To change the world, we must BE the change

The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost;
for none now live who remember it…

The Lord Of The Rings

So…

TRUMP BEATS CLINTON TO TAKE WHITE HOUSE

SOURCE: BBC NEWS WEBSITE, 9/11/16

This happened.

I wish I were more surprised. I didn’t think it would happen, but somehow I’m not shocked beyond comprehension that it did. We are in for a time of great change. That is the only phrase I can come up with right now to describe where we’re headed.

I’m not a fan of Trump. He has proved himself to be a philanderer, a sexual predator, a thin-skinnned narcissist, a compulsive liar, a terrible business man, a racist, a misogynist, a xenophone and a generally nasty piece of work. But, as of January 2017, he’s going to be President of the United States of America.

There’s been a lot of shock on my corner of Facebook. People saying that they don’t live in the world they thought they did, that the world has gone through an immense period of change. That they are beginning to realise how much of an echo chamber they live in. I sympathise, I do. I’ve been there. When the Conservative Party won the 2015 election here. When Brexit won in the Referendum. And now? Now this. President-Elect Donald Trump.

Our echo chamber isn’t going away. The only way that happens, that we break out and start to change things, is if we start speaking out and taking (even a little bit of) action. Even though that’s a scary thing to do.

I’m a teacher. Deep down I believe in education and its power to change the world. I know that there are some people who will not be able to accept the things that they are taught, because their cognitive dissonance is so overwhelming that they will go to massive lengths to avoid having their world view challenged, let alone shattered.

Putting out your view point on the internet, or in the world in general, is a difficult and dangerous thing to do when you come up against people like that. Because they find cognitive dissonance painful and they have no qualms or concerns about lashing out – verbally, emotionally, physically even – to make sure that their pain is averted and those who are opposed to their world view are silenced. At best, it’s exhausting. At worst, with the rise in tactics such as rape threats, doxing and stalking… Well, yeah, it is dangerous.

But the world we are being corralled into is dangerous too.

Dangerous for anyone who isn’t cis-male.
For people of any sexuality other than straight.
For people who are any form of trans*.
For people any religion other than Christianity.
For people of any race other than white.
For anyone who does not identify as a capitalist.
For anyone who questions the role of our armed forces on the world stage.
For anyone who isn’t thin/slim/toned in shape and size.
For anyone who is neuro-atypical.
For anyone who has any sort of disability.
For anyone who is struggling to get an education or find stable paid work.
For anyone who doesn’t meet the current conventional standards of Western beauty.

This world is already dangerous for us. And that’s why we’ve retreated to live in our echo chambers. Perhaps we should call them bunkers. Or vaults. They’re safe. But they’re stifling. And our supplies of jokes and humour won’t hold out forever.

So what can we do?

Well …  there are a lot of things we can do. But it might take a while for them to build up enough combined momentum to effect the change we want to see in the world.
Let’s start making a list. And please …  feel free to add to this in a constructive way.
  • Start blogging. Get your words out. Say what you feel. Keep talking. Get onto Tumblr, get onto WordPress. Words have power. Sara knows it. Emeli knows it. Say what you want to say, and let the words fall out. You’ve got the words to change a nation, and you’re biting your tongue.

 

  • If blogging’s not your thing, how about tweeting? Or just sharing something other than pictures of kittens and your dinner on the internet? Not that they aren’t cute and a nice source of feel good, and I do both from time to time – but maybe mix it up a bit with things that catch your interest and will make people around you think a little wider?

 

  • Start double sourcing what you share. Adopt the journalism standard. Don’t take one person’s or one organisation’s word for anything any more.

 

  • Stop sharing links to the tabloids who thrive on sensationalism and divisive behaviour – both the paper ones (Sun, Star, Express, Mail, etc) and the TV ones (Fox News particularly). If you’re angry with them, and want to call them out, screen shot them. Don’t give them the links, don’t give them the ad revenue.

