Austerity: Paris Protest 1968 to Hackney Joy 2018

Why not?

We established the personal is the political in the 1960s. It affects everything around us. Where the oil comes from, who makes our clothes, how our wealth is spent – and how we care for the most vulnerable in society. Whether we have a society…

Tour guides are often told to steer clear of politics. I was told this at a training session for a company that ran tours to Jerusalem. I couldn’t help asking them how that would work?

But when you really really get to know a place, like Hackney, you get to see between the cracks. And what you find at street level isn’t always great. I’m thinking today of my friends Tough and Rumble who made some films for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), like this poignant portrait of the human price for Austerity.

When George Osborne Tweeted yesterday, about Austerity, that “We got there in the end – a remarkable national effort” I thought of what I’ve seen in homeless shelters and day centres. I thought of all the public sector staff and charity volunteers I’ve met and how they’re at the end of their tethers.

I thought of the experienced prison officer who’s taken a demotion because she doesn’t think the wings are safe enough now they’re bringing in younger and less experienced staff. ‘What’s cheap is dear’ to quote ex-Sunderland football manager Peter Reid. Nobody dies in football, but a short term saving can still bite you in the proverbial.

The ‘race to the bottom’ is affecting everyone from Southern train guards to the ultra-knowledgeable guides of the National Gallery. Fancy being laid off, or being asked to do the same job for less money under a new job description? The poor have always known precarity, but now it’s spreading to the young middle-class who can – for now, while they have youth on their side and less commitments like a family etc – just about afford instability.

Precarity for the many? It echoes one of the comments in the highly-relevant and highly-affecting films made by Tough and Rumble about the false Austerity economies (see here): “Anyone can become disabled.”

Listen to those stories in the films, see the pain caused and then read how it’s all fiscally pointless anyway. Read how disabled people who want to put into society and the economy are being marginalised – and how it’s actually costing more to do it. Talk to the people who’ve lost people because of the cuts and then ask them how they feel about reaching dubious targets at the cost of human life.

A union representative – remember those, from the days when being part of the collective was valued and standing up for your rights in the workplace wasn’t seen as ‘rabble rousing’ – reminded me this week that divide and conquer is an old tactic.

So as many of us enjoy our higher ISA allowances, trinkets we’re given to keep looking away from what’s happening in the margins of society as public services are asked to do ever more for ever less, let’s remember that in this ‘Beast From the East’ cold snap people will die.

Death. The big ‘D’. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Because – in a city where a tiny flat costs £500,000 – they didn’t have enough ‘system credits’ to justify a bed that can mean the difference between death and survival. And this in a city full of wealth – and empty beds. Here’s an exercise: try explaining this to an alien? It’s absurd really, isn’t it?

Hackney Tours has been informally exploring Situationism for decades. But this year with people like Doomed Gallery Dalston we’re going to be delving into the origins of psychogeography and the Dérive, 50 years after Paris ’68 and of course 50 years after the original Antiuniversity in Rivington Street.

We love a ‘nice walk’ as much as anyone, but originally the Dérive was a way not just of selling travel books but of drawing attention to these absurdities of conventional life. A kind of systemic mindfulness. The idea being that you had to first become aware of the ridiculousness of much of the status quo before you could go on to critique it and then (hopefully) improve it.

When you become aware of the norms you’ve inherited unquestioningly, e.g. ‘there is no other way than this’ or ‘we can’t house everyone’, ‘we’ve tried all ways of building societies and this is the only way’, you can start to pick them up and examine them. And possibly envision new paradigms?

Also the idea is that it’s playful. Hackney Tours and collaborators are big advocates of creativity: fun and play are active modes of being that grow us as people – the opposite of the disempowering passive consumption of hypercapitalism – which means we’ve then got more to give others.

And there are many people in Hackney giving a lot, like the volunteers at Hackney Winter Night Shelter who help out all over the borough every winter. Or North London Action for the Homeless and Posh Club in Stoke Newington.

Like the dining room of St Joseph’s Hospice, there’s a world of joy, love, empathy and community solidarity in the face of adversity. You can be part of this any time, wherever you live.

Joy is a form of protest: #Hackney68

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