You know that a city is too gentrified when you start to see cafes selling cupcakes. I have a particular problem with cupcakes because they’re just fairy cakes, similar to those that we used to make in primary school and sold for 10p. But rebranded as cupcakes, they’re now sold for £3 per tiny cake.
Gentrification in progress. There’ll be cupcakes! an artist’s mural announces on London Road in Brighton.
I have called Brighton – and the London Road area – my home for a number of years. Brighton’s a great place. Small enough that you run into friends on the street, and big enough to be a hive of alternative cultures and projects.
Walking to a commune meeting in Amûdê with friends
“We’re solidarity activists,” we say to a man who greets us as we cross the border into Rojava.
“You’ve come too late!” he replies.
Nevertheless, he smiles widely, welcomes us and shakes our hands. In a way, I agree with him. We have come too late. We are only visiting Rojava when there has been a revolution; only after the people have successfully formed their own autonomous region. Where were we when the Kurdish population of Syria were fighting for their rights, for their own self-determination, under Assad?
Polen Ünlü, an activist in the conscientious objector movement, died in the bombing in Suruç on 20th July. (Photo taken from JINHA women’s news agency)
It’s June 2015, and we arrive in North Kurdistan (the part of Kurdistan within the Turkish borders) at election time. The Kurdish population is ecstatic, because for the first time in the history of the Republic of Turkey, the pro-Kurdish HDP party has won 80 seats in parliament. The HDP could only have any seats if it gained at least 10% of the total vote (a rule that was put into place in 1980 to stop Kurds from ever being represented), and it achieved this. Although I’m an anarchist, I can’t help but be a bit impressed by the HDP, with their promises of women’s and LGBT rights, and their attempt to represent all ethnicities and religions.
“Smile like you mean it and it will be returned.”
– Nahko & Medicine for the People, Father Mountain
I live in a society that is suffering from a sickness – a society where we are fearful and distrusting of our fellow human beings; a society where any sense of community has vanished and where we don’t have a clue who our neighbours are; a capitalist society where we are conditioned to be individualistic and competitive in order to be the best, as opposed to selfless and giving; a society where we have been brought up to think that it’s okay to bomb and massacre other people because we’re somehow more right and just; a society where our obsession for smart phones and social media feeds our egos and fuels narcissism; a society in which many of us are suffering from epic rates of mental health problems.
Having referred to myself as an anarchist in various blog posts, I thought I would write about what anarchism means to me. Anarchism means something slightly different to each anarchist, so this is a very personal post.
“Anarchism means a condition or society where all men and women are free, and where all enjoy equally the benefits of an ordered and sensible life.”
– Alexander Berkman: ABC of Anarchism (1929)
Anarchy, and anarchism, doesn’t mean chaos, despite what the media and politicians will tell you. Anarchists believe that no-one should be ruled over or managed and that no-one should hold more power than another. We believe that we can organise together and that people should directly run society, as opposed to governments enforcing their laws on us and imprisoning us if we don’t obey. We demand a world without oppression and without governments, judges, the police, the military, landlords and land owners, and we demand a world without borders. We believe that all people should have a right to land and a right to move wherever they want to, no matter how ‘poor’ they are, or what colour skin they have, or what passport they have (if they are privileged enough to have one at all).
A Phnom Penh street
It’s 8pm in Phnom Penh. The bars are full of beautiful young women who are selling their bodies. The streets are full of lone, white, middle-aged men, who are in Cambodia because they are weak-charactered, here to fulfill their lust at the cheapest price.
A roadside warning in Laos
I’m in Luang Prabang. A man walks past in a T-shirt that says Same Same. The phrase, known to everyone in South East Asia, sums up the backpacker life in Laos. Everyone’s travelling to the same towns, doing the exact same route, staying in the same guesthouses, eating in the same restaurants, and reading the same copy of the Lonely Planet. People are even wearing the same clothes (including me!). Conversation is always the same: “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, “Have you been to….?”
Whilst travelling in South East Asia, you don’t need to use your brain: restaurant menus are in English and every guesthouse will book a bus ticket for you, so you don’t even need to attempt to buy your own tickets. I find myself turning into a Travel Snob: the kind of person who I usually frown upon, who thinks of themselves as more authentic than other travellers (“I’ve hitchhiked through Iraq, don’t you know?!”). Because of this, I decide to get off of the backpacker trail, say goodbye to the Same Same T-shirts and hopefully leave my conceitedness behind.
Protesters at Piccadilly Circus last year
I loathe London. I lived there for a decade. I did my time there, I lived on both sides of the river, I knew the city. So now I feel that it is my right to loathe it!
Why do I dislike London so much? Maybe my views are tainted by the past – by memories of the old me. But mostly I dislike London because it is the epitome of the capitalist system.
Just over a year ago, my friends and I travelled to Kurdistan in northern Iraq. It was January 2012 and we had just spent two months in Iran. Imagine our surprise when we reached Sulaymaniyah and were greeted with Christmas decorations on the streets of this predominantly non-Christian country, and imagine our confusion as we saw huge 4×4 cars rolling past expensive hotels. Within ten minutes of being in Sulaymaniyah, it was clear that the corporate takeover of the region’s resources was well under way.
Three days ago, at 5.30am on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, myself and two others ran up to the security fence of the EDO arms factory in Brighton and locked ourselves onto the gates, using d-locks around our necks, ensuring that the gates would not open when the workers came in for their shift at 5.45am and stopping deliveries from arriving. The other two activists superglued their hands to the gates. We remained locked there for six hours until the police removed us, and we were given support by other anti-war activists, who stayed by our sides.
Since moving to Brighton, my second home has become the Cowley Club, a collectively-owned non-profit base for activists to meet each other, hold meetings, stage events and eat vegan cake! I have become involved with Smash EDO, an anti-arms campaign against the local weapons factory, EDO MBM. Admirably, Smash EDO has been campaigning constantly since 2004, holding weekly demonstrations outside the factory, as well as organising many mass direct actions, rooftop occupations, peace camps, critical mass bike rides, blockades of the company’s phone lines…the list goes on. And in January 2009, when more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Massacre, a group of activists broke into the factory and caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. In court, the activists were found not guilty, as they were trying to prevent a greater crime. Despite all this, EDO remains in Brighton, protected by police at every demonstration.