Category Archives: spreading the word

Not Only a Refugee Crisis

Adapted from a blog written by Aphrodite Vati Mariola (hotel proprietor, Lesvos)

It’s about the impact on the island and people of Lesvos of the ‘refugee crisis’. They’ve got it good, compared with those fleeing war zones, but the story of the Lesvos locals still deserves to be heard.

Half a million men, women and children arrived on the island of Lesvos in the last year. By the time they reach my doorstep, these people have survived war and terrorism, exploitation by traffickers, and a perilous journey across the Aegean. No photographs can depict the emotional seesaw experienced each time a boat reaches land.

Expressions of fear and relief on the boat people’s faces as they step onto our rocky shore turn to shame for having ‘burdened’ us, mixed with hope, resolving into gratitude. We give what small practical assistance we can, we offer a few brief moments of humanity. The journey is still long ahead of them. Often, as they leave the shore to continue that journey, we hear “Thank you, thank you. Sorry. Good luck!” We wish them luck too. Often now, as it sinks in that this crisis may have no end, a knot tightens in my stomach as I watch the flow of people arrive and go. I can’t help but wonder, who will need that luck more – them or us?

The majority of people on Lesvos make a living from tourism, farming or fishing. We hear that the refugee crisis has had a positive impact on our economy, because shops and hotels that would usually be closed in the winter now have volunteer and refugee customers. In fact, the businesses flourishing in the crisis – a handful of car rental firms, taxis, restaurants – are clustered into just a few corners of our island. The hoteliers providing rooms to volunteers at cut-price rates this winter won’t be able to sustain themselves for long on those deals, and the refugees are on the conveyor belt to get registered and onto a ferry towards the mainland and northern Europe, so those who do have money aren’t spending it here.

Many local people are questioning whether they will be able to keep their small businesses afloat if the early warning signs of a tourism collapse prove true. Those small businesses support whole families, enable us to eat and put roofs over our heads and maintain a healthy, independent existence. Holiday bookings are down 80% for the coming summer season. Tour operators are cancelling packages to Lesvos, they tell us media coverage of refugee boats and people dying means tourists don’t want to come on holiday here any more. Our island is scrambling to deal with this refugee crisis, the local people are caring and giving and saving lives, but we’re afraid there’s going to be a devastating impact on our own lives.

Our fishing industry has been seriously affected by the migration from Turkey. Fishermen are often unable to lay out their nets, for fear they might capsize the refugees’ dinghies. They worry about how the sea will be affected by this tremendous increase in traffic; about the pollution caused by sunken boats; about the petroleum leaking from the ships and the debris caused by shipwrecks. Mountains of detritus, including tens of thousands of fake ‘life jackets’, have been left on our coastlines. This is not only detrimental to the future of tourism and fishing; it threatens our quality of life, our health, our eco-systems.

My family lives on the north coast of Lesvos. We enjoy gorgeous views of the sea and the Turkish coastline; misty mountains rise above the shimmering Aegean in picture postcard scenes. Our personal lives are dictated by the schedules of Turkish traffickers, by the flimsy, overladen boats they send across six miles of surprisingly capricious sea. We spend countless hours on the beach in front of our hotel, providing clothes, snacks, water, medical aid and transportation. Then we clean up the trail of debris left behind, and then we prepare for the next arrivals. We must always be prepared, lest a life be lost on our watch.

For the last few years we Greeks have been coping with difficult political and economic situations in our country, suffering under austerity measures imposed by richer EU nations, watching our public services suffer while youth unemployment rises. This is the backdrop on which we’ve seen sewn inadequate responses from the Greek government and the EU to a refugee crisis that has left islanders to deal as best we can with a situation none of us have adequate preparation or resources for.

In the void left by government, independent volunteers from around the globe began appearing in our ports and airports towards the end of 2015. These volunteers came with such a variety of skills, languages and expectations that at times we feared the lack of control and co-ordination would lead to carnage. The dedication and compassion of these volunteers has been invaluable to refugees and local people alike, and yet there have been occasions when the volunteer invasion has felt more intrusive than the flow of refugees. Increased traffic, and fast driving on country roads, has put our free range sheep and goats (and our free range children) at risk, affecting farmers and countryfolk far from the sea.

Meanwhile, our fishermen continue to rescue people from death by drowning and our villagers quietly give: digging into their own kid’s closets to offer clothes to the children pulled from the sea (according to UNHCR figures, over 30% of recent arrivals have been children); donating merchandise that went unsold in summer; driving refugees from the coast to transit camps inland. Simultaneously, we try to run our businesses, raise our children, take care of our households and relationships. We’re not here on a month-long stint, we won’t be packing up and leaving once we have completed our ‘mission’; our daily reality has changed, we’re coping with death on an almost daily basis while reeling from the impact of lost livelihoods and fears for the future.

