Aderonke Apata

Also published on I Am Not A Silent Poet.

A poem regarding this atrocity.

deskbased drones in whitehall’s depths
behind sheltered screens decree your fate
tell you your suffering hasn’t made the grade
that your fears of imprisonment and beatings are lies:
you’re a threat to our green and pleasant land.

high court judge and citizen’s jury
release press statements to decry you false
tell the public that danger lurks behind liberation
that your life is pretence and your story untrue;
guilt is assumed for people like you.

home office, bureaucrats, friends in high places
say that marriage and children is enough of a proof
to shatter your false foreign claims to be gay
of course nobody changes sexuality’s static;
your evidence means nothing to predecided conviction.

one woman’s attempt to take her own life
after mob raids, persecution, ptsd –
so easily negated with a proud rainbow flag
as government crows of equal marriage and rights
demanding allegiance as the queer’s new messiah.

because if a white gay man can be married on sunday
we forget laws are meaningless as long as they’re limited
“no justice! no peace!” is confined back to history.
stonewall was then; now you’re part of the system
and you’d better be quiet now they’ve given you rights.

on the in breath theresa may boasts her progression
on the out breath she’ll sign for your deportation
if you’re foreign – a woman – a queer – not white
you’re unseen and uncared for; careful unrecognition
if you attempt to speak up or tell of exclusion.

deskbased drones and highcourt judges
sit around ticking boxes and dare ask you for proof
like your sexuality is just academia,
peer-reviewed and white as an ivory tower.
your sex tapes are evidence: be degraded or deported.

Divestment: From South Africa to Fossil Fuels

Originally published in Post Magazine, ‘Potential Energy: The Politics of Energy in Scotland’ which is available to order here.

The global fossil fuel divestment movement has seen some important achievements over the past year. Universities in the USA, Sweden, New Zealand , the Marshall Islands and the United Kingdom have all committed to divestment; thirty-five cities across the world are divesting (in reality, this means the investments and pensions funds of public sector workers); over fifty religious institutions, including the World Council of Churches. have announced their divestment; and many other institutions have joined them – most notably, perhaps, the Rockefeller Foundation, whose very wealth was built upon the oil industry. The movement, comprised of local pressure groups but brought together globally under 350.org’s “Fossil Free” umbrella campaign, has successfully garnered the attention of big energy companies, with Exxon Mobil mobilising in October last year to publicly and strongly decry the campaign. The above, taken together, suggests that Fossil Free campaigners are not only making progress on the ground, but creating enough global attention that their hugely powerful targets have begun to twitch. All in all, the divestment movement enters 2015 looking stronger than ever.

But where can it go from here?

Continue reading Divestment: From South Africa to Fossil Fuels

Five environmental issues that will make headlines in 2015

(Originally published at Clarity News)

1. Fracking

Over the last year, fracking politics have entered mainstream political discourse in the UK. The Infrastructure Bill currently making its way through parliament has the potential to legally oblige the Government to extract all available oil and gas reserves in the country, which would necessarily include fracking. This has prompted widespread public outcry and the creation of numerous community groups to oppose widespread fracking across the country. A list of licenses for unconventional gas exploration given by the government is due to be released this year, and decisions from planning authorities, the UK and Scottish governments regarding the extent to which fracking and unconventional gas exploration will be allowed, will also be announced. This will shape the direction of energy politics in Britain for better or worse, and is worth keeping a close eye on.

Continue reading Five environmental issues that will make headlines in 2015

Allotments, land rights and affordable food

This has also been published on Scottish Land Action Movement.

The law condemns the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

xxx

Recent news that Edinburgh City Council are planning to increase the rental prices of allotments by an average of 105% – and up to 500% for some renters – has caused serious backlash from the city’s allotment owners. This news comes at the same time that new research has shown city allotment soils are far healthier and more productive than much of the United Kingdom’s depleted farmland. Globally, around 30% of the world’s arable land has now been abandoned as poor farming practices leave soils depleted of nutrients and exposed to the risk of erosion.

Food security is one of the most serious concerns we currently face: from depleted soils, to the threat of climate change, to corporate agricultural practices that force small farmers from their land and leave the global food system vulnerable to market fluctuations. With over half of the world’s population now residing in urban areas, food production in cities is an increasingly essential development if a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 is to be sufficiently nourished.

Continue reading Allotments, land rights and affordable food

Ten books I read in 2014 that I liked

I’ve read some excellent things this year, and I thought I’d share my favourites in a short blog post. These aren’t in any particular order, I would recommend all of them equally.

  1. Maddadam by Margaret Atwood
  2. Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts
  3. Radical Gardening: Power, Politics and Rebellion in the Garden by George MacKay
  4. The Carbon Cycle by Kate Rawles
  5. Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution by Pam Warhurst and Joanna Dobson
  6. Queering Anarchism by various authors
  7. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
  8. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
  9. Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
  10. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity by Marc Augé

Bonus: my two favourite poetry books that I read this year were Hard Water by Jean Sprackland and The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie.

The Scottish independence referendum was a triumph of political participation. But where do we go from here?

(Originally published on Clarity News)

The Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom broke records last week with an average voter turnout of 84.6% – in some constituencies, turnout was higher than 90%.

Contrast this with the turnout figures for the last General Election across the United Kingdom, which stands at a measly 65.1%, or the last Scottish parliament election, which only just reached 50%. Over 97% of the eligible population registered to vote in last week’s referendum – such engagement with politics has been unheard-of in recent years.

Since Thursday, the numbers of people joining political parties in Scotland has skyrocketed, with the SNP now the UK’s third largest political party (by membership) after the Tories and Labour; and the Scottish Greens more than doubling their membership in less than a week. It is clear that this does not mean the end of political engagement for many of Scotland’s electorate.

Despite the above figures, political engagement with the independence referendum in Scotland was always about more than political parties: one of the reasons for the high turnout compared to recent elections was precisely because this referendum was not an election.

If there is one thing that the ‘Yes’ campaign’s late surge in the polls, and indeed its two-year rise from 25% to 45% in the polls, proves, it is that engaging people in politics in twenty-first century austerity Britain is not something that can be done by top-down establishment tactics that we’ve seen in Westminster for many years now. True engagement with politics happens on the doorstep, and it happens when people really believe that they can make a difference in their future. This is true for those who voted ‘No’ as well – people believed that this vote was an important one to show up for because they believed it would actually make a difference. The significance of this cannot be understated.

The independence referendum is over, at least this time around. But a question of equal, if different, importance remains – how do we take the engagement with politics that we’ve seen in Scotland over the last two years, and spread it throughout the UK? How do we engage the most marginalised communities by giving them a real voice in their own future?

A divisive starting-point is not the right way forward. Divide-and-rule is a tried and tested tactic that the establishment have used for decades to keep dissent from spilling over. Since the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government was formed in 2010, it’s been most prevalent in the governments’ rhetoric of “strivers and scroungers” and the rise of anti-immigration sentiment from right-wing groups such as UKIP. This creates divisions amongst people equally affected by the hard-hitting austerity forced upon them. It distracts from the fact that the ones making the laws are members of a wealthy political elite who can retreat to their expenses-funded second homes whilst demonising the poor as the cause of the problem the bankers created.

We have seen murmurings of this even since the referendum, as well: the West Lothian question and devolution in England has been touted as the reason for postponing the promised further powers for Scotland. Scottish and English voters, both upset and tired with the way that Westminster politics works, are being set against each other by this sort of rhetoric – whereas actually they share a common cause in fixing an unrepresentative governmental system that purports to make laws on the behalf of people who didn’t vote for them in the first place.

Such divisions are distractions, and effective ones at that. In order to maintain the momentum of popular politics that we’ve seen in Scotland recently, it’s of paramount importance to cut through such sentiments and get on with the real job of involving people in projects where they feel – and have – real agency to make a difference for the better. Real politics happens at the grassroots, and amongst the cacophony of theoretical questions about the way forward for Britain post-referendum, a group of single mothers threatened with eviction have occupied an empty estate in the most deprived borough in London. Here is a group of people taking action against a government that is out of touch – against a government that actively demonises and oppresses them. Here is a group of people doing politics.

The issues that the ‘yes’ campaign focused on are still very real, and are still causing very real damage, both in Scotland and in the rest of the UK. Grassroots organisations have been campaigning on them for years – just look at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, still fighting tirelessly for its cause and the decommissioning of Trident. Grassroots campaigning on issues that matter is real politics; real people power. It doesn’t always feel like you’re making progress, but if there is one thing that we should learn from looking at the over-350 grassroots campaigns that came together under the ‘Yes Scotland’ umbrella, it is that ordinary people raising their voices to imagine a better society can make the establishment run scared.

In order to engage, people need to have a realistic hope that their actions will make a difference. Whether people in Scotland voted yes or no last week, by the end of the campaign, after a flurry of promises from Better Together about change in Scotland’s future, a vote for the status quo was simply not on the ballot. If – dare I say it, when – politicians inevitably fail to live up to their promises, we need to convince people that politics isn’t over. Political engagement goes beyond the ballot box; political engagement is more than the ballot box.

Whilst the referendum may be over, the discussion on the future of the United Kingdom feels somewhat like it’s only just begun. The way forward for political engagement is not going to look the same everywhere– but in order to keep it going, to prevent being crushed by the same-old establishment politics, solidarity across the UK between grassroots movements fighting the establishment has got to be the priority. Attention must be shifted from the ballot box to issues affecting people’s lives today: to food banks, to the bedroom tax, to the scandal of a £100 billion renewal of a defunct nuclear weapons system whilst the NHS is privatised off for being “unaffordable”, to the climate change that threatens the future of all humanity. Fantastic campaigns already exist on all these issues – whether we can channel the political energies now surging through the UK into action on creating a better future will be the test, though.

