Bolivar Hall, 16 Jan 2012:
Do I have a say? Do I have a voice? That is a question I have asked myself many times. Of course, I do, I am using it to speak right now, I use it to speak whenever I like, and to say whatever I like. The question really is, then, why does no-one listen. Why does no-one listen to what young people have to say? Why does no-one represent us? And the answer is this; we live in a democracy, a Great British democracy. A democracy of the elites, a democracy of the powerful, and a democracy that attempts to over-power those who do not fall into line. It is an arrogant ideology, one that condescends and condemns patronises those who oppose it. Is it worth killing for? Of course it is, because without killing, it wouldn’t even exist. And above all, it is not a real democracy.
I want to take a few minutes to analyse the state of our society. Let’s take the issue of women’s rights; how women are valued in our society, how women are treated, and what our society is doing to actively fight for and promote the rights of a historically oppressed and marginalised section of our society. In England, women are beaten up by their partners every day. In England, women are hospitalised by their boyfriends and husbands every day. In England, women are killed every week by the people who are supposed to love and protect them. In our society, women are objectified on television as objects for our sexual and visual pleasure and nothing more. In our media, we sell and package and advertise sex to children of younger and younger ages. What do we do to protect women in our society? Men that beat up their girlfriends, or wives; that brutally assault the women they live and sleep with, can expect, at most, a sentence of a few years. Many are released, and do exactly the same thing again.
What do we do to protect young people in our society? What do we do to actively promote these young minds, the people that hold our future in their hands, the people whose smiles brighten our day, and whose eyes will see many years after we leave the Earth? How do we harness their potential, and encourage them to succeed. We bombard them with advertising every day, and feed them a diet of consumerism and constant obsession with material goods. And then when shops are smashed open, and the goods displayed in windows, the goods that we tell young people they need to survive, when they are stolen and looted… WELL! Then it is time to condemn our young people, to demonise them, to single out this “sick section of our society”. Actually, I think it is the one’s who loot the natural resources of entire continents who are really the lowest in our society.
What are we doing to combat racism, to empower and respect ethnic minorities, and to encourage racial harmony in our society. People of many races, but majority black people, die in the custody of the police and not one single person is held to account. As Benjamin Zephaniah once wrote, “How has it become so official, that black people are killed, without any killers?”
That was written in a poem dedicated to Stephen Lawrence. When Nelson Mandela came to visit his mother, Doreen, in 1993, he said to her, “we are used to this in South Africa, where black lives are cheap. But I did not know this was also the case here in the UK.” It took eighteen years for Stephen Lawrence’s parents to see two, only two of his five killers, put in prison. Five men that the police themselves knew were responsible for his death. It took years of tireless campaigning. It took a public report in 1999 which confirmed what most of us already knew, and still know today, that the police are insitutionally racist. So, when did that “institutional racism” disappear? I, for one, am a big fan of our democracy… I mean, black people are still 30 more times likely than white people to be stopped by the police, so it’s really unlikely that I’m ever going to get stop and searched! I might get pulled out of my wheelchair every now and then instead, but at least I won’t be denounced as a drug dealer or gang member immediately afterwards.
What do we do to promote the equality of disabled people in our society? For a start, they are forbidden from travelling on the public transport that every one else enjoys through it’s inaccessibality. On the forms of public transport that are accessible, buses for example, they are hassled by drivers, treated as a liability, refused entry, ignored, bullied and humiliated on a regular basis. Disabled people are denounced as scroungers, and their benefits, which are so meagre that no-one could live on them, are the amongst the first to be cut. In fact, I think the government who have such a loose touch, not even a touch of reality, to ask for £60 million to buy the Queen a boat for being alive… it seems like they are scrounging a lot more than disabled people.
It is dangerously easy, I think, to lose hope in this country. We are pumped with propaganda from morning to night, told that our politicial is the best system, the only system, and indeed that other people in the world are begging for us to “intervene”, to give them the gift of western democracy. Of course, this is not true. From my own experiences, it seems that people in other parts of the world are pursuing their own political systems, independent of foreign influence, and are succeeding. Let us take, for example, Venezuela. In this country, we speak about an idea that I find very strange; “representative democracy”. The idea that we need people to “represent” us, to make our decisions for us. Even if we thought this was a good model of democracy, which I don’t think it is, it is quite clear that the people in political power do not represent us. Why should I vote for one of three candidates, none of whom can relate to my background, understand my experience or have knowledge of where I come from.
