Category Archives: Children/Youth

The Contented Classes: When Will They Rebel?

For all the rhetoric and all the charities regarding America’s children, the U.S. stands at the very bottom of western nations and some other countries as well, in terms of youth well-being. The U.S.’s exceptionalism is clearest in its cruelty to children. The U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate of comparable OECD countries. Not only that, but 2.5 million American children are homeless and 16.2 million children “lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.”

The shamelessness continues as the youngsters increase in age. The Trump regime is cutting the SNAP food program for poor kids. In 2018, fewer children were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP than in 2017. To see just how bad Trump’s war on poor American children is getting, go to the web sites of the Children’s Defense Fund and the Children’s Advocacy Center.

Trump brags about a robust economy—still, however, rooted in exploitation of the poor and reckless Wall Street speculation with people’s savings.

Trump’s pompous promises during his presidential campaign have proved to be a cowardly distraction. He claimed he would take on the drug companies and their price gouging. The hyper-profiteering pharmaceutical goliaths are quietly laughing at him. Worse, Trump continues their tax credits  and allows them to use new drugs developed with taxpayer money through the National Institute of Health free of charge—no royalties. Even though he talks tough, Trump lets these companies sell imported medicines manufactured in China and India with inadequate FDA inspections of foreign plants.

Torrents of Trump tweets somehow overlooked H.P. Acthar Gel, a drug produced by Mallinckrodt to treat a rare infant seizure disorder, which increased in price from $40 per vial to $39,000 per vial! Other drug prices are booming cruelly upward, while Trump blusters, but fails to deliver on his campaign promises.

For years our country’s political and corporate rulers have saddled college students with breathtaking debt and interest rates. Student debt is now at $1.5 trillion. Both corporations and the federal government are profiting off of America’s young. In no other western country is this allowed, with most nations offering tuition-free higher education.

On May 2, 2019, The New York Times featured an article titled, “Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry.”

When you read the stories of impoverished students, squeezed in all directions, you’d think they came out of third-world favelas. At the City University of New York (CUNY), forty eight percent of students had been food insecure in the past 30 days.

Kassandra Montes, a senior at Lehman College, lives in a Harlem homeless shelter. Montes  “works two part-time jobs and budgets only $15 per week for food… [She] usually skips breakfast in order to make sure that her 4-year-old son is eating regularly.” Montes said: “I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I’m trying to grow.”

When you don’t have a living wage, have to pay high tuition, are mired in debt, and live in rent-gouging cities, where do you go? Increasingly, you go to the community college or college food pantry. In a nation whose president and Congress in one year give tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon more than the generals asked for, it is unconscionable that students must rely on leftover food from dining halls and catered events, SNAP benefits, and whatever food pantries can assemble.

The CUNY pantries are such a fixture in these desperate times that they are now a stop on freshman orientation tours.

As long as we’re speaking of shame, what about those millions of middle and upper middle class informed, concerned bystanders. They’re all over America trading “tsk tsks” over coffee or other social encounters. They express dismay, disgust, and denunciations at each outrage from giant corporations’ abuses, to the White House and the Congress’ failings. They are particularly numerous in University towns. They know but they do not do. They are unorganized, know it, keep grumbling, and still fail to start the mobilization in Congressional Districts of likeminded citizens to hold their Senators and Representatives accountable.

For Congress, the smallest yet most powerful branch of government, whose members names we know, can turn poverty and other injustices around and help provide a better life for so many Americans. These informed, concerned people easily number over 1 percent of the population. They can galvanize a supporting majority of voters on key, long-overdue redirections for justice. Redirections that were mostly established in Western Europe decades ago (For more details, see my paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think).

These informed, concerned people—who don’t have to worry about a living wage, not having health insurance, being gouged by payday loans, and having no savings—were called “the contented classes” in The Culture of Contentment, a book by the late progressive Harvard economist John Kenneth Gailbraith. His main point—until the contented classes wake up and organize for change, history has shown, our country will continue to slide in the wrong direction. He said all this before climate disruption, massive money-corrupting politics, and the corporate crime wave had reached anywhere near their present destructive levels.

The question to be asked: Who among the contented classes will unfurl the flag of rebellion against the plutocrats and the autocrats? It can be launched almost anywhere they please. A revolution can start the moment they decide to prioritize the most marginalized people in this country over their comfort.

Professor Pablo and Fourth Grade Enlightenment in Lincoln City

The shape of learning comes in all sizes, all forms. We know what not learning is — texting, emailing, You Tube videos, a world of Teletubbies, from birth to death.

I know what education planners are not — hedge fund billionaires, charter school profiteers, down home religious bigotry and stupidity ignoramuses, the lady from McDonald’s funding all these looped back and forth non-profits and shell NGOs and their two-year-in-the-making white papers after reports after white papers.

The fourth graders I taught Friday have a sponge for a brain, and they want something better than what they get — bells and announcements blaring throughout the day, rote memory assignments, the same old tired little book stories, little math problems, red-orange-yellow drills, lock-downs, health warnings, and on and on and on. They know that’s not real life, though — in compliant and nanny-state and rule-making America, hmm, maybe school is the launching pad.

They need mentors in the school, not just the poor flagging teachers who have taken these silly classes in college taught by even more silly professors who actually know squat about children struggling, and less about the roots of the struggle: mass culture which is mass incarceration set loose by the Capitalists, the very people who should be denigrated and egged daily (as in chicken ovum in their faces), everywhere and anywhere they pollute the world. They need schools that are of the world — beaches to clean up and learn from; corporations that spend more time nurturing humanity than maximizing profits; government officials that love them as opposed to hating them; parents who aren’t afraid of their own shadows; and revolutionary teachers.

This can only be done with the death of Capitalism. Only done with revolutionary acts daily, collectively. Only with calling a spade a spade.

You know, America and Western White Civilization stink to high heaven. I’ll get to what it is that allows me to survive without going Ted Kaczynski or Going Postal on the closest thing that deserves RIP justice.

Poetry.

But first, here, a comment from Joe from Merced, commenting on my previous post:

Yup! Source.

May I add that education should be something available to all age groups wishing to learn when they are ready to learn, whether that be at six years of age or thirty six years of age. Also the idea that the only place one can learn is in a designated school during designated hours is preposterous and itself a form of unexamined conformity and subservience to power. The fact that knowledge is only knowledge if it comes from, or is acknowledged by academia, is narcissistic and pathological in itself. For many education comes from tagging along and being exposed to some old timer with tons of experience and watching and doing as advised.

Maybe most importantly the quest for more knowledge and technological advancement itself is a progress trap that leads civilization into a box canyon to nowhere. Just because man can think it, doesn’t mean he should act on it. An example of that being the development of damned near every modern advancement in the fields of chemistry which has unleashed incredible pollution onto the environment. Nuclear energy development that has contaminated the whole world and is yet poised to complete the job of annihilation of the planet. The development of plastics that are killing the ocean sea life.

