Monday, May 31, 2010

Kevin Neish's Journal

learn about kevin and the other humanitarian rights workers imprisoned by israeli rogue pirates at


May 22, 2010 11:25:45 AM PDT (CA)

Hello Friends,

I just arrived at the Free Gaza apartment in Larnaca Cyprus and will be flying on to Crete tomorrow to hopefully join one of the Free Gaza boats. I'm told there will be far more then the original 600 passengers going to Gaza with more then 500 going from Turkey alone on a huge passenger ship. Carlos could you or someone pass this email on to Chris Cook or phone him and ask him to send me an email at my home address as I forgot to bring his address with me. I'm told there will be easy email access for me in Gaza so hopefully I'll be sending regular reports. I'm told there is huge need for replacement ISM volunteers in Gaza as some volunteers have been waiting over a year to get out.

Got to some sleep so goodnight friends.



Mon, 24 May 2010 19:34:25 -0700

Hello Friends,

Thank you for all the support. It's been very good to get all your phone calls, unfortunately my neighbours in the hotel are not a pleased!! As such I'm not going to accept any calls late at night here at the hotel (between noon and 9PM your time).

If anyone is interested Chris Cook will be playing an interview he just did with me at 5 to 6PM Monday night (tonight) on UVic radio's CFUV (101.9??). Sorry for the short notice but there was no way of knowing it was going to happen until my phone rang a while ago. If you miss it, it will be available on line at Chris' "Gorilla Radio" program site on the CFUV website.

Regarding what the Free Gaza Flotilla has been up to I'd again suggest you check out or a new website which has all the latest info and videos on the entire flotilla. I'm only able to report on a very small part of a very large operation. As far as me, I've been busy getting training in how to defend our ship from Israeli pirates. We have to do this in a nonviolent restrained manner, so it's going to be a bit of a challenge but we can't give them any excuse to be violent with us, regardless of their actions. And now we are told that Israeli settlers are going to form a flotilla to attack us as well. It's going to be interesting.

In a past email I wrote that the Israeli's were setting up a detention camp for us in Ashkalon but I should have wrote Ashdod. It better be a big camp as there are well over 700 Turkish peace activists on their three ships let alone all the folks from 49 other nations on the other 6 ships. There will be a film crew from the Australian national TV channel and at least two other professional film makers that I know of and various print and radio media. We have also been getting training in our response to being detained and jailed in Israel and the expected deportations. We are all not going to cooperate with our illegal arrest and deportation so again it's going to be "interesting" how the Israeli's deal with us all. When the Israeli navy illegally boarded and seized the last Free Gaza ship, beating several of the passengers, they towed it into an Israeli port and then charged all the passengers with "illegally entering Israel" and deported them all. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad and serious. Thanks for all your support. You are all a long ways away but it feels good just to say hello.

Well as usual I've got to get some sleep.
Bye for now.



Mon, 24 May 2010 19:40:40 -0700

Did stability tests on the ships today and they passed. There about 22 volunteers here between two ships. The Israeli media is reporting that the military is setting up a giant holding pen for the hundreds of detainees they are planning to scoop up. It's apparently in Ashkolon at the waterfront. We've been going thru non violent resistance and jail solidarity traiining. There is a huge amount of media coverage in the Scandinavian countries, and Europe and I'm told even the |US media is picking up on this story. Is there anything in the Canadian media? Got to run to more training. \Talk to you later. My phone number for the next day or so before I leave is ~~~~ and ask for room 510. There's a 10 time difference, noon in Victoria is 10 PM here. Call me between 1PM and 8PM Victoria time when I'll definately be in the room (sleeping).



Wed, May 26, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Hello Friends,

My ship the Challenger II leaves tomorrow morning at 7am so this will be the last email until I get set up in Gaza. We should arrive at the Gaza water border mid day Friday (10 hours earlier for you folks). You can supposedly watch everything unfold in real time video at I'm told the website has crashed due to heavy use. At this late date I think it's fairly safe to let you know I've been tasked with defending a crew of journalists on the top deck of our cruiser. Since the Israeli military always trys to seize the media first to destroy evidence, my job is to non violently get in the way of the Israeli commandos in a narrow passageway for about 30 seconds so the journalists can up load their reports. It should be interesting to say the least. I guess all my young years spent playing rugby and football are going to come in handy, IE: being able take a hard hit and keep standing and not lose my temper, but this time there's no referees. I don't think the Israeli's are going to attack us as the bad press coming from this would be enormous, but everyone is ready for them. Retired US Army Col. Ann Wright is on our ship, so I can't imagine what the Israelis are going to do with her. There are also retired US ambassadors and European government officials and various VIPs on all the boats.