 

  • Seen a meme that’s bullshit? Seen someone sharing something from a hate group? Is one of your friends list unwittingly promoting an organisation like Britain First? Start debunking them.There are plenty of sites that do the hard work for you. Snopes are one of the best, Hoax-Slayer are worth a look too. Call people out on the things that make you feel twisted up with cringe and sorrow, that you KNOW aren’t the case, that you can see are just manipulative bullshit. We have tried the ‘ignore it and see if it goes away’ approach. I think we can agree that this did not go according to anything even resembling the plan.

 

I’m not saying any of these are perfect. But they make me think and give me significant pause for thought. More welcome. I need to keep learning too.

  • Pick a side and chuck in your effort and, if you have any, your monies. I joined the Labour Party this year, because I have been more impressed with Corbyn than any other politician in the last 20 years, and it was worth my money to keep him up at the podium and on people’s watchlist.There are tonnes of charities, lobby groups, activists, political parties and organisations who are dedicated to changing bits of this world. Some of the less objectionable international ones include:

Our only option left is to be the change we want to see in the world. We were getting somewhere. We were! But we’re backsliding in spectacular fashion as a species and unless we manage to call a halt, we’re going to enter into a modern “dark ages”, where everything which fails to meet with a culturally specified ‘norm’ is hounded, hunted and hung out to die.

So be the change you want to see in your world. I promise to try to be in mine.

I promise to keep trying. Keep blogging. Keep sharing. Keep donating. Keep talking. Keep listening. Keep trying. Keep reading. Keep Changing. I have a long time left to live in this world. I’m not giving up on it yet.

 

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Tory Watch: Theresa May and the Snooper’s Charter

Theresa May is no stranger to playing a leading role in national politics. So today, I’m going to take a look at her background and the first few of her policies and what these mean for the next five years of government policy.

Background

Born in Eastbourne in Sussex, May is the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. She went to a mixture of private, state and grammar schools and was admitted to Oxford University to read Geography, she gained her BA degree in 1977.

May worked in a variety of positions, including for the Bank of England and the Association for Payment Clearing Services, while also serving as a  Councillor for eight years in the London Borough of Merton. She first stood for election (unsuccessfully) in 1992 and was also unsuccessful in the 1994 by-election, before finally being elected in 1997.

Theresa May held a variety of positions in the shadow cabinet while the Conservatives were in Opposition, including being Chairman of the Party (2002-2003):

  • Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment 1999 to 2001
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions 2001 to 2002
  • Shadow Secretary of State for the Family 2004 to 2005
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2005
  • Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2005 to 2009
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women and Equalities 2010 to 2012

In 2010 she was appointed as Home Secretary by David Cameron, shortly after the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition was formed. She still holds this office today.

On the private side of life, Theresa married in 1980 but has no children. She is a practicing Christian who still attends Church of England worship on Sundays.

So why is she important? And what influence will she have on government policy over the next five years?

Current Role: Home Secretary

The Home Office cover a wide range of responsibilities within government. Their official government page lists the following:

The Home Office leads on immigration and passports, drugs policy, crime policy and counter-terrorism and works to ensure visible, responsive and accountable policing in the UK.

Their current policies are as follows:

  • 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy
  • Alcohol sales
  • Animal research and testing
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Crime prevention
  • Cyber security
  • Drug misuse and dependency
  • Immigration and borders
  • Knife, gun and gang crime
  • Policing
  • Reoffending and rehabilitation
  • Transport security
  • Violence against women and girls

The Home Office is huge. Like, really huge. There are 25 different agencies involve in the business that it covers so there is no way that I will be able to cover all of Theresa May’s policies, opinions and statements in one installment of Tory Watch. You could write a dissertation on this and still have a sketchy account. So I want to focus on two things to start with because they are front and centre in the Conservative Government’s current agenda. The Human Rights Act and its impact upon Counter-Terrorism and Crime Prevention, and Cyber-Security.

The Human Rights Act 1998

May has publicly stated that she wants to see the Human Rights Act repealed, so she will be working to support Michael Gove‘s efforts towards this aim.

Why?

Well, the Act has prevented her from taking immediate action on some of the issues which have been front and centre during her tenure in the home office.