I don’t want to complain – my family has so much compared with those fleeing terror – but I would like the voices of local people to be heard and for our government, and the EU, to do their jobs rather than ignore us. I would like everyone on Lesvos to respect each other – the refugees, volunteers, NGOs, locals, local authorities – and to respect our land, our environment and our humanity. I would like procedures to be established which apply to everyone, aimed at protecting the future, safety and integrity of the refugees, and of the locals who will be left to deal with the aftermath when this crisis dissolves or evolves.

I often think about the people who have passed by our beach and wonder how they have fared on their journeys, whether they have found hope and new homes, and I think about the souls unjustly claimed by the Aegean. I feel we will be failing the new arrivals, our children and ourselves if we cannot find a humane solution to this human migration. Intolerance, power and greed must not win this battle. When I voice a cry for help for local businesses, I worry that greed is what people will hear, when in fact it’s the survival of our communities, of our generous natures, of our compassion that’s at stake.

Many of these fleeing human beings who stop momentarily on my doorstep are leaving behind memories so awful as to be almost unimaginable to us; they never wanted to leave their homes and are now in a state of limbo, without a country, without a safe haven, as the domino effect of borders closing resonates like the clanging of cell doors along the trail. Yes, on Lesvos we are luckier than many, but this crisis affects every community through which the refugees are forced to pass and we are all yearning and hoping for the same things: freedom, peace, education, work, dignity, safety, a home, love.

Unless the causes of this crisis can be solved, I fear a tsunami of human pain will build and sweep our island away, leaving in its wake a trail of economic, psychological, environmental and sociological disarray. Fractures appear when families are torn between self-preservation and generosity, when one village appears to benefit from the crisis while another’s businesses fail, when a neighbour fears that your helping hand will be their downfall.

While governments try to find solutions military and political, on Lesvos we say to the rest of Europe – don’t abandon us. We have an extraordinarily beautiful island with a remarkably long coastline; there’s room here for refugees to pass through, for volunteers to aid our rescue efforts, and for holidaymakers to support our economy while enjoying themselves too. We need everyone to recognise the precariousness of the situation and act accordingly.

A journalist asked me, soon after the attacks in Paris, whether I was afraid I might be helping terrorists. My answer: “If a person with hatred in their hearts steps from one of these boats, the only thing I can do to change their mind is show them kindness.”

If we can find a way to survive through this crisis, we can bring up our next generation as humanitarians rather than racists. If we are given the chance to keep being kind, we can avoid stoking terror.

I invite you to support our island.

A few notes from me:

On days when the weather is wild and few refugees arrive on Lesvos, local people, volunteers and NGO groups are busy cleaning the seas and beaches. Beauty is abundant on the island. You can sunbathe, hike, cycle, marvel at the petrified forest, feast in seaside tavernas, bathe in hot springs, visit the women’s co-operative in Molyvos, explore hill top castles and churches, buy local produce and have a laugh in friendly bars and coffee shops.

Lesvos is a really good place for a holiday.

You could holiday there without seeing anything of the refugee crisis if you chose, especially in the south-west of the island. Or you could combine your relaxation with joining an environmental team to help clean some hidden rocky coves where boat debris has washed ashore, and go home knowing you’ve left the place in better condition than when you arrived. Either way, you’ll have helped the local economy, which means helping local families and communities.

More about Lesvos, the holiday island: The Other Aegean

UNHCR reports and statistics

Paul Mobbs attempts citizen’s arrest of the UK government

Today, at around 3pm, the inimitable Paul Mobbs attempted a citizen’s arrest of four key members of the UK government at 10 Downing Street, for Misconduct in Public Office (in relation to fracking) and after three hours was arrested.

Mobbs was carrying on his person two years’ worth of research that he had meticulously illustrated in a densely rich “Frackogram” infograph. The research contained in this image alone points at serious misconduct in office – and because it was on his person when he was arrested, it will – according to press releases sent out by supporters, on which this account is based –  be admissible in court as evidence. Mobbs wants everyone to share this information, and his Frackogram, as widely as possible… so much so that it can’t be ignored. It could be invaluable for the anti-fracking cause.

Film of Paul’s attempt to arrest government ministers, with explanation why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc1ESFg4fkA

Download the Frackogram:
http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/archive/fracktured_accountability/frackogram_2015-A3.pdf

Read the full story and see the pictures of him getting arrested:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/370275796336658/permalink/920674021296830/

Paul’s research website:
http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/current/extreme_energy.shtml

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Gone Green

I’ve offered to help raise £800 for the Calderdale Green Party.

In this blog, I’ll have a go at explaining why. If you haven’t time to read it all, have a quick peek at the indiegogo site where I’ve summarised the situation… And please, throw a few coins, a couple of quid, or a kindly folded note into the hat.

The first time I was old enough to vote in a General Election was in 1992. I didn’t vote. I wasn’t registered. If you registered to vote, the poll tax collectors knew where you were. Or maybe it was the bailiffs. I wasn’t quite sure, I just knew that everyone who wanted to change the system was defying the poll tax… and most of us weren’t registered and didn’t vote.

Still, I lay half-awake all night, squished next to my boyfriend in his single bed, listening to the radio between half-dreams. We were sure Labour would win. Everyone hated the Tories so much. Maggie Thatcher had snatched children’s milk and trashed the miners and smashed the peace convoy, and the poll tax was the last straw. Thatcher was gone, this John Major just needed a gentle boot and all would be well.