Well as usual I need my beauty sleep so goodnight for now. If the camera is on me I'll try to wave. Feel free to pass this around to any friends I might have missed on my "Gaza friends" email list.

If on earth there breathes a slave, are ye truely free and brave?


Thu, 27 May 2010 22:50:42 -0700

Hello Friends,

So we're on our way tomorrow morning and will be in Gaza by Friday. The crews are busy loading food, water, banners, and supplies for Gaza. And of course lots of diesel fuel as it is a long trip from Crete to Gaza. We will have to refuel at sea somewhere along the way, which is causing some tension as that alone will cost $10,000 and funds are running low due to delays and the fact the MV Rachel Corrie had to spend an extra day in port for repairs. (She is now well on her way and past Gibraltar and then some).

Anyone who knows me, knows I don't often make pitches for donations, but the organisers have asked that all the volunteers try their best to help out. Just so you know that I'm doing my bit, I've donated half of my own cash, which was supposed to keep me housed and fed in Gaza for three months. I've been told that "they are 'quite' sure my credit card will work in the Gaza bank machines" which is "sort of" reassuring. So anyway if any of you were thinking of pitching in to support this flotilla now is the time. I believe that the website has a Pay Pal site to make donations quick, safe and easy. If you make such a donation let me know by email asap and I will personally announce your solidarity and sing your praises at the next group meeting.

Nothing much else to report other then the captain is purchasing lots of seasickness bags and "cream crackers" and hard tack as he says it will help calm our tummies. From my past experience working on ships that is a sure sign that we are heading into some rough weather, as captains never waste money on nonessentials.

My cell phone is now up and running so feel free to drop me a line, just don't do it between noon and 9 PM your time as that is sleeping time for me and I desperately need my beauty sleep these days. Once I leave sight of Crete by tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon I'll be out of touch until I hit Gaza. Watch for me on the site's live videos (or is that .org?)

Take care and bye for now.


Published on Sunday, May 30, 2010 by

Life Aboard an International Activist Ship

by Ann Wright

There is nothing easy about planning or conducting an international action, especially with moving parts called ships! Yet, activists on board keep their spirits afloat!

After delays caused by damaged propellers and broken steering mechanisms, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla now reduced to seven ships is heading for Gaza.

Yesterday, May 29, 2010, in a major confrontation, the Greek Cypriot government, under substantial pressure from the Israeli government, refused to allow members of the Irish and Scottish Parliament, and other dignitaries, board Challenger 1 that would bring them to the flotilla waiting some 50 miles from Cyprus. The group travelled to the Turkish Cypriot side of the island and boarded Challenger 1, whose steering had been repaired.

Despite delays and damaged ships, spirit on board the ships is high, particularly on board the Challenger 1 that arrived in the flotilla this morning at 1:30am carrying German members of Parliament, Belgians, Irish and UK citizens, some of whom have been on the three-day odyssey from Crete to Cyprus and now to the flotilla.

In the 36 hours I’ve been on board the 600-passenger Turkish ship, life has developed into a routine of sleeping, eating, watching the horizon. Virtually everyone is sleep-deprived. All of the passengers are activists in their home countries. They have been fundraising, speaking and travelling for months and years for the plight of the Palestinians. They are seldom without email, computers, mobile calls. Yet, on board the ship, there is only expensive satellite phone service, if you brought your own sat phone, and satellite internet service on the ship is only for journalists to file their stories about the flotilla.

So, for the first time in many months, very active people have extra time on their hands. Time for lengthy conversations with activists from the other 50 countries, time for interviews with the considerable media and time for a well-needed nap on the floor of the deck or in one of the passenger lounges.

