s fate not only today but in any collective terms (the interests of Society or the Working Class); the Radical stresses the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’

24 May 2010

Left Wing Politics and the English Civil War

My main source for this article is David Petegorsky’s Left Wing Politics and the English Civil war. My purpose in this article is to examine the development of class consciousness in society at the very beginning of capitalism.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, at the end of the Feudal period of history, a number of social changes (some having their origins earlier) can be seen:

1. the increasing importance of people in the towns whose wealth and influence depended not on land but on capital. Wealth was replacing birth as the road to privilege.

2. The shrinking of ecclesiastical power and the increase of the secular state.

3. After the Black death (1347) a shortage of labour power resulted in the enclosure of land and the disappearance of serfdom. Along with the infant capitalist class an infant working class dependant entirely on selling their labour power emerged.

5. The power of the nobility was waning, the Tudors having weakened it by using the new middle class as advisors (such men like Wolsey and Moore had no feudal armies at their command)

6.This situation, with a waning nobility and a rising bourgeoisie left the King in a strong position to hold the balance of power. The monarchy was threatened by the rising middle class and attempted to maintain the old order.

Feudal philosophy subordinated individual ambition to the requirements of social order and so had become a break on progress. The new capitalist class demanded individual freedom to dispose of their resources..

So by the time of the civil war the new middle class was increasingly campaigning against the tyranny of the old order. What the parliamentary side was fighting for therefore was freedom from the controls that had been placed on the infant capitalism by the Tudors and the Stuarts, both attempting to maintain the old order.

This is the freedom that the bourgeois revolution seeks to attain, the freedom to exploit capital and the freedom of every individual to rise in society by their own efforts and not the privilege of birth. This was the motive for the civil war.

But as David Petegorsky says “But what the middle class sought for itself it was anxious to deny others. For itself it demanded freedom from restriction and interference; for the proletariat it wanted a discipline as rigorous as that from which the middle class was striving to escape.”

The role of religion was important to the rise of early capitalism. The development of Puritanism contained within it the concept that the righteous were to be rewarded on earth. Thus the rich were deserving of their wealth and the poor by implication deserving of their poverty. It is instructive how this essentially religious doctrine still informs even fundamentally secular societies like Britain today (it is even more evident in the USA).

Of course the above paragraph is a simplification of the doctrines of Puritanism but it is the one that above all else supported the development of the capitalist system. Puritanism gave the bourgeoisie a justification both of their own wealth and their oppression of the poor.

So by 1640(after 11 years of Charles I ruling alone) parliament was increasingly acting against the King, for example:
the impeachment of Laud And Wentworth (who help the king rule without parliament)

Declaring Ship money illegal followed (Ship money was traditionally levelled on coastal towns. Charles II wished to extend it inland). This ultimately led to the attempted arrest of the Five members.

These were the essential events that lead to Charles raising his standard in Nottingham on Aug 22 1642.

Initially the war was indecisive mainly because it was led by the aristocracy who were nervous of removing the King. The grand Remonstrance shows this nervousness, by only blaming the ‘papists and bishops’ for the faults of Charles’ reign.

But at the same time the effective authority moved from the landed gentry capitalists to the financial interests of the city as they were paying for the war.

In parliament the new capitalist class began to fashion society as they wished it by removing the feudal breaks on the economy and the power of the aristocracy whilst continuing to suppress the poor. The power of the church was also attacked

Religion was at the time part of the warp and weft of society and by demanding freedom of conscience in matters of religion they were in fact demanding the right to question the assumptions of the existing order and the right therefore to freedom of speech and expression.
This is how freedom of religious conscience has to be understood in the context of the time. These currents lead to the dissenters fearing the centralised forces of anti-royalist aristocrats.

In Parliament this led to an initial victory for the house of lords Angered by the indecisive leadership Cromwell forced through an ordinance that founded the New Model Army. He also forced through A Self Denying Ordinance that forced the aristocratic generals to resign their commissions. This took the army out of the control of the Lords.

But this was a war of minorities the common people were not interested in joining the fight and the authorities on both sides had to resort to impressments. This eventually resulted in the generation of revolutionary fervour amongst the common people. The pressed soldiers united around the common demand that forced service be forever outlawed.

The rank and file of the army soon recognised that the Freedom and Liberty that the capitalist farmer talked of meant unrestricted rights to exploit them. To the merchant it meant the right to build his wealth on the labour of others and to the owners of property it meant passing laws to further protect their property.
To the common people it meant freedom from fear, insecurity and release from poverty. To the artisan and petty tradesman, peasant or agricultural labourer it was freedom from those very freedoms demanded by the wealthy.

