The March for Homes

The March for Homes finished with a rally at City Hall.

The March for Homes finished with a rally at City Hall (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Today I took part in the March for Homes, a demonstration calling for more affordable housing in London. There were 2 marches, starting in Elephant and Castle and Shoreditch, that met at Tower Bridge and then proceeded to City Hall for a rally. In this post are some of the photos I took of the event, with a few of my reflections thrown in.

IMG_6440

The marchers starting to gather in Elephant and Castle (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I was on the march starting in Elephant and Castle, because I live in the area, and I see the effects of the housing crisis every day. There are at least 2 major developments going on there at the moment; One the Elephant, which can be seen in the above photo, and the redevelopment of the former Heygate Estate. The amount of social housing that is included in these two developments is tiny, and laughably insignificant.  The housing crisis in London is something that I feel very strongly about. I am lucky enough to have funding for my PhD and no dependents, so I can afford housing quite easily. But there are many thousands who are not so fortunate, and although I love London, I know that I won’t be living here long term, because the city is simply not affordable, even if you manage to get a decent job.

IMG_6441

Large groups often provide placards for demonstrations, like this made by the Socialist Workers Party (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A speaker at Elephant and Castle from the National Union of Teachers.

A speaker at Elephant and Castle from the National Union of Teachers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Speakers at Elephant and Castle included many representatives from local housing campaigns. I believe that the fundamental cause of the housing crisis is that housing in London is viewed primarily as an investment. Houses and flats are bought as a means of making money, and the owners don’t even need to bother renting them out, because prices are rising so fast that they can make plenty of money anyway, just by selling them on after a year or two. The fundamental purpose of housing is providing a space of safety and warmth, but this has been forgotten, or is ignored, by those in charge. As a result, people suffer.

IMG_6457

Another placard at Elephant and Castle (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The march set off towards the empty wasteland that used to be the Heygate Estate.

The march set off towards the empty wasteland that used to be the Heygate Estate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The south route of the March for Homes went through several large areas of social housing (Source: March for Homes, 2014).

The south route of the March for Homes went through several large areas of social housing (Source: March for Homes, 2014).

We marched through several large council housing estates on the way to City Hall. These are the areas in which people are directly affected by the crisis, and I hope that some of those took heart from the sight of us  processing down the streets in the rain. Protests can be an expression of solidarity as well as a method of publicising a cause, and I hope that we did both today.

IMG_6466

The march went right through the middle of what used to be the Heygate Estate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many groups were represented at the March for Homes.

Many groups were represented at the March for Homes (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

IMG_6469

Some creative editing of a hoarding for a development by L&Q (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

IMG_6483

A placard in front of Tower Bridge, one of London’s most famous landmarks (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This was very much a London-focussed demonstration. The marches culminated at City Hall, the seat of power for London, rather than Parliament Square, the seat of power for the UK. Housing is a problem in many places across the country, but today was specifically about London. The protest aimed to get the attention of the government of London, not the government of the UK, and this was reflected in the routes and locations of the demonstration.

IMG_6489

Some placards were home made, but these are often the most creative (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

IMG_6493

Anarchist groups also took part in the demonstration (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

The rally at City Hall, although I doubt Boris Johnson was listening from his office.

The rally at City Hall- I wonder if Boris Johnson was listening from his office (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Despite the foul weather, I really enjoyed myself today. It was my first protest in a while, and I’m glad that it went off peacefully for my own sake, even if it perhaps means we won’t get any major news coverage. After I left, a breakaway group occupied some empty council houses on the Aylesbury Estate in elephant and Castle, and I will be following events there carefully. The housing crisis in London is a very real problem, and it needs to be tackled. Nothing will happen overnight, and the March for Homes is just one step in a process that will, in all likelihood, be very long. But I’m glad I was there, standing up to be counted for something I believe in.

 

 

Turbulent Londoners: Claudia Jones, 1915–1964

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. The third Londoner in the series would probably get on well with the previous Turbulent Londoner, Charlotte Despard. Claudia Jones was a black equal rights activist, and is known as the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival.


 

Claudia Jones was an inspirational woman (Source: Exploring 20th Century, n.d.)

Claudia Jones was an inspirational woman (Source: Exploring 20th Century, n.d.)

Claudia Jones was an influential campaigner for London’s Caribbean community from the mid-1950s until her death a decade later. She is known as ‘the mother of Notting Hill Carnival’, and founded The West Indian Gazette, the first newspaper printed in London for the Black community. Born in Trinidad, she was deported to the UK from America after being imprisoned for ‘un-American activities.’ She continued to campaign right up until her death in 1964.

