There isn’t *quite* a poem called sweeping the street by George Herbert, but you don’t have to be religious to grasp the wonderful truth of his idea that you can sweep the street ‘for god’.
Do you remember your personal experience of #metoo? Does it bear some lessons we can use to learn anti-racism?
All the stories
#metoo was a celebrity thing at first, but then it started flowing around social media and those posting their experience, and those reading those posts, began a journey. For me, it was a slow realisation that whilst I’d been ‘pretty lucky’ (a friend pointed out a story that started “apart from the usual groping…”) – although I’d been pretty lucky, I had never realised just what a morass I’d been ‘rising above’.
That morass included quietly accepting the blame for all the shame or confusion I suffered – of digging it quietly in, dodging the consequences of “don’t get yourself into trouble” – but not successfully dodging them – of growing up with a feeling that I ‘handled things badly’, or ‘put myself in the way of harm’.
And then came the #notallmen and the #getoverit and the outright aggression from men – and yes, some women – who took any talk of female oppression as an insult to any and every man. We’re seeing all that now in the ‘all lives matter’ responses to BLM.
I still clench my fists and cringe when I remember an incident from decades ago – I cringe, and send up a prayer of thanks to a woman I’ve only met once, the woman who stepped in and saved my then teenage daughter from a situation I’d been completely blind to – blinded by the horrible familiarity of unhealthy male attitudes everywhere I went.
I’m not blind to sexual exploitation any more.
#metoo was an excellent learning experience for women. It helped bring us together, and empower the latest wave of feminism. Despite the scary bits, I don’t regret it for a moment but what I’m thinking about now is how raw, undermined and vulnerable many women felt at the time. To participate, you had to speak your pain. To really spread the word, you had to speak your pain in public, on social media, in all the places that would invite the backlash, that would remind you of, and put you in the sights of, the people who want to hurt you.
#metoo was an excellent learning experience for men. Many men did get together and have enlightening conversations, and discuss what was going wrong, and how to help put it right. Even if it made them feel uncomfortable.
Black Lives Matter
Many of us are engaged now in a very similar exercise – we’re learning what’s missing from our history, and in finding out that “I’m not racist” isn’t enough. We have our ‘L’ plates on, and we’re learning how to do anti-racism. That’s great, but it does mean that we have our attention very much on ourselves – what can we do, what do we need to know, etc etc
Black feelings matter
But this morning I read some messages from black women about the emotional toll black people are currently suffering from all these statements and actions. Of what a slog it is to unburden and analyse a lifetime’s defensive reaction to racism, of how many times they’ve already had to try and explain, of the anxiety caused by the attention on them, and the anticipation of the inevitable backlash…
So – if anything I’ve said here about the experience of #metoo resonates with you, please use it to inform yourself about how black people might be feeling right now. We need to tread carefully, we need to be aware of all the stirrings of lifelong struggles that have common elements, but may be far more intense than we realise for some around us.
We need to be honest, and kind, and humble and do a lot more active listening than maybe we’re accustomed to.
Resources for learning and activism
I haven’t been through all the links yet but this looks useful.
Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says we mustn’t whitewash our history.
In a recent interview conducted by Hastings in Focus, Hart repeatedly used the term ‘whitewash’, apparently to criticise the taking down of offensive statues. This felt really bizarre to me, because listening to political conversations around the place, the term ‘whitewash’ appears to have two almost opposite meanings. One is to cover up the wrong-doings and the shady bits where we’re half-aware of corruption and injustice, the other is to deliberately or unconsciously remove the contributions and experiences of black and ethnic minority people.
Which does she mean? Statues are official markers of how a country, city or organisation sees itself. They mark up the kinds of people citizens are expected to know about and honour. That is why the ritual of pulling down statues is a global, traditional custom to mark a sea-change in a population’s awareness and attitudes.
Perhaps that important piece of information has been ‘whitewashed’ out of our history curriculum. Let’s consider it now.
The people of Bristol have long been campaigning to remove that statue they recently, famously, threw in the river. As per usual, the establishment was slow responding – it’s always easier for those in office to leave something where it is than to make a potentially controversial change, so the people did what people do – they picked up the mood of the moment, and removed the statue themselves. Problem solved.