If education leads to life destructive products or customs, then maybe education ought to be about humility and self examination of outcomes rather than our current model of economic self fulfillment which never questions outcomes in its quest for profits. Maybe the best most simple idea for learning came from Gandhi and needs no tweaking, only adoption into modern curricula as the foundation of our educational system.

Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)
Science Without Humanity
Religion Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principle

He’s so right, and alas, the problem of weaker and more intellectually- challenged and physically- imperiled generation after generation produced by this perverted society is solved with real mettle, real individual change, family collective change, community change, national change.

Calling the spade a spade.

Yesterday, we looked at plastics in their lives, in their blood, in their hormone-disrupting growth cycles, inside a turtle’s nose, and wrapped around the necks of birds and sea lions.

We looked at Chris Jordan’s work on consumption — how many plastic straws are consumed each second on planet earth or the number of disposable cups thrown away just on airlines per hour.

They had just come back from lunch, and those without responsible parents and charges who made decent lunches had to eat in the cafeteria — deep fried potatoes, fatty meat, ketchup and ranch dressing on EVERYTHING, doughy pretzels, sugared canned peaches, chocolate milk, stringy cheese.

This is not even prison food, and the place I taught, on the outside, could have used a good coat of community (yes, Mayor and Council and Chamber) paint, a mural project for the outside, new playground equipment, and more more more to engender learning — goats, fish, yurts, greenhouses, apple trees, flowers, a hedge maze, and more more more.

I stay sane by recognizing the insanity and drill down into it. Here’s the real ugliness of capitalism. Below, this person, all white and female, all middle/upper middle class, all just right in her captured make-over photo, gives squat about the children of Oregon and Coos Bay. Yet, her life is to dispose of liquid natural (sic) gas through the black snake of Canadian extractive fossil fuel industries. Her life is about injecting as much CO2 into the atmosphere as her white female-loving excetionalist life can tolerate.

These people are evil, more evil than Pence or Trump or Pelosi or Hillary. Look at the woman’s white-white face, that death twinkle in her eyes. PR wizard (grim reaper for us) for a Canadian company ready to push a pipeline through Oregon to peddle more climate-warming LNG crap for China. Through Oregon:

Tasha Cadotte

Tasha Cadotte — Jordan Cove Guest Opinion/ Mar 15, 2019

Her job is to lie-lie-lie, like all PR flacks for corporations, governments and non-profits. The opinion piece shows her education, her k12 upbringing, her college cred. She is part of the devil’s brigade.

This woman probably has a degree in communications, in psychological management, institutional leadership, or some such. Her goal in life is to be The Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Pembina. Or Enbridge. Killers of ecosystems, people, cultures. She might have even gotten herself a college degree in un-Journalism.

Corp Watch Always do the corporation watch, every single one that comes into your community to spill death words and Orwellian cancer onto the land.

This Tasha has blood on her hands. Whale blood, bird blood, and the blood of future generations on her hands. Children’s blood. However, the sane people fight the insanity with one group at a time, up against multiple millions in bribe money from the companies this Tasha loves to represent.

But the fight is far from over. In 2017, not long after FERC denied the project a permit the year prior, Don Althoff, then-CEO of the parent company Veresen (now Pembina), met with President Donald Trump and the founding director of Trump’s National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, of Goldman Sachs.

Shortly thereafter, Cohn announced: “The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to permit an LNG export facility in the Northwest.”

Support from the fossil fuel industry spans the length of the pipeline, from Colorado to Oregon. Pac/West, a major pro-fracking lobbying and communications firm active in Colorado has also been operating in Oregon. The firm has gone so far as to have Oregon state legislation proposed officially on its behalf, which would have blocked local governments from interfering with fossil fuel infrastructure projects, such as Jordan Cove.

This legislation was in response to a 2017 county “Community Bill of Rights” ballot initiative in Coos County, Oregon, the site of the proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal. If passed, the local law would have outlawed industrial fossil fuel projects and established legally enforceable rights for local ecosystems. Jordan Cove LNG spent an unprecedented $596,155 in cash and in-kind contributions to help defeat measure, according to the Oregon Secretary of State website.

Murals opposing the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline hang near the site of the Jackson County Department of State Lands hearing.

Murals opposing the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline hang near the site of the Jackson County Department of State Lands hearing.

This woman makes how much for her Faustian Bargain, her Josef Goebbels lies?

She could be working for the plastics industry:

ourstory 1.jpg
She could move on and work for the pharmaceutical genocide leaders:

Image result for oxycontin side effects
OXYCONTIN MAKER QUIETLY WORKED TO WEAKEN LEGAL DOCTRINE THAT COULD LEAD TO JAIL TIME FOR EXECUTIVES

These Little-to-Big Eichmanns get big bucks for their lousy BA in communications degree: Around $95,494 to $136,893 . . . $150K a year? $164,000 annual base salary? Plus perks, plus stocks, plus travel. What’re the sins Gandhi stated which she is smack at the center of living and abiding by? In bold:

Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)
Science Without Humanity
Religion Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principle

Well, well, this is the result of a powerful un-education system, rigged for sinners, rigged by Little Eichmanns working for the rich as we all have had to read about the past week with the so-called scandal of the rich paying bribes for their little Johnny and Sally to get into Harvard or Yale or Stanford!


More of the white-white rich American, wanting a triple-rigged system. I bet this untalented millionaire actress has her own little stable of Little Eichmann’s like Ms. Tasha working to pollute Oregon! College scandals, or fossil fuel felons? Which is worse?

From Democracy Now: Journalist Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. His book examines how the so-called elite class of America have worked the system to maintain and consolidate power and wealth, even while claiming to help people and “change the world” through charity. On Wednesday, Giridharadas tweeted: “The college bribery scam is not a college bribery scam. It is a master class in how America—governed by a cheater, ruled by rule breakers, managed by a class that confuses its privilege for merit—functions.”

And what we learned is, as you cover on this show, America is, in many ways, rigged for the wealthy and powerful. And we know that. We have a tax code that is rigged for the wealthy and powerful. We have anti-trust enforcement that’s rigged for the wealthy and powerful. We fund public education according to property taxes, so the nicer mommy or daddy’s house, the better the school you get. America is already rigged for rich people.

The problem is, for some rich people, all that rigging that I just described is shared equally among rich people. Right? You have the same first-class seat on the commercial jet that everybody—all the other rich people have. And what we found in this case was, some rich people are not satisfied with the generalized rigging that they have to share with everybody else. They want special, private, bespoke, bottle-service rigging over and above the standard rigging that rich people receive.

And I read the indictment. This Rick Singer guy is a great character, and he really understood the psychology of these rich people. People like him in that kind role, who are service providers, often do. And he says, “You know, the people I work for, they don’t want to do a million-dollar check and then hope their kid gets a second look. The people I work for, the wealthiest families in America, they want a guarantee. They want this thing done,” he said.