The next day our dreams were shattered. It was a Conservative win. We couldn’t believe it. But then, we hadn’t voted. Almost everyone we knew hadn’t voted. It was our fault!!!

At the next General Election, I was out of the country. I didn’t manage to do a postal vote, but this time the Tories’ time really was up. Hallelujah! Labour won. Everything would be ok now.

I’ll never forgive them for bombing Afghanistan and then, the Iraq war. I shouted at the TV, shouted at them not to do it, not to be so BLOODY STUPID. Not to be so cruel; and didn’t they know it would only make everything worse?

Not everything they did was awful – tax credits were quite helpful – but they let stupid things happen with the economy, dazzled by the mirage of perpetual growth (how bloody stupid?). They were charmed by the corporations and just loved being best mates with America. They privatised things and forgot to look after the planet, and the people.

In 2005 I didn’t vote. I’d given up on politics. No point, no one to vote for. Labour was a soul-destroying disappointment. I may have written None of The Above or scribbled on my ballot in protest. I can’t remember, it was all despondency.

By the last General Election, Labour was so unpopular it began to look as though the Tories might get in. They had to be stopped, but no way was I voting Labour, so what to vote? Green? Everyone said that’d be a wasted vote. Anyway, the Greens were a bit of a joke – sandal-wearing, yogurt-weaving, lentil-eating… They might have some very sound ideas about the environment but they didn’t have foreign or economic policies, did they?

In the end I voted Lib Dem, a friend I trusted told me it was the tactical thing to do, and I hadn’t a better idea.

Hah! Wrong again! Lib Dems shacked up with the Tories, threw away the chance to have a referendum on proportional representation, screwed over the students… and it was my fault!!!

This year, I’m not voting tactically. I’m voting Green. Caroline Lucas’ arrest at the Balcombe anti-fracking camp made me sit up and take notice, then I went to the Vote for Policies website and was impressed. (Check it out – Vote for Policies.)

The Green Party opposes austerity for the masses while the rich just get richer; opposes kamikaze fracking; and cares about the wonderful things that used to belong to and serve us all – like the NHS, the post office, public spaces and the railways.

The Green Party says it will put people and planet before profit. I’ll vote for that, even though I don’t think the current parliamentary system is fit for purpose. What I’d really like is a bloodless revolution; or to build the compassionate, consensual, co-operative world I want in the cracks of this system, until the cracks are so full of life and love and rich compost that they burst open and… Well, that might take a while, so I’ll adopt diversity of tactics.

If the Greens can get enough votes to influence the way things are run for the next five years, that’s something. Now they’ve teamed up with Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, even a few MPs in parliament will give them the chance to make a difference. That’s something that feels achievable, and I can help to make it happen without giving up on the bigger picture and more radical dreams.

Which brings me to indiegogo.

Calderdale’s Green Party needs to raise £800 so that we can put a leaflet through every door in my area.

Without those leaflets, people may not know they have a Green candidate, may not know that the Green Party is proposing real alternatives to five more years of austerity, may not know that the yogurt-weaving stereotype is old hat and Green is the humanitarian future that most of us want.

Please, even if you don’t live in Calderdale, help me out if you can. All the parties have a chance to get their leaflets freeposted but there’s a tight deadline and we need to raise this money really fast. The big parties have rich backers; the Greens seek support from ordinary people. Every pound will help.

Thanks.

indiegogo

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Why is taxpayers’ money being used to fund flooding? | New Internationalist

(published in New Internationalist online, 20.2.14: newint.org/blog/2014/02/20/floods-natural-defence/)

Money’s no object” when it comes to mopping up floods, Cameron proclaimed. It seems that money’s no object when it comes to creating floods, either – especially when it’s public money, falling into the pockets of rich landowners.

Natural England (the government’s environmental advisory body) uses taxpayers’ money to pay large landowners to manage estates in an environmentally sensitive manner. Unfortunately, “environmental stewardship” has, in some cases, meant burning and draining of protected sphagnum-rich bogs, to create heather moorlands ideal for rearing and shooting grouse. This despite ample evidence that burning and draining harms water quality and wildlife, while increasing flood risk.

Recent research has confirmed that healthy blanket bog sucks up water, whereas dry, burnt bog is far less absorbent and increases run-off – meaning that more water rushes downhill into rivers and road drains. Blanket bog is precious for a number of reasons – it’s a globally rare habitat which acts as a biodiverse carbon sink – but right now, flooding is the big story.

In 2012, the funky northern town of Hebden Bridge flooded. This NI blog considered Natural England and millionaire estate owners to be potential culprits. A Brownfield Briefing referred to a “smoking gun” – allegedly being held by the shooting industry. George Monbiot has, in the last week, pointed to land (mis)management being responsible for this winter’s floods in Somerset. It’s becoming apparent that the way we interfere with soil and vegetation affects how much water ends up in our lanes and lounges – it’s not all about weird weather, nor is the uber-demon of climate change solely responsible.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) complained to the European Commission about unlawful land management practices, undertaken in the name of environmental stewardship. Natural England, implicated in this mismanagement, conducted its own Upland Review – and conceded that bog burning was not the best idea; but under pressure from stakeholders operating from a position of power and privilege, NE has struggled to implement best practice in the uplands.

