Monday, January 17, 2005

Eyewitness report from Fallujah

Queens Students Against the War

Eyewitness Report From Fallujah
Dr Salam Ismael
Thursday December 9th 2004

“I am a Muslim and have a beard but I am not a terrorist.” These were the words of Dr. Ismael as he began his presentation at Queens University, Belfast. It was recognition of the alarming levels of Islamaphobia in the West, in which every Muslim is viewed as a terrorist, thanks to the War on Terror.

Giving a very emotive account of his experience in Iraq, Dr. Ismael focused on the humanitarian aspect of the US and UK occupation. He highlighted the paradox of the US claiming to bring democracy to Iraq, while arresting people for no reason – effectively internment. He recalled his experience of being arrested, with four hundred other colleagues, for protesting against the occupation. They were forced to remain in the same uncomfortable position for several hours at a time - if they moved they were beaten. He also told of how his father was beaten by the military and humiliated in front of his two daughters when they came to his house looking for him.

During the April assault on Fallujah Dr. Ismael was working in the city’s hospital. He estimates that over 700 people were killed. According to his colleagues still working in Fallujah, this time the figure is much higher. It is estimated that there are over 3500 dead, with thousands more seriously injured. On average half of these casualties are children, while another third are women. There are over 300 children orphaned, including a young girl who lost twenty-five members of her family due to one cluster bomb.

The work of medical staff in the city’s hospital has been hampered by the US refusing to allow Aid Agencies, supplying food and medication, to enter the city. The situation is now so desperate that surgeons are forced to give patients a diluted form of anaesthetic before operating – it is not unusual for patients to waken up during an operation. However, this is not the first time the American’s have disrupted medical care. One of the first targets of the bombing campaign, during this assault, was the hospital “where insurgences were hiding”. Two doctors, who were “like brothers” to Dr. Ismael, were killed.

The Americans are using the tower in the Mosques to position snipers to protect themselves against “insurgences”. Not only have they taken over the Iraqi people’s country, they are taking over their religion. In showing this disrespect towards their religion, it is obvious why the resistance to growing.

Dr. Ismael dismissed claims that Iraq would descend into civil war, if the US forces pulled out, because of tension between Shiah and Sunni Muslims. He gave the example of after the April assault Shiah Muslims from across Iraq sent supplies to Fallujah, a prominently Sunni area, to help rebuilt the city. Dr. Ismael believes this has been an advantage of the occupation – Iraqis are now united in their opposition to occupation.

A recurring theme through out the talk was how Western media doesn’t get at the truth. They don’t show the horrific pictures which show the reality of the occupation, or ask the right questions. Dr. Ismael joked that he emails Jon Snow from Channel 4 everyday to tell him this.

Hearing this talk by Dr. Ismaul must encourage us to renew our efforts in protesting against this illegal, immoral and inhumane occupation. Next semester we must focus on organising the teach-in to raise awareness among other students about the dreadful reality of the occupation and build March 19th, the next international day of action, so Queens has a strong and noticeable presence on the march. There were seventy people at this talk. There clearly is anti-occupation sentiment in this university – we must tap into it so Queens can become a beckon of resistance to the imperialist agenda of our leaders.

Iraqi doctor Salam Ismael who spoke in Belfast attempted to reach Fallujah over Christmas to help thousands of refugees stranded by the US assault on their city.....
He found misery, hunger and growing anger…….

‘How can they talk about elections?

Christmas eve, there is a cold wind, the temperatures in the desert dip below freezing. A group of us, all doctors, decide to try and reach Fallujah. There are stories of disease and hunger.

As we leave Baghdad we are stopped at three checkpoints manned by the US army and their allies in the Iraqi National Guard. They search us then let us get on our way. Three miles north of Baghdad we reach the small town of Taji; we are stopped again, but now by the resistance. Masked men brandishing assault rifles and rocket launchers ask us where we are going and examine our IDs. We tell them we are doctors on a humanitarian mission trying to reach Fallujah.
We would be stopped twice more by the resistance. Outside the cities it is they who control Iraq. We drive along the side roads that crisscross the agricultural lands to avoid US troops. By midday we reach Saqlawia, a village a few miles north of Fallujah. The area is dotted with refugee camps. I notice many children playing—most of them poorly dressed in spite of the cold weather (it was about 8C and it was a windy day). The refugees make up some of the estimated 200,000 people displaced by the US assault on the city last November.
I meet a middle-aged man who introduced himself as Mohammad Al-Esawi, he has two children—an eight year old son and a five year old daughter. He is a construction worker from the poor Golan district of Fallujah.
I ask him how long he has been waiting to return home. “I fled on the first day of the siege,” he says. “I left the day the Americans announced that all men under the age of 45 were not allowed to leave the city. The Americans are wicked. They would only allow women and children to leave, and even then they only gave families one day to pack and leave. Three of my cousins and their families were trapped in the city, and I heard that one of my cousins and his wife were killed, but I cannot be sure. I left because, during the first American siege last March, we learned the meaning of death and terror. We suffered a lot. My son was wounded in the leg by a cluster bomb. So this time I decided to leave the city and not let my family face more horror. But if I was single I would have stayed.”
I ask him what he and his family managed to take with them. His eyes fill with tears. “Only what we could carry, some clothes, some dishes and cooking pans, and a few blankets,” says Mohammad.
“What about your situation here?” I ask. “There are about 300 families in this small camp,” he says. “Some of the families are guests of the families in the nearby village of Saqlawia. But there is not enough room for everyone there, so when the houses filled the rest of us lived in the desert for a while until we got tents from aid organisations. We are suffering a chronic shortage of medication and food. And it is harder because it is winter. You see that we are in the open desert in this winter rain and wind. It is very cold here, especially at night when the temperature drops to below zero. We do not have enough heaters, and those who have heaters find it difficult to get fuel. Many of the children are complaining of respiratory infections. Where is the medicine? There is another big problem. Instead of giving humanitarian aid, the Americans came to the camp and arrested the men. We do not know where they are, or when they will be released.”
I ask Mohammad’s wife if the Iraqi provisional government were helping the refugees. She begins to shake with anger:
“What government? The one that destroyed Fallujah, that drove us from our homes? They did not give us any money to repair our houses destroyed in the first siege. Who will rebuild our houses this time?”
She tells me that every morning she wakes up to the same problems.
“Every day I ask: ‘How will I feed my family today?’ We have a small amount of rice and some flour. And without help from our relatives, the Iraqi people here and humanitarian organisations we would surely have died. My husband is not working now so from where can we get money? When there is food there is not enough water. Sometimes we have to wash the dishes with mud. And I have to think about the heating and fuel—most of the time we have to collect the wood for heating. Usually all we have are blankets. I feel pain whenever I hear my child cough. What did we do to deserve this?” she cries.
“Why are they doing this to us? I lost two sisters and a brother in the siege last March. I want to say that this situation has left us with more hatred for the occupation,” Mohammad interrupts. “Where is the justice? Saddam killed a lot of people and Bush killed more, so both have to be punished.”
I ask him one last question: “What do you think about elections planned for January?” “What elections? Tell me how we can return home, tell me about medication for my children, tell me about food, tell me about heating fuel, tell me about water! Do not ask me about elections. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi destroyed our homes and now he wants elections. I will never participate in these elections.”

