Sunday, 31 January 2021

Catharsis


As days turn over again and  again
The world opens like a book,
We rise from different nations
With similar threats and needs,
There are whispers, there are rumours
The looks of abject  fear and terror,
Some exhausted, mentally broken
Having found it difficult to sleep,
A sea of humanity seeking purpose 
Layers of meaning and understanding,
Carrying a myriad of values, diverse beliefs
The cry speaks in a million of accents,
Of triumphs, and disappointment
Of convictions, of negotiations,
Releasing a variety of reasons and emotion
Dropping a smile here, shedding a tear there,
Giving thanks to workers, fighting for our lives
The torch of humanity illuminating joy cheated eyes,
Everyone of intrinsic value, forgive the Covid deniers
Let hope rain down, to help overcome the barriers, 
In moments of transition  carved with mutability
Facing forwards with unity, find pathways of tranquility,

Saturday, 30 January 2021

SOPHIE - It's Okay to Cry

 

Sad news DJ, avant pop artist , musician, and producer SOPHIE has died following a sudden accident this morning (January 30). 
The news was confirmed by a representative for the artist, who wrote in a statement to Mixmag: 
“It is with profound sadness that I have to inform you that musician and producer SOPHIE passed away this morning around 4am in Athens, where the artist had been living, following a sudden accident.” 
 “At this time respect and privacy for the family is our priority. We would also ask for respect for her fanbase, and to treat the private nature of this news with sensitivity.
The statement continued: “SOPHIE was a pioneer of a new sound, one of the most influential artists in the last decade. Not only for ingenious production and creativity but also for the message and visibility that was achieved. An icon of liberation.”
Labels Transgressive and Future Classic added: “True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch and her peers have been paying tribute on social media, remembering her not just as a talented and innovative artist, but a pioneer for queer and transgender representation in the music industry:the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell. She will always be here with us.” SOPHIE was 34.
Following the news of her unexpected death, SOPHIE’s fans and her peers have been paying tribute on social media, remembering her as a trans icon and  a pioneer for queer and transgender representation in the music industry.
A trailblazing, visionary Sophie Xeon was born and raised in Glasgow,known for her innovative “hyperkinetic” take on pop music, SOPHIE won legions of fans for her surreal production style and sound. After spending the initial part of her career as a DJ and producer, SOPHIE came to prominence after the release of her 2013 single ‘Bipp’ and her 2014 single ‘Lemonade’.
Her debut album Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides was released in 2018 to critical acclaim, ultimately earning a Grammy's nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album. 
Outside of her own solo work, SOPHIE also won praise for her production work with several high profile artists, including Madonna, Charli XCX, Vince Staples, Let’s Eat Grandma, Kim Petras, Flume, Namie Amuro and Itzy.
 Known to be intensely private, Sophie’s identity was shrouded in mystery for the first few years of their career. In 2017, Sophie used her voice and image for the first time on the single “It’s Okay to Cry” and came out as a trans woman in the months following. (Sophie’s representative had previously requested not using pronouns for the musician.)


Speaking to Paper magazine in 2018 about being a trans woman, SOPHIE said that her coming out “means there’s no longer an expectation based on the body you were born into, or how your life should play out and how it should end. Traditional family models and structures of control disappear.
She continued by explaining how control is key when discussing transness, saying “‘Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other and struggling to survive. On this earth, it’s that you can get closer to how you feel your true essence is without the societal pressures of having to fulfil certain traditional roles based on gender.”
A fearless powerful artist, a beautiful spirit who rebelled against the normative society disrupting the cultural zetgeist, her artistry was revolutionary, she introduced new ways music can be represented, tested the boundaries within which electronic music exists, who with honesty and emotional intensity exploded ideas about underground and melding worlds of house, techno, trance, pop and the avant-garde into something brazenly new and undeniable, while helping thousands of people to find who they are. Her influence on pop today as a producer or singer can't be understated. A true pioneer, her legacy will shine on. Rest in Power. Tell people you love them when you can. It's ok to cry 
 

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 : Be the light in the darkness

 

Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day, on the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz Birkenau,the largest Nazi death camp in occupied Poland. where 1.6 million men, women children were killed in the holocaust. Holocaust Memorial Day also commemorates as well as victims of later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Darfur.
The day aims to remind people of the crimes and loss of life and encourage remembrance in a world scarred by genocide  and prevent it ever being forgotten.

Alongside the six million Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, hundreds of thousands of others were targeted by Hitler's regime - including trade unionists, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transpeople, (LGBT) gypsies, disabled people and the mentally ill, and others attacked for their race or simply being different. At Belsen, Chelmno, Revensbrul to name a few more among hundreds where the inhumanity of man to man was endorseded by the Nazi regime.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2021 is Be the light in the darkness. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

Be the light in the darkness is an affirmation and a call to action for everyone marking HMD. This theme asks us to consider different kinds of ‘darkness’, for example, identity-based persecution, misinformation, denial of justice; and different ways of ‘being the light’, for example, resistance, acts of solidarity, rescue and illuminating mistruths.

Increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation in today’s world mean we must remain vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility. Rapid technological developments, a turbulent political climate, and world events beyond our control can leave us feeling helpless and insignificant. The utterly unprecedented times through which we are living currently are showing the very best of which humanity is capable but also - in some of the abuse and conspiracy theories being spread on social media - the much darker side of our world as well.

We can all stand in solidarity. We can choose to be the light in the darkness in a variety of ways and places – at home, in public, and online.

Download a copy of the full theme vision here

Download a copy of the theme vision summary here

Holocaust Memorial Day enables us to remember – for a purpose. It gives us a responsibility to work for a safer, better, future for everyone. Everyone can step up and use their talents to tackle prejudice, discrimination and intolerance wherever we encounter them.

We must remember that genocidal regimes throughout history have deliberately fractured societies by marginalising certain groups, and how these tactics can be challenged by individuals standing together with their neighbours, and speaking out against oppression and all forms of racism and discrimination. The Holocaust is not just a Jewish tragedy, but it is a lesson to all of us of all faiths in all times and a continuing reminder to stand with “others” when their rights and freedoms face attack.

In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. The Holocaust, Nazi Persecution of other groups and each subsequent genocide, was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing with their targeted neighbours.

Let 's not forget  that the Holocaust did not appear out of thin air, it was built on hatred for "the other," politically weaponized by those seeking ever more power. As politicians today say never again, some are walking doen that same path. Today there are still those that are stoking up increasing division in communities across the UK and the world, antisemitism, racism and Islamophobia are on the.rise again. We must oppose attempts to divide us along the lines of race, religion or ethnicity.

Far right and fascist forces are growing. Many of them deny the horrors of the Holocaust. and are whipping up racist scapegoating.Neonazi electoral advances in Europe are linked to anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and anti-semitic violence. The wall by a Jewish cemetery only two miles from Auschwitz was recently desecrated.

Online, despite some deplatforming of sites following the Capitol Hill riots, fascist ideas and organisation remain. The increase in fascist terror and planned terrorism do not operate in a vacuum.

