Everybody needs some time to shake themselves up a bit.
No amount time living in the UK will naturalise me to the licking of a finger to turn a paper or The Washing Up Bowl.
You don’t have to be in the left to be on the left.
The opposite of left-wing is selfish
I don’t believe for one second that all these people have all these allergies and syndromes. What’s really going on?
What’s really going on is a cry for help.
Cycling between vacuous, hysterical hedonism and pitiful illness is not my idea of the good life. Witnessing loved ones descend into this, is also not my idea of the good life.
We’ve lost the yearn to learn in all the over stimulation.
Good conversation is euphoric. It builds and builds.
Will millennials please stop apologising for not whatsapping me back instantly. Your anxiety is making me anxious. Thank you.
Whatsapp voice messages allow me to think, process and luxuriate.
People have become fearful of phone calls.
London hasn’t seen such an epidemic of human behavioural change since the 18th century gin craze. This time it’s smart phones. Look what they’ve done to us.
Sleep is not the only reset button you can press on a day.
Nothing says collective crisis like adults, en masse throwing tantrums about how their needs have not been catered for. The final lurch for agency as the ship sinks.
The frequency upon which conversations around literature are tuned today are more pleasure-inducing than that of politics. Politics needs a retune. Badly.
No one made non-wired cotton bras like BHS. Damn you Philip Green.
My gym installed 3 metre high turnstiles reminiscent of maximum security prisons and Israeli check points. They don’t work properly. They are a cause of much frustration and delay. Ladies and Gentlemen, people of London: We have reached peak #BoringDystopia
Mark Fisher lives in me. I’ve developed a sort of lymphatic system made up of his words and ideas.
If I ruled the world, the first thing I’d abolish are the conditions which compel people to consume hot drinks while walking.
Capitalism, appropriates everything. Looking disenfranchised and destitute is now fashionable. Who would otherwise leave their house on a rainy day in furry slippers except the mentally unwell?
In the future, waking and reaching over for your phone while in bed, will be viewed with the same judgement as if reaching for a cigarette.
There is more to me than this. This person I reproduce every day is not the sum of me.
I’m someone who lives in my body. Hours of my CPU are spent on whether I want courgettes or peas with my fish cakes tonight, what I need to buy and cook and eat before tomorrow’s meeting so I have a proper dinner, if those nuts really agreed with me and what precise level of satisfaction I’m experiencing with my digestion today. I’m preoccupied by how hungry I am, or not, seemingly all the time. How my knee is feeling today and when I last had sex. Am I over or under caffeinated right now. That muscle I pulled in top right quadrant of my back eight months ago, I can still feel it, huh, but I didn’t yesterday, why, what did I do different? The euphoria of that run, the shock my calves felt and the slow day-by-day step down to recovery. How straight my back is, how my sit bones feel on this chair, and the angle of my back arch. The feeling of this texture on my skin, or that. And my period. When I’ll come on, how long I’ll bleed for and how much, on which days, and how the skin around my cheeks will fill with fluid. When and how my pelvis will loosen, and how the pain will permeate from the middle to the outer of my lower back in waves, and cripple me for about 20minutes before I’ll feel at 80% again.
Well Labour fucked with all of that.
Or rather, the greatest social movement of our era despite Labour did. I’ve just come back from The World Transformed, where I forgot to have dinner, smoked loads and felt great. My period was here and gone and now back and now pain on day three WTF??? I was so present in space and interaction, the New Kind of Politics and the people we were all being, that I had no idea what was going on with me and didn’t care. What luxurious queue conversations were had. What laughter in my workshops. What atmosphere in the streets and in the Wetherspoons. Seems like The Left is back. In a big way. And The Suits looked out of place, rigid and dated.
I’m not sure if this was excitement, it was more like a release. It’s like being on a long seemingly endless train journey when you’re in a tunnel and are sure you’re going to come out, but you don’t know when. Every once in a while you look out for it and you still can’t see it, and some people glance at you funny for looking out of the window in to the dark, and from others, a friendly nod. And then suddenly you can see it, and it looks like a pin hole, and you know it’s coming and you want to hold everyone’s hand. And you start crying.
John McDonnell made me cry, Shareefa Grassroots made me cry. The McStrikers made me cry, Gary Younge made me cry and Diane Abbot made me cry. China Mieville’s To a Red October signature on the first page of his book – which I opened on the tube this morning – made me burst into tears. I cant even cry. I haven’t cried for five years, and now what, I can? Really? Is it all going to change, inside and around me?
I think I’m predisposed to being so in my body, but it’s also a chapter in my How to Live Well Under Neoliberal Capitalism guide to myself. It’s the way I retain self-respect and refuse to rush or be rushed or pander to the instant and instantaneous. It’s my fuck you to neoliberalism to look up at the sky and walk a bit too slow for London. To have unproductive conversations at inconvenient times. To explore, as Jeremy Gilbert quoted in the Acid Corbynism session, the full potential of my being. To live authentically and spend time pondering ingredients, relationships and textures.
My period is all over the place, it’s here, it’s not, it’s gone it’s back, I have no idea what’s going on. I’ve had a good break from There is No Alternative pumped out and recycled in this city everyday. But most of all I had a break from being inside me, and embodying me. I like being one of many and feeling insignificant in a sea of conversation. It’s how we’re going to get out.
It is in fact, from within the collective, that we will find ourselves free.
Mariam and I have great conversations. Once, we were discussing how we’ve never come across media in our mother-tongue: a mish-mash of English and Arabic, spoken between bilingual English and Arabic speakers in a non-binary fluid way. We decided to make an impromptu podcast and talk about whatever, see what comes out and publish it unadultered for our own, and hopefully your, entertainment.
So note: This is podcast is not entirely in English
The following is a semi-faithful transcript of an address I gave in Leeds last weekend. I was invited to speak for ten minutes on how we “widen the movement for social and environmental justice, and work to shift popular opinion towards progressive alternatives and away from hate and fear” on the opening panel of Educate, Agitate, Organise! Some people liked what I said and asked me if it was written anywhere. It wasn’t, so here it is, mostly from memory and scribbles on paper. It may be in a different order and include bits I intended to say but didn’t have the time to flesh out and others I forgot to include. I’ll be editing it as I remember bits over the next few weeks. I hope it’s useful.
Thanks so much for inviting me to speak. All my notes are on scraps of paper I’ve written on the train up. Ive accepted after all the years of doing this that I just think in long hand so Ive given up on trying to type all this stuff up, so excuse me if I momentarily get lost in my bits of paper.
It’s been a huge privilege to work at War on Want over the last almost eleven years. We have great campaigns and programme partners and do inspirational work. But I don’t want to talk about that. If you want to talk to me about the work we do, come find me at the stall, I’ll be here all day, or come to the workshop we’re co-running. What I want to talk about is the atmosphere, what I’d like to call this neoliberal soup we find ourselves swimming in today.
First though Id like to point out an assumption in the question posed to this panel. There is an assumption that growing the movement leads to leverage. The assumption that if we just get more people over to our side, believing the stuff we believe, doing the stuff that we do we will achieve the change we want. It’s an assumption which many of us, including myself operate under. It’s a question, though. Over two million people marched against the war on Iraq in 2003 and didn’t stop the war. So there is a question there about how we relate to power and to achieve what ends, and a question about what our theory of change is.
Right, anyone who knows me from campaigning and organising inside or outside War on Want knows I’m a ‘form over content’ person. I think our content is great. We have the truth, justice, equality, facts and all these great things on your side. But just because you have these things or “good politics” doesn’t mean people will join you. I believe it’s the form in which we present our work and politics which make people come to you, join you and stay with you. and it’s in this spirit that I’d like to address the question posed to us today about building the movement and shifting popular opinion.
We need to appreciate the logic of neoliberal capital which pervades our very existence in England in 2017. It’s central to the way we relate to each other and the world, and it is only through seeing the soup for what it is, that we will be able to struggle through it and get onto the island. It is not just the economic which is central to how capitalism functions, but the mechanism which makes it almost impossible to imagine a world outside itself and its own logic.
So Id like to offer ten points from my experience of working at War on Want, in the global justice movement, before and after the financial crash, but also from my experience of just being a human being living in London over the last 15 years. So I’d like to offer you Nadia’s Ten Point Plan, so here we go:
1. Slow down and take stock
The number one thing I’ve seen activists do in reaction to austerity measures, the erosion of rights and increased oppression and brutality is arrrrrrrrrrrrgh arrrrrrgh arrrgghhhh! More more more! We need to do more! And this sort of hyperventilating, hyperactive reaction to late-capitalism’s ills. Don’t mimic the system’s rhythm of instantaneous reactions and snap decisions. Get off the treadmill. If we let ourselves be in this state of panic, we wont be able to cope, people are already burning out and retreating into themselves, internalising and feeding off individualised distractions as a coping mechanism.
And we need to talk about mental health. And the privatisation of mental health where we are told that the symptoms we feel of depression, stress and that although we know that We Are All Very Anxious, this is our individual problem alone and that the solution is to take certain medication or go to a councillor to solve our individual problems. So even though we all know that many people are suffering from similar symptoms, and there is in fact a crisis of mental health, the hegemonic discourse does not engage with the problem beyond viewing it as a series of individuals’ problems.
The truth is of course structural and the perpetuation of anxiety is part and parcel of the system and how it operates. If you are in a precarious job and housing situation like many people are, you will have less mental space for political action, and will often be way too exhausted and stressed out to go to that campaign meeting on how to save this or that or fight yet another fire.
And here I have to pause and do something I never do. In the fifteen years of doing this sort of thing I have never said ‘read this book’ because I generally don’t think it’s useful for people to inform themselves about the detail of exactly how everything is being destroyed or taken away; I think that has a numbing and demoralising effect actually. But today I’m going to recommend you read Capitalist Realism this great 80 page book by Mark Fisher. Mark tragically took his own life a few months ago, and Red Pepper magazine invited me to write a short obituary, which in the end I didn’t finish because I felt there were many others who knew Mark much better than I did who were writing at the time. However, my unpublished piece was titled He Gave Me Words, and this book and in fact all of Mark’s work gave me words, through which to understand this atmosphere we’re living under and how it functions to control us.
So other than anxiety and mental health, the other thing I want to talk about in terms of taking stock is the silencing and policing of our minds which is going on, not just through overtly coercive tactics but by micro-aggressions and subliminal training of us into compliance, to keep us in line. Control of this sort only really works if we are complicit in it. Take for example these wristbands we are wearing. Since when do we have to wear wristbands to participate in a university event? I really want to tear it off. But I wont of course. Because I find myself not wanting to get the organisers of this event in trouble, who I really like, have worked really hard to put this event on and want to maintain a relationship with. So myself, and the organisers, and all of you are colluding in this mechanism of normalising tagging and the wearing of wristbands, to mark us some how as official, or alternatively as if we are all collectively going to prison or something.
Also for the first time ever in years of being asked to speak on panels, I was sent a form by the student union asking me to sign a declaration that I wouldn’t say this or that or incite hatred or be discriminatory against ‘any groups’. I mean does that include the government or multinational corporations or the mega-rich? Are they groups? And what this does is set the tone, that yes this is a radical event, but actually there are strict perimeters of how you can behave and what you can say. And why is a student union at a university in a position where they have to send out these forms to speakers? We need to call this stuff out, and opt out of these mechanisms. All of us. Together.
So what I mean by all of this is it’s important to take a minute and slow down together, and have an awareness of how we are operating in the world and how everyday mechanisms may be stifling our ability to take action and be conscious actors and resistors in this struggle.
And that was all number one! Ok ill have to rush through the other nine…
2. Don’t entertain the lies
I mean this literally. The lies need entertainment to stay alive. Step away, dont pander to them by internalising them. Disengage your mind.
a. Capitalism is not only the most wasteful, but also inefficient and bureaucratic system that ever existed. Dont let anyone tell you otherwise. Challenge people who state capitalism’s efficiency as a statement of fact imply it as common knowledge. We all know that things aren’t working for us in the everyday. For example why do all have individual home internet contracts? Why can’t a whole building of flats all have one internet connection like this university does? We all know the pain and frustration of speaking to call centres to rectify a problem with a utility bill, which isn’t even your fault in the first place, and how everyone’s time and money is wasted, even though you’re paying for this service, no wonder people get so stressed out they cant attend political meetings!
b. The choice rhetoric. Choice is not freedom. I don’t want the choice of ten hospitals I can go to but need to travel miles on expensive public transport to arrive at a hospital full of overstretched, underpaid staff being choked by the cuts. I want one properly funded local hospital where everything works. Too much to ask in one of the richest countries in the world? I think not.
c. Mental health is your problem individually. We’ve just talked about this. It’s not.
d. Austerity is ideology. In fact it’s actual fundementalism. The cuts are a deliberate choice to extract profit and transfer power and resources from poor to rich.
e. You cannot buy justice.
3. Know your own history – your history has power
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Learn your history, while rejecting the nostalgia. The minimum wage, votes for women, ending Apartheid in South Africa, all these things happened because a small group of people started something. Learn from what people did before, and take courage and inspiration from them. Some amazing battles were won.Know where you are in history. We lie in a long lineage of people who have fought for justice. Be knowledgable. Be proud.
4. The people responsible have names and addresses
This phase of neoliberal capitalism makes it feel like no one is responsible. Things always seem to be someone elses problem, some one else’s decision. And when people can’t put a face to their oppression and decrease in living standards they turn on people who do have faces; people in their communities and their neighbours, because some one somewhere must be responsible for making my life worse, and turning on the person next to you at least makes you feel like you have some sort of control. But we have to make visible those in power who make the decisions that make the poor poorer and the rich richer and tear our cities and communities apart.
5. Dont let inclusively mean anti-intellectual
Dont dumb down your politics or patronise people. Dont let the quest for inclusively mean that everything needs to be over simplified. Also refuse to be treated as a child by advertising telling you how to behave in public places or in your own home.
6. It’s ok to lead
It’s ok to be a leader, an inspiration, an organiser. Not everyone wants to can do that thing. If it’s you, then just do it. Dont worry about it too much.
7. Look up and look out
From your phone, from the floor, from the screen, out of the window and importantly out of yourself. There lies the power and inspiration.
8. Visions vs Alternatives Vs Firefighting
I’m keen on removing barriers to justice and having a vision rather than firefighting all the time or feeling the pressure that we have to have some coherent alternative. I don’t buy that argument. It’s difficult to build alternatives within our lived reality. Let’s remove the barriers to justice, then we’ll talk. The onus isn’t on us to prove we can build a better world. I’m not playing that game. Capitalism isnt my elder, I need to prove myself to. If anything it’s the other way round.
9. Make the Left a nice place to hang out
We have the joy. We have the joy and the love and the camaraderie on our side. We know that it is good, honest relationships which make people fulfilled and happy. Throw the best parties and bake the best cakes. Replace vacuous hedonism with meaningful hedonism full of strong bonds and good times. Take as much space as you can. And when you come up against obstacles in trying to throw the best party, make it visible how and why you weren’t allowed to.
10. Collectivise everything
Childcare, admin, gardening, cooking, fixing, thinking, writing, mental health, and refuse, refuse; to be inside yourself.
As the wonderful Angela Davis said, either no one is an activist or no one is – let’s make sure that we too are not using activist as a category to separate us from others, and let’s start from the belief that we, as a collective, all together, have power.
Ill stop there, thanks very much for your time.
Disclaimer – the views expressed in this piece are the culmination of every single conversation I’ve had, book ive read, laugh of my grandmother, paving stone I’ve skipped over, cloud I’ve seen, song I’ve sang, dream I’ve dreamt and blue-tit I’ve watched eat peanuts from the bird feeder.
The notion that these thoughts and ideas are ‘solely my own’ is totally ridiculous and I dont possess the arrogance or ideological blindness to make such an outrageous statement.
Today, now, I’ve decided to try something new. I’ve decided to describe the affects of anxiety as they happen. To write it all down and publish this within the hour. Here it goes. I hope this is helpful to somebody.
I’m not going to write about the causes of this anxiety episode except to say that something happened this morning, something out of my control, which I feared would compromise getting my deposit back after leaving this flat. The problem is now on its way to being sorted, but Ive still got all these symptoms, and some are worsening.