Dr Salam Ismael – Chief of Junior Doctors in Iraq – ex resident of Fallujah

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Street Seen Poetry

In association with for the best in local poetry and events.
Check out their site regularly for the latest news, discussion and advice!!

Street Scene

Propped up in shop fronts the
bag people come to pray. Urban
scarecrows, oh, how they long to fly!
Tender a golden guinea your

purchase a guilt free trip.
While in the darkness tears
no one can see just stains on
a sleeping bag an affront to

sensitivities. Small sobs for
a nightingale silent as dawn
comes to play small tears
in a pocket
you can blow them away.
Look for promises
to be broken.
Harsh is the light of day.
Small tears can be dewdrops,
diamonds or a cool sea
spray. Think as you pass

these strangers just who
and what do they cry for?
And how many small tears
will form your tomorrow?

Sleep tight little boy blue.
David Smylie

Pre ATM Tension

It was a road kill sort of day.
The sun was shining on me
But not the gods.
Stopped for some goodies,
Lollypops and such like.
Needed money,
Nothing left in my stash.
Church bells are ringing.
Alarms for me to heed.
ATM not working!
Me wait in queue
For man to fix machine.
After a while my turn.
Machine not take my card.
Me wipe card on sleeve.
Me try again.
Bastard machine not take my card.
Me take card to man who owns shop.
He says, try cleaning card again.
Me wait in queue for my turn.
Me lick card and dry with tissue.
Machine not take my card.
Me angry!
Me want to ring bank and tell them to stuff their card.
Man who own shop ask if I have another card?
Me say yes!
Me show man other card.
Man say, no good machine not take that card.
Me wonder where to get money.
No queue.
Me lick card.
Me wipe card.
Me dry card.
Machine not take my card.
Me really f****** angry with bank, machine and card.
Me put money in bank so we have money for lollypops and things on our holidays.
Me try one last time.
Machine ask for pin number.
Machine gives me money.
Me buy lollypops.
Three days later no money.
Please God.

David Smylie

Needs a letter

I have seen you pass me
Like a bird in solitary flight
Across the Atlantic green
Not pausing
Until you have found your nest.

I have crossed your road
Stepping in tune with the morning sun
And have only found
The black of your hearth
Waiting to shun me away.

You could have caught
The next home star coming
To bring your heart
Back to the light
Or you could have walked away.

But instead, you chose to run.

Colin Dardis

Digestive Wrongs

Hungry at my desk again
I think I know
How the starving artist feels
When he cannot find
The food that he wants.

I wanted to eat a rainbow
And have that crock of gold
Rest at my ass.
I wanted to gorge on the moonbeams
Of every Friday night
That my co-workers
Felt relief on
And revel in the first sip of liquor
Rattling the teeth
With semi-precious squares of ices
Cooling the warm, warm
Poison of deliciousness.
I wanted to bite into
Every slice of toast
That my lovers had made me
The next morning
And feel the fresh margarine spread
Melt slowly over the granules
Of my tongue.
I even wanted to lick the envelopes
Of every letter I have ever sent
And see if their gum
Could satisfy the thirst within.

But all I ever really wanted
Was a place where
Home wasn’t just
A four-letter word on a lease
And I could still be free
Within myself.

I did not want to taste
The four walls of
Another person’s torture garden.

I wanted love, comfort,
Peace and security
To brick me in
Along with intelligence,
Morality, integrity and dignity
To challenge what serenity of the soul
I deluded myself with
In my laziness.

I’m still looking
For my way through the cafeteria.

Colin Dardis

The weight of the World is Light
The January wind
Has already blown
The twigs off my fingers
Heavy tree roots
Frail and failing,
Flailing pages and people
With the weight of insomnia.

I have given up my bed
And the body I sleep with.
Now I worry
About arthritis
Hitting my limbs
With the weight of the world
But I breathe in
And listen to the oxygen
Then remember
That the weight of the world
Is light.

Colin Dardis

A Geographical Reality

I saw a piece
Of rain-soaked paper
That said BEAST on it.
A step closer
Revealed it to say

Colin Dardis

Cries Of The Homeless

Our pleas have gone unnoticed.
Our voices are unknown.
We roam the alley's and your streets,
While searching for a home.

Our mouths do not know the taste
Of food that's off a plate.
We depend on scraps from others,
After they have ate.

While money's spent to fight our wars
And build military might,
We, the homeless, struggle on ~
With rags to warm the night.

Our brothers and our sisters
Walk by and only stare,
No kindness offered from their hearts.
The compassion is not there.

Saddened and discouraged,
From disgusted looks we receive,
We see the children laugh and point
At what they do perceive.

They are made believe that we are dirt
And have brought about our woes.
How very wrong for you to think.
How little that you know.

