Wednesday 31 October 2012

Join the vigil against arms dealers at Church House this Thursday!

The prospect of an arms conference happening at Church House Conference Centre is absolutely horrific. Though I haven't the time to Blog in full - please read the blog below from Christianity Uncut website, and do join in with the Vigil on Thursday if you are anywhere near London!

Arms dealers to meet at Church House

On Thursday morning (1st November), Christians around the world will celebrate All Saints’ Day. Meanwhile, Church House – the administrative headquarters of the Church of England – will host a conference for arms dealers. They will discuss “future air power”, which is likely to involve a focus on remote-controlled drones.
The news has shocked, saddened and angered many Christians, both within the Church of England and beyond. The issue has been covered by the Independent, Church Times and Premier Christian Radio.
Act of witness
A group of Christians will gather outside Church House (in Westminster, London) from 7.45am. They will begin an act of prayer and witness at around 8.00am. It will last about half an hour, and take place while many of the arms dealers and other participants are entering the building. There are more details on Facebook.
The act of witness is backed by Christianity Uncut, Pax Christi, the Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Christian CND. It is open to all. The prayer will take an Anglican form, but Christians from other traditions, as well as non-Christians, are equally welcome.
Feeble excuses
There have been a number of inaccurate claims about the conference.
It has been claimed that the Church House Conference Centre is independent of Church House, and thus of the Church of England. We have investigated this and it is clear that it is a legal technicality. The conference centre is a wholly owned subsidiary company of Church House Corporation, whose president is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England’s spokesperson has now largely given up on this line of argument.
It has also been claimed that this is not really an arms dealers’ conference, as it has been booked by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) rather than by an arms company. However, RUSI is a very right-wing thinktank that lobbies in favour of the arms trade and high military spending.
The conference webpage lists several multinational arms companies as sponsors, many of which arm oppressive regimes that have turned weapons on their own people. They are all involved in the manufacture of drones.
Church House is relying on a distinction between a conference booked by an arms company and a conference of arms dealers booked by a pro-arms lobby group. This distinction is at best naive and at worst misleading.
Prayer and resistance
If you can’t join us on Thursday morning, please pray about the issues wherever you are. You can also phone or email the Church House Conference Centre and email the Archbishop of Canterbury as president of Church House Corporation. We encourage everyone to communicate nonviolently in a spirit of peaceful persuasion rather than personal abuse.
We applaud the Church of England for rejecting most investments in arms companies. Now they need to live up to the same values in the use of their buildings.
Another way
Chris Howson, a Church of England priest from Sunderland and member of Christianity Uncut, is among those to have criticised the conference. He says:
“The Church of England should endeavour to make a stand against all forms of warfare, especially those that dish out death and destruction from thousands of miles away. It should instead seek to offer nonviolent, faithful responses to global issues based of Christian teaching. When Jesus asked us to ‘love our enemies’ we can assume that he did not mean ‘drop bombs on gatherings of people that might contain some enemies’.
“If we as a church expect credibility and respect, then we must not associate ourselves with, or profit from, agents of death and destruction.”
Al Barrett, a Church of England priest in Birmingham, is another to have expressed his shock. He said:
“I find it utterly staggering and shameful that my denominational headquarters should be providing space to an event, sponsored by weapons manufacturers, promoting armed conflict. The fact that this is being done as a commercial relationship makes it no less offensive. If the Church has learnt anything from the past few years, it should surely be that Jesus is calling us to take sides, in our words, in our actions, in our business dealings: with the poor, with the peace-makers, with those who hunger and thirst for justice, and emphatically not with the rich, the powerful, and those who create and deploy weapons of mass destruction.
“If the Church wants to model the hospitality of Jesus, it should invite the conference delegates in, without accepting any payment, to sit and eat with those people of the poorest countries of our world who have been maimed, widowed and orphaned by the weapons these delegates have manufactured, traded and deployed.”

Monday 22 October 2012

A Future For All

On Saturday over 150,000 people marched in London, Glasgow and Belfast to show our disgust at the policies of this current government.

All around us are examples of broken communities, cities, towns and rural areas where the Tory cuts are desperately hurting the people of this country. These policies are simply are not working, they are driving our economy deeper into recession, and they are hitting the most vulnerable hardest.

While cuts are forcing people into unemployment and uncertain futures, it seems that the super rich are still immune from the problems that they have caused. Individuals and corporations are still sitting on huge amounts of reserves, often residing in off shore tax havens. Profits are still high and boardroom salaries continue to leap even higher. Yet all the time, wages are being squeezed, jobs are lost and pensions cut. The public sector is experiencing billions of pounds of funding being hacked off it's budgets, yet at the same time billions are being lost in government income from those who can afford to evade their tax responsibilities.

This madness must end soon.

On my bit of the march, I got to hear first hand of one of the most despicable policies of this present government. I joined those walking behind a large banner made by current and former Remploy workers. Remploy allows 1000's of disabled people to work with dignity throughout the UK. Now their branches are being axed left right and centre, with 36 of their 54 factories due to close down, putting 1,500 of the most vulnerable people out of work.

I was always taught that a government should be judged on how treats its most vulnerable members. On this basis, this coalition is behaving appallingly, and it should be ashamed of itself.