And so, I think this is a phenomenal glimpse, because what—as someone who’s been writing about this plutocracy for a few years, what these folks say when they hear critics like me is, “Don’t be negative. Don’t be zero-sum. We can empower the least among us. We can fight for the poor. And we can benefit and get rich. Right? It’s not zero-sum.” And you know what really is actually zero-sum? When there is one college seat, and a hard-working kid from a poor neighborhood, whose family has never sent anybody to college, but now they have a shot at that seat—they’ve worked hard, their parents took many buses to many jobs, they might be eligible for that seat—and they don’t get that seat, because someone like Bill McGlashan, private equity baron, impact investing impresario, who had a $2 billion impact fund with Bono, has locked up that seat for his son.

So, daily, I try to instill into youth — aged 6 to 18 — to begin loving the fight, and to learn how to be IN the fight, with self-sacrifice as the underpinning of their lives; to instill in them they are the answer, that they themselves hold the key to happiness, and, contrary to capitalist thinking, happiness cannot be gained on the backs of hundreds of millions, or several billion, toiling for the rich countries; that happiness is not what they should be seeking but rather social justice/economic justice/environmental justice. Which is not all fun and games to undertake, and could be a life of poverty and recriminations from every corner, especially from family members. To the contrary as we all looked at Jordan’s film Albatross there are no happy endings if that’s all one seeks — pleasure, wealth, superficiality, pop culture, consumerism, exceptionalism in the way of America’s mythology.

ourstory+5.jpg
The kids want something more. They just can’t get it, because America is about feeding the rich and powerful. America is about shining the spotlight on the rich and powerful. America is about hating the poor and future generations and loving the rich and powerful.

I hope not one child I teach comes out the educational grinder even with a sliver of the propaganda plague the Tasha’s of the world possess.

Poetry, man, poetry, we also talked about. How the 62 year old substitute, who they called “Professor Pablo” is really about embracing that child, that youth, that young man. Inner child and those around me.

So, at the same age, more or less, 7th grade, here I was in Tucson, running through the desert barefooted, wrestling, tripping to Mexico and diving. Cutting down billboards and burning down development model homes.

And, taking in the spirit cells of poets, the voices deep outside the human capacity to kill, maim, incarcerate, exploit. Maybe that’s the answer to insanity of Western Culture. Poetry!

In any case, my tribute to W.S Merwin, age 91, gone, supreme anti-Vietnam War activist, and activist against the continual desecration of Hawaii by consumerism and pollution.

Just getting young people to think like a poet, draw like a scientist, believe like a sage, and work in the world like a water protector or Thoreau, we as keepers of a new and back-to-the-simple civilization, this is our course in life. Mine at least.

Now that’s the work no PR flak could ever understand in her or his colonized mind! PR firms spin America into war, spin coups, spin Americans to feed toxins to their children, and PR firms are the Faustian Bargain of the rich-rich wanting total control of all humanity, from cradle to grave, from brain to stem cell.

Scrawled Lightness of Remembrance

upon the death of W.S. Merwin (9/30/1927—3/15/2019)

those bucket bearers
word carriers bees lifting barrels
he sent benediction into boy’s
blood Sonora riot recounting
Bob Dylan Stafford Peter Gabriel
WS Merwin busted knees from
blasting Suzuki into
desert realms dogeared
Carrier of Ladders old US
Army rucksack — Neruda, Borges,
Marquez, Octovio Paz
“for the anniversary of my death”

his poem I prophesied
nineteen with sister
slain on road from Kamloops
to Tucson sideswiped
Harley skidded-over
now his death silent “tireless
traveler”

juxtapositions made
his words boy to man
reckless wrestling burning
billboards boy’s own music
treble cleft of poet Merwin
until my 20th birthday
tall man there Tucson
reading to whispering
crowd turtle neck dashing
really nothing like my dread-locks
hard sun skin at 20
yet he sang to me treble and bass
no tribal Yusef Komunyakaa drum

Merwin’s vines stilled anger
touched thin bone near heart
my rage bullets into Mexican night
turned to free-tail bats
famous poet sickened with
full force of Vietnam War
tucked inside my rucksack
next to .44 magnum

WS Merwin me with tumbler
of whiskey 1977
he said something like
“stay concealed in
your hate
of wars in our name
stay hard with sinew
for love of desert
ecosystems”

poet refused laurels
Pulitzer Vietnam war like acid
on his tongue

Now this —
We are the shadow of Sirius
There is the other side of
as we talk to each other we see the light
and we see these faces
but we know that behind that
there’s the other side
which we never know

those falling embers
once rockets to Sirius
coal black ash to soil
I touch living poet
“tireless traveler
like beam of a lightless star”
Merwin’s shape whale spray
I now seize in Oregon

death is no glowing dove
nothing bright moving as shapes
above WS Merwin like
all tribes from each book
travel with me
Merwin me that is for
sure even whiskey tequila
the shape of his eyes
setting upon me thirty
years his junior
but my brother
his words coffin bearers over
and over starting with a dead sister:

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Note: “For the Anniversary of My Death,” by Merwin.

“Every War Is a War Against Children”

We, in the United States, have yet to realize both the futility and immense consequences of war even as we develop, store, sell, and use hideous weapons. The number of children killed is rising.

At 9:30 in the morning of March 26, the entrance to a rural hospital in northwest Yemen, supported by Save the Children, was teeming as patients waited to be seen and employees arrived at work. Suddenly, missiles from an airstrike hit the hospital, killing seven people, four of them children.

Jason Lee of Save the Children, told The New York Times that the Saudi-led coalition, now in its fifth year of waging war in Yemen, knew the coordinates of the hospital and should have been able to avoid the strike. He called what happened “a gross violation of humanitarian law.”

The day before, Save the Children reported that air raids carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have killed at least 226 Yemeni children and injured 217 more in just the last twelve months. “Of these children,” the report noted, “210 were inside or close to a house when their lives were torn apart by bombs that had been sold to the coalition by foreign governments.”

Last year, an analysis issued by Save the Children estimated that 85,000 children under age five have likely died from starvation or disease since the Saudi-led coalition’s 2015 escalation of the war in Yemen.

“Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Country Director in Yemen. “Their immune systems are so weak they are more prone to infections with some too frail to even cry. Parents are having to witness their children wasting away, unable to do anything about it.” Kirolos and others who have continuously reported on the war in Yemen believe these deaths are entirely preventable. They are demanding an immediate suspension of arms sales to all warring parties, an end to blockades preventing distribution of food, fuel and humanitarian aid and the application of full diplomatic pressure to end the war.

The United States, a major supporter of the Saudi-led coalition, has itself been guilty of killing innocent patients and hospital workers by bombing a hospital. On October 3, 2015, U.S. airstrikes destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing forty-two people. “Patients burned in their beds,” MSF reported, “medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot from the air while they fled the burning building.”

More recently, on March 23, 2019, eight children were among fourteen Afghan civilians killed by a U.S. airstrike also near Kunduz.

