Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Internship at WoW by Lucy Fegan

I’ve been interning with Writing on the Wall for four months now and have been welcomed into an organisation that is creative, passionate and encourages the surrounding community to think differently about their world.

During these past four months I have been completing my university course and I can hardly believe that my internship is coming to an end (and that I’ll be graduating in just a few short weeks!).

As a Journalism student, I was interested in meeting people and hearing their stories. This is what drew me to Writing on the Wall. I knew they held a festival every May but later learnt now dynamic it was and how much they help people to achieve more than they could ever imagine.

Writing on the Wall has allowed me to expand on my skills by trusting me to create them a weekly podcast throughout the festival. I pitched the idea which would involve me attending events each week and interviewing the speakers, audience and also members of the Writing on the Wall team.

I really enjoyed this process and it has been a learning curve for me. It’s been extremely valuable and I’m grateful to them for giving me this opportunity!

In addition, I’ve become more familiar with what goes into preparing a festival. From social media, to organising each night. I’ve had the chance to write for the website and review the events. My toolbox full of skills is much fuller than it was when I started an I can move on confident in my abilities.

A highlight of my time here was helping Emma, the Project Manager on the ‘Super Heroes: Words Are Our Power’ project. I joined her at Anfield Primary School where we helped three classes edit their super hero stories.

As I hadn’t stepped into a primary school since my last day of Year 6, it was pretty daunting. But, by the third class I felt confident in my abilities to help them (and not cower in the corner of the room slightly scared to talk to the children.) Watching Emma control the classroom was amazing and although I don't think I could ever do that myself, it provided me a new found respect for primary school teachers.

As I move onto graduation, I leave Writing on the Wall with an experience that prepares me for the ‘real world’, and the confidence I need to succeed.

I’ve really enjoyed my time working here and am going to miss it a lot. I’d love to get the chance to work with the organisation again as they’ve welcomed me in so warmly every week. I can’t thank Mike, Madeline, Emma, Alice and Ciarán enough for giving me this amazing opportunity to learn from people who have so much talent and expertise in what they do.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Story-teller of Standing Rock - 4th May

In days of fake news, no news, or merely inconsequential celebrity news, it seems one way to hear of the vital activities of our world is to go back to the old traditions- those of the wandering storytellers.
In a collaborative event between  The Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion at Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool School of Law & Social Justice and Liverpool Hope University. Thomas Tonatuih Lopez,  a young Chicano Native American who played a key role in the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, stood before us to share his story; the story of Standing Rock.

He begins with an apology for speaking in front of his elders, an opening that is customary for young people in Native American tradition, and lights a stick of sage, blowing the flame out and taking the moment to pause. ‘These stories are heavy’ he shakes his head and exhales as on screen we get a sense of what he means. Black and white photographs stream in a slow side show of Standing Rock; militarised police like out-of-the-future aliens, embattled in riot gear, line up amid the silent open plains of North Dakota. Plains, open to assault apart from the line of water protectors, standing eye-to-eye with the police.

Details and images of protectors being brutalised, kicked to the ground, arrested, stripped, young and old- boys, girls, men and women- thrown into dog kennels naked with numbers written in black markers on their arm. The slide show continues with a series of portraits of blank faces staring dead at the camera holding up forearms of inked numbers. Memories of previous peoples, stripped of dignity, spirit and humanity rise collectively in the audience. The echoes are clear. Investigations are on-going into police brutality with photographic evidence that, in freezing conditions, the police sprayed icy water laced with chemicals so that icicles formed immediately, mixing with blood, on the skin, face and eyes of the protectors.

And so it is with awe and respect that we hear how, despite such vicious treatment, a group of young indigenous Americans, who later formed the International Indigenous Youth Council, led the way in maintaining a non-violent stance of integrity in the face of brutality. Thomas’ insight is commanding, ‘the opposition wants you to feel anger and malice, like they do’, he states, continuing to recall his grandfather’s proverb, ‘No matter which way the wind blows, the mountain will not bow to it’.
Thomas informs us of the victories of the #defundDAPL campaign which has divested millions of dollars so far from the project, and I later read that the Dutch bank, ING, after meeting with the Sioux tribe in February, sold its $120m stake in the $2.5 bn loan financing the pipeline. A Norwegian pension fund, KLP, followed, selling $58m of shares following lobbying from the indigenous Sami tribe who live in the far north of Norway. 

