Local democracy in Walthamstow or will the gambling giants win again?

William Hill Organisation, one of the largest betting and gambling companies in the UK  (excluding the banks of course) want to open a new betting shop in the area.  The local residents signed a petition to oppose. The local council’s planning committee agreed with them and turned down the application.  Predictably William Hill have appealed.

A few months ago Newham Council did the same; they lost on appeal.    The new style betting shops are proliferating across the UK, along with payday lenders.  Gambling Watch UK warns of a generation of younger gambling addicts.  Another report questions their link with problem gamblers.

Will the same happen in Walthamstow?   Here are the points I’ve made arguing against William Hill and supporting the Council.

  1. All of the major political parties are making policy statements to increase the degree of local decision taking in respect to their neighbourhoods.  Whether called decentralisation, community engagement, participatory democracy or the Big Society, the direction of travel is obvious: a greater degree of local direction.  It is quite clear that residents in the area, as well as their elected representatives, do
    not want to lose a retail space nor gain another betting shop in the area.
  2.  Betting shops are no longer the betting shops of old: the shop for the flutter on horse and greyhound racing.  Their main income and rationale is now gambling, more suited to casinos and the controls which apply to casinos.  Fixed Odds Betting Terminals  will be installed by the William Hill Organisation should their appeal be successful. They are aptly described as the “crack cocaine” of gambling. These have no place in our neighbourhood which already has an over-supply of gambling/betting outlets.
  3. There are already seven William Hill shops within a little over a mile of this location, including one already in the same road, according to a search on the Organisation’s own website. They cannot argue that they need another to “serve the area”.  There are, of course, even more betting shops in the
    same area managed by their competitors: the residents of the area
    already have enough outlets.  Of course the penetration of betting shops
    in a relatively poorer area of London is a sign, along with the payday lenders and pawn brokers,of the ability of the financial services industry to prey on the weakest.
  4. The location is along the route taken by many young people attending the Waltham Forest College who catch public transport at the Hoe Street/Forest Road crossroads. Putting a betting shop in their path conveys the wrong signal to them.
  5.  Walthamstow, like so many urban centres, is struggling to maintain vibrant and productive high streets and areas. The loss of a retail unit in the cluster of shops around  Hoe Street/Forest Road is an unwelcome step.   The proximity of the William Morris Gallery, now recognised as Museum of the Year 2013, the renovation of Lloyd Park and of the Bell public house into a family-centred pub, are steps in the positive direction for the regeneration of this area.  A betting/gambling shop is not.

Will Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government support local residents, or will he side with big business?

Send your objections, quoting APP/U5930/A/2199214 to teamp1@pins.gsi.gov.uk saying you oppose the appeal by the William Hill Organisation (address of proposed new betting shop is 520/522 Forest Road, Walthamstow).  By midnight 5 August!!!!

The deadline has now passed but still send your objections in (they may be accepted or at least the Planning Inspectorate might record them as too late!)

I am sure that this will not the last time a gambling company will seek to open a new outlet in Waltham Forest so keep your eyes open and be ready to organise!

 

 

 

What would you do with £100,000?

Yes, there is a catch.  Not a windfall of £100,000 for yourself. I mean the £100,000 prize money awarded to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow: the 2013 ArtFund Museum of the Year.

The Gallery is owned by the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The Leader of the Council, Chris Robbins, says, in the local Council free newspaper:

” We’re now deciding what we’ll spend the money on, and I guarantee that it will make a real,tangible difference to the Gallery itself and to the experience of visitors, whether they live in the borough, come as part of school visit or have travelled from another country to explore Morris’ extraordinary vision”

Fine words and indeed credit does go to the Council for reversing their original decision on the future of the Gallery and embarking on its marvellous renovation.

I have a major concern with Councillor Robbins’ statement. It’s that term “we’re”.  Who are the “we”?  Experience across Europe has shown that decisions about the detail of cultural projects are not best handled by politicians. This Gallery owes its current status to the energy of those who campaigned to keep it open.  Surely residents of Walthamstow, and “Morrisians” further afield, should be invited to contribute to and be part of the discussions?