The Mava Marmara is a day passenger ferry with no cabins or private areas. About ninety percent of the passengers come from Muslim countries, mostly Arab-Muslim, but substantial delegations from Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and from Malaysia. In deference to cultural norms, one lounge has been turned into a women’s only lounge, where women eat, sleep and hold conversations on humanitarian programs, religion and a variety of other topics, as women are wont to do. Women have free run of the ship and participate in all the activities of the ship, but do have a “refuge” from the activity of the ship.

Meals on board an activist ship rather than a cruise liner are basic, but very good. Hot tea and Nescafe are available 24 hours a day as is powdered soups. Breakfast is tomatoes, feta cheese, bread, honey. Lunch and dinner is from cans—the choices are beef and potatoes, beans and rice stuffed peppers. Apples and oranges are available during the day. Snacks of nuts, bread and muffins. Last night, we had our first hot meal. The IHH staff cooked a meal of grilled meat kabobs, with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

Conversations automatically turn to Gaza.

Those of us who have been in Gaza, particularly since the Israeli 22 day attack over one year and five months ago that killed 1440, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless, describe what we saw—the destroyed buildings, lives turned upside down and yet an incredible spirit of the Palestinians to survive the horrific effects of the Israeli attack and long term brutal effects of the three year siege that has made Gaza an “open-air prison.”

Last night, all the passengers on the ship gathered to hear from the leaders of the various groups that had sent materials and delegations. Turkey, Greece, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland all gave spirited talks about why they have worked so hard to be here.

I’ve just been told that we are going to transfer 4 of us whom have been on the Marmara onto the Challenger 1 so 4 on that boat will be able to come on the big ship.

So, off I go to back to the small boat and then off to Gaza we go, I hope!

Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. Wright made three trips to Gaza in 2009 and helped organize the Gaza Freedom March that in December, 2009 brought 1350 persons from 44 countries to Cairo, Egypt in an attempt to break the siege of Gaza. She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."

live feed of israeli attack

Watch live streaming video from insaniyardim at

Ten or more humanitarian aid workers killed by Israel

Our world appears divided into two increasingly identifiable camps:

a: those who believe that the system works just fine. It’s a little broken currently, but economists and scientists will fix it and everything will sort itself out eventually.


b: those who are more than a little freaked out by things like the Gulf of Oil disaster and other environmental devastation (including local facts shared at the water conference this past weekend - a logging corporation owns Nanaimo’s drinking watershed and wouldn't let us in it, and there’s a cemetery, a landfill, three large car wreckers and a pig farm directly atop Parksville’s increasingly polluted water supply), global climate disruption, the wealthy getting ultra-wealthier, and the lack of a democratic process to enact any real significant change.

The first group are represented quite sufficiently by the dominant corporate media. Their polyanna don’t-worry-be-happy lives are served by highly paid liars and manipulators of truth.

The second group are seeking, increasingly, an alternate perspective from journalists and reporters, professional and amateur, who share their same concerns.

Case in point: ten humanitarian aid workers, attempting to deliver medical supplies to the people of Gaza, were murdered by Israeli forces. I’m attempting to be on holidays in Tofino, but a friend is among those aid workers and I’m concerned. Those who depend on the corporate media will not know of the horrific conditions Palestinians suffer, or the blockade that denies them the ability to trade goods or even be recognized as a nation, or the internationally organized flotilla carrying humanitarian aid – only one of many recent attempts to assist a culture suffering a most pernicious form of genocide, silently suffering as those who might affect change refuse to turn their pens and cameras their way. If all you read and watch is the corporate news, you may hear of the ten murdered but you'll know none of the context, and will likely believe Israel’s lies - that these innocent civilians, knowingly risking their lives in an attempt to help an occupied people, were not aid workers but, rather, armed thugs.

Because the corporate media has for so long ignored Gaza, and the many international aid attempts to help the Palestinian people, those who believe these lies will not have followed news of the gathering of international citizens, folks like my friend Kevin Neish who so courageously put themselves in harms way in an effort to help others.

Because the corporate media has such a grip on the hearts and minds of those who want so desperately to believe all is well in the world, these lies will be believed. Israel’s lies will be repeated until they are believed, as they always have been.

And the sons of Abraham, Muslim Ishmael and Jewish Isaac, roll in their graves as their father’s nation continues to listen to the voice in his head advising perpetual sacrifice, and calls it Yahweh.

