Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Facebook Group Threatened With Closure for Reporting Police Violence

Now if you've been on social media recently, you can't have missed the shocking image of a woman being dragged by multiple police officers with her trousers pulled down and her shirt pulled up. The image itself is not explicit and the only exposed body parts are the woman's legs and stomach. But the image shows enough to illustrate the appalling and unacceptable behaviour of the police at the Manchester Kill the Bill protest.

The image has been widely shared across social media and even parts of the mainstream media, and with good reason: it's called journalism.

I visited our Facebook group Council Estate Socialism last night and saw a female group member had shared the image from the Manchester protest (from Reuters) and it was awaiting admin approval. Given the clear public interest in raising awareness about state violence against a woman, and the fact the image itself was not explicit, I felt comfortable approving the post. In fact, I felt we had a duty to do so, even if it made some people feel uncomfortable.

Lo and behold, I checked Facebook this morning to discover we had received a Warning because we have broken Facebook's rules on sexual exploitation by approving the post. I checked our newsfeed and the post had indeed been removed and we were offered no way to appeal the decision. I was told that any future rule breaches from the admins could result in group closure, and given we have spent over a year building a community of 7,500 passionate activists, that would be a tragedy.

The Facebook user informed me she received a 24 hour suspension and a similar warning.

Let's just unpack this.

  • The police, according to Facebook, are guilty of sexual exploitation, but the police themselves are likely to face no legal consequences. 
  • There is a huge public interest in sharing the image, as it would be difficult to demonstrate the appalling behaviour of the police without showing the evidence.
  • We shared the evidence to highlight state violence and the lack of accountability in our system. That's as strong a public interest defence as I can think of.
  • Facebook's response was to censor us and threaten our group with closure if we dared do journalism again.
  • We were facing potentially stronger consequences than the police for accurately reporting their behaviour.

Just think about that. 

The next time the state behaves appallingly and we have the evidence, we have no way of knowing if we're allowed to share it on Facebook. If the mainstream media does not hold the authorities to account and the courts do not hold the authorities to account, then literally no one is holding the authorities to account. The crime becomes invisible and the police simply get away with their wrongdoing. This puts public safety at risk.

If we do take a chance and share any future image of state violence, then our Facebook community can be closed down, meaning we lose our power to raise public awareness. This is shocking overreach on Facebook's part and demonstrates the risk of putting our freedom of speech in the hands of a private company. We were not in any way behaving badly, and to the contrary, we were taking necessary and responsible steps to protect the public, but still we got censored.

Social media is the only mechanism that ordinary people have to share our voices with the world and it would seem some want to take that away from us.

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Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Why Won't Labour Address the North/South Divide?

If you pay attention to social media politics in the UK, you can't have missed the launch of the Northern Independence Party, if only because Labour centrists won't stop freaking out about it. And the louder the Starmerrhoids scream about how irrelevant the NIP is, the less convincing they sound. 

While few are expecting the NIP to start winning parliamentary seats overnight, the threat of them picking up 5% of the vote share is real, and depending on where those votes come from, they could easily sway the outcome of local and by-elections.

Take Hartlepool for example: a historically safe Labour seat which was betrayed by Sir Keith Starmer and his disastrous People's Vote. A seat where the public are rapidly losing trust in Labour and unsure what the party even stands for now. 

The NIP is contesting this seat in the coming by-election and it's entirely possible their vote share will come from disaffected Labour voters. This could spell trouble for Starmer, given Labour's margin of victory in 2019 was fairly small at approximately 3,600. 

Keith must be praying those Hartlepudlians who lent the Tories their vote solely for Brexit will save his skin by not voting the Tory shade of blue again. But he knows the Tories could be looking at a Covid vaccine bounce, meaning a larger vote share for them and a smaller vote share for Blue Labour. 

The bookies have the parties neck and neck, and if Starmer loses the seat, this would be a huge hammer blow to his leadership. How could he blame Jeremy Corbyn, when Corbyn's Labour twice won this seat, despite the best efforts of centrist wreckers?

Defeat might force Starmer out of a job and Labour would then surely go into free fall, because centrist attacks on party democracy mean it would end up with another out of touch centrist in charge. (Please let it be Jess Phillips!)

Now you might scoff at the idea of a new fringe party picking up a significant vote share, but NIP are, on the surface, a single-issue party (they would not describe themselves as such) with a strong and instantly recognisable brand. Let's not forget, the Brexit Party picked up a significant vote share because people instantly knew what it was about on name recognition alone. (No one knows what Labour is about now.)

If you're a disaffected voter stepping into the booth, feeling unenthused about any of the main choices and you see Northern Independence Party on the ballot, you might just put a tick in that box. After all, no one else is listening to your concerns about the decline of your region. The establishment has left you behind.

This could be a powerful effect, and when you combine it with the fact the NIP has a credible candidate in former Labour MP Thelma Walker, only a fool would dismiss their chances. Winning Hartlepool outright would be incredibly tough, but picking up the 5% vote share to hold onto their deposit would seem entirely feasible. And would represent a huge achievement.

From Labour's perspective, the best approach would be to take ownership of the issue, to acknowledge the severity of the north/south divide and tell the public how they intend to address that. But they aren't and won't

Let's not forget, Labour had 13 years in power under Blair and they did nothing meaningful to address the north/south divide because they were too busy dropping bombs. Labour abandoned their natural base on the assumption us northerners had nowhere else to go and they've been haemorrhaging support in the "red wall" ever since. It's laughable that centrists now blame Jeremy Corbyn for this problem when the one halt in the decline came at the 2017 general election. Corbyn was actually reversing the trend until Keith got his way with PV and betrayed the north all over again.

So now, instead of acknowledging past failings and showing us their plan to fix our regions, Labour is like a rabbit in the headlights, terrified of upsetting its flag shagging base. And its focus groups have come up with the ingenious plan of writing a hit piece in The Times. This move offered the type of exposure the Northern Independence Party could only dream of. No wonder their Twitter numbers are going so high!

So this piece in The Times was written by a Labour guy who proudly told us how northern and English he is, and then went onto describe a middle-class experience which is totally alien to most of us northerners. (The middle-class to us is like the upper-class to you southerners. We're all poor here.) He  went on to describe the NIP as a glorified Twitter account (one which is getting more engagement than Keith's and doesn't need an army of paid bots to boost its numbers) and just threw petty insults at it. Not only was he insulting the party, he was also indirectly insulting every northerner who is looking seriously at the Northern Independence Party because our issues are not being addressed by Labour. He then had the gall to suggest the NIP was needlessly dividing the left, when the left have spent the last few years being mocked, ridiculed and purged by his neoliberal party. He honestly believes the best strategy is to further insult the people his party deliberately pushed away and demand they fall in line. It's so excruciatingly tone deaf.