Readers of Private Eye over the last few years have seen examples of less than transparent decisions and accountability by the Council.  We must not let any suspicion of this apply to the £100,000 prize fund.

I suggest that Councillor Robbins arranges a public meeting in the Assembly Hall (with its Morris inscription over the entrance) and calls for open contributions on the use of the money.  I am sure he would attract a large audience and a range of practical and imaginative suggestions.  We know we can fill the Assembly Hall, as local citizens did to help save the EMD Granada cinema.  I am sure ArtFund judges such as historian, and MP, Tristram Hunt would give us their views.  The Friends of the William Morris Gallery have a key role.  A public celebration of the prize and a forward looking debate.

A second stage would be to co-opt as non-voting observers several members of the local community to the appropriate Council committee which will be discussing the practical plans.

A third step would be a regular public updating on the William Morris Gallery website of progress, of options, of why certain proposals have been rejected, of how the money is going.  Openess being the watchword.

Yes I’m biased and declare an interest: a local resident, a member of the ArtFund (good value for money!) and I have many books by and about Morris on my bookshelves.

William Morris was an indefatigable public speaker, taking his views across the country and speaking directly to citizens.  A good model for the Council to adopt now.

Power to the people: from closure threat to Museum of the Year.

A campaign which started local and went global, has finally paid off.  Six years ago Waltham Forest Council planned to close the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow.

Now the gallery has won the Museum of the Year 2013, an award worth £100,000, and organised by the ArtFund.  Congratulations are flooding in. They are well deserved.  The renovations have transformed a fusty, dark and quite frankly unappealing building into an informative, bright and attractive survey of Morris and his myriad interests.  The obligatory cafe is a nice touch as well. Many photos on google.

Amongst the plaudits there is, however, a little re-writing of history.  One of the judges, the artist Bob and Roberta Smith is quoted in the ArtFund magazine:

” in the current climate it’s amazing to see a local authority realise the power of art in regenerating a borough”.

Other reports have made a similar point. Fair enough; Waltham Forest Council did provide £1,500,000 towards the work (around 30%) and will run the Gallery.  Good news for all who believe in the important role the arts can play in local well-being.

But it was not always this rosy. Six years ago the Council wished to close the Gallery, merge its priceless contents with a museum in South London and be shot of the whole affair. They wanted to save £65,000.  Unbelievably they had tried to do the same in 1987.

What changed their mind?  A very active campaign which gained world-wide support.  A petition signed by 11,630, demonstrations (it was cold!): citizens actions. An active Friends group was formed in 1987 lobbied.  The Council changed its mind.

Now the new Gallery has attracted over 100,000 visitors in less than a year from its re-opening. The Museum of the Year prize will bring in far more.   So it is congratulations to the local councillors.. for listening to their local citizens.

As well as the standing collection the Gallery has already hosted exhibitions by Grayson Perry, David Bailey, modern crafts and in 2014 becomes the first gallery in the UK to host Jeremy Dellers’ current exhibition at the British Pavilion in Venice. That features William Morris rising to hurl Abramovich’s monster yacht into the lagoon.

With the arts in financial trouble in most of Europe it is a little bit of good news on the power of campaigning.   William Morris, socialist, would have been pleased.

 

 

Culture, Citizens and the European Parliament

In a years’ time citizens in the European Union will be at fever pitch as they prepare to vote in the elections for the European Parliament. Well perhaps not at fever pitch! Turnout at these elections has been declining in most member states. In only 9 countries in 2009, the last election, did half the voters cast a ballot.  Apathy and indifference were stronger contenders.

2014 may well turn out to be markedly different.  The European Parliament now has real powers. Under the Lisbon treaty, it is no longer a wasted vote or a missed democratic opportunity. Members of the European Parliament have already shown they can alter proposals from the European Commission and from the inter-governmental Council. The 2014-2019 European Parliament will feature far more in our news than its predecessors.

But who will be in the Parliament?  At the moment it is dominated by four main political groupings: the Christian Democrat EPP, the Socialists and Democrats, ALDE. (liberals) and the Greens. All pro-EU and used to working in “the spirit of the EU”.  Of course they all have a few mavericks but generally they work comfortably together.  With well over 70% of the members they control the Parliament.

