Politics

Poland’s Abortion Ban – The Women Speak Out

On the 22nd of October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (TK) ruled that abortions in cases of foetal impairment were unconstitutional, therefore banning abortion in nearly all situations. The decision, condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee and declared torturous, triggered mass nationwide

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Political Art: In Conversation With Meg Mcwilliam

Most people will agree that art and politics go together hand in hand. Historically, art has been often used as a commentary on politics. From centuries-old paintings of famous battles and wars, to modern age craftivism and political murals, art has and still is an influential medium for communicating political and social ideas and an alternative way for people to engage in protest.

Even in our digital age, art and politics still share a close relationship. The invention of computers and the internet has enabled many to create and disseminate art at a scale that would have previously been thought unimaginable. The rise of social media has facilitated a new sphere for people, especially young people, to engage with issues and ideas in an accessible way for most.

Meg Mcwilliam is a fashion student from Darlington, who creates vibrant collages in response to political affairs and social issues in the UK and around the world, with the hope of reaching out to the younger generations and breaking the wall of political apathy. In this article, Meg tells us why she creates political art and why it is crucial to communicate political ideas and issues to the public.

What motivated you to create political art? 

I was getting really frustrated and angry at the government and how they were dealing with things. I didn’t know how to express this at first and it was quite overwhelming. One day I thought I’d make some art and it really popped off. That’s when I realised perhaps this was the way forward.

What is your creative process?

I get really, really annoyed and just completely vent all my ideas onto a page. I always try and add a comedic satirical element as I don’t take myself seriously and don’t want to. I think it’s important to not lose yourself in all of this shit the Tories have created because then I would be so dull.

Which of your pieces are your favourite or mean the most to you?

The “Snatching milk and meals” piece does mean a lot to me as it’s the piece that started it all, so it’ll always hold a special place in my heart. Another piece that means a lot to me is “stop killing black trans women” as it’s a message that saddens me every time. I found it deeply upsetting to find out that the average life expectancy of a black transgender woman is only 35 [years], I feel as though not enough people pay attention to this statistic and it’s honestly saddening.

What do you think about the current state of UK politics?

It’s an absolute shambles, I’m honestly scared we’re going to turn into a police state. The way the pandemic has been handled has really highlighted how evil and greedy they are. Everything that’s coming to light now is a direct result of 10 years of Tory rule.

I hate that politics is seen as a privilege to be involved in.

Disengagement has always been an issue in politics, and a tough one to fight. A 2019 audit by the Hansard Society paints a pessimistic picture of political engagement in the UK. It found that 47% of the British public feel they have no influence at all over national decision-making. Compared to 2018, more people say that they are not interested in politics at all and do not know anything about it.

Furthermore, a 2021 parliament briefing paper highlighted that young people in particular are less likely to register to vote and participate political activities, with women and ethnic minorities also at the lower end of the political engagement scale. When asked about this issue, Meg’s answers echo the above findings and sentiment.

As a young person, do you feel like you have a voice when it comes to politics and your rights? Do you feel heard? 

Meg: I feel heard by my generation but the older generation not so much, I feel as though they see us younger lot as whiney when in reality, they’ve fucked us all over majorly and we’re all suffering from it now. The government don’t listen to us either – it’s like us vs the world at the moment, but I feel that my generation could be the start of change.

What do you hope to achieve through your art? 

Meg: I really want to get the younger generation interested in politics, I know for me the long articles can be really boring and complicated. I hate that politics is seen as a privilege to be involved in and I believe if it’s simply reserved for the middle class, we will have no change at all. It’s very important for a diverse range of people to be involved and to understand.

What change would you like to see, on a political and societal level, in the next few years?

Meg: First of all, get the Tories out now! And yes, I mean Starmer too. I think settling for someone just because they’re a better alternative is a bit of a stupid logic. Why should I settle for someone whose morals don’t align with mine? I think Labour could be a really good party if it wasn’t full of red conservatives, transphobes, and “#girlbosses”. I’m hoping in the future things may get better as a lot of my generation is left wing and do want progressive change, so don’t let me down please!

Is there anything else you would like to share about your art (or anything else)?

I’m hoping in the next few months to sell some more prints to sell to charity, especially my collaboration with Peggy’s (the bar) which I’ll be donating half the proceeds to an anti sexual-violence charity.

What advice would you give other young people who are thinking about engaging in activism using art?

Do it! Honestly not only is it therapeutic but it’s a good and more relevant way to spread the word especially with how popular social media is. I think using art as a form on activism is also accessible to people who perhaps don’t feel comfortable protesting or can’t and can overcome that barrier between having a voice but also not having to go to extreme lengths to get heard.


Meg Mcwilliam does lot of work for the Terrance Higgins trust which is an AIDS charity. She often has pieces for sale on her website (digital copies), and she donates proceeds to the charity. You can take a look at her website at https://www.megmcart.com/ and purchase her work online. You can also find Meg on Instagram at @megmcart

Democracy Dies in Darkness: Boris Johnson’s Undercover Assault on Britain

The Queen’s speech to parliament has gone mostly unnoticed in the news cycle – drowned out by the noise from F35s and rocket fire in the Gaza strip. Embedded in this speech, written by the government, and read by the Queen with all the duty and sincerity of a pre-recorded dial tone on a technical support hotline, was a grotesque cavalcade of anti-democratic proposals that would set British democracy back a century.

This is not simply Tory opportunism or a consolidation of power from a landslide election victory in 2019. It is a longstanding ambition of Boris Johnson’s, whose so-called ‘social-libertarianism’ is nothing more than the double-speak of a pseudo-populist charlatan. These new ‘reforms’ make up an alarming pattern of behaviour that shows Boris Johnson’s years of authoritarian tantrums were as serious as a heart attack.

Boris Johnson’s anti-democratic proposals are a three-pronged attack: erosion of free-speech, large scale disenfranchisement, and an assault on the judiciary. 

Much attention has been placed over the last three months on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – but not nearly enough. It is no understatement to say that this Bill presents the most serious challenge to British democracy in a generation. In a climate where BLM campaigners chanting ‘defund the police’, and peaceful vigil-goers are brutalised for attending a memorial for Sarah Everard – a woman allegedly murdered by a police officer, it would appear that this Bill to strengthen police powers is disconnected from growing public resentment of the police.

This Bill would make any protest, even single-person or small ‘static protests’ valid targets for police action, where before only large marches could be. Furthermore, police can stop protests for being too noisy. If this were not already Kafkaesque enough, it is of course the point of a protest to be noisy and disruptive, and the discretion for what is defined as noisy lies solely with the Home Secretary. Priti Patel can exercise her discretion through a statutory instrument without the approval of Parliament – thereby making her the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not acceptable protest.

The Bill would also expand the definition of nuisance to include annoyance or ‘risk of annoyance’, punishable by a maximum sentence of up to ten years. It would make defacing or damaging a statue or monument punishable by a custodial sentence of up to ten years – where previously it had been 3 months. Since the toppling of slave-trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol last year this has been favourite pet hate of Conservative flag-waving ‘patriots’. Tories, who feel that British values such as freedom, justice and democracy must be protected by a decade long prison sentence for people convicted of simple criminal damage.

It is worth taking a moment to acknowledge the existential threat this Bill places on the Traveller community by allowing police to arrest and remove Travellers if the police suspect they might do something illegal. This is a well-trodden path of autocrats seeking to slowly encroach on people’s right to move freely or exist nomadically by using a pariah group as a political pawn.

This Bill would make protesting a crime. Protest is an essential right afforded to citizens of a free and fair society. It is the most basic form of holding a government to account by way of grass-roots activism. The aim of which is to garner public attention and to make the government feel inconvenienced, disrupted, or even God forbid – annoyed. Without a robust right to protest, the government alienates the governed and strips them of consent.

If this Bill were to become law, it would be the end of the public’s ability to air their legitimate grievances with a government run amok. It would be the end for BLM’s drive towards racial justice, Extinction Rebellion’s campaign for a liveable planet, women to Take Back the Night, and for Stop the War to stand up for the peace and security of Palestine. Let this serve as a warning, that if this Bill becomes law, it will not only affect us now, but guarantee that future transgressions by the government will go unaccounted for.

The great irony of this is that Boris Johnson is often seen as an advocate for free expression; he has carefully crafted a libertarian persona that whole-heartedly supports the free exchange of ideas. His infamous column, which compared Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, was expertly brushed off as a defence of liberalism – a call to women everywhere to wear what they chose to. He is often seen on the front lines of the so-called culture wars, criticising the ‘woke brigade’ for cancel culture and no-platforming in the name of free speech and liberal democracy. This is nothing more than a cynical gammon-baiting façade.