That wasn’t whitewash as in hiding our history. It led to a week in which vast numbers of people across the country were talking about our history of slave trading.
That wasn’t whitewash as in ‘airbrushing out’ black history. It helped black people start talking about how deeply British glorifying of slave traders has affected their own families, and led to more white people trying to understand those feelings and their still-manifest consequences. It was a fantastic, nationwide history lesson.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen at least three big demos where the Churchill statue in Parliament Square has received the attention of ‘political artists’. Sitting where it does, right opposite the seat of our parliament, it’s the perfect subject for a protesting movement to use to display their message about an unchanging, unresponsive establishment.
That’s not whitewashing as in airbrushing out corruption – it’s done on demos that are highlighting that corruption. And it’s not whitewashing as in ignoring black history – quite the opposite, in most cases.
What Hart was trying to say
“We’ve all got history. We don’t whitewash it,” she reckons if we know our mistakes, “we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Right, let’s learn something
Ms Hart says she was grateful the “march in Hastings was peaceful” she says there was “horrendous violence all over the country” she says the agenda is to combat racism but “all the violence is undermining that message” that the “conversation is not about racial equality, but violence and statues.”
She says “We have a history in this country, we can’t brush it under the carpet, she says “we’ve got to learn from the past.” She says “It’s up to local communities to decide what they want to do with a statue.”
What can we conclude from Hart’s words?
Firstly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what BLM did in Hastings. Yes, it was very peaceful and very well organised. The main event was not a march – was there a march?
Secondly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what happened anywhere in the country. Where was this horrendous violence? There were a few unfortunate incidents in the London demo, the worst of which happened in, and many think were caused by, a reckless police charge. Other than that, the only violence I’m aware of came from a crowd of completely not BLM white blokes who ran rampage in London the next week, for no very clear reason and among other things, tried to goad police into a fight. I conclude Hart is part of a tradition that takes any rumour of violence and seems to vaguely suggest black people were to blame.
Thirdly, when she says “the conversation is not about racial equality, it is about violence and statues”, I realise that she is only talking to the people who have not yet grasped what BLM is about – because it is only those people who insist on talking about violence and statues, rather than about what is happening to black people in our country. so be warned – our MP and her following have not even begun to get the message about BLM. We need to keep that conversation going, and really, deeply learn what people who want to teach anti-racism should be doing in Hastings and Rye.
She is right about one thing. We must not brush our history under the carpet. It is a very racist, sexist and classist history, and we urgently need to sort out the consequences of that.
What Sally-Ann Hart said about child poverty
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
Hastings Black Lives Matter event…
We decided to extend this year’s Earlyworks Press poetry comp because the 2020 lock down caused problems but it is now closed, and judging is in process.
The first prize is £100, the runner up prize £30 and with luck, there’ll be further runner up prizes. We’ll publish the best ones on the website if the authors wish it, and we’ll offer those authors publication in our next print anthology if/when the press is properly in action again – probably early next year.
We’re also offering a selection of poetry books to the shortlisted authors – a copy of comp judge Mandy Pannett’s Wulf Enigma for the top three, and a selection of our anthologies and/or Circaidy Gregory poetry titles for everyone shortlisted.
Our poetry judge
Mandy Pannett lives in West Sussex where she works freelance as a creative writing tutor. She is the author of four poetry collections: Bee Purple and Frost Hollow (Oversteps Books) All the Invisibles (Sentinel Poetry Movement) Jongleur in the Courtyard (Indigo Dreams Press) and Ladders of Glass ( a pamphlet of poems with English and Romanian parallel texts. (Integral Contemporary Literature Press).
She is also the author of two novellas: The Onion Stone (Pewter Rose Press) and the recent publication The Wulf Enigma (Circaidy Gregory Press). A new poetry collection Crossing the Hinge is due to be published in the autumn 2020 by KFS Press.
Mandy worked for several years as poetry editor for Sentinel Literary Quarterly and has also edited anthologies for SPM Publications including ‘Poems for a Liminal Age’ which was published in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières. She has won or been placed in many national competitions and has been the adjudicator for others.