The rest form odd groupings: from the left to the right.  Noisy, splintered, fragmented and mostly ineffectual,

But will this be the same after next years’ elections?  The current political climate across the EU suggests otherwise.  A feature of recent elections and polls in member states has been the rise of parties not affiliated with the big 4 at European level.  Golden Dawn and Syrizia in Greece; UKIP in the UK, Grillo’s M25 in Italy.  A new party will contest the German elections in September (pro-EU, anti Euro). Opinion polls in Spain show a breakdown in support for the two main parties with the left and centre gaining. Concurrently there is increasing support for the 15-M movement.  Logic dictates that voters in Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus may not look too kindly on pro-EU candidates next year as the EU takes the blame for the austerity measures (and you can’t vote for the IMF). The far right-wing parties also seem to be gaining in popularity with their anti-EU, xenophobic, reactionary rhetoric. The True Finns, Swedish Democrats, Le Pen’s Front National.. the list, goes on. In the UK, sadly, it seems to be a given that UKIP will be the largest party in the May 2014 elections. If nothing else the noise from the far-right drags the centre of debate even further to the right.

Already alarm bells are ringing in Brussels.  A European Parliament with a substantial minority being anti-EU or at least anti current policies?  Indeed it is not too difficult to forecast a blocking minority (although the chances of all the “minority” parties agreeing on anything is remote).

The political parties are preparing.  Gossip abounds about who from the in-crowd will get the top jobs.  But outside of party politics there are several attempts to influence and mobilize opinion before the elections.

In June we see the “first-ever Citizens Summit” organised by the “EU Civil Society Contact Group“. The Group brings together eight large rights and value
based NGO sectors – culture, environment, education, development, human rights,
public health, social and women. The Summit aims:

to bring together for the first time professionals, practitioners and activists
from across the different sectors, culture, development, education,
environment, health, human rights, social affairs and women’s rights to
discuss the future of Europe. Our intention is to foster an open dialogue
amongst a diverse group from across Europe in order to start a genuine
participatory process on the future of the European Union, and what this means
for people living within its borders. We believe that by creating a shared
understanding and dialogue, we can help move forward common objectives for a
common future. 

The Cultural Coalition for a Citizen’s Europe holds its latest conference in Lyon in May.  After its meetings in Brussels and Amsterdam this coalition turns its attention to

At its borders, in a Mediterranean political and social transformation, Europe is experiencing a strong migratory pressure from its neighbours and more distant countries. Inside, the moral, social and economic crisis leads us to retreat, promoting the growth of xenophobia, nationalism or simply mistrust vis-à-vis foreigners (whether EU or non-EU ). How are we to consider the prospect of the European population’s decline in this major contemporary tension if we do not accept more than 55 million foreign workers in four decades? How should the cultural and civic dimension be taken into account in international relations, especially with countries of the Mediterranean basin?

Even the European Commission gets in on the act with the “New Narrative for Europe“. Launched by Commission president Barroso the project runs to three “états généraux” of participants, mainly representatives from the world of culture and intellectuals, in Warsaw, Paris and an as yet undetermined city in Germany. It will result in

the publication of a manifesto by the participants in the “états généraux” meetings and other interested parties, incorporating elements relating to the values, culture and history that represent the connecting link between Europeans, in order to develop a vision for Europe which can be adapted to the current challenges such as solidarity, strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU and the role of Europe in the age of globalisation and interdependence.

These initiatives are to be welcomed.  But are they enough and will they tackle the hard issues of today?  It is noticeable that none of the meetings in the three projects will take place in a country under a EU/ECB/IMF bail-out regime. Not perhaps a good message to send!

Trust in the six largest European Union member states as a basic concept is declining.  When economic times are tough solidarity with fellow Europeans declines.  Yet virtually all the solutions on offer, including those based on culture, seek greater Europeanness, More Europe.

Aart de Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German think-tank, warns that the drive to surrender more key national powers to Brussels would backfire. “Public support for the EU has been falling since 2007. So it is risky to go for federalism as it can cause a backlash and unleash greater populism.”