We are part of society, too.
But, we pay the ultimate price
Of having lonely roads to walk,
While governments roll their dice.

Politicians will not face us
Or look us in the eye.
They seem to think we don't exist
And the problem soon will die.

Know the country is turning it's back
And ignoring human rights
While we, the homeless, try to survive;
So weak we cannot fight.

Priorities appear to get mixed up
When juggled by a few.
Politicians who long for nothing,
They're so shiny and brand new.

The art museum must be given a grant
To continue its marvelous work.
The elite would not know what to do,
To satisfy their quirk.

Let's not forget the pilot study.
Should we build a road through there?
Spend that money foolishly.
Governments simply don't care.

And, don't forget to toss more money
To renovate some old house;
The importance of who lived there, once,
And the interest it would arouse.

These are a few of our misspent dollars,
Being laid and put to rest.
Sadly enough, these politicians
All think it's for the best.

The words that I am trying to say
Are meant to open some eyes.
When governments say they're doing their best,
That's nothing but a lie!

So take a look around you,
At where these grants should go.
Take the homeless off cold streets.
Let's warm their hearts and soul.

Valentyne Lang

Most Likely to suceed.. Donald Whitehead

Most Likely to Succeed

Formerly homeless, Donald Whitehead is now the Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington D.C.

My five siblings and I lived in a three family home that we occupied with other relatives. We all shared one bedroom and my parents slept in the living room. My mother was a lunchroom worker at our elementary school. She later became a teacher's aide and then a licensed social worker. She insisted that education was the top priority. This early focus on education was a lifeboat in the sea of desperation that my life would later become. My father, usually a very happy person, worked hard to care for us. For most of my early childhood he worked two jobs. One evening my father crashed his car into a tree. From the time of my father's accident things were never the same. The accident disfigured his face, leaving a visible scar. He became a tyrant. Our house became a war zone. My grandfather, who was unwilling to ignore my father's abuse, shot him. Even before the trauma and the abuse I remember feeling different. I remember feeling lonely. At home I created imaginary friends and my play-acting was so vivid that my poor mother had me tested for sanity.
When I left elementary school I went to Walnut Hills High School, one of the top public schools in the nation. I didn't stand out because everyone was smart. I also didn't fit in socially. Because of my father's progressive addiction and unwillingness to maintain employment on a regular basis we were forced to live in poverty. Most students at school were from affluent families and I always felt that I wasn't as good as everyone else. The growing dysfunction in my household began to have a negative impact and I began to experiment with drugs. I was asked to leave Walnut Hills High and for the first time I experienced academic problems. My academic problems were not related to my ability to do the work, but rather they stemmed from my newly acquired practice of skipping classes. I take full responsibility for my actions, but I place some blame on the teacher's strike of 1977 that allowed me to perfect the art of skipping class on a regular basis.
In the next three years I attended three different schools. By this time my addiction had progressed to the level of blackouts. I lived a "Jekyll and Hyde" existence. By day I was the class vice president, the prom king, most likely to succeed, a football player - I was even selected to be "councilman for a day" in Cincinnati. After school hours, I was an addict who had already tried almost every drug that didn't require needles. I knew that this was not how I wanted to live - the only problem was I just couldn't stop.
By the time I graduated high school I had tried to regulate my using. I was attending the University of Cincinnati when I realized that I had to change immediately. People were starting to say things like "you're just like your father." I decided in one of my moments of sanity that the military was the answer. I now realize that I was searching for a geographic cure for my disease. My time in the Navy was a roller coaster ride. I started out with a lot of promise, scoring in the high 80s on the entrance exam. I was selected as one of the only minorities in the Strategic Weapons System Electronic Program (SWSE). Since the program dealt with servicing ballistic missiles, I am glad that my addiction (and the many reprimands I received as a result) forced me out of that program and out of the Navy.
When I left the Navy my self-esteem was totally devastated. My addiction had caused me to fail repeatedly at things I was perfectly capable of doing. I returned to Cincinnati and experienced a period of clarity, going through several good jobs such as restaurant manager, car salesman, and environmental activist. I also held not so great jobs such as pizza delivery driver, telemarketer, and short-order cook. I got married, bought a house in the suburbs, and began living the American Dream. The dream quickly turned into a nightmare. Despite my short-term success, I failed to come to grips with my disease. I eventually lost everything - my job, my wife, my house, and my will to live. I had always been a functioning addict up until my divorce. But now I was slowly committing suicide through my addiction.
At that point I became homeless. My homelessness was not the traditional homelessness that we see in video clips and magazine articles. My homelessness was the invisible homelessness that is so prevalent in America. I lived bouncing from couch to couch, spare room to spare room. Finally exhausted by broken promises and the negative behavior associated with using, I ran out of places to go. It was then that my homelessness became more traditional. I slept in abandoned cars, abandoned houses, on fire escapes, in public restrooms, or in parks. I remember the feelings of emptiness, sadness, and loneliness. I remember sinking a little deeper into depression everyday. One of the worst things about my time on the street was how other people treated me. People passing me on the street almost never made eye contact as if I was Medusa, and if they looked into my eyes they would turn to stone. My only relief from the pain, guilt, and shame of being on the streets was from whatever drug I happened to use that day. I used to live and I lived to use.
My spiritual awakening came in three forms, all equally important. One day I saw my mother driving down the street. It was on a weekend, which is the worst when you're homeless because there's very little to do other than walk the streets. (I later found out that she had been canvassing abandoned buildings very confident that she would find my body.) Normally I could get her to buy one of my stories and she'd give me enough money to buy something to take the pain away. However, this time my mother was practicing tough love. I was stunned as I watched her drive off. (She later told me it was the hardest thing she ever did.) Suddenly, I realized that I was completely alone in this world. It was at that point that my life began to change. I went back to the shelter I was staying at and I lay down on my mat. (I always slept in the back so that no one could hear me cry. Many times I cried myself to sleep silently because after all I was "most likely to succeed.") However, on this night I did not cry silently - I cried for help. One of the workers at the shelter came to my mat and asked me to come with her. She knew what was wrong because she was a recovering addict. I told her I wanted to die and I couldn't stand living the way I was living - but I couldn't stop. She called a friend on the phone. This friend, named Courtney, took me to a meeting. It was August 25, 1995. I have not used since that day.
Today almost seven years later my life has changed a great deal. Influenced by many wonderful people at the Drop-Inn-Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, I have become a homeless advocate. People like the late Buddy Gray have taught me how to care for other human beings and fight injustice in society. I spent two years as an outreach worker at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. In my role as outreach coordinator I helped increase public education by helping to start Street Vibes, a street newspaper, as well as a public access radio and television show.
After spending two years as outreach coordinator, I was hired as Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition. I was then elected to the board of directors for the State Coalition for Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, and as a member of the board of directors for the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). I was elected board president of NCH in October of 1999. I am now the Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington D.C. I am the youngest, first African-American, first formerly homeless, and first recovering addict to hold the position.
I am proud to have recently finished my second independent film, Get Right or Get Left. I received a regional "Emmy" for my first film Open the Sky. I also regularly perform as a stand-up comedian in comedy clubs throughout the country. A second chance I wish that I had enough room to name the many wonderful people who are responsible for my recovery, from counselors and cooks to co-workers and my loving family. I have tremendous gratitude for all of them. They all had one thing in common - a firm belief that miracles do happen, recovery is possible, and that any addict seeking recovery can find it if there are people willing to go the extra mile to assist them. I know today that I have been given a precious gift, a second chance, and that chance only came because beneath my smelly clothes and my dishelved exterior was a person who was most likely to succeed. I succeeded because other people took a chance and helped me. These wonderful individuals were willing to ignore my outward appearance and help me free my true character that lay paralyzed by the stranglehold of addiction.
My life today is a daily fulfillment of the dreams that were deferred by my addiction. I have been given the opportunity to pursue many other interests. I have regained the strong relationship with my family that is so critical to a healthy life for me. Today, I am far from the streets of Cincinnati, although I know that social acceptability does not equal recovery and that I am only promised one day at a time. It's been almost seven years since I last used. On this anniversary I realize I have experienced a great deal of pain during that time. I lost my daughter, my father, and my mentor - causing unbearable pain, but I know I must face it head on.
On my anniversary, I ask that if you see a homeless man or woman on the street, that you look them in the eye and let them know that they are still part of the human race. Remember - behind the shopping cart or standing on the sidewalk may be a person who's "most likely to succeed" if you give them a hand.