The HRA prevents immigrants from being deported for a variety of reasons. Arguments used in court to prevent such deportations include the right to family life, preventing parents from being separated from their children, or the right to life, blocking extraditions to countries where deportees will face the death penalty for alleged or actual crimes, which in some cases include their sexuality. The HRA also enshrines the right to fair trial, meaning that immigrants cannot be deported to countries to stand trial against evidence which has been obtained  using illegal methods such as torture.

May has been openly critical about the HRA, and scathing in her commentary, mentioning one case where an immigrant fought against deportation under his right to family life, including details in his evidence such as the family’s pet cat. May has been criticised by human rights organisations for her misrepresentation of the facts in this case, but comments such as these show her disdain for this piece of legislation. May has struggled to deport terrorists and activists as a result of the HRA, including Abu Hamza. She’s been found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to release detainees as well. She has also had a rough time of things from ISIS members such as Abu Rahin Aziz (who called upon British Muslims to kill May) and has faced criticism over several high profile deportations during her tenure. It’s not hard to see why she has supported calls for the scrapping of the act, there are interpretations of it which must make parts of her job in these areas extremely difficult.

However, the decisions of this magnitude are meant to be difficult, and these rights do have to be protected, for everybody. This is the distasteful side of fair treatment by law – the bad guys have rights too. And just because that gets in the way of us treating them the way we think they should be treated, that’s not a good enough reason to get rid of those rights. Once they are gone, they are gone for everyone.

Cyber-Security and The Snooper’s Charter

“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”

David Cameron, May 2015

May’s current focus in terms of legislation is the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, which includes measures to increase surveillance of the UK populous, requiring ISPs to collect and store significant amounts of data to be made available to government and security services.

This intention has been around for a while, but it is far more likely to go through parliament now without the Liberal Democrats blocking it.

In theory, the Draft Communications Data Bill is bring brought in in order try and combat terrorism.

It’s being proposed in the Queen’s Speech on May 27th. That’s Wednesday. This Wednesday. Wake up and pay attention guys – this is happening right now. 

While that is the stated intent, I for one am not sure I want this government to have access to such a story of data. And here’s why.

The Human Rights Act prevents people from being tried for ‘crimes’ that they committed prior to legislation being passed which makes such acts illegal.

But if the HRA is gone…

And the death penalty is brought back…

And Treason is once more made a capital offence…

And the government get to decide what ‘Treason’ is…

And there is no protection against prosecution for acts which might have been legal when committed but since judged to be illegal by the state…

And our internet providers are stockpiling information about all of us, which has to be handed over on the government’s say so…

I have a big problem with where that scenario could lead. It is all well and good for people to say that surveillance is harmless so long as you obey the law. But when the government simultaneously have control over what is legal, what is classed as ‘illegal’, what punishments apply for ‘illegal acts’ and access to mass amounts of data which record and document our movements and activities online, that line is not so clear cut as you might think.

How long will it be before blogging negative information about the Government becomes a ‘treasonous’ offence..?

The combination of a home secretary who refuses to act upon court orders to release detainees, who wants to get rid of legislation protecting our right to fair trial, right to life and right not to be prosecuted for crimes which were not illegal when committed, who wants to snoop through our internet records and require our ISPs to stockpile data on the government’s behalf… That’s a worrying combination.

But… Feminism! Sisterhood!

But isn’t it good to have a strong woman role model in a position of political influence? 

I am a feminist and I welcome the idea of strong women holding offices of influence and playing an active role in the governing and direction of our country. This does not mean I have to like where their opinions and ideas are pointing us. If anything it’s an argument for MORE women to take on such roles – we need a cacophony of voices, dissenting opinions, a clamor of debate – before someone has the stupidity to assume that one powerful woman speaks for all women. I applaud Theresa May’s guts for getting up and doing the job, but I will not allow her to speak for me without caveat just because we share the same chromosomal pattern.

So what can we do about it?