The Queen’s speech contained planned legislation to impose sanctions on universities that no-platform speakers. An apparent win for the ‘party of free speech’, a claim that somewhat loses its lustre when confronted with reality. Tories are the party that implemented the Prevent strategy – which has its own list of blacklisted speakers, passed the Investigatory Powers Act often referred to by civil liberties groups as a ‘snooper’s charter’, and outlawed the use of anti-capitalist materials in schools due to their ‘political extremism’.

This trend of fake populist outrage on behalf of free expression only happens when it goes in favour of the Conservatives – of course it is easy to oppose no-platforming, the likely targets are right-wing hate merchants and racist snake-oil salesmen. Seldom will you see the free speech extremists come to the defence of a cause that does not directly affect them. This hypocrisy is quintessential Boris Johnson. Free speech champion when he’s penning racist articles in the Telegraph, tin-pot dictator threatening to withdraw Channel 4’s broadcasting licence for empty-chairing him. Boris Johnson routinely lies in the commons, breaks the ministerial code, runs away from news cameras; he has threatened to make it illegal for public bodies to boycott countries that engage in human rights abuses and, one last time for the people at the back, is currently trying to make protests illegal.

Johnson’s second prong comes in the form of the euphemistically named Electoral Integrity Bill, which would mandate anyone wishing to vote produce a valid form of identification to cast a ballot. This is not a new idea; it was proposed by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2004 as part of a wider national ID scheme, to which Boris Johnson commented:

If I am ever asked, on the streets of London, or in any other venue, public or private, to produce my ID card as evidence that I am who I say I am, when I have done nothing wrong and when I am simply ambling along and breathing God’s fresh air like any other freeborn Englishman, then I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it.

Newton’s third law of politics: for every Johnson policy there is an equal and opposite Telegraph article.

This proposal is a mechanism of voter suppression. It targets first-time voters who are mostly young and much more likely to vote Labour. It prejudices against those who do not hold a valid form of state ID such as a driving licence or passport, which the Electoral commission estimates is around a quarter of the electorate. These people are overwhelmingly young, poor, and racially diverse and who, in yet another stunning coincidence, are more likely to vote against the Conservatives.

Even the stated reasoning is plucked out of the Donald Trump playbook. Supposedly done in the name of ‘preventing voter fraud’, of which in the last general election year there were only six counts. To review, a quarter of the electorate is approximately eleven million people. Can Johnson perform simple mathematics? Is he aware that eleven million (11,000,000) is a larger number than six (6)? A reasonable question, given that neither he nor Carrie Simmonds seems able to work out £150,000 is more than £30,000.

Of course, Johnson is aware that voter fraud is not a real issue, he has simply sought to replicate the fervour of MAGA cultists in the US. Siding with cranks who are convinced that Joe Biden won the presidency with the assistance of illegal immigrants, Venezuelan voting software, and Antifa. The incidences of voter fraud are not enough to impact the outcome of an election, even if they were all conducted in the same constituency for the same election (except perhaps North East Fife, which the SNP won by two votes in 2017). Eleven million is, however, enough to swing a national election. Even if only a fraction of this figure were truly disenfranchised it means that many marginal seats would be won by stolen votes.

The Election Integrity Bill makes up only a part of Johnson’s wider campaign against voting rights. Last year the Conservatives rushed through the Parliamentary Constituencies Act, allowing for the most flagrant partisan gerrymandering. Johnson announced plans to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act allowing him to call General Elections at politically convenient moments and easily untangle the government from Parliamentary deadlocks. In 1976, Lord Hailsham popularised the phrase ‘elective dictatorship’ to describe the feeble checks and balances in the British government. The ease in which Johnson has been able to purge unfavourable voters, redraw districts and pluck election dates out of the air demonstrates just how fragile the word ‘elective’ really is.

The final arm of Boris Johnson’s campaign is the most clandestine. For the most part, people simply do not care about courts or the judiciary. It is generally considered complex, inaccessible, and elitist – all of which is unfortunately true. While the UK media continues to shy away from news that does not immediately engage our Pavlovian reward system, chances of ever hearing much about this story outside of legal journals is slim to none.

Judicial Review, put simply, is the process by which courts can examine the use of any authority granted by an Act of Parliament or that exercises a government function.[1] It is an essential feature of a common-law system and a pillar of the democratic oversight performed by the court. It is a tool used to ensure government bodies can be held accountable and guarantee they are acting in accordance with the powers granted by Parliament. It is a safeguard of Parliamentary sovereignty to ensure that the will of the legislature is not being undermined by the executive.

Boris Johnson has already been stung by the cold magisterial pincer of the Supreme Court, who unanimously decided in 2019 that his prorogation of Parliament was an unlawful exercise of Royal Prerogative.[2] For their efforts, all eleven Lord Justices were smeared by the tabloid press for upholding the constitutional principle of Parliamentary sovereignty. Johnson is keen not to have this embarrassing incident repeated, should he ever want to attempt further law-breaking.

While little is yet known about the exact nature Johnson’s reforms will take, there are a few obvious adjustments he would like to make to the judiciary. The first of these is armouring ouster clauses from unfavourable interpretation. Ouster clauses are phrases that Ministers sometimes insert into legislation that read something like “this section of the Act cannot be challenged in any court of law”. While this seems unambiguous, the last 30 years of precedent is that these clauses are not capable of preventing a challenge on the grounds of Judicial Review[3] – much to the chagrin of government officials. The argument goes that the legislature could not have meant to exclude a challenge under Judicial review, as that would limit the Parliament’s ability to ensure the faithful execution of its will by the government. Thus, the game of cat and mouse began.

Boris Johnson has also tried to sneak such features into legislation which he anticipated would suffer the righteous indignation of the Bench – such as the Internal Markets Act, with its “mother of all ouster clauses”. This act was so controversial that it managed to contravene the constitutional trifecta of the Human Rights Act, the Good Friday Agreement, and the anticipated Brexit Withdrawal Bill. Often in such cases, where an Act of Parliament contradicts an Act of constitutional importance the ‘lesser’ Act is implicitly repealed and ceases to be enforceable.[4] In this case however, this would have been impossible, and the legislation would have been permitted to destabilise Britain’s constitutional bedrock and international obligations.

Luckily, Johnson’s Internal Market’s Bill was so extreme that the Lords withdrew many of the more outrageous provisions. Yet the message of this saga is a chilling one. If Johnson can strip away the ability of courts to place proper and reasonable limits on the government’s power to enforce the laws of the UK, then the Rule of Law is not simply broken, but becomes putty in the Prime Minister’s hands.

These deep-seated authoritarian tendencies that manifest into dangerous autocratic policy are a result of a consequence free life, made up of privilege, entitlement, and hubris.

Judicial Review is one of the most important safeguards democracy has. It is responsible for exposing Matt Hancock for unlawfully failing to disclose government contracts. It was the reason frontline NHS staff were able to challenge the government over embarrassing PPE shortages. It allowed the reversal of an immigration policy that unfairly targeted Ghurkha’s seeking settlement in the UK, and it ensured that the notorious ‘black cab rapist’ did not walk free. Most crucially, it ensures that will of Parliament is not subverted by faceless government bureaucrats, given carte blanche to act far beyond the scope of their authority.

Progressive pundits have been pointing out Boris Johnson’s hypocrisy and loose relationship with the truth for decades. Yet even now most of the mainstream media continues to act as Johnson’s Praetorian guard – refusing to report his racism, incompetence, and lies. What often falls under the radar, even in left-leaning circles, is the Prime Minister’s sheer disdain for any accountability or oversight. These deep-seated authoritarian tendencies that manifest into dangerous autocratic policy are a result of a consequence free life, made up of privilege, entitlement, and hubris. His is a lifetime of stumbling from one chaotic blunder to another and constantly failing upwards. He has never had anybody tell him no.

Proper scrutiny was not placed on Johnson when he became Prime Minister in July 2019. The media refused to expose his many flaws in the December general election. Instead focusing their ire on the candidate warning of the danger a far-right populist would bring to a Conservative party that had lost its mind. The above examples only serve as a tiny microcosm for the multiple ways Boris Johnson has sought to disable the guardrails of British government in an ill-conceived effort to pander to his own fragile ego. Twisting freedom of speech into a catch-all defence of any criticism, en mass voter suppression against unfavourable demographics and an undercover neutering of the judiciary. These are only this week’s taste of dictatorship that the British public must be vigilant of – lest we quickly fall into an authoritarian government led by an out of touch elitist that speaks only in three-word slogans.


Dane Harrison is a trainee solicitor with a BA Theology from the University of Exeter.