Why didn't he address any of our real concerns? Why didn't he discuss how the north has twice as many underperforming schools and much lower numbers of pupils going onto university? Why didn't he discuss how the average income in West London is double that of Sunderland? Why didn't he discuss our higher unemployment rates and shocking lack of job opportunities? Why did he disregard our lack of investment in public transport?

The Labour guy, who I won't be naming, simply told us how lovely and middle class his life is in the northeast and how this made him proud to be English. I promise you 99% of northerners would've been rolling their eyes.

We have been left behind by Westminster and very deliberately so. 

If the north was an independent country, it would have a population of 15 million (comparable to the Netherlands) and would be the 74th most populous country in the world. It would also be 24th largest by GDP per capita. This means an independent Northumbria would be far from helpless. It would be a medium-sized country more than capable of producing enough to provide for its people through fairer distribution of resources. 

We're never going to achieve that while we're attached to the Tory south because they're always going to vote for a status quo that favours themselves over us. We are essentially at their mercy. We are under the dictatorship of the southern middle class, and Labour is not offering a way out.

Labour could fight for proportional representation to strengthen our voice in parliament. They won't. 

The Socialist Campaign Group could break away from Labour and fight for us. They won't.

In short, we have been abandoned by those we chose to represent us, and we have been left with nowhere else to turn. If Labour won't offer us hope, the only remaining option is to destroy the party and replace it with something better, like the SNP did in Scotland. And all you need to do that is 5% of the vote share.

Labour has already been routed in Scotland, meaning it has no route back to power in Westminster. It's a walking corpse. Now imagine the Northern Independence Party picking up 5% of the vote in every Labour/Tory Marginal. Labour's share of the seats would collapse. And while you may find that idea horrifying, we're talking about a Labour Party which has abstained on some of the Tories' most sinister policies, like the Spy Cops bill. And we're talking about a Labour Party that, through Yvette Cooper, played a large role in the introduction of ATOS assessments which have brought misery, and even death, to the disabled (I know people who were left suicidal by this policy). 

The Labour Party is the Tory Party. It's the establishment's B team. If we can completely smash Labour's seat share, the public will abandon it in droves and they will then be looking for something new. In the north, that will be the Northern Independence Party, and in the south, you can expect the rise of a new left-wing movement in the near future.

We are going to see a new kind of opposition. An opposition spread across a coalition of anti-establishment parties who individually could not hold a majority in Westminster, but collectively might, and at the very least will play a huge role in shaping the national debate. Northumbria could become a semi-autonomous region like Scotland, but it's likely Scotland will declare full independence in the next ten years, at which point the remaining union will likely collapse, and Northumbrians will not want to remain attached to Tory England.

The Northern Independence Party could well be the start of something - a movement driven by people who've had enough of career politicians and want to shape their own destiny. Expect the smears and dirty tricks to come. They already are. Don't even acknowledge them. Just keep driving our narrative and focus on dismantling the last vestiges of the British empire.

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Saturday, 27 March 2021

Police Brutality at Bristol Protest

Last night, the Kill the Bill protests at Bristol continued, less than a week after Sunday's violent clashes between police and the public. I say violent clashes, but what actually happened last Sunday was police moved in on peaceful protesters, many of who were sitting down, and battered them with batons and riot shields. When things inevitably kicked off, the BBC and other media outlets reversed the footage to make it look like the police were responding to violence from the public.

The media blamed the public for police brutality.

The media have been extremely reluctant to show police battering unarmed, cowering civilians, which is the first thing they would do, if they were remotely interested in journalism. Instead, they've tried to manufacture consent for the fascist state, aided and abetted by gormless Blue Ticks, many of who are well-meaning but live such a life of privilege, they can't see beyond the possibility of police being the good guys.

Avon and Somerset police were yesterday forced to admit they made up injuries sustained by police officers last Sunday, such as broken ribs and a punctured lung. And let's not get into rumours of agent provocateurs deliberately setting fire to a police van because I cannot verify this claim one way or another. But I can show you the video footage and eyewitness accounts from last night's protests. Protests at which police clearly felt angry and humiliated and got their revenge on the public in the most shocking ways imaginable, the moment it got dark.

Below is one of the most sickening things I've witnessed. Look at the ferocity of the blow which struck an innocent, peaceful woman and then tell me the culprit doesn't belong behind bars for a very long time.

 Watch the police battering downed civilians with their riot shields.

Just look at this and tell me it was proportionate.

And here is what happened to a journalist. 

More riot shield brutality.

And check out these injuries.

One of the most terrifying aspects of recent events is how the mainstream media have been so derelict in their duty of reporting the truth. There has been deliberate misrepresentation every step of the way. Police brutality has been described as "scuffles," broken windows have been described as "disgusting violence" and anyone who has condemned the actions of police has been called anything from a "conspiracy theorist" to a "lefty thug" to a person who hates this country and should leave.

Video footage has been available all along for all to see and so have the eye witness accounts. But Bristol has played out like all major protests throughout history, from the Suffragettes movement to the civil rights movement to what we're seeing today. Police brutalise protesters and lock some of them up, and the mainstream media provide their propaganda to manufacture public consent.

One BBC journalist tweeted that a recent Bristol protest was peaceful until police showed up and then he mysteriously deleted his tweet. Did his bosses have a word? BBC news reports have implied police were forced to take action at each protest in response to public violence, but this was demonstrably nonsense. Eyewitnesses have consistently reported each protest was peaceful until police arrived and attacked protesters. So how about we send no police to the next protest and see what happens?

Let's not forget, this whole situation has arisen because the Tories want to effectively ban peaceful protest and impose prison sentences of ten years on those who break their draconian laws. When you consider they are also giving secret police the power to rape and murder with impunity, things become extremely terrifying. The protest ban may not yet be law but police are already acting as though it is, and will almost certainly face no consequences for this. Let's not also forget the anti-protest bill is their baby - it only came about because of government lobbying on their part.

The police force is unquestionably a fascist organisation, operating above the law, free to brutalise and imprison whoever it pleases. And if you dare venture out to protest this, you risk becoming one of their victims and having your name dragged through the mud by the press. It is the very finest people who campaign and protest for our rights and the very worst people who try to prevent them from doing so. 