In recent years, Muslims and Roma have faced fascist hate, as new communities are victimised by the far right. As open nazis appallingly revel in the crimes of the Holocaust, we hope to make a small contribution to ensuring that Jews are not left to face nazi evil alone.

 Now more than ever, we need to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of identity-based hostility in our society. Somehow  human beings around the world are capable of so much hate, we should work together to prevent this. Remember those who have resisted, shown bravery and courage. Remember all the victims of the Holocaust. Those who were murdered because of who they were, and reflect on the dark evils of Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism. While you do. please think about those people who are also facing genocide today; The Uighur Muslims in China, The Rohingya in Myanmar and also the Palestinian people too.
 
We should never forget where hatred and bigotry can lead. There can never be anytime for passivity, and we must  stand strong against the dark forces  of intolerance, bigotry, racism and division that create them.When we remember the Holocaust, “never again” must mean exactly that.
 
On Holocaust Memorial Day, Here is a list of some other  places  and people that the world sometimes forgets.

Cambodia,

Darfur,

Siebrenica,

Karabakh, 

Liberia,

Sudan,

Holodonor,

 Armenia, 
                                 
the ethnic cleansing of indigeneous Palestinians,

The Indigeneous Peoples of  America,

Checknya,

Congo,

India

and the genocide of slavery

and on and on and on.

Sadly  there will always be individuals, organisations and regimes who want to exploit differences for their own ends and we must have the courage to speak out  against hatred and intolerance where we see this happening. In a world which is increasingly fractured, where we have some leaders that are more interested in promoting division than harmony, it is vital we remember that there is far more that unites than divides the human race, to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the past, lets strive to work for equality , peace and justice for the whole of mankind. Be the light in the darkness.

First They Came - Pastor Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the Trade Unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left To speak out for me.

Read more about Holocaust Memorial Day

Monday, 25 January 2021

Celebrating The radical Robbie Burns

 

January 25th marks Burns Night, the annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. Burns Night is a great occasion on January 25th when many dinners dedicated to his memory are held all over the world. The ritual of the Burns Supper was started by close friends of Robert Burns a few years after his death and the format remains largely unchanged today, beginning with the chairman of the Supper inviting the assembled company to welcome in the haggis The poem ‘To a Haggis’a paean to the Scottish pudding of seasoned heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, and oatmeal and boiled in an animal’s stomach:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

is recited and the haggis is toasted with a glass of whisky. The evening ends with a rousing rendition of ' Auld Lang Syne,' This year will be a little different as celebrations will be held at home, but despite lockdown the traditions will continue.

Robert Burns is not only Scotland’s best known poet and songwriter but one of the most widely acclaimed literary figures of all time. He is held in very special affection by millions around the world. Admired  as the bard of freedom, liberty and the common good of humankind.

Robert Burns was in rural poverty on 25 January 1759 in the village of Alloway, two miles south of Ayr,the son of a poor tenent farmer, Jacobite in sympathies, who had moved from near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. Burns had a fairly extensive education. He attended several schools and was given lessons from his tutor, John Murdoch, who introduced him to Scots and other literature in the English language.The farm his family worked on would provide enough to scrape through each year provided every family member worked as long and hard as they could. 

Burns’s upbringing was one of hard labour and little leisure. His early teenage poems, written in his own Scots dialect, reflect the life he lived and are concerned only with the people and places he knew, not, as with popular contemporary poets, the triumphs of mythological heroes or the achievements of great classical civilisations. For Burns, poetry was not work, but a way of understanding life and of comprehending the beauties and evils he saw around him. In his life of labour and poetry, Burns came to develop philosophical understandings of the world around him. His poem ‘To a Mouse’ Shows this:

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!

This is of course the most famous example of Burns’s unique poetic understanding of life and humanity. The sympathy he has for the mouse whose house he has turned up while ploughing the field is developed into a reflection on his own lowly position and the now ‘broken union’ between living things. Whilst this poem is undoubtedly famous for its unique handling of Scots, its incredibly important and valuable message of compassion and unity is often ignored.

Burns lived through the time of the French Revolution of 1789. The events of the revolution and the philosophical ideas that had influenced it had an effect all across Europe. All of a sudden it seemed that the entire political establishment of the civilised world was being put into question. Through a development of consciousness, mankind could completely alter the shape of society. Those who benefited from the old regime didn’t stand a chance. For the bourgeoisie, the revolution was a step forward in the establishment of capitalism and the withering away of the powers held by church and nobility. But for the generation of thinkers Burns belonged to, the revolution was a display of the power held by the masses, and an example of how philosophical ideas could manifest themselves in revolutionary action. Unlike the slightly later romantic poets, who praised the revolution from their perspective as classically trained scholars, seeing it in comparison to the great achievements of classical civilisation, Burns instead saw the revolution from the perspective of the oppressed masses. As a poor worker himself, Burns saw poetry not in the efforts of the great lawyers and politicians of the revolution, but in the mass of revolutionary workers, who defended their demands of liberty, equality and fraternity, even after the bourgeoisie established their rule over France. His poem ‘The Tree of Liberty’ reflects the mood the revolution inspired in him:

‘For Freedom, standing by the tree,
Her sons did loudly ca’, man.
She sang a sang o’ liberty,
Which pleased them ane and a’, man.
By her inspired, the new-born race
Soon drew the avenging steel, man;
The hirelings ran——–her foes gied chase,
And banged the despot weel, man.’

 When Burns’ father died in 1784,  worn out and bankrupt after 18 years of hard graft with little reward.As a result he satirised religion and politics that condoned or perpetuated inhumanity in his poetry as he became a rebel against the social order of the day.The women of his life during this time were also the subjects and inspiration of his prose.

On July 31 1786, as thought of emigrating, a volume of his poems was published in Kilmarnock, entitled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.

It became an immediate success, and led to Burns moving to Edinburgh in November 1786.Newly hailed as the Ploughman Poet because his poems complemented the growing literary taste for romanticism and pastoral pleasures, Burns arrived in Edinburgh, where he was welcomed by a circle of wealthy and important friends.

  The aristocrats belittled him though as the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ because they couldn’t come to terms with the fact that one of the poorest and lowest stood intellectually above all the expensively-educated young ladies and gentlemen of Edinburgh. These “parcel of rogues in a nation”, who had already betrayed the Scottish people in 1707 and 1745 (when even Gaelic and tartan were outlawed), had abandoned the lowlands Scottish dialect and wanted Burns to do the same, to turn him into the bard of Scotland-in-Empire.

 In The Cannongate Burns Andrew Noble observes, “Had Burns adhered to the social etiquette of Edinburgh’s genteel society, he probably would have written no poetry worth reading after 1787”. His burning desire for social justice and equality against class exploitation are made explicit in many of his poems. Although he became very successful, Robert never forgot his roots. His poems often reflected his love of farming and the difficulties faced by working-class people.

