I have founded a group called Mothers for a Progressive Alliance’ with the backing of Compass. The group was launched on November 18th. Kirsten Bayes, a speaker and activist with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, spoke about the impact of war and bombs on women and children. Here is the brilliant talk which Kirsten gave.

I’d like to share a couple of stories: that of Bibi Mamana, killed by a drone missile strike in Pakistan in 2012; and of Jamila Ali Abdu, a little girl who died this year of hunger and disease in Yemen aged just seven.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Bibi Mamana was “in her 60s, a grandmother, the wife of the retired headmaster in Miranshah, in Pakistan, and a midwife who ‘delivered hundreds of babies‘ in her community.

Mamana and several of her grandchildren were outside the family home. She was picking okra, gathering wood for Eid al Adha and tending to livestock when she was hit.

It is not clear how many missiles were fired. But Mamana’s eight-year-old granddaughter Nabeela was 20m away from where they hit. She told The Times: ‘I saw the first two missiles coming through the air… They were following each other with fire at the back. When they hit the ground, there was a loud noise. After that I don’t remember anything.’ Nabeela was injured by flying shrapnel.

The other person I want to talk about is Jamila Ali Abdu, who was seven years old when she died earlier this year in Yemen. Yemen is currently in the middle of a war, between rebels in the south and government forces in the north backed by a a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. For two years, according to Reuters, she had been suffering from the effects of worms and a bacterial infection, made worse by malnutrition. These conditions are treatable, but in a country currently being torn apart by war, there was no way her family to get her to medical care in the capital Sanaa. Even if they could reach the city, they would have found that many of the hospitals who could treat her were shut down due to direct bombing or lack of medical supplies.

And so the clinic in Hodeidah, near her village, could only try and make her as comfortable as they could while she slipped away. One of many thousands of children who have died in that country.

When you hear these stories it is very easy to feel powerless, that these are things that happened far away – crimes committed by persons unknown, seemingly at random.

But what if I told you that many of the people responsible for these tragedies and others like them were in London two months ago; and that a movement of ordinary people -campaigners, mothers, people of faith, refugees – came together to try and hold them to account for these and many other acts?

The first question we should ask, though is why here: why London?

Let’s talk about the UK’s involvement in the arms trade.

The UK is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of weapons. The international arms trade is secretive and accurate figures are hard to come by. But it is believed to amount to some £90 billion in 2016, of which the UK sold some £6bn, making it the largest supplier of weapons after the United States.

Sales mostly go to developing countries, in particular the Middle East, of which Saudi Arabia in the biggest buyer.  It is a massive transfer of wealth from the world’s poorest to the world’s richest.  The countries being armed are typically those ruled by repressive regimes – like those in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The impact of these weapons is two-fold. First, the cost of buying and maintaining the weapon falls on the country. Then, the weapon is used: that’s the second cost.

More than 100,000 people die in armed conflict every year. Half are combatants, the other half: non-combatants. Of these, more than half are women and children. Many are in their prime of life, important workers and carers for their families.

Mamana, the midwife in Pakistan, was the most important carer and breadwinner in her family. She was killed by a drone. She was not in a war zone, and the people who fired the weapon were probably sat in Florida or Lincolnshire. But she is unusual in that her death was acknowledged. If you look at the names of those known to be killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, they are almost always men. Yet many of the drone attacks are on family complexes, which women in that society are not permitted to leave.

So, where are the women on the casualty lists? The answer is that they are not recorded either by the attackers, or by those in the line of fire: men are the targets, and the main concern. The presence of women casualties is shameful. And so they die unremarked.

Jamila, the little girl, is an example of another kind of casualty, not part of the 100,000 total. As war disrupts food supplies, sanitation, and medical care collapses then disease and famine break out. In Yemen, we are seeing the world’s biggest cholera outbreak and one of world’s biggest ever famines. Its cause is the bombing and blockading by Saudi Arabia and its allies. And as we have already heard, many of the bombs and the planes used to drop them have been supplied from the U.K.