With over 3300 leaks and breakages in oil and gas pipelines since 2010, even the smallest of splits will reek irreversible damage to this water supply of half a million people and additional wildlife. 
Nor is it a one-off concern. From China’s mining and dumping of nuclear waste on sacred Tibetan ground to fracking in Lancashire against the will of the local people, corporate violence for profit  is everywhere. For those in the North West, it is significant to point out that it was fracking which released billions of gallons of new oil in Dakota which has resulted in this pipeline.

And it is behind the indigenous communities we need to unite. As Noam Chomsky stated recently, ‘Indigenous communities have begun to find a voice for the first time …all over the world the leading forces in trying to prevent a race to [environmental] disaster are the indigenous communities".
Even more, what lingers as one of the most prevailing messages to emerge from the evening is the importance of youth, and specifically indigenous youth.  Coming from communities often racked with drugs, alcohol and suicide, these young people are a powerful inspiration for those wishing to reclaim a more authentic identity. Deep respect is owed to those of them who are engaging with some of the most difficult issues of our time and arming themselves with knowledge, history, courage and integrity. 

As Thomas ends, ‘A year ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I understand I am wearing the shoes that were made for me’.

Review by Lisa Hall

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Tax The Robots

The robots are coming, the robots are coming…er, scratch that, according to Tim Dunlop writing in The Guardian in March, they’re already here. Quoting a 2013 report from the Oxford Martin School, which ‘concluded that out of the 702 jobs examined, 47% were susceptible to automation within 20 years’, his opinion is that ‘the jobs are already lost and unlikely to come back.’ Recent reports have put a figure of approx. 250,000 jobs being automated within the next few years. What are these robots, and what does this all mean, politically, socially, economically, and personally for us all? The headline grabbers are the apple pickers that can now sense when an apple is ripe for picking, replacing the work of ten pickers; brick-laying machines that can lay 3000 bricks per hour; the little ‘truck’ that will deliver your pizza, hot, and a myriad of other inventions that will replace the back-breaking or meaningless jobs many people do at present. But behind the scenes, under the surface, and most ubiquitously, in your pocket, a silent revolution is taking place which, whether it takes ten years or a hundred, will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and play.
  Take a look at the huge warehouses operated by companies like Amazon. In the past they would have employed tens of thousands across the country to cope with the demand. Now, although they do provide some employment, they rely massively on robots, automated systems to stack, store, categorise and deliver parcels to the correct human. This is an example of the kind of recognisable machines we think of when we talk of robots replacing jobs. The silent revolution though will arguably have a bigger impact upon the low-skilled white-collar jobs, which are prone to being replaced by voice activated software guiding the caller through a series of automated steps, including scanning documents, which it will read, and make decisions based on the data gathered and the caller’s responses. Sound far-fetched? No, you say, we’ve all been on the phone to a bloody annoying automated voice when trying to get a simple answer for the council. But this is one stage further. A Japanese insurance company recently laid of eighty staff and replaced them with a sophisticated algorithm, which does exactly what I have described, but goes a step further by making recommendations for insurance payouts and settlements, which the human caller can chooses to accept or otherwise. Any negative response or a recommendation outside of pre-set parameters will invoke a human intervention, but those eighty jobs are now gone. So successful is this, and so developed the software, that 02 are considering implementing something similar for their UK call-centres. Already jobs that can be replaced by digital or mechanical robots have been, or are on their way to being replaced. This will affect those in the middle, mainly without the computer based technical skills, and have a direct impact on increasing inequality. In some ways the progression towards this, although already vast – the machinery employed on ‘super-farms’ is a good example, has been relatively slow compared to predictions over the past few decades, but the change will be qualitative and then quantitative, based on how quickly the price of the technology falls.
