“Vote, Don’t Vote”, Simon Hinde. 2015 (Adapted from original photo: byronv2 via flickr.com)
An election is about politics but politics is not just about elections. Politics is about all of us, how we live and work together, our relationships with each other. Politics is also about power, not just the power of the state, but the power conferred by money and status, the power of individuals and of groups.
THE UNSPOKEN ELECTION Zeus Simcoe
While in this A+ Politics special edition of Artefact, produced by students on the BA Journalism course at London College of Communication, you’ll find articles on the election, there’s much more on politics in its wider sense.
09 Who’s Winning the Drugs War? Josh De Souza Crook
As we go to press, the country is just days away from an election and still nobody has the faintest idea who will win. The campaign has taken place against a background of cynicism and disillusionment. We’ve talked to TV presenter Rick Edwards about his campaign to persuade young people to vote. We also have an-interview with Russell Brand, advocate of abstention. Closer to home, you can read an insider view of the recent occupations at LCC and other colleges.
Cover image “Stand for something, or
BRAND VALUES Dani Agtani
you will fall for anything”. Oswin Tickler.
14 WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK OF RUSSELL BRAND? Tanviya Sapru
We’ve talked to the producer of a new documentary about the shooting of Mark Duggan that led to the Tottenham riots, and we look at that case in the context of the Black Lives Matter campaign, that sprang up on social media in response to police brutality in the USA. We’ve also looked at the key role played by social media in the Libyan revolution. There’s an analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict and why it excites such strong feelings in Britain.
TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE Aurore Kaddachi
..SHOULD YOU VOTE OR . STAY AWAY? Elliott Haworth and Luke Barber
We’ve also considered the relationship between art and politics, with features on the revolutionary art of Paris 1968 and on the guerilla artists who are subverting mainstream advertising. There’s also an interview with the band Sleaford Mods and a piece by the daughter of an Argentinian artist who was imprisoned by the country’s junta in the 1970s. We’ve an interview with a photographer whose pictures capture the reality of post-occupation Afghanistan and a look ahead to an exhibition of political posters, fliers and other ephemera, here at LCC.
20 A DISTANT CONFLICT CLOSE TO HOME Hani Richter
24 SLEAFORD MODS ON POLITICS AND MUSIC Sophie Hadley 26
ART & REVOLUTION Simon Hinde
This special edition of Artefact was written, photographed, edited, designed and produced by students, staff and friends of London College of Communication, University of the Arts London Dani Agtani, Yasaman Ahmadzai, Pierre Alozie/Demotix/Corbis, Collin Anderson/ Flickr.com, Atelier Populaire, Luke Barber, Louise Bonner, Nana-Akua Baah, Edmund Clarke, Anne Coddington, Josh De Souza Crook, Jason Evans, Turkina Faso, Fabiana De Giorgio, Tara Hanrahan, Glenn Michael Harper, Elliott Haworth, Sophie Hadley, Simon Hinde, Quentin Hubert, Kostis K, Aurore Kaddachi, Peter Kennard, Scott King, Barbara Lanzafame, Heidi Levine, Arij Limam, Operation Black Vote, Anastazja Oppenheim, Cindy Parthonnaud, Porsche Poon, Dylan Taylor, Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis, Hani Richter, Tzortzis Rallis, Tanviya Sapru, Zeus Simcoe, Declan Slattery, Louis Souvestre, STRIKE! Magazine, Stringer/Argentina/Reuters/Corbis, Sarah Temple, Sage Townsend, Oswin Tickler, Natasha Quarmby/Demotix/Corbis, Dionne Walker.
THE HARD STOP Arij Limam
34 HALFWAY TO HEAVEN Yasaman Ahmadzai 38
VOTING FOR A FREE EDUCATION Dani Agtani
WELCOME TO THE OCCUPATION Anastazja Oppenheim
THE SCIENCE OF NOSTALGIA Zeus Simcoe
Particular thanks to Alex Cooper and Christian Granados of the LCC letterpress workshop for their help and support.
MY FATHER, POLITICAL PRISONER Fabiana De Giorgio
Publishing information Published by the London College of Communication, London SE1 6SB
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION Tanviya Sapru
SUBVERTING THE MESSAGE Josh De Souza Crook
SEEN ON CAMPUS
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49 EVENTS 50
LAST WORD Nana-Akua Baah
A history of the streets What is politics? Is it men in suits, and the occasional woman in high heels, talking in monotone on the TV? A series of unread leaflets stuffed through the letter box? Or a list of promises made during election time but too often broken a few months down the line? No wonder turnout is falling and fastest amongst voters of student age. David Rosenberg has a different vision of politics: it’s bricks and mortar, people and communities, what we eat and where we meet. He takes groups around the East End of London to visit its sites of protest, resistance and change. He’ll show you the former Bryant and May factory in Bow where in 1888, 1,400 Match Girls went on strike for better pay and conditions; Cable Street, location in 1936 of a battle against Oswald Mosley’s fascist Black Shirts, or Angel Alley in Whitechapel, home of London’s oldest anarchist bookshop, and a panel featuring likenesses of famous libertarian socialists including Emma Goldman and Rudolf Rocker. “All these revolutionary corpses come to life,” David explains, “when you pass through the spaces where history happened, it’s very powerful”. He offers nine walks, now collected together into an insightful book, Rebel Footprints, complete with maps and routes that cover radical protests from 1830-1939. It might seem a long time ago but David is clear, “the past is always in a conversation with the present”. He cites the case of Jody McIntyre pulled from his wheelchair by police during student demonstrations in 2010. But almost 100 years to the day earlier, Rosa May Billinghurst, a suffragette activist, was dragged from her invalid tricycle by police and thrown to the ground. Or the kettling in 1889 of 8,000 Jewish tailors agitating for a 12-hour day by the newly-formed Metropolitan Police, echoing tactics currently employed against student protesters and others. Each walk tells the story of an episode of resistance but what they all have in common, “is their focus on ordinary people inspired by the idea of change,” and crucially David says, “by a commitment to working collectively”. Many of those victories we see around us today, a health service, free universal education, the right of all adults to vote were not handed down but fought for from the grassroots up. London, its streets, buildings and squares, is the star. But it is getting harder to find those symbols of radicalism that transport us back in time. “The capital is undergoing massive change,” David says, “with many of inner city areas being recolonised by massive wealth”. Buildings where momentous decisions happened are being swept away, replaced by office blocks. It is a kind of roving history workshop of the streets. As the Election campaign passes many of us by, a stroll through London’s radical past could be the way to imagine what a better future might look like. Details the walks are at: http://www.eastendwalks.com/ Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London's Radical History by David Rosenberg is published by Pluto Press
CU(N)T COLLECTION Sage Townsend, designer and recent London College of Fashion graduate, takes an explicitly political stance in her work. Her most recent collection of fashion accessoriessets out to explore the objectification of female genitalia, genital anxiety, surgery and mutilation and their effect on women’s psychological and sexual health. The Cu(n)t Collection uses fashion accessories not just as aesthetic objects, but also as a platform to explore and address political, ethical and social ideas. Aiming to imbue her work with a cross cultural dialogue about attitudes and aesthetic values relating to female genitalia, Townsend says that the underlying message of her creative projects is that expectations should be challenged by promoting fashion accessories to act as more than just functional or aesthetic objects. They can be used, she argues, both to define their role as a platform to explore and address political, ethical and social ideas and expectations. The main focus of this project is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) a deeply rooted cultural and traditional practice that occurs in specific populations and is currently being challenged by governments, activists, feminists and social media groups worldwide.
Words: Anne Coddington Words: Anthony Baumgarten 4
POLITICS AND FASHION The General Election is approaching and there will be three million young people eligible to vote for the first time. Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey and the Centre of Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion organised an event at the House of Lords called ‘I Stood Up’, which brought fashion and politics together to voice the political concerns of the youth of today A poll called ‘Voice of a Generation’ by YouGov showed that just four per cent of first-time voters felt politicians paid attention to what they had to say. The event wanted to create an environment for their voices to be heard. It started with a creative workshop, where more than 40 young people worked with fashion designers and poets to creatively express their ideas and concerns. They were then able to pick the brains of a panel of MPs, academics and fashion industry insiders. The panel, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, included the Head of LCF and Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of the Arts London, Professor Frances Corner OBE. Other attendees included Editor-In-Chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Louise Court, Professor of Theory of Politics Oxford University, Lois McNay, Director of CSF, Professor Dilys Williams, Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Paul Tyler, and the Green Party’s Deputy leader Amelia Womack. The main concern of the audience was that parliament did not represent the youth today. Lord Paul Tyler raised: “There are 29 members of the House of Lords who are over the age of 90 and only two under the age of 40. That makes you think about how terribly and appallingly overweight we are at the top end of the age group.
Ben Windsor via Flickr.com © Pierre Alozie/Demotix/Corbis
Smashing Foxton’s windows In one sense, Foxtons is an estate agent like any other. Its branches, are smart, and welcoming and its staff buzz around London in customized green Minis. Its Brixton branch, however, is seen by many as the enemy in a war over gentrification. It has been graffitied with ‘Yuppies Out’ slogans and at the end of April its window was smashed by demonstrators.
“Unfortunately that is also true about voting. We are desperate to make sure that the young person’s voice, which is much more informed than most of their elders, is heard a great deal more effectively in the future.”
Gentrification is nothing new. Areas such as Notting Hill, Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Clapham were once edgy parts of the inner city. Gradually they changed, as the middle classes moved in, pushing up house prices and rents.
Many responded to the general accusation that young people had become disengaged with politics. The Green Party’s deputy leader, Amelia Womack said: “There’s this phrase that young people aren’t interested in politics and I think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, I go to campaigns, I go to demonstrations and follow Twitter storms online, and it really is young people who are at the forefront of that.
Gentrification brings nice things - good shops and restaurants – but, as areas become unaffordable to anyone but the wealthy, they end up homogenized and sterile.
“Knowledge isn’t a monopoly of an older generation. We all have different experiences – that’s why diversity is important.” A member of the audience voiced her concern about wanting to vote but she didn’t know how her preferences aligned with any of the political parties. Womack brought to her attention a website, where you can vote for the policies you would prefer to see enforced. After the questionnaire you will be told what party is better suited to you.
Brixton, long the heart of London’s Afro-Caribbean community, has in recent years seen an influx of middle-class ‘outsiders’, drawn in part by the area’s unique atmosphere. But house prices are going up and landlords are raising rents. Long-term residents can no longer afford to live there. Network Rail has announced plans to evict businesses from the railway arches in the centre of Brixton, many of which have been serving the community for generations. London has long taken pride in the fact that, even in quite central districts, the wealthy are close to the less well off. This social mixing makes the city different from a city like Paris, where minorities and the poor have been decanted into housing estates on the outskirts.
Lord Tyler said: “On May 8 we’re going to have real problems, deciding what the nation’s decided”.
Step by step, though, and against the wishes of many of its residents, London is becoming more like Paris. Hence the anger in Brixton, where fairly or not, Foxtons is seen as the problem – which is why its windows get smashed.
Words: Louise Bonner
Words: Simon Hinde 5
Jolyon Rubinstein is a very modern political activist: his weapon is satire.His first video was Fishing for Bankers, in which he put a £5 note on the pavement in the City of London and pulled it away with a fishing line whenever a banker leaned over to pick it up. Through series and documentaries such as The Revolution Will Be Televised, An Idiot’s Guide to Politics, Revolution Presents: Democracy Dealers and the Make Lying in Parliament History Campaign, he campaigns for change to the political system. He studied at University of the Arts London, graduating with an MA in performance.
This month, LCC’s Design Activism Research Hub showcases its first exhibition: “Radical Attic” From 14th-21st May it features a series of posters, banners and leaflets from protests and demonstrations of the past.
A concern of his work is trust, especially among young people who he argues, despite being overwhelmingly liberal and progressive, are increasingly turned off politics. He traces this collapse of trust in politicians to the Iraq war, when 1.5 million people came out on to the streets in protest, but Britain went to war anyway. Money, too, plays a part. “From the banking crisis we learn that we really live in a corpocracy not a democracy where the needs of multinationals who are the larger donors to political parties are probably more important nine time out of ten than voters.” He sees groups like Podemos in Spain, which emerged as a response to the rigours of austerity, as a hope for the future. “It is the beginning of a new political culture that has nothing to do with the stereotypes of people how have been in bed with the big business. They don’t look, talk or act like politicians. They act like people with a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others.” A further appeal of Podemos is that they seem to represent a digital approach to politics, which Rubinstein believes is capable of driving enormous social change: “If you look at Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement in general, that is all happening because of the internet. It would not have been possible before.” “Politics is not just about voting. It is about getting involved with every area of your life. You work locally to do something collectively on a bigger scale, but it starts with you. The phrase we use is: If you don’t do politics, politics will do you." Words: Barbara Lanzafame 6
Depicting a range of social, environmental and political issues, including the Greek financial crisis and HIV activism, it is a collaboration between staff and students bringing awareness of the history of activism and campaigning. Including materials used in protests, such as badges and masks, the exhibition highlights the memories of these items and shows how understanding the issues of the past can help to form the next wave of activism, in engaging a new generation with problems still relevant in today’s society. Senior Lecturer of the MA Graphic Design course Tony Credland said “It can be inspiring to see what people have protested about in the past and we want to show how much of an effect you can have with good creative skills especially in a college like LCC. Hopefully students by seeing these examples will be inspired to get engaged and be involved on some level.” Here are some of the exhibits and the stories behind them. GREEK CRISIS Through a series of posters and graphics, this section of the exhibition explores the financial crisis in Greece. From the early anti-austerity riots of 2008, which ended in the death of a 15-year-old-student shot dead by police, to the Labour Club movement in Athens, PHD Student Tzortzis Rallis represents the range of different responses produced during this period of economic uncertainty. A series of three striking images created by Graphic Designer Dimitris Aruanitis shows a hand in a rubber glove making political gestures to represent solidarity with 595 Greek cleaners who were illegally sacked by the country’s Minister of Finance in 2013. ACT-UP With a series of posters and flyers, this section of the exhibition shows the work and activism of the ACT-UP advocacy group. Originally formed in response to the AIDS crisis in the USA in 1987, chapters of ACT-UP began appearing in the UK in the ear-
ly 1990’s to campaign for greater awareness of HIV and AIDS as well as protesting against the stigma, ignorance and discrimination associated with the illness at the time. Included are visual examples of campaigns against Texaco, who during this period subjected all future employees to be tested for AIDS, as well campaigns against the religious far-right, who attempted to stifle information about safe sex. This section also includes digital posters from a recently set-up chapter of the London ACT-UP group. 3. RECLAIM THE STREETS With posters, leaflets and spoof newspapers including “The Financial Crimes” and “The Spun,” this section documents the movement of the “Reclaim the Streets” group. Originally protesting about the environment in the mid to late 1990’s, “Reclaim the Streets,” was involved in taking over public spaces including motorways, to stage demonstrations such as anti-roads protests. “Reclaim the Streets” represented a new way of demonstrating, as protests often turned into mass street parties as people managed to prevent the police from having prior knowledge of the events. 4. GIFT OF MASKS Featured in this section are masks that were used in a 2001 protest of 20,000 people in Quebec, to oppose the signing of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. In order to raise awareness of the dangers posed by the exploitation of global capitalism, protesters wore colourful masks to combat the use of tear gas used by the police and to bring a carnival atmosphere to the demonstration attempting to challenge capitalism at its root source. Inscribed on each of the masks in four different languages is a quote taken from the Zapatista revolutionaries of Mexico: “We will remain faceless because we refuse the spectacle of celebrity, because we are everyone, because the carnival beckons, because the world is upside down, because we are everywhere. By wearing masks we show that who we are is not as important as what we want, and what we want is everything for everyone.” Radical Attic: London College of Communication, ELephant & Castle, 14-21 May. Words: Dylan Taylor Images: Tzortzis Rallis
Words: Zeus Simcoe
The Unspoken Election Why won’t our politicians discuss things that really matter?