 He was handsome and managed to combine his wit and wisdom with a down-to-earth attitude, which made him very popular in social circles.His love life was certainly complicated. In 1785, Elizabeth, his daughter by his mother’s servant Betty Paton, was born, shortly before he met Jean Armour. His relationships proliferated. Armour was pregnant with his twins in 1786, while Burns was also still devoted to Mary Campbell. Later he would have a relationship with Agnes McLehose, but turned to her maid Jenny Clow for a more physical relationship. Early in 1786, Burns signed “some sort of Wedlock” with Armour, but her father repudiated him and sent Jean away. They were married in 1788, and the Ainslie letter deals with his return to her from McLehose.

Struggling to make ends meet and trying to forget Jean in “dissipation and riot,” Burns agreed to take a post on a slave plantation in Jamaica. Lack of money and the “feelings of a father” when Jean gave birth led him to postpone and then abandon his emigration. It was at this point that he was encouraged first to publish his poems to finance the trip. This led to him being courted by the Edinburgh literary scene and groomed as a contributor to anthologies of Scottish song and verse like James Johnston’s Scots Musical Museum.

Burns’s association with slavery is problematic for those who do not view him historically, but his poetry attests to an aspiration for freedom globally. The final lines of For a’ that and a’ that are justly celebrated:

For a’ that, and a’ that,
Its comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Burns also wrote movingly of The Slave’s Lament:

The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear,
In the lands of Virginia-ginia O;
And I think on friends most dear with the bitter, bitter tear,
And Alas! I am weary, weary O!

 Burns reached his highpoint in support of the French revolution, not just in fiery words, but in deeds – sending them four cannon as the British bourgeoisie started its anti-Jacobin war (‘Napoleonic’) in support of the reactionary aristocratic regimes of Europe. With widespread starvation and troops sent against food riots in Dumfries, he helped form a branch of the underground ‘Friends of the People’ and teamed up with the working-class London Corresponding Society and the United Irishmen – his poems particularly inspiring many Ulster Protestants to rise up for Irish independence. Andrew Noble writes: “The real war fought by Pitt and Dundas was not against France per se. Their battle was an ideological war against the domestic pro-democracy movement in Britain and in Scotland in particular, where they feared a mass rebellion or outright revolution”.

In December 1792 Pitt declared martial law and unleashed a wave of repression. That same day Burns was the first to be investigated for his support for the revolution (singing the revolutionary anthem ‘Ca ira’ in a Dumfries theatre). Yet the next day Burns answered with ‘On The Year 1793’. When Paine’s The Rights of Man sold 15,000 copies, the publisher was arrested. A declaration of loyalty and blacklisting were introduced, trade unions made illegal and opponents deported. Reformers and democrats were portrayed as terrorists and traitors.

Conservative ‘Burnsians’ foster the myth that Burns then became a Hannoverian loyalist or a coward, abandoning radical writings. In fact, this is when he established safe routes to publishers in Edinburgh and London to anonymously publish his clearest revolutionary anti-war propaganda poems. These and others were suppressed or denied by the literary establishment for 200 years until Patrick Scott Hogg published Robert Burns: The Lost Poems in 1997. Just months before his death in 1796 Burns confirmed, “If I must write, let it be sedition”. When he received the letter from his employers, the Commissioners of Excise, forbidding his political views, he immediately scribbled “the creed of poverty” on the envelope in defiance.

Burns knew he was being spied on. As a cover, he joined the Dumfries Volunteers and wrote a few token loyal poems, later to be picked up by his enemies. Yet despite the terror, Burns couldn’t ignore provocation nor resist ridiculing the ‘Loyal Natives’, a bunch of subservient thugs also in the Volunteers. Following one of their grovelling toasts in a pub one night he caused uproar with his own sarcastic: “May our success in the present war be equal to the justice of our cause!” On another occasion: “May the last king be hung in the guts of the last priest!

Burns had a heart of gold, but he was no softy. His most explicit call to revolution and a classless, peaceful society, ‘Why Should We Vainly Waste Our Prime?’ (drafted by an English radical and crafted by Burns), is determined and uncompromising:-.

WHY should we idly waste our prime
Repeating our oppressions?
Come rouse to arms! ’Tis now the time
To punish past transgressions.
’Tis said that Kings can do no wrong —
Their murderous deeds deny it,
And, since from us their power is sprung,
We have a right to try it.
Now each true patriots song shall be:
‘Welcome Death or Libertie!’

Proud Priests and Bishops well translate
And canonise as Martyrs;
The guillotine on Peers shall wait;
And Knights shall hang in garters.
Those Despots long have trode us down,
And Judges are their engines:
Such wretched minions of a Crown
Demand the peoples vengeance!
To-day ’tis theirs. To-morrow we
Shall don the Cap of Libertie!

The Golden Age we’ll then revive:
Each man will be a brother;
In harmony we all shall live,
And share the earth together;
In Virtue train’d, enlighten’d Youth
Will love each fellow-creature;
And future years shall prove the truth
That Man is good by nature:
Then let us toast with three times three
The reign of Peace and Libertie!

His correspondence with Agnes ‘Nancy’ McLehose resulted in the classic Ae Fond Kiss. A collaboration with James Johnson led to a long-term involvement in The Scots Musical Museum, which included the poems including Auld Lang Syne. In just 18 short months, Burns had spent most of the wealth from his published poetry, and in 1789 he began work as an Excise Officer in Dumfries. His increasingly radical political views influenced many of the phenomenal number of poems, songs and letters he continued to pen.  Burns’s social consciousness and faith in humanity are reflected in the following  poem ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’, a poem that focusses on the divide between rich and poor and the need for systematic change across the world.

 Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave - we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that. 

 hat though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that,
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that,
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that,
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
That man to man, the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that.

 Burns was also acutely conscious of the environment and the delicate ­ecological balance between human activity and nature. Now Westlin Winds (1775), surely one of Burns’s most beautiful songs, captures this extremely well. It is also both a love song and a condemnation of blood sports. In the song Burns refers to “slaught’ring guns” and “Tyrannic man’s dominion!” 

Dick Gaughan - Now Westlin Winds

 

His love of nature and animals is also revealed in poems such as The Wounded Hare (1789). In a letter to Alexander Cunningham (4 May 1789) he writes of his views on blood sports, saying: “Indeed there is something in all that multiform business of destroying for our sport individuals in the animal creation that do not injure us materially, that I could never reconcile to my ideas of native virtue and eternal right”. The natural world and the environment feature strongly in Burns’s work. If he were alive today he would surely be concerned about current threats to the environment.

Burns’s last few years were blighted by poor health but just a few weeks before his death aged only 37 on 21 July 1796, an ailing Burns defiantly writes: “If I must write let it be Sedition, or Blasphemy, or something else that begins with a B, so that I may grin with the grin of iniquity and rejoice with the rejoicing of an apostate angel

One of the last people to meet Burns before his death was the reverend James MacDonald. In a manuscript, cited by Burns scholar Robert Crawford, MacDonald reveals that Burns talked to him about his staunch republicanism and radical politics. Crawford remarks “this is Burns the spirited rebel, Bard of Sedition, even Blasphemy

On the 21st of July Robert Burns, the national bard of Scotland, died at the young age of 37. In a world where famine and disease frequently wreaked its havoc, early death was often common. However, for those who lived past the diseases of childhood, long life was a definite possibility. So, even in the eighteenth century, Burns’s death seemed premature and tragic. His funeral was held four days later, the very same day his youngest son, Maxwell, was born.