Twitter: @rexdane
Book: The Four Horsemen


Citations

Legislation:

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts HC Bill (2019-2021) [268] – https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0268/200268.pdf
Single-person protests – s. 60
Static protests – s. 54-55
Public Nuisance – s. 59
Criminal damage of memorials – s. 46
Unauthorised encampments – s. 61
Noise – s. 54
Secretary of State may define “serious disruption” – s. 54
Investigatory powers Act 2016 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/25/contents/enacted
Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/25/contents/enacted
Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/14/contents/enacted
Internal Markets Act 2020 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/27/contents/enacted
Human Rights Act 1998 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/contents
Good Friday Agreement – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/136652/agreement.pdf

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 – https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/1/contents/enacted

[1] R v Panel on Take-overs and Mergers, ex parte Datafin plc [1987] QB 815
[2] R (Miller) v The Prime Minister [2019] UKSC 41
[3] Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147
[4] Ellen Street Estates v Minister of Health [1934] 1 KB 590

Femininity and Power – Can You Have Both?

Since the dawn of time, femininity and power have never been interchangeable. A powerful woman is often someone who abandons their femininity to pursue power, or someone whose power is afforded to them by their male counterparts due to their femininity being used as a tool to please the opposite gender.

Femininity, in the early modern era was characterised by virtue. Virtue being defined through a woman’s sexuality – her chastity and innocence, more specifically. If a woman was faithful to her husband or stayed a virgin until marriage, she was considered virtuous and therefore a figure of womanhood. If she were promiscuous, she would be considered less than. This idea of femininity is held entirely in the hands of men. A chaste woman was a perfect woman.

For example, Aemilia Lanier, a poet in the renaissance era, was considered to be the woman Shakespeare had called the “dark lady” in his sonnets. The name refers to her promiscuity and the ways in which she expressed her female sexuality. Shakespeare gave her a title and literary scholars, even today, still associate her with that title. Lanier is an incredible poet in her own right, who revolutionised the world of female poets through her work, yet she is still somehow associated with a label given to her by a man. A man who, frankly, had no business calling her anything.

Shakespeare isn’t a stranger to the presentation of femininity and power being near opposites. His female characters, with whom he affords little doses of power are often slightly, if not completely removed from their femininity and that which makes them women. In Merchant of Venice, Portia is a character with a visible amount of power only because she is in disguise as a man.

A woman’s masculinity is not to be shunned but isn’t it telling how powerful female Shakespearean characters have considerably more traditionally masculine traits than they do feminine?

Lady Macbeth, arguably one of the greatest women in Shakespearean bibliography, is another example of this. In Act One Scene Five, Lady Macbeth says, “unsex me here… turn my milk into gall.” Her femininity is characterised by the “milk”, which is suggestive of motherhood which was one of the sole functions of a woman in that period. Through the disgusting and violent image of turning her femininity into something as disgusting as “gall”, She is essentially removing that which makes her female to aid her husband in attaining power. Without this femininity, she is powerful, even if that power withers away along with her mental stability throughout the course of the play.

Even in a modern society, femininity isn’t always associated with power, unless that power is afforded to her by a man.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew on this idea when she describes how “women who wear a decent amount of makeup every day to their office of work tend to make more money. When this happens, it stops being about choice – about whether a woman chooses to wear makeup because she wants to, and it begins to be about patriarchy. If we look attractive to men, then we will be compensated for it.” A woman’s success within the workplace relies on how their femininity is viewed by men, and whether they are appealing to men.

A woman in power has her appearance scrutinised far more than a man in power. This, in a way, seemingly undermines how they are viewed by society. It also means that every detail must be perfect constantly; they can’t afford to be on the receiving end of bad press.

The power afforded to women is very fragile. They have broken through the glass ceiling, but the floor is now made of glass, and the force of your feet on the glass makes it all the more breakable.

The patriarchy is gravity, and it’s working against you.

Femininity itself has been constantly redefined. That which made women feminine or “a real woman” changed drastically in the 70s, following the second wave of feminism.

Before this period, women were exclusively involved in only domestic affairs; they were housewives and mothers. The patriarchy preached that a woman’s place was in the kitchen or caring for her children. The kitchen was the woman’s world, and she must take care of it as if it were an extension of herself and a display of her femininity. Even a woman’s wardrobe served a similar purpose. Women were usually entirely covered but their feminine features (waist, hips, breasts) were accentuated; the accentuation of these areas involved a lot of tight-fitted clothing. The women were literally trapped and suffocated in their displays of femininity. These displays of femininity that really only benefited the male-centred society.

The second wave of feminism sought to abolish these ideals of femininity; women became anti-marriage, anti-children, and rejected all the physical displays of femininity. In this time, femininity was deemed to be a weakness and any aspects of life that made women lesser then men (marriage and even heterosexual relationships) were shunned. Therefore, during the second wave of feminism, if a woman wanted to hold power, she had to abandon her femininity in order to do so.

Then came the period after the second wave of feminism, where femininity was defined less by domesticity and weakness and was instead defined by resilience. From the onset this seems like a powerful word, right? The ability to overcome trauma and hardships. But resilience assumes catastrophe. It assumes that something is hard and needs to be overcome.

Essentially resilience and the act of being resilient relies on inequalities and unfairness.

Robin James in her article, “Look I overcame!” Describes how resilience became the new norm that was specifically feminine. It required women and girls not to be fragile and protected, but that they needed to overcome damage and that made them stronger. This may seem like it challenges the system, at a glance, but really it strengthens it. If a woman, or anyone can overcome hardship they are almost setting an example for others to follow, and therefore the system is less likely to be changed because there is proof that people can overcome it. A “real” woman can only exist in broken and unequal systems.

If you think about the powerful women today, a lot of them, if not most of them have had to overcome hardship or have defied the patriarchy somehow. They’ve had to fight for a seat at the table. Men don’t have to, the table is already reserved for men, their names are already written on tiny cards at their seats. Women have to pull up a chair, make room for themselves and even when they’ve done that, they have to always fight to make their voices heard. And they continue fighting despite the sexist backlash and snide comments and hardships that are thrown at them.

So, if there wasn’t inequality, if women didn’t have to fight, they wouldn’t be considered resilient and thus they wouldn’t be considered to be powerful women. So again, in a less direct way, a woman’s power is afforded to her by men. By the patriarchal society. Therefore, the definition of femininity and womanhood are defined by men, even if this is not as clear as it once was.


You can find Aisha Sodawala blogging at www.ashspillstheink.com, and you can follow her on Instagram at @ashspillstheink.

Poland’s Abortion Ban – The Women Speak Out

On the 22nd of October, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (TK) ruled that abortions in cases of foetal impairment were unconstitutional, therefore banning abortion in nearly all situations. The decision, condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee and declared torturous, triggered mass nationwide protests, provoking hundreds of thousands of women to take to the streets in many Polish cities and towns.

Poland already had the strictest abortion laws in Europe before the Tribunal’s ruling, which only allowed the termination of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, and foetal impairment. Once the law change is done, abortion will not be permitted in the latter case- meaning, women will be forbidden from having an abortion even if the foetus has zero chances of surviving. As some of the protesters put it, many women will become walking coffins. This is inhumane.

The World’s Reproductive Rights map by the Center for Reproductive Rights

The regressive decision to tighten the abortion laws ignited an fire among the Polish women (and some men), which aims to burn the patriarchal rule of the Law and Justice (PiS) party and the church, and their desire to control women’s bodies. The protests have been happening every day from the moment the abortion ban was announced, and the women demand to be heard and granted a basic human right – the right to control what happens to their bodies.

The Polish government is refusing to hear what the women have to say, so we have reached out to the women living in Poland and asked them to share their reactions to the controversial abortion ban.

Why should women protest politely when the government is taking away our rights?

First, we spoke to Sara, who shared her opinion only a couple of days after the ban was announced.

@Sarah_Goldfinch: To begin with, I would like to point out that I agree with all the slogans appearing at the protests. Regardless of who protested, LGBT+ before, now women, there will always be someone who’s offended. Why should women protest politely when the government takes away our rights? It is sad that the ruling party has been dividing society for such a long time, seeking faults everywhere but not within itself. Starting with Jews, teachers, LGBT+, and doctors.

Today, they take away women’s basic rights and threaten the West. If nothing changes, what’s next? Despite the difficult situation and the rather pessimistic outlooks of many young people, I think it will get better. PiS is losing support, but until the next elections and changes to the abortion law, many women will be forced to experience the greatest trauma of their lives. The next step is to prohibit rape abortion. Many liken it to torture, and I agree with it. I believe it will get better, but it won’t happen soon. The government will probably not give in, even if the majority of the population protest. The present party has nothing to do with democracy, they care only about their own interests.