Leeds University’s hydrological research (2012) suggested that deliberate burning of peat blocks the soil’s pores, impeding infiltration of water into the soil. South West Water, working to restore peat bog on Exmoor, discovered that the amount of storm water running off the moorland has reduced by a third compared with pre-restoration run-off. That, researchers from the University of Exeter explained, is the equivalent of104 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water removed from the river system flowing down to major population centres.” In February 2014, Professor Richard Brazier said: “This enhanced water storage could, when replicated […] provide a significant buffer against downstream flooding.” With swathes of the south under water, and the country demanding something be done about flooding, this is exciting stuff.

Now, Natural England has put out adraft guidance document relating to the restoration of peatlands. This document concludes that burning of blanket bog has negative impacts and should be phased out. Hallelujah!

But wait… the Hebden Bridge flood victims are not yet mollified.

We think of Natural England as an ally, not an enemy, and we hope they’re going to help create a safer environment for those of us living in valleys and near flood plains,” said Ban The Burn supporter Penny Eastwood.

Having said that, we think this draft is a bit toothless. It doesn’t convey the URGENCY of restoring our uplands. It doesn’t speak to people with flooded homes, devastated businesses and hiked-up insurance to pay for. We need this bog degradation to be banned, and we need taxpayers’ money to be spent on protecting the public, rather than being squandered on environmentally hazardous practices.”

Are Natural England’s hands tied? Their draft refers to partners with whom they’ll need to work out a process to reduce bog-degrading activities. The language is woolly, the stance not exactly robust. Home owners and taxpayers would like to know exactly when and how payments to ‘stewards’ who harm vital uplands will cease. If our government’s advisory body is stuck between the rock of vested interests and the hard facts of environmental and climate realities, there may yet be work for tenacious grassroots groups to do.

Not in the public interest

I’m partway through writing something about GM (or ‘GM creep’ as I’m calling it) and food security; and I might want to say something about extreme energy. But first, this landed in my inbox this evening – written by Lindis Percy, a grandmother activist, and forwarded to me by my mum; I have an urge to share it.

“This is interesting friends… well it is to me! I was due to answer to bail again at Harrogate police station today but heard yesterday from the custody officer at the police station that ‘no further action’ was going to be taken as it was ‘not in the public interest’ to continue. During the snowy weather in the afternoon of 21 January this year – the day Barack Obama was publicly ‘sworn in’ in Washington for his second term – I was the lone protester at NSA Menwith Hill. I had an upside down US flag with the words ‘NOW THEN….SECOND AND ONLY CHANCE OBAMA’. Nothing was happening at the base… except for 24 hour gathering of intelligence/surveillance/intelligence-led warfare – use of US military Drones – and the crucial connection to US Missile Defense (two space-based infra-red radomes constructed in 1999 etc etc – see Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases [CAAB] website to read about the legal action we took in the High Court in 1999).I had been quietly talking to a Ministry of Defence police officer and the MOD guarding service (‘security’) at the entrance to the base, about why I was there. A car arrived to go into the base, the barrier went up and the driver was waved through – no showing of ID.  I asked the MOD security guard how did he know this person was not up to no good when he entered the base? He replied ‘because I can tell by his face’. I looked him straight in the eyes and asked him if he could tell by my face what I was going to do? Later I felt moved to walk in. No one told me to stop. I quietly walked up the main ‘street’ and stood with the flag in front of a car coming out of the base. The car turned round and went back. I walked about 200 yds into the base before an MOD police van arrived.

I was arrested under section 128 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005, by James Sheehan (PC Ministry of Defence Police) and taken to Harrogate police station. I was not charged, as the decision to charge under this odious section is up to the Attorney General – Dominic Green had six months to decide whether to prosecute or not. Pre-charge bail conditions were imposed. We went to the court the following week to argue that the ‘pre-charge’ bail conditions imposed were impossible and they were changed to enable me to protest at the Tuesday pm weekly demonstration at the gates of NSA Menwith Hill.  I have been on bail for four months until yesterday.

 

So friends… as walking into NSA Menwith Hill is apparently acceptable and it is ‘not in the public interest’ to bring a charge under the SOCPA legislation – perhaps think what you might consider doing? If it’s not ‘in the public interest’ to bring a case against me, wouldn’t that apply to anyone else too?  I think it is very much ‘in the public interest’ to go in and see what they are doing and take a walk in the Yorkshire Dales.”

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Wandsworth Against Cuts & Occupy activists defend Battersea adventure playground

This is a collaborative story worked on with those occupying Battersea Park adventure playground. This playground isn’t just any old playground – watch this 10 min film to find out why. Hopefully the collaboration between locals and Occupy activists will work as well here as it has at Friern Barnet library… and will make Wandsworth council see sense and stop the demolition.

