Stop telling women what to wear and how to look!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I remember being in high school and having to wear a skirt. You could wear colottes or a pinafore, but not trousers. No matter how smart. It was infuriating.

Fast forward twenty years and still, society wants to enforce fashion ideals on women. Women in the media, in sport and in general. Stop it, really chuck it up!

The biggest story on the issue right now has to be that of Serena Williams, one of the most successful female tennis players of all time. A woman who has reinvented the women’s game and is an icon of awesomeness. The French Tennis Federation banned this tennis superstar, hall of famer from wearing a specifically designed biotech garment because they deemed it “disrespectful”.

This is the garment: 

Nike specially designed the medical catsuit 

Just so we are clear tennis fans, Anna Kournikova picking her knickers oot her bum, is ok and worthy of world wide promotion (see iconic poster below) but full body coverage on Serena Williams, not ok? 

This image used to be above entrances to sports shops and gyms

To make matter worse, Alizé Cornet was penalised at the US Open for reversing her inside out top. She was wearing a well supporting sports bra which is more like a crop top than a sexy under garment. The organisers have since apologised but lets consider the male players who frequently sit topless basking in their multi-abbed glory and regularly change tops during their breaks. 

It was an apparent violation for taking her shirt off on the court, even though she walked to well behind the baseline, practically in front of the ballboy. Who by the way reacted more maturely than the commentators on that clip.

Novak Abs
Murray Moobs

*AP PHOTOS*

Here are some male tennis players also apparently violating some dress code I presume?

To be fair to Andy Murray, he has come out against this sort of shit, wow, when Andy Murray is more of a feminist icon that you could ever thought to imagine, we know the world needs a changing.


https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/aug/15/andy-murray-john-inverdale-olympic-tennis-bbc-williams

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/14/sexist-poll-row-splits-wimbledon-day-womens-singles-final/

But is it just the archaic rules of an old fashioned, traditional sport? Well no not really. Take a winner of a singing competition who now hosts different telly programs. A young woman who was body shamed by a celebrity gossip magazine. Called “boring” and “desperate”. Ah but to be expected from gossip rags you may say, they too have since apologised. That doesn’t take away the hurt and anger that must have had an impact.

What about a less publicised sort of event. A chess meet in Iran? In June, Indian chess star Soumya Swaminathan refused to wear a head scarf and withdrew from the competition. This wasn’t the first time she had refused to be told what to wear. 

An 18 year old Malaysian football freestyler defends wearing her headscarf saying “the headscarf is not an obstacle.” She also refuses to be told what to do and what to wear.

When women are being encouraged to stay active and keep fit, why should it matter what we wear. If you can wear an ass cheek revealing short dress but not a medically tight full length cat suit is that right? When you can be penalised for displaying your midriff on court but men not penalised for baring full moobage and abbbbs, should we care? When we compete, whether in a chess competition, a sports ball event or a singing competition, why does it matter what females wear or how we look? When women are going about their daily business what difference does it make to anybody what we wear? 

Why is any of this important? Why does any of this matter? Why do you think?

 

 

by Debra Torrance

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear from more left voices on our podcast 

MY 11-STEP INDUCTION INTO THE CULT OF CORBYN (PART 3)

Reading Time: 5 minutes


THE GOLDEN DAWN; CAMDEN CHAOS-MAGICIANS; AND THE WINTER OF MILD DISCOMFORT


By Stevedore McCormack (sic)


STEP #8: MANCHURIAN CANDIDATES AND LOW-GRADE PATSIES


Kenneth Pringle took a long drag on his cigarette, exhaled a mighty cloud of smoke and delivered his coup de grace: ‘I am now 100% certain that Stephen Kinnock is a mind-controlled asset. His wife, Helle Thorning-Schmidt is his de facto handler; just as Glenys was his father’s mind-control handler. It is generational; they like to keep it in the family.’ He registered my open-mouthed expression.
He sighed, crushed his cigarette out on the Formica table-top and leaned back.
‘You remember the Westland Affair?’ He asked, patiently
‘Vaguely’, I replied. ‘Wasn’t it something to do with helicopters?’
He chuckled. ‘Thatcher was on the ropes, it was up to Kinnock to merely pick his spot and bury her. By all accounts the Iron Lady was ashen as she took her seat on the front bench. But somehow, miraculously, Kinnock blew it. It was an open goal and he managed to hoof the ball right up into the gallery. He waffled on and on about nothing – it seemed to onlookers like the mutterings of a madman. It made absolutely no sense. That is until – until – you realise this: Glenys, his erstwhile wife and handler had suggested a game of cards to calm his nerves beforehand’.
He sat back triumphantly, and waited. Unfortunately, once again I had absolutely no idea what he meant.
-‘I’m sorry, a game of cards?’ I shook my head, really none the wiser. He sighed again.
‘I take it you’ve never seen the Manchurian Candidate, with Angela Lansbury?’ I had to admit I hadn’t, so that night I downloaded and watched it again. I now believe I understand why Kenneth Pringle placed so much importance on that seemingly innocent ‘game of cards’

(Above) Glenys Kinnock, 1986


But why would Glenys Kinnock want her husband to fail? …


Ultimately Kenneth Pringle is in no doubt that Kinnock’s one and only job as Labour Leader was to put all the ‘cards’ in place: expel militants; float the idea of ditching Clause 4; and hold the seat until the right ‘candidate’ was put in place. For all this to be accomplished the country had to be allowed to lurch further to the Right, this was in order that Labour’s rightward lurch would seem lesser in comparison. Ultimately Thatcher had to be allowed to remain in power for as long as possible.

(Stephen Kinnock and father Neil; pictured with their respective handlers)


STEP #9: THE CAMDEN COUNCIL/ ALEISTER CROWLEY CONNECTION


One ex-Camden Labour councillor I was introduced to claims he witnessed, on several occasions, magickal rituals taking place in the basement of Camden Town Hall. These ceremonies, he insists were often presided over by Frank Dobson, who was regarded as a kind of ceremonial high-priest.

(Above) Frank Dobson: High-Priest and chaos magician?


“Initially Camden was a very socialist borough”, explains the ex-councillor. “The ceremonies were power-rituals, but they were generally intended to further the socialist cause. Then one day Frank wasn’t there and in his place, wearing Franks’ robe was this younger, slimmer man. Suddenly the candles were darker, the whole thing was darker: the energies I mean. We were being steered away from these gentle Wiccan ceremonies and toward something far darker and insidious.
“Who was the young man?” I asked.
“He soon went on to be communications director for Neil Kinnock, that’s all I’m saying”

(Above) Neil Kinnock receives instructions from his Communications Director.