Initially the use of vague ill defined terms like freedom and liberty allowed considerable support of parliament but by the early 1640’s the worsening economic situation began to cause dissent. Poverty and destitution became ‘epidemical’ as one pamphleteer said and by 1643 the Venetion Ambassador observed “ It is now impossible for the poor to live in this kingdom”

The chaotic situation encouraged the landowners to enclose more land leading to even more misery amongst the poor, who initially turned to religious mysticism and an increasing belief that the end of the world was coming and with it their ultimate removal from this vale of tears to a blissful life with the creator. This was a response to Puritanism that told them that the wealthy were the elect of God and that they, the poor were not elect and therefore damned.

Later this turned itself into practical political demands. The poor began to claim that all men were equal before God denying the doctrine of predestination and claiming that salvation lay not in knowledge of the scriptures (as the Puritans claimed) but through mystical revelation.

This resulted in the rise of itinerant worker preachers who called upon their followers to hold all things in common and accept no authority over them excepting God himself.

Such was the extremity to which people were driven that ‘riotous assemblies of townsfolk were recorded in Lambeth and Southwark and the apprentices rioted in London.

In the countryside peasants pulled down fences and levelled enclosures. Such an explosion of sectarian activity public discussion and action inevitably led to the development of radical movements by 1647-9.

Parliament was forced to state that power resides with the people, although they equated the people with parliament. Thus the individualism of the Puritans began to be expressed by the levellers as the inalienable rights of all individuals. Even scientific materialism seems to have its beginnings here in a pamphlet by Overton

‘...Man is a compound wholly mortall contrary to that common distinction of soule and body and that the present going of the soule into Heaven or Hell is a meer fiction’.

By 1645 the demands of the common people were being expressed in more categorical terms. There was an increasing consciousness that Parliament was fighting for the rights of the bourgeoisie and for no-one else.

Overton (already cited), Walwyn ,Lilburne and others were rapidly developing the theoretical arguments that would form the basis for the stand of progressive forces in London and in the army. But they spoke for the petit bourgoisie and failed to develop a truly proletarian ideology. However by 1646 the arguments were essentially secular (although still often couched in religious terms).
Essentially these new democrats were trying force onto parliament the controls that parliament had already used to control the King. They demanded that parliament should rule in the interests of all and not just in the interests of the bourgeoisie.

But while recognising that a just society could not allow social inequality they put their faith in a written constitution the first version of which had appeared by 1647. There was little attempt to analyse the origins of power or its historical development.

By 1647 the army was being paid low wages irregularly if at all. Industry was at a very low ebb and peasants were suffering insecurity. excessive rents and poor harvests. As a result of Leveller activity these streams of discontent crystallised into a vigorous movement for social change that threatened to push the revolution further than the original makers were prepared to let it go.

This is of course the dilemma faced by every bourgeois revolution, namely a reliance on those elements that were eventually to form the proletariat in order to remove the powers of feudalism. They had no intention of allowing to the poor the freedoms it claimed for themselvesf. In fact it can be claimed that all bourgeois democracies have come into being on the backs of the very class they determined to exploit and that the revolution itself was the bourgeois’ first act of exploitation.

The rank and file of the New model army consisted of peasants, labourers artisans and apprentices. Theywanted a share in the ‘liberty’ they had been fighting for. and the common people had suffered the privations any civil war brings and none of the expected improvements.
A number of events clearly show this unrest among the poor:

Riots in many parts of the country and an increase in political consciousness
Labour began to be organised e.g the London apprentices were organised enough to present a demand for monthly holidays.

Demands for work amongst the unemployed and petitions from the rural poor.

The army meanwhile was becoming the most revolutionary force in the land. Cromwell and Ireton moved to disband it and sent some regiments to Ireland. In fact Cromwell’s war in Ireland can be seen at least in part as a method of diffusing opposition and consolidating the power of capital.

In November 1647 The Army council published the Agreement of the people:

The Agreement of the people
First draft 1647
Stating that sovereign power should reside in the people rather than with the discredited King or Parliament, the original Agreement consisted of four clauses:
1. The peoples' representatives should be elected in proportion to the population of their constituencies;
2 The existing Parliament should be dissolved on 30 September 1648;
3 Future Parliaments should be elected biennially and sit every other year from April to September;
4. The biennial Parliament (consisting of a single elected House) should be the supreme authority with powers to make or repeal laws, appoint officials and conduct domestic and foreign policy.

Constraints were to be placed on Parliament:
not to interfere with freedom of religion;
not to press men to serve in the armed forces;
it could not prosecute anyone for their part in the recent war;
it was not to exempt anyone from the ordinary course of the law;
all laws passed by Parliament should be for the common good.

Cromwell moved to suppress this, prevented its ratification by the whole army, and arrested the ringleaders.