It's time to decide whose side you're on because history is watching.

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Thursday, 25 March 2021

Here Is Why I Want an Independent North

I come from a working class town in the northeast of England where life is a constant struggle for most. 

Throughout my childhood, we had nothing... Well, that's not entirely accurate because when I was small, we had a bunch of parks to play in within walking distance. They were great too. I remember the park on my doorstep with a flying saucer climbing frame, and the one up the road with a huge ship climbing frame, and the one around the corner with a banana slide, and a bunch of other parks further afield. Thatcher tore them all down. Every single one.

I remember watching in horror as my favourite flying saucer climbing frame vanished, only to be replaced by a frigging building site. That building site inevitably became our new playground. Back in those days, building sites never seemed to have security guards and we were climbing through half-built houses and kicking over walls while the cement was still wet. Literally risking our lives because there was bugger all else to do. Although to be fair, we had great fun!

The other nearby parks with the ship climbing frame and the banana slide were removed and replaced with nothing but bare concrete. Even to this day, kids gather in the concrete area that was known as the ship park, and they still call it the ship park, a full thirty years later. That climbing frame was bloody amazing and I still miss it, even now.

The pattern of destruction continued and Margaret Thatcher left my generation with bugger all. We had a BMX track nearby which was demolished and allowed to become a wasteland. I still live on that estate and the situation today is exactly the same as it was in the late '80s. We had a small boggy field nearby with football goals where I would take my children to play on sunny days. It was literally all we had, but about three months ago, that boggy field vanished too. You've guessed it, building site.

There is nothing here for the kids. Thatcher and every successive prime minister has made sure of that.

When I was growing up, most parents were either unemployed or had one single low earner between them. Runaway Dads were common. Families with two parents living together and earning modest incomes were perceived as rich - they were a rarity. Those "posh" kids strutting around in their Nike Air trainers while we wore knock off shit and stood in the queue for our free school meal tokens. The shame.

Even to a young child, it very much felt like our region had been abandoned by the establishment. I remember watching TV and wondering why we never saw people who spoke with our broad accents on the kids' shows. We had no representation. It felt absolutely like we lived in a forgotten land. 

Of course, I didn't understand the socioeconomic conditions at the time, but I, we, knew Thatcher's government did not give a crap about us. I remember the girls doing one of those clappy rhyme thingies in the school yard. They'd clap their hands together and chant, "There's Maggie Thatcher, throw her up and catch her. Squish-squash, squish-squash, there's Maggie Thatcher." 

The children knew the Tory government didn't care because we were experiencing the consequences of their policies first hand. The northeast was being stripped of its industries which had been the economic backbone of this country for so long, which had given Britain so much of its wealth. And our people were left with nothing to show for their labour. 

We were the children and grandchildren of sacrificed workers. A lost generation.

As teenagers, we were hanging on street corners, drinking cider, then breaking into abandoned buildings where we'd listen to live recordings from our local rave - the Afterdark. We were doing all of the things a teenager should not be doing. And when I say teenager, it actually started for me at 11 years old when I drank a bottle of cider for the first time. Other children lost their innocence even earlier than I did. Some of my friends were smoking cigarettes and even weed at nine years old. I was the sensible one.

There was nothing better to do, and even if there was, we couldn't have afforded it anyways. Your £2.50 pocket money will only get you so far. Thank the lord for £2.49 bottles of Pulse! You can look down on teenage drinking all you like, but when it's a choice between that and standing on a cold street corner, doing nothing, you'll understand. It was a tough life and we had to make the best of it, anyway we could.

Now you will probably be surprised to hear, I was considered one of the more academic pupils in my school (it was a very low bar). I was therefore one of the kids who was expected to go to college and university and move away from my impoverished home town. Basically, you had to move away to earn good money, unless you were one of the lucky few.

Anyways, things never worked out for me and I ended like most of my peers, facing years of instability, frustration and long term unemployment. I spent eight years of my life on the homeless register before finally getting my own place at the age of 26. Many of my peers weren't that fortunate. Some of them ended up in jail. A few are sadly no longer with us.

When I did eventually find long term employment, our bosses let slip one day that each employee was generating £400,000 a year for the company. We were getting paid £13,000 a year for bloody tough, stressful, skilled work, and constantly struggling to get by. The company could've paid us £40,000 a year and still kept 90% of the money we were generating, but they chose to impoverish us through sheer greed.

I was privately renting from a landlord down south who was taking half of my wages to pay for his mortgage. I was trapped in a spiral of bank charges and using a credit card to survive, running out of food before the end of every month. Life was simply impossible, and most people in this area have a similar story to tell.

In my region, prosperous areas are uncommon and most workers are struggling to pay the bills, always one bad month away from destitution. It's a never ending cycle. And it feels like workers exist solely to enrich bosses, landlords, and powerful people, so many of who are located in the southeast of England. It's a system of exploitation - and this kind of economic set up is far from typical. 

Other developed countries aren't seeing these huge regional inequalities and this non-stop transfer of wealth to one particular area of the country. Britain is fairly unique in that respect. Many of our friends in Scotland have had enough of this structural unfairness and rightfully so. Their independence movement has gained huge traction in recent years and they have effectively wiped out Scottish Labour. Their people are done with the British establishment and many people in the north of England feel exactly the same. Let's not forget, the Brexit vote was essentially an anti-establishment vote. It would be a huge mistake to assume us northerners are desperate to rush into the arms of the Tories.

It's just our options are being deliberately taken away. 

Red areas have turned blue, precisely because the pro-establishment blue Labour are not providing people with a viable alternative to Tory rule. Brexit voters felt betrayed by Starmer's PV brigade and the blue Labour leader now thinks he can win them back by going ultra-establishment. It's so painfully tone deaf. He's convinced himself we're all pub-dwelling social conservatives up here, who wave the flag and sing God Save the Queen, when in reality that stereotype represents a dying breed, and even the older generation aren't exactly shagging the Union Jack. 

Most of us think flag shaggers are bloody idiots and when Starmer drapes himself in the Union Jack to win us over, we roll our eyes. The Labour Party was always supposed to be ours. It was supposed to be the party that offered the north representation and a viable alternative to the Tories. And to hear this lot tell us what the north wants, while offering nothing in terms of policies, and getting us totally wrong every time, feels excruciating.

We don't want flag shagging and racist dog whistles. We want improvements to our material conditions and fairer treatment from our elected representatives. It's clear we're never going to achieve those things in a first-past-the-post system dominated by southern Tories who grow their wealth from our hard work. We have no main party fighting our corner and even if we did, that fight would probably be hopeless anyways.