Claudia Jones was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1915. Her family emigrated to New York City when she was 9, where they unfortunately remained poor. When she was 17, Claudia caught tuberculosis, which irreparably damaged her lungs, troubling her for the rest of her life. Despite this ill health she became a committed campaigner, joining the American Communist party in 1936. She proved to be a talented journalist, in 1945, she became the youngest staff member for the Daily Worker, as the ‘Negro Affairs’ editor.

As well as writing, Claudia organised youth, Civil Rights and religious groups as well as immigrant rights committees. She was a victim of McCarthyism after World War II, and was deported in 1955. Trinidad refused to accept her, and she was eventually offered asylum in Britain in October.

 

Claudia Jones was commemorated on a stamp in 2008 as part of the Women of Distinction series (Source: The Cocoa Diaries, n.d.).

Claudia Jones was commemorated on a stamp in 2008 as part of the Women of Distinction series (Source: The Cocoa Diaries, n.d.).

Claudia arrived in the UK at a time of massive immigration from the Caribbean. Many of the new immigrants were discriminated against by landlords, shopkeepers, employers and even the government because of their colour. Finding that many British Communists were hostile to a black woman, Claudia became a key leader in the African-Caribbean community, organising access to basic facilities, as well as taking an active role in the early campaign for racial equality.

From her work in the US, Claudia knew it was important for minority groups to have a voice, so in 1958 she founded The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, and edited it until her death 6 years later. Anti-racist and anti-imperialist, the paper provided a forum for the discussion of civil rights, and reported news that was frequently overlooked by the mainstream media.

In August 1958 racial riots occurred in Notting Hill in London and Robin Hood Chase in Nottingham. Claudia and several other leaders of the British black community were concerned by the racist analysis of the riots in the British media. She recognised the need to improve relations between different local communities, so she helped to organise the first Mardi-Gras style Caribbean carnival in St Pancras Town Hall in January 1959. It was a big event, and televised nationally by the BBC. Claudia and The West Indian Gazette also arranged five other annual indoor Caribbean Carnivals in London, which are seen as precursors to the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the most popular events in London’s calendar.

 

The Notting Hill Carnival now is one of the most popular events in London (Source: The London Notting Hill Carnival, n.d.)

The Notting Hill Carnival now is one of the most popular events in London (Source: The London Notting Hill Carnival, n.d.)

Claudia died on Christmas Eve 1964, when she was just 49. Despite struggling with the impacts of tuberculosis for much of her short life, she faced the dual disadvantages of being female and black with confidence, becoming a successful journalist and respected community leader and activist. She didn’t chose to move to London but she embraced her new home with gusto, fighting hard to make the city a better place for its burgeoning black community.

 

Sources

Azikiwe, Abayomi. “Claudia Jones Defied Racism, Sexism and Class Oppression.” Workers World. Last modified February 6, 2013, accessed January 15, 2015. http://www.workers.org/articles/2013/02/06/claudia-jones-defied-racism-sexism-and-class-oppression/

“Claudia Jones.” Wikipedia. No date, accessed January 15, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudia_Jones

“Claudia Jones Honoured on Postage Stamp.” The Cocoa Diaries. Last modified October 20, 2008, accessed January 23, 2015. http://cocoadiaries.com/uncategorized/claudia-jones-honoured-on-postage-stamp/

“Claudia Jones ‘the Mother of the Notting Hill Carnival.” Black History Month. No date, accessed January 15, 2015. http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/claudia-jones/4566344886

Foster, Kimberly. “27 Black Women Activists Everyone Should Know.” For Harriet. Last modified February 28, 2014, accessed January 15, 2015. http://www.forharriet.com/2014/02/27-black-women-activists-everyone.html

“Home” The London Notting Hill Carnival. No date, accessed January 23, 2015 http://thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com/

“Jones, Claudia.” Exploring 20th Century. No date, accessed January 23, 2015. http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/jones-claudia

 

The Art of Skating

This year I have got involved with the running of Passengerfilms, a ‘car-crash of geography and film’ that has been run by PhD students in the Royal Holloway geography department for the past few years. Last week, we hosted our first film evening of 2015, called ‘The Art of Skating.’ It went very well, if I do say so myself! The following post is a short summary of the evening, along with some pictures taken by Thomas Dekeyser.

passengerfilms

The first Passengerfilms of 2015 had a great turnout (Photo: Thomas Dekeyser.) The first Passengerfilms of 2015 had a great turnout (Photo: Thomas Dekeyser).

Tuesday night saw the launch of Passengerfilm’s 2015 programme in the Jetlag Bar, Fitzrovia. The title of the evening, curated by Dr. Oli Mould, was The Art of Skating. The evening began with a showing of Blue Line, a short film that follows skateboarders as they move through the urban landscape. The feature film wasBeautiful Losers, a documentary about a group of American artists who became famous for their ‘do-it-yourself’ style of street art in the 1990s. A short film calledXerox and Destroy was also shown, about the Photocopy Club, an unconventional exhibition of skateboard photography. The discussion after the screenings was chaired by Dr. Harriet Hawkins (Royal Holloway, University of London), and featured Professor Iain Borden (Bartlett School, UCL), Marc Valée, a documentary filmmaker, and Sabina Andron (Bartlett School, UCL).