Not only did the UK not slow arms supplies to Saudi Arabia once the war in Yemen started, it increased them: up by 170 percent over the last three years. It did this despite evidence of war crimes being presented by NGOs, and despite concerns from the European Union and United Nations.

So when the world’s largest arms fair was due to be held in London in September, and the invitations went out to the Saudis and UAE, as well as to drone makers and bomb makers, a lot of people decided that it had to be stopped and got together to disrupt the set up and its operations. First of all, a whole lot of vehicles were blocked. Activists sat in, locked on, clambered on top of the vehicles, clambered under the vehicles, some clambered under vehicles dressed as Charlie Chaplin. They added locks to bridges, dropped banners from bridges, abseiled down and swung underneath bridges. They danced in the road, they dressed up like Dalek’s, Doctor Who and Darth Vader in the road. The sang in the road, made music in the road, gave talks in the road, prayed in the road, held meetings in the road, had lunch in the road.

They remembered and were in solidarity with all those killed by these terrible weapons, and they did it in front of the blocked vehicles trying to sell more.

They created spaces where people could learn about the arms trade. A camp where people could stay, talk, and hold seminars and workshops. Places where they could dance and let their hair down. They took these spaces out into the City. Creating dramatic spaces across Central London where people could interact with the weapons on sale. They created spaces where people could share art and reflect and learn more. They took some of that art to various bus shelters, billboards and tube trains! They took to the airwaves, got in the newspapers, got onto people’s social media feeds, put leaflets through people’s doors.

The result was massive disruption to the arms fair, displays not ready, press and events and VIP visits postponed, questions in the Houses of Parliament, support from the Mayor of London, and a news cycle where the campaign could be found in every national publication.

But the real message is this.

We as ordinary people can stand up for women like Bibi Mamana and girls like Jamila Ali Abdu. The powerful governments and companies who profit from their deaths can be held accountable by groups of people, like us. Let’s organise, work together and create a world we can all live in.

For more information contact Campaign Against Arms Trade. https://www.caat.org.uk/

Our address is: Unit 4, 5-7 Wells Terrace, London, N4 3JU. For all telephone enquiries call: 020 7281 0297. General enquiries: enquiries@caat.org.uk. Media: Contact Andrew Smith; email media@caat.org.uk or call 07990 673232.

I am not an economist but it is patently clear that driverless cars is, surely, not a priority given the state of the economy. Brexit is casting a serious pall on the future of the economy, the European Medicines Agency is being relocated to Amsterdam from the UK resulting in 900 job losses, universal credit is causing severe hardship, child poverty is on the rise, the NHS is in severe need of funds and women have been suffering from the effects of austerity for far too long.

Driverless cars seem as much a solution to the problem as giving fish bicycles to accelerate away from the toxic effects of plastic microbeads in the ocean.

We were fed a delusion about austerity being a necessity.  ‘No money’ is still the mantra 7.5 years after it was imposed. The quest for the Holy Grail equivalent of the ‘budget surplus’ is more akin to hunting for the needle in the haystack.

According to the Women’s Budget Group by 2020 women will shoulder 85% of the burden of the government’s changes to the tax and benefits system with low-income black and Asian women paying the highest price; 4.3 million women suffer domestic violence over their lifetime, 1.2 million women suffer domestic violence each year and 450,000 women are victims of sexual violence annually but there is insufficient funding for either victims’ services or preventive interventions; and that women lose more than men from cuts to Universal Credit.

When austerity was imposed in 2010 it was done, according to millionaire and then chancellor George Osborne, for the sake of our children’s futures. Good old George didn’t want our kids to be saddled with a national debt the size of his family’s bank account so he imposed austerity instead which depleted our personal bank accounts and led to a downward spiral of child poverty which continues till today.

With this car crash of an economy I would have thought that a driverless car economy was just what nobody needs. Even car guru Jeremy Clarkson who never minces his words has warned about driverless cars being an accident waiting to happen.  If one were being unkind one could draw parallels between the introduction of driverless cars by a driverless government in a driverless economy.