Atrocities of war accumulate, horrifically. We in the United States have yet to realize both the futility and immense consequences of war. We continue to develop, store, sell, and use hideous weapons. We rob ourselves and others of resources needed to meet human needs, including grappling with the terrifying realities of climate change.

We should heed the words and actions of Eglantyne Jebb, who founded Save the Children a century ago. Responding to the British post-war blockade of Germany and Eastern Europe, Jebb participated in a group attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to children who were starving.

In London’s Trafalgar Square, she distributed a leaflet showing the emaciated children and declaring: “Our blockade has caused this, – millions of children are starving to death.” She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined. But the judge in the case was moved by her commitment to children and paid her fine. His generosity was Save the Children’s first donation.

“Every war,” said Jebb, “is a war against children.”

• This article first appeared on the website of The Progressive Magazine.

Saving the Planet One Child at a Time: Children, School Strikes and Global Climate Action

Children’s crusades do not necessarily end well.  During the years of armed missions to the Holy Land, when Jerusalem meant something to the sacredly inclined in Europe, children were encouraged to take to the rough and dangerous road as it wound its way towards Palestine.  In 1212, a boy of 12 is said to have begun preaching at Saint-Denis in France.  God had supposedly taken some time to communicate a pressing wish: Christian children were to head to the Holy Land and liberate it from the Infidel.  How they would do so was not clear.

They subsequently starved, suffered deprivation, were killed and enslaved on route to their destination.  The modern student movement against climate change stresses another Jerusalem, that there will be nothing to salvage if nothing is done now.  We are all, in short, for the chop if climate change is not arrested.  As an Oakland high-schooler by the name of Bruke told Wired, “My GPA isn’t going to matter if I’m dead.”  And much else besides.

To such movements can also be added other acts of striking in peaceful protest. Tens of thousands of US students did so in 2018 swathed in the grief and despair of gun shootings, the most immediate being the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.  The National School Walkout of March 14 and the March for Our Lives ten days later had a biting clarity of purpose: students and staff were entitled to feel secure in the teaching and learning environment.  The movement was characterised by much eloquence wreathed in anger and tears, not least of all Emma Gonzalez, who chided those political representatives “who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been ever done to prevent this”.

Criticism of such movements emphasises helplessness and delusion; they are children and so are vulnerable, idiotic and irrelevant.  They are to be taught and have nothing to teach the adult world.  Leave it to the big boys and girls to stuff up matters.  The critics, often estranged from the very political processes they have been complicit in corrupting, see embryos in need of a constructive voice, expressed constructively without inconvenience, not coherent agents keen to affect change.  There is, as Kari Marie Norgaard observed in 2012, a lag between the accumulating evidence of doom on the one hand, and the absence of public urgency, even interest, in response.  “Although not inherently unproblematic,” surmised Norgaard, “local efforts may provide a key for breaking through climate avoidance from the ground up.”

The global climate change strike movement by children, blown and swept along by the efforts of Swedish student Greta Thunberg, has suggested the possible short-circuiting of this dilemma: to combat the global by being stridently engaged in the local.  (Such statements can become feeble mantras but do operate to galvanise interest.)

For Thunberg, the issue of change is unavoidable.  In her COP24 Climate Change Conference speech in December, the plucky youth did not believe that begging world leaders “to care for our future” would make much of a difference.  “They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.”  What mattered was letting “them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Protests were registered on March 15 across 2,052 venues in 123 countries.  There were 50 in Australia; and protests in every state in the United States.  Often forgotten in these movements is the role played by children themselves in the organisational side of things, often clear, fathomable and inherently coherent.  In the United States were such figures as 12-year-old Haven Coleman of Denver, Colorado, Alexandria Villasenor of New York City, and 16-year-old Israr Hirsi of Minnesota.

Squirrel scholars suggest that these actions represented a “transformation” at play.  Associate lecturer Blanche Verlie claimed that her research revealed how “young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.”  It can be tempting to read too much into matters, to see flowers grow in fields initially thought barren.  But there is little doubting climate change as a catalyst of active and noisy encouragement amongst youth, one akin to the anti-war movements of the Vietnam War period.

There has been much finger wagging against the children from, for instance, politicians who just cannot understand how a striking student could ever get employment.  How dare they take time off learning in a classroom while taking to the classroom of the streets?  The spokesman for UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for instance, argued that such protests increased “teachers’ workloads” and wasted lesson time.  Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, signalled his preference for the marchers and strikers: “Climate change is the greatest threat that we all face but it is the school kids of today whose futures are most on the line.”

In Australia, New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes preferred to brandish the rod of punitive action: both students and teachers would be punished for participating in the March 15 rally.  By all means, find your “voice”, suggested the threatening minister, but avoid doing so during school hours.  For such scolding types, climate change and injustice have strict timetables and schedules, to be dealt with in good, extra-curricular time.

Australian Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s views on the youth climate action movement are childishly simple and representative, suggesting that Thunberg is correct in her harsh assessment.  Recorded in November last year, the minister sees education as an instrumental affair.  “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.  Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge of your life and getting a real job.”  Forget the environment’s durability; drill it, excavate it, mine it, drain it and burn it to a cinder.  Australia, and the world, do not need environmentally conscious citizens, merely automata consuming and feeding the commodity markets.  For the likes of Canavan, it is too late.  For the children, the battle to change the beastly status quo is urgent, pressing and inevitable.

Inspired and Inspiring, Young People will Change the World

We are living amongst the largest generation of young people in history; young people who are better educated, better informed and more widely connected than ever before. Around 42% of the world’s population is under 25 years of age, 25% are under 15 – that’s 1.8 billion. The largest group is in South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the median age is only 19, compared to 38 in America, and an ageing 45 in Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe.

This huge army of young people is cause for great optimism; they are more politically and socially engaged and certainly more environmentally aware than previous generations, are less conditioned by ideologies, and despite the widespread notion that anyone under 35 is self-obsessed and uncaring, in many cases they are the ones leading the global charge for change. They abhor dishonesty, don’t trust politicians and rightly believe that unity and tolerance of others are essential to right relationships and social harmony.

Many feel frustrated at the state of the world they have been born into, are angry with inept politicians and unaccountable international institutions, and enraged at the environmental vandalism that is taking place throughout the world. Anger and disillusionment has led to committed engagement among large numbers of young people throughout the world; they swell the ranks of the global protest movement forming the vanguard at demonstrations for action on climate change, demanding social justice and freedom, rational changes in US gun law and an end to austerity and economic injustice.

They formed the driving force behind what were arguably the two most significant social/political movements in recent years: the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, and whereas in the past young people have been less engaged than older generations in voting and party activism, this too is changing – in Britain, for example, the Labour party, with an overall membership of 504,000 – the largest in Europe, has over 100,000 members under 25, and they are extremely active.