UPDATE 5.30pm Mon 7 Jan:

The defenders of Battersea adventure playground have been told that demolition will begin next Monday. Occupiers are remaining in situ; a small camp (maximum 15 residents) has been set up inside the playground, with supporters visiting during the day.

Within the last hour police appeared to be chaining up the entrances to the playground, stating that anyone who left would not be able to return. This would have cut off Occupiers from toilets and food supplies. Protesters reminded officers that this is a lawful protest and campaigners report that the police then “backed off.”

Police have, however, closed the neighbouring and active young children’s playground, stating that the banners – some of which the children themselves made – would frighten playground users.  The information table set up by Wandsworth Against Cuts is being cited as a hazard.

K, currently at the Occupy camp inside the playground, asks: “Is this Wandsworth council trying to quash popular support? I saw these tactics used in the Goldsmiths’ occupation a couple of years ago.  The university shut the library during an exam period, claiming that we made such a mess the place was unusable – essentially turning people against us.”

It seems that as yet local people are behind the occupation as they want to save the playground and have run out of other ways to convince Wandsworth council to rethink. According to one occupier at the site: “Parents have ignored the chains on the little kids’ play area, lifting their children over to let them play.”

Original Story

Members of the Occupy community and local anti-cuts activists occupied the Battersea Park Adventure Playground on Saturday 5 January, in protest at Wandsworth council’s decision to have a unique children’s facility demolished. The action was taken in support of local groups who have been working to save the playground for months. Bulldozers are due on the site on Monday 7 Jan.

Local resident Michael McCarthy said: “I think it’s terrible. I brought my daughter here today to see for myself what is happening. I think it’s great someone is fighting these cuts. Where are the kids going to go? There is nowhere else.”

Qualified staff at this popular and historic playground have provided a stimulating and safe environment for thousands of children for decades. The playground staff have helped teenagers from the local area, including the large Doddington, Ethelburga and Surrey Lane Estates, to grow up free from gang and drug related pressures. They have organised cultural, social and educational activities which have helped young people develop confidence and independence. The older kids have helped to build the playground, learning useful skills and enjoying a sense of achievement and ownership through doing so.

In recent months staff have been laid off and the playground has been closed, as unsupervised use is considered dangerous. The council’s plan is to extend the adjacent, conventional playground into the adventure play area and convert it to a static, unstaffed facility. This will only be suitable for younger children, supervised by parents. Campaigners report seeing council factsheets showing that the cost of staffing playgrounds in Wandsworth is only £2 per household per year. Those occupying the play area call on Wandsworth council to reverse the decisions to get rid of play staff and to destroy the adventure playground.

Norman MacLean of Wandsworth Against Cuts (WAC) said “Please support this occupation by visiting the playground, bringing food and other supplies and, if possible, by joining us in defending this vital community resource.”

Location: Battersea Park, SouthWest corner near junction of Albert Bridge Road and Prince of Wales Drive. SW11 4SF

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Legal Challenge to UK’s ‘Nature Watchdog’

This is a Ban The Burn update.

Campaigners are asking the European Commission to investigate a potential misuse of European funding by Natural England (NE), the UK’s nature watchdog.

A representative of the Ban The Burn campaign, based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, will travel to Brussels on 10 January to meet officials from the Commission’s Environmental Compliance Unit.

Legal reviews are being requested due to:

  • Natural England’s decision to drop its prosecution of Walshaw Moor Estate (WME). In March this year, Natural England took WME to court because of 43 environmental infringements on its 4000 hectare grouse moor estate above Hebden Bridge. The case was dropped abruptly for reasons that have not been made public.
  • The subsequent £2.5 million “Higher Level Stewardship” agreement between NE and WME. This amounts to £1,000 of public money every working day for the next 10 years, while allowing the continued burning of blanket bog – a European priority habitat. Activities which were previously considered prosecutable are now being subsidised by the tax-payer and European funding.

The legal basis for the campaigners’ challenge is that European funding for nature protection should not be used to subsidise activities likely to degrade an extremely sensitive and valuable habitat.

The EU Birds Directive and EU Habitats Directive are both designed to protect environments such as that at Walshaw Moor. Hebden Bridge was very badly hit by flooding in the summer of 2012 and the agreement between NE and WME fails to recognise the downstream effects of current management practices. In order to minimise flood risk in the town, the upland catchment needs to be managed so that large areas of degraded blanket bog are restored to a healthy state, with a good cover of sphagnum moss to act as a buffer slowing the run-off during heavy rainfall.

Local campaigner Dongria Kondh explained that “On Walshaw Moor, we have seen erosion from unconsented tracks, very extensive drainage and aggressive burning on blanket bog. The increased scale of this activity over the past few years may well have been a contributory factor to the severity of flooding in our town. Instead of being banned, these activities are now being subsidised.”

Dr. Aidan Foley BA, Msc., Phd, FGS, an environmental scientist who has helped the group to compile data for the complaint, added “Sphagnum is particularly vulnerable to fire, so continued burning is widely recognised as detrimental. Such damage to the structure of the soil will prevent this degraded moorland being restored to a healthy state.”