Formerly homeless, Donald Whitehead is now the Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington D.C. For information, visit

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Ideas and Ideologies ..Davy Carlin

As an activist I have been involved in many campaigns over the last few years. From Anti Sectarianism, to Anti War, Anti Globalisation, to Anti Racism, Anti Privatisation to Anti Poverty and in each I have witnessed various movements, some mass, others less so. Nevertheless within each of them I had both seen and played an active part with others in initiating the coming together of not only peoples, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter but of diverse organisations, groups and individual activists. Yet with all of these having been termed as being ‘Anti’ and against, what exactly then are we for.

Having participated in the above local campaigns and movements as well as partaking in the International protests from Genoa to Geneva. I have therefore developed a real flavour not only of the Movement, but of the Movements within the Movement. For others and me we had embraced the concept of think globally and act locally in a real and practical way through initiating and building local mass movements, as part of the wider International Movement. It is part of a developing and of a new activism that had embraced millions on the streets internationally and with it having thrown up new and old questions about the world. And through doing so, so then came discussion and debate on how we go about creating either a ‘better world’ within the present system, or indeed seeking fundamental change from the existing system. Yet despite many of the various local movements being against specific issues of concerns. They of course are not overtly socialist, although socialists had been to the fore in many of them. They are in fact broad campaigns and movements on that initial specific issue of concern that make up the movement.

Similarly the global movement in large part, in comparison with local specific movements is replicated but on a much larger scale. And therefore similarly within it, it holds the same diversity of ideas and ideologies mixed within. With that I had found that whether it was on a local issue or being on an International protest abroad, I have found engagement with others a vital component in the movement. And with that I have found within the movements at the local level that many of the participant activist’s ideas of what they are against being quite straight forward for them. This on each specific issue, although many do then begin to link them up as to the overall Global problem. It though becomes more difficult, not as much with those that hold an ideology and seeing that bigger linked picture. But in fact it is when each ‘differing ideological tradition’ sees each as a ‘competitor’ within the movement rather than a collective part of the movement.

As a Revolutionary Socialist I believe finding initial common ground and not immediate differences is where we should start. And I have found that in doing so we can, at least in part, start to move forward. Of course such points of difference need to be discussed, but should be done in that course of common struggle. This is easier done on specific local issues, but in the overall movement and the discussions on possible alliances it is more difficult. Decades of difference emerge within differing ideologies, not only on historical perspectives but similarly on past tactical and strategical perceived and real wrong doings. This where on many occasions all such ideologies are guilty as the ‘competition’ between such groups allow then little room for manoeuvre to acknowledge and admit wrongdoing. Such organisations I believe therefore have three choices. Firstly not to work in various aspects of common struggle with a differing organisation until all historical and present issues are addressed, if ever. Secondly to state that they will never work with such organisations in various areas due to that organisations history. At times in various ways ‘he who shall cast the first stone’ comes to mind. While thirdly to work from a common bond on specifics while discussing and debating issues of difference.

Yet this new movement I believe means such organisations need to then adapt, both in their organisational structure and more importantly in mindset as so to advance. Those that do not will and have greeted the present climate in a pessimistic light, while others who attempt to adapt, will tend to see the more favourable opportunities opening up. Of course with the economic situation, and a number of worker defeats, everything has not been rosy. Nevertheless specific movements some mass with others less so we have seen having sprung up, that have not been seen in decades. Such opportunities for the left, for Socialists, organised in party structure or not can only be advantageous. Yet the understanding of the actuality of the movements means a re defining of elements of organisation {within such groups} as so to actually engage with the movement.