The films shown focused around art and skateboarding (Photo: Thomas Dekeyser). The films…

View original post 302 more words

Boisterous Brighton

IMG_5770

Brighton is a well-known seaside resort (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent the Christmas holidays with my family in Brighton, my childhood home. Officially called Brighton and Hove, it is a city on the south coast of Britain with a population of just over a quarter of a million residents. About an hour on the train from London, it has been a popular seaside retreat for several hundred years. George IV built the Royal Pavilion as a luxurious retreat for himself between 1787 and 1823. In recent decades, it has become home to a thriving LGBT community, with Brighton Pride being one of the biggest Pride festivals in the UK. With a reputation for being cosmopolitan and easy-going, the city was a fantastic place to grow up, and it is very special to me.

IMG_6349

The city’s radical tendencies are obvious (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

With its open and accepting nature, it is not surprising that Brighton is a focus for protest. As Pollyanna Ruiz (2014; 119) describes it, “Brighton and Hove is a city that enjoys pushing social boundaries, and I would suggest that these qualities also characterise its political life.” Brighton Pride, arguably perceived by many as primarily a reason to have a good time, contains a strong campaigning element, raising the profile of issues faced by the LGBT community. Despite the progress made in recent years, homophobia is still a very real concern, as events in Brighton in October 2014 show. The Student’s Union of the University of Sussex organised a mass ‘kiss-in’ in a Sainsbury’s store in the city in protest about the treatment of two gay women by a security guard. The women were asked to leave after another customer complained to the security guard about them kissing. About 200 people attended the protest, designed to celebrate equality.

March for England 2014

The 2014 March for England in Brighton (Photo: James, 2014).

However, LGBT issues are not the only contested ones in Brighton. Since 2008, the group March for England have been holding annual marches in the city during the April bank holiday weekend. Since 2010, there has been a concerted campaign to oppose them, with counterdemonstrations attempting to disrupt the marches. In 2014, 150 marchers were opposed by at least 1,000 anti-fascists (Argus, 2014). The general perception is that Brighton was chosen as the location of these marches because of its liberal reputation. Personally, I think that the March for England continues to return to Brighton because they know they will be opposed, which results in a lot more publicity than they would otherwise get.

smashEDO logo

Smash EDO uses a local company to voice their opposition to war and violence (Photo: Smash EDO, n.d.).

Another long running local campaign has been organised by the group Smash EDO. EDO MBM Technology Ltd. is a Brighton-based company that manufactures parts for military aircraft, including bomb release mechanisms. Smash EDO has been organising events and campaigning against the company for the last decade. They have also begun campaigning against Barclays Bank, whom Smash EDO argues profits from the weapons that EDO help to produce. Their activities have been varied, but perhaps the most dramatic took place in January 2009, when 6 activists broke into the EDO building and sabotaged computers and machinery. All 6 ‘decommissioners’ were cleared of conspiracy to commit criminal damage in July 2009. This campaign is a fantastic example of how global issues can be connected to local areas in a very tangible way.

I grew up in Brighton and Hove, and I think that the city is at least partly responsible for my own liberal beliefs. I would like to be able to say that in Brighton you will be accepted, whoever you are. However I know that in reality that is not always the case, but it is heartening to know that there are people in Brighton willing to struggle to bring us closer to that ideal.

Sources

James, Ben. ‘Violent Clashes as March for England Returns to Brighton.’ The Argus http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/11175736.Violent_clashes_as_March_for_England_returns_to_Brighton/?ref=var_0 (Published 28/04/14, accessed 12/01/15).

Ruiz, Pollyanna. Articulating Dissent: Protest and the Public Sphere. London: Pluto Press, 2014.

Smash EDO http://smashedo.org.uk/ (Date of publishing not provided, accessed 12/01/15).

Trafalgar Square ‘Unity Rally’: My Thoughts

Trafalgar Square on Sunday evening (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

Trafalgar Square on Sunday evening (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

(Photo: Graeme Awcock).

The French flag was projected onto the National Gallery (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

On Sunday afternoon, I was in Trafalgar Square during the vigil expressing sympathy and solidarity for Paris in the wake of the shocking events of the past week. The global condemnation of the shootings in Paris were instantaneous, and deafening. Gatherings took place around the world on Sunday to commemorate those who died and celebrate free speech. In London, several landmarks were lit up in the colours of the French flag including Tower Bridge and the National Gallery. People also gathered in several places including the French Embassy and Trafalgar Square. I don’t really know what to call what took place in Trafalgar Square, it seemed simultaneously to be protest, memorial and vigil. The BBC describe it as a ‘unity rally,’ but that doesn’t feel quite right to me either. It was obviously officially sanctioned and organised; Nelson’s column had been fenced off so that the French flag could be projected onto the National Gallery. To me, it felt like an expression of solidarity, sympathy and defiance. There were clearly lots of French people there, so it had a more personal feeling of grief too.

