Social Tech and Charity: Great for the bank balance but what about the brand?

27 08 2012

I’ve noticed in recent months that more and more space on my Facebook homepage now seems to be dedicated to friends talking about the latest run or bike ride or walk they are doing for charity and asking me to give what I can to the cause. This is invariably followed by the mention of some sort of target that they are trying to meet, one assumes in order to get me to loosen my purse-strings further.

It occurred to me the other day, that whilst all this fundraising that is happening through social technology at the moment must be great for the charities bank balances, it might not actually be so great for their brands. Sure it’s fantastic for Facebook as I have just alluded to, as it puts them at the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to charitable brands.

Sure it has been fantastic for Vodafone; who were the first network to have the bright idea to allow people to set up their own charity text lines with their Just Text Giving service. This basically allows you to set yourself up as a sub-brand of any charity you want, raising money for them whilst being – at least as far as the giver is concerned – completely disconnected from the charity at the point of donation.

It’s a genius move by both Facebook and Vodafone; as millions have now been raised for charity via both mediums. And it is great for us and our fondness for individualism. Seriously, what better way to assert it than through our own ego rubbing pedestals from which we may shout about our charitable work? So it is great for us and great for companies involved in social tech, but is it a genius move by the charities?

Now I’m not really the best person to talk about charity, mainly because I don’t believe it solves anything as it weakens both the giver and the receiver by making them dependant on one another when the best way to change someone’s circumstances is to empower them to change their situation for themselves.

But I’m not going to talk about my problems with charity and it’s failures here, that is for another time.

I’m going to talk about the brands. Whilst I’ll admit that I’m not the best person to talk about charity, I do – through my job – have a decent understanding of brands. And in the long-term I see the dilution of the identities of the movements that sit behind Just Text Giving and other charitable fund-raising platforms. At the end of the day, the brand is what we buy into, not the product, but the brand. And more often than not these days, I find myself giving money to a mate and not to the charity.

We all have brands we are tied to, companies we are unquestionably loyal to and whom we will forgive most indiscretions. For me it’s Apple and Manchester United. I’m pretty boring and simple in that way, I’ve never been much of a fan of stuff and things but I’ll admit that these two can both bring out a materialistic/irrational side of me that I’d like to pretend no longer exists.

The problem charities face by opening themselves up to social tech is the same problem we all face each time we either receive or hand out the type of abuse that is only reserved for the Internet’s various comment feeds. You see, the Internet (and particularly social tech), pulls off the hugely impressive feat of BOTH connecting us and disconnecting us like never before, and this is where – so far at least – charity seems to have misunderstood the full power of its latest weapon. It can work both ways.

That is where the fear should lie for any charity involved with Facebook or Vodafone or any other platform where the public becomes the spokesperson. Yes their bank balance is more connected to more of us than ever before, but the brands are becoming more and more disconnected from the general public each time one of us gives a friend money on their behalf. They ought to do something about it.

Look at Apple. Apple are able to sell their products through intermediaries like PC World because apple have products. As awesome (if not ridiculous) as their shops are, it doesn’t matter if I buy their latest gadget in an Apple Store or not because I always have the product at the end connecting me to their intricate web of communications and serving as the proof of why I felt something for this brand in the first place.

With charities it doesn’t quite work in the same way, when I give money to a charity, the connection must exist at the point of sale if that charity wishes to create any sustained loyalty from its contributors. The problem is that outside of their communications and the conversation I have with the representative on the phone or on the street, there is very little to keep me tied to that organisation. No products, no services, just the cause.

Therefore if the message is everything how can you ensure that your message is not diluted by all these people going out and raising money for you in their own names? What does that mean for the long-term future of your business? And make no mistake, charity is big business.

I’d say right now as things stand even big movements like the WWF should be worried. At least enough to recognise that the balance is not yet quite right. It doesn’t mean scrapping social tech as a money-raising tool, it certainly can’t be denied it has its benefits. But it does mean it is time for a rethink around how to strike a balance between boosting the contributions you receive and keeping the brand on point and the message as clear as it ever was.