I believe it's time for us northerners to fight for our independence, just like Scotland. I also believe it's time for Welsh independence and a united Ireland, but that's not my fight, of course, it's theirs. This may seem drastic to some, but ask yourself, what has the neoliberal economic model achieved for any region, apart from the southeast of England? Are you really going to tell us in the forgotten northeast that our life of constant struggle is beneficial to us?

If you look at the smaller countries of northern Europe, they are not struggling, they are thriving. They enjoy among the world's highest living standards and they do so through the left-wing economic policies that southern Tories won't allow us to have, because they're doing very well from their system of exploitation.

Imagine an independent Northumbria standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an independent Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland, following in the footsteps of nations like Norway. We get absolutely no benefit from remaining part of little England and I'm tired of southern Tory dictatorship. It's time to break free and stand on our own feet.

But let's be realistic here. 

No one is expecting overnight success, and of course, we know northern independence is so very far from guaranteed. But when you look at how new parties like UKIP, the Brexit Party, and the SNP have shaped the national debate, and when you look at the glaring chasm in the political landscape for a socialist party, it's clear the potential to make waves is there. We just need to raise our voices.

The newly-formed Northern Independence Party is doing just that and is contesting the Hartlepool by-election through independent Thelma Walker. (She has to stand as an independent because the party is not yet officially registered). 

Hartlepool has been a Labour seat since it was created, but the betting money is going on the Tories and the northern independence candidate. Labour are in a pathetic third place, which is probably something to do with Starmer choosing centrist, Tory Milf-lover, Saudi Paul as his candidate without a democratic selection process. Labour is back to neglecting the north on the basis we have nowhere else to go. Hartlepool may well be about to show them two fingers.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Free Speech Crackdown: The Government and Police Are Not Friends of Democracy

No one, absolutely no one wants violence. No one wants to see public or private property damaged. No one wants to see police officers hurt and no one wants to see the public hurt. Okay, that last point was not true because the police force, the establishment, have shown a willingness to hurt people again and again and then blame their victims for their violence. 

If your first instinct when you hear of trouble at a protest is to vilify the people campaigning for our democratic rights, you need to stop and think. You need to think about the women who were slammed onto the ground at a candle-lit vigil. You need to think about how authorities have acted at home and abroad whenever the people have risen up to demand better. Because if you would automatically condemn protesters today, there is a very good chance you would've done so during the Suffragettes movement or the civil rights movement. There's every chance you would've condemned Nelson Mandela's struggle for Black liberation in South Africa. 

The history books show us that when the police clash with the public, the establishment always uses the same playbook. And the protesters who get vilified and criminalised at the time, are always later vindicated by history. 

And the causes we're fighting for today are every bit as important as the causes I've mentioned above. If you disagree with that, it's because you're not in the firing line and you've lost your ability to empathise. Most recently, we've been fighting for arguably our most important right of all. The right to peaceful protest. A right which the Conservative government wants to render completely ineffective. 

If you can only protest when and where the government says you can, start when they say you can, finish when they say you must, only have the numbers they say you can, only make the level of noise they say you can, and only protest in a place they can't see or hear you, a place they can just ignore you, then you don't have the right to protest. You have permission to piss into the wind. 

And it's not just restrictions on protests we're talking about. Somebody was recently arrested for expressing anti-police views on social media. If you're not allowed to criticise authorities or protest their actions, you don't have a democracy. Freedom of speech is supposed to be an inalienable right. It's being taken away from us. And you wonder why people are mad? 

If you take away people's right to peaceful protest and attack them whenever they try to peacefully protest, you know the only remaining option is violence. And if you use the violence you deliberately caused in order to justify further stripping of our human rights, you are a fascist. And what's worse is you may get away with it because the media and privileged people will fully support your actions, knowing they will remain unaffected. This is how fascism grows. 

Martin Luther King jr said a riot is the language of the unheard. JFK said when you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable. And if you don't want that, if you don't want meaningful change, if you want the status quo protected at all costs, including the stripping of people's rights, including imprisonment for those who dissent, that's your privilege showing. Even worse, it's your fascist tendencies showing. 

The United Nations have labelled the Tories' austerity policies economic murder, yet privileged people simply shrug. And the government has given us one of the worst Covid-19 responses in the world because they were desperate to shove us back into unsafe workspaces to generate profit for an elite hiding away in their country mansions. 

The government has sacrificed huge numbers of jobs for under-35s while ensuring the older generation – their base – has remained mostly insulated from the economic impact of the pandemic. They've got younger workers competing with each other for zero hours contracts on minimum wage in dangerous environments. The same people expected to give their meagre earnings to a wealthy older landlord. It's not just class warfare. It's intergenerational warfare. And younger people are expected to give their lives to enrich an older generation who've enjoyed privileges they will never have. A generation who climbed the ladder of socialism and kicked it down. (Apologies to the older socialists out there. You guys are heroes!)

People are living in council houses with water literally pouring through their roofs. Others are raising children in privately-rented houses riddled with dangerous mould. The Tories have repeatedly refused to pass a law making homes fit for human habitation. They're leaving people living in squalor and depending on foodbanks to feed their kids because heaven forbid, we might tax the rich. 

We're not talking about some tiny underclass who is struggling here either. This kind of thing is fast becoming the norm throughout the working class. And the effects of the pandemic, combined with the bonfire of rights that is Tory Brexit and a decade of austerity means things are only going to get worse. 

All of this and more is why people are raising their voices. And when they do so publicly, the police are attacking peaceful protesters and then blaming their victims, knowing the media will play ball. If you speak to protesters like I have, you hear the same story again and again. The same story you hear around the world and all throughout history. The protests were peaceful and then the police arrived with riot gear and started attacking unarmed civilians. And then when it all kicked off, the media reversed the footage to make it seem like the effect preceded the cause. 

Let's not forget the police were last year listing the Extinction Rebellion as extremists and banning foreign climate activists from the country under counter-terror legislation. That's school kids they were treating like terrorists for asking the government to not cause our extinction. 

Britain is not a true democracy. It's certainly not a full democracy and even flawed democracy might be a generous categorisation now. Schools are not allowed to teach kids about alternative economic models to capitalism because the young must be indoctrinated into servitude. We're not allowed to challenge the system in any meaningful way. You can quite literally be arrested for expressing anti-police views on social media now. It's entirely possible they could decide this post is criminal. 