It has been almost three turbulent weeks since the ban’s announcement, and yet the people in charge of the decision do not show signs of giving up. To make the matter worse, there have been multiple reports of women being harassed by random men for protesting the ban. On the 26th, Klementyna Suchanow, one of the two women who initiated the nationwide Women’s Strike, was physically attacked during a protest. On the 29th, groups of men violently attacked women including a female journalist. This week, Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, reported that a woman and her companions were stopped and harassed by angry nationalists who attempted to “arrest” them, called them whores, and condemned their “profanation of national and religious symbols”.

Half of Poland’s population is being harassed, attacked and condemned in the name of religion, simply for fighting for their basic rights. This kind of behaviour has no place in the 21st century, and yet, the women are not being heard.

We interviewed four more women: @amaneii, @tamczytam, @smieje_sie, and Natalia who decided to remain anonymous.

How did you react to the abortion ban?

Amaneii: At first, I felt just sorry. Sorry to go back to the Middle Ages in the 21st century. Sorry that Poland increasingly resembles Russia or Belarus. That we no longer have democracy. And then it just upset me, and I realised I had to act.

Tamczytam: I could not believe it and still can’t. This ban is so absurd that it feels like a bad dream from which I just can’t wake up.

Smieje_sie: I got very angry. I wanted to cry and scream. It’s unfair and harmful.

Natalia: I was angry. How else can you react differently being a young woman whose rights are being denied in the 21st century?

Have you been to any protests? If so, where? What was it like?

Amaneii: I was in Skierniewice. There weren’t many people. I.e., a lot, but not as much as in the big cities. It was okay, calm.

Tamczytam: Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to take part in any protests myself (I am from a small town), but even here women express their dissatisfaction. Yesterday, they lit candles in the town square and took to the street, and despite the small size of the town it was crowded. I am proud of them.

Smieje_sie: Yes, I was in Wałbrzych on two protests. There weren’t many people, it was quiet. I was also in Wrocław on the “walk of hangers”. It was completely different there, walking down the street with a few thousand people, shouting the same things. It fills you with optimism and strength.

Natalia: No, I was not. I must admit that I am a bit scared. After the recent LGBT+ protests where many people have been beaten by the police, treated with gas, and placed in custody for defending their rights, I would sincerely be afraid. On the other hand, paradoxically, the police in some cities in Poland now support the strike. So, as you can see there is a risk, but I am proud of those who protest and I am wholeheartedly with them.

Why do you think the abortion ban happened? What do you blame?

Amaneii: The ban on abortion was introduced because the PiS and the Church’s dictatorship so wished. I just blame them. At the head of Godek.*

Tamczytam: I don’t know who specifically is responsible for this law, but he must hate women very much. Our government is showing its authoritarian side once again, showing that they can do whatever they want. They do not act in the interests of the citizens. They do not even act according to the will of the citizens!

I hope that, in accordance with the demands – they will get the fuck out as soon as possible. Because a government that does not protect its citizens is only fit for being thrown the fuck out (of power).

Smieje_sie: I would like to know what is in the mind of the people behind it. I blame Kaja Godek, Conferences, PiS, and the Constitutional Tribunal.

Natalia: I don’t know, I have no idea why anyone got the idea. Maybe dear Mrs. Kaja Godek, who herself has a son with Down syndrome, thinks that if she could give birth to and raise a child with a genetic defect then everyone should? However, Down syndrome is a defect that does not affect the quality of life of these people in such a way as, for example, Edwards syndrome, where children do not often live to their first birthday and all this time they suffer from heart, lung or kidney disorders. I will not elaborate on this because it is terrible.

And I blame the government, which is not guided by ethics and heart, but makes all decisions dependent on the constitution, when the document is only a document.

*Kaja Godek is an ultra-conservative Polish anti-abortion activist.

How did this event affect what you think about Poland as a country?

Amaneii: I believe that we are now a country like Russia and Belarus. A complete lack of democracy.

Tamczytam: I love my country with all my heart. I cannot imagine emigration. Here I have my family, my business (which is currently struggling due to the government’s actions). Here I have my corner of the world, the sea which I love, here is my place. The current situation in the country terrifies me, saddens me, shocks me and clearly proves that the wrong people have seized power.

Smieje_sie: While the government is as it is, and the mentality of the people is lagging far behind basic human rights, my opinion will not change. It will be negative. In the end, I am patriotic so I would very much like things to change.

Natalia: I honestly expected it, but I think that at this point women (and also men) will not allow to be walked over. Something has burst and there will be smoke.

VIA THE GUARDIAN: Huge pro-choice crowds converge on central Warsaw on Friday night to protest against the country’s restrictive abortion laws. Photograph: Omar Marques/Getty Images

Do you think the protests will be successful in overturning the abortion ban?

Amaneii: I don’t know if they will, but I believe it deeply. As long as we live, we will fight for it.

Tamczytam: I very much hope that the revolt will change the situation. If not, it will only mean that we are pawns and that the government that is supposed to support the citizens, is working against them.

Smieje_sie: I’m fighting for it, so I have to believe it.

Natalia: First of all, I hope that someone will finally sort it out. Women should have the right to decide about their child just as they have the right to decide whether to have a limb amputated if it endangers their health and life. I wish our opinion would start to count, so that no woman would be afraid to say “fuck you” if something is not compatible with her choice.

What are your hopes in terms of women’s rights in Poland?

Amaneii: I hope that women in Poland will have the same rights as almost everywhere in the world. That we will be able to decide about ourselves, our bodies.

Tamczytam: I have no special expectations; I just wish that our rights were not limited. That we wouldn’t go back to the fucking Middle Ages, because it is a matter of time when women will be deprived of their voting rights, then enslaved and forbidden from having an opinion. We will not allow it!

Smieje_sie: I want things to be normal – the right to abortion, 50% of women on the ballot, and no harmful stereotypes (but the latter has to be changed in society, not in the government).

Natalia: (no answer given).

Do you see yourself living in Poland in the future?

Amaneii: I see myself living in Poland, because so far, I have no other prospects and I hope that in three years the Poles, as Morawiecki said this year, ” will go to the elections in large numbers” and will choose wisely this time.

Tamczytam: Yes, I want to stay here. However, I am afraid for my fate. I am afraid to plan to start a family. I am newly married, and there have already been topics about children between me and my husband. Now there is no way I will get pregnant. We are scared. Simply, humanly. Both of us.

Smieje_sie: Yes, I want to live here.

Natalia: I sincerely hope to be brave enough to move to another country in the future. I don’t want to have children here, nor do I want to constantly fear for their future. (I won’t stay) unless the political situation finally changes.

Is there anything you’d like people outside of Poland to know?

Amaneii: I would like people in the world to simply know about our situation in Poland, that there would be no misinformation, that the truth is shown and presented.

Tamczytam: I would like others to know that women are strong, and that we will not allow our rights to be taken away from us. We are in solidarity and we will not fall apart. This is an important issue and we will not allow it to be overshadowed by the pandemic.

Smieje_sie: I sure would like them to know that we are pissed off and that there is no point in arguing with our government. And of course, thank you for the support from all over the world, it is lovely and warms the heart.

Natalia: I would like people not to be indifferent to this crisis – the wider the scale of awareness the better. Some time ago, the whole world was talking about the golden train, now let’s talk about the red lightning.*

* The Golden Train is a Nazi Gold Train legend that was assumed to have been discovered a few years back.

Thanks to the mass anti-government protests, the abortion ban has been delayed. However, the fight is far from over. As history has shown, women will have to trudge through hell, and they will be mocked and assaulted before they are granted even basic human rights.


The above interviews have been translated from Polish to represent the original text as closely as possible.

Thank you to all those who kindly agreed to be interviewed: @Sarah_Goldfinch, @amaneii, @tamczytam, @smieje_sie, & Natalia.

Want to help?

You can donate money to Aborcja Bez Granic, an organisation which provides safe abortions in and outside of Poland. You can also take a look at and donate to Aborcyjny Dream Team, who aim to end the stigma around abortions.

Other things you can do right now:

Follow @strajk_kobiet on Instagram to keep an eye on the developments.

Follow these hashtags on social media to stay up to date: #StrajkKobiet #PiekloKobiet #PolandAbortionBan #wypierdalac

And of course, you can share this article to make sure that the Polish women’s voices are heard.

Money in Politics: The Dark Heart of Every Social Ill

‘All politicians are corrupt’.

An oft-quoted sentiment that traverses age, gender and political allegiances. It says it all and at the same time conveys almost nothing. It falls into the same category as ‘they’re all the same’ and ‘nothing ever changes’. These are the defeated words sighed out of the mouths of a disenfranchised electorate. They have become so axiomatic that the average voter will hardly even bother to analyse what it actually means to express such disillusioned political nihilism.

