Monday, 16 January 2012

Meetings on Jan 26th and Feb 22nd

6.00 pm on Thursday, 26 January, 2012
The Eurozone Crisis and the Silence of Social Democracy
Speaker: Jon Bloomfield
Jon is Honorary Research Fellow on European Studies, Birmingham University,
and co-author of Building the Good Society (info on his latest book at )
Venue: Room 101 Broadcasting Place, Humanities Building,
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds Metropolitan University, LS2 3ED

At 6.00 pm on Wednesday 22 February
The Crisis: Alternative Economics
Speaker: Tim Jenkins
Tim is the manager of the Great Transformations Initiatives for the New Economics Foundation
and former policy director Friends of the Earth
Venue: Room 101 Broadcasting Place, Humanities Building,
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds Metropolitan University, LS2 3ED

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Barry Winter talks to Ed Carlisle about Leeds Summat

Summat’s going on in Leeds Jan 11th, 2012 By Barry Winter

Ed Carlisle is a project manager with Leeds-based charity Together for Peace and one of the organisers of the Leeds Summat Gathering which took place in November last year – strapline ‘Get Connected, Be Inspired, Join in Action for Change’. BARRY WINTER interviewed him for the ILP and Leeds Taking Soundings.

Barry: The Leeds Summat Gathering on 26th November attracted over 1,300 participants and included a myriad of activities. I thought it was a great success and would like to congratulate you. What were the highlights for you as the one of the key organisers?

Ed: I think the process of organising what was a fairly complex and challenging event was, in many ways, full of highlights.
We set out to make the gathering as participatory and contributory as possible, to involve diverse people in its development and delivery. That meant our core partners and others co-delivering it with us. Seeing how those efforts and resources flowed together was really positive. It meant the event really did embody, with some integrity, what we were seeking.
Within that, we also managed to organise it on a reasonably low budget primarily by blagging and borrowing equipment and resources. We delivered the first Summat for £12,000 or £13,000, and this one we did for £7,500. So we really were learning from our earlier experience which itself is positive. At no point did I feel that we were pushing against closed doors.
Two things about the event itself. First, it met our expectations in terms of our overarching themes, and probably met our best expectations. We wanted it to be a day that was serious and meaty but also fun and socially warm.
Secondly, we aimed to attract up to 1,300 people which we managed. What was interesting in looking through the list of the 800 or so people who pre-registered online, as well as the 500 who came on the day, was that I knew fewer than 10 per cent of them. It was not only the ‘paid-up activists’ who came, who we already know, people I see every week. It was not just my mates who rocked up. It drew in a whole bunch of new people and it’s partly a mystery just who they all were. So it will be interesting to use the feedback to find out more about them.
From the written evaluations and from people telling us about their experiences, people met and encountered other people. They also felt energised. These are summed up in two of the strap lines for the Gathering: ‘Get Connected’ and ‘Be Inspired’.
The third strap line is the interesting one: ‘Join in Action for Change’. We are going to try tracking and evaluating whether this is taking place. Will what was a fun and successful event lead to enduring change? It’s too early to say.

BW: What were the original ideas behind the Summat initiative? How did it come about and in what ways have these ideas developed?

EC: The story of the Summat goes back to the formation of Together For Peace (T4P) in 2003. T4P was created to arrange a 10-day festival of events across Leeds. Initially it was to encourage people to engage in peace and justice issues but this broadened out to looking at the big issues of our time. And it was very much about using creative means also used in later Summats – film, theatre, food, music and drama.
Because T4P has always been a low budget affair, we did not have the capacity to deliver the festival ourselves. So we sought collaboration with about 30 organisations. People enjoyed the festival, although some of it was a bit shambolic behind the schemes. We also held festivals in 2005 and 2007.
The reason we stopped was that people told us, very legitimately, that, while they liked what we were doing, they did not have the time to attend every day. Instead they looked for parts of the programme that already interested them. This meant we weren’t really enabling a general fusion of different people and ideas.
Some fusions did follow: for example, individual refugees began to volunteer for Oxfam which itself began working with the Catholic diocese. The most meaty and meaningful actions were being undertaken through such collaborations and we wanted to find ways to develop this further.
At the same time, from 2006 onwards, we were particularly inspired by the work of north American writer, John Paul Lederach. He has written some great books, including The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Social Peace. In it he calls for “web weaving”, enabling diverse people to connect and collaborate in their social spaces, be it a community, a city or a nation. This means making those spaces more resilient, more able to deal creatively with difficult things.
So we stopped doing festivals and condensed them into one-day events. These could then be more about enabling people to connect and collaborate and about integration and action.