  What PC, tablet or mobile telephone are you reading this article on? Consider the degree to which prices have fallen for your kit compared to a few years ago, or how much more you can get for a comparative price. The same applies to the technologies being introduced now to replace a multitude of jobs. Wages have been pushed down to such a degree that at the moment argues Dunlop, ‘robots could be forgiven for worrying about their prospects given the falling cost of labour’, but once the cost of the technology falls below that of labour costs, then automation could sweep across the labour market like a laser through butter. This will impact upon the UK labour force, but also has global implications. For some time it has been common practice to outsource to countries in the developing world such as India; who hasn’t, for example, been greeted by a well-trained Indian worker when calling to complain about their router failing. But if the cost is as cheap, or even cheaper, to use automation in the UK, then that potentially spells an end to outsourcing overseas.
  Aren’t robotics and automation good news? Yes, in one sense. Shouldn’t we celebrate the end of these jobs and look forward to a reduction in the working week which the Government will surely introduce to accommodate the whole labour force? Mmmm, yes, but I’m not sure it’s going to work quite that way.
       Why? Have you noticed how, through the massive increase in tuition fees, the increase in academies, then ‘Free’ schools, and recent proposals from the Tories for a  move back to Grammar Schools and selection, opportunities for young people are slowly being squeezed? Some may argue this is a return to good standards of education based on intelligence, etc. Others, myself included, argue this is a well-conceived, and currently fairly well executed plan to start discouraging, or actively blocking a huge swathe of working, and lower-middle class children from academic qualification. But why – surely the numbers of young people now gaining a degree is something to celebrate? Well maybe it’s because they (i.e. government, big business, the elite, etc.) have realised that as automation increases, the call for a growing number of degree educated, highly expectant graduates is the last thing they want piling out of universities looking for work commensurate with their educational attainment. Here’s where society is about to divide again (as if we don’t already have enough divisions!), between a small sector of highly qualified technicians and a growing pool of low-skilled, low-paid workers, sitting on top of a permanently unemployed or under-employed under-class.
            And what else do we lose, or are losing, as a regiment of Metal Mickey’s step into replace human jobs. We lose the spending power of their wages, but perhaps more importantly, we lose their contributions, through tax and National Insurance, to social and health care, the importance of which grows daily along with the growth of an aging population. And that’s why even figures such as Bill Gates have called for employers to be taxed for their robots in the same way as they would if they were employing humans. But let’s be honest, this is never going to happen. Their main raison d’etre for wanting to replace workers with robots isn’t to relieve us of soul destroying tasks, but to drive down labour costs. Therefore, this is a key impetus for the destruction of the NHS. They understand with the decline in social income through tax and NI there simply won’t be enough money under the current system to support the NHS. There would be if their profits were taxed, but in the meantime we are witnessing the slow death by a thousand consultants of the NHS and social care and support, and an assault by privateers keen to recreate a UK version of that oh so lucrative American healthcare market.
   Healthcare itself can benefit enormously from recent technological developments, including robots that can carry out complex operations with a higher degree of accuracy that surgeons and software that can diagnose illness and thereby help reduce the pressure on GP’s. But to underpin this we are also moving to a gig economy within the NHS. Reform, an influential right-wing think-tank recently argued for public services becoming ‘the next Uber, using gig economy to employ locum doctors and supply teachers.’ Workers, they say, could support themselves through a variety of flexible jobs acquired through online platforms.’
  We have seen how quickly the gig economy has taken hold, and should recognise that for a large proportion of people flexible hours suit their lifestyle. But when, rather than being freelance and able, for example, to taxi for anyone, you are tied to one company, and have to give them notice of when you will take time off or even have to find a replacement or be fined for not doing so, then you aren’t really freelance. The courts have recognised this, and it is through appeals that workers such as James Farrar, who is appearing at WoW’s Tax the Robots event, have been able to push back and claim their holiday and pension rights. The unions too are onboard and need to be, as this is where the major battle for this generation of workers lies.
            When we think of automation, we think of robots. But what about the automation of workers? In one sense it’s nothing new – many are the people who have felt like a robot standing on any kind of production line. But, to paraphrase  Dylan, there’s something happening here, and this what it is: staff being tracked by GPS and computers as they go about their work tasks, so that everything they do, their interactions with other staff, breaks, toilet breaks, and how quickly they perform their main work task, are all monitored. In one company a worker was sacked for removing their tagging bracelet outside of working hours. This is beyond the wildest dreams of the 1950s inventors of Time and Motion studies, Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and beginning to look like our worst nightmares gleaned from films such as Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. It’s beyond Orwellian too, as we are now being forced into collaborating with our own surveillance. As one writer pointed out, when a company gives all it’s staff a Fitbit, and organises those who want to compete in marathons, etc., into teams, it’s just for fun; but for how long?