 

 

 

 

‘Mothers for a Progressive Alliance’ is being launched by Compass and Jane Chelliah, the blogger ‘ambitiousmamas,’ to push for those issues that affect mothers to be adopted as a cross-party effort.

‘Mothers for a Progressive Alliance’ will put forward issue areas and make a case using Matricentrism principles as to why mothers need a political discourse that represents their interests.

This event will be chaired by Frances Foley from Compass.

Speakers:

Dr Mark Boden, male feminist and Marxist scholar.

Kirsten Bayes, network speaker with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT)

Christine El Issa, activist against racism

Claire Hobson, former head of UK Trade & Investment France and currently working in the city as head of Policy and Public Affairs

Jane Chelliah on how Matricentric policies can benefit from a Progressive Alliance

Lunch will be provided. Children very welcome. Disability access with a wheelchair ramp.

Please email Jane Chelliah at ambitiousmamas@gmail.com as confirmation that you are attending or just turn up on the day.

Date: 18/11/2017 @ 11:00am– 13:00pm

Venue: Doreen Ramsey Court, 108, The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LN

 

 

While Priti Patel was ‘holidaying’ in Israel in August, I was on holiday in Benidorm. While Priti Patel, the former International Development Secretary, was unwittingly orchestrating her own downfall by furtively meeting Israeli ministers and the Prime Minister, I was persuading my teenage daughter every morning to get up early enough to have the buffet breakfast that I had paid for.

While, I imagine, Priti was feted in Israel because she was offering ‘cash cow’ type promises in the guise of foreign aid, I was being watched suspiciously for the first half of my holiday by White people not used to seeing an ethnic minority in Benidorm. I could only offer a smile and small talk to bridge the gap. I didn’t have the financial means to offer them hospitals or anything else that they wanted.

The comparison between how Priti spent her August and what I did is so stark and wide as to not even cast a shadow of an overlap. The only similarity between us is that we both have Brown skin. That is the only thing she and I share (colour of skin and not the skin itself, of course).

You may be wondering what the point of all of this is. Listen up. It’s because I am fed up of people assuming that “I must be so pleased” because of the appointment of an Asian person to the Cabinet. A Right Wing disciple of the freemarket is no more representative of me than, say, a Siberian who thinks eating curry is the high point of embracing another culture.

So next time my answer will be ‘Benidorm’ as a metaphor for irrelevance.

 

To The Mother of a Dead Marine

by

Marilyn L. Taylor

 

 

Your boy once touched me, yes. I knew you knew

when your wet, reddened gaze drilled into me,

groped through my clothes for signs, some residue

of him – some lusciousness of mine that he

had craved, that might have driven his desire

for things perilous, poisonous, out-of-bounds.

Could I have been the beast he rode to war?

The battle mounted in his sleep, the rounds

of ammunition draped like unblown blossoms

round his neck? Could I have somehow flung

myself against the wall of his obsessions,

leaving spells and curses on his tongue?

Your fingers tighten, ready to engage

the delicate hair-trigger of your rage.

________________________________________________________________________________

Marilyn L. Taylor attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she earned a BS in mass communications, and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she earned an MA in linguistics and a PhD in creative writing. She has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Step on a Crack (2016) and Going Wrong (2009). The Wisconsin poet laureate from 2009 to 2010, Taylor also served as the poet laureate of Milwaukee from 2004 to 2005.

After a long career teaching English for the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Taylor retired to teach several poetry workshops under the auspices of Lawrence University, Western Colorado University, Poetry-by-the-Sea in Madison, Connecticut, West Chester Unviersity, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is also a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual and Third Wednesday poetry journals.

I have published this poem as part of my series of poetry by feminist mothers as featured in the book

Borderlands and Crossroads’.   It is a singularly beautiful book for the range of issues covered in both poetry and prose form that affect mothers.