In Venezuela, they speak of a participatory democracy. That is to say, a political system where the people directly participate in political decisions and have a say in the direction their country is headed. When the constitution of Venezuela was written, in 1999, it benefited from the suggestions, amendments and additions from tens of thousands of people. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Now, you can buy a pocket-sized copy of the constitution from any street corner in Caracas. Now, articles of the constitution are printed on the back of rice packets in government-subsidised supermarkets in poor neighbourhoods. That is supermarkets where people can buy healthy, nutritious food for way below the normal price. What do we have? Iceland in Peckham selling frozen junk and KFC and McDonald’s in the centre of Brixton. Thank you very much western democracy.
Where is our constitution? Do citizens of this country know what their legal and social rights are? Or do those rights depend on your wealth, your social background, or the colour of your skin? Where is the encouragement for young people, or indeed any people, to engage in the political process in this country, when they know they have been, are being and will be consistently lied to by politicians in all of the main political parties, and that no-one will be held to account. In Venezuela, a referendum to recall any publically-elected official can be held if a petition signed by 20% of the electorate demands it. In 2004, some Venezuelans did exactly that, and a referendum was held to determine whether Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, should be re-called or not. Almost 5 million people, 58% of those who voted, said that Hugo Chavez should remain in office. What a despicable dictator, winning those elections over and over again!
Where are the referendums in this country, where are the chances to throw our elected officials out of office? That is a fun event that all the family could enjoy! There are none, and so instead, young people take to the streets, where they are disgracefully brutalised by the police. When it gets really serious, threats to send the army are hovered in the air. Do you know what happens when this occurs in another country. It is called civil war and extreme repression, if practised by a government that is unfavourable to our interests, and we demand for sanctions to be imposed. We reward the people of countries we happen to not like, usually based on the foreign policy of their government, by sanctioning them. If it is practised in countries that are favourable to our interests, then it is described as unrest. Nothing wrong with a bit of unrest, is there?
So, there is another election in Venezuela this year. How will we denounce Mr. Dictator Hugo Chavez this time? Will we cry about the lack of media freedom, in a country where the private media actively supported, promoted and called for a coup against the elected President of the country in 2002. Can you imagine if ITV News were broadcasting announcements, telling people to get down to Downing Street and drag David Cameron from his bed at number ten? Do you think, in that context, that ITV News would retain their license to broadcast? Do you think that if ITV and Channel 4 News were calling David Cameron a “monkey” on national television, that the British government would tolerate it? Luckily, we don’t have to worry about issues as petty as freedom of press in this country; when we are going to war, or when the going gets tough, the media know which side their bread is buttered on. Or if, like Press TV, they have a different agenda, it is not difficult to quickly sweep them off the air. Thank you so much for Western democracy; as a journalist, I really love the freedom it gives me.
In Venezuela, a trip from the barrios, the poor neighbourhoods in the hills, down to the centre of town; a trip that used to take up to two hours, now takes 15 minutes on the cable cars the government have built. They are free, clean, quick, and provide a beautiful view over the city for children on their way to school, and men and women on their way to work. Personally, I much prefer the London tube, which I can’t get on because of the fact I use a wheelchair. Thank you very much equality-loving Western democracy.
There is a simple concept that a lot of people seem to find difficult to comprehend. As great, lovely, free, caring and positive the political system is in this country, and this is coming from someone who really, really loves Western democracy, it isn’t for everyone. Unfortunately for us, other countries have found alternative systems that actually work. The people of those countries are not going to sit down and welcome foreign invaders with open arms, whether they come in the form of NATO-bombs or IMF restructuring programs; they never have, and they never will. The question is, do we want our Empire to sink whilst writhing about and splashing in the ocean of change, or do we want to accept and embrace those waves in all their beauty.