Here are entry details for all the competitions – please share, and spread the word.
All the best,
Hastings and Rye MP does not understand Cities of Sanctuary
In a recent interview, MP Sally-Ann Hart said she could ‘count on one hand’ the number of her constituents who wrote to her in support of accepting refugees in Hastings.
Cornered and anxious?
This comes after Hart wrote an inflammatory letter to Priti Patel, claiming Hastings people felt ‘cornered’ and ‘anxious’ about desperate asylum seekers washing up on the beaches in Pett and Camber. She said she was afraid they were bringing the virus to Hastings.
On her publishing her letter, many Hastings people wrote angrily, directly to her and also on social media, saying that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a City of Sanctuary. I don’t know how many fingers Hart has, but I have just counted the number of people I know personally who wrote to her about the many mistakes in her letter.
Asylum seekers washing up on the beaches do not ‘bring the virus’ to Hastings because they do not come to Hastings. They are picked up – usually immediately, on the beach, by police or immigration officers, and taken to processing centres outside our constituency. They do not have the time or the opportunity to mix with local people so cannot possibly spread the virus. Anyway, Hart also said in that same interview that we should stop being scaredy cats and get out there and ‘live with the virus’.
Asylum seekers seek asylum
It is true that Hastings is, and according to many constituents is proud to be, a City of Sanctuary. That does not mean we take in and house anyone who washes up on the beach. It means our council decides, along with government authorities, how many refugees we can take and when. And those refugees have been through the processing system, they have not just arrived so the virus situation is as irrelevant to what happens in Hastings as is everything else she said about new arrivals.
France is a safe place?
Hart also said no-one should be washing up in the UK because asylum seekers should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. But a very cursory study of what happens to the victims of war and aggressive governments will tell you what is wrong with that idea.
The people who have sought sanctuary all the way across Europe and ended up in camps full of traffickers and pimps, or who have experienced French police setting fire to camps, will tell you what is wrong with that idea.
Sally-Ann, please have a heart, and do some research before you speak.
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about hungry children:
Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says….
Get a job, feed your children
Hart says it’s sad if children are not fed by parents because of choices they’ve made. She says the amount of Universal Credit granted to Hastings is very high and that HBC is very slow getting everyone jobs. She says…
We need to reopen our economy
Hart’s message on coronavirus is that we need to be confident. to get ourselves back out there, live with the virus, be brave and move on. She acknowledges that a large proportion of Hastings’ income is tourism related, that we’ve lost Easter and we’ve lost May Day and we need to get out and earn some money now.
There are two glaring problems with this
- On going child poverty
Even before coronavirus, there were many, many parents in Hastings who, whether working or not, were not getting a decent, reliable income that allowed them to look after their families properly. The fact that they then missed out on the usual ‘big earning’ weekends in the spring has made that worse, and brought more people into the danger zone.
The school summer holidays are almost upon us and there is no way, not with even a Tory-sized ego, a family can make up for three months losses on top of ten years of Tory austerity and be sure to feed their kids properly.
There is no way that Hastings Borough Council, struggling with swingeing losses to government grants over ten years of austerity, can magic up thousands of well-paid jobs overnight to solve these acute and immediate and devastating problems.
Sally-Ann Hart, please understand those families need help NOW.
2. We need to protect our depleted health and social care services
Both services have been run down during the ten years of austerity and, when Hastings people set up those admirable volunteer services to help people not properly compensated by the government to stay home safely, they weren’t doing it because they lacked confidence, they were doing it because they had an eye on the small number of available hospital beds and other services. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t all fall ill at once, and keep within the limits of the Tory-depleted services we have, and to avoid overwhelming our hard-working, under-paid NHS and social care staff.
Sally-Ann Hart, please understand our health and social care services need re-funding NOW.
Sally can wait – we can’t
The landlord won’t wait for the rent. A hungry child can’t wait for economic measures to filter through. Sally-Ann Hart, please understand – Hastings does not lack confidence, but Hastings can’t wait.
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about refugees
Well done, Liz Truss, for implementing some of the vital elements of the 2019 Labour Manifesto.