But Cameron and Clegg carry on, and pretend they have the interests of all in their plans and policies. As I marched with the ex remploy workers, some in wheelchairs, some blind, some deaf, so many who have been contributing to society in the best way they can, I felt sickened by this government's lack of care and compassion.

We will continue to march, strike, organise and resist until this government is forced out of office - the sooner the better!

Monday 8 October 2012

Hooray for Apple Day!

Just a quick word of encouragement to all involved in making this event one of the 'must do' experiences of the North.

The community orchard at the bottom of Bowling Park in Bradford hosts a thriving promotion of the humble apple at 'Harvest' time each year. It has grown bigger and better each year, with cider presses, chocolate apples, apple bobbing, and just about everything one can think about doing with an apple.

To taste a local, home grown piece of fruit, is to realise how mad and wasteful it is to buy bags of apples from our supermarkets from as far afield as New Zealand.

As with most things, with local produce, there is great taste as well as a reduction in the food miles that we so easily consume with our diet.

Congrats to all at Apple day, it seems to bring out the best in folk! Happy scrumping!

St Bedes's Way, in solidarity with the landless of India!

My feet are still aching - but it was worth it. A hundred or so people walked the 'St Bede's Way - to raise cash for Christian Aid and awareness for marchers in India who are walking for land rights in their country.

The walk is great, starting out at the Angle-Saxon tower of St Peter's Church in Sunderland, ambling down the coast to Whitburn, before heading over the Cleadon hills towards Jarrow. There was good company, and beautiful views of the sea and the local landscape.

At 'Bede's World' in Jarrow we were welcomed by singers performing traditional medieval plainsong. As much fun as it all was, it had a deep and powerful point. The blow is taken from the Christian Aid website:

This week saw 50-60,000 Indians, mainly dalits and tribal people, start the Jan Satyagraha march for land rights.
The march, which will cover 300km from Gwalior to Delhi, is the culmination of four years of planning and preparation by Christian Aid partner Ekta Parishad. Thousands more marchers are expected to join over the coming days and weeks as the march approaches Delhi.

The people's search for truth

Jan Satyagraha means 'the people's search for truth' and the march aims to give a voice to the poorest communities of India.
The main demands of this huge non-violent action are a new land reform policy, which would guarantee access to land and livelihood resources for all, regardless of wealth or caste, and a law establishing the right to shelter.

A government U-turn

It was hoped that the march was going to succeed even before its departure. In final two weeks of September, Ekta Parishad had numerous positive meetings with government officials and the Minister of Rural Development came to address the marchers on 2 October 2012 at the Mela Exhibition Ground in Gwalior.
As the minister left the stage, Ekta Parishad invited leaders and representatives from the different districts, tribes and social movements, to come together to discuss the government’s response. This discussion was broadcast live to the tens of thousands of marchers gathered so they could listen.
The general consensus was that the Minister's response fell short of expectations and was trying to buy the government more time. Therefore it was decided that the march should go ahead to keep the pressure on the government.

Sunday 7 October 2012

All aboard the Tax Justice Bus!

The Tax Justice bus reaches Sunderland today, and will be outside the Minster from 11.30-2pm - if you are in the area, you must pop in.

This campaign, run jointly by Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty is clearly the most crucial of our age.

As companies and individuals increasingly find ways to 'legitimately' avoid paying taxes, aided by their rich friends in government, it is the poor who are hit hardest. From the streets of the Philippines to the estates of Pennywell, it is those who have least who are suffer when healthcare and education services are cut because the rich do not pay there share.

As Osbourne boasts another £10 billion in benefits cuts to come in the UK, this is nothing compared to the hundreds of billions of lost income due to tax evasion. Globally, the rich are in power, and they want to spend as little as they can on the rest of us.

The tax justice movement is about rebuilding the case for the redistribution of wealth. It is about saying that rich companies can no longer make huge profits in poor nations, and fail to contribute something back to those societies. Tax justice means that those of us who have gained the most from our economies must be willing to make sure that everyone benefits from the wealth of a society, not just the few.

Most of my readers are thankfully not religious, but I hope all can appreciate the wisdom found in ancient scripture: 'Let those who have two coats share one with the person who has none, and those who have bread, share with the person who has none'

Tax Justice, the redistribution of wealth, is the hall mark of the fair and compassionate world that we all have a hand in building up. 

Victory in Venezuela

Hugo Chavez wins his fourth term as Venezuela president. Chavez has won after defeating right wing opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Mr Chavez won 54% of the vote, the country's electoral council announced. Yet more proof that the majority of people of Venezuela support policies that are designed to reduce poverty and inequality.

When I was in South America this summer, an international report showed that Venezuela, Uruguay and Cuba had the most 'equal' economies in the region. The gap between the rich and poor has been heavily reduced by the social reforms of Chavez, and almost 8 million people have been lifted out of poverty by investments in healthcare, housing, job creation and education.

This socialist revolution has been fiercely attacked by the United States, not least by the short lived military coup backed by President Bush 10 years ago.

But the people have prevailed, and democracy has been resilient, despite US attempts to destroy the economy and portray Chavez as a dictator. Whilst there are still many issues to resolve, we should recognise this election as a sign of hope, not just for the people in Venezuela, but for an alternative model of development that brings greater equality to us all.