 

STEP #10 – THE CORBYN-CONNECTION


Whilst all of this was fascinating I was still no nearer to cracking the enigma that is Jeremy Corbyn, and neither, it seemed, did either Pringle or Meeks.


Kenneth Pringle did however permit me an afternoon to trawl through his extensive notes whilst he was attending the Truth-Seeker Expo at Chelmsford. Having tried to make sense of his extensive notes on the Labour Party-occult connections (Barbara Castle as the Scarlet Woman anyone?); eventually I stumbled across this intriguing piece of paper:

It seems Pringle was indeed at some point following up some intriguing leads, but for some reason they seemed to have been halted (or maybe he had become distracted; there seemed to be an inordinate amount of research into Hazel Blears for instance). To my untrained eye his ideas did appear a little far-fetched, but then again I was by this time so far through the looking-glass I had no idea of what the truth of anything was anymore.


STEP #11 LABELS…..


The question I started out seeking to answer somehow got lost along the way. The question was, am I part of the Cult of Corbyn? It is after all, an accusation bandied around by various worthies such as Dan Hodges; Julia Huntley-Brewer; and even esteemed authors such as J K Rowling.


– In truth I feel I am no closer to a definitive answer (and I worry that this may be due to my successful brainwashing). Yet upon reflection it now seems more likely that I am, (along with so very many other Labour members) merely a hapless pawn, a pawn like so many others who is caught in the crossfire between two eternally warring camps.


Perhaps I need to turn to metaphor to get closer to the truth. So, with that in mind, imagine this:


Two shadowy wizards are perched high upon facing mountaintops. No one knows how long they’ve been up there. In different guises, perhaps they’ve been up there forever; throwing magical lightning bolts at one another. Currently upon the right-sided mountain is the wizard Mandelson; steeped in the dark magic of Crowley; his thunderbolts are composed of media spin and soundbites. Upon the left is the wizard Lansman; versed in the arcane magic of the Kabala; his thunderbolts are comprised of social media memes and carefully targeted cyphers.


Ironically the faction once known as New Labour employs the devices of Old Magic (via old media), whilst those who are decried as representing old and hopelessly outdated Labour, conversely use the devices of New Magic. Each side are wedded to their own visions; both camps are immovable; each accusing the other of encouraging cult-like devotion.


We each pick our side; we each employ our own trusted, if lesser weapons.
Yet all the while, as this unseen and eternal war rages, there is a man who engenders both hatred and devotion. He is a bearded man, and he looks remarkably like David Nellist.


Now finally, picture this:


It is night-time, and in a relatively modest kitchen in North London, the bearded man screws shut the seal on yet another pot of jam. He slowly and carefully wipes his hands upon his tracksuit trousers and crosses the kitchen in order to turn out the kitchen light, but he does not exit. Instead he walks back into the now darkened kitchen, cups his hands around his face and peers out of the window. He allows his eyes to adjust awhile, until he can see the few remaining stars not quite obliterated by the glare of the sodium streetlights outside.


He hums a tune; the tune is unrecognisable at first.


Tum-dum-te-dum
Dum tum-te-dum …
He starts to sing softly at first, and now the song becomes evident….

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here


He pulls his face back from the window, lowers his arms and smiles secretly to himself.


He exits the kitchen.


All is quiet and still now within the darkened kitchen, until -the solitary jar of jam is briefly illuminated by the flashing lights of a passing police-car, or maybe an ambulance. Upon the jar there is a sticker, and upon that sticker is written one word.


And that word is…


Quince

 

You can read Part One of My induction into the Cult of Corbyn here, and part 2 here

By Steve McAuliffe

You can read more from the collective here, or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

Downfall Redux

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve always found hero worship odd. I’ve never had rock n roll/pop heroes, religious heroes or political heroes. 

 

Back in1979, friends of mine flocked to Knock, Dublin and other places to see John Paul 2. Although I was 13,and not from the community the Pope came to speak to, I saw a spotlight on our place, shone by the entourage of journalists and commentators he brought with him. As I write this, a smaller crowd are greeting the present Pope, who is busy apologising for child abuse meted out by his church, but not apologising for the incredible male-ness of his permanent entourage and decision makers. 

 

As heroes topple, most of them men, its the behaviour of those around them that fascinate me. 

 

Many friends of mine were absolute hero worshippers of Morrissey and the Smiths. As the working class pseud sang about the plight of the “his community,” and their culture in the eighties, millions dressed like him, had their hair cut like him and quoted his lyrics almost as I imagine fans of 18th and 19thcentury romantic poets did. He was of that lineage. 

 

Cut to the late nineties and two thousands, and Morrissey’s increasingly anglocentric, British nationalism and seemingly uninformed sexism was brushed aside almost as “mistakes, flaws,” by their still heroised bard. His more recent behaviour, praising alt-right tropes etc, hasn’t pushed his back catalogue to the back of the record collection, yet. The Smiths and early Morrissey are still untouchable in a way Gary Glitter’s back catalogue will never be. He still has a stage in front of thousands, no, millions of people to whom he can spout his message of “Viva Hate!” Unfair? I don’t think so. Like all monsters, the monster in Morrissey must be denounced. And someone with the huge power of a public voice should be humbled. The price if not, is that more politically vulnerable fans are not given clear messages of what is acceptable politics and unacceptable fascism. How the fans/ex fans react is hugely important. 

 

In the seventies and early eighties, Fascist imagery, lyrics and speeches from the stage were made unacceptable by the superb “Rock Against Racism.” Eric Clapton, has spent years apologising for his drunken racist outbursts, and many fans, radio DJ’s etc, to this day body swerve his music. If you find some of his outbursts on YouTube, fans can be heard booing him. Bowie and others from the avant garde school of pop/rock were forced to abandon fascist imagery and nowadays, no right wing music or bands get beyond backstreet pub gigs. 

 

The fans spoke. They condemned and they refused to buy tickets. Rock Against Racism changed the rock and pop industry every bit as much as Thatcher, Stock Aiken and Waterman, Island or Simon Cowell. An unhealthy and imbalanced relationship between ego-ist, and at best, niave pop stars and unacceptable symbols and politics of hate, was averted by major bands, fans and record labels signing up to Rock Against Racism principles. 

 

Back in early 2005, branches of the then thriving Scottish Socialist Party, of which I was a member, were called to extraordinary meetings in which we were told that our then heroised by many, “Convenor,” Tommy Sheridan, had badly erred. Tommy, at meetings some of us attended, apologised. In those days, Me Too, the movement of support for those who have been victims of abuse, did not exist. Powerful men were the norm. Heroes out to save us from the enemy. There were no subtleties in public discourse. To many of those in the SSP, Sheridan was a hero, and although he had more subtle options, he was going to “fight The News of the World,” which had published details of a visit to a swingers club in Manchester he, some friends and a reporter had made. Sheridan’s behaviour, and those who then sought to gain politically within the Socialist movement were crucial to what then happened in Scottish (and subsequently, UK wide) socialist politics. 