At election time politicans pretend to listen to us, but most of the time they talk. They set out their stalls, try to persuade us that they are the right people with the right plans, that with them in charge, everything will be fine. They go to great lengths to control the conversation, with set-piece speeches, policy announcements and their armies of spin doctors whose job it is to persuade public and press that the topics their masters want to discuss are the only ones that really matter. So in this election campaign, Labour has talked about the NHS, the Conservatives about the economy, the LibDems about… well, about themselves, really, and how it actually is safe to trust them. For UKIP it’s immigration, for the Scottish Nationalists, it’s independence. The Greens are an odd case and we’ll come to them in a bit. The things they talk about are planned, scripted, buzzworded: the politicians believe that if the same messages, words and slogans are repeated day after day, week after week, they will sink into our reluctant brains, as if we were schoolchildren learning our times tables. But what about the things the politicians choose not to mention, the many important topics and issues that barely get an airing as we choose who will govern us for the next few years? What does their absence from the debate tell us about our politicians? What does it say about us? **
young, care about, often passionately. If you believe the gloomiest forecasts, climate change is arguably the only thing we should be worrying about. But the environment has barely featured in the election campaign. It’s there in manifestos, if you can be bothered to look (even UKIP’s, though their key promises are to repeal the Climate Change Act and to end subsidies for wind and solar power), but bar one rather wonkish speech from Ed Miliband, the party leaders barely bother to mention it. Even the Green Party seldom talks about green issues. In the televised debate, their leader Natalie Bennett made a passing reference to global warming but spent most of the time on the NHS and unemployment. THE ‘WAR ON TERROR’ Not so long ago, David Cameron warned that ISIS was the greatest security threat that Britain has ever seen. During this election campaign? Nothing. It’s almost as if politicians find it convenient to have bogeymen to scare us on cue, when they want to pass laws restricting our freedom of speech, for example. VLADIMIR PUTIN The Russian leader is a threat to Europe, our politicians agreed just a few months ago, after he took part of the Ukraine by force. David Cameron even compared him to Hitler. Putin is still there, as much of a threat as ever he was but you really wouldn’t know it from the election debate, in which his name has barely cropped up.
CLIMATE CHANGE What kind of planet are we handing on to the next generation? Are pollution, industrialization, consumption, selfishness and greed going to render the Earth, or large parts of it, unliveable? Will temperate Britain have to get used to vicious storms, floods and an increasingly unpredictable climate?
THE FUTURE OF BRITAIN With UKIP and the Tories offering a referendum on Britain’s membership of Europe and the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru agitating for independence, there is a real possibility that in a year or two, Britain could be split into its constituent parts, existing outside any international blocs. What would an independent England look like? Would it thrive outside Europe, or wither?
These are big issues that, as opinion polls regularly demonstrate, people, especially the
THE PRODUCTIVITY CRISIS British workers are among the least efficient in the indus-
trialised world. Collectively we generate less per hour than countries like France and Italy –and 40 per cent less than workers in the USA. Without higher productivity, we won’t get higher wages or better living standards or, ultimately, a stable economy. British productivity is actually falling and nobody is sure why. And, in the election campaign, nobody is talking about it. ABROAD, GENERALLY This is a British general election and you’d expect British themes and concerns to dominate but the utter lack of discussion about anything beyond our shores is still rather remarkable. We’ve been repeatedly told that the world is more unstable than it has been for half a century yet, in this election campaign, aside from an early skirmish on Trident and defence and a brief and inconclusive exchange on Syria, little has been said about foreign affairs. The Lampedusa boat tragedies led to a couple of days of awkward debate on global migration patterns and our obligations to people whose home countries are no longer safe (perhaps because of civil wars that we helped to foment). But it was abundantly clear that these are subjects that politicians would prefer were not raised. ** There are many other subjects that could be added to the list of underdiscussed things: our ageing society, drugs policy (see facing page), the prisons crisis.
Political silence on all these topics reveals important things. A lot of the subjects (terrorism, global instability, the destruction of the planet) are inherently depressing. Equally importantly, hey are distant enough – either geographically or, like climate change, in time – that we can persuade ourselves that they are not our problem. They tend to be complex and resist simplistic debate and easy solutions. Nobody has a convincing plan to deal with ISIS, or to sort out productivity and politicians don’t like to admit that they don’t have all the answers. Where there are solutions, they are likely to involve sacrifice and pain. Dealing with climate change will require us to get out of our cars, abandon cheap flights, change our patterns of consumption. Improving productivity means working harder. Politicians don’t like telling voters that life is going to be tough. But before we put all the blame on politicians, it may be worth considering why they are so reluctant to tell us the truth about our messy world. Could it be because they know, fundamentally, that there are no votes in difficult messages, that, at election time, a selfish public prefers good news, comforting stories and the promise of tax cuts? If politicians insist on treating us like children who must be spared unpleasant truths, perhaps we have nobody to blame for this but ourselves.
Words: Josh De Souza Crook
Who’s Winning the Drugs War? Attitudes are shifting but is Britain ready to change?
In 1972, the Netherlands decriminalised the possession of small amounts of marijuana as the country liberalized its approach to drugs and prostitutes. At first, they regretted the decision as it turned the country into a global playground for partying and experimenting.
drug-related deaths and improved relationship between the community and police. ** She says that the threat of penalties to drug users seems to no deterrent effect. “In countries like the US, there’s a significant risk of imprisonment, and life imprisonment if you have three consecutive offences. But they have even higher numbers of drug users than we have.”
The Dutch didn’t like being the only country with a relaxed method to drugs, but over time Switzerland, Germany and Portugal also became more liberal. There is a growing consensus that a ‘war on drugs’ not only doesn’t work but may actually increase drug use. Yet the issue has barely figured in the election campaign, where it has been all but ignored by the major parties. The exception is the Liberal Democrats whose leader Nick Clegg is committed to radical reform of the UK’s drug laws. He has described the war on drugs as ‘an abject failure’ and his party’s proposed reforms centre around 50 years of criminalisation of illicit drugs, now the third most valuable industry in the world, after food and oil. ** The Liberal Democrats manifesto includes pledges to hand drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and to investigate cannabis legalization experiments, like those in certain states of the United States. Lib Dem minister Norman Baker released a Home Office international study last year showing that there was no direct correlation between the severity of a country’s drug laws and the levels of illicit drug use. Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, reportedly held back the findings for three months. Baker criticised the minister for the delay, and ultimately resigned. Danny Kushlick, Head of External Affairs at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, describes the criminalisation of drugs as a ‘catastrophic global error’. He says: “In the sixties the UK, and almost all the other UN member states signed up to treaties that treat these drugs as an existential
threat to humanity. There are now an estimated 240 million users of prohibited drugs worldwide.” Across the world, the war on drugs costs an estimated $100 billion a year and has created an enormous opportunity for organized crime, which is said to make $320 billion a year from the sale of drugs. These rich and powerful criminal organisations are a threat to many states, says Kushlick. “More than 100,000 Mexicans have died in turf wars in the last five years alone. Many states in Africa are now corrupted to their core by narcos.”
He says: “As a society we need to deal with the social and cultural distress that breeds so much problematic use in the first instance. Neither group needs or benefits from being criminalised. In fact criminalising them serves only to compound problems they have already and creates an array of new ones.” **
Kushlick argues that drugs should be decriminalized and managed as trade, social and health issues. They should be legally accessible to those who want to use them, under the control of governments through doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers, he says.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drugs charity Release, says more people are going to court for drug possession than ever before, with an estimated 70-80,000 people are criminalised every year, over half for marijuana. She says international prohibition fuels criminal networks, which undermine security, and fuels violence in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Belize and parts of West Africa.
Kushlick divides drug users into two groups: those who use them to feel good, the vast majority, and a minority who use to stop feeling bad. The former group needs good information, quality control, and harm reduction measures that allow them to use drugs as healthily and happily as they can. The latter group also needs treatment to reduce or stop their drug use if they want to.
She offers an alternative approach calling for the decriminalisation of drug possession. Portugal adopted this method in 2001 after decades of drug problems, especially with heroin. It led to a decrease in use amongst vulnerable groups including problematic users and young people, a 40% fall in injecting drugs users, significant reduction in transmission of HIV and tuberculosis, a drop in
The criminalization of drugs has created an explosion of the criminal underworld similar to the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 in the United States. In 2005, ambitious MP named David Cameron called for “fresh thinking and a new approach” to options for supporting and treating rather than punishing people with addictions. He said, “Politicians attempt to appeal the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown.” After becoming Tory leader, he went back on his words and said he wanted to send a message that taking drugs is not okay. Successive Conservative and Labour governments have refused to compromise on a tough stance on drugs, with legal penalties for sale and possession. Decriminalisation has not been on the agenda. Danny Kushlick of Transform, believes British policy will eventually change: “Thankfully evidence is replacing drug war populism and governments the world over are decriminalising drugs, as in the Netherlands and Portugal, or legally regulating them, as is happening with cannabis in numerous states in America. Unfortunately the UK has historically followed US federal policy, which is still very prohibition focused. “The UK is therefore unlikely to be an early adopter of reform, but will eventually follow the global norm, which is for governments to regulate adult risk taking behaviour. We would expect this to happen in the next five to ten years, primarily because governments run markets more peacefully than transnational organised crime groups.” 9
Words: Dani Agtani Images: Natasha Quarmby/Demotix/Corbis and Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis
BRAND VALUES Russell Brand wants us to turn our backs on traditional politics in hope of stirring up a revolution. But is there any substance behind the fiery words?
Russell Brand has been named the fourth most influential thinker, behind French economist, Thomas Piketty, Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis and Canadian author, Naomi Klein. Brand has also been named the second most influential figure in politics on social media, behind David Cameron and ahead of Boris Johnson. These honours have not been met with universal acclaim. A comedian, actor, radio presenter, the author of My Booky Wook? What kind of claim does he have to the title of public intellectual? Brand himself shares the skepticism, snorting with hearty derision: “Despite their appearance in that legitimate Guardian article, the study is not legitimate! I mean, how on Earth do you quantify a person’s ability to think?” I met Brand at his recently launched coffee shop, the Trew Era café, in the heart of east London, where it sits easily amid the organic, hipster vibe. In the eyes of his critics, Brand is a superficial figure, a man who attaches himself to fashionable causes, gives a good quote and then goes home to live the privileged life of a 21st-century celebrity. He talks a good fight about helping the poor and the have-nots, but what does he actually do about it? In a sense, the Trew Era is his answer. It’s a social enterprise, funded by the profits 10
from Brand’s book, Revolution, and dedicated to supporting the community, from hiring recovering addicts to growing its produce locally and eventually in house. This is Russell Brand, practising what he preaches. Brand says he wants to fight for the downtrodden of society by taking from the rich and giving to the poor: “All we need is a revolution to make the system work for everyone, we’re simply going to have to take back some property and wealth from really, really rich people.” He believes that the elite and wealthy members of society should be held accountable for homelessness and poverty and that there needs to be a fundamental redistribition of wealth. “Important information which is well worth considering is distribution of land and wealth. A third of British land is owned by aristocratic families. That’s not going to change as of the result of the election unless someone explicitly has in their manifesto: ‘We’re going to repurpose the 1.5 million empty homes and land owned by for example, the Duke of Westminster and the Queen of England, and try and end this little thing called homelessness and poverty.’” Brand can be frustrating and his ornate and sometimes baffling turns of phrase have led some to question whether there is any substance behind the verbiage. Tony Blair, ad-
mittedly not a natural ally, confessed his confusion to the BBC’s Nick Robinson: “I’ve studied a lot of what the Russell Brand stuff really means. But I suspect if you implemented that, or tried to implement that, I literally don’t know what it means.” One of his more controversial positions has been to urge young people not to vote. At a time when the political and media classes are worrying over young people’s disengagement with the political process, this has not gone down well in many quarters. Guardian columnist, Michele Hanson disagrees with Brand’s views on voting, saying: “Don’t listen to Russell Brand: refusing to vote will bring five more years of Tory government.” But Brand argues that the real power lies beyond the political system. Political parties, he says, do not have as much power as 12
we think they do, do not work to make any sort of significant difference within society and therefore voting is not essential: “The people in our country feel detached from what takes place in Parliament, the views which are discussed and the manner in which they are discussed are detached from ordinary people. I think we’re tired of seeing poor turnout in Parliament for issues we care about but high attendance when discussing politicians’ pay rises. For me, I’m not interested in the power of politicians, I’m interested in the power of people. As far as I’ve seen, voting for any of these political parties is not going to make any difference, they don’t give us anything to vote for.” As for the youth disengagement, Brand says that it is because most young voters do not connect with politicians in suits, who are boring, devoid of personality and any rel-
evant interests: “In a culture where they tell us the only things that matter are commodities, where our political narratives seem empty and meaningless and don’t connect people, they aren’t worth voting for because they don’t make any difference. What we have to conclude is young people not being interested in politics isn’t apathy, it’s reflective impotence. They recognise it’s meaningless.”
you think of Ed Miliband or David Cameron is irrelevant: they come, they go and ultimately, they work for Rupert Murdoch.”
Despite his ‘don’t vote’ policy, he insists that it doesn’t mean he’s against politics and recognises there are well-intentioned politicians out there. “My criticism of conventional politics is not because I am a pessimistic person, I am not a condemnatory person, I don’t think Natalie Bennett, Caroline Lucas or Tom Watson are anything but lovely people who are trying their best. But the real power and problems with our system lie outside of parliament and politicians do not hold as much power as we are made to believe they have.”