This means an opening up to the movement access for discussion and debate for those involved within the movement, as a starting point. The Socialist Workers Party paper in Ireland has seemingly taken an initiative on this front, and this should be welcomed. It also means for some, beginning to attempt fraternal debate amongst those within the movements, party aligned or not. Due to the diversity of the movements those seeking ‘control’ of such will be shown up much more clearly in light than they had not seen to the same extent previous. Therefore the formation of the potential of any form of alliance should not see the undemocratic methods of old used. Of course all such organisations hold their own agendas within any such alliances. Yet if organisations have problems with others then it should be discussed fraternally, as an alliance and not pre decided by a un - elected minority. In addition minority organisations and individuals should have full say in important decisions, again without such decisions being pre implemented.

Such alliances on specific issues have to date delivered some successes. With that we have seen some other alliances now trying to bring together a range of issues and concerns for electoral - campaigning purposes. These in Britain and in Ireland where such alliances have already been set up, or are in discussion and debate to initiate. Again many of the concerns raised above had been raised in some such initiations. And unfortunately to date such concerns has as previous been articulated solely as the voices of sectarians, or that of other differing party aligned individuals. This for party interest. While this is the case to some extent, many were and are in fact genuine activists within the movement raising such concerns. Therein lays the need to adapt and work within the new movement as a new movement in a new time, with a new generation eager to learn

If not I believe such alliances cannot and will not reach their full potential but be simply a case of doing simply to do. So such potential alliances need to provide not only a democratic vehicle but also a fully participatory democratic voice for its activists and supporters. In doing so the alliance on whatever issue{s} will move forward in strength. There are many individuals, left and Socialists activists who are grafting away as there are small left and Socialist parties and organisations doing similar. Each of us can only do so much individually. Collectively though as has been shown in recent times we can begin in small ways to begin to effect some change. Change though needs to begin in many such organisations to no longer work of old as to attempt to work amongst the new

Therefore the initiation of the new paper Street Seen for me was and is a vitally important initiative within that context, this for two reasons. Firstly its initial reasoning for coming into existence, homelessness, is a growing issue in our society. Therefore any such support that can be given should be. Yet in doing that we could also attempt to extend that support into raising the issue of and supporting those that find them selves in the wider poverty trap. Secondly I believe that the Street Seen paper can be an additional vehicle for those who have found little space afforded to their voice and so being provided an avenue for that voice. Many of the left and Socialist papers are in fact closed doors, although some are seemingly attempting to take the positive and vital step of opening them up to debate and discussion. Such online sites from the Blanket to Indymedia have long since been set up on that basis. For the Street Seen network this can and is being helped via established grassroots activists, writers, networks, websites, trade unionists, and organisations that are also lending support to its different initiatives. In fact the diversity of the movement coming together and lending support to aspects of it.

Whether Ideas or Ideologies if we are participants within the movements we are all then indeed part of the movements. With that each of us can continue to attempt to win others to our understanding, yet this is made easier in that course of common struggle. This can be made even easier if such is initiated on the basis of democratic and accountable participation. And in doing so some barriers may slowly even begin to come down. And who knows previous competitors may even begin to find some sense of mutual respect and a collective sense of a possible shared alliance with others.

I posed the question from the onset ‘well what are we for’. Well I believe such collective answers can only be found through open, fully participatory and democratic debate, organisational methods and structures. Of course many will know what they are for as per their tradition. But that process of debate can, will and has found common ground and seeing extensive ‘collective understanding and actions’ while still acknowledging differences. Therefore such debate should not be feared, censored or isolated within the movement; in fact it should be a vital component of it. And if that were the case I believe we can then begin to pull in many of those parted and separate fingers of the left, Socialist organisations, parties, groups and individuals together into the clenching of a Fist For Change. It will take time, yet in this time, who knows, anything is possible if we set our minds to it.

I finish on this point of initiating campaigns and developing them into movements. Another important issue in the North is that of the water charges and again the debate and discussions on how they can be defeated is ongoing. Presently in the North there are a number of differing campaigns some party aligned, others not. With that, I have followed their campaigns and have spoken to some of their activists while being fully aware of what to expect of others. Although there is a broader trade union alliance lead by ICTU very little has been done on the ground by that said alliance. My experience of ICTU has shown that they have to be either moved into action from below. Or for campaigns to develop the situation where the ICTU feel that they cannot afford not to be involved.

After the murder of Daniel McColgan ,the young postal worker, the ICTU from a response from below where then moved to call rallies. Similarly as was done in the Anti War and Anti Racism Movements with their participation again gained, although at times some to a lesser extent that others. However both the Communities against the water tax campaign and the N. Ireland Anti poverty Network also of the alliance have been doing some work on the ground. As has the Socialist Party initiated campaign, the ISN campaign and others, all of which is to be welcomed. Yet to begin to develop such campaigns and more especially those that call for a mass non payment campaign this is going to be a long haul with hard graft on the ground.

With that, it is important that if one is to put their time and energy into such a campaign that they direct that activism at the campaign best suited for them. So after following the campaigns and speaking to activists, while having that experience of attempting to work with others in other campaigns. I have as an individual activist decided to throw my shoulder behind the Communities against the Water charges campaign, for the long haul. The CAWC non party aligned initiation has done some good work and it was the initial heard voice of the Anti Water Charges Campaign. Although I have heard less in the media of them than others it though is the campaign, I believe, that can move this issue forward into a movement. Therefore I will also be urging others for their involvement, while publicising both the issue and the campaign

Although I have been extremely busy to date, with working on my book {snippets of it to go up on the Blanket in time} as well as writing and engaging on websites and via papers etc. I nevertheless have been actively involved in a number of campaigns and projects. Yet one has to draw a line somewhere so therefore the ARN, Street Seen and the IPSC are the issues I as an individual activist am to prioritise in the coming year. Along with now my coming CAWT involvement, all of which I believe are for the long haul for me personally. Of course getting to the G8 protest and support to the Anti War Movements I will do. Yet therein it shows the diversity of the movement with many many more local issues that people are campaigning on and for.

