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Margaret Atwood: Plastics are poisoning us. We need change, now

The Guardian | Protest -

In a new series marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the novelist calls for a revolt against petrochemical polymers

Ah, the Reformation. And then, inevitably, the Counter-Reformaton. We remember them, sort of, especially after reading Dissolution, CJ Sansom’s detective thriller about the shutting down of and, not incidentally, the looting of rich but decadent English monasteries under Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Or after watching the bloodflow and interfrying of both Catholics and Protestants in various TV series set during various Tudor regimes, most recently Wolf Hall.

Printing the Bible in the vernacular could get you executed. So could attempting to blow up parliament in aid of a Catholic restoration, like Guy Fawkes, which has given us a legacy of those creepy masks sported by members of the online group Anonymous. Then there was Oliver Cromwell, who broke a lot of priceless stained-glass windows in the name of a reformed religion, and made himself so unpopular with monarchists that his corpse was dug up and beheaded.

Related: How plastic took over the world in 50 years | Letters

Organic and biodegradable substitutes must be found to perform the chores now done by plastics

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Vitoria-Gasteiz (Euskadi): Let’s Defend Errekaleor!

House Occupation News -

On the 18th of May, employees of the electricity company Iberdrola came to cut of electricity to the squatted Errekaleor neighbourhood in Gasteiz (In Spanish; Vitoria), Euskadi. The employees were accompanied by dozens of riot cops. This could well be the start of a campaign to evict the squats in Errekaleor. After the action a wave of solidarity started. On the third of June there will be a demo in Gasteiz.

[Posted on June 1st, 2017 – Enough is Enough!]

Afghans killed in anti-government protest after Kabul bombing

The Guardian | Protest -

At least four people dead after police fired live rounds to disperse demonstrators looking to march on presidential palace

At least four Afghans have been killed as police fired live rounds to disperse protesters seeking to march on the presidential palace and demand the government’s resignation after a devastating truck bombing.

Hundreds of demonstrators calling for the president, Ashraf Ghani, to step down and chanting “death to the Taliban” clashed with police near the site of the explosion on Wednesday in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, which killed at least 90 people and injured more than 460.

Related: Kabul bomb: 'It felt like an earthquake, then everything came down'

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Squatting: the urban space as a common good

House Occupation News -

“Housing is a need, not a privilege”, “Housing for people, not for profit”. Banners with slogans like these hang from windows in any number of European cities. Across Europe, increasing social inequality is making some urban spaces inaccessible to those who used to inhabit them. Gentrification, corporatization and so-called “urban regeneration” projects are leading to the demolition of social and accessible housing, replaced by unaffordable apartments. This leads to the increased eviction and displacement of tenants from their homes and their relocation to the suburbs and peripheries.

Houses, once owned by councils or their occupants, have become investment opportunities for large corporations. With up to 200,000 living spaces intentionally kept vacant in the UK, houses are being stripped of their social value and becoming objects to secure the elites’ wealth. Workers in precarious positions, families, low wage households and students are being displaced or made homeless, while surrounded by vacant properties.

Yet, in our society the right to own property, regardless of its uses, is considered higher than the need for housing. The apparent “housing crisis” is not, in many cases, due to an actual lack of housing, but is in fact generated by our neo-liberal attitudes towards private property: an attitude that allows billionaires and corporations to use urban spaces as assets rather than as common goods and homes.

Given this shortage of affordable housing and a concomitant abundance of vacant properties, many find squatting to be a viable alternative to owning or renting, and take direct action to solve their housing needs. Squatting therefore serves both a material and symbolic function: an alternative housing strategy as well as a practice of resistance against the structural inequalities that give rise to the erosion of housing rights and the corporatization of urban living.

In many cases, squatters bring life to disused and sometimes derelict buildings by renovating them and turning them into housing as well as into common spaces of cultural exchange and political reflection. This includes creating collective platforms for free access to basic needs and social activities otherwise available for profit: not only housing, but also kitchens where food is collectively prepared and distributed, informal services providing legal advice and community support, workshops for sharing knowledge and skills, as well as recreational cultural activities (from free concerts to cinemas). Squatters can create grassroots communities that highlight a shared right to use the city outside a profit motive.

