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Billy King

Number 233: October 2015

[Returned to related issued on Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Hello again, I hope the autumn is treating you well. We have been ‘on a high’, meteorologically speaking, as I write this, so lovely sunny days when the sun bursts through. And just look at how extensive those spiders’ webs are when the fog or mist picks them out like fairy carpets. Amazing. Some flowers that never bloomed in the summer, e.g. our ‘Polish Spirit’ clematis, have been in full flower just recently. Some plants hardly knew whether they were coming or going with the poor summer.

Archivism and activism
Maybe it’s INNATE putting up archival material on its photo site (the easiest way to access this is to click on one of the three flickr photos on the main INNATE home page), whatever, that got me thinking about this again. I have written before about the cost in terms of time and energy of being archivally minded; you can’t just THROW AWAY a piece of paper, you have to decide – is it of significance, will anyone in the future be interested in this? And that takes time, even if you have an ‘archives policy’ in place.

But, anyway, I got to thinking about archivism (the process of archiving) and activism. Obviously you can be one without being the other; you can be a professional, or even amateur, archivist for whom the material being archived (or not) is of no real or deep concern, though doubtless some interest in the matter might help. Likewise you can be an activist, of a thousand different varieties, for whom past material is water gone out to sea, and not thought about. You can of course be an achivist with a conscience, trying to preserve the story of people who stood up to be counted on social and political issues. Or you can be an activist who wishes to preserve something of the work and energy that went into a particular campaign or campaigns and groups.

Archivists are trying to preserve some of the past when it was the present. Activists are trying to change the future by working in the here and now. But it is a foolish activist who does not pay attention to what has been tried in the past and learn from it. It is not that what has worked in the past will work in the future, or what failed in the past will fail in the future, but a sense of what is possible, what is imaginative, what is challenging to the status quo, and what might actually work, is necessary.

You can of course be an activist archivist, preserving movement doings and history. But both archivists and activists hopefully share something in common; the feeling of significance, that what people, as individuals or groups, have striven for is of significance, that it represents part of the human story, and of the possibilities of progress.

However archivists now have a tougher job in the era of social and ‘disposable’ media. Gathering material is becoming more difficult and the biographers or historians of the future will have a pretty difficult job filling in gaps and background which were previously amply met by letters. Accessing today’s e-mail in ten or even twenty years time is likely to be impossible; searching for a social media exchange even more so.

I certainly wouldn’t want to encourage you to run off paper copies of all your e-mails, but if there are documents which might be on interest to people in the future – family, friends, movement colleagues, or possibly even the anonymous ‘posterity’, I would urge you to keep a paper copy. And that copy in a file with other similar pieces, clearly marked. It may not survive, it may in retrospect not be of interest to too many people, but give it a chance.

Left, left, left
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour party has been an amazing come-uppance for ‘New Labour’, and the amazing coming to prominence of someone who does actually believe in some of the things peace activists believe in, like disarmament. The spectacle of the British media and senior political figures, and even the deathly Tony Blair, talking about Corbyn as if the end of the world was about to arrive if he was elected seems to have backfired spectacularly. But one progressive political leader does not a British political revolution make, but it should mean an interesting time ahead in that neck of the woods.

Rightwingers love to depict the media as if it were in complete thrall to Marxist-socialist-communist values. The attacks on Corbyn revealed something of its truer nature. However, you just had to admire, for sheer right wing affrontery and muddled thinking, the online comment reproduced in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ of 18/9/15 that “The BBC is so far left it’s unreal. BBC Radio 2 is the worst. If you are having a phone–in, it has to be balanced.” Hey? Say that again? ‘Balance’ (which, incidentally, could be ‘neutral’ in favour of establishment values even more so than catering to ‘minority’ views) as evidence of being far left? Sorry, you’ll have to try harder than that......

And who are the fantasists?
The British nuclear weapons arsenal is partly a relic on the colonial past, the UK wanting to cling to a position of power and authority in the world which not only is unjustified but, when it did exist, was because of violent conquest and subjugation. Britain wants to think it itself as still being a big boy when, with nuclear weapons in tow, that should be a big bully. But the best it can manage, as with Tony Blair, is to be the USA’s lapdog.

With a leader of the British labour Party who believes in unilateral nuclear disarmament and a parliamentary party of MPs who are largely not convinced, we should be in for an interesting time in UK politics. Once more we start to see the old arguments about disarmament activists being fantasists who don’t understand how the ‘real world’ works.