For example, in 2010’s General Election, Nick Clegg famously promised a free higher education and this particular pledge earned the Liberal Democrats a significant number of votes from the young. Once he became a part of the coalition government, Clegg didn’t follow through on the promise of free educa-
Instead of voting, Brand says it’s essential to take on the actual power outside of Parliament. Televised debates and manifestos have mainly been focused on cuts and the state of the economy. However he points out that the government only controls 50 per cent of Britain’s economy and that is the real reason for the economic crisis: “The other 50 per cent not controlled by Parliament is controlled by the Bank of England. No number of votes can change the fact that half of our wealth is privately owned. The only way to stop that and make changes to the economy is by the people coming together.” Brand’s most recent film, The Emperor’s New Clothes, steps away from his usual comedic role we’ve seen in films such as Get Him to the Greek. The Emperor’s New Clothes is explicitly political, combining as it does a mixture of documentary, interviews, archive footage and comedy to discuss the financial crisis of 2008. It has also been screened in cinemas in the final weeks leading up to the general election. The film explores how the financial crisis could have been a chance to reform the system for the benefit of everyone. The financial crisis actually resulted in austerity for everyone throughout Britain and Europe, with UK tax payers spending £131 billion to keep the financial system afloat while $30 trillion in support and subsidies went to Wall Street in the USA.
Brand also despairs of the way in which voters are led blindly by false promises made in a manifesto: “What’s even the point of voting for these people, based on what they say they’re going to do, when in reality they aren’t going to do it. It’s a farce!”
“Young people’s lack of interest in politics isn’t apathy, it’s reflective impotence. They recognise it’s meaningless” tion, to the anger of many supporters. Brand puts it quite bluntly: “just because something is in a manifesto, don’t mean people are going to do it.”
Discussing issues which are beyond the control of the government, there is also the issue of media ownership and Brand argues that Rupert Murdoch has more power in the results of an election than voters do: “Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful men on the planet. People say to me ‘If you want to have an opinion on politics, you’ve either got to stand for Parliament or at least bloody vote.’ But Rupert Murdoch doesn’t vote and he is the most powerful and influential figure in politics.”
Brand also argues that the falseness of politics can be easily seen during the televised events leading up to the General Election: “In the leadership debates, they need to overcome the nation’s issues and anxieties about them as leaders and political parties, so they can’t act normal and what we see that is really just a media event. There’s a surge of support for Nicola Sturgeon, people saying: ‘Oh, she was the good one on television’ when let’s not forget, 2010’s ‘good one on the television’ was Nick Clegg. The Daily Mail does a condemnatory article about Sturgeon, Nigel Farage says something unforgivable and unacceptable about HIV and we all roll our eyes. Then Ed Miliband failed to speak up at the time, only writing a tweet about it afterwards, the whole thing is a spectacle.
“Getting elected, trying to remain in office or trying to get your policies through without the support of Rupert Murdoch is difficult and near impossible. So he’s one of the most powerful figures in contemporary politics without having any office. He’s more important than any other political figure. What
“The problem is we’re not judging it on what politically is happening here and who represents me, whose vision of Britain is closest to my vision of Britain. It’s hard to judge that when someone mispronounces a word or someone is making too much eye contact with the camera. From an entertainment point of
Brand hopes that The Emperor’s New Clothes “will shake up the world by revealing the bewildering truth about how the people at the bottom are paying for the luxuries of those at the top.”
view, I understand how awkward it can feel when the camera is on you but someone else is talking. You try to act natural and it just doesn’t work. Politics shouldn’t really be entertainment.” Asked what policies he would like to see in a more democratic society, Brand has a predictably ready answer: “We need to find a different way of taxing high earners, different ways of taxing world transactional taxes in the city, corporation taxes and the closure of corporate tax loopholes. But really, none of that’s gonna be enough, we’re talking about global shifting consciousness, like an entirely different way of looking at the world.” Brand admits that his ideas don't yet represent popular opinion, and that he doesn’t expect political parties to take a leaf out of his book to write these type of policies into their manifestos: “These ideas are not in the Green Party manifesto, nor are they in the Labour party manifesto because these ideas aren’t popularised because that means genuine, true change. “To get to a situation where real change is possible, we’re going to need people to come together collectively and stop disempowering ourselves by voting for things which cannot bring about real change. We’ve got to access the true power, the corporations and the elite who are behind the facade of democracy. We need a revolution!” To many, Brand’s idealistic and romantic views of revolution appear to be far-fetched, but he believes the revolution is definitely around the corner: “We need to give people the time and space to come together in community and enterprises. Change does happen and it can happen quickly. Five years ago, we had a revolution secretly for the richest one per cent, a reference to the selling off of public housing, which the bloody Tories are trying to revive.” While he calls for revolution and is certain this revolution is coming, the pitfall to his argument for a revolution is his lack of an answer to the question: ‘what will be the result of a revolution?’ If government is dismantled, what will replace it? It’s difficult to envisage how Brand’s utopian democracy which truly represents the people will actually work in practice. Brand has been interviewed many times on what his revolution will result in, and doesn't yet seem to have succeeded in offering any sort of conclusive answer. And it appears he is still unsure as to what this utopia may look like: “It will be a process, we just need people to come together to bring about this revolution. There are people better suited to lead the revolution in the right direction and form a better and representative system, it won’t just come from me.” While the phrase “be the change you want to see” does pop into mind, I didn’t even have to ask him why he doesn’t stand as an MP or have an active role within politics. Brand clearly isn’t interesting in taking on politicians: rather he is targeting those who have real power, the Bank of England, the multinational corporations who hinder democracy, away from the scrutiny of Parliament and legislation. When asked simply, what it is he wants to see in the future, he replies: “I want to see a democracy that truly represents the people. That’s why I believe in radical change, revolutionary change, true change and the only people who can oppose corporate power is us.” 13
Words and Images: Tanviya Sapru
Brand: Hero or charlatan?
It is fair to say that Russell Brand divides opinion. According to a YouGov survey he is disliked more than any other celebrity, even Jeremy Clarkson and is viewed as having a negative influence on public debate. Yet – or so people say – he is popular with young people. But is that true? We asked some University of the Arts students for their views of Brand.
Elton de Figueiredo Ernesto, studying Photography at London College of Communication. “To be honest I won’t judge him by the cover because I don’t know his history or what he’s been through, and so I don’t want to say ‘he’s this and that’ because that would just be me stereotyping, but he does his part in the world. He looks gothic, everyone will look at political people as being suited and booted but he’s different, mainstream media will give him an angle where they won’t take him seriously but in actual fact he shouldn’t think like that, he could be better than everyone else in a suit and boot. I don’t think we should be putting a front of what we really are, a lot of politicians are known to be serious and he’s just himself to be honest, I like him: props for being himself in whatever community he’s in and people will learn to like him or not because he’s himself he doesn’t fake it and I can respect him for doing that”. 14
Irina, doing her Masters in Service Design and Technology at London College of Communication. “You know I’m not very familiar with his political views but It seems to me that maybe I’m not so serious about him because I don’t like him as an actor, I know he’s quite famous in the US and here. I can’t say that he’s more to me than Paris Hilton – I don’t think he can say something intelligent. Maybe if I like him as an actor more, for example, I really love Meryl Streep and if she said something according to political issues I will read about it and so on but as for Russell Brand no.”
Phoebe Desalegene studying Art and Design Foundation at London College of Communication. “I think because he was a comedian people don’t take him seriously, and I think he’s kind of seen as ‘one of us’, as in like general public in the sense of working class but because of his background (dating celebrities etc) I don’t think he could be seen as a serious politician. I do think he said raised some valid points and I do think he is genuine.”
Hebe Campbell studying Art Foundation at London College of Communication. “I love Russell Brand! I think he’s clever. I think he’s quite charismatic, he’s got a very original look to him and also he’s views…they really stand out actually, and how he portrays them, whether that’s a good thing or not, I think it’s a good thing but a lot of people don’t and I just think he’s really cool and different. I think he is very genuine, I don’t think he tries to be how he comes across, I think that’s actually how he is.”
“Brand is part of the system that he condemns” Aamina Simone studying Creative Design for Fashion at London College of Fashion. “We should have more “celebrities” or rather public figures be social activists in this way. I think he’s really smart because he’s taken advantage of his fame and is actually doing something positive for the UK. By reinforcing his distaste towards the media in general and the things they portray as “important” puts things in perspective for what everyone’s priorities should be right now as a world citizen”
Josh Potter, studying BA Journalism at London College of Communication. “Russell Brand is a sham, a bullshitter to the highest degree. He uses his vast knowledge of the English language and speaking ability to talk circles around anyone who confronts him. But he has nothing of use to say. He attacks the political system with his convoluted, pseudo-Marxist ideas that do nothing but satisfy his own narcissism. And when confronted by them he showers his questioner with long words and technical phrases which mean sod all. He uses words like ‘underclass’ and states that ‘there will be a revolution’ in order to make himself sound like Marx but he doesn’t have anywhere near the knowledge or understanding to actually see what Marx was doing. He talks about change but, when asked what it would look like, only says what it will not look like. Then he attacks those who do the same. He is a part of the system which he condemns. He doesn’t care about the poor and the outcast. He only cares about making money. I would believe him more about wanting to shrink the gap between rich and poor if he weren’t making so much money pretending to care about those poor. Not to mention his book, cutely titled Revolution with the letters evol in red to highlight the word love, costs thirteen quid. How much money are you making off that, Russell? So much for your socialist views and desire for change. You are the problem you pretend to want to solve.”
“Answer the Question”, Alex Cooper. 2015.
Words: Aurore Kaddachi Pictures: Kostis K
TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE? Many young people stay away from party politics but TV presenter Rick Edwards says apathy is not the answer
It is a much-discussed feature of elections that young people are far less likely to vote that their older counterparts. Yet this is a recent phenomenon in this country. In 1964, the gap was almost non-existent: 76.4 per cent of 21-24 year-olds voted at the general election, while 76.7 per cent of 65 year-olds and over turned out at the polling station. The proportion of voters in all age groups has dropped since then but participation among the young has fallen far more sharply. At the last general election, only half of the 18-24 year-old voters turned out compared with 74.7 per cent of the over 65s. Various suggestions have been made as to why so few young people vote – apathy and a sense that politicians are out of touch are the most common. The issue is attracting growing attention among political experts, who warn that the low electoral turn-outs may come to threaten democratic legitimacy. They also point out that if the young do not vote, politicians are less likely to represent their interests, catering instead to the needs of electorally active groups of older voters. So what can be done to bring back young voters to the ballot box? Rick Edwards is not a politician or a political expert. He is simply a television presenter who knows young people enough to believe that he can persuade them to vote at the election. You might have seen him on television shows such as Made in Chelsea or Tool Academy on Channel 4 but recently he has been working with BBC Three on a much more serious television program. Free Speech hosted by Edwards and Tina Daheley, has been described as the young version of Question Time. It features live debates and discussions between young people and politicians. Its aim is to make politics accessible and interesting to a younger audience. He has also written a book ‘None of the Above’, which sets out to show young people that politics matters and to persuade them to vote on May 7th. He has been working with ‘Bite the Ballot’, a neutral movement, which empowers young people take part in the democratic process. Edwards graduated from Cambridge University and got a degree in natural science. While his friends were talking about politics at uni, Edwards often used to stay away from the discussions as he didn’t know much about politics and he still remembers how that feels.. He’s tried to translate that feeling his book, to make it accessible for young people who don’t know anything about British politics rather than a book written by an expert. From his degree to television presenting on E4, what drew him into politics and youth 16
matters is Free Speech. He describes the young audience as ‘terrific’ and emphasizes that the audience for the show is not passive: they are engaged, passionate and they care about it. The 35 year-old is clear regarding the reasons why young people don’t vote. He has been working with young people long enough to know and understand why their participation has gone down. And he argues passionately that apathy is not the explanation. “Less than 1 out of 5 of these people who haven’t voted, say it’s because they are not interested in politics. The others say they don’t think any of the parties represent them. That’s not apathetic; they say that they don’t have enough information to make a decision, again that’s not apathetic. They say they can’t tell the difference between the parties, again that’s not apathetic, it’s related to access to information.” It’s for this reason that Edwards wrote his book, after talking to a lot of young people who said that they suffer from a lack of information and feel confused when it comes to getting information about politics. ‘None of the Above’ is a guide to politics telling people what the different parties stand for and what they do, which hopefully allows people to know who they want to vote for.
2 COMPULSORY VOTING FOR FIRST-TIME VOTERS. Edwards argues that voting is a democratic duty that should be a part of people’s lives and that first-time voters should be fined a small sum for not exercising their democratic rights. If they are forced to vote once, they are more likely to turn out at subsequent elections. 3 ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’. Edwards argues that a spoilt vote option such as ‘None of the Above’ should be allowed in the UK. This, he says, will be more powerful than simply abstaining. A spoilt vote will be counted in the overall turnout and it will help to prove that none of the politicians are representatives of the youth in Britain. 4 VOTING ADVICE APPLICATIONS. Many young people complain about a lack of clear information. ‘Voting Advice Applications’ (VAAs) are websites that allow voters to compare their own views with the manifestos of political parties to find out which party they have most in common with. 5 YOUNGER POLITICIANS. Young people need to be represented by more people similar to them and closer to their age. The majority of all elected MPs are white middle-class men and the youngest MP in the country is 30 years old.
So his point is that the vast majority of young people are not apathetic when it comes to politics. In his view, the internet and social media have the potential to revolutionize the way politics is structured. He adds that we now live in a time where we can easily find out what a thousand people think but that politicians are not engaging enough with an Internet community in which people can start online petitions that can gather hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Edwards doesn’t hide the fact that he is worried about the future. Older people seem to be more valuable in the eyes of politicians because they are more likely to vote than young people. “Politicians orientate their policy towards people they know are going to vote. And that is a worry because young people have a very raw deal and these young people will grow up and are they going to vote when they get older? Maybe but that’s less likely if you have not started when you were younger and the democracy could be in a genuine trouble.”
Edwards believes that social media is a source of information which could help politicians to form policy and to engage public feeling about an issue. Twitter is more casual, he says, it feels like people are being themselves, and if politicians were interacting with more ordinary people in the way that everyone else does it will help to break down the barrier and help the youngest users to understand politicians.
Rick Edwards never thought about going into politics, as he claims to be a ‘floating’ voter. He doesn’t belong to a political party and decides from election to election who he will vote for. He adds that he believes to be better on the outside of party political arena because he feels more useful as he is trying to broadly engage people with politics.
Edwards offers five solutions that could bring back young voters to the ballot box. 1 ONLINE VOTING. Young people able to vote in the forthcoming general election are ‘digital natives’. They live their lives online and expect to be able to vote online. Online voting will definitely happen, he says; it’s only a question of when.
He adds that his mission will be accomplished when 100 per cent of people turn out and vote but as it will probably never happen he is planning to keep on going. His ‘mission’ has been built up around the forthcoming general election of May 7th. After that he says that he wants to carry on getting young people engaged with politics as part of a process that he believes will one day result in a better democratic system.