The alternative media who broke the story, late last night, are among these:

Saturday, May 22, 2010


an expedition to raise awareness about a proposal by Enbridge to ship Oil in Supertankers to China by building a pipeline from the Tar Sands in Northern Alberta to Kitimat.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Save the Salmon wrap up vegan .... i mean, video.

Welcome to Phoenix .... now F off

Mexicans aren't the only unwelcome guests to Arizona.

Ah, Arizona, that great desert expanse formerly known as Mexico. And before that, part of the larger geographic zone Indigenous folk called "Turtle Island." But now it's been stolen, sliced, and quartered. And the unfriendly authority of earth-destroying capitalism sets the rules.

I recently blew a year or two of enviro-karma credit when I flew to Chicago for my friend's birthday party. Because I decided to go at the last minute, I ended up on a flight through Phoenix. During both my stopovers, I can say in all hippie wierdness that there was some decidedly strange energy in that airport.

On my early morning stopover, on my way home, I witnessed discourse between some kind of immigration agent and some guy who was offering up whatever ID and information was requested. We were nowhere near customs, this was inside the airport where everyone gathers after having cleared the Homeland Security cavity searches. This was prior to the newly enacted draconian measures whereby police officers are obligated to interrogate anyone they suspect might be an "illegal," (ie: anyone non-native). I was tempted to tell the guy being interrogated that I'm pretty sure he's not obligated to provide all that information .... but it was early in the morning after a weekend with very little sleep, I'm already red-listed (I'm sure, otherwise why the insistence on patting me down all the time lately?), and to be honest I'm petrified of authority who so often abuse their powers. So I watched this interaction, boarded the plane with my broken suitcase, and thanked the good heavens I was returning home to a land with slightly, sometimes, more reasonable inhabitants.

Upon returning home I wrote to US Airways, as I had been instructed to do after arriving in Chicago to find my suitcase latch had been broken. Their response prompted a second letter from me. You can read that if you want to. I can only hope I never have to travel to that place again ..... and that we can somehow keep them from re-colonizing Canada.

US Airways
4000 E. Sky Harbour Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ
Formerly Mexico
Attn: Joseph Montanaro, Central Baggage Resolution Office


May 4, 2010

Dear Mr. Montanaro,

I received your response to my baggage information and passenger property form.

As you so rightly pointed out, I traveled from Vancouver to Chicago-O’Hare on March 19th 2010 but you didn’t receive notification until April 16th, 2010. And, as you indicate, “when a passenger arrives at their destination and does not immediately report the baggage irregularity in person, we must assume it was delivered as scheduled and in good condition.” Please allow me to explain.

I arrived at O’Hare near midnight and, upon retrieving my pitiable, half open suitcase, proceeded to request assistance from the one conscious being who sat watching the luggage as it travelled along the baggage ramp. My request for assistance was greeted with directions to a small office where two staff offered me a black strap with which to contain my bag so that all my possessions wouldn’t spill out, and the form I filed with your office. The form clearly states that it must be returned within 45 days of the flight date. I mailed the form April 9th, well within the 45 day limit and 19 days after my return home, as I placed my underpaid jobs serving the most vulnerable of my community, plus family concerns, ahead of filing a baggage information form.

It is indeed unfortunate that you feel “unable to assume responsibility or offer any compensation for the incident.” It is astounding that you will not acknowledge the obvious mishandling of my luggage. I left home with a sturdy, intact piece of luggage, and returned with the same piece held closed with a black strap because one of the latches on the baggage had been broken. How does a perfectly functional latch become opened and then bent so that it will no longer close, except as the result of mishandling?

Your response also mentions that your published tariffs state that “US Airways is not liable for damage to baggage which does not impair the ability of the baggage to provide suitable packaging and protection for the contents.” Let me repeat, and refer you again to the photo sent previously. Someone working at O’Hare, in the wee midnight hours, gave me a black strap to hold my suitcase closed so that I could successfully proceed to my destination without all my stuff falling out. The bag was indeed damaged sufficiently for me to require immediate assistance, and to later take the time and effort necessary to file a document with your office.

I hope you accept my apologies …. for flying with US Airways, for travelling through the oh so empathetic and compassionate state of Arizona, and for believing for a moment that a massive US corporation might actually take responsibility for an act of violence that is clearly their own.

