Friday, 13 June 2014

Beyond bandages: thoughts on the summit to end sexual violence in armed conflict

The summit to end sexual violence in conflict was an amazing event, but as activists we need to work on disrupting the system that drives armed conflict and sexual violence.

I visited the fringe of the Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict this week, attending some of the sessions and talking to the delegates.

It was in many ways a remarkable event. Significant numbers of attendees were grass roots activists from developing countries, and a dizzying array of non governmental organisations were there, as well as governments. The sessions focussed on some deep things: how to protect women who had been attacked, how to change male culture, how to empower young girls in their communities. I saw women from Uganda deep in conversation over coffee with women from Colombia, and can imagine the sharing and networks and plans that were being developed. I loved that art and music was given a space too, with folk songs from the Balkans or paintings from Central Africa depicting love and loss and war.



Yet we need to step back and look at the wider picture. The event was guarded by G4S, a controversial company which along with Serco and Reliance runs much of the network of detention centres and deportation processes that affect asylum seekers. When victims of armed conflict and sexual violence reach our shores they are routinely disbelieved, imprisoned and deported and G4S provides the manpower to help do this. The conference itself took place in ExCel, which hosts the Government sponsored DSEi arms fairs, where thousands of arms companies and their suppliers enjoy privileged access to military officials amid demonstrations of the latest guns and drone aircraft. The same space filled with pictures by children injured and abused in conflict hosted the very people profiting from those conflicts, a mere nine months before. An advertising banner from a DSEi exhibitor, a security contractor, was even draped across the walkways to the event.



Armed conflict and violence against women and girls takes place in a system sustained by armed force. This system is so pervasive it is almost invisible, until somebody points it out, and it creates real and symbolic barriers to change. Empowering the victims and teaching new ways to local communities will help, as will the new protocol for investigating war crimes involving sexual violence. Yet if we are to truly end these crimes, we should understand that these activities are like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it, if the wider system remains unchallenged.



We cannot develop services for the victims of armed conflict in local communities, if our countries continue to subsidise the arms dealers that divert money for local services to the arms budget. We cannot talk about empowering women without talking about the agribusiness companies who actively disempower them, by controlling seed supply to women farmers. We cannot talk about resourcing community initiatives while we ourselves buy the products of oppression. It is these purchases which fund the "pistoleros" who drive local communities from their lands to provide grazing for ranchers, and trees to cut for logging companies.

The German pastor and peace activist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Sometimes we need to bandage those in front of us, but if we have the resources and the privilege, I do think we should be readying a spoke for the wheel.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Elections 2014

The election results for the local and European elections are now in.

Results

1. Reading Council

In Redlands where I was standing, a Labour councillor was elected. This means that Redlands now has three Labour councillors.

More widely in Reading, the Lib Dems held one seat in Tilehurst (Cllr Ricky Duveen) and lost the seat in Katesgrove.

The political balance on the Council is now Lib Dems 2, Labour 31, Conservatives 10, Green 3 (which means the Council is in Labour control). There are no UKIP councillors on the authority.

2. European elections

Catherine Bearder, our local MEP here in the Southeast of England was re elected. The second lib Dem MEP seat in our region was lost.

For our region, the balance is now Lib Dems 1, UKIP 4, Conservatives 3, Labour 1, Green 1. The balance across all the groups in the European Parliament has still to be determined, as many countries are still counting votes, but it looks like the Parliament will continue to be majority centrist (centre left, centre right and liberal).

Thanks and Reflections

The first thing is to thank those who continued to support us locally and regionally, and the many activists who have spent so many days and evenings delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. I'd also like to thank our outgoing local councillors Daisy Benson and Rebecca Rye, who have worked so hard for their constituents.

Looking forward, both Ricky on the Council, and Catherine in the European Parliament are hard working and popular representatives. For the four years of their terms, they will keep working on the issues that matter, whether to improve road safety, to fix the local housing crisis, or to save the jobs that depend on the EU.

While I am really pleased that there will continue to be Lib Dem representation on the Council and in the Parliament, the truth is that there is much less of it than four years ago. For many areas in the UK, this representation has been entirely lost. 