It is obvious to even the most casual observer that corruption in politics is both pervasive and eternal, but it is worth now in this moment of utmost political uncertainty, to examine the specific nature of the corruption we face today.

It starts and stops with one word: money.

I’ve always said that power is more important than money. But when it comes to elections, money gives power… well, a run for its money.

Frank Underwood

A 2014 study from Princeton University concluded that money is so pervasive in politics that the USA has more features of an oligarchy than a democracy: “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

In a perfect democracy, a graph that displayed the relationship between public opinion and policy adoption would be a linear correlation; meaning that if 0% of the public wanted a policy it would have a 0% chance of becoming law and vice-versa. However, in the United States, as shown above, whether 100% of the electorate want something or 0% want something it has a roughly 30% chance of being converted into national policy.

So how exactly did this happen?

In August 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell wrote a memorandum to the US chamber of commerce titled Attack on the American Free Enterprise System, an anti-socialist blueprint for the American Right-wing business interests to regain control of the nation. Two months later, President Nixon appointed Powell to the supreme court.

Over the course of the next decade two major decisions were adjudicated by the supreme court, in-line with the Powell memorandum, that changed the nature of American democracy forever. The first, Buckley v. Veleo heard in 1976 ruled that political spending was a protected by the 1st amendment right to free speech; the second First National Bank v. Bellotti extended the legal doctrine of corporate personhood by allowing privately owned businesses constitutional rights – thereby granting corporations the right to privately finance politicians. Later decisions such as the 2010 Citizen’s United v. FEC and 2014’s McCutcheon v. FEC removed the few remaining restrictions on campaign spending.

This is a story you won’t hear on cable news. The euphemistically named ‘campaign contributions’ have had nearly fifty-years of clothing in the veneer of legitimacy – not only accepted but celebrated as a crucial performance indicator of the health of a political campaign. In a system where money wins over 90% of elections, the rebranding of bribery is only too obvious. The mainstream media channels are the biggest recipients of this illicit donor money, they are paid handsomely to play political campaign ads, and generating massive profits for their corporate parents.

This broken system that near-guarantees the electoral success of the most pro-business candidates traverses both parties and infects every political issue and how it’s covered in the press. When people think of government corruption, it usually relates to a sweetheart deal given to an underqualified schoolmate of a cabinet minister, à la the now infamous Track and Trace and PPE funding earlier in the summer. Seldom are the dots connected to the most pressing social issues of our generation.

Climate Change

Climate change is the clearest example of private industry buying policy by bribing politicians. Every election cycle, one of the most reliable donors to politicians are lobbyists from the oil and gas sector. A biennial contribution of roughly $100 million nets an annual return of over $600 million in subsidies paid by the US taxpayer to oil and gas companies; a figure ten times larger than the national education budget.

Pew research polling shows that an overwhelming plurality of Americans believe that urgent action is needed to tackle the existential threat of climate change, with some 63% agreeing that they have noticed the effects of climate change in their local community.

Americans consistently show support for much more aggressive action to be taken on climate change through measures such as carbon tax and stricter regulations on emissions – yet the national government refuses to take any action at all. The Trump administration has rolled back almost all Obama era environmental protections including bans on arctic drilling, restrictions on mining in national parks, and withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Do not be fooled however, this issue is by no means one-sided. Democrats, as well as Republicans take millions of dollars every election cycle from oil and gas lobbyists. This bipartisan bribery is the reason why neither Hillary Clinton, nor Joe Biden will commit to a national ban on hydraulic fracking, which is proven to pollute air and water and increase the rate and intensity of earthquakes. While conventional wisdom in Washington dictates that swing-states like Pennsylvania cannot be won by opposing fracking, the political reality is that the average citizens are much more mixed on the issue – with latest polls showing that a small majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking. The real concern is whether a presidential candidate can afford to lose the financial support from those tied to the industry.

Military Industrial Complex

As surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, the United States Congress will vote to increase the defence budget. The current annual budget is sitting at $750 billion, orders of magnitude higher than any other discretionary spending. Almost every year, including during Donald Trump’s impeachment, the Democrats in Congress appropriate more money than requested by the President.

To put this figure into context, the USA spends more on the military than the next ten countries combined.

In 2016, the Pentagon announced that the Obama administration was dropping bombs faster than they could be replenished. In 2016 alone the USA dropped over 26,000 bombs across seven countries – Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. This of course nets huge profits for the defence sector who build the planes, helicopters and missiles used to fight these foreign wars. The defence sector is by far the highest value-for-money when it comes to bribing politicians. Big name players such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin donate between only two and four million dollars per election cycle and are rewarded in contracts worth billions.

The media coverage of US intervention is almost always framed from the perspective of the drone. It is usually shaky camera footage and a climactic kill-shot seen as a billow of dust irrupting righteously from the ground. The reality is far more harrowing but no less dramatic. The Pentagon reports that only 1 in every 157 airstrikes results in a civilian casualty, independent reporting shows that the number is some thirty-one times larger. A report published by the New York Times in 2017 gives evidence that the most conservative estimate for the number of civilian casualties is 1 in every 5 airstrikes, a rise in total deaths from the Pentagon’s figure of 466 to the horror of over 14,000 innocent lives cruelly cut short by a American made bombs.

These deaths are not mourned by Western observers. Our governments and media do their utmost to justify and prop up the capitalist war machine that profits from the human misery brought on by imperialist foreign policy. When evil is committed overseas in countries rich in natural resources, our moral outrage is exploited by hawks who sell us an antidote of further military intervention against the latest in a long line of Arabian boogeymen. The actions of the US military are, alternatively, beyond reproach. Torture becomes enhanced interrogation and murder is rebranded as collateral damage.

The corruption of the military industrial complex and the sleezy politicians that profit off their blood-money is the unspoken rot at the core of American police brutality. Since 1997, the federal government has given local police units the power to purchase surplus military hardware from the Army. The grossly over-inflated military budget has all but guaranteed an abundance of over-produced weapons and ordinance, finally put to use for the purpose of disintegrating BIPOC communities, both foreign and domestic.

This degrading and diminishing of black and brown bodies overseas makes its bedrock on the domestic theatre of Chicago, Charlottesville, Flint and Minneapolis. The violence inflicted upon minority communities, particularly African Americans, is born out of a culture of white-supremacy that has gained legitimacy through use of state sponsored violence against black and brown indigenous populations overseas. The latest struggle in the USA’s unrelenting march for racial justice comes as a result in the excessive force committed against black Americans by over-militarised domestic police.

These issues of climate change and police brutality are united by their shared theme of systemic corruption culminated in the battle of Standing Rock, fought between the Standing Rock Sioux and self-proclaimed Water Protectors against the imperial might of the North Dakota State police.

In early 2016 construction of a multi-state oil pipeline named the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, began construction. The pipeline was planned to go from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota to southern Illinois, crossing under both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and encroaching onto Native Indian land owned and governed by the Sioux tribe of Standing Rock. The pipeline displaced those living on the land, destroyed territory owned by the Sioux and threatened to poison the local drinking water.

Then-Democratic Senator for North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, who in a wild coincidence sat on the Senate Indian Affairs committee did not go as far as to support the construction of the pipeline, but in typical Democratic fashion, conceded defeat on the issue before the first salvo, saying:

When you look at it, we know one thing for sure: When the administration changes, the easement is going to be approved… I understand the frustration of the protesters, I just think that this fight is not winnable.

Under any other circumstance Heitkamp’s complacency would be reasonably associated with the $278,000 she and her campaign committee have taken in legalised bribes from the oil and gas sector. In Washington DC and in the mainstream press however, such a charge would be deemed scandalous – after all, that money was nothing more than a conversation.

Fellow Senator from North Dakota, John Hoeven (R), a member of both the Senate Indian Affairs and Energy and Natural Resources committee came out in support of the pipeline. An unsurprising announcement given his largest financial contributors came from the oil and gas lobby at a figure of $674,000, including a meagre $5000 donation from Energy Transfer Partners – the group building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

With no-one on hand from the government willing to lend their support to the Water Protectors, the only thing left was for the state police to be given their marching orders and clear out the protestors. During the summer of 2016 hundreds of protestors in North Dakota were arrested, sprayed with freezing water cannons, shot at with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed and attacked by dogs.

Source: Quartz

This violence committed against Native peoples of the continental United States is the latest in America’s long and shameful history. Make no mistake, the desecration of sacred Indian land, the forced displacement of the Sioux and the violent suppression of local tribespeople can be transcribed into Indigenous history alongside Manifest Destiny, the trail of tears and the massacre at Wounded Knee. Except this time, it festers inside a rotting web of cheaply bought, corrupt politicians that care more for their own re-election prospects than the protection of lives in the State they swore to represent.