 Burns’ stature owes much to the huge range of his songs and poems, some of which are still familiar nearly two hundred and fifty years after his birth. In fact, there would be few English speaking people who do not recognise “Auld Lang Syne” 

His popularity is also linked to his association with a brand of socialism radical for his time and timeless in its understanding of the plight of the common man. Burns would have naturally understood these issues having experienced hardships not untypical for the ordinary man of the eighteenth century.jjjj The poetry of Burns has lasted the test of time because what he had to say remains highly relevant. We still live in a world of class oppression, where people are violent towards each other. It’s clear that capitalism Burns screams a challenging questioning of th isunjust social order in 'Man was made to mourn':

When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare, 
One evening as I wandered forth
Along the banks of Ayr, 
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seemed weary, worn with care;
His face was furrowed o’er with years, 
And hoary was his hair.

 Young stranger, whither wand’rest thou?’
Began the reverend sage;
’Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure’s rage?
Or haply, pressed with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn,
The miseries of man!

‘The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling’s pride;—
I’ve seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And every time has added proofs
That man was made to mourn.

‘O man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all they precious hours,
Thy glorious youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway,
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force give Nature’s law,
That man was made to mourn.

‘Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood’s active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then age and want—oh, ill-matched pair!—
Shew man was made to mourn.

‘A few seem favourites of fate,
In pleasure’s lap caress’d;
Yet think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest.
But oh! what crowds in every land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Through weary life this lesson learn,
That man was made to mourn.

‘Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame;
More pointed still we make ourselves—
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,—
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

’See yonder poor, o’erlaboured wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful tho’ a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.

‘If I’m designed yon lordling’s slave—
By Nature’s law designed—
Why was an independent wish
E’er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty or scorn?
Or why has man the will and power
To make his fellow mourn?

‘Yet let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast;
This partial view of humankind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man,
Has never, sure, been born,
Has there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn.’u

All in all Burns has become the personification of Scottish identity and the Immortality that Burns has rests in his work that was so deeply imbedded with hope foe change, that continues to be studied , celebrated and preserved the world over, And so this Burns’ Night will raise a glass and drink a toast to Robert Burns .immortal bard of freedom. 

Friday, 22 January 2021

Historic Day : Nuclear Weapons are illegal at last


Nuclear arms are the most destructive, indiscriminate, inhumane and monstrous weapons ever produced, but today is an historic one, that we can all celebrate as a major milestone in the long march towards peace: The date 22 January marks a victory for humanity. That’s the day the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons enters into force, the day that nuclear weapons become prohibited. 
Efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons  date back to the beginning of the nuclear age , they  have always been immoral. Now, they are also classified as illegal, just like chemical and biological weapons. This is a major shift as it will bring about a change in the public perception of these weapons. The TPNW is not symbolic.The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons is the first globally applicable multilateral agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons outright. It prohibits their use, threat of use, development, production, testing and stockpiling. It also commits States Parties to clearing contaminated areas and helping victims. By providing pathways for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the Treaty is an indispensable building block towards a world free of nuclear weapons. 
The dropping of two nuclear bombs 75 years ago, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945, combined they resulted  in the deaths of over 400,000 people. This is exactly what these horrific weapons were designed to do-indiscriminately kill vast amounts of people and clearly.demonstrated their enormous destructive power. There is no doubt that if one was exploded again, in war or accidentally, it would cause a humanitarian disaster. It is argued that they are militarily unusable because of the destruction their use would cause and many more people, even those who may not call themseles pacifists believe that using nuclear weapons  is immoral, Now there is a further argument illegality. 
A nuclear darkness has engulfed the world for seven decades, with only intermittent breakthroughs of light, after treaties had been repeatedly broken, but the gloom began to lift in July 2017 following international concerns about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons over a hundred and twenty countries voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On October 24, 2020 Honduras provided the 50th ratification of the Treaty, which was required for the 90-day countdown for the Treaty to enter into force to officially begin. which means it will become international law on 22nd January 2021. Not only does it prohibit the use of nuclear weapons but also related activities such as developing, testing or manufacturing nuclear weapons and assisting others with any prohibited activities.
Built on decades of nuclear disarmament advocacy, the treaty has been led by the true experts of nuclear weapons, the survivors of nuclear weapons use and testing. The treaty recognises nuclear weapons for what they are, unacceptable instruments of mass destruction, and acknowledges their disproportionate impact on indigenous communities.
As an  individual I am delighted that the Treaty has now been ratified, it embodies the collective moral revulsion of the international community. The entry into force of the Treaty provides Conscience with a new powerful argument: It provides added pressure to change the law so no-one is forced to pay through their taxes for nuclear weapons which are now illegal as well as immoral.
I also recognise that possession of nuclear weapons ties up resources that could be better used to tackle the problems that face the world, including the causes of war as well as the current Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.Conscience is clear that there are many alternative ways to resolve conflict, ways other than war, and that nuclear weapons have no place in conflict resolution.
 And yet 22 January will not mark the end of the journey. In fact, the banning of nuclear weapons should be seen as the beginning of multiple efforts to realise the objectives of the Treaty and bring about a world free from nuclear weapons.  It is now crucial to make the Treaty come to life as a new norm of international humanitarian law. The Treaty’s success depends on the broadest possible adherence..  
None of the 9 nuclear armed states,-China, France, India, Israel. North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, have signed the Treaty. They have even tried, unsuccessfully, to block it. As long as they refuse to sign, the Treaty does not apply to them directly – but it does make it much harder for them to justify their opposition. They can expect to face increasing international criticism, as well as internal political pressure. who will continue to work for the treaties full universalization and implementation. 
The Treaty will also have a significant impact on financial institutions (pension funds and banks) because the Treaty also bans the financing of nuclear weapons systems. By investing in nuclear arms, these institutions have played a major role in the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. They will now have to choose to endorse or reject this new standard: if they decide to reject it, they run the risk of tarnishing their image and becoming unpopular with their clients. Financial bodies of countries (Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden, for example) which do not support the TPNW have already made the decision to disinvest, which demonstrates the extent of the Treaty’s impact.
 Our key priority is to continue making the Treaty as universal as possible by getting as many states to sign and ratify it, increasing its legal influence. Monitoring its implementation will also be a very important task as it is a means of demonstrating its effectiveness.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and many other peace organisations in the UK will continue to campaign for the UK to honour its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to make tangible steps towards disarmament. Until the UK does so, Conscience will argue that UK taxpayers should not be forced to pay for nuclear weapons which are now not only immoral but illegal.Now the UK must  get in step with the rest of the world, acknowledge the foolishness of continuing to threaten the world with mass destruction, join the Treaty and disarm.

LINKS

UN Office for Disarmament Affairs - www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/tpnw/ This includes a link to the treaty text.