BW: Is if fair to say that Together for Peace and the events you organised come from faith-based initiatives, and I don’t mean that pejoratively?

EC: Yes and no. The three original founders of T4P, who were amazing activists, were Christians. But as they handed over the organising, it became increasingly apparent that it was not appropriate to make it overly faith-based because it does not resonate with lots of people. We feel slightly misconstrued as an organisation in this respect but it happens less and less.
That does not mean that we don’t do such work. One member of the team who is Christian has been active for many years in facilitating a Jewish-Muslim dialogue and this is now gathering momentum.

BW: What is it that you are hoping people take with them when they leave, given that the day’s activities begin with breakfast at 9am and continue into the evening with social events?

EC: Our strap line ‘Get Connected, Be Inspired & Join in Action for Change’ encapsulates it. We hope people will take away with them a sense of the need for a better connected yet diverse Leeds, a better connected Yorkshire and a better connected north of England. This amounts to having a healthier place where ideas can flow between different interest groups, across different generations, ethnicities and movements.
For the more engaged activists, we wanted them to feel re-energised by participating, because many go through phases of being tired and fed up, feeling that nobody else seems to be bothering. To be in a space with a whole bunch of other people getting involved really helps.
And finally, while there is nothing wrong with talking shops, projects like Summat do need to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Are we just putting on interesting events or can our activities lead to different forms of action? Sometimes these might be short term, like joining an organisation such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace. But others will hopefully encourage medium or long term change engendered by a stronger community spirit.
As someone else put it, we hope to try to raise the temperature around issues of social change, perhaps even by half a degree, so that progressive social movements become possible.

BW: When you talk about seeking change, what is the change you envisage?

EC: As Lederach argues, you can’t force change, you can only develop the potential for change.
There is very much a resonance, or oneness, between personal change and macro-change or structural change. We want to enable people to make micro changes in their lives all the way to engaging in more significant activities and issues.
If they begin to wrestle with the idea that environmental, social, political and economic issues are inter-connected then that’s progress. We want people to almost intuitively start to grasp that sense of what a huge job is needed; to begin to be able to re-imagine our world. It’s fairly big stuff.

BW: When I hear you speak, I hear echoes of what I would call ethical socialism, and what you do at one level helps to prefigure how you achieve your wider ambitions.

EC: But how would you respond to the kind of criticism that says all this touchy-feely stuff is fine but what about fighting the system, opposing the cuts, tackling the hard issues, and not just sitting round feeling good about ourselves?
That question has to be asked. It’s far too easy for us to construct cosy spaces for ourselves, which we all do to a certain extent.
First, the Summat creates space for groups who want to tackle the big issues. We provide platforms for people to run their own workshops or stalls. This gives them the opportunity to engage with a whole bunch of new people. While Summat is designed to be mainstream and to have a broad appeal, we also want to create space for those wider ideas to be heard.
However, that cannot be the whole response. If that’s all we focus on we are hugely disempowering ourselves. We would be accepting the terms of the struggle defined by pre-established centres of power, by the economic and political system as it is.
Valerie Fournier, who talks a lot about social movements, argues that really crucial steps for developing social change are cultivating outrage. We need to be shining a torch on the centres of power and injustice but this has to be accompanied by creative alternatives.
That’s why the BBC reporter, Justin Rowlett, gave a deliberately provocative talk on the green movement, which he says should be a success but is failing. This, he says, is partly because it is too concerned with being negative (“anti-nuclear, anti-GM, anti-capitalist”) instead of offering creative alternatives. Cultural creativity has to be at the heart of social movements.

BW: What plans do you have for the future?

EC: Over the next few months, I want to research the participants’ responses to the Summat. In particular, it will be interesting to see whether we have encouraged any changes, whether individually or organisationally. If not, it will be useful to consider what the barriers to change are.
In this respect, we were particularly heartened by the comments of two of our leading participants, Maurice Glasman and Peter Tatchell, who were both very positive about the day.
We also have to weigh things up, look at whether the outcomes justify the all-consuming effort of putting on such an event. It will probably take us another six months to decide when and whether to hold it again.
If we go for it, then it will probably be during the summer so more of it can be outdoors. I’m intrigued by the idea of a 36-hour Summat, possibly over a summer bank holiday. We tried a little tester in May with a couple of hundred people, and it was good little event. We are also keen to have even stronger partnerships so we can take our messages to wider audiences.