Jurgen Habermas and  Zygmunt Bauman have weighed into the debate about the limits of solidarity, the rise of populism and the risks to the European project. The Trade Unions are calling for a Social Europe as a way of going beyond the economic focus.

Barroso himself warns  ” We cannot let populism, scepticism or pessimism undermine the foundations of Europe, not to speak about new forms of nationalism that I believe are a very serious risk for the European values that we cherish.”

The key test for the Cultural Coalition, the Citizen’s Summit and the New Narrative is to move beyond the cultural cosmopolitan, the “educated urbanists” in marketing jargon. I’m assuming that the participants will not use the projects to press for their own sectors’ financial case.  Lobbying has its place: this is not that place.

There have been many fine sounding declarations of the importance of culture in Europe, how culture is at the heart of being European and how culture can support the European Union. (This last assertion is the hardest to sustain).  I hope the initiatives do not come up with more of the same, however well-intentioned.  The economic austerity in many countries in the EU, the threats to free movement of people (but not it seems capital), the failure of many austerity programmes, rising un-employment (and under-employment) change the context.  Those previous declarations have appealed to the committed Europeans in times of plenty. Now is the time to send a positive message to those less than committed to a European Union.

It is probably too late for the projects to change their programmes but they surely must hold meetings away from the Brussels/France/Germany nexus.  It will soon be EU-28 but you wouldn’t notice it.

Robin Wilson puts one of the key challenges this way:

For a young generation for whom the war is sepia-tinted history and neoliberalism offers only insecurity—including in some countries a more than even chance of being unemployed—’Europe’ therefore now holds no meaning except Erasmus programmes for the educated elite.

This chimes with a major report on Youth Participation in Democratic Life,  which should be required reading in all three projects.  The research looked at youth (13-30 year olds to match the EU’s Youth in Action programme) in six countries (Austria, Finland, France, Poland, Spain and UK).  The report calls for major changes to remove poltiical and cultural barriers to increased youth participation.

Given the overwhelming levels of perceived betrayal, distrust, scepticism and/or anger expressed with regard to politicians by 95% of our focus group respondents from “reference”, “active” and “excluded” in all six countries and the survey results that point to a political offer that is often perceived as inadequate, this seems to us to be an immediate and significant challenge and action point.

A challenge indeed.  Let’s see how they respond.

 

If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep

 

 

At the time of writing it is unclear how the Cyprus “bail-in” crisis will be resolved. Regardless of the ending it is clear that a modern Rubicon has been crossed.  It has been a tenet of faith since the financial crisis exploded in 2007 that the money people have in banks, up to  EUR100,000, is safe.  Taxes may be raised, public sector jobs and salaries cut, public services reduced or sold off but banks can still be trusted to look after people’s’ money in their bank accounts.  “Savers” are now “lenders to banks”.

The initial terms of the Eurozone “solution” of Cyprus’ banking problem has blown that tenet apart.  It seems that finance ministers, EC officials and the IMF have decided that bank accounts are no longer safe. Some are hastily backtracking once they see the public anger but too late: they did say “cross the Rubicon, it’s only a little stream in little Cyprus”.  The details, still being debated whilst I write, are irrelevant.

The European Union prides itself on being a union of values. The claim is a fixture in many documents from all of the Brussels institutions: Parliament, Commission, Council (and the Bank in Frankfurt).

The initial terms of the Cyprus “deal”  break a fundamental value: that of trust.

I think that the Cyprus “deal” is a watershed. Across the EU more and more people are becoming angrier, more cynical, and more distrustful of those in power.  Dissent is moving from the fringe nearer the centre, the mainstream, perhaps not now but slowly and progressively.

One of the posters at a demonstration in Nicosia read “If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep“: the title of a recent play at the Royal Court Theatre in London.  It marked a return to overt political theatre.  The play may not have hit the heights of theatrical drama but the message and intent was clear.  The cultural sector often claims for itself that it challenges the status quo, that it triggers a deeper look at our society and current beliefs.  In reality the overwhelming output of the creative and cultural sector does nothing of the sort.  But in times of crisis, when basic values are under threat, it is promising that some parts of the creative world can present a strong reflection.  It is surely a time when culture, the arts, needs to challenge the economic basis of society, a return to collective values rather than the intensity of challenging individual identity.