The use of Social Media to boost any cause can be of huge benefit to the organisation if done well. But, if you get it wrong, – and many, many organisations are getting it wrong – it could serve to destroy everything that made you great in the first place. Whether you are an Apple or an Amnesty International, you’d better take social tech seriously, or it might just bite you in the bottom…


If There are 32 Different Types of Colgate, How Can I be Expected to Care About Anything Else? The Paradox of ‘Choice’

15 06 2012

There are thirty-two different types of Colgate toothpaste, JUST Colgate toothpaste. Add to that seven different Maclean’s, thirteen Sensodyne and a few more from Aquafresh, Arm and Hammer and the like and before you know it you find yourself in Tesco’s with 126 different varieties of toothpaste to choose from.

I think that we have too much choice, I think that we spend such a large amount of our time making decisions as consumers that it


stops us from engaging properly with the reality of the world around us, blinds us to the truth and stops us from acting as free thinking individuals and active members of society. How many people reading this define themselves by the material decisions they make, be it buying a house or a car or a suit or a bra, we all symbolise our individuality though the things we consume.

The thing is, that everything we consume is pre-determined, from our politicians to our iPad’s. At some point someone we don’t know and we will never see has decided that this politician or this piece of technology or this product is suitable for the market place. When I make my choice from the thirty-two different types of Colgate amongst the 126 different types of toothpaste on the supermarket shelf, I understand that it is not really my choice, someone is dictating a series of ‘choices’ to me that have been deemed acceptable by some perceived higher being.

I don’t mind choice, it is a great thing, but I feel as though today it is used as a weapon to neutralise people to the point where you can have a large degree of control over that population. I believe that we have so many consumer based decisions to make on a day-to-day basis that it stops us from even wanting to discuss issues or make real decisions about the future of our society. I believe we need to step away from using materialism to assert our individuality and go back to the search from enlightenment, knowledge and understanding, which is where true individuality lies.

I’m going to run you through a plausible half-day in my life (a full day would be exhausting) from a decision-making point of view, hopefully you’ll start to see what I mean, we have a lot to think about us modern humans.

The alarm rings, I stir momentarily from my slumber and then it hits me, my first choice of the day. Do I snooze or do I jump out of bed? I must decide whether to shave or not to shave, to poo now or to poo later? And all before I have even showered. I do not have a huge wardrobe but even so I have three or four ‘favourite’ pairs of jeans/trousers to choose from, three suits, about the same number of jumpers/hoodies and around ten T-shirts and Shirts to choose from each time I wake. Then there’s the underwear and footwear. You can see why it takes some people ages to get ready in the morning, that’s a lot of choice first thing.

Then there is breakfast, freaking breakfast! With its cereals and its toast and hot cross buns and crumpets and bacon and eggs fifteen million different ways and its preserves and spreads and breakfast bars and that’s just the food!! Do I have it with Coffee or Tea or juice or water? And if I have it with tea or coffee do I want an espresso, a macchiato, a cappuccino, an earl grey, a green tea, a spiced chai, a builders tea, a Latte, a Fartte, PG Tips, Twinings, a Nescafe, Nescafe Gold Blend, Nescafe Decaffeinated, a Nescafe Re-caffinated Decaffeinated Reconstituted Arabica Pot-Roasted Dongleblaster? I think my head just exploded and it is not even eight o’clock.

Get in the car, need petrol. There are three petrol stations between here and the station, each selling two different types of unleaded petrol at six different prices. When did petrol stop being petrol? Now I feel guilty every time I fill up with the cheap stuff instead of the ‘fuel save’, which I am told gives my engine a loving hug and increases its life-span and mileage, but even for petrol this stuff is expensive so I go with the ‘cheaper’ option. I can’t even look my car in the face as I fill it with this plonk. Someone’s going to have a hangover in the morning.

When making my payment I remember that I need some cigarettes, again the choice is endless. At different times in my life I have smoked Marlborough ‘Lights’, B&H Silver, Silk Cut (purple, blue and sliver), Camel ‘Lights’, Cutters Choice, Golden Virginia, Amber Leaf and the odd one from various other well established cancer delivery devices. Luckily the cigarette is one of those decisions that comes quickly to someone who has smoked for longer than I care to remember, my relationship with certain brands is deep and irrational so it is an easy decision, but a decision nonetheless.