  In the world of The Internet of Things, where household appliances can communicate with you and each other, what we are missing here is that we are just one more of the ‘things’ linked into this system. It aids surveillance and monitoring. Initially this is ‘just’ used to target consumers with tailored advertising through the collection of data. But besides the many ethical questions posed here, including the horrific example of Facebook using posts to target vulnerable teenagers with advertising, we know no limits to how far this can go, and at present have no grip, say or control on the monitoring of what we essentially own - ourselves.
   If, as it appears, the onward implementation of robotics, automation and forms of AI are unstoppable, what happens to al those pushed out of work? One solution, financially at least, is a retraining grant for the unskilled of £2000, and a £1000 grant for those skilled but whose jobs are under threat. A positive idea, but it seems to me it is a drop in the ocean when you compare it to the assault on learning for many from a young age. There is also the Universal Basic Income, proposed by one of WoW’s panellists Matt Kerr. The idea is to pay everyone a minimum income, which isn’t penalised if someone works as is the case under the present system. It has its challenges: will this de-motivate people; should it be universal like Child Benefit, or should those above a certain income be excluded; what happens if people spend it and don’t provide for their basic needs – should they be allowed to seek further support? I like the idea and the principle behind it. I think it could free people from the constraints of the present benefits system and could encourage a pooling of resources and cooperatives, as well as entrepreneurship. There are some early encouraging signs from Finland in an experiment in one region where 2,000 people receive 560 euros (£473) every month for two years. They don’t have to say if they are seeking employment or how they are spending the money, which is deducted from any benefits they are already receiving. Officials say it cuts bureaucracy and some recipients report a reduction in stress, but in truth, I don’t know what the long-term impact would be.
  But if we did get the dream – a reduction in hours and sufficient pay, what would we do all day? The brilliant Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, as ever looks at things a little differently, and invites you to do the same. Computer games, he argues, are the solution to entertaining what he pretty condescendingly labels ‘the useless class’, which may emerge in the future. Look at a teenager, he argues, playing on computer games all day. If you provide them with sufficient food, drink and warmth, they’re likely to continue to do so and feel fully engaged and satisfied. But how can this be transposed to wider society. Yuval thinks we’re missing the point. He says ‘For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”’. It’s an interesting argument, and you can check out his points here:
  Liverpool is no stranger to the gig economy; the docks were one of its earliest proponents. Neither are we strangers to mechanisation – the docks again and the introduction of containers. Manchester, with its great mills, was always more mechanised. David Swift writing in today’s Independent, argues this is where Corbyn should target his campaign in order to reach a new, gig economy based constituency. ‘Labour’, he says, ‘can learn from Scouse culture. One of the reasons they are in such dire straits is that Corbynism is focused tightly on young, well-educated white people, but this is a very narrow constituency. The family and faith-based, communitarian, often nihilistic left-wing culture of Liverpool is a better model for the demographics of the UK today and the gig economy than a labour culture founded on the chapels and miners’ lodges of a century ago.’
I quote this, not to argue for Labour, but to demonstrate just how this issue of the gig economy will be over time, as it also influences the thinking and actions of the main political parties. In many ways, their response to it will determine their success or otherwise in reaching out to an electorate going through massive social and technological changes.
  WoW’s ‘Tax the Robots’ day on Saturday 13th May in Central Library is an attempt to keep abreast of developments by bringing an array of people directly working in or influenced by robots, AI, the gig economy, etc. or writing about it and exploring its impact. In a world first we are bringing in a Robot to ‘speak’ for itself – we’re nothing if we’re not inclusive. I doubt Ohbot the Robot will be bringing any of his friends or colleagues with him though. He doesn’t need to, they’ve already got us surrounded.

