PODCAST: 40 years of New Internationalist

The latest New Internationalist podcast…

In this episode I chat to Chris Brazier, New Internationalist’s longest serving co-editor (he’s been at the mag since 1984!) about 40 years of New Internationalist and the progress (and lack of) the world has made in that time. Is the idea of ‘development’ well and truly dead?

Listen to the podcast here at the New Internationalist website and find out more about the latest magazine, ‘What has development done for me?

PODCAST: Vanessa Baird and Owen Jones on the feral rich

January’s New Internationalist podcast looks at how the super rich are gaining from the economic crisis while the poor get the blame…

My latest New Int podcast features co-editor Vanessa Baird, and author and columnist Owen Jones discussing with me their ideas for turning the tables on the super rich and putting a stop to the demonization of the poor.

As the wealth gap grows, despite the economic crisis, January/February’s double magazine explores how the ‘feral rich’ get away with it and what can be done to stop them.

Listen to the podcast and find out more about the magazine at the New Internationalist website.

Profile: D Murphy

Amy Hall speaks to D Murphy about Swansea’s latest wave of squatted community centres, being arrested in the West Bank and years of campaigning for social justice.

D Murphy is part of the self described ‘motley crew’ in Swansea who launched the squatted Cwtch Community Centre in January and February this year. Named after the Welsh word for cuddle, the group took advantage of some of the empty buildings that pepper the city centre.

They started at the empty Dolphin Hotel in the city centre, gaining access through an open window, and running a refreshingly open and successful social centre. After being evicted from here they moved to the JT Morgan department store, were again evicted, then took up the old Earlsmoor Care Home which they renamed Serfsmor. After a third eviction they decided to regroup and take a break.

D, originally from Cork in Ireland, is now concentrating on her trip to Palestine in April with the Welcome to Palestine initiative. She has been a dedicated campaigner for Palestinian freedom since she first went there in 2005.

D started working for Undercurrents, an environmental and social justice video production company, ten years ago. She is their office manager. The charity was founded in 1994 out of a desire to film with people who were protesting instead of behind police lines.

Colleague Paul O’Connor describes her as a ‘mother to all’. “I think her heart rules over her head sometimes but her passion for a cause is admirable,” he says. “She is the glue, which bonds our organisation together.”

Before Undercurrents D worked in research. After doing a master’s degree in Research Methods she got a job doing research for housing and homelessness charity Shelter and later worked for Cardiff School of Medicine and trained someone with a learning disability to carry out peer research.

D has flu today, and is wrapped up in a dressing gown, intermittently coughing. She says she rarely gets ill but when she does it’s her body’s way of saying slow down but the 57 year old shows no signs of doing so.

Caradog Jones became good friends with D through the Cwtch group, despite the 39 year age gap. He says her energy was very valuable to the group. “She was brilliant at facilitating the consensus decision process at meetings, making sure nobody was left out and no one voice dominated,” he explains. “Everybody knows of her, from the local refugees to a homeless mate who knew her as ‘that Irish girl’.”

Is the Cwtch group planning long term?

Most of us work and there are a few students with some flexibility but do we want to do something full time? It’s a huge commitment, unfunded, voluntary and we absolutely do not want to go down the funded route at all; it changes the whole dynamic. I like the idea of just going into empty buildings, doing something creative. You could open up, do nice things, community picnics, barbecues, and whiz out again.

Is the squatting aspect important to Cwtch?

Not for all of us, I’d say it’s about half and half. I’m a mum and a gran and I haven’t done much squatting but I’ve been and stayed in squats and I think it’s a really fundamental right to people in this country, and more so now than ever. It’s not right just to leave buildings empty. If you’re going to, at least offer them to groups, do something positive don’t just let them to deteriorate.

Is there a particular philosophy behind the Cwtch group?

There’s one local businessman who was there from the beginning. There’s a university lecturer and I’m an office manager. There’s a real mix of backgrounds occupations and age, it’s cut across all kinds of boundaries. I suppose it’s the kind of philosophy you would find around the Occupy movement. If you speak to different individuals some would be firmly anti capitalist. It’s not something I broadcast but the principles my heart leads towards are anarchist. Anarchist philosophy to me is the most just of all ideologies.

What other projects are you involved with?

I suppose the biggest passion really in my life, the thing I’m most committed too, is Palestine. After the war Iraq went ahead I was very disillusioned with marching and protesting. I thought a lot about how I want to move forward in my life and I came across ISM (International Solidarity Movement) so I decided to go to Palestine with them. What I saw moved me in such a way that I could never forget Palestine now.