Even Billionaire Burns has had to struggle with seemingly simple choices once in a while

Just as I am paying, the bastard cashier’s training kicks in and he offer’s me a free sausage roll if I buy a large coffee. And even though I have already had a bowl of cereal covered in cold espresso, this seems too good an opportunity to pass up, so I grasp the chance (and a napkin) with both hands and head off to the station.

On parking at the station I am confronted with yet another series of annoying choices. I am only popping into work for a few hours so I don’t really need to pay to park for the whole day, but I don’t want to have to rush back. As I decide to just pay for the whole day, I notice that it is cheaper to pay for the week and as I’m coming in every day, maybe I should take that option. Just as the weekly ticket is printing, I remember I’m staying at the girlfriend’s house twice this week, which means traveling from a different station. Great! Six quid pissed away and it’s still only 8:30.

Arriving on the platform I notice that the next train stops at every station, but there is a fast train ten minutes later that is less stop-start. Do I get on the first train or the second? Will the fast train cut more than 10 minutes out of my journey? Which one will arrive first? Why didn’t I check this before I went to bed last night? I decide to check my iPhone for some enlightenment, but wait, do I use Tube Deluxe or the First Capital Connect website? In the end the first train arrives before I have time to work it out and in my anxiety to get off the platform I jump on, which as it turns out, arrives five minutes after the second train, FFS!!!

Arriving on the Platform at Kings Cross I notice that I can turn left to exit or turn right, my gut tells me to go right, yet everyone else seems to be going left. Do they know something I don’t? Is there a quicker way out of this blasted station?

No. No there isn’t, at every tunnel junction I am confronted with two possible exit routes out of the station, at each junction I pause trying to work out which exit will get me out close to York Way. I recognise the Pentonville road exit and go for it, but it turns out this exit is shut during peak hours, so I turn and make my way back into the maze that is Kings Cross Station.

After a ten minute sprint around the station and up York Way, I finally arrive at work, sweaty and already with a head full of bullshit decisions made. I get settled at my desk and get on with my day. The morning passes without incident, no inane choices rear their ugly head until it hits 12:30 when the mind begins to wander off for lunch….

I could go to the coffee shop downstairs, but I don’t really like anything they serve, there’s Prett just down the road, but that will be heaving at this time and they have way too much choice. I’m loathed to eat McDonald’s, I always order too much and it always makes me feel sick. Then there’s the Kebab shops, Sandwich shops and Gregg’s. Bloody choice!

As always I end up in Prett staring blankly into a wall of Tuna baguette’s, Salads six different ways, hot wraps, toasties, fruit salads, slices of cake, pastries and a seemingly endless selection of beverages both hot and cold. Fuck this, I just wanted something to eat, I grab a particularly boring but safe looking cheese, ham and mustard toastie, a bottle of water and a lemona…apple juice and head to the counter. “Will you be eating in or taking away? Paying by cash or card? Is there anything else I can do for you today?” Yes. Stop with the bloody questions, it’s my freaking lunch break!!!

I think we can leave it there, I’ve made my point, and I don’t know about you but I’m already exhausted, and I haven’t even touched

They say keep your options open, but how do you then know when the right one comes along?

on any of the numerous ‘big’ decisions we have to make day-to-day. Which plonker decided that more choice was the most desirable thing to humanity?

Now don’t get me wrong, broadly speaking I think that choice is largely a good thing. I don’t like the fact that I only get to ‘choose’ between one out of touch, spineless politician and another at elections, but I am neither arrogant nor stupid enough to fail to recognise that I am lucky to have the choice at all. What I am asking is this; have we reached a point where we have too much choice? Have we reached a point where the need for choice has been placed above the idea of freedom and therefore is beginning to infringe on our ability to act as free thinking individuals?

I suspect it has, but I can only know what I know, think what I think and feel what I feel. I cannot speak for the rest of you. Do you ever feel like you don’t have the energy for the big decisions? Do you ever find yourself putting off the urgent task for something that seems important, but as it turns out just made it all the harder to successfully complete the original task? Do you ever find yourself agonising over any purchasing decision, no matter how big or small, wasting time that could be spent doing what you actually want to be doing?