There are calls for a new European Union. They vary from one based on a cultural concept, or led by and for citizens or a social Europe. They have in common a demand for a fundamental change in direction, a rejection of the pure market led society and ideology now prevalent.

Ken Loach’s film “Spirit of 45” records the transformation of British society after the Second World War; a social transformation slowly dismantled from Thatcher onwards and being rapidly dismantled by the current UK government in the name of austerity.    It is not just in the UK.

The film highlights the poverty of the 1930s. There is a telling shot of a poster “Starving men fed daily”; the film ends with a queue at a food kitchen in Walthamstow in 2013.  Recently the leading Labour Party politician charged with drafting the new party policy said that he believed food kitchens will remain with us, (and not just in the UK).  Leadership? Progress? A warning?

2013 in the EU has been marked by a succession of comments, speeches and plans based around the false idea that the European Union welfare state concept, the social market, can no longer “compete” in the world increasingly dominated by Asian societies paying little attention to welfare of their citizens.

If there was a time for a cultural European Union, a citizens’ European Union, it is now. Both need to reject the current direction of politicians; it is not a time to tinkering at the edges or for confusing lobbying for more money for the arts with a need to change the ideological direction.

Photo from here

 

Unity through Conferences

It’s November and the conference season in full swing across Europe. Austerity and cuts may be the dominant reality but Europe’s cultural cosmopolitans have their boarding passes at the ready.

The ever-welcome newsletter of the Platform for Intercultural Europe (PIE) sets the scene.  Conferences in Belfast, Brussels, Turin, Vilnius, Helsinki, Brussels (again), Cosenza, and Kobuleti; and that’s just November.  Amidst this cornucopia of lanyards, name tags and lost luggage two themes emerge, the ever-changing make-up of European societies and how “culture” can, or should, solve Europe’s problems.

I’m sure that participants in all these events will come away energised with new ideas, some which may be put into practice.  My own more limited hope is that conference organisers put as much as possible onto their websites after the event. It is so frustrating to read the programme, perhaps read some advance papers, and, then, nothing more. (advance #Hashtags also useful!).

The Platform’s newsletter goes some way to open up one series of meetings.  The European Commission’s use of expert groups has come under criticism recently from the European Parliament. The PIE reports on a meeting in Brussels of the “Open Method of Co-ordination” .. an expert group on  “Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue”. It’s a comprehensive report: just as well as I can’t find any formal minutes or names of members. “Open” clearly does not mean “public” which is a shame in today’s more transparent requirements of governance.

I was taken by Chris Torch’s expert paper prepared for the meeting in which he gives an overview of migration and poses some ways forward for the arts sector to address social cohesion and diversity issues.  A sound paper but one I felt stopped short of proposing the radical changes needed.  It seems the OMC meeting itself also took the easy way out with its interim view that arts organisations should perhaps carry on as usual and merely add some additional “community” arts to their programmes.  The EU prides itself on its “Unity in Diversity” but nowhere more so than the ways member states deal with their own citizens and residents in their countries.  This point was raised at the meeting by representatives of member state governments. The Torch paper underplays the wide nature of “migrants” weakening many assumptions and recommendations he made.  There are, post 1945, four main waves of migration, loosely described as “guest worker”, post colonial, economic and intra-EU free movement. Western Europe has seen the four waves, in different mixes, from the 1950s. The newer member states in Central Europe had a long period of increasing mono-culture and a more recent and shorter experience of both emigration and fluidity.  Countries with a history of being emigrants themselves now find themselves receiving migrants. In many countries migrants, as in newcomers, are outnumbered by second and third generation citizens, no longer migrants nor should they be considered as such. Racism not migration is the issue.