For my part, I plan to knock on more doors, deliver more leaflets and make more phone calls: I have been pretty busy doing this since I became a candidate, and I have really enjoyed doing it. There is nothing else I do in my life which leads to people stopping me in the street and shaking my hand, or where the results are so visible in the area I live in. So, more of that.

But something else needs to change. Wealth and power have become very concentrated in our country. Because of this, people find themselves working long hours for little pay, or being treated very badly by the Job Centre or the Council as they look for work. They can't afford the housing in their area. There are not enough school places, not enough care for people in hospital. People can see litter in their area, drug dealers, graffiti. And worst of all, they feel powerless to do anything about all this. So they blame immigrants, the unemployed, single mothers.

That's not a country I want to live in. We can do something about it. So, let's get busy.







Wednesday, 21 May 2014

It's Election Day today, May 22nd!

Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm. You do not need a polling card to vote. If you have a postal ballot, and you have not yet sent it in, remember you can take your sealed ballot envelope to any polling station in your local council area.

Here in Reading, you will be choosing who will represent you on Reading Borough Council, and also on the European Parliament (your MEPs).

I am the Liberal Democrat candidate in Redlands Ward, and here we are campaigning to:

1. Make roads more pedestrian and cycle friendly, address local speeding concerns and expand the provision of 20mph zones to all residential roads
2. Work towards a 50% affordable housing target for new housing developments
3. Restore fairness by reinstating Council Tax waiver for those on lowest incomes
4. Keep all libraries open, no reduction in services, staff, opening times or physical buildings


I hope to keep building on the work of our local team, including my friend and colleague Daisy Benson who is stepping down as a councillor at these elections. Daisy has been an exceptional councillor, who has done so much for our area. So, please support me in continuing the work of the team!

Our excellent European team, including Catherine Bearder and Anthony Hook, have been working so hard to defend the jobs and prosperity that comes from our EU membership. Please show them your support too!

Finally a mention to all those who have called, stopped me in the street, helped deliver leaflets or who will be calling or knocking on doors today. Thankyou, your energy and kindness have made this campaign an absolute pleasure.

Please remember to vote today, and thankyou for your support!

Kirsten







Friday, 9 May 2014

Your Liberal Democrat candidate for Redlands Ward.

I’m proud to introduce myself as your Local Election Liberal Democrat candidate for Redlands ward.


I have lived in Redlands Ward, near the Royal Berkshire hospital for more than 20 years. I am very fond of the area, and enjoy living here.

Yet it is not problem free. Traffic and parking is a concern, especially as the roads get busier. Cuts being made by the Council have put a number of services under great pressure. Crime is mostly down, yet many of us have seen drugs sellers creeping back into the local area.

As an experienced campaigner and former councillor, I will ensure that local people get a say in what the Council tries to do. If things are not happening as they should, I will campaign for what is right for our area. For example, I have been working with local residents on issues as diverse as protecting our local park from council cuts, getting waste collections sorted out for overflowing bins, and improving provision for cycling.

If elected in May, my top priorities will be:

1. Make roads more pedestrian and cycle friendly, address local speeding concerns and expand the provision of 20mph zones to all residential roads
2. Work towards a 50% affordable housing target for new housing developments
3. Restore fairness by reinstating Council Tax waiver for those on lowest incomes
4. Keep all libraries open, no reduction in services, staff, opening times or physical buildings

Our full manifesto is available online >

I hope I can count on your vote on the 22nd May.

Yours,
Kirsten Bayes
Liberal Democrat candidate for Redlands ward

PS Please do forward this post to your friends and neighbours, and let us know what you think of our plans.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I was dreadfully sorry to hear the news regarding Jamie Chowdhary.

A Conservative, then Independent councillor, I worked with him when we were on Reading Council together. He was a very well liked and effective member of the Police Authority, a community leader and successful businessman. He was also a friend in difficult times.

In what were often heated debates at the Council, Jamie retained his poise and dignity, and sought always to bring common sense and wisdom.

I will always remember his kindness, his charm and his determination. He will be missed.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Farewell to arms.


I have spent every available hour this week campaigning against the biennial DSEi arms fairs, whose 2013 event just finished in London. 1400 exhibitors, 30,000 attendees, including military delegations and arms companies, trading in weapons and military equipment.

One of the questions I was asked was, "if the enemy was in Calais, would you still be against the arms trade then?"