Words: Elliott Haworth and Luke Barber
...Should you vote or stay away? VOTE, SAYS ELLIOTT HAWORTH In the wake of the austerity years and bankers bonuses, revolving doors and expenses scandals a lot of people, especially the young, say they feel unrepresented by politicians in the UK and have made a conscious choice to abstain from voting at this year’s General Election But if ‘nothing will change’ through voting - you can almost guarantee that it won’t through abstaining. Voting, they say, changes nothing. Yet the truth is that abstaining is more likely to ensure that the status quo continues. At the last election, 34% of all registered voters stayed away, and went completely unheard, leaving the Conservatives to form a government with just 24% of the total eligible electorate. The number of young people voting is currently lower than it has ever been. At the last General Election just 44% of 18-24 year olds cast their vote, compared with 76% of over65s. The result: the government ring-fenced pension schemes while hiking up university fees. It’s really quite simple: politicians listen to the people who vote. George Jean Nathan said that “bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote” and it’s impossible to disagree. Even if you feel unrepresented by the choices on offer, by not even turning up and making that opinion heard, your absence at the polling booth is almost like voting for the opposite of what you actually want If you’re not quite at the point of total disdain with British politics but definitely want a change, this election proves you’re not alone. There is something for just about everyone: from those who think we should abandon capitalism and open the borders, to those who think we should shut them down and leave the EU. There really is no excuse not to vote: the internet and social media have made this election the most accessible ever. The information is out there - read a few manifestos, watch the debates and come to your own conclusions. Even if your area has an untouchably safe seat, this is our one opportunity to communicate with the government about what we really want as individuals: whether through sticking with what we’ve got, spoiling your ballot or voting for radical change, the election isn’t about backing the winner, it’s about having your voice heard - because simply ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Over the generations, people have fought and died for the right to vote. Emily Davison, the suffragette campaigner, was trampled to death by the King’s horse in the Derby as she campaigned for votes for women. She, like others who fought for the right to vote did so because they were voiceless, yet now we have that voice we’re afraid to use it, excusing ourselves with the dismissal of past expectations. In Australia, you’ll be fined $50 for not casting a ballot, but voting is not compulsory in the UK. However, it should be a moral obligation if you care about the future of this country, and especially if you want the right to complain about it afterwards. 18
DON’T VOTE SAYS LUKE BARBER Our democracy is diseased, infected with an illness called Firstpastthepostitus. The symptoms of this terrible malady include safe seats, disproportionate representation and the delusional belief that the voter actually gets a say in how the country is run. Listen closely to the chimes of Big Ben and you will find it echoes perfectly the state of political affairs residing in the chambers below. Nothing changes, the pendulum moves back and forth ,from left to right, from Labour to Conservative and back again never alter, aside from a minor Liberal Democrat judder five years ago. So is there really any point in casting a vote? People will say that it is your right, but that, to me, is like telling a mute that they have freedom of speech. The opportunity is there, but the end result doesn’t really change. There are constituencies in the UK that haven’t changed hands since the mid-19th Century, areas such as Shropshire North, where the Conservatives have reigned supreme since 1835. The Electoral Reform Society puts the number of safe seats in this country at 364, over 50% of constituencies at a whole. People who voted for other candidates might as well have put their ballot papers straight into the bin. Around 46 million people living in the United Kingdom are eligible to vote. In the 2010 General Election, about two thirds of the electorate turned up at the polling stations but only 14 million - less than 50% of all votes cast - actually voted for a winning candidate in their constituencies. Our firstpast-the-post system means that all the other votes were effectively wasted. Once every five years we, the people, are given the opportunity to choose who we want to speak on our behalf at the highest level of government. While we are free to choose whoever we like, this freedom is defined by the choices we are given. It is, in essence, an illusion of choice; an imitation of democracy: I have the freedom to choose whether to shop at Tesco or Sainsbury’s but I will still end up buying from one or the other. Why should we have to choose the best of a bad bunch? And how many more scandals have to be exposed for us to realise that the people we put in power are not the saints they are made out to be in their manifestos? I believe that as part of the electorate we should take an interest in the way our government is run. Unfortunately, our democracy relies on votes, not the intelligence of the people that cast them. Russell Brand says we should abstain from voting to rock the political system but, I don’t find this entirely convincing. Yes, perhaps the political class do need a reminder that we, the electorate, put them into power in the first place, but not voting because you want change seems to be a sure fire way of not getting it. My reason for not voting, although arguably far more defeatist than Russell and his band of revolutionaries, is simple: I really don’t see the point.
“Question the Answer”, Alex Cooper. 2015.
Words: Hani Richter Images: Heidi Levine
A DISTANT CONFLICT
CLOSE TO HOME Why does the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians excite such strong feelings on the streets of Britain?
Israel and Palestine. The mention of the two states evokes strong passions among many in Britain. Though the conflict plays out many thousands of miles away, it has the power to inflame opinions in this country like few other foreign policy questions. In August last year, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Britain and Europe to call for an end to Israeli military action in Gaza. The conflict is frequently debated, often acrimoniously, in British newspapers and online with strong opinions voiced on both sides. All this in an era when, it is often said, people have little interest in politics and foreign affairs. Why is the long-running, fraught and complex dispute between Israel and the Palestinians the focus of so much attention? Britain’s involvement in the dispute goes back nearly a century. In 1917 the British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leading figure in Britain’s Jewish community, stating Britain’s support for Jewish people to establish a state in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration is seen by all sides as a key moment in Middle-Eastern history and a precursor to the establishment of the state of Israel. In 1922, as part of the negotiations over the division of the Ottoman Empire, which had been defeated in the First World War, Britain was granted the Palestinian Mandate – administrative power over the area that was then called Palestine. During this period, tens of thousands of Jews arrived in Palestine, many escaping persecution in Eastern Europe. Tensions grew between the settlers and the Arabs, with frequent unrest and rioting. In the 1930s, the growth of fascism in Europe meant that more Jews fled to Palestine, from countries such as Germany and Poland. In 1936 there began an uprising in Palestine by Arabs opposed to British rule. In 1939, as the Second World War began, Britain proposed an independent Palestine, jointly governed by Arabs and Jews. For their part, the Nazis proposed that Europe’s Jews be shipped to Madagascar. After the end of the Second World War many thousands of Jews attempted to enter Palestine, though Britain was attempting to restrict migration into the area. Holocaust survivors trying to enter Palestine were held in detention camps in Cyprus. The horrors of the Holocaust had united world opinion in the
view that Israel should have a homeland and in 1947 the United Nations approved a plan to create an independent Arab state and an independent Jewish state in Palestine. The new state of Israel was recognised by the USA and the Soviet Union but the Arab states refused to accept it. So began a conflict that continues to this day. Israel’s official position is that it seeks a peaceful solution in which the Palestinians have their own autonomous state. Yiftah Curiel, the spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in London, explains: ‘Our hope is that whether a peace agreement is reached and a Palestinian state is formed in the west bank Gaza and of course part of that agreement will be ensuring that violence will not be happening anymore. That is definitely the aim. Right now it looks a bit far off because we are talking with a Palestinian authority, which has no control over what’s happening in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas which is a recognised terror group – that does not want any dialogue or any peace with Israel. So there’s lots of things that have to happen before we can reach that agreement unfortunately.’ From Israel’s perspective, the Palestinians are the obstacle to peace, specifically Hamas, which won the last Palestinian election in 2006 and now runs Gaza but is designated a terrorist group by the USA. Curiel says: ‘Hamas took power first democratically, but then with force in Gaza, kicking out the other Palestinians factions, and since 2006 has been ruling Gaza. It does not want peace. It is using all of its resources with help from Iran and other countries, basically to amass arms and its fired 12,000 rockets into Israel- since 2006, 4500 just in the past conflict in the last summer’ From Curiel’s perspective, Israel is a uniquely safe and stable part of the region, especially for journalists. ‘Israel is relatively a pretty great place to live when you are covering the Middle East. In the surrounding countries we have seen in the past years it is very chaotic and if in the past, you know it would be dangerous to live in these countries because you might get caught accidently in the conflict, today journalists are targeted by ISIS and we see what happens to them, so its not surprising, that many journalists prefer to cover the Middle East from Israel, which is a democratic country with a very free and vibrant press, where they pretty much can do as they like. It’s a good thing of course.” 21
From the other side of the conflict things look very different. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign argues that Israel is the aggressor, citing a recent UN report called ‘Fragmented Lives’, which states that Palestinian civilians continue to be subject to threats to their life, physical safety and liberty and that 2014 witnessed the highest civilian death toll since 1967. Student and Activist Coordinator at Palestine Solidarity Campaign Rachel Diamond said “Israel has enjoyed complete impunity for its brutality for some time now. Israel has breached international law, massacred civilians, ethnically cleansed Palestinians and been involved in numerous war crimes. It is the modern day South Africa – Desmond Tutu who was at the forefront of the South African anti-Apartheid movement explained that what the Palestinians go through is far worse than what they suffered in South Africa.’ Diamond believes that the tide of world opinion is turning in favour of the Palestinians. ‘The Israeli government has managed to convince people that Israel is the victim, Israel is the one under threat, despite
“The conflict engages basic notions of justice on both sides” having one of the biggest armies in the world and producing some of the world’s most sophisticated and devastating military technology. But people can now see the huge power imbalance, with Israel in charge of a powerful army which brutalises and oppresses the Palestinians, and the Palestinians having a choice between accepting their own oppression and occupation, and resisting their oppressors as best they can.” “The simple facts are that Palestinians are an occupied people recognised as such by the UN, and Israel is an occupying power. This structure of power and violence needs to end.” Nearly a century since the Balfour Declaration, opinions seem as polarised as ever they have been. But why such enduring interest in a conflict which is happening 2000 miles away? One factor is certainly the UK’s historic involvement in the region, and the part it played in the establishment of Israel. Another is the sense that the West has strong economic interests in the region, especially around oil. Other factors are the thriving Jewish and Muslim communities in Britain, where views on the issue are strong. The conflict also engages basic issues of fairness and justice. On the one hand, there is the conviction that the Jews are entitled to a sanctuary after the suffering of the Holocaust. On the other, there is a sense that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians remains deeply unequal and that suffering is greatest among innocent civilians. Yiftah Curiel at the Israeli Embassy believes the threat of terror has focussed domestic attention on the region: “The UK was a colonial power, not that long ago, which ruled great parts of the Middle East including Israel and Palestine, and I think it’s become an internal issue in the last few years, because relatively big numbers of Brits have gone out to fight in Syria for ISIS or other groups and are coming back, and there are arrests of people and the terror threat is up and I think that the perception, that what is happening in the Middle East does not stay there , but actually its coming back to Europe. I think in that sense the Middle East is very much on the minds of people here’ The British Parliament last year voted for the recognition of Palestine by 274 votes to 12. This could make the UK the first major power to go forward with the recognition of statehood. Rachel Diamond of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign says it his her generation’s struggle: “It is the mother of injustices for our time. It is a simple case of supporting a struggle for justice. Pro-Israel supporters often say this is a “complex” or “complicated” situation. It is not. It is a very simple issue of a powerful country backed by other powerful countries colonising an entire people and oppressing them. British people see the simplicity of this and are outraged by this injustice being allowed to continue.”
Heidi Levine, whose pictures illustrate this feature, is a Jerusalem-based photojournalist. Her photographs have been published in national newspapers and magazines such as Time magazine, The New York Times and The Guardian. A graduate of London College of Communication, she has just won the first-ever Courage in Photojournalism award for her work in Gaza. The award commemorates Anja Niedringhaus, a photojournalist for the Associated Press whom was killed in Afghanistan last year by an Afghan police commander. During the course of her career she has covered revolutions across the Middle East, the Israel-Lebanon war and the conflicts in Gaza. Heidi found that emotions are a vital part of creating an essence of humanity in war time. She says ‘When you’re working and taking pictures, you are a human being and although your standing on the other side of the camera, it doesn’t shield you from what your experiencing. I did put down my camera to try and confront a woman that had just lost her family members she was hysterically crying. When I grabbed her and held her she calmed down, I didn’t take away the emotional pain from her but that did manage to calm her.” 23
Words: Sophie Hadley Image: Jason Evans
SLEAFORD MODS ON POLITICS AND MUSIC The uncompromising duo speak out 24
Punk, at this point, is pretty much dead and buried. Far beyond the point of making a comeback, no need for a revival and a resurgence would be crass and pointless. But let’s not deny the value of giving the middle finger to authority, your surroundings (and nearly every other thing you can think of) with a ton of attitude and defiance. In a way, Sleaford Mods reflect the trickle-down effect of that ‘go fuck yourself’ spirit, taking inspiration from bands like the Sex Pistols and The Jam. The duo is comprised of vocalist Jason Williamson alongside producer Andrew Fearn, both hailing from Nottingham. Their music combines grimy, low-fi beats behind an onslaught of half-rapped, half-spoken word tirades that fester with rage yet are weirdly poignant, funny and even poetic in their delivery. Their lyrics cover working-class angst, the boredom of dead-end jobs (‘I got a job. I rot away in the aisles of the Co-op, mate. French fancies, Mr. Kipling acid dances’) to the fakery of music today (‘fuck off posey pants; you’re in the pop star market. Sexy promoters, untouchable organisations’) They’ve seem to have a fire lit under them and their UK fan base is starting to gain momentum. The pair have kicked off the first leg of their 2015 tour through relatively small, unknown UK towns - the likes of Ramsgate, Hitchin and Barnsley, places bands scarcely go to these days. I caught them before their show at The Horn in St. Albans to have a chat, prepared for the real possibility that they might be a tad standoffish but in all actuality they’re nice as can be. Over a couple of drinks and pub lunch, Jason tells me that though mod subculture has been a point of inspiration they aren’t looking represent it through their music. ‘It’s shit. It’s just remembrance, it’s a joke- a museum. It’s got no bearing on anything any more.’
lease for them as well as fuelling their anger. ‘You can’t really do this music any other way, y’know. It has to be as fast as it is on record otherwise it’ll just fall flat on its face. In order to keep that up, in order to that you have to have a level of energy of all of itit’s a mixture of all that.’ Williamson says, swigging his pint. They get asked a lot about the swearing in the tracks so I asked if they think people are being a bit sensitive. ‘A lot of people dismiss it as lazy - ‘oh he’s just swearing’ - but that’s not the case. It never has been. It’s just how we talk so why not put that in? I come
“There’s just no talk about what’s actually going on: it’s all smoke and mirrors”
Their tastes are quite wide ranging though they seem baffled when I ask them if it’s true they like a bit of death metal - one of the ever-growing errors from Wikipedia. ‘Don’t know what happened there!’ Williamson laughs. In fact he’s likes folk music, Alexander O’Neal and Luther Vandross. Fearn, equally surprised explains: ‘People can’t help but pigeon-hole. We’re not prescribing to one particular genre of music. It wasn’t our intention to think about genres in the first place either.’ The energy at a Sleaford Mods gig is ramshackle, improvised, high-energy and aggressive. It’s just as much as a cathartic re-
They aren’t particularly fond of politics and the current state of the country. If you’ve ever heard ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’ you’ll know they’re not exactly keen UKIP supporters and Williamson goes on to write ‘I can’t believe the rich still exist, let alone run the fucking country’ on the track ‘Air Conditioning’. He talks about the current administration in a state of disgust: ‘Ed Milliband is starting to get a bit better in the last month or so. Still not cracking eggs though. There’s just no talk about what’s actually going on: it’s all smoke and mirrors. There’s no talk about the bottom of the barrel. The only reference politicians make is: ‘We need to get employment back up.’ That’s it. We need to get jobs going, people are out of work. They never touch on anything else. You can tell it’s just really fucking not heartfelt at all.’ Williamson recently quit his job as a benefits advisor for Nottingham City Council to focus on Sleaford Mods full-time and says his experiences taught him a lot about how the system can screw people over. However he adds that he didn’t need ta job like that to shape his thoughts on the government. Does his audience share his discontent with politics, I wonder. ‘Obviously you get a lot that aren’t, especially the lower classes they’ve been badgered into not being interested in it. It doesn’t speak for them. You get your average 18-year-old listening to Ed Miliband talking about the national debt- they don’t give a fuck about that. They don’t really care for full-time employment because the only jobs that are available are mind-numbingly boring.’ Sleaford Mods describe themselves as taking a humanist approach rather than anything else. Williamson is wary of being perceived as a mouthpiece for political disgruntlement, telling me very plainly why he’s not too interested: ‘Yeah because it’s a bit of a trap and you just end up sounding like a cunt.’