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament - https://cnduk.org/resources/towards-world-without-nuclear-weapons/

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) - www.icanw.org/



Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Remembering Czech Student Jan Palach who set himself alight for freedom


 20-year old Czech philosophy student Jan Palach died on January 19 1969 after suffering for three days in hospital from self-inflicted third-degree burns. On January 16 1969, Palach, a quiet student of philosophy standing at the top of Wenceslas Square, at the foot of the steps of the Czech National Museum, poured petrol over his head and lit it on fire, five months after Soviet tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia to end a swelling reform movement, to protest against the lack of freedom and the passivity of its citizens, hoping to inspire compatriots to stand up to their occupiers,.His act was modelled on the  1963 self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thin Quang Duc in Saigon, protesting at the Vietnam war.
During an interview in the hospital and in his suicide letter, he called for a strike and expressed dissatisfaction with the resignation of citizens toward the regime’s policies.“People must fight against the evil they feel equal to measure up to at that moment,” he managed to say, With 85 percent of his body covered in third degree burns, he passed away in the hospital three days after his self-immolation attempt.He had made the ultimate sacrifice. Palach left a short and succinct suicide note  at the site explaining the motives for his actions. Ominously, he signed his suicide note 'Torch Number One', giving the impression that he was part of a larger group, which in fact  did not exist.
He left a letter at the site explaining the motives of his final act: 

 “As our nation is living in a desperate situation, and its reconciliation with fate has reached its utmost stage, we have decided that in this way we will express our protest and shake the conscience of the nation …ˮ

It did. Following Palach’s self-immolation, many Czechs and Slovaks went on hunger strike; others took to the streets. They insisted that Palach’s calls, expressed in his farewell letters, to abolish censorship and stop the dissemination of the Soviet propaganda publication Zpravy should be heeded.
 In death, Jan Palach would become known as “the conscience of the nation”, hailed as a martyr of exceptional courage and character. He is held up as the national symbol of the Prague Spring, a period of political liberalization and mass protest in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic that lasted approximately seven months, from January 5th to August 21, 1968.  The Prague Spring began with the election of reformist Alexander Dubček as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). In August that year, the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact members invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the reforms. The week after the invasion saw nonviolent resistance spark across the country, and the beginning of a massive wave of emigration, due to the suppression of speech, media, and many other freedoms. Jan Palach became a symbol of that resistance,
Palach’s funeral at Prague’s Olšany Cemetery on January 25 turned into a huge demonstration of opposition against the Soviet Union's crushing of the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring, attended by at least 200,000 people. Protests and services of remembrance took place across the country, with people shouting anti-communist and anti-Soviet slogans.


The authorities allowed these demonstrations and marches to take place, sensing the need of the people to voice their discontent. But soon, marches were broken up as the regime reasserted its control. Palach’s grave in Prague, which was attracting far too many visitors, had become a shrine adorned with flowers, candles and poems.During October of 1973, without asking the family’s permission, the Secret Police had him cremated and replaced Palach with the body of an elderly lady in the Olšany grave. His ashes remained with his mother in Všetaty. The police would not even allow her to put the urn in the local cemetery until 1974. The Secret Police watched his grave, forbidding followers from placing flowers on Palach’s resting place. Palach’s ashes were transported to Olšany, Prague in 1990. 
Palach wrote in his suicide letter that he did not want others to follow his example. Yet some did not heed his warning. The day after Palach’s death Josef Hlavatý committed an act of self-immolation in front of a memorial to first democratic Czechoslovak president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in Pilsen. Notably marking a month after Palach’s funeral 18-year old Jan Zajíc, a former friend of Pelach's poured gasoline on himself at Wenceslas Square on 25 February 1969, In his suicide note, entitled ‘Torch no.2’, Zajic wrote:

 ‘I am not doing this to be mourned, nor to be famous, and I am not out of my mind, either. With this act, I want to give you the courage to finally resist letting yourself be pushed around by a few dictators.’

Other deaths by fire took place in Jihlava and Košice. The self-immolation trend was not limited to Czechoslovakia, though. Students in other Communist countries also attempted suicide in this way.It was later copied by a wave of Indian students who set themselves alight in 1990 in protest at changes in quota systems for entry into university and the civil service.In Britain in 1993, Graham Bamford, a 48-year-old former haulage contractor, burned himself to death outside the House of Commons to protest at the horrors of Bosnia. It was later echoed at the start of the Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia, which began after street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December 2010..
After Palach’s courageous death, however the situation in Czechoslovakia did not improve.His act failed to overturn the consolidation of power by Soviet-backed hard-liners who brought a period of repression that lasted until the end of communist rule in 1989. Th protests and Palach's demands went unheeded. Censorship remained in place and the Soviet occupiers continued distributing, their propaganda publication. Nothing had changed and the Czech and Slovak drifted in apathy,.
Tet Jan Palach;s name  though became a key point of reference in seminal events leading up to the fall of communism, with rallies in his name crucial in mobilising support outside dissent circles.Twenty years later, anti-Communist dissident Vaclav Havel was detained as he laid a flower at the top of Wenceslas Square to commemorate Palach on January 16, 1989, sparking thousands of demonstrators, mainly students,  to flock to Wenceslas Square every day for a week  in what  later became known as ' Palach week.' Lots of people consider these gatherings to his memory to have been a dress rehearsal for the Velvet Revolution the following November that brought down Czechoslovakia's communist regime, which saw Havel  becomming the country's president, with many seeing this as the ultimate testament to Palach's legacy.
Following the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, a bronze cross honouring both Palach and Jan Zajic was embedded into the ground on Wenceslas Square, as if melting into the pavement, on the exact spot where Jan Palach had staged his desperate protest. A small memorial with Palach’s death mask adorns the façade of Charles University’s Faculty of Philosophy, and the square on which the building is situated is named after him. Squares in Rome and Luxembourg also bear the martyr’s name. Streets named after Palach can be found in Luxembourg, France, Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. There is even a Palach memorial inside a glacier tunnel in Switzerland. 
Palach’s self-immolation has been widely referenced in music, literature, poetry, movies, and other cultural forms.Songs and poems have been written about Palach.The music video for the song “Club Foot” by the band Kasabian is also dedicated to Palach. Written by Charles Sabatos, the book Burning Body: Icon of Resistance: Literary Representations of Jan Palach also carries his memories.  A radio play and a documentary also focus on the Všetaty native. In 1991 President Havel posthumously awarded him a medal for serving democracy and upholding human rights,
He was also immortalised by the 2018 movie named after him, starring Czech actors. The movie is currently available on Netflix in Czech with English subtitles. More information on the movie can be found here.
Palach’s  incredible sacrifice was not in vain. He stood up to the harsh regime while others merely accepted the political situation. He gave his life because he believed in democracy and human rights.Though his immediate political goals failed, Jan Palach inspired and steeled the resolve of countless others to fight for freedom during the two decades of ‘Normalisation’ that followed the crushing of the Prague Spring. And for this he will never be forgotten.