We don't have the freedom to protest in this country and everyone who has ever attended a protest knows this. The police will look for any excuse to disrupt protesters, intimidate them, vilify them, criminalise them, stop them raising their voices. Ask yourself why they feel the need to charge at unarmed civilians with horses. How is that ever proportionate? How is it ever anything other than an incredibly reckless thing to do? And just look at how they slammed women to the ground at the candle-lit vigil for their dead sister who was allegedly murdered by a police officer. 

We don't have a right to peacefully protest without taking a huge risk. And we don't have a right to challenge the establishment because they will resort to the dirtiest of tricks to stop you. Just ask Nicola Sturgeon. Ask Jeremy Corbyn. Ask Julian Assange. Ask the trade unions. Ask them about how police have spied on them, infiltrated them, intimidated them and worse. 

Every method the people come up with to challenge the establishment, the establishment will fight back, and it's certainly not afraid to go to any lengths necessary. Social media is one of the few weapons we have left and you can bet your right arm, they're coming for that next. 

Many of us have desperately fought for peaceful democratic change. And our demands really are not unreasonable: freedom of speech, a living wage, protection of our NHS, meaningful climate action and so on. But they won't let us have these things and they've refused to give the slightest bit of ground. They've not shown a hint of compromise. Instead they've infiltrated and taken over the main opposition party to ensure that no matter what happens at the next general election, nothing will fundamentally change. 

And they have radicalised an entire generation in the process. 

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Monday, 22 March 2021

A Riot Is the Language of the Unheard

Last night, peaceful protesters were involved in a minor scuffle with a police van. A crowd had gathered in Bristol to oppose the latest crackdown on democracy by our fascist Tory government - the bill to ban peaceful protests. During this gathering, it appears the police van has unfortunately caught fire, but it remains unclear whether this was actually self-inflicted. 

Eyewitnesses have suggested the police van was "dressed provocatively" and one woman even suggested it was "begging for it." Another explained she didn't think it was a good idea for the police van to be out on the streets after dark. What did it think would happen? It seems clear the police van had not taken the appropriate steps to keep itself safe.

Unfortunately, some windows were broken during last night's gathering as protesters intervened to protect their democracy from Tory bastards. This action was, of course, regrettable, but some might suggest a rather restrained response to establishment forces slamming women onto the ground facedown at a candle-lit vigil.

Now no one, absolutely no one wants to see a police van burnt out - that thing was paid for with our tax money, after all. And we certainly don't want to see private property damaged, but like Martin Luther King Jr famously said, "A riot is the language of the unheard," and when you're banning peaceful protest, stripping courts of their powers of judicial oversight, creating secret police with the power to rape and murder, brutalising women holding candles, and looting the country to line your pockets, what do you fucking think is going to happen?

To paraphrase JFK, "When you make peaceful protest impossible, violent revolution becomes inevitable."

The establishment surely knows this, they're not idiots. Well, maybe the prime minister's an idiot, but most of them are reasonably intelligent people who've read history books. They know the basic social science behind this kind of behaviour and they're choosing to confront the people, to inflame tensions, rather than diffuse the situation. The establishment is looking for a fight.

Basically, if there were no police at the Kill the Bill protest, there would've been no riot - this was a manufactured situation. Every act of defiance by an increasingly alienated public will be used to rile the Tories' privileged base and justify their increasingly authoritarian measures. The public will, of course, fight back and the rioting will get worse until either the government backs down or dissenting voices are crushed and we descend into full-on authoritarianism.

"The establishment irritate you - pull your beard and flick your face - to make you fight. Because once they've got you violent, then they know how to handle you." John Lennon.

Something tells me fascists like Priti Patel are not remotely interested in backing down so authoritarianism, here we come. Round of applause to every centrist idiot who decided universal fibre broadband would be worse than this. You overprivileged dickheads.

The saddest thing about this whole situation is 40% of the electorate still support the government and will support them no matter what they do. That's because they're either in the privileged bubble from which everyone else appears to be dangerous and scary. Or, they're one of the raging gammons who will gladly usher in their own oppression as long as they're allowed to lynch minorities.

60% of the public are opposed to this Tory government, but we can't remove them from power. How the hell is that democracy?

We know there are many good police officers in this country (I've met some truly outstanding ones), but they must now face the reality they are part of a fascist organisation, enemies of democracy. It's time for them to make a choice: are they going to use the defence they were "just following orders?" Or are they going to stand on the right side of history?

Because history really is watching. And if and when we descend into fascism, what is your position going to be? Will you be able to hold your head up and proudly say you did whatever you could to oppose this? Or will you pretend no one could've seen this coming, when some of us of have been calling this out for a decade or more? 

Maybe you'll blame ungrateful lefties for kicking up a fuss about silly things like economic murder and  the climate crisis and the world's worst Covid-19 response. Maybe you'll blame us, the victims of your arrogance for your failure to see the consequences of your arrogance, but just know that if you stand on the side of the establishment now, you would've done so at any other point in history when fascists emerged. You would've voted for Hitler and blamed his victims, then cried about how you were misled when history finally came to judge you.

Recent events are providing the perfect opportunity for the leader of the opposition to step up to the plate and lead the fight back, but what seems particularly terrifying is his silence on the matter. It seems clear Sir Keith Starmer is just as pro-establishment as Boris Johnson and even shares his authoritarian instincts. This means we have no opposition. We have a single party state with two colours - red and blue - which both must be defeated.

The establishment won't give any more ground, surrender any more power, give the public any more representation - they already think you have too much democracy and it's time to rein it in. No wonder the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish are desperate to break away from this corrupt union. We've also seen the fight for northern English independence gain huge traction in recent weeks. The people, particularly the younger generation, have had enough. 

The establishment is offering nothing, other than zero hours contracts, poverty wages, greedy landlords, a dying climate, imperial wars, and corruption on a colossal scale. If your response to that is "I'm alright Jack," you really are a terrible person.

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Saturday, 20 March 2021

A Journey Through the Life of the Underclass

Let me take you on a journey...

Congratulations! You are now part of the underclass, and from here on out, your day is going to get a whole lot worse.

You're just eighteen years old and you're asked to leave home, completely out of the blue. You've no idea why, you're just told to go. You're on your own now. Unlucky. You reluctantly leave the house and wander around the streets of your run-down council estate, feeling confused as hell. You've no idea where to go. You don't have a mobile phone yet because you're dirt poor and at this time, only the rich kids have those. (Well, rich from your perspective anyway.) 