Mike Morris, Co-Director, Writing on the Wall 

 Venue: Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EW 
Date: Saturday 13th May 
Time: 11am 
Tickets available from Philharmonic Box Office: 0151 709 3789
Tickets: £8/£4 



Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Darcus Howe (1943-2017): The Mighty Lion & His Legacy

A trailblazing activist, writer and broadcaster is remembered by Madeline Heneghan
All at Writing on the Wall are sad to hear of the unexpected death of activist, journalist and broadcaster Darcus Howe. Darcus was a guest of the Festival over several years and it was a great privilege to get to know personally a man who was a political hero from my teenage years. 

Darcus delivered one of the Festival’s most successful and memorable ‘Rebel Rants’. In it he examined the persistence of racism, despite gains made by Britain’s black communities in the period following the case of Stephen Lawrence, the teenager murdered by Nazis in South East London in 1993. For all the massive national campaign in response to that outrage and to the police’s failure to act against the killers, and the very critical Macpherson Report that was eventually produced, his case was that institutional racism still plagued the police force and wider society.
He charted the return of police stop and search tactics, the drift of young black men into violence in the absence of opportunities, the increasing hostility towards immigrants and the rise of Islamophobia. This summed up the man. He was angry and defiant, but also enthusiastically analytical.
Veteran Anti-Racist
Darcus’ lived experiences as a veteran anti-racist campaigner made him the perfect community militant; from his arrest in defence of the Mangrove café in Notting Hill in 1970, his leadership of the 20,000 Black People's March that followed the murder of 13 young people in a racist arson attack in New Cross in 1981, to his explanation of the anger felt by young black people expressed in the 2011 inner city disturbances.
But he was also a sharp political thinker, mentored from an early age by his uncle the great Trinidadian Marxist CLR James. Whether speaking for The Race Today collective, writing his columns in The Voice and The New Statesman or fronting up ground-breaking TV shows like the Bandung File and later White Tribe, he communicated his militant ideas to millions.  Nobody would agree with everything he said, but he was always insightful and always fiercely passionate.
His 2011 appearance on BBC commenting on the riots was a recent reminder of the man's defiant spirit. The BBC had to apologise after he took apart a hostile presenter. Again and again he stood firm against official intimidation and racism, and he was throughout his life a stalwart defender of black and working class youth.
In 1969 Darcus was central to events around the Mangrove café in Notting Hill which culminated in a much-celebrated victory for the black power movement over the police. Following repeated police drug raids on the Mangrove café, a centre of black community organising (in which nothing was ever found) the community protested. During clashes with the police nine people including Darcus were arrested and charged with rioting and affray.  After a high-profile campaign and a vigorous political defence, The Mangrove Nine were acquitted.  There is a famous picture from that time of Darcus addressing a demo before it moved off. 
In 2010 at the funeral of Frank Crichlow, also one the Mangrove Nine and lifelong activist, Darcus, not long recovered from prostate cancer, climbed up on a car and addressed the mourners from the same corner in Notting Hill.
Throughout his life he defended the community with fearless passion. He was there when thousands beat the Nazi National Front off the streets of Lewisham in 1977, and promptly became a supporter of the Anti-Nazi League, which emerged from that victory.  As well as being an inspirational speaker he was clearly a great organiser, playing a key role in the huge Black People’s March that followed the New Cross arson attack in 1981.
Darcus loved to be with his community and after the events that we were involved in together in Liverpool and Birmingham we sat late into the night chatting, reminiscing and challenging those that had attended.
In the words of his friend the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, he was a ‘Mighty Lion’. He will be terribly missed but the most important thing is that his legacy is carried forward. We need his combination of fighting spirit, inquiring mind, implacable will and organising flair now more than ever.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

#Revolution with John Rees

John Rees is a political writer, activist and broadcaster for publications including Counterfire. He has also written  The Leveller Revolution, revolutionaries who grew out of the battlefields of the Civil War in 1642. Join John who will be at Revolution! with author China Miéville and cartoonist Kate Evans. 

What does revolution mean to you?
Well I think it means that there is a total transformation in society when oppression and exploitation which has marked and defaced a society are bought to an end, that’s there’s a complete transformation in the democratic structure of society and in the social and economic order so that people control their own lives, not just once every five years at the ballot box but they control their working environment, they control their environmental condition of their society, that they have complete democratic control over their lives.

Do you think there is a still a need for revolution in today’s world?
Yes, I do because I support every partial movement for a change, any improvement, any reform that working people can get, I’m definitely in the fight to get that. But I don’t think an amount of small pieced changes can transform society completely because they are taken away when they are achieved so I think there’s a still a need for a movement to transform society as a whole. All that we have just lived through in 2010 and 2011 were the great international waves of revolution in the Arab worlds. I still think it’s a political reality and a political necessity in the modern world.