 
 
                                           Jan Palach Memorial, Prague, Czechoslavakia

Monday, 18 January 2021

Honoring the Rich Radical Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King is honored with a holiday across the US on the third Monday of January, between 15-21, every year since 1986 - three years after president Ronald Reagan wrote the holiday into law.This year’s official holiday is Monday, Jan. 18th. Countries outside the US also recognise the life and achievement of Martin Luther King Jr.
On this day we remember his life and work, celebrate the victories of the civil rights movement, and reflect on what still needs to be done in the pursuit of racial justice. However MLK Day will be celebrated unlike any year before due to the rising tensions growing in the United States. Due to COVID-19, outcries for social justice, and political unrest people will have to celebrate MLK Day a bit differently this Jan. 18, 2021.This year the typical forms of remembrance — i.e. marches and parades,will have to be placed on pause.
Martin Luther King was an American Baptist minister and activist who was born Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta  and became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement. From the mid-1950s until his death in 1968 King sought equality and human rights for African Americans. Through peaceful protests, he and his followers fought for all victims of injustice and the economically disadvantaged. King was the hidden motivation behind many watershed events  
He rose to national prominence when he led the boycott of the 1955 Montgomery’s transit system after Rosa Parks, an African-American, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. King later in 1957 helped form  the Southern Christian Leadership Conference serving as its first president. With the SCLC, he helped organise the non-violent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He also helped to organise the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
On October 14 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combatting racial inequality through non-violent resistance. In 1965, he helped to organise the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the following year he and the SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing.
In the final years of his life, he expanded his focus to include opposition to poverty and the Vietnam War. On March 29 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the black sanitary public works employees, who were represented by AFSCME Local 1733, King was killed by an assassin .at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on 4 April 1968 and died later that same day at St Joseph's Hospital. News of his death was followed by riots in many US cities.
American white supremacist  James Earl Ray was convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr, entering a guilty plea to forgo a jury trial and the possibility of a death sentence, and was sentenced to 99 years' imprisonment.This sentence was extended to 100 years after Ray and six other convicts temporarily escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, in Tennessee, in 1977, only to be captured three days later. He died on 23 April 1998, aged 70.
MLK Day is a federal holiday, though it was not made official until 18 years after his assassination.
Efforts to honor King with a federal holiday began just months after his death. Those efforts failed, as did a 1979 vote by Congress that came after King's widow, Coretta Scott King, spoke out in favor of the day. Momentum for the holiday grew in 1980 when entertainer Stevie Wonder released "Happy Birthday" in King's honor, leading to a petition calling for MLK Day.
In 1983, 15 years after King's death, 22 senators actually voted against an official holiday honoring him. The North Carolina senator Jesse Helms undertook a 16 day fillibuster of the bill claiming that King's "action-oriented Marxism" was "not compatible with the concept of this country" He was joine in his opposition by Senators John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassly, among others. Ronald Reagon reluctantly signed the legislation, all the while grumbling that he would have preferred 
 a day similar to Abraham Lincoln's birthday, which is not technically a national holiday. 
To this day, after  MLK Jr. Day, was formally recognised  we often are presented with a sanitized, nonconfrontational version of Dr. King that is a far cry from the radical activist who was reviled during his time for his powerful justice work. Whether these misconceptions are promoted by those who are genuinely unfamiliar with Dr. King’s true history or by those who seek to silence today’s black activists with his more “acceptable” example, one thing is clear: there is a whole lot more to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring legacy than we are taught in school.
The reality is that Martin Luther King held revolutionary ideals rooted in the 18th-century vision of freedom and equality and grounded by a Christian theological vision of social justice. With these ideals, he and his fellow civil rights workers intentionally created national discomfort in cities, north as well as south, throughout the 1960s. 
We should  not forget that  King told the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) board on March 30, 1967, "The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism."
Just a few days later, on April 4, 1967—exactly one year before King was assasinated he delivered an infamous speech at Riverside Church in New York City condemning the Vietnam War. He called for an end to the "nightmarish conflict" as well as for the nation to "undergo a radical revolution of values," saying in part:;

"A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love."
 
 Holding true to his principles is what compelled him to take a deeply reflective antiwar stance in the era of the Vietnam War. King articulated the great revolutionary hope that human beings might one day live in a world of individuality, mutuality and respect.
King’s ideals were also derived from a human rights tradition rooted in the long fight against slavery. He recognized that many before him had paved the way for him and his contemporaries to take up the fight for freedom and equality. He felt duty-bound to keep antiracist protests and democratic freedoms alive in the United States even as the forces of Cold War geopolitics were distorting them in the greater part of the world, in the name of political freedom. On MLK Day, it is worth remembering his stirring, passionate condemnation of U.S. militarism,and his arguments about why opposition to it can't be extricated from anti-racism or anti-poverty activism. Mainstream media outlets will remember King’s “I have a dream” speech, but forget that he also said, We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is also a fine opportunity to note that King belongs to a pantheon of famous historical figures who were, to the surprise of many admirers, committed socialists. King questioned the “captains of industry” and their ownership over the workplace, the means of production (“Who owns the oil?… Who owns the iron ore?”), and believed “something is wrong with capitalism. "There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
Martin Luther King Jr as part of a wider movement, standing alongside socialists such as Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin , and A Phillip Randolph in not just attempting to dismantle the Jim Crow system, but replacing it with an egalitarian social democracy, committed to building a broad movement to overcome the failings of capitalism and achieve both racial and economic equality for all people,
He also sacrificed his life to continuous political struggle. His dream sometimes became a nightmare and was met with frustrated reactions that at times were vitriolic, scornful and violent. For his militancy King was hounded by the FBI , denounced as a communist, n bombarded with death threats,
It is sad to recollect that most of the American public, either because of fear or complacency, accepted the forms of inequalities that had been heaped upon racial minorities in their country as though they were ordained by God. Only 22% of Americans approved of  the freedom rides fighting segregated transportation. King, however, sustained a utopian vision of what life could be like for all Americans and people around the world if national leaders and common citizens alike exercised our political will for the common good. 
Though Martin Luther King Day is an American holiday, the man himself was thoroughly international.
He had long supported anti colonial struggles in developing countries, His political thoughts traverses all borders.Like so many strugglers in the long fight against racism, King appreciated that it was, at it's heart a global project.  Many years later  despite some victory's and gains, the march for equality is unfinished, and for some his dream is unrealised, take for instance the case of the Palestinians who are daily imprisoned.
We cannot  let go of Dr King's dream, because, surely it is everybody's dream, we must continuously try to change the world, remember those in the U.S.A fighting for jobs and freedom, a land  still lanquishing to find itself, while perpetrating injustice, discrimination and inequality. A country that imprisons more  of their citizens than any other country in the world. African Americans in particular, though they are 12% of the population, make up 38% of the state prison population, despite their crimes being no different from their white and hispanic counterparts.
Sadly King's legacy was gravely dishonoured every day that bloody Donald Trump sat in the Oval Office. Yet despite this  Dr King's words can still be  be both sobering and inspiring, his words are a timeless representation of the struggles that disenfranchised people face. As the fight against white supremacy, militarism, and economic inequality continues, it’s important to remember that while King stood for hope, he also stood for action. Today’s Black freedom movement stands firmly in King’s legacy, and should be recognised as such.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor … it must be demanded by the oppressed!” King determined. Reminding  us that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at during times of challenge and controversy,” He also warned us that “We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools, and  that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."  These are revolutionary times,” King declared. “All over the globe, men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.”
 More than 50 years after his death, Martin Luther King Jr's rich radical  legacy and his words live long in the memory of millions worldwide because he put forward a vision of a society that provides equality for people of all races and backgrounds.This is the cause that King spent his life fighting for, and it is one we should recommit to as we honour his legacy. The power of his words speak as much to the present day as hey did to the turbulent times he witnessed.
 Lets continue to honor this champion of the poor and the oppressed,in our  actions and deeds. In the face of continuing  cruelty and injustice, speak out, and speak up, for surely history will judge us all for our silence.  Here is an old poem of mine in his honour

Strength to Love

Martin Luther King had a dream
That still today stirs our conscience,
He rejected violence to oppose racial injustice
Spread a message of peace, love and understanding,
His only weapons were his words and faith
As he marched in protest with his fellow man,
A force for good, but radical with intention
Pursued civil disobedience was not afraid
                                            of confrontation,
We are all born equal under skin
This noble struggle never stops within,
The causes of poverty must still be eradicated
There is so much more room for change,
As fresh iniquities call, lets keep hope alive
Standing firm let our voices ring out,
Keep sharing deeds of deep principle
In the name of pride and in the name of love,
We are all still citizens of the world
As Martin Luther carries on reminding,
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.
The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
We must continue to resist and overcome
“Let justice roll on like a river, 
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
One day soon, all our dreams will be realised.

 

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Liminality


(Thanks to G. L. Wilson )

last night I could not sleep
though dreams called
drifting through liminal spaces
spinning and turning
through chambers of time
corridors of navigation
the stars above cried
as the cosmos roared 
and the rain sliced through moonlight
between the dark shadows cast
I remained calm and focussed
as the ocean turned below my feet
finding glimpses of the unknown
whiplashing breezes compressing broken thoughts.


Saturday, 16 January 2021

Remembering Chartist leaders found guilty of high treason in Newport Rising of 1839


The People’s Charter had been launched in the spring of 1838 to demand universal male suffrage and other egalitarian electoral reforms. - See more at: http://www.internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2013/11/on-this-day-4111839-the-newport-rising/#sthash.1XaXbYTG.dpuf
The People’s Charter had been launched in the spring of 1838 to demand universal male suffrage and other egalitarian electoral reforms. - See more at: http://www.internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2013/11/on-this-day-4111839-the-newport-rising/#sthash.1XaXbYTG.dpuf
The political movement of Chartism developed following the 1832 Reform Act due to the widespread disappointment at the provisions in the act.  In June 1836 the London’s Workingmen’s Association was formed and in 1838, the members launched a People’s Charter and National Petition which called for radical changes to the way in which Britain was governed.  Supporters of the movement were from then on known as Chartists.  
At the time only 19 percent of the adult male population of Britain could vote. The Chartists wanted the vote for all men (though not for women) and a fairer electoral system. They also called for annual elections, the payment of MPs, and the introduction of a secret ballot.Working conditions in many coalfields and ironworks in South Wales were harsh, and there was often conflict between workers and employers. Much of the working class population were living in poverty, but without a voice in politics, and they did  not feel they could change their situation, Given these circumstances, it was no surprise that Chartism developed quickly. In the summer of 1838 a Working Men's Association was formed in Newport, Monmouthshire to publicise the People's Charter.  
Within six months, the radical leader John Frost https://teifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.com/2017/05/john-frost-radical-chartist-leader.html  estimated that there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Chartists in the county of Monmouthshire. Chartism fought for democratic demands, but it was not solely a democratic movement, it was a revolutionary class struggle to change society. William Price, https://teifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/william-price-441800-2311893.html a Pontypridd Chartist leader said: "Oppression, injustice and the grinding poverty which burdens our lives must be abolished for all time."  
 The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, namely:
  1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
  2. The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. No property qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice.
  4. Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
  5. Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
  6. Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in each twelve-month period.
 
Tensions rose after the government turned down the mass petition for the Charter, presented to the House of Commons with over 1.25 million signatures.Leaders like John Frost and Henry Vincent called for 'physical force' to obtain the Charter, and to add further fuel to the indignation felt in May 1839  eloquent public speaker  Henry Vincent,https://teifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.com/2018/05/henry-vincent-1051818-2912-1878-radical.html well known locally for his speaking tour of South Wales a year earlier, on 2 August all of 20 miles away in Monmouth was arrested for making inflammatory speeches. When he was tried on the 2nd August at Monmouth Assizes he was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Vincent was denied writing materials and only allowed to read books on religion.
Chartists in Wales were furious and the decision was followed by several outbreaks of violence. John Frost called for a massive protest meeting to show the strength of feeling against the imprisonment of Henry Vincent. Frost's plan was to march on Newport where the Chartists planned to demand the release of Vincent.
On 4 November 1839,  some seven or eight thousand men from nearby iron and coal-mining villages assembled and  roused with much anger  marched into Newport ,and attempted to take control of the town. They marched to  Westgate Hotel, where they had heard that after several more arrests, local authorities were temporarily holding several chartists, began chanting "surrender our prisoners". However the authorities in Newport  had heard rumours that the Chartists were armed and planned to seize Newport. Stories also began to circulate that if the Chartists were successful in Newport, it would encourage others all over Britain to follow their example, so were waiting for them. Troops protecting the hotel were then given the order to begin firing into the crowd, killing at least 22 people, and another fifty being wounded and resulted  in  the uprising being bought to an abrupt end. Among the injured was a Chartist named John Lovell, who was shot in the thigh and badly wounded. It would be the last large scale uprising in the history of  mainland Britain.


                                                   the attack on Westgate Hotel
 
Following the Newport defeat, South Wales was placed under martial law and hundreds of Chartists arrested or forced into hiding.Within days  many of the alleged the ringleaders including Frost were arrested and in December"True Bills" for High Treason were found against 14 men and more than 40 counts for sedition, conspiracy, riot and burglary.

The 14 men committed for Trial were:

John Frost, age 54, a draper, Newport

Zephaniah Williams, age 44, an inn keeper, of Blaina

William Jones, age 30, a watchmaker & beer house keeper, of Pontypool

Charles Waters, age 26, a ship's carpenter, of Newport (formerly Chepstow)

John Lovell, age 41, a gardener, of Newport

Jenkin Morgan, age 40, a milkman, of Pillgwenlly

Richard Benfield, age 20, a miner, of Sirhowy

John Rees, age 40, a miner, of Tredegar

James Aust, age 25, a gardener, of Malpas (formerly of Caerleon)

Solomon Britton, age 23, a collier, of Garndiffaith

George Turner, age 37, a collier, of Blackwood

Edmund Edmunds, age 34, a mine agent, of Pontllanfraith

and, to be tried in their absence:

John Rees, (Jack 'the Fifer'), a stonemason, of Tredegar

David Jones, (Dai 'the Tinker'), of Tredegar

- but the two were never captured

The Trials commenced on 31st December 1839 - and all fourteen men faced the Death Penalty. 