In fact, neither of them can particular relate to a lot of the bands and acts they’ve been compared to such as The Fall or John Cooper Clarke. Williamson and Fearn alike seem to be indifferent towards these connections. ‘I was more into hip-hop so that’s how it originated, vocal-wise anyway. Stuff like The Streets.’ Williamson explains. Fearn agrees that rap and hip-hop have the capacity to inspire just as much as a good band or book. ‘I think rap is the same thing though. Lots of successful rappers, especially the originators weren’t into anybody before but came across the idea and concept and it was something that was allowing them to get their thoughts and feelings down. It’s something that’s there for anybody to have a go at.’
There are a few bands trying to mimic that. But you’re gonna get that anyway aren’t you? Not a lot of stuff out there. There’s got to be an emphasis on the now and what’s happening outside’
from a household of swearers. So does Andrew. Don’t we all? There’s a lot of emphasis on running away from yourself and not being yourself and that’s been prevalent in music for far too long. Just be yourself!’. The guys agree that there aren’t too many bands trying to make a social or political statement these day, and they say that the current popularity of instrumental music might be a contributing factor. However, they do believe that there is plenty of genuine stuff out there though but that it is not really focussing on important issues. ‘I think there’s a lot of honest music. In the sense of indie bands with not much to say, there are honest bands because they’re all middle upper-class and having nice lives and singing about having a nice time - which is fine! It’s better than people trying to be angry and be crappy and fake at doing that,’ says Fearn as Williamson elaborates further: ‘There’s not a lot of bands attacking the dayto-day, talking about it in a truthful way.
Fearn on the other hand beleives their lyrics hit home on a broader level: ‘I think it’s more that Jason says what other people are really feeling in almost the exact same words, for them. It’s like he’s reading their minds, ha ha. It’s striking a very strong chord with people and people are really touched by that and it’s been a long time coming.’ On that note, I let the guys chill out and eat their fish and chips in peace.
Jason Evans whose image illustrates this piece, is known for his work in art and lifestyle magazines including Strictly a series of images of young black men dressed as ‘country gents’, which is now part of the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery. Formerly a lecturer in photography, Jason believes that, from the point of view of an artist, everything is political. 25
“Nous Sommes Le Pouvoir (We are the power)”, Atelier Populaire
Words: Simon Hinde Images: Atelier Populaire
ART & REVOLUTION Political posters made in the heat of the protests of Paris 1968 continue to have relevance and power
Though nearly fifty years old, the work of Atelier Populaire feels as vivid and as immediate as today’s news. Its themes still resonate today: student occupation, inequality, state repression, generational inequality, and a rage against a government and establishment that seemed neither to understand nor care about its people.
ique: the radio lies, the press is poisonous.
The group of anonymous designers, based in an occupied Paris art college, produced hundreds of posters and fliers in a few weeks in May 1968, when workers and students united in a series of protests that brought France to the brink of a revolution.
Others bring bulletins from the struggle: seven demonstrators were wounded at St Lazare, a Citroen factory has been occupied by the workers and bosses, traitors and fifth columnists swept into the street, the military has seized control of a university.
Simply printed, with cartoon-like images and political slogans, their influence can be clearly seen in political posters for the likes of Occupy and Class War, fliers for raves, fanzines, punk graphics and the work of Banksy and other graffiti artists.
Still others offer political slogans and demands for change: the State is every one of us, frontiers = repression, bosses need workers but workers don’t need bosses.
Sera-t-il chomeur?, demands one, under the picture of a new-born baby. Will he be unemployed? La radio ment, la presse est tox28
There are posters promoting support for occupied universities and factories, solidarity with groups that unite workers, students, immigrants and the unemployed, fliers advertising meetings of people’s assemblies to debate freedom of speech
There are fierce denunciations of the police, the military, President Charles de Gaulle and other politicians but above all slogans of solidarity, hope and belief in the possibility of change.
Les peuples vaincront: the people will win. Non a la dictature: no to dictatorship. Nous sommes le pouvoir: we are the power. And, over and over again: la lutte continue, la lutte continue: the struggle goes on. The work of Atelier Populaire documents the history of an extraordinary few weeks in 1968 when strikes and protests seemed set not only to bring down the government of France but also, potentially, to usher in a politics of a very different kind. It began with a university occupation. A small group of students, artists and political activists seized an administration building at Paris University in Nanterre to protest about class discrimination in French society and to complain about the funding of higher education. The university called the police and the students left but this occupation was the catalyst for a series of protests and demonstrations that spread to other colleges. In the heart of Paris, a demonstration involving students,
lecturers and their supporters turned into a pitched battle with the police. Further confrontations with the police led to hundreds of arrests and injuries and public sympathy for the protestors grew. Trade unions declared a one-day general strike on May 13 and a million people marched througb the centre of Paris. Students occupied the Sorbonne and declared it a ‘people’s university’ and workers began occupying factories across France. By the middle of the month ten million people were on strike across the country. De Gaulle, the French President, went into hiding and fled to Germany while other political figures made plans to leave the country, believing that the government was on the brink of being overthrown by violent revolution. It was a feature of the protests that they weren’t led by mainstream politicians or trade unions but emerged through a small self-organised groups of students
and workers. Atelier Populaire was one of these. At the start of the upheaval, students and staff had taken over the Ecole des Beaux Arts, an art university in Paris and established the Atelier Populaire (the People’s Workshop) as a base from which they produced hundreds of silkscreen posters and fliers that both drove and documented the protests. Its members saw their work as a revolutionary tool, declaring in a statement: “The posters produced by the ATELIER POPULAIRE are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centres of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories.” It was, to use one of their own slogans, art au service du people: art in the service of the people. They work of Atelier Populaire was, effectively, an alternative to mainstream press and broadcasting organisations controlled by the political establishment.
They delivered in intense capsule form the movement’s messages of resistance and solidarity, demands for change, short, scathing analyses of France’s political social and economic conditions and news of which factories or universities were being occupied. The men and women who produced the posters chose to remain anonymous, to emphasise that their work was the expression of a collective, rather than an individual, voice. Today (contrary to the group’s express wishes) their posters are sought by collectors and grace the walls of galleries but, for Johan Kugelberg, the author of Beauty Is In The Street, a handsomely-produced visual history of the May 68 Paris uprising, their continuing contemporary significance which can be in movements like Occupy and the Arab Spring. “The events around Paris 68 and Atelier Populaire give us a bit of a map for how the 21st century is going to unfold. May 68 was a miracle of solidarity beyond class barriers and soli-
darity beyond a right-wing/leftwing political system. Acts of solidarity cut through the caste system of Western society and solidarity, brotherhood, sisterhood actually germinated across French society between students and workers and the work of Atelier Populaire was a realization of that.” Today’s revolutionaries are, perhaps, more likely to use social media to spread their message. However, making a poster is an act that, for Kugelberg, contains much greater social and revolutionary potential than mounting a campaign on Facebook and Twitter. He argues that there is something about the physicality of an artifact and the act of making and sharing it that requires people to behave in certain positive ways and draws parallels with the recent growth in zines – independently produced books and magazines. “There’s a zine revolution of sorts going on right now. If I hand a zine to you and you accept it, you hold it and you look at it. That act is immensely power-
ful and that act is as powerful as the act of printing something, waiting for it to dry, walking somewhere with it, putting it on a wall or handing it to somebody.” Craig Burston, leader of the Graphic and Media Design course at London College of Communication, says Atelier Populaire's work continues to have relevance as design. “The contemporary relevance of Atelier Populaire in 2015 is that there are direct parallels between what the graphic designers were doing in 1968 which was putting non-commercial graphic design into a public space. There’s still a need for that. There’s something with what they were doing which has been co-opted by everyone from commercial and underground companies and organisations to people who are promoting all-night raves.” As a symbol of solidarity, as a tool of political engagement and as graphic design, the posters and fliers produced in an occupied art college all those years ago continue to resonate. La lutte continue. 29
THE HARD STOP A new film about the killing of Mark Duggan brings a focus on racism and police brutality
Words: Arij Limam Images: Dionne Walker
This year has been an important one in highlighting the on-going issue of race in society. It may seem surprising to some that it is still an issue today, when the President of the United States of America is himself a man of colour. The US has seen a surge in protest against what many American citizens see as racism within various state institutions, particularly the police. Last year in Ferguson, Missouri a young black man called Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer in a case that sparked a national and international debate about racism and brutality in the police and society. This movement took place on streets in cities across America, and spread around the world People took to Twitter in protest using the hashtag ‘Black Lives Matter’, which was a cause created by three sisters in the US after the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, whose white killer was acquitted. The sisters describe Black Lives Matter as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise”. Black Lives Matter has helped to bring to international attention other US cases of people of colour being shot by police, most of whom were not indicted. Victims include 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 43-year-old Eric Garner, 36-yearold Dante Parker, 47-year-old Yvette Smith, and many more. However, this isn’t merely an American problem. There have been cases in the UK which are seen by many as identical to those in the US. The most high-profile is that of Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police in a 'hard stop' operation in Tottenham, North London, during the summer of 2011. Duggan was a passenger in a minicab that was intercepted by the police. He got out of the cab and was fatally shot. The shooting sparked protests in Tottenham, North London, against what many saw as police misconduct. These began peacefully but quickly turned violent as stores were looted, cars burnt and buildings attacked. It was the start of several days of full-blown riots fuelled in part by poverty and racial tensions in London, Manchester and other cities. The case made it back into the headlines in March this year, as the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), published their report into events surrounding the shooting. The IPCC’s “complex and thorough investigation, which looked at more than 1,200 documents, 500 witness statements and 340 exhibits, found no indication of misconduct for any armed officer involved”.
they were told were later retracted. That the media and mainstream press also spread this misinformation was also a cause of anger with activists who strongly believed in the cause. Many would accuse the media of playing a role in furthering racial stereotypes in their reporting of cases such as these, which in turn creates an atmosphere of fear and increased racism. The Hard Stop, a documentary examining the case and its aftermath will be released later this year. Its producer is Dionne Walker, a graduate of London College of Communication, who has worked in independent film for over 18 years. She believes that it is up to us as a society to address the issue of race and try to change the misconceptions we are fed. The Hard Stop features the lives of two of Duggan’s friends as they come to terms with his death, and try to overcome struggles of their own. “I was approached by the director who had met and filmed the two lead characters, Marcus and Kurtis, and after seeing some of the footage I was convinced that this is the film I had to work on next” Walker said. “It was important for me to work on this film because this is about getting their voices out there, and because of my personal politics, and of course being a Londoner”. The film starts with archive footage of the reporting of the scene of the shooting in the day, and the opening scene features Marcus and Kurtis in a car, with Marcus’s powerful opening remarks being, “my views on the police was always hating them…they think they can use their power to intimidate me just because they’ve got that uniform, but I’m not intimidated by the uniform”. However, Walker says, “we are not going about this irresponsibly, we have integrity, and we are merely going to look for the truth and reflect on it”. She says, “his family and friends accept that he was not an angel and was at some point in his life involved in criminality, but what we are trying to do is tell a story of the family and friends who say this person was a son and a father, the film is trying to do a bigger job in humanising the issue. Even criminals have the right to the justice system and not get shot at in the streets. It wasn’t about showing one-side or painting him as squeaky clean, we were finding a way of reflecting some things out there that were not reported by the mainstream media and were not in the public eye”.
Speaking to the Guardian, Duggan’s mother said, “the IPCC has found that the police did nothing wrong when they murdered my son. This report is another slap in the face for all the family… IPCC officials came to my house after the shooting. We cooperated with them, they listened to us and they said they would help us. They’ve been working on this report for three an a half years since Mark was shot dead and this is what they have come up with”.
When it comes to drawing similarities between events in Ferguson, Walker argues that there broader issues than simply race at play. She argues that London is an extremely multicultural city, and in places like Tottenham, there are a mix of races and ethnicities. However, a major issue to look at here, she says, is that of class and wealth. “I’m not saying that race, the fact he was black, or mixed race, wasn’t a factor, but I would say we have to combine that with where he’s from. Broadwater farm has had a stigma attached for decades, that of poverty and social inequality, and you could say this has led young people into a life of criminality. And run-ins with the police have always been an occurrence, dating back to the riots in 1985 in the same area”.
One of the main issues that caused such an outrage with Duggan’s friends and family, and supporters of the cause, was the lack of information given to them, the fact that the things
One important similarity, Walker argues, between the Duggan case and events in the US is the issue of police or state brutality and subsequent cover-ups. “Institutional racism with31
“Institutional racism does exist. Look at the numbers of black people in custody”
in the police force does exist. Just by looking at the stats of the number of people stopped and searched, an the numbers in police custody, you would see that there are more black men specifically, and this reflects institutional racism within the police force as well as in state policies”.
on community relations. They say, “How can it be that in London a situation has been allowed to develop unchecked whereby in some Boroughs… for every 1,000 black people in those Boroughs, there will be over 100 stop searched on this community alone? These figures represent more than 1 in 10 of every black person”.
The Metropolitan Black Police Association (BPA), the biggest group representing minority officers in the police force, has long spoken of the issue of institutional racism in the police and the need to address the failures of Scotland Yard in making significant improvements in the matter. A particular and long-standing concern has been the controversial policy of stop and search and its effect
There also seems to be an issue here with the input of the government and what many see as their continued ignoring of race-related issues when it comes to the police force. The BPA also say in their statement, “what is the government waiting for? There has been more than ample opportunity [for improvement] however racial harmony does not feature high enough on the agenda”.