Although Ban The Burn is a locally based campaign, it is not just a local issue. Degraded peatlands turn from being carbon sinks to becoming carbon sources; according to the Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands, damaged UK peatlands currently release almost 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 a year – more than all the households in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds combined.

 

Please share this story widely.

For more information, contact bantheburn2012@gmail.com, or ring Dongria Kondh on 07847 815 926 (if there is no reply, leave a text message and you will  be called back).

A Press Release and photographs will be issued on 10 January following the meeting between Ban The Burn campaigner Dongria Kondh and Jean-François Brakeland, head of Environment Compliance for the European Commission.

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The People’s Library

I helped the folks at the Friern Barnet Occupied Library (aka the People’s Library) write the following press release.

If anyone can help us get word out, the librarians would be delighted 🙂

Even if this library is evicted, the  story could help inspire others to fight back when their local services are cut, when big business takes precedence over local needs and wishes, and when councils forget that their mandate is to serve local people and communities.

ShiftHistoric library

Some fantastic pics of ‘Earth Circus’ at the Occupied Library last night.

Supporters of Friern Barnet People’s Library in Barnet, North London, are to return to court at 09:30 on Monday 17 December as Barnet council seeks possession of the building and the surrounding green land. [1]

“Join us in Barnet and show Barnet council that libraries and communities matter more than profits for big business.

Friern Barnet library closed in April despite the protests of local residents. The sudden closure was seen as part of Barnet council’s plan to outsource public services in the borough, and to profit from the sale of the property.

In September the library was re-opened by the Occupy movement, local people and experienced librarians in protest at the library’s closure and to provide a programme of community events as well as essential library services. 8000 donated books line shelves that were cleared by the council. The ‘People’s Library’ project is a protest and an emergency service; volunteers do not see it as a longterm solution and are united in calling for the re-institution of a publically-funded, professionally-run library at the Friern Barnet site.

Barnet community galvanised
Sinead Burke, a drama teacher resident in Barnet, volunteered to run baby and toddler sessions at the library. She explained “I chose to offer my time to run this as I attended ‘Rhyme Time’ sessions at the library when it was council-run […] I am disgusted that taxpayers will no longer have access to activities for their children in Friern Barnet and commend those who are working so hard to save our library”.

Local architect Maria Persak-Enefer applied to have the Friern Barnet library building recognised for its “significant contribution to the borough’s heritage and character”. On 10 December confirmation was received that the library will be added to the Schedule of Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Interest and the Register of Assets of Community Value. Although these listings will not prevent sale of the building, they may restrict development. [2]

Investment in jobs, alternatives to austerity, and making the shift to renewable energy sources were hot topics at ‘Shift: an economy for the 99%’, a recent event held at the occupied library. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Sara Ayech of Transition Towns joined more than 60 educators, activists and community members to explore constructive resistance to current policies.

Not only libraries
Residents’ groups claim that Barnet council is aggressively pursuing an undemocratic outsourcing programme incongruously dubbed ‘One Barnet’. Citing a “relentless drive for efficiency” [3] as a key principle, this programme will see the privatisation of approximately 70% of Barnet’s public services, a move expected to result in large scale redundancies.
On 6 December a council meeting at Hendon Town Hall, intended to rubber-stamp the handover of ‘back office’ services to Capita, was disrupted by local activists. Protesters succeeded in derailing the meeting and held their own public assembly in the committee room. The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) announced on 11 December that a Judicial Review of the One Barnet programme is being sought. [4]

Not only Barnet
Vicki Morris, of BAPS, encourages grassroots groups everywhere to resist outsourcing and defend public services: “It is time the spotlight was shone on these companies. This situation is being repeated all over the UK, as outsourcing companies line up to take over services. They offer cash-strapped councils promises of savings that often never materialise. Meanwhile, they exploit council employees to turn a profit”.

Unite to defend
Those protesting the sale and development of Friern Barnet library and its surrounding green space have the following clear message for the council:

“Library campaign groups working with the Occupy movement and the local community share a common aim: that Friern Barnet library should be re-opened in the existing building by Barnet council and preserved as a fully funded library and community space with the direct involvement of local people in the decision making process. The occupation of the building is a direct action that has highlighted the massive community support for Friern Barnet library, and has challenged not only its closure but the entire One Barnet programme and the privatisation of our public services in general.”

The group has issued a call-out for support during the court hearing beginning 09:30 on 17 and 18 December at Barnet Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Mary’s Court, Regent’s Park Road, Finchley Central, N3 1BQ.