What happened when you were detained?

I went last July with a delegation and we decided to go via Tel Aviv and be open about why we were going. 127 of us were detained for six days. We decided to stay together as a group and went to the passport controls and they said ‘what’s the purpose of your visit?’ We said visiting our friends in Bethlehem and we had an invitation from the cultural centre and straight away we were stopped. By the end of the day we found ourselves in the detention centre. We were detained for no reason simply by wanting to openly visit our friends in Palestine.

People think it’s only around Gaza but there’s a different kind of siege around the West Bank. It’s day-to-day relentless humiliation, degradation and dispossession of land and homes. It’s relentless.

How does Undercurrents and Swansea Telly work?

Undercurrents support anything that’s related to social justice and we do a lot of training around giving people the skills to tell stories about their lives or their issues or their causes. I left a well paid job at the university to have the chance to work with Undercurrents, for half the money, but it’s so much more fun, I absolutely love it.

Swansea Telly is a giant project and we’re the lead partners in it. It’s internet telly for Swansea really. At the moment it’s a lot of community video, but we’re working on a music channel and were hoping to have more local bands on there and maybe more sports. It’s almost like a YouTube for Swansea.

When did you first become politically active?

When I was 16 I got very involved in the Irish language movement in Ireland. They were shutting down a very small school down in Dunquin, an Irish speaking area. I told my mum I was going to stay with my friend and her family, and we were going to study for the week. Instead I did a walk from Cork to Dublin and my mum only found out when I was being arrested in Dublin after an occupation. I had kids quite young: when I was 19 I was pregnant so really the poll tax was my next really active thing in this country; I moved here in 1980.

What do you like to do when you get any free time?

My idea of a dream holiday is to go with a few friends, put a backpack on and to walk for days. For me walking is the only time I slow down. But I think my family is my main hobby. My grandkids range from the age of a few months to 17. We just have a laugh together and I see them whenever I can. They keep me fresh and they challenge me.

What are your hopes for the future?

My biggest hope would be to see peace and freedom in Palestine before I die, it makes me sad me sad because I feel I probably won’t.

I just hope that the capitalist system crumbles. I’m very excited about living in these times because the edifice is crumbling that’s been in place for hundreds of years and I just hope I’m still around when it all comes down. It will be a fearful time but it will be a time that’s full of promise for ordinary people that we can have a better and more just world.

Interview with Jill Evans MEP

First appeared on alt.cardiff on Friday 11 November 2011.

Jill with Cymdeithas supporters

Politicians normally try and hide their law breaking from the public, but Jill Evans Member of the European Parliament (MEP) announced hers publicly when she stopped paying her TV licence in protest against cuts to the only Welsh language television channel, S4C.

“I’m standing side by side with the other people, the other 99 or a hundred, who’ve been refusing to pay their license fees,“ says Jill, outside court where she is appearing for the refusal. “I also feel that I’m doing it on behalf of the people who are not in the position themselves to take that sort of action because of their own circumstances.” She is adamant that this is her duty as a politician.

After a long wait a nervous looking Jill is called into courtroom two of Pontypridd Magistrates Court, joined by around 30 supporters. A large group are from Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society), here as a thank you for her support. The youngest supporter, who stays outside the courtroom, is a shy young girl in traditional Welsh dress.

Jill was still a student at Aberystwyth University when the original campaign to establish a Welsh language television channel took place. This also included the tactic of refusing to pay TV licences. “At that time students didn’t have televisions”, says Jill. “Thousands of people refused to pay, I remember the time very well.”

Although this is her first criminal offence, Jill has been an activist for many years and has campaigned with groups including Shelter and Greenpeace. She is currently chair of CND Cymru and took part in a blockade of Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston with them in 2010.

It was when Jill got to university that she became involved in party politics and joined Plaid Cymru. She says this helped her combine her interests, “for me the whole language movement, the peace movement, the environmental movement, all the things that I’ve been involved in all came together.” She is now President of the party.

A day in court

Outside the court there is a murmur that proceedings will not be in Welsh, something a large group of Welsh language activists is bound to take seriously. But in the end they are translated into English, through headphones, to those who can’t speak Welsh.

Representing herself, dressed in a smart suit, Jill pleads guilty and gives a heartfelt speech explaining why she stopped paying. “This is an opportunity to show your support by not placing a fine,” she tells the magistrate. However, she is told that although her guilty plea was taken into account she will be fined £500 plus legal costs. Cries of “disgrace” come from supporters and one person shouts “stand up for the language and democracy”.