The Netherlands used to be an example of good practice in their policy towards squatting. In line with the Dutch model of “regulated tolerance”, squatting was allowed under certain conditions. It was considered an important contribution to the urban landscape, and its role in the struggle for social housing has long been acknowledged. As housing shortages and a great deal of empty properties affected Dutch cities, squatting was considered a viable solution to a problem that the government did not want to resolve.

Squatters had the right to use a vacant property as a “home” if it was empty and unused for longer than a year. When squatters moved into a vacant property with a table, a mattress and a chair, and showed they were using the space as a “home”, their housing rights prevailed over property rights. Squatters had to provide evidence that the property had indeed been vacant for longer than a year. To evict squatters, property owners had to initiate a civil proceeding and bring evidence of concrete plans to use the property otherwise.

Tolerance of squatting was a pragmatic tool that discouraged landlords from leaving their properties unused for speculative reasons, and that allowed people who would otherwise be homeless to use them. It was a delicate balance, but it worked.

Squatting has now, however, been criminalized, both in the Netherlands (2010) and in England and Wales (2012). Starting in the early 2000s, political campaigns attempted to depoliticize squatting by portraying it as a form of theft. This criminalization happened during a time of austerity and privatization in the housing market – and now the costs of renting are increasing, the availability of social housing is diminishing, while the amount of buildings left in disuse is constantly on the rise.

Rather than being viewed as a reflection on social and political inequalities, squatting itself became the “problem” that needed to be solved. This marked an important shift. The media and politicians portrayed squatting as an immoral action, a violation of private property rights, and squatters were framed as criminals who posed a threat to public order. Claims that squatters stole people’s homes dominated the public discussion, while the politics of squatting are quite the opposite. Indeed, instead of “taking people’s homes”, squatters typically target unused properties owned by real estate speculators. They often conduct detailed research about the history of the building, future plans and the background of the owners, unmasking practices of real estate speculation (in the Netherlands there is even a “Speculation Research Group” that supports squatters in this work:

Squatting is best viewed as a grassroots redistribution of unused spaces rather than as “theft”; using homes for people rather than for profit. Yet stigmatization of squatters and the de-politicization of the practice legitimized state and police intervention against squatters and the immediate eviction of occupied spaces.

Populist rhetoric both in the Netherlands and in England and Wales portrayed squatters as foreigners who wanted to live for free at the expense of hard working citizens, and mobilized feelings of fear and insecurity regarding possible “home invasions”. Such political campaigns were used to stoke resentment against squatters, who were reconstructed as the foreign other, to be feared and rejected in order to re-establish social norms. Squatters were accused of damaging the image of the city and of threatening public and moral order. So the criminalization shifted the public perception of private property and the correct uses of urban spaces; morality was re-framed to better coincide with the neo-liberal, profit-drive ends of the speculators. In this context, the political priority became not only the protection of private property but also the creation of new governmental tools for achieving a reorganization of urban life, disciplining and ordering allegedly “disorderly” populations.

The criminalization of squatting shifted the focus away from the government’s failure to implement policies to provide affordable housing, and towards the supposedly immoral behaviour of squatters. In this context, corporate powers’ interests remain untouched, protected both by legislation and by the even stronger force of public opinion, at the expense of people’s needs.

Deanna Dadusc is Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Brighton

As the ‘alt-right’ moves to violence, community responses matter

Waging Nonviolence -

by Shane Burley

Embed from Getty Images

A train pulled out of the quiet and quirky Portland, Oregon neighborhood of Hollywood on Friday evening, and that’s when the yelling began. Targeting two young women, one wearing a hijab, 35-year-old Jeremy Christian went on an Islamophobic tirade, accusing them of terrorism, tax evasion and general un-Americanness. When three men stepped up to intervene in the assault, Christian was ready with a knife, stabbing each one, successively, in the jugular and killing two of them.