What was the important thing in your opinion that you have protested for or against?
The largest demonstration that I was part of was the national demonstration in London on 15th February 2003 against the Iraq War which was the biggest demonstration in British political history that was part of a global movement – the biggest ever globally co-ordinated series of demonstrations in history. I think that was a very important issue. I think those protests had long term effects in terms of changing the political culture and attitudes in this country towards war intervention so I think that was very important. I was also a participant in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. I was in Tahrir Square for nine out of the eighteen days that bought down the Mubarak regime. I was working with people in Egypt for many years before that revolution broke out so that was a very important experience in modern revolution that I was part of.

What were the experiences like being part of a protest?
Over the years I was involved in the Solidarity movement with the miners and the anti-poll tax campaign and as I’ve said with the Egyptian revolution and with the Anti-War movement and what binds them all together is ordinary people organising themselves and begin to use that organisation to try and change society. Even before they have achieved anything, there is a sense of liberation and potential power. Most of the time in society, people spend their time in an atomised condition – they live at home with families and go to work, they do what they are told to do when they are told to do it in the time they are meant to do it. They get paid what they are told they are going to paid at the end of the day. Then they have to pay what they are told they are going to pay to buy back the things they have produced. It’s a dis-empowering experience. When they are left on their own it’s an oppressive experience. When the organised collective is acting together it is a liberating experience. I would say that from the smallest kind through to the Egyptian revolution that sensation is there – obviously the bigger the movement, the stronger and the more powerful it is. I would say that is the thread that runs through it all.

Is there any advice you would give to young people who feel dis-empowered by today’s political world?
Get organised. The system wants you to feel disempowered. It wants you to feel atomised and unable to change things. That’s how it continues. Don’t give into that situation. There is an antidote to that feeling which is collective organisation. Working people don’t have money, they don’t have guns, they don’t have political power, they don’t have control of the media but we do have numbers and we do have organisation and even the numbers aren’t any good unless we don’t have organisation and that is the lesson of generations of radicals. So if you aren’t in a union, get in a union, it is the basic defence mechanism for working people. If you aren’t part of a campaign to change something, then you should join one. If you aren’t in a political organisation you should join one because that is the way in which change happens. There is no other effective way for working people to make a difference in the world around them.

Thank you so much for your time. Looking forward to see you talk further on these topics on 3rd May.

Get your tickets here  for Revolution on 3rd May! 

Friday, 10 March 2017

A Conversation with Kate Evans

Join the radical discussion on 3rd May, along with authors John Rees and China Miéville.
Check out our other events here for #WoWFest17

Kate Evans is an artist, cartoonist, writer, activist and a mother. We sat down with her on International Woman's Day to discuss her recent book, Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg and her other works.
Kate: I prefer phone interviews ‘cause email interviews actually take longer, cause there’s a big long load of questions and 45 minutes later you’re still typing. But this is good because I can tidy my studio at the same time.

Describe a day in the life of Kate Evans, artist, cartoonist, writer, activist and mother.
[Laughs] I don’t know where the activism comes in on a daily basis.

Does it come through your art?
I try and be in touch with actual activism, like at the moment we’re planning the construction of some secret surprise for when Trump comes to town, an art based secret surprise, nothing too subversive. But, to be honest, mainly life revolves around the school run.

Oh really?
Well that’s how the day revolves: getting the kids to school; getting the kids from school. It doesn’t seem very activist-y anymore, much more suburban housewife really.

I love that though. It really inspires me how you’re able to create your own art and have a family life as well.
I always had assumed that the point you have children you stop doing your own thing or be your own thing. I am in a partnership with someone who is – I don’t think the word should be supportive when it’s their kids too. I am in an equal partnership with someone else, that obviously makes it more possible for me.
I do have to remember that I am creating actual human beings who will be future members of the society, active in their own way and so that in itself is a creative and important act. Actually, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot more about politics and about conflict resolution and about co-operation as a parent than back in the days when I lived in a tree.

That’s so great to hear.
Only by learning it the hard way, because everything I did was wrong.