After the Duggan case, however, there have been moves to bring some changes to certain policies that have been ineffective, or introduce measure that will stop the occurrence of such cases. One of the measures introduced is the installation of body cameras on police officers designed to capture evidence at crime scenes, and avoid cases where the police may abuse their authority and misinform the public about certain cases. Other changes include reports on the effectiveness of the hard stop policy, and stop and search. While these changes have been welcomes by some as positive steps forward many feel that further changes are needed to ensure the police carry out their duty to protect and serve the people. Walker admists she remains unsure of how effective these moves will really be. “Changing hard stop policy, video recording at arrests and stop and searches, will it be enough, I don’t know,” she admits Walker continues, “I think the government can go further in trying to look at dealing with perceptions of people at the high end of society, the top of the food chain. We’re talking about the lower classes, which include all races and ethnicities; it is an issue of poverty and inequality. It is also about how the media continue to vilify these groups and ex-
pand this rhetoric about immigrants and lower classes, and you get a public that believe it”. Many people believe that the issue or race is one that still needs to be addressed in our society, even in this day and age. Racism doesn’t start in the institutions, it begins in homes and in societies that are fed poor rhetoric and led to believe it, and these people then implement it in their jobs, whether they be police officers or government officials. Walker explains, “I’m not saying that at the point of a police carrying out a stop and search on a black person, he or she is conscious of the racism, it’s just how it is and the misconceptions spewed within our society”. “This is why I think our film is important, because we do not set it out as an investigative film, we try to show that, well, they’re humans too, and we are trying to humanise who many in society would see as low life criminals, and show their side of the story that has so far been ignored”. The Hard Stop, directed by Geaorge Amponsah, and produced by Dionne Walker will be released at the end of the year, after three years in the making and is supported by Sundance and Bertha Foundation, and partly funded by the British Film Institute. 33
Words: Yasaman Ahmadzai Images: Edmund Clark
HALFWAY TO HEAVEN What does a new exhibition of photography of Afghanistan have to tell us about the country?
By any stretch of the imagination, Afghanistan isn’t the easiest terrain to travel in. The country’s seclusion from the world, through 30 years of war and barbarism has left it out of the mainstream of modern art – until now. I was born in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. Prior to the waves of foreign occupiers and domestic battles that devastated the population, and much of the physical evidence of its heroic history, Afghanistan’s once-upon-a time tranquility and shimmering beauty lured many tourists in long-distance buses and wealthier visitors on the national airline. It has now been ten years since I left my homeland, but I can still vividly remember the normally brilliant blue skies, that have now turned an interesting shade of grey. I find it all too easy to slip into despair. In The Mountains of Majeed — a new exhibition of photography, found imagery, and Taliban poetry at Flowers Gallery in Shoreditch — British photographer Edmund Clark focuses on the grandeur of Afghanistan’s mountain scenery and provides, through a series of photographs, two different visions of the country. On the one hand, there is Clark's own vision from the
inside as a westerner coming to the country; looking over the walls at the mountains taken with a huge digital camera. On the other, there is that of the enigmatic Afghan painter Majeed, whose idyllic landscapes within the walls of the dinning facility, looks at his own fantastical country. It’s almost as if Clark’s own photographs and Majeed’s paintings come together in an attempt to heal divisions and bring about reconciliation that is certainly needed between the wartorn country of Afghanistan and the Western occupiers. Clark, whose vivid photography links history, politics, and relationships, is an established artist who has received multiple awards for his work. He has spent nine days in Afghanistan, documenting the US military base in Bagram, and providing a vivid account of the harrowing history of Afghanistan by capturing the lives of those in the line of fire. “I was going to Afghanistan for a completely different subject - which required me being embedded in Bagram airfield,” said Clark. “The idea was to look at Bagram from the American
point of view coming towards the end of Operation Enduring Freedom, reflecting on the American experience of war in Afghanistan.” The biggest American base in Afghanistan and home to 40,000, Bagram’s outside view takes the viewer beyond the lush mountains of the Hindu Kush. Embedded with the military in the base, Clark’s photographs show a futile relationship between the looming presence of the mountains around Bagram and the synthetic landscape within the walls. “The mountains were huge and quite looming. I found them beautiful but quite threatening. As I walked around the base, I kept seeing representation of mountains on the inside of the base, whether it’s the murals or it’s coming across these paintings by Majeed in a dining facility. I am also realising that an Afghan is going to look at these paintings by Majeed in a completely different way.” The Afghanistan I knew, however, starkly contrasts with the metal containers, wire fencing and hard concrete of the airbase that’s showcased in Clarke’s pictures. I’m somewhat ecstatic to see Majeed’s mountains. The pic35
tures amazed me, sparking my mind to peaks of anticipation and curiosity. And anyone looking at his painted images might be forgiven for thinking that Afghanistan is no place of war but of love, beauty and that there is an oasis of serenity within the troubled country. Perhaps appropriately, very little is known about Majeed and his murals that Clark found hanging on the walls in the airfield. Majeed’s faceless identity could be interpreted as a metaphor; the general public know as little about him as the military knew about Afghan culture before the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. “On the one hand, as a westerner, they look to me as though there could be an Afghan artist romanticising his own country’s landscape at a time of destruction and war. But at the same time, they could be postcard type idealised images specifically for a westerner audience to take it away as part of their way of gaining a touristic experience of a place that they never get to see.” Clark argues that apart from the military and special forces and the security patrols that are actually going out of the base, the majority of military personnel don’t get to experience Afghanistan, which leads to a sense of ‘us and them’: “I didn’t get the sense when I was there that many people really think about Afghanistan. They don’t really conceive of this country as a place beyond what they’re seeing in the western media.” 36
“Everything bad and good in Afghanistan is a product of Western intervention” Majeed’s landscape murals cannot help but showcase Afghanistan’s rustic beauty, in which the country’s imposing mountainous region soars and its parched land remains intact despit the ravages of war. But there is not a lot known about Majeed and Clark is equally mystified by this mysterious Afghan artist, whose work inspired his latest book. “I thought very carefully about what to say to Majeed if I ever met him. I feel that he is universalised through our ignorance. He becomes Afghanistan. He becomes everyone. If I met him, I would apologise for using his pictures without telling him. I hope he’d understand what I tried to do in saying that his vision of Afghanistan is the equivalent of my vision of Afghanistan. I would pay him royal-
ties for using his pictures, because I would expect someone to do that for me as well.” Suffering and brutality are entirely absent in Majeed’s vivid series of paintings in which the mural of the Hindu Kush mountain range in a meeting room evokes a sense of freedom, and the murky atmosphere engulfing the unflustered lake and rocky enclave instills a dream-like serenity. War appears to be a distant memory in his work. Clark, whose own work is about the division between the two cultures, says: “People can view Majeed’s vision as idealised and touristic but it’s most important to realise that his vision has an equal weight as mine in this body of work and that’s something which I think is really important.” Clarke’s work has obviously a political element to it and perhaps that was important for him to bring in an Afghan dimension to what he’d done precisely because he has seen so little if any work by westerners about the war in Afghanistan. Everything from bad to good that has happened in Afghanistan, according to Clark, has been a product of intervention by the West: “In a sense, as well as the destruction which has happened in Afghanistan, a lot of the developments have still been a product of colonial intervention and interference. So even the periods of what we call ‘progress’ have not been real because they have been enforced.”
Words: Dani Agtani Images: Cindy Parthonnaud
VOTING FOR A FREE EDUCATION University tuition fees are a big issue for young voters at the election. What are the political parties promising? 38
We’ve become used to empty promises. One which leaves a particularly sour taste in the mouth of young adults across Britain, is the pledge just before the last election that tuition fees would be abolished. Young voters rallied to the Liberal Democrats in 2010, after their leader Nick Clegg said that his party would abolish the fees. Yet when his party formed a coalition government with the Conservatives, the pledge was dropped. Instead of a free education, university students starting their degree in 2012 received tripled tuitions fees from £3,000 per year to £9,000, the most radical shake-up of higher education funding for 50 years. The betrayal was bitterly felt by millions of young people and the Liberal Democrats' popularity has never recovered. NUS President Toni Pearce says: “Back in 2010, hundreds of politicians personally promised students that they would vote against any increase in tuition fees, they traded lies for power. We expect more from our politicians and are fed up of the cycle of broken promises. We don’t want to hear any more apologies.” Disgruntled students have protested against the tuition fee hike since its instigation and it appears to be playing a significant role in 2015’s General Election, at least for the Labour party and the parties lurking below the surface, hoping to nab a deal as part of another coalition government. Broken promises about tuition fees are often cited as a major reason why young people are uninterested in party politics and far less likely to vote than older people. University education was free until Tony Blair’s Labour government. Students who began their courses in autumn 1998 paid £1,000 a year. This was later controversially tripled to £3,000 for students starting their courses in 2006, when Labour was re-elected, despite a pledge that the party “will not introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them”. In the current system, with £9,000 tuition fees and rising living costs, students could pay £50,000 for a three-year degree, leaving university and starting a career with a massive debt over their heads. For politicians, the tuition fee debate however, is mainly an economic one. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, argues that university education subsidised by the government is unaffordable, without big tax rises or spending cuts in other areas, while others argue that a free education can actually aid the economy. The global economy has forced countries, such as the UK to specialise in higher tech and higher value-added products and services. The UK’s biggest export industries include pharmaceuticals, optical and surgical instruments, and nuclear technology. As this is our main export, there is a need for skilled graduates who can contribute to these important industries. Since the hike in tuition fees, there have been numerous protests and demonstrations across not just the UK, but the world, with students globally supporting each other in their mission to obtain a free education. Roman Hughes, an activist for free education said: “Free education is a basic human right and should be available to all. If anything,
the rise in tuition fees has angered more and more young voters who are ready to fight against those who stand in the way of a free education.” So what are the political parties promising for tuition fess this time round? The Conservatives completely ignore the issue, not even mentioning it in their manifesto, and Cameron has rejected the idea of cuts to tuition fees, stating that it could impede the development of the economy. By contrast, the Labour party looks like a knight in shining red armour with its plan to cut tuition fees to £6,000. While it’s not a free education so many students seek, it is
“Students are fed up with the cycle of broken promises. We don’t want any more apologies” at least a cheaper one. In this case, it’s the Labour party who are expected to see an increase in the number of young voters. As for the Liberal Democrats, the young voters cheering for them at the last election have turned on their heels, disgusted by the betrayal. It’s inevitable that there will be a steep decline in the number of Liberal Democrat MPs this election as they lose their appeal to young voters. Alex Seabrook, a student at the University of Cardiff says: “I voted for the Lib Dems at the last election, and so did many of my friends. We felt we had someone sticking up for us and providing younger voters and students a strong voice within parliament. Clegg has destroyed his relationship with the young voters who believed in him. There’s no way I’m wasting my vote on him again.” The Liberal Democrats haven’t stated that they’ll be abolishing tuition fees, nor what they expect students to pay for a higher education. Instead Clegg focuses on the repayment of tuition fees, stating: “no undergraduate student in England has to pay a penny up front of their tuition fees.” It feels like a slightly underwhelming statement as currently no student has to repay their tuition fees upfront, and frankly there would be an uproar if this became the case. Although Clegg doesn’t mention the actual cost of tuition fees but it is expected they’ll hold up the current fees system.
Some of the smaller parties have more radical proposals. UKIP’s stance on immigration holds little appeal for many young people and has led to its leader, Nigel Farage becoming the punchline, of jokes and memes spreading across the net. However, Farage’s stance on fees has drawn the attention of some younger voters. UKIP proposes to scrap tuition fees for students taking “approved” degrees in science, medicine, technology, engineering and maths. Art students out there, your degree isn’t approved, sorry. Also, the free tuition will be awarded on the condition that students work and pay tax in the United Kingdom for five years after they graduate. Farage has not proposed a reduction for tuition fees for “unapproved” courses, meaning for most students, they’ll still be looking at a £9,000 tuition fee. Hannah Fisher, a student at Westminster University said: “I don’t agree with everything UKIP says but it’s tempting to vote for them. They are going to sort out the immigration issues, which is something that needs addressing, but they also want to fix issues our current government won’t, such as the tuition fees. Wanting to give us a free education can’t make them that bad.” However, UKIP’s stance on immigration will have consequences for education too, as EU students will no longer be treated in the same way as their UK counterparts and will have to pay the same fees as International students. It is the Green Party that speaks most passionately about the right to a free higher education. Its manifesto argues that “the funding of Higher Education has become a tool to direct and manipulate the direction taken by institutions whilst appearing to be neutral. The current system places an undue burden on individual students and fails to recognise the societal benefits of higher learning and research.” Not only will the party scrap tuition fees, but it also promises to address the issue of maintenance loans and costs of living as a student. The Greens say they will abolish student loans and in the short term they’ll reintroduce student grants to meet living costs. While these smaller parties won’t produce 2015’s Prime Minister, they could potentially be part of another coalition government which gives them greater power than they’ve previously held. Could higher-education funding become a coalition bargaining chip? However, either the Tories or Labour will be the dominant party in any coalition and of these two, it is the latter which offers students the more appealing deal. A survey of student voting intentions carried out by The Complete University Guide’s puts Labour firmly in the lead with 36.5% of the vote, followed by theTories on 29.4% with the Greens on 14.1%, UKIP on 7% and the Lib Dems bringing up the rear at 6.4%. As the Complete University Guide says: “the poll shows that while Labour doesn’t offer the free education students seek and feel is deserved, they are willing to accept a compromise. A reduced fee is a step in the right direction towards a free education.” 39
Words: Anastazja Oppenheim Images: Glenn Michael Harper
WELCOME TO THE OCCUPATION One of the students involved in the recent occupation of Central St Martinâ€™s tells her story
At the beginning, there were seven Seven students and SUARTS officers into the reception space at CSM on evening of March 19 and refused to
of us. walked the leave.
