Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Die-Hard Drug Policies
Finally there is some movement on the ineffective drug policy pursued for so long – and yet again the old-skool political has-beens are once again rattling their chains.

The Independent are reporting that the National Lottery's Community Fund has awarded a £500,000 grant to fund a scheme that will provide drug addicts with heroin. To me this seems a positive step; "If the results are positive, the trial could encourage the Government to adopt a system of clinics where drug users would be able to obtain and inject free heroin. Researchers hope that the trial will prove effective in treating long-term addicts, who cost society an estimated £35,000 a year each through crime, welfare and health care.” But unsurprisingly the knee-jerk Tories are up in arms; Greg Knight, the Tory spokesman on Culture, said: "The National Lottery is there to help the original good causes of heritage, arts and sporting charities. If this grant goes ahead, it will serve as another example of the Government's failure to keep the lottery focused on these original good causes."

Yeah well Greg, a brief message – get lost. I checked out your appallingly designed website to see what qualified you to comment on drug issues, and while some my disagree, I personally don't think that being legal representative to Showaddywaddy and an enthusiastic advocate for the car industry qualify you to stick your nose into the issue of drug use.

And before any Neo-Labour people start patting yourselves on the back over drugs issues; don't. Your murderous government just OK-ed giving money to the Colombian government, which will help fund the narco-terrorist traffickers known as the AUC; "Blair has orchestrated an international breakthrough on behalf of Colombia's ultra-right Uribe government. The UK has opened the door for the worst human rights offender in the Western hemisphere to receive a new round of international loans."

Nb. Bush, Bertisconi and now Uribe; what is it that compels Das Blair to join with the far-right?

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Growth and Growth of Bristol Indymedia
This article is being written from the perspective of an Indymedia volunteer, a reader of the site and a writer on the site. This gives a perspective from inside and from the outside of which to write about and comment upon it.

Bristol Indymedia was founded by local activists with help from the London Indymedia collective. It's been going for over a year now and has a very definite local agenda. This direction was established at the initial public meetings that established the site. The discussion centered on the idea that for the site to truly be called 'Bristol' it had to reflect Bristol and the surrounding area. Great strides are made to moderate and manage the site so as to ensure that local voices are the loudest. That's not to say the site does not feature news from outside the area, but always we encourage contributors to seek a local angle on international events. A critic might say that this would leave us as nothing more than an online version of a local paper; but we believe we are far from it. To illustrate this it is worth pointing to some of the successes of the site:

Bristol Indymedia gave an open forum to anti-war voices during the recent conflict. Bristol's media outlets; Evening Post, Western Daily Press and Venue are all owned by Northcliffe Newspapers, as in line with the group editorial position, devoted most of its war coverage to International events from the Gulf. Coverage of anti-war voices was marginal at best. Events such as the historic 10,000 people at Fairford or the blockading of Bristol city center on the day war broke out were covered extensively by the people who attended and so the site reflected far more coverage that was allotted in the mainstream media.

Coverage and debate of the drugs/crime issues has been extensive on the site, which again, reflects the reader/writer concern. In the main this coverage has been written by the people who live in the areas affected by the crack epidemic within the city and so the voices have had an immediate authenticity not found elsewhere.

Local media has also come under scrutiny. It is interesting to note that the site is frequently visited by the local mainstream media as well as other institutions such as the police and council; indeed the police have been known to post articles on the site. It is arguably inevitable that local media would come under such scrutiny given its one-way consumption method. As such lively debate frequently explodes on the accuracy, impartiality and quality of the mainstream media. The most notable of these debates was local opposition to HTV's 'Currie Night' TV program, which engendered a lively debate between the site users and the HTV management.

Once other important development that must be afforded space is Al-MuaJaaha, the Iraq Witness. Here we see grass roots inter-community organizing at its best. The Indymedia software and tech-know-how, fund-raising, combined with Bristol anti-war activists and Iraqis, living both in the UK and in Iraq, together have created what is arguably Iraq's first ever truly open, free and democratic media outlet. Without a strong community and support base here in Bristol, the project could not have happened. Without the international peace movement and its links and without dedicated Iraqi writers on the ground in Baghdad, the project would never have happened. The project has happened and goes from strength to strength!

