Occupy Democracy: Exposing the weakness of our value system

Matthew Rees from the Centre for Policy Studies has just written an article claiming that the people at the Occupy Democracy site in Parliament square bemoaning the infringement of their civil liberties for having tarpaulins taken off them, are doing civil liberties a disservice by trivialising what he deems are “genuine attacks” on civil liberties, such as the illegal tapping of journalists phones.

Freedom is the freedom

Founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974, it would at this point be easy to comment on the right-wing think tank a apart for its political alignment, but then that would make me no better than them. Instead I would rather concentrate on the crux of the argument about whether one form of infringement on civil liberties is worse than another or if it is all the same? I have heard this referred to previously as the “least worst offence.”

To quote Matthew Rees he states: “Eye-witness accounts of police heavy-handedness have been widely reported in the news this week, and rightly so. A number of arrests have been made so far but many appear to be for relatively minor offences..” but tempers this with another quote later on stating: “The health of true civil liberties in this country is a cause for concern. The introduction of ‘secret trials’ and closed material procedures by the Justice and Security Act 2013, which prohibits the disclosure of ‘sensitive’ legal material to the public and defendant, is undoubtedly a cause for concern. In addition, recently exercised police powers to search the confidential phone records of journalists, the spate of surveillance and anti-terror measures enacted in the last decade, and diminished access to justice are all real threats to civil liberties.

I would agree that the very existence of secret trials, the pressure applied to the Guardian’s Greenwald over the Snowden files and the numerous bills, acts and bylaws passed in parliament over the last 15 years are all gross attempts at curtailing our civil liberties but, crucially, that does not make these any more or less important than the breaches of civil liberties and the right to protest found by the people at the Occupy Democracy camp, or rather the noticeable lack of one. Rees makes reference to the Hong Kong protestors and the claim by journalist Donnachadh McCarthy that we are now less democratic than China, to some extent that much is true with tents pitched on highways, structures and tarpaulin clear and present. Here, in the UK, a simple piece of string attached to a sign and a bag to stop it flying into the road was deemed to be an illegal structure by the private security firm apparently marshalling our MET police officers. Rees describes this as ‘camp rhetoric’ but it could not be further from the truth. It is the same argument and debate. The severity of the perceived scale of injustice is not what counts but the fact that an injustice has occurred in the first instance, this is all that matters. Martin Luther King said that an injustice anywhere was an injustice everywhere, to accept the disproportionate treatment of humans at an occupy democracy protest by police because it is the ‘least worst’ case is unacceptable and is rightly challenged and called out.

At this point I could quote the famous pastor Niemoller’s ‘First They Came‘ poem or another quote from Malcolm X or Martin Luther King about freedom and liberty but think that the most relevant thing to say would be to compare the views expressed by Rees and that of the philosophy of the boiling frog; if you put a frog into boiling water, it jumps straight out. If you put it into a pot of cold water and turn the heat up gradually it will boil alive. That is the reality of the views expressed by Matthews Rees, exposing the weakness of our value system in putting greater value on one set of freedoms over that of others we risk losing them all and why we must challenge it at every turn.

 

http://www.cps.org.uk/blog/q/date/2014/10/23/occupy-london-giving-civil-liberties-a-bad-name/

 

Occupy: The philosophy of we won’t go home

Philosophy of occupy
Noam Chomsky on pressure and protest

“The philosophy of Occupy scares them (the government) the philosophy of we will not go home!” The Artist Taxi Driver at the last nights assembly at Parliament Square where a group of humans have been occupying land in a visceral demonstration of how democracy isn’t working in the UK.

This week we have seen the UK position itself just to the right of China, with its rules, regulations and byelaws that are impeding people’s rights to protest and hold corporate state to account. At Occupy Democracy (now dubbed the #TarpaulinRevolution as police ripped up the groundsheets people were sat on in the rain from under them earlier this week) the private enforcement group of ‘Red Caps’ have even found a bylaw which prevents someone from playing an acoustic guitar which was not the  Live Music Act 2012 and made their feelings known as those playing renditions of hallelujah receiving some hard words being served notices.No acoustic guitars allowed

Police Privatisation

Watching Boris Johnson’s private security firms give orders to the police we pay to protect us was a very sobering site. A piece of string attached to a sign and a bag to stop it blowing away was deemed to be a structure and so the red caps ordered its removal for believing it to be against the law, holding lengthy discussions with the MET Police about removing it. A woman was disturbed by the corporate mouth pieces for looking as though she was sleeping in a position of comfort under a tree, another law broken. One child no older than 3 started kicking a ball which hit a police officer by the fence which has been erected around both Winston Churchill and Parliament Square, I wondered whether there was a bylaw for this too and warned him so as I scooted passed on my way home.

We now live in a county that claims to have great freedoms of speech, expression and beliefs and yet a country with as chequered a history as China for those very things is seemingly more tolerant of the sight of sleeping bags on their streets or a tarpaulin to keep the rain off your head. They have even allowed tents.

Protestors have the luxury of a tent 'structure'
Protestors have the luxury of a tent ‘structure’

The size of the problem can be reflected in the comparative coverage in our news. Every day for the past few weeks the Occupy Hong Kong story has featured countless times online and in print news, yet a demonstration of equal importance in our own backyard has gone mainly unnoticed by our media as the image below shows.  The upside is that there are people there on the ground covering events as they unfold in real-time. There used to be a time when the mainstream media was accessed to verify news on the social media, today it is very much the other way.