You can contact the Home Office here:

Home Office
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF

You can keep up to date with the Home Office and their work on social media here:

You can respond to government consultations here

Amnesty International are running a campaign against the Draft Communications Data Bill and other associated legislation, which includes a petition that you can sign:

https://www.dontspyonus.org.uk/amnesty

38 Degrees are still collecting signatures for their petition too:

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/stop-government-snooping#petition

 

 

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Introducing Tory-Watch: 2015 – 2020

It may not have escaped anyone’s notice that I was less than thrilled by the result of the election. But I have been a bit dismayed by the comments by conservative MPs toward the people who did not vote for them, implying that we are ‘sore losers’.

I am not a fan of the Conservative party or their policies. But I am not a sore loser. You see, they seem to have forgotten something, and it’s time we all had a reminder of this:

They work for us now.

All of us.

Not just the people who voted for them.

My fictional political hero, President Bartlet, summed up this idea best in ‘Game On‘: “I’m the President of the United States, not the president of the people who agree with me. And by the way, if the Left has a problem with that, they should vote for somebody else”

The conservative government are our employees – they work for all of the people of Britain. We are now their bosses. We should start acting like it, and they should start remembering it.

I cannot ignore the fact that these guys are going to be running the show and influencing my life, and all of our lives, over the next 5 years and they are proposing some pretty major changes. I am not willing to accept these lying down or submit to what they are suggesting without a fight. This is not the same as being a sore loser. I am not going to spend the next five years complaining that the other guys should have won. That is futile. But, in accepting that the Tories are going to be in charge, I want to remind them, and everyone else, that they work for us. We are not supposed to give up and let them run rough shod over this country. They work for us, and they should remember that. And I will be here, in good media company, to make sure they do not forget.

So what can we do about it?

Well the first step in any war is to know your enemy, or in this case your employees.

So I have begun researching and there will be a series of posts coming up over the weeks and months ahead to share the results of that research with you, and I hope that you will share it further. The name of this series of articles, which will hopefully continue over the next five years until the next election, will be Tory-Watch. A bit like the neighbourhood watch. I want to know what these bastards are up to and make people aware of their plans and intentions.

My first step was to make a list of the promises from the Tory manifesto. All of it. All 80+ pages of statements and promises and intentions. These will be typed up and shared soon. We should be aware of what they promised to do for us, and hold them to account, to make sure they accomplish the good and to voice our protests against the bad.

I have made a list of all of the Tory cabinet members and the key ministers in their departments. Each one will be getting a profile, including a brief history of their voting interests. Some of these are starting to appear on facebook/twitter, but we need to look at all of them. I’ve said it before, but I will keep saying it over and over: these people work for us. We can write to them, contact them and insist that they take into account the views of the entire electorate – not just the people who voted for them.

I will be looking at some of the key issues and summarising points about them, and finding other resources that do the same thing to point people towards. This is not about reinventing the wheel – more about gathering wheels for a super-truck.

As always, Project Shandy remains open for submissions, so if you want to contribute to Tory-Watch, please get in touch and let me know. The details of this call will be added to the ‘call for submissions’  page shortly.

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What is the Human Rights Act?

The newly elected Conservative Government want to repeal the Human Rights Act.

Perhaps we should take a look at which of our rights are protected under that act and see if we can figure out why we shouldn’t be entitled to them, in their eyes.

The Human Rights Act is a long document, not an easy read, but it’s one we should all take a closer look at before we decide whether this is an important issue or not. These are the summaries of what we are entitled to, as human beings who live in the UK, under the Human Rights Act:

* Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. 

It is worth noting that the new Justice Secretary has previously argued for the return of hanging as a justice penalty.

They will be able to pursue this, if they wish, once our right to life is no longer enshrined in law.

The Human Rights Act explicitly abolishes the Death Penalty. Repealing this act would pave the way forward to bringing it back.

What crimes this penalty would apply to have yet to be seen. We might assume that it would only apply to crimes against life, but ‘treason’ was once the worst offence, ranking higher than murder. And who gets to decide what treason is? The government? That’s a worrying thought…

* No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

This prevents the UK government being able to open its own version of Guantanamo Bay. Enough said, really.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

This right gets in the way of the Work Programme. No wonder the Tories want to get rid of that. But it also forms a large part of the legislation which allows for the prosecution of human trafficking.

