On Friday, I paid a visit to the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, in east London, to show solidarity with the Focus E15 Mothers, a group of single mums, from Stratford, who were recently kicked out of a hostel where they had been staying, because of budget cuts, and were threatened with being scattered across the UK.
On Open House Weekend (September 20-21), making a great political point while the rich and powerful opened up prestigious properties for a day or two, the mums occupied a small block of flats, in perfectly habitable condition, which had been boarded up for years as part of the Labour-controlled council’s ongoing attempts to empty the Carpenters Estate so that it can be sold to housing developers.
In an article for the Guardian last week, Aditya Chakrabortty succinctly analysed the current situation regarding the Carpenters Estate,” which, he wrote, “was long ago cleared of most of its residents as Newham council tried to flog the land. Except the last deal fell through, leaving around 600 council homes empty. This is in a borough where more than 24,000 households are waiting for somewhere to live, and where, last winter, the shopping precinct was full of rough sleepers.” Read the rest of this entry »
On September 21, 2014, all around the world, hundreds of thousands of people in 166 countries took part in over 2,800 events calling for urgent, coordinated action on climate change. The website for the New York City event — attended by an estimated 300,000 people — described it accurately as the “largest climate march in history.”
The trigger for the coordinated events around the world was the Climate Summit taking place at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, where over 120 world leaders “will try to rally the political will for a new world-wide climate treaty by the end of 2015,” as the Wall Street Journal described it.
I attended the event in London, which involved around 40,000 people, a largely sunny day and a very friendly atmosphere, and took the photos available on Flickr. It was a powerful demonstration of widespread concern about the climate that is an important antidote to the cynical and well-funded climate change denial lobby, and the general indifference of politicians, who sometimes make positive noises about the environment, but are more generally in bed with the polluters — and, in addition, find themselves unable to tell the truth to their electorates: that we urgently need to make the environment a priority, and that doing so has to involve curbing our own destructive appetites.
The People’s Climate March was organised by the campaigning groups Avaaz and 350.org, and the London march also involved The Campaign against Climate Change, Airport Watch, BP or Not BP, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Climate Coalition, Compass, Fire Brigades Union, Fuel Poverty Action, Grandparents for a Safe Earth, Greenpeace UK, One Million Climate Jobs, Operation Noah, Oxfam, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Tearfund, Transport Salaried Staffs Association and WWF-UK.
Note: See the Guardian‘s report on events around the world here, and see here for an interview in the New Yorker with the journalist and environmental activist Bill McKibben, one of the main organisers of the march. Also see the Guardian review of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, and an interview with Klein here.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Some people think that protest is futile, but in Lewisham, in south east London, we know that’s not true. In 2012 and 2013, a grass-roots people’s movement in Lewisham defeated plans by the government — and senior officials in the NHS — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts accumulated by a neighbouring NHS trust. If the plans had gone ahead, the 270,000 people of Lewisham would have had no A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department, and would have had to join 500,000 other people, from two other boroughs, served by one A&E many miles away on a remote heath in Woolwich. In addition, all frontline acute services would have been cut at Lewisham, and, as a result, 90 percent of the Lewisham’s mothers would not have been able to give birth in their home borough.
Although we won a significant victory in Lewisham, the zeal of the government — and of senior NHS managers — for increased privatisation, and for cuts that can only damage the provision of services to those in need continues, and, as with so many facets of the opportunistic “age of austerity” declared by the Tory-led coalition government, mass opposition is in short supply. What we need, at the very least, is regular opportunities to show the government, the banks and the corporations that we are implacably opposed to their corruption and cruelty, and yet we have had only two major protests in the last four years — one in March 2011 (the TUC-led “March for the Alternative“), and another (“A Future That Works“) in October 2012.
In January last year, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign got 25,000 people out on the streets of Lewisham, providing hope and encouragement to campaigners across the country, and on Saturday, thousands of NHS supporters gathered in Red Lion Square in Holborn and marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally that was a culmination of a three-week, 300-mile march by around 30 mums (the “Darlo Mums”) and others from Darlington, who recreated the 1936 Jarrow March, as the People’s March for the NHS. Read the rest of this entry »
On August 16, a group of mums in Darlington, in County Durham, set out on a march to the Houses of Parliament, ending this Saturday, September 6, “to build support for the NHS and to join up with amazing NHS campaigners across the country,” as they note on their website.
Their march, the People’s March for the NHS, was inspired by the Jarrow March in 1936, when, in the Depression, 200 people marched from Jarrow, 30 miles north of Darlington, to London to demand action from the government.
The campaign to save the NHS from the lying, Tory-led coalition government, whose leader, David Cameron, promised before the 2010 election that there would be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, is one that I have been involved in since 2011, when the privatising Health and Social Care Bill was first unveiled. I fought against the passage of the bill in the early months of 2012, and in October 2012 joined the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, which, over the following year, secured unprecedented grass-roots support (see here and here) against government and NHS management plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust. That campaign was ultimately successful, but privatisation continues to invade the NHS, as intended by the government, numerous hospitals face uncertain futures, and further legislation — like the hospital closure clause (Clause 119) of the 2013 Care Bill — have had to be resisted (again, with success). Read the rest of this entry »
On July 16, 2014, I joined campaigners with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign — calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — at Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, for their last Parliamentary vigil before the summer recess. The campaigners have been holding vigils every Wednesday lunchtime throughout the spring and summer, and will resume weekly vigils in September, unless Shaker is released in the meantime. See my photos on Flickr here.