Disparity UK
Disparity UK

Each day at Occupy Democracy has had a different theme and a selection of fine speakers, not least Russell Brand and Ken Loach as well as Vivienne Westwood and Caroline Lucas MP to date. If you are passing through the smoke before Sunday you would do worse than to stop by and catch a flavour of what is being discussed; it is peaceful, colourful and educational. Even if you were not planning to head to London, make the exception and catch the final day on Sunday.

You can visit the Occupy Democracy website for daily themes, schedules and updates and if you want to see what Russell Brand had to say about the right to protest you can see him on last nights Newsnight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqsFp0J22Hc

We are here because of the path that lies behind us

Conference season is all but over and the battle lines have been drawn for the run-in to the 2015 General Election. The papers today say too that the election campaign begins, but where are we?

David Cameron made a rousing speech fit for a Nuremberg rally as he followed on from Theresa May, outlining his intentions to dismantle the Human Rights Act, save the NHS and be the ‘trade union’ for hardworking people. This would be funny if it was not so serious and frankly disgusting. This is the man whose party smashed hardworking, trade union families in the 1980’s and who want to all but revoke a workers right to withdraw their labour and raise the threshold for ballots so high, that neither Boris Johnson, nor the Coalition government would have taken office with the same stipulations. This is the man who has seen thousands of people die after their benefits were cut by the cut throat, unqualified and inept assassins at ATOS and has overseen a cost in living crisis leaving 1 in 4 families described as ‘working poor’, over 1 million children in poverty and the resurgence of Victorian diseases such as rickets. It is quite literally banquets for the rich and food banks for the poor.

I think he meant what he said when he said we were the people that he and his party resented.

Further to this, the Tory party have continued unabated in the mass sell off of our NHS, built and paid for by us, our parents and grandparents, after first Labour opened the gateway with PFI contracts in their previous disastrous term in office. The NHS is safe in no ones hands but our own. If we leave it to these vultures we will face yearly prices hikes the same as we already do with the rail and energy firms. Families would soon be priced out of basic health care, a fundamental human right for all. Do not be persuaded or convinced that charging immigrants for use of the NHS is anything other than to get us used to the idea of getting our plastic friends out to pay for care. It is a classic tale of divide and rule.

Which brings me to the threat posed to human rights.

Time and again Theresa May, Cameron, Hague, whomever, tell us it is because of the threat posed to us by terrorists, hate preachers and other so-called undesirables that they wish to extradite but by whose definition will be determining the terrorists? In May’s speech she has outlined a vision of such Orwellian proportions, it left many aghast at how it could even be implemented. May’s vision is one of national censorship of extremists who use social media, yet when they have over 9000 domestic extremists on their list, people who make it their civic and moral duty to stand up to police and political corruption, fracking, TTIP, arms fairs, illegal Israeli state expansion, many without a criminal record. You can only begin to imagine just how dangerous things are getting for people who speak truth. The establishment at all levels have a very genuine fear of the social media, it used to be that we saw something on the social media and went to the mainstream news networks to confirm it, now we see something on the mainstream news and take to social media to disprove it. It is instant, live and connects us, for better or worse, in a way that they cannot abide. It is for these reasons that we are seeing clumsy and draconian attempts to break people’s faith in using it, for fear of ending up on the scrap heap or worse, in some form of censorship or detention. In the future only outlaws will be free.

The Sun manifesto Cameron

In the meantime The Sun takes credit for the potential abolishment of our human rights act and generally people don’t even bat an eyelid. A mate said to me yesterday (I am sure he won’t mind) that we could all already do what the Human Rights Act is supposed to guarantee for us long before they existed (such as the right to assembly, marry, practice religion, freedom of speech etc), but were we?

One example could be gay people’s right to marry the person they love, until recently it was still debated only getting as far as civil partnership, only with ‘gay marriage’ coming in the last 12 months. It is called ‘gay marriage’ or ‘same-sex marriage’, rather than as I call it – ‘marriage’, because to many it is still taboo. And they still face serious issues regards access to equal pension rights for their partners in the event something happens to one of them, parity with a ‘normal’ married couple is still beyond the law and that is just one example of how our so-called ‘civilised’ society doesn’t get it right even with a Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a foundation. What chance justice with a watered down bill of rights drafted by this inept bunch because they convinced us terrorists are on every street corner?

Taken from an article featured in The Telegraph, Tory plans will involve some of the following ideas:

  • Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives.
  • They will also be barred from speaking at public events if they represent a threat to “the functioning of democracy”, under the new Extremist Disruption Orders.
  • Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will lay out plans to allow judges to ban people from broadcasting or protesting in certain places, as well as associating with specific people.
  • The plans — to be brought in if the Conservatives win the election in May — are part of a wide-ranging set of rules to strengthen the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Universal…That word, universal, for all, because after two world wars in 30 years they realised the need for something resolute to hold tyranny to account and at bay, if 100 years more global war has taught us anything, is that human rights needs reinforcing, not disbanding. 

Remember nothing was given to us because we deserved it, it was given to us because we fought for it for generations. Ask yourself why they would really want to take something as precious as this away from us? Remember that we are not here because of the path that lies before us, but because of the path that lies behind us. 

‘Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people’ – Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

1984 George Orwell