 

Sheridan pursued a tactic of outright denial-which on its own could well have seen this issue blow over. To add to the denial, Sheridan decided to sue the Murdoch empire. Most of the rest of the SSP disagreed with this tactic–to throw our at that time sizeable forces at this would ensure we were caught up in something for years that was far from why activists from across the left had come together, volunteering time, money and energy to the SSP. Activists would burn out totally, if the raison d’etre of the party became the sanctity of “The Great Hero Leader,” who, in fact, was a very naughty boy. But it was those who saw political capital for them and their small factions who turned a small body blow into the destruction of, until then, Europe’s most successful socialist alliance. I won’t go in to detail about what followed, Alan Mccombes book, Downfall does a pretty good job of telling what happened, as does this Thousand Flowers article.

The thing is, during all of this, naively, I thought politics could continue as normal. We could continue to fight the Blairist Government, and fight for amazing socialist reforms. I remember, clearly, going to a small SSP Regional Council meeting in The Piper Bar, in Glasgow City Centre. The main protagonists were there, including Sheridan, and his until this point in time, best friend Keith Baldassara. I was there to ask Sheridan our MSP, advice on a proposal our branch had discussed regarding education, but the entire meeting became an argument between Baldassara and Sheridan about Sheridan’s stance on suing the News of the World. After a long time of intractable argument, I asked could we turn to other business, to which Baldassara told me, “you don’t know what you are talking about here, Neil. This is more important.” And clearly it was, to them. To me, as someone who had joined the SSP in spite of not liking Sheridan’s insincere rhetorical style and obvious ego, the most important thing was politics, not the preservation of the great leader, from whatever side you took.

 

Subsequently, Sheridan pulled together groups of people whose egos he stroked and factions that hitherto had tried their best to take over control of the alliance. Such was sectarian socialist politics. And those groups and fans who felt Sheridan was a hero or a ticket, wrecked a movement. Sheridan dragged people through the courts, and using his influence in the press, dragged the reputations of women who had been comrades in arms, and innocent bystanders through the mud. Many of us built a group within the party to try to save it, and to support those comrades Sheridan had decided to try to destroy. It had limited success. After 2007, the SSP and the Scottish Socialist movement  went into a decline it still has difficulty pulling up from. And that tarnish went on to infect the Independence movement as Sheridan flapped about trying to find income streams and ego stroking crowds. 

 

I watch the current left heroes across the UK, two in particular, through the lense of  experience of the SSP and that of Rock Against Racism, and know that if the worst aspects and mistakes of what has become known as “Corbynism” are not called out and addressed, the Labour Party will flounder in its attempts to pull the party left yet again.  And here in Scotland as people line up in solidarity with an alleged abuser and victims in the SNP, I can only hope the lessons of the past become the voice of the majority.

 

One “hero” is not a movement. The refusal of men to admit their fallibilities will wreck all that is good about what has been built. Defending one man should not be our raison d’etre. Change should be. Let’s hope these current heroes and their fans understand that.

 

By Neil Scott

 

You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our podcast




One in Five challenge Starbucks

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One in Five disability rights organisation in Scotland have written to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson. International organisations representing over 500,000 disabled people have supported the letter. Ungagged are pleased to be included. 

The campaigners have challenged Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that will satisfy environmentalists and disabled people.

Jamie Szymkowiak co-founder of One in Five said

“Our letter shows the strength of feeling from disabled people around the world. Starbucks must listen to their customers, including disabled people and environmentalists, and commit to investing in the research and development of a straw that doesn’t harm the environment for future generations and ensures the needs of disabled people are met.”

One in Five co-Founder, Pam Duncan-Glancy added

“Starbucks have the power to help disabled people and the environment at the same time. Big companies like them can lead and others follow. It’s so important for our human rights that they act now. After all, what is environmental justice without social justice?”

Commenting on release of the letter, Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said

“The companies responsible for distributing masses of single-use plastic items have the resources to innovate products which are truly sustainable and fully fit for purpose – suitable for everyone including the disabled community. Straws and other throwaway plastic items, that can’t be easily recycled, must be phased out and replaced with alternatives that don’t pollute our oceans and are suitable for everyone. In the meantime, plastic straws should be easily available for those who need them.”

We also asked Jamie how he felt about the excellent response, he said

“Too often the plastic straw debate is framed as disability rights versus environmentalists. With this, One in Five is trying to show that the two arguments are just as valid as each other and more pressure should be put on companies to act responsibly. In this regard, it was so refreshing to coordinate an international response and have support from Greenpeace.”

The letter:

————————————-

Kevin Johnson

President & CEO

Starbucks Coffee Company

22 August 2018

Dear Mr. Johnson

Plastic Straws for Disabled People

It has been just over one month since your announcement of Starbucks’ intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020[1] caused considerable anxiety among the disabled community. Furthermore, the ambiguous follow-up statement[2] has done little to reduce these concerns and has led to many disabled people feeling excluded by the world’s largest coffee chain.

One in Five have been working since the start of this year to bring the needs of disabled people to the public’s attention in the plastic straw debate. The average plastic straw is cheap, flexible, can be used for drinking cold and hot beverages, and is readily available. For some disabled people these attributes are vital for independent living. It’s worth pointing out that the umbrella of ‘disability’ includes people with different needs and impairments, and that it’s the universal accessibility of the plastic straw that makes so many disabled people anxious about an outright ban.

As you may be aware, most paper and plant-based alternatives are not flexible or suitable for drinks over 40C (104F). Not only does a soggy straw result in a poor customer experience, the deterioration increases the risks of choking, as some of us take longer to drink. Hard straws, made from metal for example, act as heat conductors and present obvious dangers for disabled people who cannot control their bite or who have neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. Reusable plastic straws present hygiene concerns to people with specific health conditions and can be very difficult to clean.

It’s not acceptable to have straws ‘available on request’ for disabled customers. This is unnecessary gatekeeping that contributes to feelings of guilt for wanting to enjoy – or needing – a drink. Nor is it acceptable for non-disabled people to expect disabled people to carry a straw everywhere we go just in case we get thirsty. Passing yet another cost onto disabled people isn’t suitable if you accept that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone. After all, environmental justice without social justice isn’t justice at all.

Starbucks have a successful track record when it comes to access and disability inclusion: where your organization leads, others follow. Unfortunately the straw debate is no different, as local coffee shops across Europe and North America abandon plastic straws without considering the needs of disabled people. However, you’re in a position to change that.