If today’s leaked document is correct, Truss is proposing to maintain women’s protected spaces under existing sex-based rights; retain the current basis on which individuals can affirm changes in legal gender, and make so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ illegal.
Now, just watch a load of ill-informed people go to war over imagined losses.
A bit of context
We are all being seriously misled by jockeying politicians and a malevolent media. At some level, we understand that the people who need support and redress now are, as ever, oppressed groups including black people, women, LGBT people, the disabled, the stateless, the poor and those denied a decent education.
Establishment in crisis
The coronavirus situation has brought many of those issues to a head, especially in the United States and the UK – it has also shown up the helplessness of either Trump’s people or Johnson’s people in the face of a real problem that needs managing. My, how the politicians and the establishment would like to deflect all that into an argument about statues rather than address the more deadly #BLM issues, and how grateful they are for any other available spat, like furthering the pretence that there are large groups of women trying to be nasty to trans people.
Let us be clear, most women wish to preserve sex-based rights and safeguarding for women and girls. Most women defend trans people whenever they come across them having a hard time. Those two ideas are not in conflict. What is in conflict is what constitutes ‘trans rights’.
Stonewall, LGBT Labour and many other well-funded, US-inspired groups have been touting the idea that cancelling sex-based rights (a necessity to make legal self-ID meaningful) is a ‘right’, rather than a ‘demand’, of a group they never actually define – Stonewall, under their favourite banner of ‘acceptance without exception’ include absolutely everyone who might fancy hanging around the girls’ changing rooms as under ‘the trans umbrella’ – thus providing an open door for rapists, abusive husbands, peeping Toms and whoever else. THAT is what you hear women getting angry about.
Ironically, it’s likely that the ‘woke’ left, including some otherwise very good socialists, are now going to set about attacking the Conservatives for protecting women’s rights. Is there any chance at all that they’ll put a significant amount of their energy into supporting this excellent decision by Truss to crack down on gay cures, and help her find a solution to the degradation of sex-based rights, a solution that also leaves room for helping trans people? Somehow, I doubt they’ll do that much thinking or debating before they act.
It’s my opinion that Labour created a conflict for ourselves by committing to both sex-based rights and on-the-spot sex self-ID in the same manifesto, without thinking through how both those things could work. It’d be really great if Labour’s self-avowed progressives would now resist the media-fuelled frenzy, sit down and do that thinking before they start shouting. If they do, I think they’ll realise that Truss’s announcement is largely good and that (as our manifesto also states) we have yet to come up with the best answer for trans people.
If you are one of those who insist there is no conflict between the ideas of sex self-ID and sex-based rights, please consider what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s policy manager when he set about the perfectly normal process of running impact assessments on those policies…
Focus please, socialists!
Defend black people, women, the disabled, the stateless, the poor and anyone else who is being discriminated against. Defend anyone who is attacked – but where ‘rights’ and ‘demands’ conflict, don’t go in with hobnailed lefty boots on; check the law, check the policies, do some consulting and real thinking.
Competition Closing Dates
Virus response, climate crisis, for many of us, financial crisis – and now the new, national awareness of racism and other urgent social issues – these are definitely what they call ‘Interesting Times’. I hope all our authors and associates are getting through okay, and I remind you of the one compensation authors have against any kind of crisis –
May it all come out poetry
– or flash fiction – or stories.
Poets – a call to action
This year’s poetry comp closes in three weeks’ time. Click here for entry details, and get ready to send your poems…
Fiction authors have a little more writing time left…
Don’t forget, we have two categories for the short stories – up to 4000 and up to 8000 words.
It’s not clear whether we’ll be in a position to produce a paper anthology this time around, due to all the consequences of lock-down. If we don’t, the money not spent on the printer will mean more runner-up prizes for the comps.
We’d be grateful for any help spreading the news about our comps and books. It’s simply not been possible to run events or visit bookshops and libraries so far this year so, if you have social media accounts, or are a member of any online writing groups, please could you retweet/share this blog, and/or pass on this link to the Competitions Newsletter sign-up?
All the best – keep safe, keep well, and do keep writing!