As well as demonstrating, working on environmental campaigns and human rights issues the impulse to contribute to the local community is strong, and many act upon it: a survey made by the Royal Society of Arts in Britain found that a staggering “84 percent of young people want to help others,” and that “68 percent of young people have participated in volunteering or other forms of social action.” These statistics reflect the high level of social responsibility that exists in countries throughout the world amongst this generation. The study also revealed that whilst there is a strong desire to bring about large scale change, working locally to support someone in need – befriending, or helping an elderly person with their shopping, for example – is recognized to be of enormous value.

It is a generation brought up with social media and, according to The Millennial Impact Project, they use it alongside traditional forms of participation.  Millennial’s “interest in the greater good is driving their cause engagement today, and their activism (or whatever you want to call it) is increasing.”

Inspired and Inspiring

Appalled by the level of inaction and the scale of the crisis, large numbers of young people have committed themselves to the environmental cause. One of the most inspirational forms of climate change activism is the Schools Strike for the Climate initiated by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg. Following a record-breaking summer, in August 2018 Greta began a solo protest for climate change outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Every Friday since, instead of going to school she sits outside her country’s parliament: she has vowed to “continue to do so until [world] leaders come into line with the Paris agreement [on climate change].”

Apathy is often disguised by arguments of individual inadequacy in the face of the scale of the problems confronting humanity. Well, a loud answer to such feeble excuses is Greta Thunberg’s one-girl protest; following her example hundreds of thousands of school children around the world have staged their own School Strike for the Climate. Although all teaching bodies should support the actions, some don’t, and whilst disappointing, their view is largely irrelevant; what matters is that teachers, along with politicians, big business and the general public pays attention to what these young people are saying: keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewables, live environmentally conscientious lives; it is our future you are destroying, act now before it’s too late.

The man-made environmental crisis is the result of a certain way of life, an approach to living that places enormous value on material wealth, on image, pleasure and success. It is, we are told, a ‘dog eat dog’ world in which only the ‘strong’ survive. This fear inducing view has polluted life, fueling social division and widespread mental health conditions, particularly amongst under 25 year olds. In November 2017 the World Youth Parliament met in Beijing to discuss, ‘Interpersonal Relationships: Keys for a new Civilization’.

In their conference report they call for the creation of a kinder, friendlier society. They extol forgiveness, which they describe as the “most sublime and integral form of love” and make clear their view that the current “competitive culture (which places our goals against the goals of others) and the wrong use of technology” is detrimental to human well being. And they should know: as a result of the ‘competitive culture’ and the pressure to ‘achieve’ – in education, in a career and socially – unprecedented numbers of young people are suffering from anxiety and stress, panic attacks and depression, leading some to self-harm and suicide.

Despite being conditioned into competition by an outdated education system, which is designed to train compliant workers, not free-thinking creative individuals, young people instinctively recognize that cooperation, not competition is an integral part of human nature, and that working collectively for the common good is the best way of dealing with the many challenges facing humanity. It is, in fact, the only way we will overcome the various crises confronting us; unity is the way forward and young people know this.

The future belongs to the 3 billion or so under 25 year olds of the world, many of whom are inspired and inspiring. If we are to collectively overcome the challenges facing humanity we need to listen to what young people have to say, to draw on their energy and dynamism; they are in tune with the times, are overflowing with creativity and are a powerful voice for change.

In Hebron, Israel removes the Last Restraint on its Settlers’ Reign of Terror

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

While Oslo put the PA formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But to the settlers’ disgruntlement, Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbours.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life”, Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the US to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Mr Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organisations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year US President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organisations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list.

• A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

While State Leaders Make War, Spanish Children March for Peace

Jacaranda schoolchildren marching for world peace

Benalmádena, Spain — Seven hundred and seventy primary and elementary school children, aged three to 12, walked and skipped three kilometers to the main square (Plaza de España) here in this town located in Spain’s Andalusia province, and back to their municipal school, Jacaranda.

On this 30th march for international peace in commemoration of the day that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated (January 30, 1948), the children sang “No to War”, “Yes to Peace”, “Save the Children,” “Friendship Yes, Violence No”. (The event was postponed a week due to a storm.)

They were accompanied by their 29 classroom teachers and about 100 parents and grandparents.

For a week each January, these students study peace, solidarity and friendship values, and how to protect Mother Earth from man-made pollution. The day dedicated to “Save the Children” includes students asking their parents for donations of funds and clothing for poor children. Since 2011-2, they have raised some 7500 Euros ($8500). A committee of teachers and parents decides where to send the donations, sometimes in Spain and sometimes abroad.

The students also make designs for banners and T-shirts. A committee of students and teachers decides what designs are used. The municipal marine sports and water firms donated 3000 Euros to manufacture 1000 T-shirts that the students and teachers wear.

I have participated in hundreds of peace activities but never one where the prime activists are young children. I asked some children and parents what marching for peace means to them.

Ten-year-old Julia made the T-shirt design for last year. “I love peace” is centered on the blue shirt, and “We must all work to create peace” is the co-slogan. All words are in Spanish and English.

Julia tells me, “We can’t get peace in the world without everyone together, building for it. I just thought about that when I drew.”

This year’s T-shirt is pink. A dove is flying leading three children wearing shirts with a peace sign, a heart and a smile, and the words: peace, respect, solidarity, equality, happiness, friendship and love.

Along the march, I meet up with Carmen, Jonathan, Tillie and Dario ages 11-12. Their collective voice speaks gleefully: “Togetherness is beautiful. Racism and machoism are wrong.”

Lise, 4, feels that marching is “fun”. Her teacher adds, “Teaching peace can be fun. Teaching war is not.”

One mother tells me, “We are so grateful for this school, because it focuses on developing a consciousness of peace and friendship, of love, really. We do not make wars; it is the politicians. War for oil. This,” says the parent, opening her arms as to embrace the hundreds of children assembled before the march began, “this is life.” Her husband adds, “Not forming Hitlers and Francos, and those of today’s times.”

A Polish couple moved from their country to Benalmádena, in part to get away from warring conflicts. Carolina and Robert tell me as they march, “We must help create a future, and this school is one way of doing it. Wars are for politicians and the rich. Here the children are stimulated with peaceful thoughts.”

Thirty-year old Carmen walks beside her husband and her father as they follow their two children and grandchildren. “I bring my children to this school because of the values they teach,” Carmen says. “The academic part is OK but the best is the morality that is taught, and done so without authoritarian finger pointing. The teachers let our well-nourished children know that other children in the world die of hunger, others barely live with little nutrition; many live with fear and in violent danger. They are helping our children become conscientious adults. This is humanitarian, this is caring, and one day our children may make a real difference for peace.”

One of those kids, 9-year old Karin, tells me, “We are happy to have our parents help other children no matter where they are.”

At the Plaza de España, the children sing and dance to cheerful songs, waving their arms and stepping in tune. I ask a local policewoman what she thinks of the children’s peace march in the context that her government is killing people in the Middle East. “It is not ‘my’ government. It is the world government making wars. We need more love and peace.”