It is our view that the only solution that will rid our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics and meet the needs of disabled people is for organizations such as Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that is accessible for everyone, including non-disabled people.

Our question is simple. Will you work with us, and disabled people around the world, by committing to sourcing an environmentally friendly solution that meets our needs?

This letter has been co-signed by disabled people’s organizations, disability charities, notable disabled commentators and political representatives from across Europe and North America.

We look forward to your response.

Jamie Szymkowiak and Pam Duncan-Glancy

One in Five

www.oneinfive.scot

The signatories:

Disabled People’s Organizations & Charities

Center for Disability Rights

Inclusion London

National Disability Rights Network

Glasgow Disability Alliance

Facial Palsy UK

Inclusion Scotland

Ruderman Family Foundation

Raul Krauthausen, Founder of wheelmap.org, on behalf of Ability Watch

Michel Arriens on behalf of BKMF e.V.

Disability Agenda Scotland

  • Action on Hearing Loss Scotland
  • Capability Scotland
  • ENABLE Scotland
  • RNIB Scotland
  • SAMH
  • Sense Scotland

Embla Guðrúnar Ágústsdóttir and Freyja Haraldsdóttir, co-Founders, on behalf of Tabú

Health & Social Care Scotland (The ALLIANCE)

Cumbria Down’s Syndrome Support Group

WOW Campaign

Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project

Ian Langtree, Director, on behalf of Disabled World

People First (Scotland)

Notable disability rights activists and political representatives

Baroness Tanni Grey Thomson

Jeremy Balfour MSP, Conservative Party

Johann Lamont MSP, Labour Party

George Adam MSP, Scottish National Party (SNP)

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Liberal Democrats

Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Green Party

Míriam Nogueras, VP of the Catalan Democrats (PDeCAT) and MP in the Spanish Congress

Robert Gale, Artistic Director, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company

Debra Torrance, on behalf of Ungagged

Cllr Dennis Robertson

Cllr Robert Mooney

Sandra Webster, on behalf of the SSP Disability Network

Susan Douglas-Scott, Chair of Independent Living Fund

Trade Unions

Community

UNISON

Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)

[1] https://news.starbucks.com/press-releases/starbucks-to-eliminate-plastic-straws-globally-by-2020

[2] https://news.starbucks.com/views/follow-up-to-starbucks-sustainability-news

Translations of the Letter 

  Plastik-Strohhalme für Menchen mit Behinderung

  Pailles en plastique pour les personnes handicapées

   Pajitas de plástico para discapacitados

   Canyetes de plàstic per a persones amb discapacitat 

 

You can read Ungagged articles on the straw ban here and on the suggestion of a baby wipe ban here 

by Debra Torrance

You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our Podcast

Reflections on Poverty Safari

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Two of our Ungagged team, David McClemont and Victoria Pearson, review Poverty Safari; Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass by Darren “Loki” McGarvey.

David:

I really enjoyed reading Poverty Safari. I found I related to a lot of what Loki said both in a personal, professional and political capacity.

On a personal level I found I related to Loki’s book aversion growing up.  This would puzzle many people who know me as I was always a child that liked to learn facts (The 10 year old me definitely knew Ankara was the capital of Turkey) and I was known to read “serious” books about politics and history.  But the fact I read “serious” books was because reading always felt like a rewarding chore than a fun activity so I was going to trudge through 300 pages I wanted to come out having learned more than a story. 

Being from a working class background I could also relate to the quiet undercurrent of potential violence working class boys face particularly in their teenage years and how inhibiting it is.  I remember it just wasn’t the done thing in class to voluntarily answer a question unless you were directly asked by the teacher and even then the answer shouldn’t be good enough to raise eyebrows.  I remember being sat next to another boy for two years in a Science Class.  I didn’t know much about him except he had a reputation for being able to handle himself, was from one of the rougher corners of the catchment area and rumoured to be head of a gang.  Over the course of the two years we got to know each other and got friendly although I wouldn’t have dreamed of approaching him outside of the science class setting.  One day I was walking along a corridor and saw a group of boys lined up either side leaving not much room to get passed.  I knew they had already clocked me so if I turned back they’d have saw I was intimidated, and that would’ve invited future trouble.  So I tried to walk past as briskly as possible without making eye contact.  As I did they started barging me and tripping me up.  While I was doing a quick calculation as to the safest course of action, run (they’d have caught me), ignore it (would’ve been the same as turning back upon first seeing them) or square up to one of them and get a doing.  All three options seemed risky and none particularly palatable then at the last minute I felt a pair of arms wrap around my shoulders and a voice say “fuck off, he’s awright”.  I realised it was the boy from my Science Class! I muttered something to him and continued down the corridor.  I realised he was the undisputed top dog of that group, if he hadn’t been he would not have helped as it would’ve left him exposed and a possible target but he was in charge and was able to dictate the internal culture of that group.  A couple of years after school I heard he’d have been stabbed to death.  I never heard the specific circumstances but I remember feeling that there was a tragic inevitability to it.

In a professional capacity I could relate to a lot in Poverty Safari.  I used to work with people who had a history of homelessness and alcohol abuse many of whom had been in and out of prison.  Loki’s stories about working with offenders was very familiar.  When discussing group facilitation I often espoused the importance of “using silence” in order to encourage people to open up.  The theory being that a group of people can’t abide a shared silence and if you as the facilitator can fight your own instinct to speak then someone else will fill the void with their own words.  It’s a solid tactic and it works but it’s also true that most of the time I deployed it because I didn’t know what to say.  I can also say that my anecdotal experiences of working with homeless alcoholics absolutely corresponds with Loki’s view that most offending stems from a history of experiencing/witnessing violence as I never met a single Service User who had not experienced extreme trauma of one form or another.  People talk about the “Demon Drink” but from my experience the demons proceed the drink and they used alcohol as a form of temporary exorcism.

Loki’s thoughts around responsibility and poverty reminded me a lot of things I though about while studying addiction.  In John Booth Davies “The Myth of Addiction” he talks about the fact that progressives created the concept of addiction because the prevalent view at that time was that addicts were just weak willed deviants.  This attitude did nothing to foster change and so the idea of addiction as a “disease” was born to allow a more sympathetic view of addicts that would give them the space and motivation to change their lives.  However today, in the world of huge paternalistic third sector organisations this has lead to a narrative that often disempowers people and tells them that they have no control over their lives.  This isn’t true, of course there are bigger sociological factors at play but that doesn’t mean individuals are powerless to improve their lives.  I always found it a difficult balancing act, trying to get people to realise they were in control of their drinking and had the power to stop while trying to keep them from being crushed under the guilt they felt for everything that had happened as a result of their drinking.  I do worry about how we do that balancing act in a political context.  If those of us on the Left open that discussion  around taking responsibility we’ll face a stampede of reactionary forces eager to blame addicts for their addiction and poor people for their poverty and use that as an excuse to cut and starve valuable services of funds and resources.