These are only three examples of a nearly inexhaustive list of social justice issues that cannot find a resolution until the corrosive issue of money in politics is addressed as our number one priority. Extinction Rebellion cannot achieve its goals of a greener world, free of reliance on fossil fuels until the money from oil lobbyists is removed. Black Lives Matter has no hope of criminal justice reform until the blood-money from weapons manufacturers and the prison-industrial complex ceases to incentivise policymakers to put profits before people. The opioid crisis that is killing more than 60,000 Americans every year and the out of control price gauging of essential medicines and hospital treatments will not end until pharmaceutical money is taken out of the government. The rampant gun violence that makes cinemas, schools and shopping malls targets of stochastic terrorism will not end until the unlimited political spending from the NRA is curtailed.

Every social justice advocate must dedicate themselves to excising the malignant tumour of vested financial interests or suffer the consequences of a steady march into a totalitarian corporatocracy.


Dane Harrison is a trainee solicitor with a BA Theology from the University of Exeter.

Twitter: @rexdane
Book: The Four Horsemen

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Lessons from Lockdown: A Call to Action on Climate Change

Over the last five months life as we know it has changed radically. What was once merely the name of a popular beer suddenly became the word on everyone’s lips. Something quite innocuous abruptly morphed into something rather sinister.

Covid-19 has altered and will continue to alter our societies, economies and behaviours on a scale unmatched in recent history¹. For some the subsequent lockdown came as a welcome respite from the relentless busyness of modern life. For others, it came as a jarring and unsettling shock.

On an individual scale Covid-19 has forced us to change our behaviours and priorities overnight. We cleared the shelves of toilet roll, hand sanitiser, and long-life products. We started wearing masks and avoiding others like, well, the plague.

However, what has perhaps fallen to the back of our minds is the issue of climate change and, in many ways, this makes perfect sense. Biologically we are hardwired to address the most pressing threat first – in this case a global pandemic. The rest can be dealt with later.

The issue is that a similarly short-termist attitude has contributed to the situation we find ourselves in now.

The dangers of short-termist thinking

We have known for a long time that outbreaks of zoonotic diseases – that is diseases contracted by transfer of pathogens from animals to humans – pose a significant threat to humans². The likes of SARS, MERS, swine flu and Ebola attest to this. In 2003, a global containment effort against SARS helped prevent a wider outbreak. Of the 800 people who contracted it one in ten died³. Shortly after SARS there was an uptake in research surrounding vaccines and drugs to treat or prevent coronaviruses. However, the funding and impetus for such activity fizzled out quickly. Many in the scientific community felt the nature of SARS was exceptionally rare and unlikely to reoccur.

Just six years later, swine flu broke out and infected a quarter of the world in just a year. Luckily, the symptoms were mostly mild. In 2012, MERS was identified and contained after jumping from bats. The disease, which is deadlier than smallpox⁴, infected people in over 26 countries⁵ before it was contained. Then in 2014 the Ebola crisis hit – a disease that kills half of all its sufferers.

For the last 13 years, a pandemic like Covid-19 has been deemed a “level 5” threat to the UK with between one-in-20 and one-in-two chance of happening. The only other event to reach this level of threat was a “large-scale biological or nuclear attack”³. However, the risk of such an attack was deemed less than one-in-200.

Russell Tate for United Nations COVID-19 Response via Unsplash

In this context, it is hardly surprising that we find ourselves where we are now. In fact, given all the near misses we are in a comparatively fortunate position. The global pandemic we face is of a far milder virus than many previous threats. But if the experts had been saying this was a threat all along – why didn’t we address it and prevent it? Why was the UK government so underprepared for this scenario?

“Longer term priorities are consistently pushed to the back of the line.”

The reality is of course quite complex but a sort of ‘short-termist’ mode of thinking is among the most dangerous attitudes underpinning many of these issues. A political landscape in which longer scale projects or considerations are often superseded by easy electoral wins and popular, yet superficial policies has meant longer term priorities are consistently pushed to the back of the line⁶. This means planning for threats such as pandemics, nuclear disaster and climate change often falls behind the issue or news of the minute. In short, the present takes precedent⁷ A year ago, despite evidence to the contrary, the threat of a pandemic seemed an unlikely event that might occur in a distant future. All the signs were there but it was not a priority.

Our thinking and actions around climate change

The parallels of this attitude with our approach to environmental issues are alarming. The threat we face from climate change is not always as acute or immediately alarming as the spread of a novel disease. Nonetheless it could be significantly more devastating.

The statistics speak for themselves. The 20 warmest years on record have occurred during the last 22 years. 2015-2018 comprise the top four warmest years⁸ and 2019 broke nearly 400 all-time temperature records alone⁹.

According to the National Geographic¹⁰, of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced in the last 60 years the vast majority ends up as waste. In fact, only about nine percent of all plastic ever made has likely been recycled, meaning the majority ends up in landfill or pollutes our oceans for the 400 years it takes to degrade. By 2050 it is predicted the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish. Such levels of microplastics threaten entire ecosystems and consequently our health and food security.

There is no question that climate change and environmental degradation amount to a disaster happening in slow motion. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand on this issue. It is simply too important and urgent for us to do so.

Covid-19 should serve as a wake-up call for us to act. It is a reminder that assuming something will not happen because it has not happened yet or prioritising the short-term over the long-term can be fundamentally life changing. The message is clear: we must take swift, extensive and imperfect action wherever we can and we need to start now.

Antoine Giret via Unsplash

A call to action

Although the scale of this challenge can seem overwhelming and futile, every small change adds up to a larger pattern of change. As individuals, it is our responsibility to play our part in countering the impacts of climate change just as it is to socially distance to keep others safe from Covid-19. Below is an indicative list of ways you can make a difference.

  1. Become a conscious consumer.
    Make small swaps and take small steps but consistently. Switch from disposable pads to reusable cloth pads or menstrual cups, go second hand, buy products with minimal packaging or source out local zero waste shops. Stop and think before you buy something. Think about the packaging, the air miles, the material, the water and energy required to make it and consider if the utility or convenience you gain is really worth that cost.
  2. Make small habit changes.
    Bring a reusable cup for coffee, walk or cycle to places if you can, eat less meat or travel locally rather than internationally every so often.
  3. Learn to recycle correctly.
    Recycle whenever and wherever possible and educate yourself on what can and cannot be recycled. Always clean your containers before recycling as contaminated recycling can mean a whole batch goes to landfill. In England less than half of all waste collected is ever actually recycled in part due to such rejections¹⁰.
  4. Take wider societal action.
    Talk to others about these issues and encourage them to make a change, sign petitions, and support organisations fighting for better climate policies.
Featured image: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Sources

[1] Cheval, Sorin et al. “Observed and Potential Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Environment.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,11 4140. 10th June 2020.

[2] Dicks, Dr L. Viral diseases from wildlife in China: Could SARS happen again? 2003 – https://ejfoundation.org/resources/downloads/EJF_Viral-diseases-from-wildife-in-China-2003-final.pdf.

[3] Lambert, H. “Why weren’t we ready?”, New Statesman, 30 March 2020. Available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2020/03/why-weren-t-we-ready.

[3] Leslie, I. “Sars, Ebola and Mers were near misses that led us to believe Covid-19 would pass us by too”, New Statesman, 27 May 2020. Available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/international/coronavirus/2020/05/sars-ebola-and-mers-were-near-misses-led-us-believe-covid-19-would.

[4] World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis.

[4] Mackenzie, D. “We were warned – so why couldn’t we prevent the coronavirus outbreak?”, New Scientist, 4 March 2020. Available at : https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532724-700-we-were-warned-so-why-couldnt-we-prevent-the-coronavirus-outbreak/#ixzz6WWkDHRa0.

[6] Krznaric, R. “Why we need to reinvent democracy for the long-term”, BBC, 19 March 2019. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190318-can-we-reinvent-democracy-for-the-long-term.

[7] Fisher, R. “The perils of short-termism: Civilisation’s greatest threat”, BBC, 10 January 2019. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190109-the-perils-of-short-termism-civilisations-greatest-threat.

[8] McGrath, M. “Climate change: Last four years are ‘world’s hottest’”, BBC News, 29 November 2018. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46374141.

[9] “Climate change: Where we are in seven charts and what you can do to help”, BBC News, 14 January 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46384067.

[10] “Local Authority Collected Waste Statistics – England”, WasteDataFlow, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 28 November 2019. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/env18-local-authority-collected-waste-annual-results-tables.