In response to your final statement, “we encourage you to try us again, and look forward to welcoming you back on board another US Airways flight,” I can only thank you for providing me with a chuckle.


Janine Bandcroft, B.A., B.Ed.

p.s. I’m certain that if you really care about anything you can manage to print your rejection letters on a single page, or on recycled or re-claimed paper as I have. The two page letter I received from you had the bulk of your words on one sheet, and nothing other than your name on the second. This is an excessive and wasteful and disrespectful use of earth’s resources. Oh, I forgot, you’re an airline, excessive use of our collective earth’s resources is part of your mandate.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Water Conference in Nanaimo May 29th and 30th

The Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition will be hosting a two day public Forum on Saturday, May 29th and Sunday, May 30th. The entire event is FREE for all attendees. Our registration e-mail and phone number for this forum is at the bottom of this article. Please advise which days you are going to attend when you register.

Saturday, May 29th -9:00 a.m. - Bowen Park will see bus tours leaving for the City of Nanaimo Water facilities and a bus tour into a watershed. Each tour will operate twice so all attendees will be able to go to both. It is estimated that the City tour will take 2 hours and the watershed tour will take three hours. Lunch will be provided following each tour.

Sunday, May 30th - Beban Park Our day will begin at 9:00 a.m. We have amazing speakers;
Maude Barlow, Rafe Mair, Corky Evans and Arthur Caldicott. The day will also include four workshops by four great "teachers". Andrew Gage - Environmental lawyer with West Coast Environmental law - "Legal options for Source Protection"; Ingmar Lee- Community Activist - "The Industrial Logging of Nanaimo's Drinking Watershed"; Trevor Wicks - "Looking at the Source: A Well protected Drinking Water Supply"; Robin Mathews - "Privatization: Local, National, and International Theft". The intent is to enable all attendees to get to all workshops by keeping the workshops limited in time. A full lunch will be provided on this day as well.

Registration will need to occur to enable us to hire buses for the "Water" tours as well as to adequately prepare for the meals. Our registration e-mail is:

If you want to call, from April 15th onward, the phone number is 250-716-6964.

Please advise which days you are going to attend when you register.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

we're all gonna die ... but who cares.

Chernobyl Radiation Killed Nearly One Million People: New Book

thanks to angela bischoff for sending this in her "no nukes" e-newsletter.

photo is from a neighbourhood near havana where approximately 15,000 chernobyl victims were housed and treated, the best that cuban doctors could in light of the usa imposed economic blockade.


Nearly one million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor, finds a new book from the New York Academy of Sciences published today on the 24th anniversary of the meltdown at the Soviet facility.

The authors examined more than 5,000 published articles and studies, most written in Slavic languages and never before available in English.

The authors said, "For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

"No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe," they said. "Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Save The Salmon migration arrives in Victoria

It was the biggest rally Victoria's seen for many years, reminiscent of early Earth Day celebrations. Starting at Centennial Square and moving to the BC Legislature, thousands showed up to support Alexandra Morton and her quest to awaken governments to the salmons' plight.

Click here for photos from Victoria, May 8th 2010.

Note the vast difference in temperature from a few days prior, just a few miles up the road in Nanaimo. (We're definitely experiencing dramatic changes in climate, much different from previous decades, with a sun that's piercing and cold that's intense).

Click here for audio.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Grill Baby Grill

“We are walking to Victoria to save wild fish today.”

It's a catchy tune, for a noble cause. Saving wild salmon … who wouldn't want to get behind a mission like that?!!

Then I read the press release: “The celebration begins at 2pm with wild salmon on the grill.” Salmon are so sacred they're going to cook them up?

Yesterday I saw a big sign in Victoria that said: “Want Wild Salmon?” and invited people to the legislature May 8th. It reads like a restaurant ad.

I know the salmon will forgive me when I say, with all due respect to Alexandra Morton and her supporters who have done an incredible thing in raising this issue to the mass consciousness …. this movement is missing a vital component. The message I've heard isn't about saving wild fish for their own sake, it's about saving wild fish so people can eat them. Some are even promoting land based fish farms.

I realize and acknowledge the importance and significance of salmon to First Nations communities, though I also appreciate I can never fully comprehend it. I've also studied the science of evolution. Five million years of human evolution and change. Our collective history reveals that we, the human species, adapt to the environmental changes around us.

