Sunday, 23 November 2008

Women Unite! Reclaim the Night!

Here's a picture of Sian Berry and me at last night's 'Reclaim the Night' march in central London. I hope the blurriness of the pictures conveys the energised atmosphere of the event - ! I attended the march last year and really enjoyed it. This year I took some Green Party placards along too, as you can see.

I wondered whether, by having the placards, we would get questioned about the Green Party's liberal policies about prostitution. I know that we've come in for some criticism in the past about this, and that some branches of feminsim, who would never want to see prostitution decriminalised/legalised, are very much against our standpoint.

We didn't get any comments, as it turned out, though the issue was very much in the air last night. Some sex workers, possibly from the English Collective of Prostitutes, took part in the march, much to some of the organisers' chagrin. (I overheard a heated discussion at the end of the event!).

When we passed the lapdancing club Spearmint Rhino on Tottenham Court Road (see top picture), the two rival groups chanted opposing messages to the tune of 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!"

Sex workers: "Sex Workers Riiiiiiights!"

Anti-prostitution feminists: "Women's bodies are not for saaa-aaale!"

It was quite a moment. For the record, I'm with the sex workers on this. As Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes wrote in a letter to the Guardian just this week, 'There is no sisterly understanding of, no identification with, women who for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of presssing economic need, work in the sex industry...Many clients are more respectful of the women whose services they pay for than feminists who claim to speak for us.'

It's a massively contentious issue, and obviously there's a world of difference between a woman who enters the sex industry of her own volition and someone who is forced into it, but wishing that prostitution didn't exist is pointless. It will always be there - we need to look at it openly and listen to women - and men, for that matter - who have experience of it - rather than trying to drown out their voices.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Haringey Council and Baby P

I was completely sickened, as I'm sure most people were, to hear of the case of Baby P. I can hardly bear to think of how much that child must have suffered. And here we have Haringey council again saying "lessons will be learnt". Wait a minute...I am experiencing deja vu. Did they not say that after the death of Victoria Climbie, eight years ago?

I do not understand how two social workers could have been given 'written warnings'. Just what do you need to do to get sacked from Haringey council? If these social workers are at all to blame (which, I assume, they must be, hence the written warnings), then how can there possibly be a grey area? If the death, and the long-term abuse of a baby is not grounds for sacking, it must literally be impossible for council employees to lose their jobs. Why?

I have tonight written to Ed Balls, highlighting what I, as a Haringey resident, see as a council in crisis:

Dear Mr Balls,

I email you as a resident of Haringey. I was very upset but unfortunately not surprised to hear of the terrible plight of Baby P. I have lived in the borough of Haringey for over two years and have been appalled at their inefficiency, lack of accountability, poor 'customer' care and evident lack of direction.

Haringey council is in crisis, and it's just a tragedy that this had to happen in order to highlight that. My own dealings with both the council and Homes for Haringey, the ALMO in charge of council housing in the borough, have again and again shown that here is an organisation that covers up - often in a very corrupt manner - any problems it has rather than dealing with them. It is a council that repeatedly claims it will 'learn from its mistakes' but fails to do so.

I cannot strongly urge you enough to take over control of the social services division in Haringey. Haringey cannot be trusted to even fullfil day to day, mundane requirements. I implore you not to put the lives of vulnerable children into the hands of people who do not know what they are doing, and do not care.

Yours Sincerely, Sarah Mitchell

P.S. I would like to add that earlier this year my local baby clinic was closed down, and the reason sighted by Haringey PCT was 'health and safety' problems with the building. The same building is still being used for other health teams. Documents unearthed by a ward councillor show that Haringey had earmarked the clinic for closure several years ago. At the time of the closure, one of the health workers said to me "There will be problems with babies we will miss because people won't have a clinic to go to. It is no exaggeration to say that a baby could lose its life because of this decision."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fivers for Drivers

This picture was taken last Thursday morning outside a petrol station near Old Street, London. What am I doing? Handing a fiver to a driver, of course. Why? It was part of a stunt to highlight that if Geoff Hoon, minister of transport, stands strong on EU emissions targets, it will save drivers of new cars in 2010 around £160 a year each on petrol and diesel bills. That's £382 million pounds altogether. Blimey.

The fact is, if cars are made to be cleaner, they will not only benefit the environment, but drivers' pockets also. It's a classic case of the economic argument and the environment going hand in hand, rather than, as is often assumed, in opposition.

So there we were, handing out actual fivers to drivers, and asking them to sign a postcard to Hoon, asking him to be a brave boy. The postcards were mocked-up fivers, with Hoon in the Queen's pearls, tiara and sporting her fetching bouffant.

It's funny how suspicious people sometimes are when you try to give them money. Some, however, didn't have too many qualms. Indeed, one guy crashed his van into a bollard in his eagerness to get his mitts on the moolah.

Please do send a card to Hoon - we had lots of them printed!


Fivers for Drivers!