More information from the Summat website: www.summat.orgYou can also download the programme:
More about Together for Peace here.
Information about Paul Lederach’s book, The Moral Imagination, is here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Max Farrar in the news: remember the flames of police racism (1975)

Remember, remember the flames of police racism
Friday 04 November 2011
by Ann Czernik

Professor Max Farrar says that he rarely speaks of the bonfire night riot in 1975.
But it was then he narrowly missed a lengthy jail term when he was tried and acquitted for incitement to riot, affray and assaulting a police officer while the Leeds Chapeltown district descended into disorder.
"They said I led a mob of black youth into an attack on the police," he says. "It was 100 per cent fabrication."
The situation with the Leeds police reflected what was going on nationally, Farrar claims, where anyone perceived as a threat was attacked.
A white, middle-class college lecturer who worked with Chapeltown News, which continually criticised poilice racism and unjust behaviour, he was "a thorn in their flesh and they found this opportunity to teach me a lesson."
Farrar was taking a photo of the bonfire night celebrations when "a kid beside me suddenly stoned this passing car. I had no idea what he was doing. He said: 'It's a copper.' I remember thinking: 'I understand why you're stoning the car'."
Police piled into Chapeltown to make arrests and as a policeman ran past he bashed Farrar in the face.
"Being a completely naive middle-class uppity fool, I went to the next policeman and said: 'I want to make a complaint. I've been assaulted by an officer.' He grabbed me round the neck, banged my head against his panda car doors and took me up to the police station and arrested me for threatening behaviour. Some time later, when they realised who I was - part of the Chapeltown News Group - they said to themselves: 'We'll show this guy who's boss.'"
The prosecution "case" was to read Chapeltown News to Farrar, including everything it said which was "pretty radical and hostile towards the police" and Farrar had to say what he thought about each of these statements.
He stood by the paper's political line on race, class and police oppression. When the jury was asked why he'd been acquitted, the response was: "We thought you were the kind of person who could incite a riot but we didn't believe you did on this occasion."
Chapeltown News reported the experiences of the migrant working-class black communities that had settled in Chapetown, a run-down area of Leeds during the 1960s and 1970s. The paper was produced by a group of academics who wanted to challenge and engage with racism.
Farrar moved into Chapeltown in 1970. "I thought it was very exotic," he explains. "I thought that sociologists were supposed to identify with outsiders."
But he was told he was "just another missionary" and should "fuck off" as soon as possible. "I don't think people realise how deep this enmity or division goes," he says.
Farrar says during the 1970s the "orthodox" left thought that what he and others were doing in Chapeltown was "kind of barmy." But real black politics was not so much black youth being arrested, although that was part of it. It was a response to "the endemic racism in everyday life and every institution."
Farrar remembers when black parents in Chapeltown took their children out on strike because the education their kids was receiving was so inferior. They'd been arguing with the authorities for more than six months about how poor it was. They refused to listen and the parents set up a supplementary school with their own self-organised, self-educative work.
Within a week the authority had agreed to a new head and new programme of work, "so black direct action had more effect on the Leeds education system than anything on the left had ever done," Farrar asserts.
He emphasises the role that representation has in reducing violent urban protest. "Democratic participation for me is the key. It's the fundamental for creating a better, socially just society," he says.
He cites the politically astute and experienced trade unionist George Mudie as the turning point for representation. His union background meant he was genuinely committed to the view that there needs to be a consultation in which the aggrieved get their voices heard.
"I think he began to realise that there was a long history of political organising but the riots were a symptom of the failure of those legitimate modes of protest to be properly listened to," Farrar says.
Mudie set up the Harehill and Chapeltown Liaison Committee and dragged all the relevant council officers to monthly meetings where they would line up in front of anyone who wanted to say their piece.
These were "interesting experiments in democratic responsibility," Farrer says, because it was the first time they had been forced to come, the meetings were minuted and there was a "certain level of accountability."
But Farrar is at pains to point out that social inequality, which affects young people and particularly black youth disproportionately, is still a burning issue today. Unemployment among black 16 to 24-year-olds is 50 per cent, more than double the rate of their white counterparts. Poverty and poor housing is the default condition of black communities.
He considers that it takes years for violent urban protest to gain momentum and says that research into the cause of the riots support this assertion.
In a recent, moving newspaper interview following this year's nationwide riots, an unknown black youth says: "Why were people confronting the police if it was all about thievery? It wasn't all about thievery but there was thievery going on. It was about giving the police a taste of their own medicine."
Today young black men "have no communities, we don't have many businesses, we got nothing in this country. It's not that we're not part of society. It's that we're not part of the same culture that most people are living."
Black people are "big business" in Britain and "we need to build something for ourselves so that we don't need to keep our hands out swinging. We've been working in the UK for a long time driving the buses and stuff like that. We should have something by now."
Why is that so difficult to understand?

For further information about Professor Farrar, visit: