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The Peace News log

The Inaugural Alternative Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture 2018

Kerry-Anne MendozaIn a tucked away corner of Rotherhithe, down a little cobbled street oozing with history, stands Sands Film Studios. Well-known amongst lefties and radicals, this unique corner of London was the perfect place to hear from a unique, leftie and often radical character, Kerry-Anne Mendoza.

Mendoza began by talking about the namesake of the lecture, Claudia Jones. Like Mendoza, Jones was a radical leftie – both women do not sit back and wait for change, they get on and make change happen. Born in Trinidad in 1915, at the height of Empire, Jones didn't keep her birth name but changed it in what she called an act of 'self-protective disinformation' - to avoid receiving judgement based purely on her race. Despite a deeply disadvantaged background, including the loss of her mother at a young age, Claudia was very able academically, and won the Theodore Roosevelt Award for Good Citizenship in high school. However, being a working-class woman of colour, she was prevented from pursuing higher education in an act of triple oppression. While she worked in a laundry, Jones wrote a column in the Harlem Journal. When the case of the Scottsboro Boys hit the news, Claudia became politically active, and joined the Young Communist League.

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31 October – 24 November, Jermyn Street Theatre

ImageBased on the memoirs of a real-life Canadian  flying ace, this play charts the rise of the eponymous Billy from under-achiever, to airman, to international celebrity. The latter for the astonishingly high number of air-to-air combat “victories” that he achieved  during the First World War. With a cast of only two, Charles Aitken playing the young Billy, and Oliver Beamish the elder, the play is a simple, but very effective, production.

The set is reminiscent of my great-grandfather’s shed, contributing to the sense that we, the audience, are simply having an intimate chat with Billy himself. The sense of intimacy continues throughout the play, with the audience  being made privy to the darkest parts of Billy’s wartime experiences, often using letters to his real-life fiancée Margaret as a narrative tool.

While the play uses a good dose of humour to convey its message, there is no evasion of the misery of war. Billy remarks on the casualties the Canadian Expeditionary Forces are experiencing in Europe, and concludes that he is ‘a casualty in training’. During his journey across the Atlantic, Billy’s war trauma begins to manifest itself in nightmares. And there is no sanitising the reality of troop transport, with seasickness featuring heavily.

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A film that uses humour to convey the absurdity of armed conflict.

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Sands Films is a unique gem; snuggled up against the south bank of the Thames, it is one of those little secrets that Londoners cherish. Not usually known for their events – it’s normally a fully functional film studio – they felt they couldn’t let the centenary of the First World War Armistice pass unmarked. I’m very glad they didn’t, and judging by the packed house, I’m not alone.

Schwejk (pronounced Sh-wei-ck) is Sands’ own project, shot with the WW1 Centenary in mind. They screen it in the same room in which it was filmed, adding an interesting, atmospheric twist. Based on the famous series of stories by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek, Schwejk is a satire on the absurdity of war. Many people have identified with the character of Schwejk since his first appearance in cabaret in 1912; he is just an ordinary young man, sold lies and sent to fight someone else’s war. As a play it has been performed all over the world, from Germany in the inter-war period, to Manchester and beyond, often being brought up to date to reflect contemporary events. Sands’ version is no different, containing references to Iraq, Afghanistan and the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

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Cedric Knight comments on Theo Simon's recent piece on Extinction Rebellion.

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I hope to join at least some Extinction Rebellion events. I'd like to add further cautions, though, that aren't in any way meant to reduce enthusiasm but might affect tactics as regards communication, prompted partly by the talk by Dr Gail Bradbrook on the XR website. I'm a layperson but familiar with some of the climate science (less of the general ecology), and also some of the debates in science communication. In brief, we need to reflect the science accurately but also make those dispassionate facts emotionally meaningful by expressing our own reactions and the values we have in common with our audience, and present positive political and personal options that people can be inspired by and work towards. Climate Outreach's guidance warns that many people are turned off by pictures of demonstrations as well as pictures of polar bears, although this is social science research and a lot of it is uncertain and conditional.

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Sales of white poppies are higher this year than they've ever been – since the Co-operative Women's Guild created the symbol in 1933 to remember all those killed in war.

White poppies for peace

The Peace Pledge Union – the pacifist organisation that supplies and distributes white poppies in Britain – has sold 119,555 white poppies this year, as of the end of Wednesday 7 November.

The number is bound to rise further in the remaining days until Remembrance Sunday.

The previous record was 110,000 white poppies in 2015. Until 2014, the record was around 80,000 in 1938. Last year, the figure was 101,000.

The rise comes despite a stream of abuse against white poppy wearers on social media, and attacks on white poppy wearers from public figures including Conservative MP Johnny Mercer and broadcaster Piers Morgan.

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Theo Simon responds to Gabriel Carlyle's recent article.

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Gabriel's Peace News piece, “Why I'm sceptical about the Extinction Rebellion initiative (and why I hope I'm wrong)”,  contained some really interesting and valuable insights for structuring political  campaigns, but I think it missed the point entirely about what the Extinction Rebellionrepresents.

This isn't a campaign, it's an alarm.  We’re not trying to build fire-safety awareness and improve the provision of emergency exits - we’re trying to evacuate a burning theatre.

Some of us, myself included, have perhaps been aware of the unfolding eco-crisis for so long that we’ve grown acclimatized to it. We’ve seen the window of opportunity that a growing green awareness has opened, but forgotten that it is a time-sensitive, closing window. With every hour that passes the opportunities for survival have been shrinking, and the corrective measures required have become more drastic.

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If British peacemakers of the early twentieth century had been listened to, we could have avoided the rise of many destructive movements.

Each year, around Remembrance Day, people all over the UK uphold the memory of those who have died in war. Some people wear red poppies to remember allied soldiers. Others wear white poppies to remember civilians and soldiers killed in war and to express their hope for a culture of peace.

Frank J. Stevens, a Friends Ambulance Unit ambulance driver, with his vehicle in Wolfsburg, Germany, ?1945

This year, the St John Ambulance volunteer first aid group announced it would allow its members to wear the white poppy on their uniforms. This is consistent with the group's history, as St John Ambulance was one of the bodies under whose auspices the pacifist Friends Ambulance Unit risked their lives to tend the wounded in both world wars.

However, any hope that the national conversation about remembrance might be becoming more tolerant were quickly dashed. When the Peace Pledge Union’s coordinator Symon Hill was invited to ITV’s _Good Morning Britain_, he was barely allowed to speak by the show’s presenter. Piers Morgan took issue with the idea that anyone other than allied soldiers could be included in remembrance, shouting: 'WOULD YOU INCLUDE ISIS SOLDIERS?' 'WOULD YOU INCLUDE NAZIS?' After the encounter, Hill revealed that he’d had so many messages saying he should be killed that he stopped counting them.

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If Extinction Rebellion plans to gradually build capacity for its big demands by winning smaller-scale victories then why has it launched itself with (apparently) no indication as to what these smaller-scale wins are going to be?

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Melburnians at the March for Science on April 22, #Earthday2017. Image: Takver via Wikimedia Commons.

Lots of people seem to be very excited about Extinction Rebellion (XR)’s ‘declaration of rebellion’ and its plans to ‘bring large parts of London to a standstill [later this] month’ to push its three big demands on climate change.

The issue could hardly be more important, a lot of effort appears to be going into XR, and hundreds of people are apparently fired-up and committed to engaging in civil disobedience over climate change. This is both impressive and commendable.

And yet, I have to say – as someone who has been involved in organising and taking part in acts of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience for over 20 years – that I’m highly sceptical about this initiative.

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An important new book on anti-racism in the age of Trump and Brexit is coming soon.

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A new book, The Fire Now: Anti-Racist Scholarship in Times of Explicit Racial Violence, published by Zed Books is being launched on Saturday 10 November in London. Peace News contributor Marc Hudson conducted an email interview with one of the book's three editors, Remi Joseph-Salisbury, presidential fellow in sociology at the University of Manchester. The other authors are Azeezat Johnson, an ESRC postdoctoral fellow at Queen Mary's University of London and Beth Kamunge, who is studying at University of Sheffield.

1. What has spurred you to put together this book at this time? What's in the book?

The book is born out of frustration, anger and a sense of urgency to respond to the particular forms of racism and fascism that have surfaced in recent years. Its also born out of love and hope and recognition of the beauty of resistance. The book includes contributions from a group of truly amazing academics and activists who are committed to anti-racist scholarship and practice.

With authors writing from and about a number of different countries – including (but not limited to) Kenya, Canada, the United States, Britain, and Ghana – the book seeks to push us towards a more global perspective on contemporary anti-racist scholarship. The international connections are particularly manifest as Sam Tecle and Carl James ask whether a Donald Trump-like figure could rise in Canada, and Keguro Macharia asks the same of Kenya.

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This is the longer version of an obituary of the prominent US radical pacifist.

David McReynolds, who died in New York at the age of 88 on 17 August, played a leading role in the US and international peace movement. He was one of the main organisers of the anti-Vietnam war mobilisation in the US, which not only contributed to the ending of that war but had a profound impact on US politics and society. He was also prominent in the anti-nuclear campaign both in the US and internationally, and, though not a gay rights campaigner as such, he declared himself a homosexual at a time when this incurred social ostracism and the risk of arrest.

In the early 1950s as an outspoken student radical in the Political Science faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), David refused be drafted to fight in Korea but turned down the option of a student deferment on the grounds that this privileged mainly middle-class young people. David graduated in 1953 and was active in the left wing of the Socialist Party USA.

In 1956, he moved to New York and took on various part time jobs before becoming the executive secretary of the radical pacifist monthly magazine LiberationHe was a frequent contributor to that journal and to the Village Voice. (A collection of his essays was published in 1970 by Praeger with the title We have been Invaded by the 21st Century.)

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