This is not a theoretical question. Within the living memory of local people, an invading enemy was indeed in Calais. At least one of the campaigners has physical scars from the bombing in East London, where the arms fairs take place, to prove it.

Yet the truth is that today it is British submarines floating off the coast of other countries, with American-made cruise missiles pointed at their capitals; it is the British army flying French/Israeli-made drones in other nations' skies. It is also British-made weapons and surveillance equipment, paid for with oil money and base-leasing deals, that kills and imprisons democratic activists in places like Bahrain. It is British-developed teargas fired at Turkish and Brazilian protesters. The explosives and gases used on people, are tested on animals in British laboratories.

The most terrifying aspect of the whole business is that not only is the British Government quietly complicit in arms deals: it actually promotes them. Hundreds of people work facilitating arms sales in the UKTI DSO part of Vince Cable's BIS government department. 



Leaders of countries like Bahrain have been invited to London, and their arms buyers, along with those from places like Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan have been attending the arms fair at the invitation of the UK Government. David Cameron has repeatedly travelled to developing countries, arms company bosses in tow, seeking to impoverish these countries twice over: once when they buy the bombs, the second time when they drop them. It is as if, not content with intensifying the current Middle Eastern war, (Syria's Russian arms dealer was here too), he wants to start the next one.

The argument is, "if we didn't do it, other people would" and "it creates jobs". Well, these arguments could be applied to the narcotics business and the human trafficking business. We don't promote these because they are prejudicial to the general good. Are British jobs really worth being the fourth largest exporter in a business that kills at least 300,000 people a year, and critically injures many times that? This, when the same skills are in short supply in the renewable energy business? As vehicles made in Britain were used to crush human rights protesters in Bahrain, was it really worth the money we made from selling them? If nothing else, it makes anything our diplomats say on human rights anywhere frankly risible.

Those objecting to the arms fair this week have been arrested by the dozens, many held overnight in Police cells; dragged or carried bodily off public transport or prevented from travelling; harassed, followed, profiled. To protect our trade in weapons, the oppression that we are exporting was here at home. Pictures of it have been beamed into homes in China and Iran as an example of the perfidy of the West. Yet even some Police have quietly said, "it's my job to arrest you, but you're not wrong". They understand that the guns and grenades used on the streets don't come from Mars: they come from arms companies.

The enemy of our freedoms is not in China, Iran or even Calais. It is much, much closer to home. It is here, with us. We should end it. 

Stop the trade in arms. Stop the arms fair.





Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Stop the arms fair, stop the war


I like a good embassy demonstration. I must have protested half a dozen in my time, for various causes. 

But in the end, an embassy is a building far away from the capital of the nation it represents, where real power lies. Still, when one is trying to change the policy of another nation state, an embassy protest is what there is. Usually.

Regarding a US-led war on Syria, though, some key decision makers will be coming to London in a few days time. Not members of the US Congress, whose vote will decide whether the US goes to war - though they might be in town. But the top executives of the big US arms companies.

If the US launches an attack on Syria, it will be from ships made by Northrop Grumman, firing Tomahawk cruise missiles made by General Dynamics steered by Lockheed Martin control systems.

As this article by Allison Kilkenny makes clear, these companies and others like them carry huge weight with Congress, funding many election campaigns. War for them is a chance to make money and shine their reputations. They will be doubtless lobbying hard.

Their execs will be in London for the DSEi arms fair, one of the worlds biggest gatherings of makers of bombs, missiles, warships and drones. Coincidentally, Assad's arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, who supply 78 percent of his weapons will also be there: it is the need to continue Rosoboron's exports that has left Russia so intransigent at the UN.

If you are in the UK, and want to influence whether the US goes to war, for one week only you will be able to reach out and touch the key people. 

The groups in the Stop the Arms Fair coalition are organising a week of protests against DSEi, from occupations and die ins through to "meet and greet" actions. They have a track record of taking successful direct action and getting up close and personal with arms company execs. 

There is a mass action planned by Occupy London at the site of the arms fair on September 8th. September 8th is also when Occupy Wall Street plans to go back to Zucotti Park in New York to say no to any attack on Syria. The U.S. Congress reconvenes September 9th.

This is a unique chance for you to tell the real decision makers what you think. Stop the arms fair, and you may just stop a war.

You should be there.