This brutal attack was not just the result of mental illness, as is often blamed in cases such as these, but rather the latest stop-over in white supremacist escalations. Christian, who was new to such politics, had been frothing with rage for several weeks — ever since an April 30 “free speech” rally that a local ultra-conservative group had organized and modeled after other alt-right events happening around the country. Wearing an American flag cape and wielding a wooden baseball bat, Christian was stopped by police before he could take a swing at the counter protesters.

Tragedies like these inspire a sense of horror in the collective community, but it is not necessarily a surprise. The pattern of white supremacist violence has been consistent over the decades as fascist movements rise and fall, and disaffected members of their ranks follow suit with “lone wolf” violence. How the community responds to these moments of sorrow, and the ways in which those responsible are held accountable, is what determines the fate of movements like the alt-right.

A violent vision

The history of the white nationalist movement — of which the alt-right is the latest incarnation — is one of violence from start to finish. As FBI reports confirm, radical right-wing combatants are still the primary terror threat in the United States, far outweighing the Islamic terror boogeyman that the Trump administration hopes to portray. In a 2015 survey of 382 law enforcement agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum, a full 74 percent of attacks came from far-right “anti-government” radicals. In a U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center study, far-right terrorists were responsible for an average of 337 attacks a year since 9/11. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups, listed white supremacists as conducting more attacks in 2015 than any other ideology, and when combined with anti-abortion and “anti-government” groups, which often crossover, the number rose to a full 63 percent of all domestic terrorism.

The threat of white supremacist terrorism is a constant in U.S. history. During the civil rights movement, the Ku Klux Klan built a paramilitary assault on the American South, murdering hundreds in bombings, gun attacks and lynching. In the 1980s, the Order erupted as a revolutionary project out of the Aryan Nations, robbing banks and murdering Jewish radio host Alan Berg. The militia movement, which was becoming an increasingly violent force in the 1990s after the passage of the Brady assault weapons ban and blunders by federal agents at Ruby Ridge and Waco, hit its zenith when Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh detonated a fertilizer bomb in the Oklahoma City Federal Building.

Built on failure

The pattern of white supremacist violence often fails to be associated with the movement itself because of the common “lone wolf” quality of individual attacks. Following the “leaderless resistance” model developed by white nationalist Louis Beam and championed by skinhead leaders like Tom Metzger, those on the fringes of the movement and society are often instigated to engage in acts of extreme violence against the state, minorities and their collaborators. The model for this violence is one of desperation, attempting to mobilize those without strong social bonds. The failure of their ability to organize, to see growth from a seed idea into a mass populist movement, kicks it over the edge into a nihilist assault lacking in long-term vision. As the culture further turned left, and major white supremacist enclaves like the Aryan Nations compound and the National Alliance were disrupted, desperate acts of violence took place — from the 2009 murder of a security guard at the Smithsonian Holocaust Museum to the 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

A part of this pattern comes from the relationship that white nationalists have with those on the margins of the mainstream, like politicians, media outlets and other provocateurs. Because of the extreme nature of their ideas, white nationalists latch onto those who — despite not sharing their key ideological platform — have enough in common with them to help mainstream their message. People like Barry Goldwater and George Wallace held this role to the anti-integrationists active during the civil rights movement. In the early 1990s, the campaign of Pat Buchanan and the broad “paleoconservative” movement did this as well, using dog whistle language railing against immigration, globalization and affirmative action. Today, this comes in the form of what many call the “alt-light,” the layer of “anti-PC” talking heads that populates the so-called deplorable-sphere around the Donald Trump campaign. Milo Yiannoupoulos, Lauren Southern and Gavin McGinnis all promote their talking points and political ideas, even if they would squirm when the full-bore racism and anti-Semitism is unleashed.