How do you mean?
Childhood discipline and how we relate to and support mothers with new babies is a hugely political issue and it’s one that polarises people in quite predictable ways. Most aspects of your life you can apply a Marxian/Hegelian Dialectic and I’m hoping for a huge leap forward, a synthesis, in the way that we support mothers and babies and we can get around some of the particularly boring parenting lifestyle divisions and find new way of supporting mums to be able to support the new generation.

Is that why you decided to create a choose-your-own-adventure book for pregnancy and motherhood?
Yes! I’m talking about attachment parenting. My first book, The Food of Love, is one that explains how to make breastfeeding work but more than that, it explains that it’s hard because there’s more than one way of parenting right. People are stuck in this “my way is good, your way is bad” dualism and I was trying to overcome that by writing something that is genuinely non-judgemental and supportive, but at the same time promoting attachment parenting and people having responsive parenting with their children. Those two are not always the same thing because not every child will respond the same way.

Bump: How to Make, Grow and Birth a Baby is specifically around pregnancy and birth, so I was
trying to explore all the different, unexplored areas of pregnancy like the way it makes you feel, how pregnancy isn’t at all the way women are told it is, the ambiguity people make have about being pregnant. Mine is the only book on the market that mentions that you may not be happy to get pregnant, which is a fundamental part of people’s experience. It’s just stunning that it’s not in there, that you can’t have a pregnancy book that even mentions abortion or miscarriage in a meaningful way.
The politics in Bump are about interventions in births and about how few of them are evidence based or supported and that’s shocking. It was a real eye-opener. I didn’t know at the point I started the research that there is so much evidence that is so unequivocal for things like continuous foetal monitoring, which doesn’t improve the outcome for mothers and babies so why is it being done? That’s quite stunning really, the medicalisation of birth.
I was speaking to someone yesterday and she said that at the point she gave birth, in the stirrups and partly anaesthetised, she said she remembered her mother’s story of her birth and she thought “how have I ended up in the same situation as my mother did?” Now I’m not saying an assisted birth was not right for that baby, but it’s the fact that she didn’t feel like it’s a decision she’d arrived at. She didn’t feel empowered in that situation. It’s only becoming for political with the privatisation of the NHS which is shutting down independent midwives.

I think that’s heartbreaking. The privatisation of the NHS affects everyone: pregnant women, the young, the elderly.
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

Exactly. WoW Fest’s first event is a Mayday parade and rally through the streets of Liverpool protesting the fact that there has been cuts and there are so many services that have been axed. What was the most important thing you have protested about in your opinion?
That’s an interesting question. Oh god, it’s been a while. I didn’t even make it to the NHS march at the weekend, it’s that bad. I suppose my involvement in Climate Camp which was a while ago, we’re talking 10 years ago, but anything that covers climate change which is really at the heart of the issue.
There are a lot of ways of being active. Every time you make connections, create community and get involved on a local level, you’re also changing the world as well as when you’re hanging banners and throwing yourself in front of bulldozers. Everything I’ve ever got arrested for or shouted on the streets for is still happening. I’m now at a point in my life where I can say “well, I told them not to do that 20 years ago, but did they listen?”

Do you think there’s still need to protest?
Hang on. Let’s look out the window and have a look at the storms and the droughts and floods. The world hasn’t got any better in my adult lifetime. The same issues are still at the forefront, only more so. We’re seeing more inequality of wealth. Recently I was involved with refugees and that’s super important. I don’t know why I thought I hadn’t been involved with any activism recently. I took a trip to The Jungle and wrote a cartoon book about it. It’s quite a big thing. Now I’m trying to get involved with refugee support within the UK because that’s so important and a lot more compatible with raising a family at the same time.

I read Threads, the cartoon you did about The Jungle that you published through crowdfunding.
That’s the first blog post. I crowdfunded a print run of 15,000 copies of that: 12,000 went out to be sold for refugee support, but I don’t know what happened to the other 3,000 copies. I must still have a box of them upstairs. Hopefully, that will have raised up to £24,000 for refugee action, but I have no way of knowing. That’s up to 70% off. I went back to The Jungle two more times after that, then I came back and wrote a book – well, it kind of wrote itself – and I got a book deal and I spend from March, exactly a year ago, to New Year’s Eve at my desk drawing. I finished that book and it’s going to be printed next week. That’s going to be out on 3rd June.