Everything on earth, right now, is endangered because of climate change. How will indigenous communities define their relationship to the salmon when they no longer exist?

Imagine the powerful message a vegan native person could send. S/He might say “Yes, I'm connected to a vital and lengthy history of sacred relationship with the salmon, with all life. But we are all Creators, collectively designing our future. The Creation, of which I am an integral component, the science of evolution proving that connection, is not the same Creation that my ancestors knew. At this moment we must stop being colonialists. We must stop insisting that we hold dominion over the salmon, and other animal species. We live in a time of unprecedented climate change, and we have access to new methods for agriculture, new ways to participate with food sustenance. Let us take a leadership role in our own Creation, and change our relationship with the salmon. Let us show our respect for other living creatures by evolving our culture, our traditions, to honour their right to life above our right to consume them.”

The science of evolution shows that species adapt to their environments. That they must evolve, in order to survive. Humans have an advantage - we can study, analyze, discuss the environmental changes we see around us, and adapt accordingly. A few years ago I spoke with a native man about the whale hunt, asked his opinions. We knew the whales were going extinct a hundred years ago, was his response.

Let me be clear - with these words I am not attempting exercise any colonialist sentiment, I'm not trying to tell anyone what they should or should not do, I'm not attempting to distract from the amazing good work of my brothers and sisters from all races and classes.

While it's true that my current blood ancestors are from the working class in England, in this lifetime I'm a native born Canadian (whatever that means). Their traditions include steak and kidney pie, bangers and mash. The neighbouring Scots have built an entire holiday around the Haggis. But I am self defined as an earth being ... an evolving vegan, a cyclist, sincerely devoted to living as simply and gently as possible on this changing and precious earth, working for systemic change and serving those less fortunate. I encourage my blood ancestors, and all people who define their culture through their relationship to food, to engage their higher Selves, ignite their philosophical grey matter, and consider ….

What would the Salmon do?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Saving the Salmon

On Earth Day, April 22 2010, Alexandra Morton and friends began to walk from Sointula to Victoria. Their mission? "To make government aware that we want wild salmon to take higher priority than farm salmon." On May 4th they arrived in Nanaimo.

To view a short youtube video click here.

To view photos click here.

For 5 minutes with indigenous children click here.

For more information click here.

there is no more so don't

Everyone LOVES a parade. Don't they?

Congratulations to Canada's Military, conducting a parade in Victoria on the day of the 40th anniversary of Kent State. Your sensitivity is overwhelming.

For the Kent State Story, check today's "Democracy Now."

On 40th Anniversary of Kent State Shootings, Truth Tribunal Seeks Answers

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Kent State Shootings. On May 4th, 1970, National Guardsmen opened fire on hundreds of unarmed students at an antiwar rally at Kent State University in Ohio. The guardsmen fired off at least 67 shots in roughly 13 seconds. Four students were killed and nine others wounded. We hear from some of the survivors and we speak with Laurel Krause, the sister of Allison Krause, one of the four students killed, who is directing the Kent State Truth Tribunal. [Includes rush transcript]

And here is the rest of it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The British Election - a Citizen perspective

Hi Janine,

If you want to publish the piece I can send you a photograph that I took of the Prime Minister that you also can use if you like. I have a couple of pictures. I will attach them now. Gordon Brown is the heavier of the two men on the platform. The thinner man is Jack Straw, Justice Minister in Brown's cabinet. Jack Straw came to Oldham with Brown because the topic of the talk was the substantial reduction in crime in the UK under Labour. The picture does give you a sense of how close I was to Gordon Brown, and also how lax the security was. Inside my camera bag there could have been a weapon instead of a camera, but no one bothered to check.



My political education in the UK

I have been learning a lot about the British political system the last few days.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we went to an event with the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is campaigning for re-election in one week's time. It was a pretty intimate setting, in a room sized for about 80 people--there were a few more than that present, perhaps 100 in all, with quite a few people standing in the back. The PM came in and shook a lot of people's hands, not five feet from us. As he spoke he was about ten feet away from us. Barbara said after the event that I probably have never been that close to a US President. I told her that the ordinary public are not allowed to get that close to a US President. As further evidence of the informal nature of things over here, a woman in the audience, during the question period, challenged Brown to come across the street after the event to visit her hair salon and neighboring businesses. Of course those sites had not been scrutinized by the PM's security team, but he agreed to do it, and indeed did do it after the event. I can't imagine a US President making a spontaneous visit like that.