You don't know anyone's number and don't know who you would call, even if you had a way to call them. So you wander aimlessly for hours, kicking litter under bridges covered in graffiti and through subways stinking of piss, with only the whistling breeze for company. You didn't even take anything with you, didn't think of packing a bag, not that you had much to pack. 

You sit in a bus stop and just freeze your balls off, hour after hour, your brain totally blank. You feel like one of those animals that gets caught and knows it can no longer run or fight so it simply gives up. It just lies there and waits to be devoured because its brain is not programmed to offer any other response. All it can do is suffer now.

Maybe you can get yourself a tent, you think in a brief moment of cognisance, but you don't have a penny to your name. The night feels more lonely and overwhelming than you could've possibly imagined. You stare at street-lit front doors, dreaming of having the power to enter a nice, warm house that a simple key would provide. A power you had only hours ago.

Morning eventually comes. 

Your whole body aches and you feel a level of coldness you've never felt or even considered possible. It's penetrated your bones, your internal organs and the very core of your soul. It's funny, you always thought hell was supposed to be hot, but here you are... You feel this overwhelming urge to curl up on the ground and sleep, but know that if you do, you might never wake up.

You think back a few months to when your friend found himself in your position. You went with him to this homeless place in Newcastle to get him into a hostel, but Newcastle is miles away and you only have a vague recollection of where that place was. Still, it's your only option right now.

You jump onto the Metro with no ticket and stand next to the door throughout the journey, shivering, watching out for ticket inspectors. Three stops before your destination, you spot their bright orange coats on the train platform. Fuck. You jump off the Metro three bastard stops too early. That's a looong walk ahead and you're not even fully sure where you're going.

You wander through the west end of the city for what seems like a lifetime, finally stumbling across the place you're looking for. It's just a tiny room in a doorway at the end of a high street with a queue of miserable, unwashed faces spilling out. This is where the low lives end up. You are one of them now.

You speak to the person at the desk, arrange a place in a hostel miles away from where you've ever lived. You have no bus fare obviously, so you wander for miles beyond the city centre with a badly drawn map you were given. You're starving at this point, exhausted, and unsure how you can possibly be left to suffer so badly. What did you ever do wrong? Quite a lot, probably.

You stare up at the imposing high skyrises with blacked out windows and immense damp patches spreading over their concrete walls. It feels like they were built to house the inhabitants of hell. You look at the drug-ravaged figures hanging on a street corner and realise you are now in the Dawn of the Dead.

Shit, your council estate was a bit rough, but this place seems on a different level. Who the fuck would live among this? you ask yourself. The answer is you now.

So you find the place you're looking for: a small, relatively new building at the foot of one of those wretched towers, which actually looks like it could collapse. Paranoia has you envisioning a 9/11 moment and you expect to be swallowed by a dust cloud any second.

You enter the hostel, fill in a form, and get led to your bedroom: a communal room shared with about twenty other young men who all look like they would stab you on a whim. They probably see you the same way though. They probably feel just as nervous and uncomfortable as you are. It's horrible. You can hear every breath, every movement so loud, you wonder if going back onto the streets would be preferable.

You can't stay in this place long, but at least it has some perks: food, computer access, and warmth. They will take every penny of your benefits as payment though. They won't even leave you enough for bus fares, but they will expect you to attend job interviews, they say.

As your application for benefits is being processed, you contact an old friend, the one who was recently homeless. He's staying nearby as luck would have it. So you escape the heavy breathing of the homeless hostel and stay with him instead. Charming place he has. The walls and ceiling are nicotine yellow, the brown carpet actually seems to be crawling, and the smell... what is that fucking smell? My god.

So for the next few weeks, you two are staying in this charming flat, and neither of you has any money. Not a damn penny. By sheer coincidence, your mate signed on at pretty much the same time you did and you're penniless together, but shit, at least you're not alone.

It's just you have no food and no money to improve your situation and that makes everything seem damn impossible. This is because every step you can take to improve your situation is dependent on money. Without it you're screwed. There isn't even a Metro you can skip in this area, so everywhere you go, you're walking miles. Without food.

How can you possibly get a job in this situation? Society's conclusion: You can't because you're lazy and stupid and bad.

As you sit on the stinking, cigarette-burnt couch in the living room, music plays constantly on the hi-fi (do they still make those?) Right now it's Tupac Shakur. Until the End of Time. The lyrics cut deep.

"When my mother ask me will I change, I tell her yeah, but it's clear I'll always be the same."

"That's one line every young man in our world can relate to," you say. Your friend nods.

In a moment of contemplation, you realise something about those words. About the essence of words. A beauty and a power. They are the only weapon you truly have. It seems clear now, they are your one way to fight back. You just need to understand them, to explore the relationships between them, develop your arsenal. What the fuck else can you do?

Shit, you're starving, but at least your mate managed to get a little food in the house for now. So you decide to create. It's all you can do because in your fugue state, your underused brain, it's a fucking volcano. It's been lying dormant for way too long and it has to erupt. It's simple physics.

Next thing, you're writing poems and song lyrics. You're drawing pictures. Amazing, hideous demon heads. Nightmarish scenes constructed from a frenzy of pencil lead. You don't know why they come out of you, they just do.

Your friend's mixed-race younger brother is with you. He shuffles through piles of A4 paper, finds the page he is looking for, spits some lyrics he wrote. One line will stay with you for a long time:

"I'm a mistake, my own race, I've got half the Devil's face."

Fuck, fifteen years old and that's how he sees himself.

Weeks pass and depression sets in, of course. It was always there, but now it has a real, physical, continuous presence. You can see its shadowy manifestation swirling around you always. Or maybe that's the smoke from the weed your mate got, which he can't even afford to pay for. Guess his mental hunger feels even stronger than his physical hunger. You understand this.

That depression, it takes you to a dark fucking place. And the conversations you have...

"I will do anything, anything to get out this place now. Anything," you say.

"Yeah, I don't care who I have to hurt," your mate's fifteen year old brother says.

"Aye, my life means nothing to them. There's means nothing to me," your mate says.

Those words scare you a little, but that fear quickly subsides. Emotion isn't really your thing now. Something has died inside. You were always a good kid. Always wanted the best for everyone. And you're pretty sure your friends were more or less the same, just a little rougher than you, maybe. Anyways, who the fuck are you now? You don't even recognise yourself anymore. You have no clue who you are or how you ended up in this place.

It's like you were born yesterday as a partly-constructed adult into a world that was designed only to punish you for the crime of a birth you would never have chosen, if you were given a choice.