Three children read manifestos for peace that 6th graders had written in Spanish and English:

Peace needs education with values, behavior and attitudes that allow personal and social harmonia, refusing all types of violence.

Many wars could be avoided through dialogue, reaching pacific agreements that could benefit us all. When it comes down to it, we are all equal human beings, born of a father and mother: tall and short, blond and brown, with round or extended eyes, with different colors of skin.

It is not enough to talk about peace. We must believe in and work for peace. The children and adults of Jacaranda are ‘peaceniks’. Each year we join hands and march through the streets of our beautiful town, traveling a common path of solidarity and joy, offering our grain of sand for peace in the world.

A second statement, read in English by a 12 year-old girl, states:

If you look up the word peace in the dictionary, it speaks about tranquility and non-violence…a synonym might even be a truce. I think Peace is far more than a truce… If we are to achieve peace, we have to make a difference.

Peace is the feeling that everybody wants to enjoy in the world. How do I feel it? When everyone around me in my family, my circle of friends and my neighborhood is happy, eager to love, to accept and relate…then I feel at peace…Peace starts with me, and begins with a smile.

The day’s peace activity ends by freeing doves from a cage, and with tears on many adults’ cheeks.

Jacaranda school’s education

While the school is state funded, it has its own values, not necessarily those of the Spanish state, which wars against several countries in the US-led so-called “coalition of the willing against terrorism”. Nevertheless, the town’s mayors and other members of the town council are always present at the square where students sing and read their manifestos for peace.

Spain’s King Felipe VI recently made a trip to Iraq. He is the first Spanish monarch to visit Iraq in 40 years. He went to encourage his occupying troops in the “cradle of civilization” devastated by the invasion since 2003. The current Iraqi government wants the “coalition of the willing” to leave its war-torn country. Spain has fought beside the US in its wars since 1992 against Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It warred against Afghanistan from 2002 to 2015 where 102 of its soldiers died.

Before the peace march, I discussed with the school’s principal, Juan Luis Castro, and head teacher, Camino Albillos, how it can be that the state wars against people (who have not attacked and do not threaten Spain) while this public school rejects wars and teaches peace.

Camino explained:

Our 1978 constitution sets down principles of working for peace, and gives public school administrators and teachers the freedom to teach, and to help develop alongside with parents their own religious and moral values.

Here’s my translation of that part of the Spanish constitution’s preamble:

The Spanish Nation, wishing to establish justice, freedom and security and promote the well-being of those who make up the nation, in use of their sovereignty, proclaim the will to…Collaborate in the strengthening of peaceful relations and effective cooperation among all the peoples of the Earth.

The constitution’s Article 27. states:

1. “Everyone has the right to education. Freedom of teaching is recognized. 2. Education shall aim at the full development of the human personality in respect of democratic principles of coexistence and fundamental rights and freedoms. 3. The public authorities guarantee the right that assists parents so that their children receive the religious and moral training that is in accordance with their own convictions. 7. Teachers, parents and, where appropriate, students can intervene in the control and management of all centers supported by the Administration with public funds, under the terms established by law.”

Camino told me:

We teachers learn to teach through our students. We don’t have a particular doctrine but we view all humans in a holistic manner, such as did Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori. Today, it is called emotional intelligence, or creative intelligence. Most teachers want peace. We hope our children will grow to be critical thinkers, not sheep but full humans who question, who are active in finding solutions to problems we have, and to protect the earth. We are an ecological school.

The founders of the school named it after the blue-flowered tree. They placed emphasis on teaching values of peace and solidarity, and using teaching methods formulated by Steiner and Montessori. The founders chose the peace march to mark the day Gandhi was murdered. The UN International Day of Peace (September 21), and the International Day of Non-Violence (October 2) also honor peace efforts and the life of Gandhi.

Principal Luis Castro told me:

Our laws allow our teaching methods and values. Many other schools in Spain practice these ideals and forms as well, though there is no network. The state decides on general curricula. We have the liberty to respect universal values: violence is no solution to conflicts. We do not enter into the particular foreign policies of the various political parties and governments, but we do not justify what they do when using violence and warfare. We say humans must reflect and discuss, empathize with one another, respect humanity and the planet.

Jacaranda morality seems to work for the many thousands of children who have attended the school through its 30 history. “We do not have bullying here, nothing that has required implementing the protocols required for such bad treatment of one another,” concluded Camino. “We have learned from the terrible years of fascism and Franco,” added Juan Luis.

Photos by Jette Salling

“No Love on the Streets”: Knife Crime in Britain

I started carrying a knife aged 12…when I’ve got this [samurai sword] with me I feel safe, scare tactics init – the bigger [the knife] the better…No one breaks the cycle round here – the cycle never breaks.

A teenager in Liverpool made these statements to the BBC. ‘The cycle’ is an ugly pattern of petty disputes, escalation, violence and revenge, a brutal cycle that is destroying the lives of thousands of young people in Britain.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a society when children feel they have to carry deadly weapons in order to protect themselves.

In the year ending March 2018, according to Government figures, there were 40,100 “offences involving a knife or sharp object” in England and Wales, including 285 deaths – a record number. London has seen the highest levels of knife crime in the country; there were 14,700 attacks and half of all homicides by knife took place in the capital.

Such shocking statistics highlight the crisis, suggest patterns and correlations, but reveal little of the root causes; generalizations are riddled with errors and all too often strategies focus on the effects rather than the impelling causes, which pertain to the psychological environment and the collective atmosphere within which people are living, as well as circumstantial conditions.

Trivial disputes, fatal consequences

Victims and perpetrators of knife crime are overwhelmingly young men under 25, many are children, some as young as 12; they come from disadvantaged, poor backgrounds, with few opportunities and little support; absent Fathers are common and drugs are a factor, selling and using. It is a social issue relating more to class than race, although in London the victims are overwhelmingly black, further muddying the waters for those looking for answers within the sea of statistics.

What makes anyone, let alone a child, carry a knife? What leads him to use it and how can it be stopped?

Fear seems a major factor, fear of being attacked and the need, or perceived need for protection; the danger is if you’re carrying a weapon and you’re confronted, there is a temptation to use it. Awez Khan, 17, the Birmingham representative of the youth parliament, part of the British Youth Council, told The Guardian: “I know a lot of people who carry knives. A lot of it is paranoia and fear for their life…they don’t know when they might die and they have to defend themselves. It’s a kill-or-be-killed situation.” In the past knife crime was often a gang-related issue, but while this persists to a degree, police estimate that now “75% of those caught have no connection to gangs.”