Did you find that experience harrowing in any way?
Massively! It was extremely traumatising. But it’s not you it’s happening to, it’s the individuals and the families that you meet. Their stuck in this horrendous situation and you can’t do the one thing which they actually require, which is to get them over to the UK so they can be reunited with their relatives, or to start their life in the way they want to with their perfectly valid asylum claim because they’ve been working for the British army and that’s why they were targeted in the first place. You can’t do the thing that they need so you feel so helpless.
That’s the one good thing about doing the comics, is that you come back and someone asks what it was like and you can’t begin to tell them because you’ve witnessed these people going through the emotional mangle and coming out the other side. But by drawing the comic you can make it accessible and believable. It’s like when someone makes a film about it, or that series of refugees filming their own journeys which was very moving and personal, but I couldn’t go over to the Jungle and make a film. That would be intrusive and unpleasant.
I can reconstruct my own memories. There was a point where we were filming the British Border Police assaulting this young lad, dragging him off at the ferry port in Dunkirk, and they made me delete the images off my phone. But that’s okay, because I have another way of capturing those images, they can’t delete it off my eyeballs. You can make me delete the photos but the images are still going to get out there.

Last question, our theme for this year is revolution so what does revolution means to you?
In my work on Rosa Luxemburg and the representations I was making of the German revolution, there is the classic socialist ideal of “we rise, we seize power, and we get massively confused and betrayed by our own side.” I got a new appreciation of socialism through working on it because I haven’t ever realised the scale and the ambition of the socialist project and that was an eye-opener and enlivening that people did as much as they did.
Luxemburg had an interesting take on revolution and how fundamentally democratic she was about it. She said “history is not making things easy for us. A bourgeois revolution could simply overthrow the official power and replace it with a couple of new men. We must work from the bottom to the top. We can only come to power with the clear and explicit will of the great majority of the politarian masses. Who knows how long that will take?”
I love her. She wasn’t about dictatorship or freedom of the press or any of that. She would have been appalled with what happened in the name of revolution, Stalin and all of that. I think the key to creating social change is creating community and probably, to go back to the midwifery, the key to that is continuity of care. What I would like to see is the social structure in society which changed the way our housing is supplied create genuine communities and change the way care is provided and schooling is delivered so that we actually get to know people, and get to know them well. If that were to happen, I think we’d have a much more resilient society. That would be the revolution I would like to see. Obviously no one is President of the World yet, so we haven’t been able to put this into practice, but I think it’s a clearer, more positive and more achievable idea than the idea that we kick out the rich people, the poor people become rich and it’s all okay. That’s my idea of revolution and it means I can start it in the school playground.

Check out our other events here for #WoWFest17 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

"What I learnt at Writing on the Wall" - Chloe

Taken during Chloe's (right) first week, taken with Rachael (left), one of our interns. 

My name is Chloe, I am from Hillside High School, I am in Year 10 and I am doing my work experience at Writing on the Wall. I had chosen this place myself however I had asked my school to help me get the details. I have chosen to do my work experience here because I was thinking about wanting to be a script writer when I am older.  I was thinking of becoming a script writer when I am older because I like to write different types of stories and role plays.

I am interested going to college, studying media or photography and just work on my skills. After college, I want to go to university or even a media or photography school. I like the thought of being a photographer (if I don’t end up wanting to become a writer), because I like to take pictures and then work on the photo, add more detail and filters to make it look better. I wanted to try and get an experience from Writing on the Wall to show me what it is like in a writing company and see if it’s still one of my ideas for what I would like to do when I am older.

During my work experience I had to read through the Pulp Idol on the Writing on the Wall website so then I could write an email to Waterstones in Liverpool. I had to check if they have Pulp Idol First 2017 and If they had any interests/sales also mentioned about we would have liked to help promote the book. 

Another thing I had to do at my time at Writing on the Wall was work on a project with Liverpool Mental Health Consortium: ‘Finding Some Way through A City of Mind’. Firstly, I had to read through the material then create a tweet of an advertising soundscape and asking if anyone wanted to listen to it.

Overall my time at Writing on the Wall has been good, I now have experience working in an office. I have also seen how the staff organise their work and create different events.