Each country has a different mix based on their own history. I found both the Torch paper and the report on the meeting too timid in their views. The hard topics are avoided: religious  and cultural differences, the rise of overt racism (in Greece for example with Golden Dawn, in Hungary etc). In short: the policies and practices of the last decade do not seem to be working. More of the same is not enough.  What was missing from the Torch paper and it seems from the OMC is the realisation that change is needed within the arts and creative industry sectors, as employers of managers and artists. Adding activities on the margins of the mainstream is not enough.

Brussels naturally, hosts two conferences which look at two sides of the second mega-theme.  Culture Action Europe, a lobby group for the arts sector, opens with a programme  Let’s ask ourselves: what we can do for the European project, in what ways can we be useful? And then: engage to do it!   I do admire the conference’s aim ” A starting point for a large-scale movement of European citizens, regardless of the sector in which they are engaged, to reclaim the destiny of the European project.”

These arts sector orientated debates are followed two weeks later at the Brussels Conversations on a Cultural Coalition for a Citizens Europe, discussing “the future of the European project and the citizen’s role in making it a reality”.  A brave aim when many are questioning the very concept of the European project. Was the Nobel Peace Prize the final accolade for the project now it has achieved its original aim of ensuring enduring peace between France and Germany?  I do like the conference proposition that  “The lectures and workshops in this encounter will move beyond the theoretical-legal-philosophical discussion and show that citizenship and its cultural component is something we should practice in our daily lives”.

A busy time indeed. And myself?  Well not to be left out I’m speaking at a conference in Paris on 23 November.  My theme?  “Europe: cultural solutions to a wicked problem?”

 

Derry: UK City of Culture 2013 launches programme

Derry-Londonderry, the UK’s City of Culture in 2013,  has announced its programme.

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of Culture Company 2013, said: “We hope that Derry~Londonderry’s City of Culture year brings a sense of joy, a sense of ambition, a sense of pride in our community, a sense of being part of a global community, and in the end a sense of achievement – that we all did this together and it meant something. A huge success for a small city.”

Derry won the title after a competition with 15 other British cities; selection was by an independent panel.

McCarthy continues

It is a privilege to have received the baton from the amazing festival that was London 2012 and to be carrying on the legacy from Liverpool 08. We in turn will pass the spotlight to Glasgow  2014 and the Commonwealth Games and the next UK City of Culture in 2017.

Derry~Londonderry in Northern Ireland will play host to a world-class programme which includes the Turner Prize presented outside England for the first time; a new commission by the London Symphony Orchestra; award-winning choreographer Hofesh Shechter; the return of Field Day; a new play by American playwright Sam Shepard; local Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney; and the first visit to Northern Ireland of the Royal Ballet for over 20 years.

The core themes of the City of Culture project are Joyous Celebration and Purposeful Inquiry with four distinct components:

1, Unlocking Creativity
2, Creative Connections
3, Digital Dialogue
4, Creating a New Story

As well as the cultural events  the Derry2013 programme has  extensive projects with schools and community groups.

 

 

“We are suffering in a sea of blood”: Samar Yazbek

Syrian writer Samar Yazbek has been awarded the Pen Pinter award for Writer of Courage on the nomination of Carol Ann Duffy.   Yazbek, now in exile in Paris, writes about her experiences in Syria in “A Woman in the Crossfire” and was in discussion with Peter Clark at the Frontline Club in July.

“What is this madness?” she writes. “Death is a mobile creature that now walks on two legs. I hear its voice, I can stare right at it. I am the one who knows what it tastes like, who knows the taste of a knife against your throat, the taste of boots on your neck … I am no longer afraid of death. We breathe it in. I wait for it, calm with my cigarette and coffee.”

Last year I wrote this on my previous blog:

Writers capture the essence of place and time.   The tragic events in Syria are underreported by the media.  Daily the government is killing protestors seeking nothing more than freedom.  As with the other North African and Arab countries Syria is showing what happens when trust breaks down within a country between the leaders and the people of a country. Egypt and Tunisia have started the long slow path to normality. Syria has not. Yet.