 I would recommend Poverty Safari to anyone and I get the feeling my friends and family will soon be sick of hearing me talk about it. I think Loki has a valuable perspective and I hope he writes more books as he definitely has important things to say.

Victoria:

I’ll preface this review by saying I expected Poverty Safari to make me angry. All I knew about the book was the title, and I wasn’t familiar with the author, so I was expecting yet another poverty porn-esque, poorly disguised gawp-fest at the working classes, in the same vein as TV shows like Benefits Street. I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the time i reached chapter 3, I had started texting friends to tell them to read it.


This is obviously written from the perspective of someone who has lived what he is talking about – a perspective that is desperately needed in any kind of political or solution seeking debate around poverty, a perspective that, as Darren points out, is sadly lacking. It’s raw, unflinchingly and unapologetically honest, and at times darkly funny.


My overriding sense when reading this book was one of recognition and kinship. Darren shares anecdotes that might seem shocking to many, but that to me seem familiar, authentic and almost self evident. This is refreshingly so clearly not another intellectualisation of working class behaviour from someone outside of the community, this is obviously an account from someone who has lived these experiences, who understands the nuances of the community he is talking about, and I think it is one of the best texts I have read about the culture of violence and vigilance in the forgotten class.


“This is the other deficit we rarely talk about or acknowledge…It’s the belief that the system is rigged against you and that all attempts to resist or challenge it are futile…A belief that you are excluded from taking part in the conversation about your own life. This belief is deeply held by people in many communities and there is a very good reason For it: it’s true.”

Poverty Safari


Although it is set in Glasgow, Scotland where he grew up, and most of the reminiscences he shares focus on that area, many of the anecdotes and experiences he shared reminded me of my own childhood in Luton, England. My overwhelming sense when I finished this book was that it doesn’t matter where we are from, there are certain experiences the forgotten class share, that the more privileged among us would struggle to understand. I found a lot to relate to in it.

“At the age of ten I was well adjusted to the threat of violence. In some ways, violence itself was preferable to the threat of violence…you become detached from the violent act as it is being perpetrated against you…Acts of violence are terrifying, but a sustained threat of violence is sometimes much worse”

Poverty Safari

Adjusting and adapting to living in a climate of violence is something I think a lot of working class people can relate to. We all know someone from school who passed on far too young, through violence or drugs, or general rough living, and we weren’t surprised when they did. That’s something I think people with a different kind of upbringing would struggle to understand.. This book attempts to bridge that understanding gap and explain working class anger, but I like that it doesn’t apologise for it. It delves into the roots and causes of that anger, the psychological effects of the environment working class people live in, and pulls no punches when it comes to discussing the inadequacies of support services in place, who, after all, are only trying to contain symptoms of what are perfectly reasonable human responses to trauma and deprivation.

“People end up homeless for all sorts of reasons. However must like those who end up in prison, one recurring factor in the lives of those who become residually challenged is family breakdown and dysfunction. Issues like child abuse, addiction and homelessness are often discussed in isolation but as anyone working with homeless people, addicts or victims of abuse will tell you, the problems are often interconnected”

Poverty Safari 

My own anecdotal experiences working with (and being close friends with) people struggling with addiction match the sentiments in the above quote. Every addict I ever knew had a backstory of abuse, deprivation, or trauma, and they all related it in such a deadpan way. To a whole class of people, having to be constantly hypervigilent, constantly expecting violence, constantly worrying about survival in some form or another, is perfectly normal. It’s easy to judge people from a position of comfort, particularly if you’ve no experience of those issues within your family or friendship group. Darren manages to foster understanding, and provoke empathy for the people effected by these sorts of problems, but without making excuses for people, which I think is a fine line to walk, and one he does well.


Poverty Safari is well written and thought provoking, and it left me thinking about the issues raised – and more importantly the people who are effected by those issues – for a long time after I’d finished it. If you’ve an interest in sociology, politics, changing the world for the better, or you simply want to gain a deeper understanding and empathy for people struggling with anger, mental health problems, or addiction of any kind, throw your textbooks out and have a read of this instead.

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Edinburgh Fringe Review

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Day 15 of Edinburgh Fringe and the mood has changed.


76% of performers are hungover and 39% of performers dreams have been crushed forever . Flyer guys and gals have lost interest mostly and nobody that I know has seen a show yet. Everyone just walks around handing out or accepting bits of cardboard.


Everyone gets distracted and spends the full day walking around diagonal cobbled lanes that even makes google maps shite themselves.


There is no internet reception. Either because too many instagram cunts or because internet is shite. Nobody truly knows.


Every drink costs a fiver until you say ‘really?’ to the barman, then discounts appear like bagpipes outside a chip shop.


We all pretend we love Runrig because our patriotism has better tartan than everyone else’s patriotism and that’s a good indication that we were randomly born into the best country that ever existed and perhaps the time we exist is more important. But that’s for historians to decide.
I met one of them tonight. They gave me cardboard and I promised to go to their show, but I didn’t because I got lost walking in Edinburgh.


This fuels our economy. Apart from the oil, it’s all walking and cardboard interactions that keeps us ticking over. 5000 shows today and only 40 audience members.


But 5 million shortbreads sold and twenty homeless people arrested for being outside.


I don’t think we can change the world we inhabit but it would foolish to think we definitely cannot, so I will be spending Saturday night putting it all to the test. Stramash. 9.30pm. Girobabies. Free entry. Edinburgh Fringe. The Moods. Micky 9s. Dopesickfly.


And now I will say some hollow words that mean very little so people versed in my writing don’t scroll down and think ‘this is probably an advert‘ because even though it may look like it. This is environmental.


No cardboard was harmed in the making of this post.

By Mark McGhee

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

OITNB no spoiler review

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Sickdays

So when you get sick, and I mean really sick, hospitalised and IV drip sick, you kinda don’t want to know what is happening in the big bad world of politics. So I tend to go into binge watching series on streaming sites. 

This time I watched Orange Is The New Black season 6 on Netflix. I’ve been a fan for a while, watched all the other series but hadn’t got a chance to watch any of the new episodes. So amidst my sick bowls and venflons, I settled down to watch the amazing work of Jenji Kohen. 

OITNB is not just your usual Bad Girls, Cell Block, Wentworth vibe. There are familiarities that we all expect, there is something more. From the real life inmate portraiture as opening credits to on the button social commentary. This is Jenji’s forte, as she delivered in the epic series that is Weeds. I remember limewiring episodes for hours and hours just to keep up with the story when I was in college. Getting CD Roms off people to just sit and watch on the PC. So strange, but that opening title song still drifts in my thoughts frequently. “Little boxes on the hillside…”

If you haven’t seen or heard of Weeds, its basically a white American mother becomes a cannabis queen, a quirky, fun and often violent story. It is as though Saving Grace was Californian. And if you haven’t seen Saving Grace, do you even movie? 

