pirates, politics, parochialism

Ultra-Leftists burdened by the weight of their texts. Cartoon by Paul Petard\

I can hear a groan in the nerdosphere every time I mention politics. Which is completely understandable – people come here to escape from work or for an injection of cultural weirdness or whatever. So mostly I just sneak it into the stuff about music, heh heh.

I’ve never been a member of a political party, although I’ve done my fair share of political stuff, whether that be turning out for demos/actions, organising the “cultural” end of political events, a bit of this, a bit of that. A lot of it has come out of relationships with people – a mate’s kids getting falsely arrested and detained so you show up to court when they try to sue the police, a colleague being bullied and threatened with dismissal at work, so you show up to the hearings and help them stand their ground – every day stuff. Solidarity. In fact it leaks into a lot of areas of my life, certainly the creative stuff like uncarved.org and projects like the AAA are/were an attempt to do something which swings between being implicitly and explicitly political – to make it more interesting.

I suppose, overwhelmingly, my political activity has been armchair stuff – reading obscure ultra-left texts and having a think about how they all fit together. I think in some ways this has helped me develop an analysis of the world, which has an impact on what I do. On the other hand, the world of ultra-left political texts is just as nerdy as the world of record collecting. All of these texts include reasons why someone else has the wrong approach, reasons not to get involved with things. You end up heading down increasingly obscure alleyways searching for theories which back up your analysis and refute other people’s and this can become just as hermetic and impossible to relate to non-initiates as obsessively collecting reggae records.

In fact, it can be worse, because at least with records you can just play them to people. With political theories, you are supposed to be developing an analysis of the world with a view to changing it, but if you can’t actually explain, in simple words, to ordinary people WHY you a particularly interested in whether or not capitalism has resolved its inherent contradictions or what lessons can be learnt from a particular period of revolutionary upheaval… well, maybe you’ve gone too far.

This is almost certainly compounded by the fact that there are always reasons against putting these ideas into practice. Part of this is because no group of people, or political initiative, can ever match up to the “pure” theories one has developed. Another part is that the people who get involved with revolutionary politics are often severely dysfunctional individuals (like, worse than us!).

Plus, let’s face it, most political activity is boring (meetings, leafleting, etc) and after a day at work there are a million and one things which are more appealing.

cartoon by Paul Petard

My enthusiasm for this stuff goes up and down depending on how much sleep I’ve had and what\’92s going on in the world. You’ll all be thrilled to hear that it’s on the up again, mainly because of my frustrations with living in the London Borough of Hackney.

I went to another meeting of my estate’s Resident’s Association. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like where I live and I’m not going to paint it as being some kind of ghetto thang, but there are things wrong with it and I feel that getting involved on a local level is a good way of sorting them out.

What struck me was that, yes, it wasn’t exactly an empowering or exciting experience, and it was a far cry from the glamour of DJ-ing or whatever, but I did feel that by chipping in, by suggesting a few things, by just bothering to turn up, I was making a small contribution. It was also inspiring to see other people just getting on with stuff, with a view to the long haul rather than any glory.

What also struck me was that I often have a very glamourised view of urban life and that this is tied to my own cultural preferences and age. So pirate radio, for example, is obviously a good thing because it cuts through the mainstream media’s stranglehold and gives people access to great music – music which speaks to, and is produced by, a marginalised section of society.

The people at the Residents’ Association have a very different experience of pirates. There are a few aerials on top of some of the tower blocks on the estate. Pensioners in the blocks hear people in the middle of the night scrambling about on the roof. They open their front doors and see gigantic young blokes busting open access hatches to the roof. They maybe get verbally threatened by them, they definitely FEEL threatened by them. They meet strangers in the lifts.

The lifts are a crucial part of all that is bad about living in the blocks. They break down, between floors at nine o’clock at night. Junkies use them as toilets, after shooting up and nodding out on the stairwells. A woman at the meeting had been mugged in the lift for her pension. Unsurprisingly, people on my estate do not regard pirate radio as being an excitingly vibrant part of urban life. They are too old to be excited by the latest plates being rinsed out, or MC battles. They regard pirate radio as being a menace, and not just because you can’t pick up Radio 4 at the weekends.

So, really, for all its pretensions at being “community” and “representing”, pirates only represent a particular section of the community. A section which is young, and yes, black. Responses are welcome to this point from the underground shout-out white-label-fondling massif. I’m NOT saying this to suggest that people are wrong to enjoy pirates, but that this is an interesting contradiction for those of us who choose to theorise about pirate radio. Frankly I’d be happy if all the aerials vanished and never reappeared but I realise that this is probably the counter-culture version of NIMBYism.

So anyway. I’ve also been looking at local groups which are actively trying to address the issues which frustrate me. It must be a Stoke Newington thing, but the groups on offer mostly seem to be into environmental stuff. Cycle lanes, recycling, organic gardening, you know the deal. That or overly bothered with anti-war stuff, or whatever. And obviously that is all GREAT and should ENCOURAGED, but I can’t help feeling, whilst walking about, that there are other, more pressing, issues which need addressing.

It would seem that the best of the rest is the Independent Working Class Association, who also have a national site here with a manifesto and FAQ. The IWCA is somewhat innovative for the left, in that it’s driven by the needs and issues of ordinary people, as opposed to lecturing them about how fantastic everything will be “after the revolution” if only they would sign up for the cause.

They seem to have a sensible attitude to drugs, anti-social crime, housing issues, etc. The IWCA has emerged partly out of the militant wing of anti-fascism, challenging the BNP’s electoral success from the left. I don’t expect everyone to be as fascinated by this as with the stuff on dub and psychogeography – it perhaps doesn’t excite people in the same way.

Having said that, it’s worth having a look at their first elected Councillor’s blog. Whilst not having a great deal of faith in local councils (you wouldn’t if you lived here), it would be great to have someone giving the seething mass of corruption and/or incompetence which is Hackney Council a similarly hard time.

You, dear reader, will have to draw you own conclusions. I think it’s unlikely that this blog will be swamped with reports on the machinations of Hackney Council’s sub-committees, but I think I probably owe it to people (? do I, actually? :-)) to explain where my head it at. This entry is also a way of kicking myself up the arse – a reminder to stop pontificating and try to actually DO something.