Contact: friernbarnetcommunitylibrary@gmail.com  ;  07592 231150 / 07722454777 / 07769791387

Librarians revolt!Save the Library

[1] Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Marys Court, Regents Park Road, Finchley Central, London N3 1BQ

[2] http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/10093118.Library_s_listed_status_will_not_prevent_sale/

[3] http://www.barnet.gov.uk/info/920056/one_barnet_transformation_programme/904/one_barnet_transformation_programme

[4] http://www.theoutsourceblog.com/2012/12/barnet-council%E2%80%99s-mega-outsourcing-deal-sparks-judicial-review/

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Diggers, Occupiers, Co-operators, Revolutionaries and a Rogue Council

One Barnet, Two Barnets, Broken Barnet & Barnet Library…

Barnet is in north London. I’ve never been there but I’ve been hearing a lot about it recently.

Initially, Barnet hit the indymedia because the (Tory) council closed the library there in April, despite pleas by local residents. The council’s plan was (and probably still is) to sell it off to developers. People involved in the Occupy movement got wind of this and went along to see if they could help the locals get their library back. In September the library was Occupied and re-opened. Soon 8000 donated books were lining the shelves and the library was restored to its function as a community hub.

The library has been hosting a wide range of events, from music gigs to book launches, French lessons to kids’ comic-making workshops. Some of those involved mounted a campaign to get the library recognised as a ‘Building of Local Architectural or Historic interest’ – their recent success will make it more difficult for developers to demolish the building, which will make buying it a less attractive proposition. Meanwhile, the council has launched a legal battle to enable it to re-close the library. Friern Barnet library supporters, local residents and Occupy activists will be back in court on December 18 for the next round in the legal battle.

[more info and petition to sign: fbpeopleslibrary.co.uk]

Having developed a taste for taking community matters into their own hands, on 6 December Barnet residents and their supporters stormed a council meeting and temporarily occupied Hendon town hall to protest and discuss the council’s decision to privatise local services in the ‘One Barnet’ sell-off programme, which would see services such as planning and environmental health outsourced to Capita plc (alleged tax-avoiding profiteer). The residents succeeding in derailing the hand-over meeting and are seeking a Judicial Review of the sell-off.

Two days after their ‘polite English revolution’ (it was noted that those involved in storming the town hall brandished statements not spears and apologised to the cops for troubling them), Barnet residents were amongst those who responded to UKUncut’s invitation to ‘Target Starbucks‘. Drawing a parallel between tax avoidance and cuts to public services, protestors swarmed into the Barnet branch of Starbucks and turned it into – you guessed it – a library for a day.

[more info at barneteye.blogspot.co.uk ; wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ; occupylondon.org.uk (council meeting), occupylondon.org.uk (Starbucks), occupylondon.org.uk (library), occupynewsnetwork]

Diggers2012 are dug in for Winter Solstice and Christmas…

I visited the Diggers eco-village at Runnymede ten days ago. Alighting from a train at Egham station after dark, armed with a torch and directions copied from the website, I set off up Cooper’s Lane before diving into the woods onto a network of muddy but navigable paths. On my last visit I took the long route via the Magna Carta Memorial, so was a little disoriented as I approached from the opposite direction, but aided by a full moon shining through bare branches I found my way to the camp.

In the four months since I was last there, things have changed a lot.  The wooden-framed, earth-walled longhouse has been extended and further enclosed to shield from the elements a communal kitchen. A geodesic dome approximately 24ft across nestles into trees beyond the longhouse, providing an indoor meeting space. Solar panels (rescued from the St Paul’s Occupy camp) provide enough power for the Diggers to host film nights; a generous donation was recently used to buy a projector and screen, which turns the dome into a rustic cinema complete with cob-walled fireplace. Fresh spring-water was found just uphill from the camp and is now piped down into the village; when I was there Vinnie, a newish resident, was preparing to lag the pipes to prevent them freezing up in the expected cold snap. A hot water shower area with drainage was halfway built – to date, it had only produced tepid water but Vinnie assured me that the technical hitches would soon be overcome.

I slept in the dome and woke to a valley of frosted fields sparkling in winter sunlight. Residents of the eco-village have been busy constructing their own sleeping and living quarters over the last couple of months, each to their own design and timescale. Some are happy to reside in the tents they lived in at the St Paul’s Occupy camp last winter. Others have built yurts, tepees, lean-tos, benders and cabins. There’s a ramshackle treehouse and a few abandoned attempts to build shacks and sheds. What I loved most about the set-up was that almost everything used in the structures is natural or reclaimed material; and every structure is different.

No one seems to know if or when the Diggers will be evicted. I’d like to see them planting a forest garden in the springtime.

Finally; A BOOK REVIEW

The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel by Polyp 

Less a graphic novel, more a heavily-illustrated primer on the subject of co-operation, for grown-ups and kids over about 10. Simple language avoids condescending to the novice co-operator and the design / artwork is varied and attention-grabbing: cartoons, comic strips, photographs, handwritten notes, quotes and posters break up the text. A slim 70 pages, taken up mostly with pictures, but, somehow, packed with masses (and masses) of information. I’m sure I learnt – and possibly even retained – more about history and biology in an hour with this book than I did in a year at school.