But back to Orange Is the New Black, the level of acting in this series surpassed all my expectations. Amazing women, with behaviours and characters  can recognise from real people I know and love. The way the storytelling is presented is really unlike anything I had experienced in the previous series. Even though this is almost conclusive in its delivery, I feel anybody could watch this series alone with real intrigue and satisfaction. 13 episodes of magnificence.

Bit by bit you are taken on a journey with each of the characters, in that pleasant way the previous series also delivered. Although this time, you don’t realise the significance of each little bit. You are swept up in the journey and really get hit hard, fast and you will be left with a gaping jaw on several occasions. 

Not only will the actual story be a pleasure for you, everything is so relevant today in the global environment of corporate power and political fallout. 

For me, a gay disabled political activist, this is a Must Watch season. 5 star review! 

How should we talk about immigrants?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Language is a powerful tool, not least because of how subliminal it can be. The societal gaps that exist between peoples is reflected in our use of language, often so subconsciously that it can be difficult to notice the rifts we create with our words. For example, there are many terms to describe immigrants (and before we go any further, I want to emphasize that this article refers to certain colloquial uses of these words rather than their dictionary definitions). There is the term refugee, used to describe somebody escaping violence or persecution. There is economic migrant, used to describe those who have immigrated for work. And then there is expat, typically used to describe migrants from developed countries.

But in a world that is increasingly anti-immigration, perhaps the best term to use when speaking about somebody who happens to have been born in another country is simply the blanket-term “immigrant”. For all three of the other terms — refugee, migrant, and expat — are used to reflect the disparity between those who are considered superior immigrants and those who are not. This language not only harms those who might be considered lesser immigrants but also hurts those who fall into the less-vilified expat category.

Firstly, yes, the term “refugee” has a specific definition that makes those who fall into this category distinct from other groups of immigrants. The fact that there are different policies regarding refugees should leave the word out of this debate. However, “refugee” has often been used by the Left to describe any immigrant coming from a developing country. While this may be done with good intentions, in order to help as many people as possible, the political backlash to this terminology misuse has allowed the situation for true refugees to worsen due to increasing hostility towards them by the general public and governing parties.

Take the Mediterranean immigration crisis: liberal news sources and politicians tended to refer
to the situation as the “refugee” crisis. And obviously, many thousands who came across the sea were refugees. But a substantial number, potentially/probably the majority, were not. By claiming the crisis was one of refugees rather than immigrants, liberals allowed conservative politicians and news sources to (rightly) point out the fact that a large percentage of those coming were economic migrants. From the political scorecard standpoint, this allowed the Right to portray the Left as naive and ill-suited for leadership because it had allowed so many supposed migrants into Europe, no questions asked.

While liberals used the term “refugee” to subliminally convey sympathy for the immigrants, conservative governments and parties capitalized on our subconscious use of language in their own way. The Right wanted to call the crisis one of migrants rather than refugees in order to turn as many people away as possible. In the UK, as in nearly all EU countries, immigration has been drastically cut since the Conservatives took office in 2010. David Cameron and other politicians across Europe had promised fewer non-EU immigrants, and would face electoral backlash if they allowed those coming via the Mediterranean to come to their countries. By calling them migrants rather than refugees, governments were somewhat released from their responsibility of helping the refugees. As it can be quite difficult to prove a person’s right to refugee status, there is a high chance of an asylum-seeker’s claim being denied in the best of times. When a native population is hostile towards foreigners, governments have even less incentive to grant asylum-seekers their refugee status (though perhaps this is too jaded a take — after all, 80% of Syrian applications for asylum were accepted, with 52% of overall applications approved).

** If you are curious as to the legal requirements of EU countries in regards to refugees, please scroll to the bottom for a brief description.

For a concrete example of conservative rhetoric, between April 2015 and June 2016, UKIP only used the term “refugee” either when they were discussing the treatment of Christians in the Middle East, or when saying that other European countries (and not the UK) should be responsible for the refugees. But when the crisis was referenced in any way to the UK, the term migrant was always used. On multiple occasions, party leader Nigel Farage stated that the EU was ruled by a naive and liberal elite that insisted on calling migrants “refugees”. Considering the outcome of Farage’s Brexit and the strong role anti-immigration played in the decision, these statements clearly struck a chord with the British public.

In short, by calling everyone a refugee, the Left potentially caused hard to actual refugees because it allowed the Right to say that the immigrants coming were mostly migrants who were scamming the system in order to get a free pass into the EU. Unsurprisingly, this only furthered anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe, which were already high after years of portraying migrants as people who come to steal jobs, steal welfare, and potentially even commit terrorist acts. In a poll taken by Ifop in October 2015, the majority of citizens in France, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK, and Denmark all said their countries already had too many immigrants and that they did not want refugees to come.

Given these high anti-immigrant numbers, this article does not argue that a simple language change would have significantly diminished the anti-refugee sentiments amongst the European population. What is does argue is that both liberals and conservatives used language to incite certain emotions amongst the electorate, with the Right using its chosen term more effectively. The Left needs to learn from this mistake and apply the term “refugee” only in cases when it is warranted. Had the Left used the term “immigrant”, the Right would not have been able to co-opt the narrative in the way that it did.

This language debate reaches far beyond the Mediterranean crisis. Again, migrant is the term, often used negatively, to describe those who have come for economic purposes. To British readers, how often did you hear the term “European migrant” during the lead-up to the Brexit vote? When you did, how often did you think of a Pole or Romanian rather than a German or Dane? I’m going to go ahead and assume your brain never pictured a Western European. Why? Because Germans, French, Swedes, etc, along with Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Americans are all supposedly expats. Except…they are migrants too.

In terms of policy impact, expats are no different than migrants. By using the term “expat”, we not only reinforce the idea that rich, white economic migrants are somehow different from poor migrants, but we also reinforce the idea that if we were to try and move abroad we are somehow different than immigrants from developing countries, and that we will not be impacted by the strict immigration policies Western countries have imposed.

For a personal example, I was an immigrant in the United Kingdom and was forced to leave the home I had made for myself because of strict-and-getting-stricter immigration laws. But while my life has been greatly (and negatively) impacted by the laws surrounding immigration, I can appreciate that I was a privileged immigrant, being a native English-speaking white person. In the entire time I was there, I was on the receiving end of just one anti-immigrant rant (though it was an impressive one, I will give the man that).