Recently the site's volunteers have been pushing further the local nature of the site and to date it seems to be paying off; there has been a marked increase in comments, local groups using the site and exclusive local coverage of events. The future also looks bright as the addition of a calendar system is allowing the site to respond to user requests for a forum for publicizing events. Bristol Indymedia also organized the 'Communtiy Media Day' in June 2003, which was a huge success in bringing together local media outlets such as The Spark, Bristle and plugincinema.com as well as national groups such as Undercurrents and Talkiokie. The event both was platform for debate on independent media as well as a skill sharing opportunity which allowed everyone to pickup some media skills; this being the greatest success of the local and international Indymedia movement - the blurring of the line between consumer and producer. It allows ordinary people the opportunity to cease being a passive participant in the forces that shape their community, and start being an active voice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Quick update..some things worth checking out!

First up is rightwing US Shock-jock Alex Jones taking on neo-con Ann Coulter. Sure it’s rightwing vs. rightwing and I don’t endorse all of what Alex Jones says and believes in but he at least does have the integrity to not be hypocritical; if he attacks the Democrats for something he disagrees with, he will also attack the rightwing if they indulge in what he sees as wrong. As an example of how the hypocrisy within an ideology can be used to destroy an argument, it’s fine listening.

Second is the cost of war in Iraq – in real time! A top site that simply shows how much it costs. A simple and powerful message: costofwar.com

Third, don't forget the Thessaloniki prisoners. There is shocking footage of UK activist Simon Chapman being framed by the Greek cops. Support all anti-capitalist prisoners!

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Drugged Out.
The issue with drugs is obviously one that motivates people, judging by the feedback on the issue. I’ve read comments people posted on Bristol Indymedia about the whole issue and getting bogged down on the issue of racism and stuff. Here’s my two pennies on the matter; We can’t blame nationalities for the drug problem. On the streets of St.Pauls most of the dealers might be Jamaican, but most of the junkies are British. Both are needed to create a drug problem. It’s people doing it, irrespective of their origin.

So who’s fault is it?

The police?

Ironically, because of the laws of supply and demand, the better the police become at interrupting the supply the better the price the dealers get for their drugs. As less reaches the streets and as the demand has not changed, the more the dealers can charge. In addition, the police generally get the least efficient dealing crews as they are caught easier, so weeding out the competition and acting as a kind of gang-related natural selection. The police are not to blame for this problem.

The Yardies?

While at the moment they might be in the frame in St.Pauls, they are just the latest in a long line of groups aiming to make money from the trade. I am aware to those who’ve been the victim of Yardie crime this is no comfort, but Britain can and does breed it’s own gangs and if the Yardies weren’t in St.Pauls then somebody else would be. Capitalism abhors a vacuum. Because of the drugs illegal status, the only enforcement comes from violence both to control the inner gang hierarchy and the payment from junkies. In a world were violence is the only form of negotiations, its little wonder the rest of the community suffer the fallout. The Yardies are a nasty symptom of a systemic disease.

The Junkies?

To any resident of St.Pauls, pasty-faced junkies roaming the streets like a zombie film out-take is a common sight. It only takes a few junkies, with their constant demand for fixes, to create a problem totally out of proportion to their numbers. The area is dotted with half-way houses, homeless shelters and hostels. All a ready base for the demand side of the drugs equation. (I doubt Clifton has many such places). Are they to blame? Like the dealers, they are in the frame, but every society in history has a mind-altering substance ingrained in the culture and there will always be those who succumb to it. Their reasons for addiction might be legion, but the end result is the same. It is how we choose to deal with this inevitable human trait that is the important issue, as we can never rid ourselves of it.

The Politicians?

I’d say yes and no to blame. Yes, their lack of thought and action on the problem has partly lead to our current problems. They have presided over a system that for over 50 years has (with slight variations) enforced prohibition and today, after all that exertion, drugs are cheaper and more accessible than ever before. (You can’t help but wonder if their new found zeal for drugs is motive by the news that the middle class are now getting addicted to crack too?) On the one had they shake the hands of people like Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe dismissive of their collusion with the very drug dealers he’s supposed to be stopping. Indeed, many government intelligence agencies actually become dealers themselves, and do the politicians bring them to book for being part of the problem and not the solution? No - they either can’t or wont. Ultimately, the politicians with a nod-and-wink to the countries supplying the drugs and the total failure to grasp the nettle, are only allowed to be so incompetent because we let them get away with it.