Some attacks are unprovoked random acts of violence, which occasionally lead to death or life changing injuries, lives destroyed, families shattered. In other cases, perhaps the highest percentage, petty arguments escalate and quickly become violent feuds, with neither individual backing down for fear of being seen to be weak, and, whereas in days gone by the result might have been a fist fight, now it can lead to a stabbing. Within this category, “social media plays the biggest part”; insults are posted, taunting, denigrating friends, girlfriends or family members; images of weapons, filmed footage of violence, sometimes as it happens, is shared with friends of the victim; cyber bullying that spills over onto the streets within minutes, leading in some cases to loss of life. “A febrile online atmosphere was among factors responsible for rising knife crime, states Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick in The Times newspaper …“social media sites are driving children to commit violence and murders, within minutes…trivial disputes between young people were escalating into murder and stabbings at unprecedented rates.”

According to the Met Commissioner, many children carrying knives had been excluded from school, and “are people who have suffered some kind of adverse experience of a significant sort when they are young, and/or have limited or problematic family lives and parenting – all things that can lead to other negative outcomes, not just serious violence.” The lack of a positive male role model was a consistent factor; many young men, she said, were simply “looking to be loved”.

The risk of a custodial sentence (average four years) is not a deterrent; the majority don’t get caught and as 15 year old Dontae, from south-east London related to the BBC, “people are not scared of jail, [they] would rather risk it than actually get hurt by the weapon itself.” The police are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility and it’s rare that someone will share information relating to an attack with the police: they don’t trust the authorities, don’t want to be seen as a snitch and have no faith in the judicial system. Justice is seen as payback: “My justice is revenge,” a balaclava wearing teenager in south-east London told Channel 4 documentary, On a KnifesEdge. Anger, hate, retribution is the pattern of the streets, and underlying this madness is fear and mistrust.

Stop and Search tactics are used by the Police to take knives off the streets; figures suggest this approach can be effective, but most weapons go undetected and there are not enough police on the streets. Under the government’s austerity program, which is a cruel ideological attack on the poor, police budgets have been cut by 20% since 2010, resulting in the loss of around 21,000 officers. Adult and child social care has also been dramatically reduced, benefits have been effected and according to the Department of Education spending on youth services, clubs, community centers after-school facilities etc. has been slashed by a third since 2016. Such savage cuts inevitably have the biggest impact on the most disadvantaged families: it is not by chance that increases in knife crime have coincided with the reduction in services.

‘When there is fear there is no love’

Violence of all kinds is a social problem a ‘public health’ issue, not simply a criminal activity; it demands early intervention, identifying children who are potentially at risk of falling into crime and providing them with the support they need to ensure they don’t go down a destructive path, and a unified ‘joined-up’ approach with all services cooperating.

This entails sensitive understanding of a person’s life, his/her home environment, mental health, community and education as well as drug/alcohol use/dependency. “We are all committed to the notion that prevention is better than enforcement,” says Commissioner Dick, “which is, after all, the public health approach.” For such an approach to succeed though, it needs investment, not reductions, in social services, education, housing and health care.

A holistic methodology is essential if knife crime in Britain, like violent crime everywhere, is to be reduced and stopped, but if we are to create lasting harmony within society, nationally and globally, underlying causes and the interconnected nature of life need to be better understood.

Violence is the external expression of internal conflict; the key therefore to establishing peace within our world lies in identifying and removing the factors that feed discord – the psychological/sociological conditioning, false values and divisive ideologies.

Harmony within society rests upon there being a degree of inner contentment within those that make up any given community; ‘peace of mind’, according to the Dalai Lama “comes from warm heartedness, this reduces ill-feeling towards others, and reduces distrust.” ‘Warm heartedness’ is a feeling of affection towards others; like cooperation and tolerance, it is a natural part of our shared humanity and spontaneously arises when we move away from self-centered thinking and concern ourselves with the needs of others. When you “help others you get happiness, inner strength and purpose of life.”

Within the construct of contemporary society there are a variety of elements that work against our innate inclinations for the good, and serve to aggravate adverse tendencies like discontent, greed and fear. There is tremendous social injustice: wealth and income inequality, as well as inequality of opportunity, access to culture and influence. Comparison and competition have infiltrated all areas of society and are major negative factors; as His Holiness says, “society based on competition and material satisfaction cultivates fear, and when there is fear there is no love,” and without love the door is open to all that corrupts and poisons a human being. Perhaps unsurprisingly, love is the key to peace of mind and harmonious living; not sentimental or romantic love, but love as that most vibrant force for good, love expressed as sharing, as tolerance, as cooperation, as friendship; “friendship is essential, with friendship comes trust” and where there is trust community can be built, fear dispelled and peace made manifest.

“Instagram Helped Kill My Daughter”: Censorship Tendencies in Social Media

It is all a rather sorry tale.  Molly Russell, another teenager gorged on social media content, sharing and darkly revelling, took her own life in 2017 supposedly after viewing what the BBC described as “disturbing content about suicide on social media.”  Causation is presumed, and the platform hosting the content is saddled with blame.

Molly’s father was not so much seeking answers as attributing culpability.  Instagram, claimed Ian Russell, “helped kill my daughter”.  He was also spoiling to challenge other platforms: “Pininterest has a huge amount to answer for.”  These platforms do, but not in quite the same way suggested by the aggrieved father.

The political classes were also quick to jump the gun.  Here was a chance to score a few moral points as a distraction from the messiness of Brexit negotiations.  UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was in combative mood on the Andrew Marr show: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.”  Material dealing with self-harm and suicide would have to be purged.  As has become popular in this instance, the purging element would have to come from technology platforms themselves, helped along by the kindly legislators.

Any time the censor steps in as defender of morality, safety and whatever tawdry assertions of social control, citizens should be alarmed.  Such attitudes are precisely the sorts of things that empty libraries and lead to the burning of books, even if they host the nasty and the unfortunate.  Content deemed undesirable must be removed; offensive content must be expunged to make us safe.  The alarming thing here is that compelling the tech behemoths to undertake such a task has the effect of granting them even more powers of social control than before. Don’t they exert enough control as it is?

While social media giants can be accused, on a certain level, of faux humanitarianism and their own variant of sublimated sociopathic control (surveillance capitalism is alive and well), they are merely being hectored for the logical consequence of sharing information and content. This is set to become more concentrated, with Facebook, as Zak Doffman writes, planning to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp further to enable users “across all three platforms to share messages and information more easily”.  Given Facebook’s insatiable quest for advertising revenue, Instagram is being tasked with being the dominant force behind it.

The onus on production and exchange is on customers: the customers supply the material, and spectacle.  They are the users and the exploited.  This, in turn, enables the social media tech groups to monetise data, trading it, exploiting it and tanking privacy measures in the process.  The social media junkie is a modern, unreflective drone.

In doing so, an illusion of independent thinking is created, where debates can supposedly be had, and ideas formed.  The grand peripatetic walk can be pursued.  Often, the opposite takes place: groups assemble along lines of similar thought; material of like vein is bounced around under the impression it advances discussion when it merely provides filling for a cork-lined room or chamber of near-identical thinking.  All of this is assisted by the algorithmic functions performed by the social media entities, all in the name of making the “experience” you have a richer one.  Far be it in their interest to make sure you juggle two contradictory ideas at the same time.