I remember my tutor in a mindfulness course I took saying that it is hard, but helpful to try and describe the physical sensations of anxiety and stress in order to recognise them, and take steps to get past the episode. I’m writing this as Im fascinated by how powerful the brain is and it’s affect on the body. So here is an account of what I felt and am feeling now.
At first my heart rate went up as I tried to solve the problem. All the potential best and worst case scenerios rushed through my head. As the issue came close to resolution about two hours ago, I started to feel less panicked.
However, it is now five hours after the initial shock and this is how I feel: I have a distinctive tight feeling in my teeth. It feels like something is stuck behind my backmost molar, but I know from experience that there isnt. My lower right hand jaw bone is aching and I can almost feel a throb. I keep flaring my nostrils and dropping and shaking my jaw. I must be trying to ease the pain. The inside of my lips feel wetter than usual, as if I have produced too much saliva, and I can feel a tingle like the after effects of chilli.
My ears feel slightly blocked, and like I’ve inhaled chlorinated water in a swimming pool by mistake. Usually it’s the left ear that’s bad, but today it’s the right. I’ve got this burning sensation under my earlobe and pressing on the top of the jaw right there aches.I can now feel a bit of pressure in my right nostril and again, it’s sensitive to touch. In fact, I can now feel a dullness and tightness on the whole left side of my face. Sometimes it’s to the front of my face bones, but today it seems to be the right. This is all making my speech a bit lop sided, when I speak, as I feel Im avoiding using the right side on my mouth. When I move my head to the left, I get a sharpish pain above my left temple.
I have a historical muscle issue on the top right hand quadrant of my back and I can now feel pain below my shoulder. This has caused a slight forward rotation of my shoulder so my posture is affected. I keep pulling my shoulders back and down in attempt to relieve the tension.
Also, my usual vivacious apetite has gone. I feel exhausted, despite my good night’s sleep. I’m usually an active energetic person. But right now I feel like I want a sedative, painkillers, a mouth guard, (although Im not grinding my teeth), a sofa, 1000000 box sets and a good ol’ cuddle.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is anxiety, and its affects. I know it’ll be over by tomorrow. I wanted to share what my mind has done to my body right now, so that maybe if you’ve experienced some of this, you know that you are not alone.
At 18:02 GMT+2 on 11 February 2011, I heard a country roar. I’ll never forget it. I had just stepped out of a lift, and into an office overlooking the Nile. I was struck by everyone’s transfixed gaze on the small TV in the corner. A moment later, those words: President Mubarak has stepped down and handed over control to the Armed Forces. Less than a beat later it came – The Roar.
It’s hard to describe what the simultaneous gasp, cheer, shout and scream of millions sounds like. A wall of human sound coming from living rooms, tower blocks, taxis, coffee shops and pedestrians. I ran to the window. I remember digging my palms into the aluminum frame as I looked down at the flood of exuberant humans gushing down into the street. It’s like the Nile had burst its banks, the dictatorship’s dam had cracked. And the river roared.
I ran down into the street and joined the crowds. In 10 minutes I was in Tahrir where the party was well under way. For the first and last time since, in Egypt I felt free.
History is written by the victors. In retrospect, when observing the state of the nation today, it seems that Tweets from Tahrir is a more important work than we then thought. It is a small contribution to subverting the hegemonic discourse, a challenge to the machinery engaged in rewriting memories as we speak.
This moment, the roar, is an opportunity to thank those we passed the baton to. To those people whose projects continued the documentation of those 18 days: The emotions, the demands, the hopes, the dreams, the laughter, the camaraderie and the pain. To those who got in touch from around the world, eager to amplify the revolutionaries’ story and inspire activists everywhere, you are too part of insuring history isn’t lost, thank you.
But most of all, this is a moment to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those 18 days. The majority of whom were the urban poor, with no Twitter accounts or university degrees, chancing their luck for freedom. They are the martyrs of #Jan25. The word Martyr in Arabic is here poignant, as it holds both attributes of self-sacrifice, but also bearing witness. They saw a moment of hope and died fighting for a better life. It’s our job to make sure their story isn’t forgotten.