The problem and solution rests with us and getting there will not be easy. But then living in a dealer-junkie hyper-market is not easy either. If you hate the drugs problems in your area and you’re not involved with a community group then this lack of action only helps the dealers. If you don’t do something more than complain, then your absence is the junkies invitation.

I’d like to see all drugs decriminalized, to wipe the dealers business model away at a stroke. I’d like to see community drug centers were the junkies in our areas get free crack and heroin. (I’d rather they got it for free than mugged someone to pay). These centers aimed at both treatment and rehabilitation would be community run , employing local people and be situated all over the city (yes in Clifton too). I’d like to see strong autonomous community organizations working together to fight the causes of the crime.

What would you like to see and what are you doing about it? It’s time we faced the reality that after over 50 years of failure, looking to the same tired old solutions is a dead-end road. We’re the ones who live with the problems day in day out, we’re ultimately the only ones who can solve them.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

5th July: Independence for St. Paul's!
St. Paul's carnival was everything a street festival should be; it was meandering, chaotic and packed with energy. While there were the inevitable bits of corporate sponsorship (this year it was Western Union money transfer, as even with poorer immigrant communities; there's money to be made! And before anyone complains about how useful their support is, I know the arguments about corporate citizenship, I'm just making an observation.) In my eyes, as a St. Paul's resident, the event was a success, there was much autonomy and spontinaety about the festival that embodies the direct spirit of the place the event's namesake. On the main street of the event, Grosvenor Road there was a vast array of stalls selling everything from Malcolm X posters to Goat Curry. At the head of the road was a large festival stage, on the green, where one of the youngest MCs I have ever seen got the crowd moving with a display of very youthful talent and confidence. Big-up to him! Further down, next to the Inkerman pub, we had the Ghetto Force sound system, which if you just passed by sounded overly distorted and strained, but if you'd stopped to take it in and moved off the road into the path of the speakers, you'd have heard the sound as it was intended; full-on and ragga. The sounds were a tidal wave of records with frequent punctuations of MC commentary to get the crowd motivated and moving.

Meanwhile, St. Agnes park hosted a BBC car and a whole host of kids activity as the place hummed with activity from the tiny-tot army who were busy bouncing, dancing, yelling and painting. Here was also more jerk chicken and more ginger beer and wood carving.

To anyone taking the scene in, there were also stories to be gleaned; the petition of Mr. Selburn Watson, a pensioner who's now living in a tent after being kicked out of his home in Denbigh Street. He was sitting in a tree watching those signing for action from the council on his behalf. There was the return of the well loved techo-crew Species blasting-out in the car park of Malcolm X centre, the talk was that the crew were rumored to triumphantly returning to play a gig at the newly re-opened New Trinity.

Over in the community erected stone circle by Dutty Ken's pub, the Star & Garter, there was a 'Disinformation Tent' where the public could announce; "Could people please refrain from sitting on the grass." The speaker gravely announced this to the hundred or so people sitting on the grass. Fortunately, having been rendered immune to disinformation during Gulf War II, most of the people didn't move, though the announcement that tickets were needed to use the toilets in the pub caused some mirth and panic in equal measure.

The autonomy of the community was inspiring to see; the local residents selling food, drink and clothing to the thronged crowd of newcomers, indulging it a little redistribution of the wealth from Clifton to St. Paul's. Davy Street residents had turned the whole road into one giant party for the day and up and down the area people created their own spaces to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts; blasting gabba in the driveway on Ashley Road, the plant sale to raise money for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in Lower Cheltenham Place (find more out at http://rawa.false.net/index.htm as they are warning that the US is negotiating with the Taliban with the view to controling the country by returning them to power!)

Yup, St. Paul's carnival was just that; the flavor of St. Paul's with all it's diverse glory and the day we see a Starbucks or McDonalds stall replacing the jerk chicken kitchens at this event, is the day the event looses the St. Paul's bit and becomes just another calender event. Long may it stay!