*  Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.

You have the right to be informed if you are being arrested, to be brought to trial as swiftly as possible, to have assistance during the legal proceedings and to seek compensation if these rights are not observed. This will be gone if the Human Rights Act is repealed.

* Everyone has the right to a fair trial. 

This includes being informed of the accusation in a language which you understand, being allowed to defend yourself or appoint someone to defend you, to be given time to prepare your defense and to cross examine witnesses who speak against you.

* Everyone is protected if they previously took an action which was legal at the time, but classed as illegal now. 

No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. 

This means that if the law changes, you cannot be held accountable for those actions you took if they were legal at the time.

* Everyone has the right to a private and family life. 

This includes protection from monitoring by the state, as well as protecting celebrities from intrusive paparazzi. This is what prevents the government from snooping through your windows and sifting through your emails.

* Everyone has the right to their own thoughts, conscience and belief.

You cannot be arrested for what you think, what you believe or for your practice of religion (provided that practice does not endanger the life or rights of another person). Big Brother might be on the TV, but the Thought Police cannot come and arrest you.

* You have the right to express yourself freely.

Although, the Human Rights Act does stipulate that in the interests of national safety and security some of those expressions may warrant consequences.

* Everyone has the right to assemble and associate.

The act explicitly stipulates that this includes the right to join a Trade Union. It also covers peaceful protests.

* Everyone has the right to marry.

This act does not stipulate the bounds of marriage, it merely states that it is an entitlement (ie it does not specify that you can only marry someone of a different gender).

* Everyone is protected from discrimination.

I’m just going to quote directly from the act on this one:

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

 

* Restrictions on political activity of aliens

…I’m struggling to paraphrase this, so again I am going to quote directly.

Nothing in Articles 10, 11 and 14 shall be regarded as preventing the High Contracting Parties from imposing restrictions on the political activity of aliens.

The Human Rights Act actually allows the government to restrict the political activity of suspected and actual international terrorists. You think that repealing this act is going to make it easier for us to combat these people? Perhaps it is time to think again.

* Prohibition of abuse of rights

Nobody is allowed to take action which will deprive others of these rights. You might think it is in-keeping with your religious beliefs to keep slaves, but that would deprive them of their rights. You can think it, but under the Human Rights Act you can’t actually do it.

* Limitation on use of restrictions on rights

The Human Rights Act can’t be used as an excuse to take action against people for any other reason than those prescribed. For more information, I suggest reading the act itself rather than relying solely on my summaries.

* Everyone is entitled to enjoy their property and possessions peacefully. 

You are entitled to live in your house and enjoy your own belongings.

* Everyone is entitled to an education.

You are entitled to go to school and learn and study for qualifications, regardless of any personal characteristic (class, gender, faith, etc)

* Everyone has the right to hold free elections by secret ballot.

Having read them through, I am at a loss to understand why the Government think we should be stripped of these rights as human beings.

Perhaps that’s the key.

They don’t see us as being human.

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Fear the Fear Mongers

“Before the St. Mary’s crisis, no one would have predicted the outcome of the elections. No one. But after the election, lo and behold, a miracle. Some believed that it was the work of God himself, but it was a pharmaceutical company controlled by certain party members made them all obscenely rich. But the true genius of the plan was the fear. A year later, several extremists are tried, found guilty, and executed while a memorial is built to canonize their victims. Fear became the ultimate tool of this government. And through it our politician was ultimately appointed to the newly created position of High Chancellor. The rest, as they say, is history.”

V For Vendetta

Watching V For Vendetta terrified me, because I could absolutely believe that those events would come to past.

And now we’ve elected UKIP, a party whose sole intention is to isolate us from the rest of Europe, ‘cleanse’ our population of immigrants, remove our entitlement to rights to things such as maternity leave and sick leave and they have no policy for domestic governance in place.

We are being made afraid.

We should be more afraid of the people manipulating our fear.

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