You vaguely remember a kid. It was you once. The smart, shy boy who some people seemed to think was going to take over the world one day. All you ever heard from them is that your dreams would come true. Those people assumed theirs hadn't through lack of capability, rather than by someone else's design. They were never given belief in their own abilities, but they thought giving you belief in yours was enough. It was all you would ever need. They had pinned their hopes on you. Fools.

You were daunted as hell by this expectation, but you truly hoped they were right. Clearly, they were wrong though. And it occurs to you, that kid, he's dead now. That poor innocent lad is never coming back. And it takes a defiant act of will to even remember anything about him. He's not just dead, he's well and truly buried. What a fucking tragedy.

Even worse, that kid was reborn as something he was always terrified of becoming, and now he has no clue how to become anything else. He just hopes his words are enough, that he can forge a weapon capable of cutting through their armour. But they have layers of fucking adamantium and he, you, have a chewed up half-pen running out of ink. This is not a fair fight and you'd best be prepared for some bruising encounters.

Great news! 

You get a phone call on your mate's landline. You have a job interview now. Your first proper one. What the hell do you even do in a job interview though? You don't know how to speak their language. You don't even have any clothes to wear. But fuck it, you have a job interview. How hard can it be?

You remember what a school teacher once said, something about honesty and hard work. That if you show people you have those attributes, you'll get far in life. What a ridiculous lie that turned out to be.

So later that day, you're walking past a shop in this place. And by this place, I mean a place where a guy was stabbed to death and another was battered to death with a hammer in the past week alone. Charming neighbourhood.

So yeah, you're walking past a shop, past the teens hanging out there, when a hand grabs your coat sleeve. Next thing, blows are raining on your head. Don't worry though, you're tough, you always were.

You were born fighting.

You swing back. Or rather up. He's bigger than you, but you're stronger than him. You're going to win this fight. When do you ever lose? Your other sleeve is grabbed. Suddenly, you have no arms and blows are still raining on your head. You call for your friends, but they run. Fucking cowards.

So it's now you versus an entire gang. You wrestle your arms free, swing in a frenzy, drop them, make them bleed, make them run, fight every single one of the bastards off with sheer force of will. How the hell does one man even do such a thing? You just did. They're running from little old you, standing there in the belly of the beast, barely five foot eight inches tall. You fucking champion.

You remember one thing you've always known about yourself: you may not always win, but you're never beaten. You assume it's an evolutionary thing, like it's in your DNA or something. But maybe it's more than that.

You run back to your friend's place, furious. Abandoned. You don't abandon one of your friends. Ever. You bang on the door, shaking, barge inside and read them the riot act. You are told to look in the mirror. You barely recognise your reflection through the mess of blood. Your head and face is cut to ribbons, probably from a knuckle-duster. You will be scarred for life, but you didn't even feel the pain.

Shit, you can't go to your job interview like this.

You're burning with anger so you reach into a drawer, grab a huge fucking carving knife. If you go back out there with that thing, you know you will kill them. Gut them like fish. The desire for revenge is almost overwhelming, but you think better of it. Take a deep shaky breath. Put the knife back in the drawer. You were that close.

So you find yourself homeless again, you still don't have a job, and you're on a homeless list with a seven year wait. You are bottom priority.

Plus, you are completely transformed now. 

You've gone in the opposite direction to where you'd always expected to go. You're one of society's write-offs and you know you're only in this position because they need people like you to be in this position. You know the underclass only exists to let the working class know things can always be worse, to stop them getting out of line, just like you know the middle class only exists to manage the working class from above, and that this whole wretched system is maintained so that all three classes can consolidate the wealth and power of the elite.

If only the masses listened to voices at the bottom, rather than voices from the top, you could topple this damn system overnight. But those other people, they're sold the lie that through aspiration, they can climb an imaginary ladder as long as they keep trampling you down. And most of them do.

They want you beneath them.

A society that doesn't even know you has constructed an identity for you based on lies, and you always deserved better than what they had in store, but now you know (or is it wrongly believe?) their lies are no longer lies. They turned you into that wretched thing they wanted you to be, in order for them to feel superior. 

You just know that now, more so than ever, you will do anything, absolutely anything to get out of this, but you are trapped in a room of infinite slamming doors, forever suffocating in the myth that anything is possible.

You've lost count of the number of jobs you've applied for. You've been met with crushing rejection each time and now you know sometimes it's your own damn fault. There was one job interview where you got so nervous and confused, you didn't say a damn thing. It was like you lost your ability to speak, lost those words you thought were your one weapon. 

But that weapon had been blunted by their unbreakable armour and it's now hopeless.

Years pass.

You get a call one day. It's your mother. You haven't heard from her in a long while and she's yelling down the phone. She'd spoken to you only a few days ago, apparently. She explains her friend had arranged a job interview at the place where she worked. It was your one shot. But you have literally no recollection of this conversation. None whatsoever. You don't know whether your mother is going crazy or you're going crazy.

You're not on drugs or anything, but maybe the depression is now so extensive, it's causing actual brain rot. That song lyric plays in your head again:

"When my mother asks me will I change, I tell her yeah, but it's clear I'll always be the same."

You start realising the world is right about you. That you really are stupid, lazy, incompetent, a waste of space. What else could you possibly be? You walk along the riverside, stare at the bridge and then the shimmering brown water. You know you'd be better off in there, sleeping forever in that bed for the suicidal. This world has no role for you, other than to be a warning to others.

Don't worry though, you don't jump...

Days later, you get another call. 

It's a friend. He's actually got a way for you to make money, you just need to hear him out. Next thing you know, you're a test subject at Charles River Clinical Laboratories in Edinburgh. Whoo-hoo! You are a guinea pig now. It's your one way to make money and all you're actually good for. Seriously, who the hell can live like this?

Actually though, you have a good time in there for the six weeks you are cooped up. It's like taking part in Big Brother, only instead of being watched by cameras, you're having experimental drugs pumped into your bloodstream and hoping you don't grow two heads. Hey, at least you're earning money now, right? Isn't aspiration great?

But seriously, you genuinely do have a great time in there. You're forming bonds, you're reconnecting with an old friend, and you're remembering what it's like to feel human again. You're having real human interactions. You're actually building friendships as well as some of your most treasured memories. In a fucking laboratory.

You talk about saving up some money, maybe even starting a business together, if only you can come up with a good idea. You're dreaming though because while the pay seems decent, it must somehow feed you until the next clinical study. Still, the new sense of optimism feels nice. The guinea pig life could be yours, once every three months for years, but at least you can earn some money, even if it's not remotely sustainable. You definitely need something better.