Back outside the court Jill looks relieved but resolute for the future. “I was given quite a heavy fine”, she says, “but of course when I begun this campaign, when I started this action I knew what the consequences would be. It was something I expected.”

But from now on Jill will be paying her television licence, along with other Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg campaigners, after an agreement was made between S4C and the BBC which guarantees funding for S4C until 2017. The focus is now a call for the devolution of broadcasting control to Wales, something Jill is also backing.

Language and identity

Jill sees S4C’s security as crucial to the survival of the Welsh language. “I live in the Rhondda and so many young children now go to Welsh language schools who come from non Welsh speaking homes. It’s so important that when they go home from school they hear the language at home.”

Born in the Rhondda in 1959, Jill also learnt Welsh as a second language and says a S4C is important for older people too. “It became such a symbol that it wasn’t just a TV channel. It’s been a real symbol of the whole campaign for the welsh language and its recognised as that around Europe as well.”

As an MEP since 1999 Jill also works to improve the status of Welsh across Europe. “It doesn’t yet have equality”, she explains, “but it is seen as a model by other minority languages as a very successful campaign.”

Jill’s approach to language is linked to her identity as a Welsh person but she doesn’t see that as exclusive. “I come from a family which has a very strong Welsh identity but I’m the only one who speaks Welsh. It’s not essential for being Welsh but I know that most people see the language as something that belongs to all of us whether we speak it or not and its something that has to be protected.”

How To Be A Raconteur

First published in the June 2010 issue of Buzz Magazine

Michael Harvey, who will be appearing at this year’s Beyond The Border, is a veteran in the art of spinning a good yarn. He explains how you too can be the envy of any dinner party.

STEP 1: Get inspired

Go to a festival like Beyond The Border, and keep an eye out for other events. There’s a really nice one at Milgi in Cardiff on the third Tuesday of every month. It’s really friendly and includes floor spots from professional and upcoming storytellers.

STEP 2: Develop existing skills

The social world gives you all the storytelling skills you need and if you work with the skills you have you get an original, unique performance. Looking for stories to tell can be a lonely business so it can help to buddy up with someone like minded, starting with collections of folk tales and mythology.

STEP 3: Find a good location

Start at a level that isn’t going to freak you out, amongst friends. Telling stories outdoors is beautiful, and you need a place with character. Informal seating is good too, because if people cuddle up or sit wherever they want then they are much more relaxed and open.

STEP 4: Pretend adults are children

Kids taught me everything I know, but adults can be harder because their faces are more closed and their resting expression can look a bit grumpy. But, if I convince myself that inside there’s an eight-year-old child, and I start telling a story to that child, then their faces soften, and they become more open and responsive.

STEP 5: Work through stage fright

Everyone gets nervous; it’s just that when you get experienced, you just call it excitement. If you feel you’re using the audience, slow down, calm down and rest in the story. Think about the physical sensations – what the story looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like; a story can be as real as a memory.

Neath Ales Brew Beer With Menace

First published in the June 2010 issue of Buzz Magazine

“Dark, foreboding and full of menace” is how Jay Thomas describes Neath Ales Black, his favourite of the ales his one man brewery business produces. 34 year old Jay operates out of a secret Neath location and set up the business after being made redundant from his job as a sociology lecturer. The brewery is the first in the area since the Vale of Neath Brewery closed in 1972.

Jay runs the business on his own managing everything from marketing the brand, brewing the beer and bottling up the product, but he says other members of the family still manage to get involved. “My poor retired father can’t keep away and I only have to pay my four and two year olds a couple of jelly beans to clean for me. Don’t tell social services!”

Like many students looking to save a few bob and try some experimentation, Jay started brewing beer while at university as he was fed up with mass marketed, bland lagers and fancied trying something different – and a little stronger.

Premium bottled beers have increased in popularity over the last few years with drinks companies seeing increased profits in this area of the market. Jay puts this down to people becoming savvier about big businesses telling them what to consume. “You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and ask for the most insipid, lowest quality thing on the menu, so why do that when you go to a bar?” he says.

Neath Ales are made lovingly with no additives and are all vegan friendly. Just Welsh water, malted barley, whole hops and yeast are included. The beers are matured for many weeks until they have reached Jay’s high standard and can be found in many shops in Neath, Swansea and the surrounding areas.

Although running a business single-handedly is a challenge, Jay says he is in it for the long haul. “It is an awesome vocation and one into which the true heroes will venture. As for taking on big big biz with their hundreds of millions of pounds advertisings might, bring it on.”