Whether you choose to engage in these issues through traditional party-political means or whether you opt out of the system entirely is up to you. But let’s take inspiration from this referendum, whichever side of the vote you wanted to win, and remember what it feels like to actually believe that people, not politics, can make a difference. Let’s reclaim power from the detached elite – and fight for a better future.

#YesScotland: 5 Ways to Continue the Fight

Originally published on Novara Media on September 22 2014.

The day after the referendum, walking to university after two hours’ sleep, I was glum. I’d campaigned for independence and I’d been disappointed. Edinburgh was full of rainy pathetic fallacy and I passed people openly weeping in the streets. It was grim. On my way back home later that day, I saw some ‘yes’ posters in somebody’s window which had been added to over the morning. Silently, defiantly: ‘still yes’.

It would easy to look back at the campaign for Scottish independence and be filled with anger at Westminster and their empty devolution promises, lies and scare tactics, and be upset and pessimistic about the future now that the visions we all spent the last two years thinking, talking, and campaigning about aren’t going to come to light. However, there was always going to be life beyond the referendum, and yes or no, visions of the future aren’t much good when practical action doesn’t follow. Yes – we lost. But what we have won is an incredibly politically engaged population across Scotland, many of whom for the first time in their lives have felt like fighting for a better society might actually make a difference. And that is something we cannot afford to lose.
So rather than looking back, I want to look forward, and here are my top five recommendations for continuing the fight for a better society.

1. Maintain solidarity.

I can’t say this enough. One of the most amazing things to come out of the yes campaign was the conversations and bonds formed between people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life. From people who do quite well under neoliberal capitalist patriarchy to those right at the bottom of the pile, the project of imagining a future Scotland where all could prosper gave people who would normally never cross paths a common cause to unite around. Just because the referendum is over doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to do – political engagement goes beyond a lost vote. Whilst the temptation may be to concentrate on how to continue the independence campaign, the most disadvantaged areas of the country (not coincidently, the areas which did vote yes to independence) are suffering austerity, cuts and oppression. Working with these communities to maintain political engagement in a practical way is of paramount importance now, from encouraging workplace organisation to fighting cuts to essential services for women and parents. Continuing to learn how to stand in solidarity without crushing the voices we are trying to elevate must take priority as we move forward.

2. Focus on the issues.

Most of Scotland, myself included, probably never wants to hear the phrase “currency union” again. But many of the other issues debated on throughout the referendum remain keenly relevant, both in Scotland and beyond. Now that the referendum is over, issue-based campaigning on food banks, Trident, climate change, austerity and so on can continue anew; refreshed, because people have dared to imagine a society where these issues no longer exist. They don’t go away because the independence question has gone away (for the time being) – and a revived energy from people who now know what it feels like to believe they can change the future is exactly what many of these long-standing campaigns need.

3. Keep young people engaged and active.

71% of 16 and 17-year olds voted for an independent Scotland, which means that almost three-quarters of the 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland have just witnessed their dreams of a better future snatched away from them predominantly by the voting habits of older generations. This referendum was the first opportunity the UK has ever given people aged 16 to have a democratic say over their own future, and they have proved that they should not be patronised by ‘adults’ who believe that young people cannot be trusted to handle politics. The defeat felt by many teenagers in Scotland right now is crushing: keeping young people engaged, treating them with respect and allowing them to keep having a say in their own future is the only way we can ensure we don’t end up with a generation lost to a pessimistic apathy.

4. Form new alliances.

Yes, there are a lot of angry and upset yes voters in Scotland right now. But there are also a lot of no voters who are already watching in horror as Westminster reneges on its last-minute devolution promises. No longer having to split people into two camps is not a bad thing, and I would personally be wary of any movement that tries to maintain a division between groups of the population depending on how they voted on 18 September. Since the referendum, there has been no shortage of writing from throughout the UK on the broken state of the Union and Westminster-based politics. People across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are calling for more control over their lives and their futures. New alliances can be formed between grassroots activists challenging the status quo, and in a post-referendum society this is only going to be easier. Leave behind the grudges – show people that the fight can continue, and it can benefit everybody.

5. Don’t give up or give in.

When was the last time you can remember that an entire nation was engaged with political debate, and people felt like they had the right to comment on issues and envisage a better society no matter what their background was? When was the last time that the Westminster establishment ran so scared that Gordon Brown was forced to help out a struggling David Cameron? When was the last time that people really felt like they might be able to stick it to the power?

We can still do this – we can still make them run – and the yes campaign has shown that the way to achieve this is through grassroots engagement, collaboration across campaign groups, linking up the issues and refusing to give in to lies and scaremongering. We’ve spent the last two years imagining a better Scotland – and we don’t need to live in an independent state to start making it happen.