But what it is like to be in Syria now?  We hear little from those in the country.   Samar Yazbek is a novelist, screen writer and was banned from leaving Syria last month.  In a recent interview  she said:

“In recent weeks people have finally broken the silence and fear, I myself have participated in the demonstrations”, she says. “We have found the courage to ask for freedom and democracy, an end to emergency laws that oppress us since 1963. We demand real political parties and elections, the right to express ourselves. But the repression is very hard, with many deaths and arrests. As always, the regime makes promises, but does not maintain them.The army and security forces control everything.”  More than that of the streets, she says, is the fear of speaking”      ” ……..  “The solution must come from within. From our youth who are the most important force, from women activists. In all there is much awareness and commitment, refusal to divide ethnic groups or religions.”

As a writer she puts her thoughts into words.   Here is the opening of a recent work published on Babelmed ,  ” Awaiting Death”

It is not true that death will have your eyes when it comes.

It is not true that the desire for death is like the desire for love. These two are not identical, yet they both float in nothingness.

In love, one identifies oneself with another person, whereas in death one identifies with one’s existence and the metamorphosis from tangible substance to an abstract idea. People have always seen death as being more noble than their own existence: if not, why venerate the dead? The deceased, who was here among us only a few minutes ago, is at once turned into nothing but a spark.

I would not say that I am calm now, but I am silent. I can hear my heart thumping like the echo of a distant explosion: more clearly than the sound of bullets, screaming kids, and wailing mothers, and even more clearly than the trembling voice of my mother when she tells me not to go out into the street.

The assassins are everywhere.
Death is everywhere.

In the village,

In the city,

By the seaside.

Assassins are taking over both humans and places, and they are terrorizing people. They come to the homes of our neighbours, telling them that we are about to kill them. Then, they turn back at us crying: They will kill you!

I am the accidental visitor to this place. I am the improvisation of life. I do not belong to my own community.

Continue reading at   www.babel.net

 

The real legacy of the Paralympics rests outside sport.

The Paralympians have gone home to celebratory welcomes and parades. In London, in Moscow, in Cairo.  For two weeks their exploits in the London 2012 Paralympics have captured the imagination of millions of people. In the UK we were lucky to have blanket coverage from Channel 4. In many countries, most noticeably the USA, broadcasters let their athletes down.

And now to the legacy.   Undoubtedly the Paralympians will “inspire a generation”. More disabled people will take up some sport or active exercise.  Many parents of disabled children have taken heart having seen what is possible. The search for more elite athletes will continue in preparation for the Paralympics in Rio2016.

The legacy needs to be broader and not just linked to sport. It needs many people to make it happen. Are you a manager?  An HR professional? An events organiser? Are you an architect or designer? A politician?

Take a long look this week at your own interactions with disabled people.  Are your products and services suited for disabled people?  Are you capable of – and open to -employing disabled staff?   Not just the ramp at the entrance.  One of the most poignant interviews  during the Paralympics was with five-time Gold medalist in dressage Sophie Christensen, born with cerebral palsy. She now has a job…..

But getting that job was really difficult. With my first-class masters degree, I wanted to get a high-flying job in the City. And I went to loads of interviews and ended up thinking, this isn’t going to work. Firstly, I wouldn’t be able to live in London because of access, and secondly, the big companies weren’t willing to give me a bit of extra help.

Does that ring a bell? What are you going to do about this week?   Just how open for business and employment is your organisation? Are you willing to give that bit of extra help?

An events manager? How suitable are your events for disabled participants?  The event can range from an internal staff meeting to an arts festival for thousands.

If you are an arts manager are you aware of artists who are disabled and do you give them space? Why not?  Dance companies like Candoco performed at the Closing Ceremony; is the arts sector living up to its oft heard claims to be in the lead in society?

Architects and designers have a special responsibility. They make the future in many ways.   Will the thousands of new houses and flats in the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park be suitable for the disabled?  This means exceeding the current minimum building regulations. It would be a travesty if the developers cut corners. And not just on that site. Are you a local Councillor on a Planning Committee. Are you approving new residential units with limited access and facilities?

The Paralympian athletes inspired us all.   We all look at disability in a different light. It is now for us to inspire a generation by changing our habits and practices.  The Paralympics have come of age . Seventy-five countries won medals at the Paralympics; athletes from over one hundred and sixty countries took part.  They inspired everyone who watched.  Now is the time to change.  There is a wealth of advice available; use it.