In the weeks leading up to my return to the US, and in the six months since, I have lamented situation to countless people on both sides of the Atlantic. Almost always comes the same response: shock that I had to leave the UK and an assumption that all I need to do is apply for a new visa and I will be allowed to go back. This reaction is partially due to the fact that few people realize just how difficult it is to immigrate, but it also very much occurs because few think of expats as migrants. But they are and the law agrees. It is one aspect of the immigration situation where the privilege between “welcome” and “unwelcome” immigrants does not exist — policies are no different for those considered expats and those considered migrants. Nor should they be.

Another take on the term “expat” is reflected in what a white, British woman who currently lives in the US told me recently — she considers herself an expat because she plans to move back to the UK at some point. But here’s the thing: many immigrants of all types expect to return to their origin country eventually. Refugees often want to return when it is safe, migrants may find that they miss their family too much, students tend to want to go home at the end of their studies, etc. A Pakistani friend of mine, for example, has lived in London for two years and plans on returning to Karachi in another two. Now, raise your hand if you think anybody would call her an expat.

Westerners who call themselves expats merely show their privilege when doing so. My Pakistani friend laughed out loud when I asked her if she believed that society considered her one. This is not to use anecdotes as evidence, but merely to hone in the point that short-term residency is not the main criteria for the colloquial usage of “expat”.
In order for immigrants of any type to be treated more humanely, citizens of rich, white countries need to realize that they would be migrants if they ever tried to move abroad. I have lost track of the number of times I have talked with Americans about my situation, incited their sympathies and outrage, only to have them turn around and discuss moving to Canada in order to escape Trump. You guys. You can’t move to Canada. They have immigration policies! What were we just talking about?? Or recently, The Times ran an article that said up to a quarter of working-age Brits would move abroad after Brexit in order to find work. This article was widely shared amongst the Remain crowd on Twitter and Facebook. But after Brexit, the UK will probably lose the EU’s freedom of movement. So please, explain how this supposed 25% will get past the strict immigration policies that nearly all Western countries, including the UK, have enacted in recent years. The short answer is: they won’t because they can’t.

Language matters. My master’s degree was focused nearly entirely on immigration. In order to avoid any unconscious images swirling in my professors’ heads regarding who was being discussed, I almost always used the term “immigrant” (unless “refugee” was absolutely warranted). I do my best to never say the terms “migrant” or “expat”, and am careful about when I use “refugee”. Not that I do not slip up. Language is deeply engrained in our subconscious and it takes concentration and dedication to change how we talk. But I try my best, because immigrants need to stick together. We are all targets of these policies. All of our lives can be destroyed. The true fight regarding immigration is to ensure that immigrants of all types are treated like human beings. We do not need the additional battle of tackling condescending terminology ascribed to different groups of immigrants. And so it might seem like a small detail in the battle for immigrant rights, but we need to re-examine our usage of various terms. Please stop calling people expats. Please be careful when you use the term refugee. We are all immigrants.

** A basic breakdown of the complicated legal requirement of EU countries towards refugees is this: the Dublin Regulation states that the country a refugee initially arrives in is the country they must make their asylum claim in. However, the EU recognized that Italy and Greece — the two countries which received nearly 100% of all refugees during the crisis — could not handle the burden, especially considering that they were two of the countries worst affected by the recent economic crisis. In response, the majority of interior ministers from the EU member states voted to relocate a small percentage of the refugees to other countries. This was met with significant backlash, with nearly 60% of EU citizens against the agreement. It took nearly two years to complete the relocation process, and far fewer refugees than originally agreed upon were moved.

                                    

By Laura Lundahl

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

From Ovid to Dante and onwards…

Reading Time: 8 minutes

“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile”

Ariel Dorfman

This is a story told to me by a remarkable student. She attends my Philosophy classes and the classes I teach.

Gabriela Inostroza de Gatica is very Latin, the native blood of South America flows in her veins. She is passionate , intense, exceptionally kind and has a wicked sense of humour . She contributes so much to the classes and still laughs in the midst of a life full of losses and tragedies and yet, in Kahil Gibran’s words, she makes of her heart a chalice through which she feasts on the elixir of life.

Images used with kind permission

She has been twice a refugee, confronted several times fascism in all its totalitarian horror. Yet she understands how we effete left-wing progressives of Wales have never feared the knock on the door in the night, never really understood what it is to be watched, what it is to wait outside a prison for her loved ones. She mostly excuses those who claim that the solution to totalitarianism and fascism is to grant to the fascists the same rights we would give to the standard political parties of the west.

At those times in the class I think of the thoughts of Trotsky and his comments about a paving stone and a fascist. But I am the first person who would run a mile from a violent encounter and so I stay quiet.

This remarkable student is called Gabriela Gatica Leyton. I have known Gabriella and her husband Umberto for over 12 years now. Umberto has presence, he fills a room with both presence and gravitas.

Images used with kind permission

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet imposed a military dictatorship in Chile. Gabriela was 23 and had only been married to Umberto for a few days when he was seized by government officials for “gathering in a public place” (more than three people together was seen as an act of treason).

Umberto was put in prison and tortured. Many of his fellow inmates just disappeared. Gabriella says;

“the prisoners were kept underground, in a cellar. Over 100 people crammed in a room only big enough for 10.”

When Umberto was released, he and Gabriela knew they had to get out. They left their families behind and were smuggled by plane into Argentina where they spent a year in a refugee camp.

It was freezing, and they weren’t allowed to work legally. They got black market jobs, mending door locks or working in bars – and they spent hours just sat in a backstreet bookshop trying to keep warm.

Then their luck changed dramatically – the couple were offered scholarships to study at Swansea University, under a scheme to help refugees from Chile in 1976 they moved to Swansea and they’re still there.

Gabriella told me a story about an experience she had recently. She was in Wales and a woman kept asking her where she was from. Gabriella told her that she was from Mount Pleasant in Swansea. The woman kept insisting and asking where she was from. In this intolerant society, this brexit-Ukip poisoned Wales and this Trump polluted world. Like myself Gabriela believes that those of us who live in Wales are Welsh.

“We could cook real food for ourselves. I even started physically shaking when I saw four different sorts of cheese in the supermarket. I always call Wales my adopted mum. My adopted mum brought me up, gave me opportunities and nurtured me. One day, my bones will be buried here,”

Remembers Gabriella.

Umberto and Gabriella fled Chile in the 1970s after Umberto was detained and tortured under General Pinochet brutal regime. They live in Wales. Umberto has just retired from 30 years in the department of Photography at Swansea Metropolitan University, and Gabriella from 25 years as a social worker. Both of their children work in the NHS.