Brown was personable. He comes across better in person than he does on television. He was quite relaxed, probably because he knew he was among supporters. The event was by invitation only. My cousin Barbara was invited because she is a Labour candidate for city council. She was allowed to bring guests, so she brought her husband Dave and me. I was surprised at how easy it was to get in the room with the PM. I didn't have to show any ID, there were no metal detectors or anything of the sort.

Brown spoke for about ten minutes, and then answered questions for about half an hour. He actually gave direct answers to the questions, unlike most politicians. Perhaps that's because he was among supporters, but the national television was there broadcasting it live, so anything he said was immediately a part of the public record. Barbara and Dave were actually on the telly, in the background. The event was held in a community center with lots of youth activities. He talked about how crime has gone down by 30% since Labour came to power in 1997--violent crime down 40%. He attributed that, in part, to the youth activities in center's like the one we were in, which have seen a significant increase in funding since Labour has come in. The building also housed a Sure Start Center, for very young children, somewhat comparable to our Headstart program. No such centers existed when Labour came to power in 1997; now there are about 3500 of them nationwide. What he was doing, of course, was pointing to the accomplishments of his own party since they have been in office. There are many such accomplishments, but they are not covered much by the media.

The media prefer the sensational stuff--best of all, a scandal. Gordon Brown provided them with one. About an hour after he left the event in Oldham he went to one in nearby Rochdale. Leaving that event, he was confronted by a woman outside the venue about the immigration issue. The exchange was caught on camera, and that is my source of information on this incident. I only know what has been on the telly. The woman seemed to be complaining that too many Eastern Europeans were being allowed into Britain. He responded by saying that while it is true that about a million Europeans have immigrated into Britain in recent years, about a million Brits have emigrated to Europe in the same time period. After the exchange, he got into his car to leave. As he was being driven away, he mistakenly left his lapel microphone on. He commented on the woman, referring to her as a "bigot." That gaffe was broadcast all over the television that night, and was also in every newspaper Thursday morning. Brown went and apologized to the woman in person, spending about forty-five minutes with her, but that probably will not be enough to undo the damage that has been done. Labour was already down a bit in the polls, and this could put them further down. However, it is a three-way race, and Labour could still come out of this with a plurality of seats in the Parliament. It will likely be a hung Parliament, and a coalition government will have to be formed. Labour may or may not become part of the coalition.

Meanwhile, as Gordon Brown was in Rochdale, the three of us went to the house of Barbara and Dave's daughter, Nicola. She lives in another council district of Oldham, not the one Barbara hopes to be representing. We did some leafleting in that neighborhood for Michael Meacher, the Member of Parliament for that area, as well as for a local candidate. Leafleting goes pretty quickly, as we are just leaving campaign literature, not knocking on doors. During the daytime there are not that many people at home, so knocking on doors is not a very efficient use of time.

In the evening I went out again, in still another neighborhood, going door-to-door for Michael Meacher, the sitting MP, and Jean Stretton, a friend of Barbara's who is the council candidate from that district. It was a group of five of us doing the canvasing, including Michael Meacher himself and Jean Stretton herself. It being early evening, we did knock on doors, and found a lot of people at home. I got to speak to quite a few voters of all sorts of political persuasion. It turned out that several of them knew Michael, their MP, and also quite a few of them knew Jean, the council candidate. When I told people that Michael and Jean were also on their street knocking on doors, several of them came out and waved or said hello. I was surprised at how many people in this rather ordinary neighborhood knew Michael; perhaps it is because he has been their MP for 40 years, and he goes door-to-door often. In the US, I have never had my member of Congress come to my door; he won't even respond to letters I send him. In the UK the districts are much smaller than those in the US, about one eighth the size population wise, and it seems that most people know who their MP is, quite a few know him in person, and many would recognize him walking down the street. Contrast that to the US where most people can't even name their member of Congress. It's a different world over here.

Well, my political education is not over. There is still about a week until the election, and I will be going out many more times. I find all of this fascinating, and a bit of fun as well.