I saw my old school on Derelict in the UK! But the photos didn’t show the thing I really loved about that school, so I went and took some of my own…
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: me and school – we really didn’t get along. I am not nostalgic, I do not dream of the ol’ school days. But I am aware that my secondary school was a far, far pleasanter experience – and in many ways, a better learning environment than that many teenagers have to put up with nowadays.
I went to secondary school in 1972. I was in a bit of a pickle because the changeover from eleven-plus and selective education had happened during the latter half of my junior years and my family managed to compound the confusion by moving house midway through the assessment period from an eleven-plus town to a select-by-school record town (that was a sort of halfway stage before ending selection).
So – Hastings High School (latterly known as Helenswood), and us pretty much the last of the ‘selected by ability’ intake. I got a default place because my Hastings primary school hadn’t had me long enough to do a performance-based assessment, and because my mum made a fuss. I’m not sure which bit did it, but it got done.
So I was at a school with very good facilities, a wide range of subjects to choose from and – this is the thing – superb grounds. The single greatest compensation for all the things I didn’t like about school was the opportunity to just disappear into playgrounds, loll about on lawns or stroll in woods.
I’m writing this now because there was a time when many schools, not just the posh ones, had great outdoor space for break and lunchtime wanderings and sport for those that liked it (I didn’t!). I’m convinced it vastly reduced the stress of bad times at school and I’m furious that so many schools have lost those spaces.
I’m particularly furious about Helenswood, and I want the people who went there in my time and later on to be furious. I have no idea if the building is rescue-able – it was built in the era of flat roofs, which was never a good idea, and buckets-in-corridors was the norm in winter in all the schools I went to – but it’s the grounds I’m furious about, and here’s why.
Like most of the state schools in this country, Helenswood was handed over to an academy trust some years back. In this case, an outfit called ARK so it became ARKHelenswood. They put ARK before the names of all the schools they take over (any conversation about education in Hastings sounds as though it’s being constantly interrupted by chickens).
A second building was constructed a mile or so up the road, and the school run across two sites. My daughter and her friends told me they didn’t like the new building – it was cramped by comparison with the old one, and seemed to be a very efficient stress-building sound-box. It wasn’t sited so well either, fronting right onto a main road intersection opposite the new hospital –
But that academy trust had more problems than bad school design. People started sending their kids out of town to avoid the trust and that, coupled with a projected reduction in population, apparently led the trust to decide they didn’t need the Helenswood building after all.
I am highly suspicious. They didn’t own it for that long, and the population projection didn’t come out of nowhere – why did they take on that school, with its extensive and highly desirable grounds, and set about building another one when a reduction in uptake was on the cards?
I suspect the Helenswood grounds have been stolen from our town, stolen from the next generation of kids, and I think we should start making a lot more fuss about the loss of school grounds. Please tell me what you think. Links to campaign groups and info about the value of school grounds especially appreciated.
What we’re all gradually realising…
We’ve been warned and warned about extremism … meanwhile, whilst asking teachers and nurses to do the downright impossible, and the rest of us to panic over the day’s headlines – maybe Mr Cummings, or the arrival of a few desperate asylum seekers, the government has had a free reign to take our attempt at a constitution to bits, set up any kind of Brexit it likes, and sell off anything we still own, all the while blaguing their way into one of the worst covid-19 scenarios in the world.
Now, we’re angry. Now, we know who the real extremists are, and we’re all running in circles (without leaving home) trying to work out what to do about it. As a popular cartoon yesterday asked, is Laura K covering for Cummings, is Cummings covering for the govt? Is the govt covering for Murdoch? … is there another layer, called ‘the deep state’?
Did Cummings go travelling to further this or that scurrilous political or business plan? Yes, quite likely he did but how many years will it take us to work all that out? I’ve wasted a whole week’s thinking on it and now I’m bored with it.
Was supporting Jeremy Corbyn extremism? Is supporting Boris Johnson extremism? What about supporting XR? Or Julian Assange? Or sex-based rights? What about losing patience with lockdown, or saying there’s no point in sending your kids to school? Is Piers Morgan an extremist? Who cares! What the Cummings story did is push a lot of people over into ‘who cares’ but – would it be extremism to include in that mood not caring about what the media wants us to think?