On the contrary, those who believe in disarmament know only too well how the world works. If something exists then it may be used, or used as a threat. But nuclear weapons are as relevant to current ‘security threats’ to the UK as the Man in The Moon, and equally as looney (lunar). Who is Britain going to threaten with nuclear weapons? Who would it use them against? And, if it did, what would be the repercussions? The answer to these questions reveals who the fantasists really are.

The arms industry, and particularly something like nuclear weapons and Trident replacement, costs enormous sums of money which could be used for constructive purposes. ‘Giving up’ something is seen as being weak, ‘going naked into the conference chamber’ in the words of Aneurin Bevan (Labour Party leader, 1957). But nuclear weapons are part of the problem, and if one country has them then others want them too, and is there any real justification for saying ‘we’ can have them but ‘they’ cannot beyond ‘we were there first? No, there isn’t. And don’t start talking about nuclear weapons being safe in ‘democracies’ – if you consider the number of times nuclear weapons were nearly used, or risked exploding through accidents, by and in the USA then that argument is clearly fallacious.

If the UK did disarm its nuclear weapons – and it is a huge ‘if’ – it would be a victory for sanity, common sense, and perhaps a desire to tackle real issues rather than retaining dangerous and symbolic remnants of a far from glorious past. If you want a fantasy in today’s world it is that nuclear weapons are useful and help to keep the peace. They are destabilising, aggressive, wasteful and symbolic of the violence which threatens so many. I’m not sure dinosaurs deserved extinction but nuclear weapons certainly do, and not a year too soon.

Learning to love what you hated
It can happen with food. Something you wouldn’t dream of eating is served in a different way, or you don’t even recognise it, and, ummm, you think, that isn’t too bad. Maybe you never liked olives but get introduced to tapenade. And cooking, well, I never hated cooking but sometimes did resent spending a lot of time doing it......until I was sufficiently into it that it became pleasurable, and designing a tasty and satisfying and nutritious meal became an instinctive pleasure and not a chore. Mind you I still don’t like cooking for visitors in a rush – if there is plenty of time to prepare, and prepare fairly well in advance so I am or we are not going to be under pressure then it is fine. Music is another field where tastes can change, or particular physical activities like walking or trekking.

Gardening is another previous hate, well as a child weeding for hours (sometimes it was hours but it always felt that way) made me dislike it strongly; my father cultivated a large plot and as well as growing all our own veg sold some of the produce as a sideline so there was always work to be done. But once I didn’t have to do it, and had a garden of our own that I could grow veg and flowers, well, again it became a qualified pleasure. I say ‘qualified’ because if I feel I am reasonably ‘on top of it’ then it is enjoyable, if it gets behind where I think it should be then it becomes another source of pressure. And of course I like the fresh and organic produce that comes from it; no food miles, rather just a few food metres, and straight to the pot often enough...after a quick wash perhaps! And despite being suburban we have a resident frog....good for keeping slugs and insects under control, being organic probably helps.

We all have our likes and dislikes but I find it fascinating how we can change over time. That is certainly part of what life is about. Wouldn’t it all be very dull if we never did new things, liked new things, got excited by doing something different – even something we previously disliked, especially something we previously really disliked.

It is useful to cry over spilt fracking fluid
Shale Gas Bulletin Ireland is a very useful twice-monthly digest of what is going down in that neck of the drill, it will keep you up to date with what is happening internationally. See here. The latest, 1st October issue has the news that between 2009 and 2014, more than 180 million gallons of fracking-related toxic wastewater was spilled in US oil and gas producing states, due to accidents and deliberate dumping. Most of the spills reported relate to fracking wastewater, which contains salts, heavy metals, and radioactive substances from underground as well the chemicals used in the fracking process, which are not disclosed in most cases. As usual it gives a link to the original article.

What about the ‘it could never happen here’ argument because of superior environmental legislation in the EU compared to the USA? Perhaps there is some truth in it, but no guarantees, and this is only talking about surface spills – everything has to go somewhere and aquifers and other water sources are very vulnerable even if there are no surface spills. Keep it in the ground, ‘stand our ground’, and don’t be mean, go straight to green. - - - - -

That’s me for another month, October is when the winter chill starts to bite a bit but a good brisk walk or cycle and all is well with the world.....see you soon, Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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