You get another telephone call while staying at your aunty's home, a few weeks after the study. It's your friend's little brother. Remember him? The one with "half the Devil's face." (His words, certainly not yours.) Well, he's grown up now. And he has another option for you.

His boss needs someone to do a job. 

He needs a building burnt to the ground.

He will pay you a whopping £50. 

You impress him, he'll give you more work. It's basically a job interview, or more of an audition.

You're desperate for options. You'll do it.

You walk two miles to the Metro station and skip the last train, staring through the window the whole time, reflecting on how your reality could be reshaping again, how on one hand you could be sinking into deeper depths than ever before, and yet in another way, digging yourself out of a hole. The contradiction leaves you in a daze.

You walk miles to the address you've been given. It's 2am as you sneak into a back alley and open a rotting wooden gate. You stand in the tiny back yard of a boarded up shop at the bottom of a residential street in eerie silence. A fuel can and a hammer are lying on the ground, just as promised. The hammer has no claw and you've no idea how to get those wooden boards off, so you call your friend. He simply tells you to break through the board with the hammer and the call disconnects.

So you pick the hammer up. It's huge, heavy. You stand, facing the board covering the window in the dead of night, wondering if the police are on patrol because you could quite easily end up in jail here. You whack the board and the hammer simply bounces off. The noise is like a lightning strike, reverberating around the alley, loud enough to wake the entire neighbourhood. You whack the board again. And again. You can't make a dent, you're making too much noise, and you know that even if you do somehow break through, you probably couldn't bring yourself to strike that match anyway.

You don't know that actually. You still don't know if you've crossed that line in your mind because you've been on auto-pilot the whole night, but the decision has been made for you.

You call your friend and you're picked up nearby in a huge fancy car - a Mercedes or BMW or something - you're not sure. It's dark and you weren't paying much attention. You're sitting inside the car with your friend and his boss who parks at the roadside a few miles from the shop. The car is amazing inside - all fancy leather and gleaming surfaces - and it even has its own TV, playing some RnB song with really hot girls in the video. Shit, this is what crime can get you? Missed opportunity...

You feel like such a failure, like you've let the men down, like you've failed yet another job interview, but they're actually nice to you. Part of you hopes they'll show pity, pay you anyway, offer you more work, but what exactly? Would they have you selling drugs maybe? Would that be you? Not really, but shit, would it be worse than your current situation? Maybe they'll ask you to burn down another building, just prepare you better next time, but that doesn't really appeal. 

So is it back to being a guinea pig? Is that all that's available to you now?

You've somehow reached twenty four years old. Your entire adult life has been homelessness, unemployment, occasional temporary jobs, medical experiments, and fights whenever you've walked down the wrong street. You're tired. You've lost all self-belief and you can see absolutely no way out of this. 

You're dropped off home, well, your aunty's place, without getting paid. Part of you is hoping they call you again. They other part is hoping they never do. 

They never do.

You go back to being a guinea pig for a while. During one medical study, you actually meet a girl you like. It gives you a little motivation. What if you could make something of this? Have an actual relationship. A normal life. Shit. Coincidentally, the girl, who you met in Edinburgh, lives close by. Maybe it's fate. You don't believe in such things though. Shit, you don't even believe in love.

So you're hanging out with this girl for weeks after the study, just sitting in bars all day, sometimes in silence, enjoying one another's company, barely even drinking, staring at music memorabilia fixed to the walls and dreaming again. You don't even have to say anything. It's a magical time. Something is waking up inside of you, you're feeling human again. Maybe it's the connection. She plays you an old rave song on her phone - Children of the Night - you loved it as a teen. You can't believe she did too.

She explains she knows the artist - QFX. She actually babysat for the girl whose voice was sampled for the chorus. It blows your mind. Maybe that fate thing is real after all.

You're inside a bubble of possibility now.

Then one day, you receive a message. 

It is a message you never wanted to hear. The type of message that will burst the bubble of possibility you've found yourself in and bring you crashing back to reality. It's about your friend, the one you went on the first medical study with, who you'd spent all that time rebuilding your bond with. He's gone. No more. He went to bed one night and didn't wake up.

You can't cry, you're incapable of that, but you're fucking well crying inside.

You'd known him since you were four years old. 

You picture the first day he walked into your school and sat at your table, the first time you discovered he'd moved in just a few doors down from you, the first time you knocked on his door and asked him to play out. This was your first proper friendship.

It's weird. It's like you're now physically reliving those moments when you were young and innocent and so full of dreams. Like as your friend has died, he's brought the child you once were back to life. The room has simply faded around you and you're standing in a fun fair - The Spanish City - with your friend and his mother. A huge pink elephant bouncy castle stands in front of you and then you're inside, bouncing.

Over the next few minutes, you relive every memory you shared together, many of which were forgotten, from your first sleepover to your first trip to the cinema to swimming at the pool to drinking cider as teens. 

And the next thing you know, you're compelled to return to the council estate where you grew up - the run down place with trainers hanging from trees and old mattresses and other shit dumped in side streets. 

Now you're back there and it seems so beautiful now. It always was, you guess.

You walk through the street where you grew up, pass through the car park where you rode your BMXs and played football with your little brother and the other kids. The sun is shining just as beautifully as it did back then, its golden rays meeting the wall beside your mate's house, where you'd sit, squishing green flies with your finger and eating them. Gross

You roam the neighbourhood and relive every last thing you did together when you were exploring this place for the first time. And with every corner you turn, you are utterly convinced he is going to just magically appear, that he's going to be standing there.

And you know he can't, that he really is dead, that you are now the sole holder of every memory you once shared, but you can't and won't accept this, because it was never meant to be this way. Because your journey was always supposed to have an end point that was better than the start. And if you accept his journey is over now, you're accepting your journey is over too. That you were never going to get out this place and there is never going to be a better tomorrow. Poverty was all they ever had in store for you.

One life is over now. You don't know whether yours is over too. Or just beginning again.

What do you do next?

Now there are likely two types of reader of the above piece. The first can relate because they've experienced something similar in their lives. The second thinks this is an unrealistic work of fiction that ultimately tells them nothing. But it was not a work not a work of fiction because everything I've outlined above happened to me, and that was about 0.01% of it. Although the timeline might be a little off in places, due to my fuzzy memory, and also to string together a coherent narrative, not a single event was made up.

I hope you enjoyed your day in my shoes.

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