 

The London Olympics and public diplomacy?

There could not be a clearer example of the difference between public diplomacy and cultural relations than that shown in the USC’s latest PDiN Monitor which focusses on British public diplomacy and the London Olympic Games.

The first three articles fall into those who understand public diplomacy as PR and propaganda.  The UK’s Consul General in Los Angeles shows a diplomat’s role: delivering messages linked to the GREAT Britain marketing campaign. (I’ve heard of other countries where this cringe-worthy tagline was not used or downplayed).  That tourism was markedly down during the Games fortnight was noticeable as Londoners became used to an Oxford Street bereft of shoppers, being able to move around the city even more easily than a normal August.  It was a great time to be in London!

“If the University of Southern California were its own country, its alumni alone would have ranked sixth among countries in gold medals (ahead of Germany, France, and Italy) and 11th in overall medal count”, writes Barry Sanders, Chairman of the Southern California Olympic Committee.  He goes on to demonstrate the considerable impact California has on the US and other teams.

The most incredible article comes from Saudi Arabia featuring its women competitors.  Noting the gradual approach to change in Saudi Arabia we learn:

“A key element has been that the whole process of ensuring the valuable, and essential, participation of women has been managed carefully within the framework of long-standing cultural traditions. The inclusion of our two women athletes in the Olympic Games – and the development of associated infrastructure for women athletes – follows exactly this same well-tried process.”

I’ll return for the fourth article later but first, what do these three contributions tell us?  That PR is alive and well and does not need expensive spin doctors to provide it.  Rather than a survey of the international impact of the London Olympics the three articles are an official line dream come true.  “Give us your press release and we’ll print it”.  So the California Olympic Committee responds saying California invented the Olympics (almost).

As an aside, I hope that they used every single one of their tickets (if they had any as part of the USA’s National Olympic Committee allocation) and were not part of the “empty official seats” fiasco of the first week. National Olympic Committees lost respect once it was discovered their officials were not taking up their entitlements notwithstanding the massive demand for tickets.  Even the IOC recognised this must change for Rio2016.   California undoubtedly had a good Games, far better than Atlanta96. Interviews throughout the whole Games were marked with comments, from IOC boss Rogge downwards, with “we must not return to Atlanta”. 1996 was not deemed an Olympic success but that was not in California.

The Saudi contribution is a masterpiece in avoidance.  No mention that Saudi Arabia was threatened with exclusion for not including women in its team – required under the IOC Charter – as international and IOC pressure built up.  Sarah Attar, the 800m athlete is a dual US-Saudi national: born, high-schooled and now at university… in California.  Her university advertises itself as a Christian University (Pepperdine).  Hardly a tribute to Saudi’s domestic support for women athletes.  Ms Attar won the hearts of spectators as she was clearly not up to current Olympic standard but finished her heat.  Saudi lost any hope of a progressive, however gradual, message when its two women team members walked behind the men at the opening ceremony – uniquely amongst Muslim majority countries.  There was a powerful BBC TV interview with two Kuwaiti women Olympians criticising the Saudi policy and holding little hope for domestic development without external pressure.

There did not seem to be any women in the Saudi team at the Paralympics opening ceremony.

The fourth article captured the cultural relations, the person to person, impact of the Games.   Many countries opened National Houses in London.  Many were closed to the public and used by the team, officials, “Very Important Persons” and trade promotions.  Some were public and the two writers capture the PR variations between Russia, France, Brazil, the shared Africa House and the Netherlands: from outright (Russia) to laid back (Netherlands).  What they missed is that many of the Houses from EU countries used their Houses to sell surplus official tickets.  This certainly improved the image of those countries.

It seems to me that when looking at the impact of major sporting events like the Olympics, the Paralympics or the World Cup we need to go further than the straightforward official public relations. What do people remember from them? Do their behaviour or views change?   I’ll return to this topic in a later posting once the Paralympics end.

In the meantime one of the mosst positive images from London2012.