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Sustainability, Class, and Corporations: Issues in Ethical Consumerism

A recent documentary video by the BBC called to attention the climate change movement’s lack of diversity. Following Fatima Ibrahim, a climate change activist, the documentary argued that a lot of communities, such as the working-class and ethnic minorities, who feel alienated by the movement and do not feel the represented by it. It is simply not as inclusive and accessible to the wider public as it ought to be. Even the Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, admitted that the movement has been “overly represented by white middle-class people” and claimed that progress is being made to fix the problem.

Sustainability, which is part of the climate change movement, is often presented in the media as a way to take action as an individual and include yourself in the movement. Unfortunately, sustainable living as a response to the climate crisis is not accessible to everyone, and the mainstream media often forgets to address this crucial point.

A lot of the proponents of sustainable living make it seem like switching to more environmentally-friendly lifestyle is easy, which it can be – for the middle class. However, to the people who do not have the same privileges, such as the working class, sustainability is not a choice they can make. This is because sustainability requires a lot of disposable income which a lot of people do not have. Not only that, but it takes also a lot of time to research and plan how to switch to a sustainable lifestyle. In a world where time is money, that can be simply unachievable.

Of course, this is not meant to disparage sustainable products and conscious consumerism. The reason why ethical and eco-friendly products are more expensive is because such products tend to cost more to produce. Paying workers fair wages and sourcing materials in an ethical way are two examples of why making sustainable choices will drain your bank account much faster than going for cheap, unethically produced commodities. If you are in the position to buy items that are better for the environment and for the people who make them, it is by all means commendable to do so. However, even though there are good moral reasons behind the high price tags of sustainable products, there are a lot of companies that falsely present themselves as sustainable in order to cash in on the movement.

Fast Fashion’s Faux Ethics

With all the attention it has been receiving in the media, sustainability has become a bit of a trend in the last decade. A trend that has been consistently exploited by one of the world’s biggest polluters – the fast fashion industry.

Take H&M for example, who have a special ‘Conscious’ clothing line that is portrayed as more sustainable than their other items. Their website states that “57% of all materials sourced by H&M group are either recycled or sourced in a more sustainable way.” But what does that even mean? What does “in a more sustainable way” entail? In a 2019, H&M Norway came under fire from The Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA), who accused the retailer of illegal marketing and “making unsubstantiated claims that play on environmental emotions“. It’s easy to see that H&M’s ‘Conscious’ range, and many other brands’ equivalent ranges are nothing but a marketing ploy designed to mislead and pull in the segments of consumers that would otherwise avoid the brand. Furthermore, it doesn’t change the fact that H&M is a fast-fashion brand, so even when you buy from their so-called ‘Conscious’ label, you are still giving your money to a company that perpetuates the destruction of the environment and contributes to the unethical treatment of workers who make the clothes.

If you want to make truly sustainable fashion choices, go for second-hand clothing, and always strive to buy less. Take good care of the clothes you own, and try to re-purpose them once they are no longer wearable.

Edward Howell vis Unsplash

BigCorps and Shifting the Blame

Making environmentally-friendly choices as consumers is important, but it distracts from the bigger issue which lies with the multimillion and multibillion companies and industries that are the main culprits in the climate crisis. Did you know that a third of the world’s CO2 emissions can be tracked to just 20 companies? These include well-known names such as Chevron, BP and Shell. Considering the current climate (pun intended), it’s not exactly desirable to be on this list. Many of the companies have made empty promises to cut emissions in the coming decades, but one company has done something downright evil to make themselves appear better in the eyes of the consumers.

Jonathan Kemper via Unsplash

Most people alive today will have know about or at least have heard of the carbon footprint, but not many people will know how it became so popular. Decades ago, in an attempt to shift the accountability for the exploitation of the world’s resources from the corporations to the individuals, our very own BP started a marketing campaign which sought to make individuals feel more responsible for climate change. This was done by allowing them to calculate their own carbon footprint and find out about all the things they were doing to harm the environment. The sad thing is, it worked rather well. We are already doing so much as individuals, and yet we are made to feel guilty even when we don’t have the choice to live sustainably.

So what can we do? Bringing down mischievous corporations and industries and finding (and funding) affordable, truly sustainable alternatives seems like the right goal. But that is a topic for another time. Yes, buying less, re-using what you have, and choosing second-hand are some of the important things we can do, but even importantly, we must keep learning and asking questions. How can we make sustainable living more accessible to all? What barriers do people in different situations face when it comes to making sustainable choices? What about the people who don’t have the privilege of choice? What must be done to force heavier regulation on the world’s biggest polluters? How can we help?

We must keep the conversation going, keep fighting, and keep improving as the inhabitants of Earth. After all, we only have the one.

Featured image by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

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Persecuted for Love: Poland’s War on the LGBTQ+ Community

On Saturday, a protest in solidarity with LGBTQ+ activist took place in the city of Poznan in Poland. An activist, known as Margot, was arrested on the 7th of August in Warsaw during a protest against homophobia. Along with several other protesters, she was held for 48 hours for “insulting religious feelings and insulting Warsaw monuments, reported Human Rights Watch. She was detained in connection to defacing an anti-LGBT truck that was projecting homophobic slurs through a speaker. While the Saturday protest was taking place, a larger-scale demonstration took place nearby, attracting thousands of people donning rainbow flags, and banners with messages in further support of Margot. Margot, who identifies as a woman, has been sentenced to two months in a male prison. Trans-Fuzja, a Polish transgender rights organisation, justly criticised this decision. The organisation’s vice-president and psychologist Julia Kata, commented that putting Margot into a male prison will likely leave her with trauma that will take years to heal. This is the image of a country that persecutes people simply for existing in the wrong body or loving the wrong person.

Under Article 196 of Poland’s criminal code, a person who “offends the religious feelings of others by publicly insulting a religious object or place of worship” may face up to two years in prison. The government has defended the authorities’ actions against the activists, saying, “… certain boundaries [of tolerance] were crossed.” In May 2019, police invoked Article 196 when arresting an artist, Elżbieta Podlesna, over a picture she created of a religious icon with a rainbow halo.

Human Rights Watch, 7 August 2020

There is no doubt that being an LGBTQ+ person in Poland is dangerous. You can find countless stories online about bullying and harassment of people because of their sexuality or gender identity. The Campaign Against Homophobia organisation (KPH) reports that between 63% and 78.6% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced violence in the last two years. This hostility towards people who don’t conform to heterosexual norms can be especially damaging to young people. LGBTQ+ people in Poland are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than non-LGBTQ+ people, which the KPH report links to the alarmingly low rates of acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals by their family members.

KPH report 2019

Although acceptance is low across all family members, brothers are the source of least acceptance. According to KPH, could be due to the conservative radicalisation of young men. The report states that the less acceptance an individual has from their family, the more likely they are to have suicidal thoughts, and showed children and adolescents as the group most likely to frequently consider suicide, with over two thirds of survey respondents stating they had thought about suicide in the past. (KPH, 2015-16). These disheartening statistics illustrate the extent of the Polish society’s disapproval of the LGBTQ+ community.

Warsaw protest. Photo: Kuba Atys / Agencja Gazeta, 08/08/2020.

We spoke to Kamil and Alicja, who agreed to provide us an insight into LGBTQ+ life in Poland.

Alicja is twenty and is studying English Philology to become a translator. “I grew up in a conservative, catholic family, as I believe many people did here in Poland. I must say, it made figuring myself out quite a challenge. There was no chance my family would educate me on the LGBTQ+ community, in any way other than spreading harmful misconceptions that is. Everything I actually know came from my friends and the internet. I remember clearly how a close friend of mine came out to me as bisexual, that was the moment I began asking myself “Wait, am I straight though? Maybe I’m bisexual too? Maybe I just haven’t asked myself enough questions about that yet because I was conditioned to believe straight is the “default” sexuality?” For Alicja, adolescence was a time of confusion and questioning, but eventually she learned to listen to herself. “I had to reject the entire value system I was taught before I was able to figure out my own, one I feel comfortable with. It was a bumpy road, but I gradually worked my way up into being a self satisfied, openly lesbian, confident woman I am today.”

Given the recent developments in the news, we asked Alicja how safe she feels in Poland right now. “I wouldn’t say I feel as safe as I deserve to feel, not with all the news about LGBTQ+ people being arrested and pressed with ridiculously serious charges for what simply is using our freedom of speech and demanding being treated with dignity. Even though being LGBTQ+ isn’t technically punishable by law in Poland, it is being actively held against us. The worst that has ever happened to me personally was verbal abuse, though there is this underlying fear in me that one day someone will try to “go further”, as physical assault is what happened to people like me many times before. I try not to let that fear control me though. When I go out, I wear my rainbow mask and carry a rainbow bag with me. That’s my way of battling fears and doubts that I have, just walking around proud and accessorised. I keep telling both my surroundings and myself that I’m not doing anything wrong and I’m not “asking for attention” or “provoking people to hurt me”. Even though I don’t feel perfectly safe, as long as I’m challenging my fears, I’m winning, and nothing and nobody can take that away from me.”