It’s an incredibly difficult story to tell. Twice exiled. A story of fear, detention, of suspicion and of loss…Umberto continues:

We are Chilean, I am an artist. In the Chile of the early 1970s I worked in the Culture Section of a Community Development program, with rural communities making works of theatre, photography, journalism and film. This was a community who had never had the chance to see a film or play before – through artistic expression the doors for social development could be opened.


But the community never got to see their first film.
The military coup of the 11th of September 1973 by General Augusto Pinochet put Chile under brutal restrictions and terror.
So many strange things happened then. I’m still unsure what lead to my imprisonment, but I think I have some idea.


I had married my wife, Gabriella, in July 1973. We were young and had very little money, so after we married I rented a room while she lived with her mother. We had been married only six weeks when the military took power.


They enforced a curfew on Friday nights which stayed in place until the following Monday. Over the weekends, I stayed with my new wife at her mother’s home.


After three or four days I guess my neighbours began to notice I was ‘missing’. Someone reported my absence to the authorities. I suppose they thought I was a guerrilla member. Two days later I was detained, interrogated and tortured. No matter the extremes of my torture, I was unable to give the authorities the information they wanted. I wasn’t a member of any party. I did not know of the activities of the guerrilla fighters or where they kept the guns. I was an artist, a husband. I simply knew nothing. So the torture continued.


I was put on a chair, blind-folded so that I didn’t know where the next punch or kick would come from. In a way I was very lucky – I wasn’t shocked with electricity the way many others were. A common method was to tell me – “If you don’t know anything, I’m sure your wife does.” My young wife and her mother were frequently harassed by the authorities, their house turned upside down. But of course neither they, nor I, had any information to offer up.


Weeks after detention and interrogation I was moved to a sport centre, used as a detention camp. After a while I was moved to the city jail, to a political prisoners corridor.


Gabriella was totally lost, she went into autopilot. Everything you have, the ordinary things like a salary, a family, to speak, to laugh – were suddenly all gone. It was like an alternative reality. She couldn’t visit me and didn’t even know if I was alive or dead.


Once, after I was moved to the sports centre, she was allowed to send me some new clothes. She wrote me a letter on very thin rice paper which she pushed into a minute tube and sewed into the hem of a shirt. I don’t know how I knew it was there or managed to find it, but I did. She simply told me she was alive and thinking of me – she told me to keep faith. Maybe this is what kept me going.


I was kept in a centre with hundreds of other men. There was no space to sleep – we took it in shifts to lie down. It was as you see in American films – men in dark glasses guarded us with machine guns.


Within the group we were erratically and frequently called for interrogation. Many men from the group were taken and never returned. Many disappeared during the night.


In a climate of such fear and stress we eventually we took to holding lectures and classes among ourselves – something to provide focus, give structure and meaning back to our wasted days. The prison was full of political prisoners of all ages and backgrounds – university students and professors, journalists, chess masters, scientists, farmers – teaching and learning maths, music, reading and writing. I was in charge of the library and in turn studied creative writing, chess and guitar. There was a theatre group run by some of Chile’s most famous actors, who were detained alongside the others. Eventually, after 9 months of arbitrary imprisonment, the authorities realised they were wasting their time with me. I was released without charges.


The very next day my wife and I visited the Chilean Catholic Church, who created a body to help political prisoners and the relatives of the disappeared, taking their cases and offering legal aid. The lady lawyer in charge of our case advised us to leave the country, even though there was not a policy within the organization to persuade people to go into exile – we couldn’t be sure when we would be targeted again.


The very next day, when I went to collect our passports, I was taken in and questioned by the authorities.


“How could I possibly have done something in the last 24 hours, since my release?” I retorted. Thankfully, I was quickly let go. The next day, Gabriella and I fled to neighbouring Argentina to seek asylum. We fell in love with the country and with the people. Everywhere people helped us. There was a true sense of solidarity with Chilean refugees and we were welcomed like one of their own.


But it wouldn’t last.


One year later – in October 1975, a military coup saw the streets fill with soldiers and their fierce dogs. They were nasty. Foreigners were intimidated, detained and disappeared. We tried to be invisible. Suspicions rose. No one knew who could be an informer.
Eventually we were advised, once again, to leave the country. At the time, governments around the world offered their support to Chilean refugees – they knew our lives were seriously at risk if we remained in Argentina. We left Argentina with a grant from the World University Service for my wife, the help of the UN Refugee Agency and a visa extended by the British Consulate in Buenos Aires.


We arrived in Swansea, Wales and I started working in a Community Centre in Neath, running photography workshops for young, unemployed people. I went on to work in the department of Photography of Swansea Metropolitan University for 30 years.


After working hard to re qualify and earn a Masters, my wife continued her vocation as a social worker in Wales. She worked with schools cross the area with children at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse for 25 years.


When we first arrived in Wales we expected to only stay for a year or so until the situation in Chile improved. We didn’t even buy any furniture, but we kept active working, learning English and campaigning to raise funds and awareness of what was happening back home in Chile.
With the support of the churches, universities and unions in Wales, we organised huge fundraisers for political prisoners in Chile – the Welsh absolutely loved the Latin music – the salsa, rumba, cumbia – and loved the saucepans full of Gabriella’s rice, empanadas and my chilli con carne.
Gabriella will always remember the opportunities she has been offered in Wales and fondly remembers her gratitude after being offered her first job. She was always treated with respect and on merit – never treated differently for having an accent, or being a foreigner, being a refugee. Wales gave her a chance. And she gave so much back to the community.


This is our home now, this is our country. Both of my children work for the NHS. My son qualified as a Biomedical Scientist at Cardiff and now works as a biologist, testing organs before transplants take place. My daughter is a mental health nurse.


When I see people fleeing across the Mediterranean, my heart breaks. We spent just one year in a refugee camp, these people have spent so many. The support we were offered from the international community saved our lives. My wife, children and I are now a valuable part of our adopted community. I know, first hand, the danger of countries turning a blind eye to the kind of humanitarian crisis we are currently witnessing.”

My philosophy course is multi cultural and multi-ethnic we have Irish, Italian, Chilean individuals all of who are tolerant and full of laughter, yet all have a profound understanding of sadness and of the nature of the world.

Even Luciarno Luciano Welsh Balsamo, now approaching eighty, and after living here in Swansea for fifty years, has been told at times to go home. We live in a more brutal Wales now, a barrier in the collective mind has been breached and through that portal we have revealed a deep and dark racist id spilling its poisons on to those who are both refugee and those oppressed and exploited by the demons of the large corporations and the high priests of neoliberalism who separate us from one another and lay blame, causing us to project and displace our fears, our shame and envy upon one another. There is, of course, no reason for Gabriella and Umberto to have that told to them…they know that so well.

‘You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back – it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”

Naomi Shihab Nye

By Martyn  Shrewsbury

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our Podcast