Historically, white nationalists ride their mainstream relationships as far as those with celebrity are willing to take them, and when the association becomes too toxic, those with careers to think about jump ship. As the true alt-right becomes more well known, and their history of violence becomes more commonly understood, this will further push those who have lent their celebrity to betray their allegiances. It is this final push that relegates the fascist core back to their subcultural roots, validating — in their minds — a “revolutionary” perspective that had been compromised by the pursuit of beltway respectability. It is at this moment that the acts of “lone wolf” violence escalate, when the hope of a peaceful solution to the “race problem” has been dashed. As we enter the period when the alt-right breaks from Trump and is abandoned by their temporary colleagues, the potential for violence only magnifies.

A part of history

What often blinds people to the alt-right’s potential for violence is their branding, not their content. With fashionable swooped hair, pressed suits, and geeky Internet jargon, they seem more like an upper-middle-class wedding party than a nationalist cadre bent on a 21st century coup. This is only a mirage, as they are simply the latest generation in a lineage of white nationalist organizing, but with better youth appeal. At American Renaissance, one of the largest alt-right conferences, the “who’s who” of the movement is in attendance: U.S. Members of the Aryan Nations hobnob with the alt-right group Proud Boys, former KKK leaders like David Duke and Don Black hold “Q&As,” and politicians from far-right European political movements like the British National Party receive standing ovations.

While their language may be, at times, couched in academic jargon, they have the same effect of motivating their fringe towards acts of kamikaze violence. After Dylan Roof murdered nine in a flurry of automatic gunfire, his manifesto revealed that his inspiration was the propaganda of the Council of Conservative Citizens — a neo-Confederate group that lists miscegenation as “against God’s chosen order,” and holds American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor as one of its spokesmen and board members. Taylor’s work at American Renaissance further inspired Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others in 2011.

As the alt-right coasts into its most contentious period since its 2015-2016 rise, the violence has risen among its disaffected periphery. James Harris Jackson went to New York City in March with the intent of finding and killing black men in relationships with white women. Instead, he settled on murdering a black homeless man with a sword. Weeks later, Sean Urbanski murdered Army Second Lieutenant Richard Collins in an act of racial revenge. Both men were following alt-right figures online, with Urbanski in the “Alt-Reich” Facebook group and Jackson following alt-right leaders like Richard Spencer. During the same period of escalation, Lauren Southern brought an entourage of alt-right celebrities — and others ready to attack community members and protesters — to her speaking event in downtown Berkeley, California.

Us together

While the historical behavior of white supremacists teaches us what to expect, there is also much to learn from the community responses that have neutralized their growth. For example, while the federal government went to war with the militia movement after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, it was growing public disgust that devastated the militia movement’s recruitment efforts and essentially forced them into retreat until Barrack Obama was elected president.

The final answer, though, is the creation of a mass response to this type of racist violence. With only hours notice the day after the Christian murders in Portland, a candlelight vigil drew thousands to the site of the attack. Meanwhile, the organizers of the April 30 “free speech” rally are organizing another event on June 4, and the response from the community promises to completely overwhelm them, showing that an iron wall has been built against alt-right recruitment. This is the way that a mass movement turns the tide of atrocity, letting the violence act as a reminder of what inaction can bring.

Domestic violence services are in crisis. That's why we're reclaiming Holloway prison | Nandini Archer

The Guardian | Protest -

We at Sisters Uncut want to highlight the danger of austerity to vulnerable women. This former female-only prison can be part of the solution

Two women a week die at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. Since 2010, the Conservatives’ ideological austerity has made it even more difficult for women to leave dangerous relationships. Thirty four specialist services have been closed since 2010, with four in five BME women now being turned away from refuges because of lack of space when they seek life-saving support.

Sisters Uncut has reclaimed the visitors’ centre of the now-closed Holloway women’s prison site in north London in response to this crisis. We demand that the government uses the land to support survivors of domestic violence and the local community. We have transformed this space of state violence, holding a week-long community festival with activities and workshops.

Prisons are an inhumane response to the social problems faced by vulnerable women

Related: They’ve endured domestic violence. Now they’re victims of austerity | Frances Ryan

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