So as stated whether it is held ideas or ideologues we are all involved in the movement. How such campaigns and movements develop and progress, it is for we the people to democratically discuss and debate. I believe that there are exciting and important times ahead and if we are to go forward we need to do so by engaging with the new.

Davy Carlin

Monday, January 10, 2005

Homelessness in Ireland..Fr.Peter McVerry

Homelessness in Ireland

by Fr. Peter McVerry SJ

"This young man almost lost his life, not from lack of food, or the cold or an illness brought on by living on the streets. He almost lost his life because he had lost his dignity."

A young man threw himself into the river, about two weeks ago. He was pulled out and brought to hospital. The hospital kept him in, as he was suffering from severe depression. This young man was homeless. Some nights he got a bed in a hostel, most nights the hostels were all full and he slept on the street. During the day, he walked the streets, bored, tired and hungry. While he was in hospital, I went to visit him. He told me: "I can't go on living like this anymore". "Living like what?" I said. "I can't go on living", he said, "knowing that nobody cares".
This young man almost lost his life, not from lack of food, or the cold or an illness brought on by living on the streets. He almost lost his life because he had lost his dignity.
He felt that his life was of no value to anyone, that he was worthless, that he wasn't worth caring about. He felt useless, that really whether he lived or died would make no difference to the world or to anyone in it. His sense of his own worth was so destroyed that whether he lived or died didn't even make any difference to himself.
After visiting him in hospital, I came away feeling that we, our society, all of us in it, including myself who had known him for many years, had failed him. Not only had we failed him, we had failed our God.
If the scriptures say anything to us, they tell us of a God who is our Parent, the Parent of every person who is and ever has been and ever is to come. I love praying that image, the image of a God who loves me with the infinite and unconditional love that only the God-Parent can have. I love sitting or kneeling in quiet, just enjoying the knowledge of the love of God, just being grateful.
Then I remember that God is not just my Parent, but the Parent of this young man and the Parent of all like him. They too are the beloved children of God, they too have this dignity of being the child of God and nothing can take this dignity away from them. To God, this young man was of infinite value, just as I am, this young man was worth caring about, this young man was so loveable. But we, God's followers, the Christian people of God, had failed God, because we had failed to communicate this to him, God's child. The one commandment that Jesus had left us, we had failed miserably, "Love one another as I have loved you".
And God is the Parent who loves and cares for and cherishes those I find it hard to love, those I despise, those I can't stand, those who frighten me or those who repulse me. And as I sit or kneel and am filled with the consolation of knowing that I am loved by God, my Parent, I am also filled with embarrassment at my failure to love some of those other children of God's.
Because I work with the homeless, I am often asked "Should I give money to someone begging on the streets?" I always answer, "I don't know". And then I add, "But always have a kind word for them".
You may know the story of the priest in London who was asked by a beggar for "a few pence for a cup of tea, Father." And the priest said to him, "You're from Tipperary." "How did you know, Father?" "Because my mother was from Tipperary and you have the same accent". And the two of them had a little chat about life in Tipperary. And when the priest was moving on, the beggar took out a handful of coins from his pocket, and said "These, Father, these are from those that don't care." That priest had given that man much more than money, he had respected his dignity, he had communicated to him what the Gospel is all about, the dignity of that man as a child of God.
I remember one day on my way to court with a young person, I noticed a man lying on the footpath. I wasn't sure if he was dead or alive. So I went over and shook him. He turned over and looked up at me. "Are you alright?" I said. "I am, sir", he said, "but thanks for asking." I did nothing for that man, but he felt that someone cared. And that made a difference.
In our hostels for homeless young people, I always say that what we are trying to do is to make each of those young people feel that they are just as valuable, just as loveable, just as worth caring about as any other young person of their age. If we are not communicating that, we may as well pack up and go home. Feeding them, clothing them, giving them a bed for the night is worthless if we are not giving them back their dignity. If we fail to feed them, to clothe them or give them a bed for the night, they will not die. They will manage somehow to get food on the streets, to clothe themselves, to find some little nook or cranny to sleep in. But they will not find dignity on the streets and that is what we have to give them. And if we fail to give them back their dignity, our failure could be their death.
We are building an extraordinarily successful economy. We keep getting told that we have never had it so good. We are told that there is no end in sight to this success. But if our success leaves some people feeling under-valued, feeling left out, feeling that they have no place in this project, feeling that the rest of us are so busy that we have no time or inclination to care for them, then we are building our house on sand. And that is how many people are feeling today. We have failed them and we have failed our God.
The only house that is worth building is the house in which there are many mansions, the house that has a place for all, that welcomes all, that cares for all, that respects the dignity of each and every one of God's children. The kind word, the reaching out, the caring is the cement that binds that house together. None of us can build that house. But each of us can place a few bricks somewhere in the walls

Fr. Peter McVerry SJ began his ministry in the Inner City of Dublin in 1974. During his work there he came into contact with young people who were sleeping on the streets because of the appalling inadequacy of their home situation and the response of Irish society as a whole. The move to Summerhill was to prove a watershed event. He was galvanised into action to attempt to alleviate the deprivation and disadvantage he witnessed. In 1979 he opened a hostel for young homeless boys aged 12-16 and four years later founded the Arrupe Society to provide care and accommodation for homeless boys. Since then he has opened another three hostels for the homeless and a residential drug detox centre in Co Dublin for homeless drug users.

When he was conferred with an honorary doctorate of philosophy by Dublin City University recently, the President of DCU in his citation said,
‘Few people live to see their name become synonymous with a cause. Peter McVerry is one. For over a quarter of a century he has been a public champion of the young homeless. His is a passionate and tenacious voice for those who lack the clout, the confidence and the means to expose the scandal of young people sleeping rough on the streets of one of Europe’s most thriving capitals.
His ministry focuses on taking care of those whom society would rather forget. He is a vocal conscience prepared to challenge governments, public agencies and an increasingly affluent Irish population.’