In October the Army convened to debate the constitution at Putney and the class divisions are clearly seen. These debates were recorded by stenographers and exist to this day. They are easily found in full online. http://courses.essex.ac.uk/cs/cs101/putney.htm

In this debate Ireton said
“All the main thing I speak for is because I would have an eye to property.”
He was prepared to concede the rights of the common people to:
“to air and place and ground and the freedom of highways and other things to live among us” but the shaping of public policy must remain the exclusive privilege of
“the persons in whom all land lies and those in corporations in whome all trading lies”

He feared that:
“ you may have such men chosen or at least the major part of them (as have no local or permenant interest) why may not these men vote against all property?”

To which Thomas Rainsford of the levellers replied
“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under;”

But he was anxious to nevertheless support the protection of the owners of property

“To say because a man pleads that every man hath a voice (by right of nature) that therefore destroys by the same argument all property- this is to forget the law of God. That there’s a property, the Law of God says it; else why hath God made the law ‘Thou shalt not steal’?”

We can see though that the Leveller programme. Although caring for the landless poor did not really argue for their rights. Only for the peasantry and petty freeholders.

So between 1647-9 we see Cromwell determined to suppress the aspirations of what we can reasonably describe as the developing proletariat as more peasants were thrown off their land by enclosure this element was growing.
In Jan 1648 a pamphlet called ‘The warning Teares of the oppressed’ was published. The propertyless classes where increasingly finding the Leveller programme inadequate. In fact the levellers, recognising a new threat from the left began to demand that parliament did not ‘abolish property’.

The propertyless landless poor were beginning to see that the Levellers had nothing to offer them and that the only solution was a system of common ownership. From the beginning these ideas were dismissed as they so often are today as Utopian quoting scripture “The poor ye have always with you”.
From the beginning the apologists of capital were ‘relaxed about people becoming extremely rich’.

There followed a period of repression, ordinances against heresy (beliefs declaring the equality of all were banned) and the press was censored heavily.

But despite their lack of success at the time the Levellers did actually predict the radical liberalism that is the foundation of the modern state. After the restoration many of the levellers set sail for the American colonies, taking their ideas with them. Ideas that form the bedrock of the American constitution.

By now many Levellers saw clearly that the criterion by which social institutions should be judged was not their formal constitution but their operative effect. Even today we can see that the ideas of the levellers even when enshrined in formal constitutions like that of the USA cannot challenge the essential power of the capitalist over society. That role had to come from elsewhere from the landless poor who only had their labour power to sell – the growing proletariat.

The Diggers, consisting of that very growing proletariat were the only group that could challenge the state. They did so but only briefly, but their story remains an inspiration and Gerard Winstanley produced the only genuinely proletarian theory to come out of the civil war.

In a very short time Winstanley’s ideas develop from mystical to rational theology.

“For reason tells him ‘is thy neighbour hungry and naked today, do thou feed him, it may be thy case tomorrow and then he will be ready to help thee”

This is the reciprocal altruism that paleoanthropologists tell us was the basis of early human organisation.

By 1649 Winstanley’s moral and spiritual ideas were being transformed into the primitive communism of Digger theory. He also considered property to be a sin

“…So long as such are rulers as calls the land theirs upholding this particular propriety of mine and thine, the common people shall never have their liberty, nor the land ever freed from troubles, oppressions and complainings”

Only if the earth is made a common treasury can the misery of mankind be removed.

He even points out that it is only the poor, the common people (who are not in his terms corrupted by the ‘sin’ of property) that can achieve this transformation of society. His theory is however fundamentally Utopian because it refuses to recognise that such a revolution was unlikely to be achieved without some level of violence. He does however demand that the poor should refuse to work for the landowners but instead work the common land together. However as with Peasant’s revolt, in the end they hoped to win by appealing to the better nature of their oppressors.

The demand for common property was not entirely new however, there are traces of it in the Peasant’s Revolt when the slogan ‘When Adam Delved and Eve span who was then the Gentleman?’ was abroad. But until the Diggers, communism did not achieve a social form and was often simply a demand for the return of the common land that had been enclosed. The idea of common ownership did not crystallise until the appearance of Winstanley’s tract.

But there is no notion of economic development in his ideas, simply a recognition of the morality and justice of them. In demanding the destruction of property he is fundamentally reactionary because he is not looking forward to an age of prosperity for all but rather a return to what he would call ‘man’s original state’. But Winstanley’s ideas were the beginning of a train of thought that led ultimately to The Communist Manifesto and in Engels’ work ‘The origin of the Family Private property and the State’.

The importance of the diggers for me is that they actually, if only for a short time, acted out their ideas. They also show us that even at the beginning of capitalist ascendancy in this country the class forces were already acting, the contradictions of the system were already clear and a first tentative step had been made to rid mankind of tyranny and oppression. It shows us that even at its very beginnings the capitalist system contained within it the seeds of its own destruction and already the role of the proletariat in that destruction was being hinted at.