Shaker’s British wife and his four British children live in Battersea, where they lived with Shaker before he was seized after the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan. He had travelled to Afghanistan with his family to provide humanitarian aid, but while his wife and children safely returned to the UK, he was caught by bounty hunters, and was eventually sold to US forces.
Shaker was first cleared for release from Guantánamo under the Bush administration, in 2007, and he was cleared for release again in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners after he took office in 2009. His release has also been requested by successive UK governments since 2007. And yet, although all the other British citizens and residents held in Guantánamo have been freed, he is still imprisoned, perhaps because he is a charismatic and eloquent man, who has always stood up for the prisoners’ rights, and both the US and the UK governments fear what he will say on his release. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday June 19, 2014, supporters of Julian Assange held a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge in London (just behind Harrods), which I attended and photographed.
Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief have been holding vigils almost every day since he walked into the embassy seeking political asylum on June 19, 2012. He feared that he would end up being extradited to the US from Sweden, where he is accused of sexual offences (claims which he denies), and his asylum claim was accepted by the government of Ecuador on August 16, 2012.
WikiLeaks’ work, exposing US crimes through documents released by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning — including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files — has, of course, been enormously influential, and I am pleased to have worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of the classified military files from Guantánamo in April 2011. For further information, see my ongoing project to analyze all the files.
To mark the anniversary, Julian Assange released the following statement (I have added the links at the end): Read the rest of this entry »
29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.
The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.
The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday (May 23), activists around the world held a global day of action — in 39 towns and cities in the US, and six other cities worldwide — calling for the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, and the closure of the prison. The day was set up by my friends in the US-based campaigning group Witness Against Torture, and I was at the London protest, in Trafalgar Square. This was a silent protest organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, and I’m pleased to make my photos available. The protest, in front of the National Gallery, was seen by many people, and enthusiastic volunteers handed out leaflets explaining why it was so important.
The London protest was also noteworthy for the presence of a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, which was an idea of mine, taken up by a supporter who financed the making of it. Shaker continues to be held, despite being cleared for release in 2007, under President Bush, and also under President Obama, and there will be further events calling for his release in the near future, which I’ll be publicising in due course. In the meantime, please sign and share the international petition calling for his release, and read some of my most recent articles about him; specifically, From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Says, “Tell the World the Truth,” as CBS Distorts the Reality of “Life at Gitmo”, Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo and Shaker Aamer’s Statements Regarding His Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo.
The date for the global day of action was chosen because it was exactly a year since President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners, after nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt. Read the rest of this entry »
I was rather pleased that I was out of the country when Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, announced on March 31 that he was approving plans for the development of Convoys Wharf in Deptford, because, in a city overrun with soulless riverside developments, designed almost exclusively for wealthy foreign investors and unaffordable for ordinary Londoners, it is a particularly depressing example, and one that, for me, is close to home, as I live just up the road from Deptford.
The 40-acre riverside site has been vacant since 2000, when it was closed by its last owner, News International, which used it as a dock for importing newsprint, and, since 2002, developers — initially NI itself, and, since 2005, the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, which bought the site off NI — have been trying to gain approval for a Dubai-style high-rise residential development on the site, consisting of 3,500 homes, featuring one 48-storey tower, and two 38-storey towers, far higher than anything else on the shoreline for miles around.
Normally, Chinese businessmen with £1bn to spend on luxury housing on London’s riverfront don’t have to wait for years to have their plans accepted, but the problem with Convoys Wharf is that it was and is a place of great historic importance — the site of the first of King Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyards, which was first developed in 1513 to provide ships for England’s rapidly expanding Royal Navy. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT March 9: Here’s a short video about the “hospital closure clause” the government cynically inserted into the Care Bill to enable solvent successful hospitals near to hospitals in financial trouble to be closed or downgraded without proper consultation. MPs will be voting on Tuesday (March 11), so please act now. Sign and share the petition here if you haven’t already (it has nearly 180,000 signatures). Also, please write to your MP to urge them to vote against Clause 119, and to vote for an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow MP. And finally, if you’re in London, please come to the following protests: Monday March 10, 6-8pm on College Green opposite Parliament, St Stephen’s Entrance, and Tuesday March 11, 11.30am-12.30 on College Green. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, this will be a noisy protest, so bring whistles, saucepans etc.
On February 27, 2014, supporters of the NHS handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by nearly 150,000 people, calling for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw Clause 119 of the Care Bill (colloquially known as the “hospital closure clause”), which, if not withdrawn, will allow the government — and senior NHS managers — to “close viable hospitals without proper consultation.”
The handing in of the petition was followed by a demonstration outside Parliament and a Parliamentary meeting attended by Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, and all are featured in my photos above.
Clause 119 (formerly Clause 118) was cynically tagged onto the Care Bill by the government in autumn after the high court and then the appeals court ruled that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, as part of the proposals for dealing with an indebted neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, were unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
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