At the time of the opening of the first hostel,the Health Board's responsibility for children ended at the age of 16 and no statutory body had any responsibility for the over-16 age group. The Arrupe Society sought to provide a service to this age group.
Since the early 1990s, in no small part due to Peter and the Arrupe Society efforts, the Health Boards have been given statutory responsibility for children up to the age of 18, but a shortage of facilities and services has meant that accommodation is sometimes unavailable to young people in this age group; a gap that Peter has attempted to fill.

Fr McVerry's Vision
Fr Peter McVerry is seeking to provide the highest possible quality care for young homeless boys living in the hostels.
"It is our policy to provide a warm, caring, safe and supportive environment for the young people living there. We try to provide stability for young people so that they can attempt to deal in a positive way with emotional or behavioural problems, which they might experience. We try to encourage and help the young people living there to develop or maintain positive relationships with their family, where appropriate. We attempt to equip the boys for independent living during their stay. We support and help them to find employment, training courses or schooling, as appropriate to each one's needs. Ultimately, our objective is to help young people to take control of their own lives and not remain as victims of forces, internal or external, beyond their control. We seek to provide an atmosphere in which young people not only receive support and encouragement from staff but also offer such support and encouragement to each other.
Our philosophy is based on current child-care thinking, namely:
to work with small numbers of young people in family-sized residential units rather than larger, more institutional buildings.
to keep young people in of close to their communities as far as possible so that they can retain whatever support structures already exist in their lives and more easily relate to their families.
In order to facilitate strong relationships between staff and young people, we are committed to using full-time staff as far as possible, occasionally using volunteers where they have a specific contribution to make."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Make Poverty History

Poverty, like rust never sleeps.......
Street Seen has seen at first hand the devastating effects of poverty and the destructive results that it has created here in Ireland.
Homelessness is an extreme symptom of poverty and we will endeavour to fight poverty in any we can.....

Today, the gap between the world’s rich and poor is wider than ever. Global injustices such as poverty, AIDS, malnutrition, conflict and illiteracy remain rife.

Despite the promises of world leaders, at our present sluggish rate of progress the world will fail dismally to reach internationally agreed targets to halve global poverty by 2015.

World poverty is sustained not by chance or nature, but by a combination of factors: injustice in global trade; the huge burden of debt; insufficient and ineffective aid. Each of these is exacerbated by inappropriate economic policies imposed by rich countries.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. These factors are determined by human decisions.

2005 offers an exceptional series of opportunities for the UK to take a lead internationally, to start turning things around. Next year, as the UK hosts the annual G8 gathering of powerful world leaders and heads up the European Union (EU), the UK Government will be a particularly influential player on the world stage.

A sea change is needed. By mobilising popular support across a unique string of events and actions, we will press our own government to compel rich countries to fulfil their obligations and promises to help eradicate poverty, and to rethink some long-held assumptions.

MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY , supported by Street Seen, urges the government and international decision makers to rise to the challenge of 2005. We are calling for urgent and meaningful policy change on three critical and inextricably linked areas: trade, debt and aid.

1. Trade justice
• Fight for rules that ensure governments, particularly in poor countries, can choose the best solutions to end poverty and protect the environment. These will not always be free trade policies.
• End export subsidies that damage the livelihoods of poor rural communities around the world.
• Make laws that stop big business profiting at the expense of people and the environment.

The rules of international trade are stacked in favour of the most powerful countries and their businesses. On the one hand these rules allow rich countries to pay their farmers and companies subsidies to export food – destroying the livelihoods of poor farmers. On the other, poverty eradication, human rights and environmental protection come a poor second to the goal of ‘eliminating trade barriers’.

We need trade justice not free trade. This means the EU single-handedly putting an end to its damaging agricultural export subsidies now; it means ensuring poor countries can feed their people by protecting their own farmers and staple crops; it means ensuring governments can effectively regulate water companies by keeping water out of world trade rules; and it means ensuring trade rules do not undermine core labour standards.

We need to stop the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) forcing poor countries to open their markets to trade with rich countries, which has proved so disastrous over the past 20 years; the EU must drop its demand that former European colonies open their markets and give more rights to big companies; we need to regulate companies – making them accountable for their social and environmental impact both here and abroad; and we must ensure that countries are able to regulate foreign investment in a way that best suits their own needs.

2. Drop the debt
• The unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries should be cancelled in full, by fair and transparent means.

Despite grand statements from world leaders, the debt crisis is far from over. Rich countries have not delivered on the promise they made more than six years ago to cancel unpayable poor country debts. As a result, many countries still have to spend more on debt repayments than on meeting the needs of their people.

Rich countries and the institutions they control must act now to cancel all the unpayable debts of the poorest countries. They should not do this by depriving poor countries of new aid, but by digging into their pockets and providing new money.

The task of calculating how much debt should be cancelled must no longer be left to creditors concerned mainly with minimising their own costs. Instead, we need a fair and transparent international process to make sure that human needs take priority over debt repayments.

International institutions like the IMF and World Bank must stop asking poor countries to jump through hoops in order to qualify for debt relief. Poor countries should no longer have to privatise basic services or liberalise economies as a condition for getting the debt relief they so desperately need.

And to avoid another debt crisis hard on the heels of the first, poor countries need to be given more grants, rather than seeing their debt burden piled even higher with yet more loans.

3. More and better aid
• Donors must now deliver at least $50 billion more in aid and set a binding
timetable for spending 0.7% of national income on aid.
Aid must also be made to work more effectively for poor people.

Poverty will not be eradicated without an immediate and major increase in international aid. Rich countries have promised to provide the extra money needed to meet internationally agreed poverty reduction targets. This amounts to at least $50 billion per year, according to official estimates,
and must be delivered now.

Rich countries have also promised to provide 0.7% of their national income in aid and they must now make good on their commitment by setting a binding timetable to reach this target.

However, without far-reaching changes in how aid is delivered, it won’t achieve maximum benefits. Two key areas of reform are needed.

First, aid needs to focus better on poor people’s needs. This means more aid being spent on areas such as basic healthcare and education. Aid should no longer be tied to goods and services from the donor, so ensuring that more money is spent in the poorest countries. And the World Bank and the IMF must become fully democratic in order for poor people’s concerns to be heard.