These forces are even more visible today, however capitalism is no longer a new revolutionary force in society but is, as was Feudalism before it a break on the progress of humankind.

05 May 2010

40 sheep and a house

The following piece is my translation of Barbara Rugholm Gravesen's piece in Bagsværd/Søborg Bladet, 04.05.10.
If it elicits any positive response, I'll let Ms Gravesen know about it. I think it's a fine article and very thought-provoking.

Fra Borgen til Biblioteket

On Monday 19 April, 50 Gladaxse residents braved the cold and met up in the main library to hear Socialist People's Party MP Özlem Cekic tell her story. She had just rushed from a parliamentary meeting, but caught her breath quickly and delivered a fantastic account of how one could find the satisfaction and motivation to change one's life and make a difference.

It all started with 40 sheep and a house
Özlem's father was a sheep herder in Turkey and travelled to Finland when Western Europe was seeking workers inthe 1970's. Özlem and her family followed two years later, when she was two years old. Ahead of them lay a hard existence where her parents worked incredibly hard to fulfil their dream of enough money to retire to their home village and buy 40 sheep and a house.
However the next step for the Cekiz family was Denmark. Several families from the Cekiz's home village lived in Copenhagen, and you could buy Turkish foods and vegetables. So the family moved to a tiny apartment in Norrebro. Özlem's parents worked as cleaners in state schools, and like other 'guest workers' lived a parallel existence to the rest of Danish society. Özlem and her brothers were very alone and eventually the situation became so intolerable that all the children were sent back to Turkey by their parents.
In Turkey they lived for two years with their grandmother, a practical and highly respected woman who knew neither the year of her birth nor how to write her name. She had given birth to thirteen children, seven of which had survived, and had adopted six more. She was a remarkable woman and is still Özlem's idol.

The shoe department in Føtex
Özlem didn't thrive in Turkey and missed her parents terribly. She came back to Denmark as a ten year-old and started in a 'reception' class in a Danish state school. The following years were mostly spent struggling with the Danish language and trying to be 'Danish'. Not being accepted and being bullied awoke her fighting spirit.
A part-time job in the shoe department of Føtex became crucial to Özlem's development. Here she learnt more Danish language (and a Danish sense of humour) than the state school ever suceeded in doing. Føtex was therefore responsible for an important part of Özlem's integration, and is why the supermarket chain has a prominent place in her autobiography. So that's the explanation for why a socialist seems to be praising 'corporate capitalism'.

Marriage as a lottery
After finishing school Özlem was married at the age of 18 - an arranged marriage. As Özlem says, this type of marriage is a lottery - 'a few win, I lost'. The marriage eneded in divorce and the repossession of their house. Fortunately it also produced a son. So there followed a time as a single mother but also a period of commitment to social and political engagement.
After the divorce Özlem thought, 'from now on I'll live as I want to', while she struggled with serious financial problems and worked for a temp agency alongside a job as a child psychiatry nurse in a hospital.
Fortunately as a single mother she found a new quality of life and a burning desire to be actively involved in society socially and politically. She also found the love of her life and had two more children.

Department Christiansborg
In 2007 Özlem was elected to the Danish Parliament as the first woman with an immigrant background. She holds the posts of Danish Socialist People's Party spokesperson for Social Issues and Mental Health. She is extremely active in the ongoing societal debate on poverty, mental health, equality, and integration.
Özlem remembers the moment when her father suddenly realised that his daughter had beeen elected to the Danish Parliament. He said 'Imagine that this has could actually happen, Özlem! We were only cleaners!'

The invisible success
Özlem's story stops here for the moment. A story of how you can change your life and make a difference in spite of cultural and social barriers. If you are given a chance. Özlem's story was gripping and the public asked questions and discussed issues until eventually the library had to close. It was a fantastic debate about being a foreigner in Denmark, about role models, and about Denmark's integration policies.

03 May 2010

Election Night Bingo!

Click to enlarge - hopefully. Each card above contains the names of the main target seats for each party - the colour is for which party is targetting them, or is shown - and a couple of 'wildcards' (for smaller parties getting any constituency at all). Mark them off as they come in! Traditional Bingo rules apply - lines / diagonals / corners / full card.
Each card below contains the names of members of the Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet, LibDem flat-pack bookcase, and a couple of randoms, plus some 'byes' (the X boxes). Mark with W (win) or L (lose) as the results come in. Traditional Bingo rules apply - lines / diagonals / corners / full card, both as 'coalition' (results in, W or L) and 'majority' (all the same W or L).

Get the pizza and booze in and enjoy...