Instagram’s own “Community Guidelines” have the aim of fostering and protecting “this amazing community” of users.  It suggests that photos and videos that are shared should only be done by those with a right to do so.  Featured photos and videos should be directed towards “a diverse audience”.  A reminder that the tech giant is already keen on promoting a degree of control is evident in restrictions on nudity – a point that landed the platform in some hot water last year.  “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.”  That’s many an art period banished from viewing and discussion.

The suicide fraternity is evidently wide enough to garner interest, even if the cult of self-harm takes much ethical punishment from the safety lobby.  Material is still shared.  Self-harm advisories are distributed through the appropriate channels.

Instagram’s response to this is to try to nudge such individuals towards content and groups that might just as equally sport reassuring materials to discourage suicide and self-harm.  Facebook, through its recently appointed Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, was even happy to point out that the company had prevented suicides: “Over the last year, 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to lead to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those and people and intervening at the right time.”

This is all to the good, but such views fail in not understanding that social media is not used or engaged in to change ideas so much as create communities who only worship a select few.  The tyranny of the algorithm is a hard one to dislodge.

In engaging such content, we are dealing with narcotised dragoons of users, the unquestioning creating content for the unchallenged. That might prove to be the greatest social crime of all, the paradox of nipping curiosity rather than nurturing it, but instead of dealing with the complexities of information from this perspective, governments are going to make technology companies the chief censors.  It might well be argued that enough of that is already taking place as it is, this being the age of deplatforming.  Whether it be a government or a social media giant, the same shoddy principle is the same: others know better than you do, and you should be protected from yourself.

Give Children the Vote, Strengthen Democracy

In December 2018 David Runciman, Head of Politics at Cambridge University, made the radical proposal that children as young as six should be allowed to vote in elections to deal with the age bias in contemporary democracies. Allowing children to vote he said, would give a ‘jolt of energy’ to democracy. While the thought of six year olds voting sounds extreme and will no doubt be broadly dismissed, there is a strong democratic argument for lowering the eligible age from 18, which is the standard voting age in most countries, and allowing children to vote.

In response to Professor Runciman’s suggestion The Guardian newspaper asked a group of children “aged 6-12 what [political] policies would get their vote.” Their intelligent, straightforward answers are inspiring and in accord with the views of many of us. Freed from ideology and party politics these children see the issues clearly and speak in an unencumbered way, direct from the heart.

Thomas Atkinson is 10 and lives in Belfast. “The other day I saw someone sitting on the pavement. He looked about 20. Why is that happening? He needs a job and a home – and there are so many jobs that need doing. Like, for example, the environmental problems. There is plastic on the beaches all around Bangor. We need people to clear that.”

Petra Pekarik is 11 and lives in London. She is a Hungarian citizen – “it doesn’t make sense to me that Britain is putting up barriers. I feel the opposite should be happening, and we should be taking barriers away.” She says that in school they talk a lot about fairness, but in society “there are some people who are so special, and other people who don’t even have a home. Sometimes I see people living on the street and I think, why are they there? It’s important because we are all the same: these people aren’t different, they’re people. We are all people.”

And Tom Ashworth, who is 9 and lives in Ambleside: “Climate change is the big issue politicians need to work on…. We can’t just let this happen and do nothing – it’s got to be stopped. We have to stop doing the things that cause climate change. It’s really important right now…. We need to stop wasting food and everything else we’re wasting.”

The only six-year-old spoken to, Wilfie Tudor-Wills from London, said that, “there should be more houses in London. There are a lot of people in this city and they need places to live…. there should be less pollution, because it’s bad for your lungs.” And, given the chance to speak to the UK Prime Minister, Teresa May, he would “tell her to get more people to have electric cars because they’re better for the world. And also I’d like there to be more parks.”

The other children who were questioned gave answers that are just as insightful, but the views of these children, like all children their age go largely unheard. Children under 18 are commonly, and as these children’s comments demonstrate, mistakenly, thought to lack the understanding to participate in current affairs and as a result are denied the most basic democratic right, that of voting in an election; be it local or national. But at 18, everything changes; it is apparently the age when adulthood begins and with it full citizenship. Previously it was 21.

The arguments for excluding children from voting echo those trotted out in the past to ban other groups – women and people of color e.g. They are usually based on the idea that children are intellectually incapable of understanding the issues, are politically apathetic, and that, lacking a mind of their own, they will simply vote for the same candidate/party as their parents. This facile point was used to justify denying women the vote, only in that particular statement of prejudice, it was husbands not parents who it was said would determine the woman’s choice, because, like children, women cannot, or could not, think for themselves! Even if a child does vote in the same way as their parents, as indeed many over 18s do, it does not invalidate the ‘one person one vote’ system and is not a reason to deny him or her the opportunity to participate.

In countries or cities where 16 year-olds have been allowed to vote these justifications of exclusion have proven to be hollow.. Multiple studies show the younger first-time voters are, the greater their participation: The Washington Post related the example of Takoma Park, the first city in America to lower the voting age to 16 (in 2013), where “16 – 17 year olds voted at twice the rate of the voting population.” In the 2016 Scottish Independence referendum 16 year olds were given the vote; they were actively involved in debates and 75% of those eligible to vote actually did so, 20% higher than 18 – 24 year olds. Support for early enfranchisement among the population at large also increased after the referendum – from around a third to 60%. The voting age in Scotland has since been lowered to 16 for all elections.

Whether 16 year olds, or anyone else for that matter, who are given the right to vote actually do so or not, however, should not be regarded as a reason to grant or withhold that right. In most general elections in the UK for example, an average of only 65% of those on the electoral register actually vote, and this is broadly the case in other western democracies.

Young people overwhelmingly support progressive liberal parties; they reject nationalism, embrace people from other countries and are often in the forefront of the environmental movement and calls for social justice. I suggest it is this knowledge that motivates conservative leaning groups of all kinds to resist lowering the voting age.

If representative democracy is to become truly reflective the maximum level of participation by the largest number and broadest range of people needs to be facilitated and encouraged, and this not just in the political sphere, but in all areas of contemporary life. In countries where the voting age has been kept at 18, a huge percentage of the population has no voice of their own; in Britain, which has an ageing population, that’s approximately 17 million young people. This is wholly un-democratic and needs to change.

The concerns and views of young people must be heard, acknowledged and acted upon and they should be granted that most rudimentary of democratic rights – the right to vote. The discussion should be focused on what level to lower the voting age to, not whether it should be reduced. The suggestion by Prof David Runciman that children as young as six should be allowed to vote does indeed seem extreme, particularly in a single step, the age most widely proposed is 16; a process of incremental changes, which can be reviewed, may be most fruitful and children themselves should be engaged in the debate.

Democracy is participation: not only should children be allowed to vote in elections of all kinds, they should have an active role in the management of schools and colleges and the composition of the educational curriculum. Facilitating such participation would not only encourage broader social responsibility amongst young people, it would enrich and strengthen democracy itself.