Second, aid should support poor countries and communities’ own plans and paths out of poverty. Aid should therefore no longer be conditional on recipients promising economic change like privatising or deregulating their services, cutting health and education spending, or opening up their markets: these are unfair practices that have never been proven to reduce poverty. And aid needs to be made predictable, so that poor countries can plan effectively and take control of their own budgets in the fight against poverty.

MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY is a unique UK alliance of charities, trade unions, campaigning groups and celebrities who are mobilising around key opportunities in 2005 to drive forward the struggle against poverty and injustice.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Street Seen Sleeping Bag Appeal Xmas 2004

Thank you to everyone who responded to the recent Street Seen Sleeping Bag Appeal,

This was an urgent appeal for basic essential items that we all take for granted, as the weather gets colder and colder there was a pressing need for warm clothes, blankets, sleeping bags and basic foodstuffs to be distributed out to those most in need over the Christmas period and beyond. The response was phenomenal with over 300 Sleeping bags, Duvets and blankets so far donated with 40 large bags of warm clothes and 50 sets of Scarves gloves with still more donations to be collected over the next couple of weeks

All items donated so far have already been distributed to the East Belfast Mission, The Welcome Centre (W Belfast), Home Plus and other outreach groups that work directly with the homeless Community on our Street. These groups work 365 days of the year tackling the root causes of homelessness and deserve the highest of praise and support for the work they do in all weathers and times. Street Seen, Belfast’s very own homeless paper will endeavour to support these groups as best as we can. Thanks to all who donated to the appeal we have gathered enough items that should last for the next couple of months

Jon Glackin…. We have been overwhelmed with the positive response to Street Seens Appeal, we established our paper to directly involve the local homeless community, our vendors and all associated with the paper have worked their socks off making this appeal so successful, so many people have rang with donations and help that we have managed to gather enough basic items that should last for the next couple of months. We intend to continue the Appeal all year round as Homelessness is an all year round symptom of the Poverty that exists on our streets. I have been humbled by peoples support of this campaign and Street Seen will continue to develop projects that directly involve and assist our homeless community

Davy Carlin…We would like to thank you for all your support for the Street Seen initiative taken recently to collect sleeping bags and warm clothes for homeless persons. The initiative itself was helped in part also by the large media coverage we got from the newspapers - radio and television as so to publicise and cover it. Although Street Seen is only on its second issue its print run is 10,000 copies. The publication affords space to those who may not find space afforded elsewhere for their stories, poetry etc as well as providing an avenue for more established writers to put out their message.

Special thanks to…Anthony Glackin, Terri Hooley, Frankie Connolly, All at the NIAPN, Housing Rights Service, Quality Dry Cleaners, Portadown and all who donated or helped in any way to make the Appeal a success..

Support the Simon Community Fundraising Walk 9 January


Simon Community Northern Ireland are asking the public to start 2005 on a healthy and active note by ‘stepping out’ at Crawfordsburn Country Park on Sunday 9th January 2005. The charity are holding their annual New Year Walk and hope to raise a substantial amount to help continue their work with local homeless people.

Simon Community Director of Fundraising Paul Collins told Street Seen “2005 is the second year of our January walk, with a choice of either a six or ten mile course. This is a great way to work off those extra Christmas pounds whilst helping those who need it most.”

Commencing at 12 noon and 2pm, the walks, which have been supported by local supermarket chain SuperValu, will offer participants an opportunity to put the hustle of the festive season behind them while enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

SuperValu Brand Manager Nicky Kelly commented,
“SuperValu as a company with very strong roots in Northern Ireland, are happy to help Simon Community with this event. Homelessness is an issue we should all be aware of and the opportunity to support the excellent work of Simon Community is one that we are glad to undertake.”

Simon Community Corporate Fundraising Committee Chairman Tommy Rodgers F.I.F.P. / MD TR Group added, “ I am delighted to be taking part in the New Year as it is a fun family event that also helps the work of Simon Community”

Members of the public who are interested in taking part in the New Year Walk, or who wish to know more about the work of the Simon Community can contact Simon Community Fundraising Manager Tracy McAfee on 028 9023 2882, or

Housing Executive-Helping the Homeless

Helping the Homeless

Making a Difference to People’s Lives

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is working with others to tackle the causes and effects of homelessness by:

· Helping people to avoid homelessness
· Helping people to escape from homelessness; and
· Supporting people when they get a home.

“In Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK, homelessness is one of the biggest social care issues today. Tackling its causes and affects is no longer a single issue about housing.
“The biggest cause of homelessness in Northern Ireland is relationship breakdown and the breakdown of sharing arrangements and this is not something which the Housing Executive can control. The Housing Executive’s priority is to get homeless people into sustainable permanent housing as quickly as possible.

While the number of homeless people here has fallen during the first six months of this year there is no room for complacency. The fact remains that more than half of homeless households are found permanent accommodation within three months, and almost nine in ten within a year. But we are acutely aware that in some areas of particularly high demand, people are still having to wait far too long to be re-housed in permanent accommodation and that issue needs to be addressed.

The number of new social houses available is clearly a crucial factor in combating homelessness. The Housing Executive will continue to press for more funding to be made available for new social housing, and work with the Department for Social Development and housing associations to ensure the effective delivery of the new build programme.

The Housing Executive will also work to maximise the housing choices available including greater use of the private rented sector.For too long, this option has been viewed as an option of last resort and we are committed to working towards making it an option of preference.
But dealing with homelessness is about much more than finding somewhere to live. It is also about dealing with the social and personal issues that lead to homelessness. Behind these statistics are some of our most vulnerable people whose needs don’t disappear when accommodation is provided. Combating homelessness does not end when a person or a family is found somewhere to live. Many people are locked into a cycle of homelessness which needs to be broken. Homeless people need a thorough, professional assessment of their requirements, suitable accommodation and tailored packages of support.

If you are interested in learning more about how the Housing Executive is tackling homelessness, visit the website