I try not to let that fear control me though. When I go out, I wear my rainbow mask and carry a rainbow bag with me.

Alicja is openly lesbian and surrounds herself with other LGBTQ+ people or allies. “Being LGBTQ+ is an important part of my identity and I’m not willing to stick with people who won’t accept me for who I am. Sometimes people just approach me and ask if I’m gay, and I’m happy to tell them I am. That’s not something everyone is comfortable with though and that’s fine. Having said that, I haven’t told anyone from my family about it, except for my dad who is my loving ally and whom I trust completely. We talked about it together and decided they are not the kind of people to accept me, and coming out to them would only bring me pain and discomfort. So I just distanced myself from them. As much as I would want them to accept me, my own comfort is always my priority. If I can avoid a stressful and disappointing experience, I will do that, and I believe nobody should ever be shamed for choosing who they want and don’t want to come out to. “

Kamil, who lives in south-west Poland, told us about his experiences as an LGBTQ+ man. “My growing up experience can be divided into two stages. Dark and light. The dark one was, unfortunately, the period of high school where there were persecutions, humiliations and other unpleasant things.” He believes that what he had gone through toughened him up and made me him who he is now. “The light stage, on the other hand, was a period of full self-acceptance and total lack of concern for what others think about your sexual orientation. It’s the moment you realise that, you are not different from others and you are a valuable individual.”

It’s the moment you realise that, you are not different from others and you are a valuable individual.

Like Alicja, Kamil feels at ease with his sexual orientation now. “When it comes to sharing with people that I am gay, if someone asks me directly, why not tell them? Of course, I don’t just go around saying “Hello, I’m Kamil and I’m gay”.” Regarding family acceptance, he is in the minority of LGBTQ+ people who can rely on their parents’ support. “Only my parents know about this. For some reason, I have no internal need to tell the rest of the family about my orientation. I will always have support from my parents, regardless of whether I am gay or not.”

Last month, Andrzej Duda was re-elected as the president of Poland, signalling a further five years of government mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community. An ally of the notoriously religious right-wing Law and Justice party, Duda has often acted as a megaphone for the party’s homophobic agenda. During his campaign, he declared LGBT rights an “ideology” more destructive than communism. Duda had also signed the so-called “family card” project which blatantly declares marriage as a union between a man and a woman, seeks to prevent homosexual couples from being allowed to adopt, and bans the spread of “LGBT ideology” in public institutions.

To illustrate the extent of support for the family card and similar projects, activists Kuba Gawron, Paulina Pająk, and Paweł Preneta have created a map of the areas of Poland that have enacted the card’s agenda, thereby declaring themselves “LGBT-free zones”.

I do not feel safe walking with a man through the park or sitting at a restaurant, because I do not know what may happen

When we asked Kamil about his opinion on the matter, he responded wearily, “I am embarrassed by such places. That’s all I have to say, because it is really a waste of words.” He also shared his thoughts with us on whether the president’s re-election will have an effect on people’s attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and rights. “I’m afraid of what it will lead to. A person in his position should be a model for the whole country. Claiming that I’m just an ideology is ridiculous. Seriously. I don’t want to speculate because everything may turn out differently. However, at the moment I do not feel safe walking with a man through the park or sitting at a restaurant, because I do not know what may happen.” Kamil finds it difficult to imagine the situation changing for the better, at least not with president Duda in power. “Sometimes I delude myself that things will change, but they will not. If an example citizen is a President who does not support LGBTQ + people then nothing will change.”

Alicja on the other hand, felt upset by the “LGBT-free zones”. “It’s truly a disgusting example of discrimination that should be brought to everyone’s attention and publicly put to shame for as long as it takes for it to stop being a thing. It breaks my heart. I keep asking myself how is dividing people into “more worthy” and “less worthy” based on their race, religion, gender or sexuality any different from what the Nazis believed in? First come “LGBT+ free zones”, and then what? Poland, as a nation, should be very well aware of what segregation of people can lead to. I see many Polish people claiming to be patriotic and be proudly homophobic, and I’m here to tell them: you can never be patriotic if your way of acting and thinking reflects that of the oppressors you claim you condemn.” She shared Kamil’s sentiment regarding the outlook on Poland’s future post Duda’s re-election. “I’m afraid that at best, the situation will remain the same, and at worst, it will gradually become worse and worse. None of the possible scenarios I see are very optimistic for the time being. As long as the people in authority keep antagonising the LGBTQ+ community the way they do, it’s going to impact the way our society thinks. Those of us who are against LGBTQ+ will feel validated in their wrong and harmful opinions, and those of us who are fighting for justice will be silenced and harassed. Frankly speaking, the re-election of president Duda is very disappointing. It happened right after I went to my first ever LGBTQ+ protest, where for the first time of my life, I felt like my voice was heard, valid, and capable of making a significant change. The fact that it wasn’t enough to vote Andrzej Duda out of power brings me an overwhelming amount of disappointment I am yet to deal with. What does it say about us if more than half of the country I live in wants an openly homophobic person to represent Poland? I don’t want to have to answer that question.”

Despite the uncertain situation, Alicja remains optimistic. “As much as it hurts me to see the discrimination and abuse our community is currently facing, I truly believe that people’s attitudes can and will change. It will take a lot of work and time though. We have to keep speaking up, keep letting people know that homophobia, transphobia, all of this is wrong and under no circumstances will it be tolerated!” She knows, however, that progress will be difficult without the government’s support. “We need to be able to express ourselves freely without the fear of facing unjust consequences of it. The Polish society needs to understand that LGBTQ+ is not the ideology it’s being falsely portrayed as. It’s a community of people who are equally worthy of respect as those who aren’t a part of it. We have always existed and will keep existing regardless of anyone’s opinion on us. We are not a threat to anyone. It’s not the fight of “the bigoted old pricks” vs “the spoiled young generation”. It’s not the fight of the Catholic Church vs non believers. Our fight is not “just another petty political thing”, it’s a fight for human rights and equality.”

Finally, they both shared a few words on what they would like people to know about living in Poland as an LGBTQ+ person.

Kamil: “I would like people to understand a few things about what it is like to be gay. The first is adolescence – when you are afraid to trust people and say that you prefer the same sex, as it was in my case. The second thing is dealing with ‘otherness’. In high school, almost a dozen years ago I began to notice that I preferred men, and my peers probably saw it too because later they started calling me a faggot and freak. I was kicked, spat on and pushed into lockers. But I didn’t think much of it, I thought they were just bullying the weaker kid. Now, in hindsight I can see that it was an evident act of homophobia and I should have done something about it, but back then I was too scared. What would people think? How would my parents react? Because of this, I think that everyone should know what problems LGBTQ+ people are facing. Everyone who has experienced what I have, or even had a worse time, is a very strong person. Stronger than their persecutors.”

Alicja: “I’d just like to say that I’m very thankful for the opportunity to speak up about the topic in this interview! I want to use this opportunity to stress how important it is that the situation of LGBTQ+ community in Poland is spoken about. To everyone who’s not from Poland, please keep educating yourself, spreading information and signing petitions, the Polish LGBTQ+ community appreciates your help greatly! And to my fellow LGBTQ+ Polish friends, you’re never alone in this fight! You are amazing, brave, beautiful people and I admire and love every single one of you. Stay strong!”

Rainbow masks at the swearing-in ceremony of president Duda.

While the state of LGBTQ+ rights in Poland is undoubtedly dire, there are signs that a part of Poland is fighting back. Firstly, the presidential election results were incredibly close. Andrzej Duda beat the liberal-conservative Rafal Trzaskowski by a mere 2.06%, signalling that nearly half of Poland didn’t want things to continue as they are. Secondly, all is not entirely bleak in Polish politics – the left-wing party Lewica are a recent example of how Poland is challenging the tide of authoritarian homophobia. A group of Lewica MPs, who call themselves the Messengers of the Left protested the government and president Duda, by dressing in rainbow colours including rainbow-themed masks for the swearing-in ceremony of the Polish president. This historic moment, in which Mr Duda gave his speech standing next to rows of the colourful opposition was swiftly deleted from the government’s official website. The Polish government was embarrassed of a pro-LGBTQ+ photograph, when it should have been embarrassed by the years of failing the most vulnerable. As Lewica has shown, the Polish government’s crimes against the LGBTQ+ community will not go unchallenged as Lewica has shown. The ‘other half’ of Poland will continue to fight against its oppressors, and we must do our job to not let their voices go unheard.

Left-wing party MPs at the swearing in ceremony of the Polish president. Lewica2019.pl