This was a reaction to University of the Arts London’s plans to cut 580 places on foundation courses. The management’s decision exemplified everything that has long bothered us: elitism, lack of democracy, and profit-driven approach to education. Foundation has long played an important part in arts education. For countless artists and designers, completing a Further Education course was a truly life-changing experience, and the first step in their creative careers. Being free for home students under 19, foundations allow young people to experiment with different disciplines and prepare a portfolio, without worrying about student debt. They are particularly beneficial for budding creatives from working-class backgrounds, who might not have had high quality art education at school, or don’t feel ready to commit to paying £27000 in fees. For many poorer yet talented kids, doing an FE year is the only chance to get into the creative industries. Our data also shows that foundation helps reduce the attainment gap for Black students. Yet while invaluable, FE courses are not as lucrative as more expensive BAs. The current climate of austerity and marketisation of education causes many universities to get rid of them. UAL could easily keep subsidising foundation. Instead, it chose profit. The decision was announced without any consultation with students or trade unions. It quickly became clear that management would not respond to our concerns. We realised that a disruptive direct action was the only way to ensure that our voices are heard. None of us expected the occupation to last nearly a month, attract thousands of supporters, make it to major newspapers and prime time TV, and end with a court case. The four weeks, during which we lived at the reception, were an amazing time. The space
“This is a fight for democracy and financial transparency” included a meeting room, a computer space, a kitchen and toilets. We had between five and fifteen people sleeping in on any given night, and many more in the day. We shared our food, some brought by the occupiers, and some coming from donations. Every evening, we had meetings to decide our next steps. Throughout the day, we organised workshops, talks, discussions and other activities. We also played games, watched films, exercised – and made friends for life. We kept trying to negotiate with management. However, many of our emails got ignored or met with inconclusive replies. We were willing to compromise, but felt management failed to seriously consider any of our demands. It didn’t help that the university used morally dubious tactics to set students against us, such as closing studios and campuses – even though we had no intention to occupy other buildings, or disrupt student spaces. We launched a petition to extend deadlines and compensate students for the closures, but that also saw no response. Despite that, loads of students came in to express support, as well as many members of staff - who asked us not to reveal their names for fear of losing their jobs. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day when, returning to London after a short Easter break, I found on my doorstep a thick enve-
lope from the security company BLM. Inside was a letter with names (some misspelled) of fifteen rather randomly picked “trespassers,” ordering us to go to court. We weren’t unprepared for consequences, but this looked scary. We soon learned that we couldn’t contest the case, or even have legal representation. We had to remain silent throughout the hearing, or we’d face additional costs. Finally, we were forced to abandon the space, but UAL agreed to drop costs and disciplinaries on the condition that we leave without bailiffs. Some saw this as a surrender on our behalf – but not being expelled from the university and crushed by five-figure charges allows us to continue the campaign. Doors were unlocked, banners were taken down. However, the battle or Further Education is not over. Our petition against foundation cuts has reached 3500 signatures and counting. Other actions will be coming soon – follow Occupy UAL on Facebook and Twitter. The fight for FE is about democracy and financial transparency. It’s about levelling the playing field, preventing job losses and putting students before profit. Finally, it’s about protecting art and education from the ruthlessness of the market. Without a foundation, arts education is unstable. WHAT UAL SAID It is a great shame the protest had to be resolved through legal action, particularly as many members of the University feel strongly about the matters raised. [We} would prefer to have resolved the sit-in through dialogue, but after nearly four weeks of failed negotiation, it became clear this was not possible. Of course, freedom to protest lawfully has always been, and continues to be, a fundamental value of the University. But this action had nothing to do with lawful protest: it concerned unlawful and disruptive occupation. We confidently expect – and will welcome – further lawful protests and debate on issues of importance to staff and students. 41
Words: Zeus Simcoe Images: Turkina Faso Models: Anna, Ansha, Masha-Marie, Emmi, Tania, Lydia, Nieke Hair: Louis Souvestre Make-up: Porsche Poon Style: Quentin Hubert
THE SCIENCE OF NOSTALGIA In an age of easy travel, what does homesickness tell us about ourselves?
In 1688 a young Swiss medical student called Johannes Hofer was consulted by a fellow student from Bern who had become sick and lonely, while studying in Basel. He was suffering from anxiety, fatigue, palpitations and fever, which were getting worse by the day and resisted conventional treatments. The student was sent home to Bern to die but, the further he travelled from Basel, the more his health improved. By the time he reached his home town, he had made a complete recovery.. Hofer diagnosed the student as suffering from a ‘neurological disease of essentially demonic cause’. He argued that obsessing over memories of home caused the ‘animal spirits’ to crowd the channels of the brain that dealt with memory and the past. He called this new condition ‘nostalgia’, from the Greek words ‘nostos’ – returning home – and ‘algia’ pain. Hofer’s nostalgia was taken up by other doctors under different names: mal du pays in France, heimweh in German, mal de corazon in Spain, homesickness in Britain and America. Many thousands of cases were identified, particularly among soldiers fighting far from home. As late as 1865, in the American Civil War, hundreds of deaths were attributed to homesickness.
Gradually, though, nostalgia ceased to be considered a medical condition and became viewed as a normal reaction to moving to another place. It is, of course, common among students, who may be experiencing a new city, country and culture for the first time. In these images, Kati Turkina Faso, a Russian photographer who is studying MA Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion, explores the ideas and emotions connected with homesickness and borders. Her models are students from Russia, China and Finland, who are coming to terms with life in London. Psychologists argue that, though it may be painful, homesickness can be rewarding, reminding us that we have roots and continuity in our lives. Nostalgic reflection can counter boredom and anxiety and make us more tolerant and generous. It can even, it is claimed, make us feel warmer on cold days. In a way homesickness is the opposite of modern life. In an age of cheap, fast travel and mass immigration, we can easily forget the psychological realities of displacement. We think of ourselves as mobile and global, able to put down roots anywhere in an increasingly homogenized planet. Yet homesickness draws us inexorably back, reminding us that, whether we like it or not, there is a place where we truly belong. 43
Words: Fabiana De Giorgio Images: Stringer/Argentina/Reuters/Corbis
MY FATHER, POLITICAL PRISONER How a young Argentinian artist and activist was imprisoned and brutalised by his countryâ€™s dictatorship
My father never liked small, dark places. For long time I wondered why he preferred to climb a hundred steps instead of taking the lift of the building of our house in Rome. One day he told me about the dark place where he spent many months of his life and suddenly everything became clearer. My father was born in Argentina and came to Italy in 1976, before I was born. In the 1970s, the country was a military dictatorship and my father, an artist and political activist, was jailed for six months, spending his days in a small dark cell in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. This was the era of the so-called “dirty war” against leftist groups of opponents of the regimes who paid horrible consequences. A military junta, headed by General Jorge Videla (pictured opposite) took control of the country in a coup in 1976 ushering in a period of so-called ‘dirty war’ during which, according to human rights organisations, around 30,000 people were jailed, tortured and killed. The real figures remain unclear because people just suddenly disappeared (known as “los desaparecidos”) because they were kidnapped by the government and their families didn’t know how to find them. Some were armed rebels but most, like my father, were young intellectuals who understood the importance of freedom of expression and didn’t want to give that up. The repression didn’t involve only the armed groups of rebels but also people who were considered “dangerous” because they were expressing opinions or discussing subjects considered subversive - such as psychology, religion and politics. My father was never involved in the armed struggle and he never took part in the armed groups against the government such as the ‘The People Revolutionary Army’ (ERP) and the ‘Peronist Montoneros’. My father remembers the period of incarceration as the harshest times in his life. He suffered many physical and psychological tortures because they thought he had information about the groups of insurgents. It was 5 o’clock in the morning when my father, who was just 20 years old, heard the doorbell from his bedroom. My grandfather opened the door and four plain-clothes policemen told him that they wanted to have a word with his son. In the meantime my grandmother and my aunt woke up and went to the door to see what was happening. My father was the last one to go down the stairs and he saw all of his terrified family looking at him. When the policemen saw him they took him and they told him that he had to come with them to the central police station. At that time the Argentinian police were feared for their corruption and violence. He saw from the police car his mother and sister crying desperately and his father shouting at the policemen: “You don’t have any right to take him away! He hasn’t done anything!” At that point even though my father knew that he was innocent he felt as if he was dying inside because the last thing he wanted was to cause such a huge pain to his family. During the journey in the car he looked at his cuffed wrists and wondered what was going to happen to him. Once he arrived at the police station they showed him a photo al-
bum of people that they considered dangerous asking him if he knew them. Leafing through the pages he recognised familiar faces who, like him, took part in cultural events, but he denied knowing any of them. The police threatened him, beat him up and threw him in a little cell, where he stayed for a a week, sharing the space with an alleged killer. Throughout the week they kept on interrogating him at any time of the day and of the night trying to make him speak. After those terrible days they took him to court where he spoke to the judge and he told him his story. My father remembers him as a kind person who in contrast to the police showed some humanity. On the same day he was allowed allowed to see his lawyer who told him that he could expect to spend at least two years in prison. After few hours in court the police took him in a van to Villa Devoto prison in Buenos Aires. Through the van’s small barred window he could see the streets that he knew very well and he felt helpless thinking that he was not longer free to stroll in his city. That was the moment when he really realised that his freedom and his rights were taken away. It was a Friday evening when he first arrived to the prison. One of those evenings in which my father would normally meet with his friends as any 20 year-old guy would do. When the van parked he saw many huge grey buildings and a vast courtyard in the middle. He was surprised by the fact that there was virtually no noise and no-one talking. Before placing him into his cell the guards explained to him all the rules of the prison, one of which was that it was forbidden to speak after nine o’clock at night. But when he sat on his bed and he looked around and he saw many prisoners talking in sign language with each other. He couldn’t sleep that night, apart from the terrible smell and the heat in his cell he felt unsafe and scared. He soon understood that prison was a completely different world with its own rules and hierarchies: those imposed by the jail administration and those created by the prisoners. The only way to survive was to respect both of them and to be smart enough to get along with the right people. For my father who wasn’t familiar at all with that kind of environment was really hard to make friends at the beginning. Luckily, a few days after his arrival they took him to a huge cell with many other inmates and things got better. While he was moving cell he spoke with another prisoner who told him to find his friend Tito who was in the cell that my father was destined for. When he entered the cell all of the inmates stoop up and looked at him in a threatening way. He started to say the name of Tito at aloud and when he finally saw my father he told him that he was friends with the guy he met outside the cell. From that moment he was safe because the ex boxer Tito was very well respected in the prison and no one would ever touch my father knowing of their friendship. My father describes life in prison as very monotonous and depressing but thanks to this experience he understood and appreciated many things that he used to take for granted. Losing his the freedom, independence and any kind of privacy was a feeling that deeply changed his perspective. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he left outside the
barred window of his cell and how lucky he was to have the life he lived. After six months in jail that felt like years, it was a June evening when he heard someone calling his name. They took him to the director’s office and they told him that he was free. He was incredulous and felt an overwhelming happiness that he never forgot. As a tradition of Villa Devoto every probationer had to leave anything that he owned to the other inmates. When he left the prison it was a cold night and he was only wearing tattered clothing but he didn’t even feel the cold. He felt alive again and nothing else mattered. His family wasn’t aware of his release so he asked some passers-by for some change and found a telephone box so that he could call home. Coming back home was even better then he had imagined but he still had to face many of the consequences of going to prison. His imprisonment had been covered by newspapers which portrayed him as a criminal. His legal case wasn’t over and he was still waiting for his verdict. He discovered that the only reason for his release was my grandfather’s persistence in going to see the judge who had always believed that my father was not guilty but would not free him for fear of the police. A year later, he was finally declared innocent and he could finally get his passport. At that point leaving Argentina was the only possible option for him. He was really lucky because many of his peers were killed in secret without even being taken to trial. They just disappeared. Gradually the political situation in Argentina changed. Videla relinquished power in 1981, though the military regime continued. Between 1982 and 1983 the country lost the war against Britain over the Falklands islands. This defeat eroded the support for the military government and contributed to the worsening of the financial crisis that Argentina was already going through. However, the key fact that led to the ultimate decline of the dictatorship was the rise of movements that protested publicly against the disappearance of thousands of Argentinians. This process of democratisation led to the election of president Raúl Alfonsín who began legal proceeedings against the most senior members of the military dictatorship. However, when the dictatorship collapsed its members destroyed all the documents and evidence of their atrocities. Without these many of the guilty individuals received far smaller penalties than their crimes merited. But by then my father had already begun his new life in Italy. He left his country unwillingly especially after having been separated from his family for so long. But he always says that at the time he left his roots and his loved ones, he gained something that is priceless: freedom. The freedom to express himself and his art without worrying about paying any penalties for that. Now after so many years jail is just a distant memory but it remains an experience that deeply influenced him and my family. Personally, I did not realise how much his story affected me until I got older and I understood that listening to other’s people’s stories and helping them to have their voices heard was the path that I wanted to take. 45
Words: Tanviya Sapru Image: Collin Anderson/Flickr.com
How to start a revolution Two young expatriate Libyans used social media to foment and support an uprising in their home country
At the start of 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring, two young Libyans decided to start a revolution. Ayat Mneina, a student in Canada and Omar Amer, a trainee pilot living in Manchester, set up a Facebook page called The Libyan Youth Movement (Shabaab Libya), to support and foment protest against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi that had ruled the country for 42 years. Within weeks, they found themselves at the heart of a violent revolution and civil war that continues to play out in their home country. In the early weeks of 2011, protests were growing inside Libya and the Libyan Youth Movement (LYM) rapidly became a channel for anti-Gaddafi sentiment on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. On 17th of February, there were co-ordinated protests in several Libyan cities and Libyan military and security forces fired at protestors in broad daylight, whilst shutting down the internet so that the outside world knew as little as possible about what was going on. LYM’s aim was to counter the Gaddafi regime’s propaganda efforts and use social media to tell the world what was really happening inside the country. Their information came from relatives, friends, or friends of friends inside the country. As the uprising progressed and spread to eastern parts of the country so did their sources ** They soon became a trusted source for the BBC, Channel 4, CNN and other media outlets. Ayat and Omar did their best to get as much information out as quickly as possible: words, pictures and video. People inside Libya took great risks to tell their stories to the world. Some would bring information to the Egyptian border, where it could be collected and uploaded. Ayat and Omar had to communicate in code with people inside the country. Ayat says that they had to balance the need to get information out with the risk to their sources. “Our outlook was that information was going to empower our people to make the right decisions. We didn’t want to sit on anything, we just 46
nity lack accountability, scrutiny and most of all sincerity. She says: “I mean anyone can look at Libya in 2011 and say these people are armed to the teeth, security is there primary issue and let’s help them address this, and for that to have not taken place in the past four years is really disturbing and there’s a lot of really clear issues that should’ve been addressed but weren’t on part of the Libyan government and on part of the international community”. **
“Young people being politically mobilised on social media can create significant change” wanted to keep the information flowing and that was completely counter to what the regime wanted to do- was to keep everything under wraps and not reveal anything that was going on.” “The language of war” was what Ayat and the other members of LYM found particularly difficult to adapt to. Translating basic information from Arabic to English wasn’t as difficult as translating the various weapons that were used, or describing the injuries or how many casualties they faced. They needed to be as precise as they could before publishing a report. They’d always ask for a name or a general direction of where an event occurred. At times when they weren’t familiar with a particular neighbourhood or area, they’d often turn to one of their parents to seek clarity. She stresses how, “It was the context on where these places were, what it meant, how significant these places were, because sometimes you would have info but it doesn’t mean anything until you put it in the right context”.