If you answered yes to any of these (and I suspect most of us will have to all), then you may well be suffering from Toomuchchoiceous syndrome. I am afraid that there is no known cure, although I do hear Colgate are working on a mouthwash to tackle the problem and should be releasing it in twelve different flavours just in time for Christmas…

I’ll leave you with this guy, Barry Schwartz, who explains the paradox of choice far more eloquently than this confused ape can…

Occupied bodies and lost souls – the problem with protest

2 05 2012

Believe it or not I made my first (of what will be many) forray into the world of the Occupy London movement yesterday, I have spent long enough  listening to second-hand, lopsided accounts of the various protest marches of the last few years and it was time to hear it from the horse’s mouth. A friend and I strolled down to Paternoster Square for the afternoon portion of the May Day March, where we marched to Trafalgar and then onto Bond Street and Oxford Street for the supposed “Occupy” led portion of the day. The following is what I hoped to see, what I actually saw and how I felt about the whole thing…

Excuse me sir, would you kindly move your tent please, I have a letter here that explains in full my reasoning for this position…

Standing on the platform, I found myself running at least an hour late, not a good start to life as an engaged, protesting citizen but hey, I’m on the platform, better late than never. I am filled with a range of differing emotions from a hint of anxiety to excitement, I really had no idea what to expect. Until now I have watched Occupy from afar, intrigued but not yet moved to follow them outside of the virtual world. What I will find I do not know, I am hoping to be inspired, I am hoping that six months on, Occupy is still strong and has something to show me that I have not seen before, I am not certain that I will find either. Here comes the train…

Sitting on the train I can’t help but look around at the nameless faces sitting before me, dotted around the carriage as far away from each other as possible. In each of them I see a reason to attend todays march, each sullenly going about the business of distracting themselves from the monotony of the daily commute. Some playing with electronic multi-function devices, others battling with Sudoku puzzles or pouring through the various reality distortion publications that make up our ‘beloved’ free press.

I am struck by the sense that humans have been shipped about en mass in this way before, somewhere in our dark past and I feel a profound yet distant connection with these lost souls. Why are we so blind to the fact that we are cattle being shipped from one place to another for some unseen higher being? Yes I am glad that I’m off to St Paul’s, I could do with some clarity in this increasingly opaque world, I wouldn’t put my house on finding it today though…

After meeting up with my friend Tom, we joined the march at Holborn, where we were ushered on down to Trafalgar Square by a tight but polite police cordon, indeed it did make me chuckle how civilised (and controlled) the whole thing was. By the time we reached Trafalgar square the sun had completely broken through the dark clouds of earlier in the day and we were bathed in sunlight, all in all it was a very nice walk through London on a sunny afternoon.

I was struck by two main things from the march and the rally that followed at Trafalgar. Firstly, the disjointed feel to the whole thing. Tom and I joined at virtually the back and slowly made our way to the front, passing through countless different ideologies, grievances, movements and approaches. There are even movements within movements with anonymous, which has sprung up as an active sub-group of the Occupy movement. Indeed there are even movements within movements within movements, the Solidarity Federation* are another movement who have sprung up out of the Occupy protests and they appear to have modelled themselves quite closely on the anonymous guys. Basically the only place you will find more movements is in my stomach the morning after a particularly spicy curry.

So as I have made clear, I got the sense that there were several different marches going on within the one and whilst that is fine, as we all have our own thing we get pissed off about, there was very little sense of any real effort to coordinate with one another, no togetherness. Ironically the buzz word of the day was solidarity, but if I am completely honest I was struggling to see much evidence of any such thing, the activist ego is a mighty powerful thing, half the fun is the glory, just ask any union boss.

The second thing I was struck by was the quality, or indeed lack there of, of the speakers. Each and every one of them failed to keep the whole audience engaged for the entire time they were speaking, most failed to grab the attention of more than a third of the attendees for more than thirty seconds. I couldn’t help but imagine standing before Martin Luther King in 1963, as he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a captivated audience of 200,000 people about his big dream for the future. That does not happen here, not even close, everyone is either too meek, too extreme, or too confused about what they actually want to be able to engross anyone for any length of time. One after another they stand at the base of Nelson’s Column and proclaim that cuts are bad, that the system is corrupt, that we need a return to economic growth, each one pointing out a problem, not one offering a viable solution or alternative. Each one proclaiming us Comrades as though Stalin was a good thing and each one claiming solidarity with the others without ever engaging with anything but their own agenda.