Chapters on ‘Yesterday’, ‘Today’, ‘Always’ and ‘Tomorrow’ take readers on an unlikely journey. From the industrial revolution via the Luddites, Peterloo Massacre and Rochdale Pioneers, to the inside of a human cell and a critique of the pronouncements of Darwin and Dawkins… from birds and bees to snake-catchers, football teams and the collapse of the Argentinian economy… culminating in a fictitious trip to Mars in 2044. The Martian adventure is a little tame; for me, true tales of the courage and grit shown by our co-operative ancestors are way more impressive than this final flight of fancy, but kids and space enthusiasts may cheer to see the new-age Rochdale Pioneers make it off-planet.

Educational, not overtly political but subtly revolutionary, this inspiring ‘novel’ jumps off the page and lodges in your brain. It’s a reminder that ordinary people have been fighting powerful elites for a very long time, that some battles have been won, and that if we work together we have the strength to win more, for “altruistic groups beat selfish groups” or, as Polyp puts it, “good guys finish first”.

Author and artist Polyp is a co-operator and political cartoonist. His politics are a mash-up of “Bill Hicks, radical democracy, direct action, the co-operative movement, Karl Popper…”. He lives in Manchester, makes props for protests and is into tactical activism.

The Co-operative Revolution celebrates the 2012 UN Year of the Co-op. It can be read online for free or bought from its publishers New Internationalist (itself a non-profit co-operative) for £5.99.

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The One Man Peace Mission | New Internationalist

On 23 October 2012, a British-Iranian known as ‘Earthian’ sent a cryptic message to his friends: ‘I have set up camp beside the cliffs of Dover. I have given up my British passport. I am on my way to the centre of the earth in Iraq.’

Prior to this, Earthian had spent several months camping in London’s parks. Sometimes he pulled a handcart equipped with tent and solar panel; sometimes he cycled, towing a heavy trailer. Exercise books filled with dense handwritten notes contained his observations, plans and dreams.

Earthian was plotting and testing himself for his mission, a ‘zero-money, zero-carbon walk for peace’, based on the premise that national borders cause unnecessary division and suffering, a resource-based economy should replace our sick monetary version, and that responsibility for the environment is everyone’s business. ‘My main purpose on this journey is to achieve peace in the Middle East,’ he explained from Dover.

It seemed unlikely he would make it as far as France, and yet, little more than a month later, Earthian is in Sulaymaniyeh in Northern Iraq.

Though he describes his journey as a ‘peace walk’, Earthian is pragmatic; he hitch-hikes and uses public transport when possible. He walked approximately 500 kilometres of the 5,000 kilometres from London to Iraq; finding free rides became easier the further east he travelled.

On one occasion an un-requested gift of €100 ($130) enabled him to take a train out of Hungary after he was arrested for carrying no identification (the British Embassy had to provide proof of citizenship to secure his release). At the Turkish border he was stymied by the need for a visa, but swiftly raised €20 ($26) in donations from truck drivers. Few can resist Earthian’s earnest conviction.

Forty years ago, a boy named Kauomarth Valadbagi, from a moderately leftwing family, was growing up in an Iranian village. He studied hard and wanted to go to university, but being a political undesirable – as a young man he actively supported Komalah, a regional Kurdish party – the opportunity was denied him. During the Iran-Iraq war he was called up for military service. Kauomarth was a pacifist and didn’t want to die, so he disappeared, made a new identity for himself, moved around Iran doing casual work and kept his head down. The dream of going to university never went away and, combined with a desire to live freely, compelled Kauomarth to escape across the border into Iraq and then to Turkey. For two years he travelled through Europe, surviving on little, working in the black economy. In 1997 he arrived in Britain, adopted a new name and was granted asylum based on the likelihood of persecution in Iran due to his political beliefs.

He became a British citizen, went to university and worked first as an  engineer, then in IT. He got married and got a mortgage. Then, the global economic crisis hit. ‘I tried to somehow convince myself to carry on, but I couldn’t… I lost my relationship and my house… I decided I’ll never again be part of a system which uses people like modern slaves until we have no energy and become only tools in the system.’

Soul-searching led to the realization that, torn between his Iranian upbringing and British citizenship, neither of which had worked out well, it was time to opt in to something new. Choosing his fourth name, Earthian, he rejected national borders and divisions. The Occupy movement in London gave Earthian a home, like-minded peers and a launch pad for his peace mission; a mission to end suffering and environmental destruction, to change the world one person at a time through discussion and example.

Earthian is currently waiting for a response from the governor of Sulaymaniyeh, having requested permission to set up a prominent camp from which to talk to people about his journey for one month. He intends to visit Gaza, though locals have begged him not to go via Baghdad, as the risk of kidnap is high. He has been interviewed by Gali Kurdistan Television, and a teenager from Faloja named Ali is spreading word about the baffling peace campaigner he found inhabiting a tent beneath the Khasrow Khal bridge.

Kauomarth’s father died some years ago but his mother is alive and lives just four hours from Sulaymaniyeh, in Western Iran. Earthian cannot enter Iran but is hoping someone will bring his mum to visit him and that, courtesy of the governor of Sulaymaniyeh, they can be reunited in an Occupy peace camp in one of the city’s parks.

Find out more at Earthian’s blog.