Since 2012, they’ve collaborated with the International Political Forum and launched what is known as the ‘Libyan Youth Voices’, which showcase young people’s ideas and opinions. ** Ayat talks about how the nature of the civil society is rapidly transforming, which makes it ‘rather empowering’ for youngsters to manipulate these social media tools. The influence of young people being more politically mobilized and informed, can create significant change, as the Libyan Youth Movement clerly demonstrates. Ayat proudly says, “We took this uprising forward. We had people who took forward and sacrificed everything and it was young people that took the streets.” They would like to create a physical presence for the their network but such a vision can only be fulfilled once Libya is more stabilised. The country continues to face a multitude of issues and Ayat feels that the UN and the international commu-
As a result, the Libyan Youth Movement is looking at ways to improve the lives of Libyans. Ayat says: “LYM is re-strategizing and thinking about where to take this further and we always thought that this was going to change Libya forever and it wasn’t just for us and may even look different in future generations we could maybe set something else up for them that was maybe more democratic and more what we envisioned for ourselves but clearly and obviously that’s not going to happen unless we put in the work that is required and that’s the stage we find ourselves today and we are set on taking another prominent role in this kind of transition.” Ayat describes what it felt like revisiting her country soon after the uprising, and the realisations that came with it. The people were euphoric and thrilled because the regime was gone, but ‘It was kind of this calm before the second storm’. The access to power and wealth took root yet again, causing further instability and chaos. So much so that young activists are currently being exiled or even assassinated. Ayat says the fight for Libya still continues: “I can’t call 2011 a revolution to be honest, This has just been an uprising to remove a regime but no real changes have been implemented and the lives of Libyans haven’t improved in the way that they had wished to seen it. The revolution must continue because something has to replace what was, and that currently is in process.”
Words: Josh de Souza Crook Image: STRIKE! Magazine
Subverting the message How artists and activists are turning the tools of advertising against itself
Towards the end of last year official looking posters began appearing on bus shelters across London. Apparently produced by the Metropolitan Police they announced “We caused the 2011 riots by shooting dead an unarmed civilian and then lying about it. And we got away with it.” Another read, “You’re 28 times more likely to be stopped and searched in London if you don’t have white skin, because we’re still really racist.” A third declared: “We’ve pointlessly targeted cannabis users in Lewisham, while other people legally drink their drugs.” ** The professionally produced posters, which mimicked the Met’s brand identity were, of course, a hoax but one that stands in a long tradition of what is known in arts circles as ‘detournement’ – turning the expression of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself. It is a concept developed in the 1950s and 1960s by the Letterist International, then later by the Situationist International and has been taken up by successive waves of radical campaigners. The group behind the spoof police ads was identified as STRIKE! Magazine, an anarchist publication produced from offices in London’s Fleet Street by a group of young designers and journalists, who have chosen to reman anonymous. The magazine specialises in “politics, philosophy, art, subversion and sedition” and its offices are free to any organisation with a radical stance or desire not to conform with the mainstream and corporate world. Hijacking corporate advertising has become a familiar tactic of radical campaigners, with notable practitioners including Adbusters, Culture Jammers and Occupy. These organisations and publications create sophisticated and subversive messages that mimic and subvert corporate offerings. Adbusters, a Canadian anti-comsumerist organisation has become famous for its ‘subvertisements’ spoofing ad campaigns. So golfer Tiger Woods is pictured with a Nike swoosh smile, the stars on the American flag are
making. Advertising makes people feel insecure and unfulfilled when unable to access the products we’re told to desire.
We caused the 2011 riots by shooting dead an unarmed civilian and then lying about it. And we got away with it. How can it be a lawful killing if he didn’t have a gun? #Duggan
T O TA LLY U NLAW FU L replaced with 50 corporate logos and a droopy Absolut Vodka bottle is pictured above the slogan ‘Absolut impotence’.
“we focus on the surface of the problem when the solution would be to address the root of it.” **
Vermibus, a Berlin artist has been waging war against advertising since moving from Spain almost four years ago. He uses billboards and adverts as templates for his art, transforming them with heavy brush strokes to create images of death and decay. In an interview last year, he said adverts subvert the notion of beauty: “When society only hears a single voice speaking and grant authority to that voice, terrible things can happen.” Vermibus believes we’ve reached the point in history where people have realised that there is too much advertising, but he says,
In Britain a group of street artists working under the name ‘Brandalism’, aims to subvert consumer messages in advertising. According to their website, the UK’s advertising industry pays out £16.1 billion each year to display a message or advert. Brandalism says advertising is not about catering to existing needs, but creating new desires. Not only desires, but insecurity as well, because we cannot desire without feeling that we lack something. Rather than the advert describing a product, we are now the product the advertiser is
The organisation claims the riots of 2011 in which kids from poor backgrounds smashed their way to the products which they are unable to, were a consequence of advertising. The same tactics have been used to subvert messages of hate and bigotry. Last year anti-Islam adverts were displayed all over San Francisco’s buses, the controversial ads, which equate Islam with Nazism, were plastered on the sides of Muni buses. One of the adverts read out, “Islam Jew-hatred: It’s in the Quran. Two-thirds of all US aid goes to Islamic countries. Stop the Hate. End all aid to Islamic countries.” The words are accompanied with a picture of Adolf Hitler with Haj Amin al-Husseini, former Muslim leader in Palestine. A clever street art activist in the city transformed the anti-Islam banners into action-packed messages of love. The artist used images of Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim character, as well as new taglines railing against the messages from the original posters. One of the defaced replies has, “Calling all bigotry. Stop the Hate,” while another reads out, “Stamp out racism. Stop the Hate.” Similar tactics are used online. The MyDavidCameron website allowed users to create spoof versions of an election poster featuring the prime minister, replacingthe original slogan with phrases such as “I love the NHS so much I want to cut it up into little pieces and give it to all my friends.” and “Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.” The site acted as a high-impact website and social media campaign for social and political issues. From an anarchist gesture or artist’s in-joke, the subversion of advertising is developing into a political tool. It would be a strange irony if one day it were to become just another type of advertising. 47
SEEN ON CAMPUS
Which Way Will You Vote?
Students from around the University of the Arts London reveal where they will put their cross
Clockwise from top:
Cecilia, Foundation Art & Photography, London. “I would have loved to vote Green but it is really Labour or Tory at the moment so I think I would have to vote Labour for the general, but for local LibDem or Green.” Jennifer Shaba, BA Animation, London. “The Green party came out the first of a quiz that I did online based on policies so I will probably vote for them. Before that I was thinking to vote for Labour because when I think about political parties I always think about Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem.” Iboneer Bacchus, BA Graphics & Media, London. “My vote will be based mostly on personal reasons because I don’t really know the big changes that they all want to make. Aaron Field, BA Public Relations, Manchester. “I do generally agree when people say your vote matters” Maria Barsukova, BA Public Relations, Edinburgh. “To vote I will have to do a bit of research, I can’t base my vote on what broadcasters say on tv”. Words and pictures: Aurore Kaddachi
EVENTS Image: Peter Kennard
Get Involved! If the election campaign has stimulated you to get engaged with politics, there is no shortage of free and good-value events over the next few weeks.
The Public Prime Minister – until May 14. This show aims to give you an idea of what it might be like to run the country. The photographer Dirk Rees is looking for people to take part in an official ministerial photo shoot which will then become part of a gallery show.
Julian Assange in conversation – 29 May. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will be in discussion with Baroness Beeban Kidron. Since he is currently stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy, Assange will be present on screen rather than in person, but he is certain to have interesting and provocative things to say on surveillance, freedom of speech, the Snowden affair and the Swedish investigation into allegations of rape against him. Tickets £12. Purcell Room, Southbank Centre.
As well as having your photo taken, you will be asked to share the single policy that you would introduce as PM. When the show itself opens, on May 7, visitors to the gallery will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite Public Prime Minister. KK Outlet, Hoxton Square.
The Equality Lecture by Shami Chakrabarti – 22 June. Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty and one of the country’s foremost spokespeople on freedom of speech, delivers the fifth annual British Library Equality Lecture, looking at pressures on freedom in the wake of 9/11. Tickets £10. The British Library.
Peter Kennard Retrospective – 14-30 May. One of Britain’s foremost political artists of the post-war era gets a major retrospective of his work. Kennard’s work over his 50-year career, has engaged with nuclear weapons, war, poverty and political control. He is best known for his photomontages which use juxtaposed images to create unsettling political messages. Imperial War Museum. All of this belongs to you – until July 19. During the election campaign and beyond, the V&A museum will be examining the role of public institutions in contemporary life and what it means to be responsible for a national cultural collection. It takes the form of a specially commissioned series of ‘interventions’ around the museum. These include a phenologial clock which plots the life cycle of plants and pollinating insects, an installation based on surveillance by intelligence power and a series of activities in galleries. V&A, Exhibition Road. Days of hope 1945-2015 – May 9 It’ll cost you a tenner but this post-Election event, offers an evening of comedy, ideas live music and poetry, featuring journalists Paul Mason and Owen Jones, the comedian Josie Long and World War ll veteran Harry Leslie Smith, alongside the musician Maddy Carty and a sound system. Details http://www.philosophyfootball.com/view_item. php?pid=1039 Rich Mix Arts Venue in East London.
General Election - 7 May. On May 7, you get the chance to exercise your democratic right to vote at your local polling station. Beforehand, there will have been hustings and public meetings at which you get the chance to hear candidates speak and ask them questions. A polling station near you (nationwide). 7am-10pm © Peter Kennard, Protect and Survive (1981), Photomontage on paper
Speakers' Corner – every Sunday afternoon. For around 150 years, Speakers' Corner has been a crucible of public debate in the heart of London. Anybody can turn up and talk about anything to a lively (and occasionally hostile) crowd. It attracts a range of orators on religion, politics and social issues. There are fair number of eccentrics but there’s also plenty of stimulating debate and discussion to be heard. Hyde Park Corner.
The Audience – Until July 25. A bit more pricey but certain to be popular is this play, starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Queen Elizabeth ll. Its subject is the weekly meeting that the Queen has held with every Prime Minister since Churchill. The audiences are completely private and their contents are never discussed. The play imagines what might have been said between the Queen and her PMs, from Churchill to Cameron. Apollo Theatre.
Magna Carta: Law Liberty and Legacy - until September 1. Commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, this exhibition looks at the history and meaning of a document that is recognized internationally for its role in establishing the concept of the rule of law. The show includes two original copies of Magna Carta and a handwritten draft of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. British Library.
TEMPLE – 21 May until 25 July. Another play, this time looking at politics from the other end of the telescope, Temple takes as its subject the events of October 2011, when Occupy London set up a protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, causing the cathedral to be closed (something that Hitler never managed to achieve) and leading to a court battle by the City of London to remove the protesters. Donmar Warehouse.
State opening of parliament – May 27. This is one of the great occasions of British public life in which the Queen, in full ceremonial regalia, proceeds in a horsedrawn coach from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament and delivers a speech to the House of Commons and Lords which sets out the new government’s policies. You won’t be able to attend the opening itself but you will be able to view the procession in the streets of the capital. Houses of Parliament. Prime Minister’s Questions – Wednesdays. Whoever runs the country after the election will become the central figure in this weekly political set piece. The PM is questioned by MPs and the Leader of the Opposition. The heated and nois event is often described as a bearpit. It is free to attend and the best way to get in is to write to your MP who will organize a ticket for you. House of Commons. 12 noon, Wednesdays. 49
Words: Nana-Akua Baah Image: Operation Black Vote
Why don’t MPs look like me? Our politics is too old, white and male
As the election approaches, I increasingly ask myself if there is any point in voting. As a young, black woman, I struggle to find a political party to identify with, one that I think will genuinely represent my interests Let’s look at the figures. Britain has a black and minority ethnic population of 10%. However, only 4.3% of 650 MPs are from a minority background - which would be more representative of Britain in 1972. In other words Britain has just 27 BME MPs when, in order to be representative of society there should be 78. The situation for women is equally woeful. Despite making up just over 50 per cent of society, only 148 MPs out of 650 are women. To complete the picture, the average age of MPs is 50. It is clear that there is a large divide between those who vote and those who are actually in power. Is it any wonder that so many people are turned off politics, when we are governed largely by old, white, middle class men? All of us, women, the young, ethnic minorities, want to see ourselves and our needs being acknowledged by the government In a recent survey 64% of minority ethnic young people said they believed that it was important for people of their background to be represented in parliament,. However, when I turn on the television and look at Prime Minister’s Questions, the weekly set piece at which the man who leads the country is supposed to be held to account on behalf of us all, I see a group of mostly white, mostly middle-aged, mostly male politicians shouting, jeering and mocking. If they seem to be behaving like public schoolboys, that may be because a third of them once were, compared with just seven per cent of the population generally. It looks like a club in which everybody knows everybody else and from which I (and, I imagine, millions of other British people) feel completely excluded. This isn’t simply about making up the numbers, it’s about what a truly representative parliament 50
“The House of Commons looks like a private club from which I and millions of other British people feel completely excluded” would do and how its policies might genuinely take account of the wishes and needs of all of us. If women, for example, had more input into parliamentary decisions, maybe sanitary products would already be untaxed and a woman’s right to choose over abortion would not still be so openly challenged in political debate. People who have no experience, and can never have any experience on these matters are in full control of making these big decisions that affect all our lives. Perhaps if there were more young people in the House of Commons, the debate over tuition fees would have looked very different and we would not have seen, for example, example Nick Clegg’s betrayal of students. No wonder so many young people, women and BME groups feel effectively marginalized and conclude that since politicians are the same, it doesn’t particularly matter who you vote for. Since it doesn’t seem like any of them would stand up for us, why bother to vote at all? The issue of political representation is at least beginning to be talked about and during the Election campaign there have been a number of steps taken in order
to encourage more people, whether it be the youth or the black minority ethnic community, to vote. The aim is to encourage minority groups to use their votes to support policies that matter to them. Bite The Ballot, a party-neutral campaigning group that aims to get young people to vote, has created an online app called Verto which aims to help Britain’s 5.6 million potential young voters find the parties and candidates whose political views most match their own. Another is Operation Black Vote, which describes itself as as “the first and only initiative to focus on the democratic Black deficit.” The organization aims to encourage more black and minority ethnic groups to vote, in a way that will force politicians to take account of the BME community’s concerns over inequalities in areas such as education, health and unemployment. There is no doubt that the BME vote could have a big impact on how the General Election turns out this year. Of course, I can definitely appreciate the sentiment of what Operation Black Vote are cam-
paigning to achieve but it feels to me that their campaign is effectively taking us back a few steps by segregating the BME vote from that of the general population. Wouldn’t it be better to campaign for the the needs of the black and minority ethnic communities to be integrated into the mainstream so that they are normalised by the whole of society? Or perhaps their campaigning should focus on creating a parliament that is truly representative of society, by encouraging people from all walks of life to take part in political debate and discussion. I’m not saying that we should get rid of all of of our white, male, middle-aged MPs, but it is really important that politics becomes more inclusive. And I’m not arguing for quotas, for a parliament made up of a specific number of women and minority ethnic candidates just to seem politically correct. What we need is for steps to be taken to encourage more young people, especially girls and those from minority ethnic groups, to become actively involved with politics, to stand for Parliament so that one day, we have a political system which genuinely represents me and millions like me.
“Politics: Blah Blah Blah”, Oswin Tickler. 2015