(Photo: Graeme Awcock).

People left candles and pens in tribute and defiance (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

As the tweet below by comedian Frankie Boyle suggests, the location of such gatherings are not insignificant, so it is important to consider why such events occur in the places that they do. Boyle makes a valid point, and it is true that Parliament Square is regulated by specific laws that do not apply anywhere else in the country. I do think that there has been an attempt to depoliticise events in Paris, or at least situate them outside of the normal party politics. Commentators across the political spectrum have been quick to rush to the defence of free speech, although of course free speech is mediated and limited by laws and the government, so it is a political issue. Therefore there may have been a conscious effort not to involve Parliament Square in Sunday’s events, to try and maintain their apolitical status.

(Photo: Graeme Awcock).

The atmosphere was subdued but positive (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

As ever however, I think it is more complicated than that.  Trafalgar Square has been a focus for large gatherings of people since it’s completion in the mid nineteenth century. Public events range from Bloody Sunday in 1887 t0 the celebration of London being chosen for the 2012 Olympics in 2005. The square has been a focus of public life in London for the last two centuries, so a less cynical interpretation of events is that it just didn’t occur to people to gather anywhere else. On balance, I think it is probably a combination of these reasons.

IMG_0103

The fountains in Trafalgar Square were lit with the colours of the French flag (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

The gathering in Trafalgar Square on Sunday was not a typical protest. There were no demands, no chants, no placards. It was less subdued that a vigil, too quiet to be a rally, and less ceremonial than a memorial. Whatever it was, it was a powerful expression of unity and solidarity, and I’m glad I was there.

Book Review: ‘Fight the Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples’ by Sean Michael Wilson et al.

'Fight the Power!' by Wilson et al.

‘Fight the Power!’ by Wilson et al.

Wilson, Seán Michael, Benjamin Dickson, Hunt Emerson, John Spelling and Adam Pasion. Fight the Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English-Speaking Peoples. Oxford: New Internationalist, 2013.

The title of Fight the Power! A Visual History of Protest among the English-Speaking Peoples may be a little long winded, but it does sum up the book well. Through the medium of comic strips, the book tells the story of some of the key moments in the history of protest in the English-speaking world (well, from the last 2 centuries anyway). The protests discussed are wide ranging in terms of topic and geography, taking in race, class, labour and governance issues, as well as such diverse countries as Ireland, Australia, America, and the former British Empire.

The format of the book makes it incredibly approachable and engaging, ideal for young people (although some of the images are a little graphic) or those with little previous knowledge of protest. The examples lack detail and can be one-sided, but neither of these are inherently bad things. The book is a fantastic introduction to many protests, and it does not claim to be an unbiased account.

Despite the diversity of the examples, several themes recur throughout the book. One is police brutality. The actions taken by those in authority attempting to suppress protest have frequently proved provocative, causing demonstrations to escalate into violent clashes. The Battle of Peterloo (1819) and the Battle of Toledo (1934), amongst others, are good examples of this. Violence, or the lack of it, is another theme that recurs throughout the book. Whether or not to use violence is one of the most fundamental decisions a protest movement makes, which can drastically influence the outcome of a campaign. There is no ‘right’ answer; apart from the moral debate, both violent and non-violent movements have proved successful in the past.

The lasting impression which the book leaves is one of hope. Particularly in the past few years, it can be very easy to believe that protest does not achieve anything, that  it is all too easy for those in authority to repress or ignore demonstrations and social movements. But what the examples in Fight the Power prove is that protest can force change. The Suffragettes, Rosa Parks, and the various independence movements of the British empire demonstrate that change may take time, decades even, and it may not be exactly the progress that you imagined, but it can be achieved.

Another key message of the book, which is particularly relevant to my PhD, is that past protests can provide both practical suggestions and inspiration to contemporary protest movements. As Tariq Ali writes in the Introduction, “History rarely repeats itself, but its echoes never go away” (p5). An image on the back cover of the book shows an Occupy protester holding a “We are the 99%” placard, backed by a Suffragette, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and others mentioned in the book. It is a powerful image of historical solidarity.

This book was given to me as a Christmas present (I got a lot of books this year, so brace yourself for a lot of reviews over the next few months!), and it certainly fulfills that role perfectly. It is a nice introduction to some of the most famous protests in the history of the English-speaking world, but I would recommend it even if you are already familiar with most of them as a refreshing approach to the history of protest.