 South Wales Chartist Song, 1839, to rally support for John Frost and other imprisoned leaders of the Newport Rising 1839. 

Uphold these bold Comrades who suffer for you,
Who nobly stand foremost, demanding your due,
Away with the timid, 'tis treason to fear—
To surrender or falter when danger is near.
For now that our leaders disdain to betray
'Tis base to desert them, or succour delay.

A Hundred years, a thousand years we're marching on the road 
The going isn't easy yet, we've got a heavy load 
The way is blind with blood and sweat & death sings in our ears 
But time is marching on our side, we will defeat the years.

We men of bone, of sunken shank, our only treasure death 
Women who carry at the breast heirs to the hungry earth 
Speak with one voice we march we rest and march again upon the years 
Sons of our sons are listening to hear the Chartist cheers 
Sons of our sons are listening to hear the Chartist cheers.

 John Frost's trial was heard first and this ended on the 8th January. Zephaniah Williams, on the 13th January and William Jones, on the 14th January. All three were found "guilty, with mercy".[This meant that although they were sentenced to death, the final decision to allow mercy was with Her Majesty and her Government] 
John Lovell, Charles Waters, Jenkin Morgan, Richard Benfield and John Rees - on the advice of their counsels, Messrs, Stone & Skinner, were urged to plead guilty in the hopes that the Crown prosecutors could prevail upon the Judges to set the death penalty aside in their cases and on the 15th January 1840, they appeared together in court and pleaded guilty. The remaining four Chartists in Monmouth gaol - James Aust, Solomon Britton, George Turner, Edmund Edmunds - were brought before the bar and to everyone's amazement, the Attorney General withdrew all charges against them and they were freed with a verbal admonishment.
On the 16th January 1840, John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were sentenced by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Nicholas Tindal:

"After the most anxious and careful investigation of your respective cases, before juries of great intelligence and almost unexampled patience, you stand at the bar of this court to receive the last sentence of the law for the commission of a crime which, beyond all others, is the most pernicious in example, and the most injurious in its consequences, to the peace and happiness of human society - the crime of High Treason against your Sovereign. You can have no just ground of complaint that your several cases have not met with the most full consideration, both from the jury and from the court. But as the jury have, in each of those cases, pronounced you guilty of the crime with which you have been charges, I should be wanting in justice to them if I did not openly declare, that the verdicts which they have found meet with the entire concurrence of my learned brethren and myself.

In the case of all ordinary breaches of the law, the mischief of the offence does, for the most part, terminate with the immediate injury sustained by the individual against whom it is levelled. The man who plunders the property, or lifts his hand against the life of his neighbour, does by his guilty act inflict, in that particular instance, and to that extent, a loss or injury on the sufferer or his surviving friends. But they who, by armed numbers, or by violence, or terror, endeavour to put down established institutions, and to introduce in their stead a new order of things, open wide the flood-gates of rapine and bloodshed, destroy all security of property and life, and do their utmost to involve a whole nation in anarchy and ruin.

It has been proved, in your case, that you combined together to lead from the hills, at the dead hour of night, into the town of Newport many thousands of men, armed, in many instances, with weapons of a dangerous description, in order that they might take possession of the town, and supersede the lawful authority of the Queen, as a preliminary step to a more general insurrection throughout the kingdom.

It is owing to the interposition of Providence alone that your wicked designs were frustrated. Your followers arrive by day-light, and after firing upon the civil power, and upon the Queen's troops, are, by the firmness of the magistrates, and the cool and determined bravery of a small body of soldiers, defeated and dispersed. What would have been the fate of the peaceful and unoffending inhabitants of that town, if success had attended your rebellious designs, it is impossible to say. The invasion of a foreign foe would, in all probability, have been less destructive to property and life.

It is for the crime of High Treason, committed under these circumstances, that you are now called upon yourselves to answer; and by the penalty which you are about to suffer, you hold out a warning to all your fellow-subjects, that the law of your country is strong enough to repress and to punish all attempts to alter the established order of things by insurrection and armed force; and that those who are found guilty of such treasonable attempts must expiate their crime by an ignominious death.

I therefore most earnestly exhort you to employ the little time that remains to you in preparing for the great change that awaits you, by sincere penitence and by fervent prayer. For although we do not fail to forward to the proper quarter that recommendation which the jury have intrusted to us, we cannot hold out to you any hope of mercy on this side of the grave.

And now, nothing more remains than the duty imposed upon the court - to all of us a most painful duty - to declare the last sentence of the law, which is that you, John Frost, and you, Zephaniah Williams, and you, William Jones, be taken hence to the place from whence you came, and be thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and that each of you be there hanged by the neck until you be dead, and that afterwards the head of each of you shall be severed from his body, and the body of each, divided into four quarters, shall be disposed of as Her Majesty shall think fit, and may Almighty God have mercy upon your souls."

These three chartist leaders were the last men in Britain sentenced to be "hanged, drawn and quartered.
 
                                         
                                          Zepaniah Williams, John Frost, William Jones
 
 John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, William Jones - were returned to Monmouth Gaol to await public execution.  The Government had decided that an example should be made of three members of the lower middle classes for having misled thousands of workmen into taking insurrectionary action against Queen and State.
The severity of the sentences shocked many people and thanks to the vigorous lobbying and protests  in support of the convicted Chartists, it led to to their sentences being commuted to transportation for life.
When they actually received a total pardon in 1856. Jones stayed in Australia as a watchmaker and Williams stayed in Tasmania, where he subsequently made his fortune discovering coal. However, John Frost, who had worked as a school teacher in Tasmania, returned to Britain, where he received a triumphant welcome in Newport.
The Newport rising was a turning point for the Chartist movement. In response to the conditions, Chartists in Sheffield, the East End of London and Bradford planned their own risings. Samuel Holberry led an aborted rising in Sheffield on January 12th 1840; police action thwarted a major disturbance in the East End of London on January 14th, and on January 26th a few hundred Bradford Chartists staged a failed rising in the hope of precipitating a domino effect across the country. After this Chartism turned to a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation, but the transported and imprisoned Newport Chartists were regarded as heroes and martyrs amongst workers. 
'Physical force Chartism' was no longer popular however, and an uprising of the size seen in Newport for the time being has never happened again. However the movement gained strength and popularity throughout Britain and although it failed its purpose at the time, five of the Six Points of the original Charter which the Chartists had campaigned for have since been conceded, only the demand for Annual Parliaments not so far being accepted. 
A beautiful mural depicting four scenes from the Newport Rising, located in a pedestrian underpass in the city, was  shamefully destroyed in 2013 to make way for a shopping center.https://teifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/destruction-of-chartist-mural.html Despite this nearly two centuries after the drafting of the People’s Charter, long may the Chartists struggle and its leaders be remembered who helped give voice to the discontent of the time in their struggle for democracy.