Maybe real extremism is blaming whoever we’re encouraged to blame, or refusing to work with someone as soon as you find they take a different line to you on party politics, or Brexit, or religion, or one of the other things we’re so good at falling apart over, or maybe it’s spreading the propaganda we read in the less tabloidy papers, or just being noisy and angry because it makes us feel better. Maybe we’d better give all that up right now.
There is another option
If you haven’t already, take some time out to listen to Laura Pidcock and Noam Chomsky.
Or if you prefer a book, get hold of a copy of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. It explains that the government wants a never-ending crisis-scandal-disaster. It wants us running in circles getting angry with people at random. It takes our minds off the real enemy. Come election time, we’ll be back to battling over whether we like the blue cardboard hero or the red cardboard hero, or whether to ignore both if the green one’s in with a chance.
One conclusion from watching the Pidcock/Chomsky interview is that we ought to give ourselves a break from arguing the toss over establishment figures and ballot boxes. Let’s think about our own, local resources. Many towns did remarkably well setting up local covid-19 help schemes. Generally, they are the same people who’ve been running foodbanks and all the rest of it – they did it no thanks to the govt, or what was said on telly.
We ought to do this all the time. Local networks coming together, doing their own thinking, doing local activism on issues that matter to them and choosing their own political education – and then doing more thinking, activism and education. And then more – it’s fun and it’s necessary. And let’s make sure the education we choose shows us the big picture, because we’re not just patiently doing the government’s job for them, but building our own way forward (we can still go and vote too, come the time but we don’t have to work ourselves to death over some party or candidate who wouldn’t walk half a mile for our sake).
The people’s extremes are about dodging the establishment ‘mainstream’, about focusing on localism and internationalism, instead of the Westminster-generated, big name ‘news’ in its blinding spotlight.
Localism and internationalism – there are real human stories to be found at those two extremes. With real humans in mind, we can leap-frog over what the government, the television and the newspapers think we should be worrying about.
Does it work?
Let’s consider the contrast between Pragna Patel’s speech here, where she cheers on a global rising and the gradual coming together of women’s movements…
…and Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein here, where Roy concludes that people just don’t rise up.
Which one do you believe?
Maybe the point is that a massive rising of the people is not necessarily a crowd running down a street. Maybe it’s a tidal wave of new thinking and co-operation that we’re aiming for.
It only takes a few people an hour or so to set up a local action, it only takes a few minutes to set up a pol-ed watch-party – but each time you do it, you’re adding power to the movement – and every time you set one up, ask each of the people who take part to set up another one of their own. And if you remember to take photos, and film speeches, you can get on social media and make each action grow and spread and inspire more people…
The point Roy missed is – The Tipping Point. People don’t rise up, right up until they do. And what brings us to that point is persistent local activism and political education.
Remember the energy and the numbers at the peak of the Corbyn movement? We were nearly there – and although the Corbyn project failed, its gains in the population are not lost. It wasn’t a waste, all that activism and pol ed. We now have many, many more people with experience in taking the initiative and working together – keep going. Keep going until we have enough people, ready enough, willing enough, that the initiative is all ours.
And at the other extreme
One of the things Pidcock and Chomsky mention is a plan for a new international. Pragna Patel wasn’t imagining things when she said women’s action is going global. Lockdown does not change what millions of women have learned in the last few years. Keep your eye on the women and also, keep your eye on Sanders, Varoufakis and others. I hope that conference Chomsky mentions (The Progressive International Conference, in Iceland in September) isn’t really in Iceland – no more jet-set politics please! I hope that really, it’s going to be hosted in Iceland and held online, where it can be seen globally – but whatever.
Localism and internationalism are the healthy extremes, they are the people reaching out, and together, we have the widest reach. Have plenty of international stories in your local activism and pol ed. Find out what the people’s movements are doing in South America, in France, in India, communicate with them, learn from them and then act local – let’s learn planet-sized politics because after all, we have a whole planetful of people who need saving from the real extremists.
Some good sources for pol ed until we can get back to real world films and face to face discussions…
Stories from home and abroad
Socialist pol ed from the Labour Left Alliance
Blogs and podcasts by and about women at FiLiA
… but the choices are endless – just get Googling.