Sarah Jewell representing Occupy at the May Day march on Trafalgar

Almost everyone calls for a return to economic growth, yet no one points out that a model of infinite economic growth based upon finite natural resources is utterly, ludicrously unsustainable. Until of course, Sarah Jewell from Occupy takes the mic and she doesn’t beat around the bush. However, even she fails to really drive home the point in a way that could begin to unite the unions and the protest movements under a shared cause. She does come up with the best sound bite of the march and one that draws a brief yet rousing cheer from the crowd. Taken from a speech delivered by the Rev. Jessie Jackson to Occupy London, “we are not the revolution, the revolution is still to come. We are the canaries at the end of the tunnel, just trying to warn the world of the dangers ahead”, nice, but still, no solutions.

One thing that was noted during the Trafalgar rally was that the police pretty much immediately cordoned off the Occupy area from the rest of the march, which only served to draw attention to them and praise from each and every one of the speakers at the event. Sometimes you have to wonder if the police actually know what they are doing.

I did find some evidence that the aggressive approach of the police can turn a calm situation into one that is on the verge of boiling over, to my surprise however it seemed to me that any pushing and shoving always seemed to come about from a slightly hot-headed approach from an individual police officer rather than because of the way a group of them dealt with protestors. Indeed most of the officers were very cordial and were happy to have a bit of a laugh and a joke with many of the protesters, who I am sure they have got to know very well over the last six months.

They are shit hot on the tents though, they had these little heritage officers running around the square filing the paperwork almost as quickly as the tents went down. Even for Brits I found this dedication to bureaucracy astounding, indeed most of the officers on the scene seemed to spend a lot of their time doing admin. Incidentally I counted and it takes seventeen police officers and five heritage officers to remove one tent, I couldn’t help but feel that if Occupy took a little more time to organise themselves and could get one thousand people to put tents down in the same place at the same time, there probably wouldn’t be enough police officers to remove them so quickly. Shame.

As things died down in Trafalgar Square, we followed the Occupy protesters down to Bond Street. As a side note, I have now

The Police outside JD sports on Oxford street, or “building 9” as they like to call it

forgiven twitter for forcing that Bieber thing down my throat every day, there is no better way to follow protesters around london. What happened on Bond Street and Oxford Street yesterday afternoon, for me highlighted the failures of the movement far more than it did the successes.

After losing them upon leaving Trafalgar we twittered our way over to Bond Street where we had learnt Occupy were gathering for the next stage of the days protesting. Standing outside the station, for a good ten minutes nothing seemed to be going on, there were plenty of people and it did make getting in and out of the station difficult, the police blocked the entrance but nothing really happened. As me and Tom were about to turn around and head to the pub, there was a bit of a commotion around the entrance to the station.

The paps had gathered furiously around a young lady with dreads and flowing hippy attire (you could not give them a better stereotype) standing next to a man with a megaphone. As if on Que. they began a chant of “we won’t work for JSA” which was quickly taken up by most in the crowd around us. This chant did not sit well in the stomach with Tom or I, it felt like someone was hijacking the Occupy protest, did they really think that saying we won’t work for job seekers allowance was a message that would get the public on their side?

I soon discovered that this was being led by a group called the Solidarity Federation, they had used the Occupy movement as an opportunity to push their own agenda. Once again we were seeing the activist ego at play, it felt hijacked and it felt self-defeating. They were not the only ones but they were most prominent in our thoughts by the end of the day, but there were several socialist and communist groups with different political aims using Occupy as a stepping stone to a wider audience.

Tom and I both tried to reason with those around us, noting that this was not a message that would get public support and that the media would jump on this as yet another opportunity to destroy the movements credibility. Of the two people I was speaking to, one walked away as soon as she realised she didn’t like my point of view and carried on chanting, the other listened and engaged me in debate for five or ten minutes but still tried to justify this poorly thought out action by saying, “we have to do something”, maybe they should change their name to the Justify Movement.

Tom had a similar experience with the chap he spoke to. He asked him, “do you honestly believe that chanting we won’t work for JSA is the most important message and the message that the public are likely to get behind?”. Amazingly the man was absolutely convinced of the fact that this was the right thing to be doing and that the public would absolutely get behind this. In many of the people we spoke to we saw the same thing, massive emotional attachment to all of their ideas and actions. Many protesters have a similar mentality to those that they are protesting against, they are so convinced that they are right, that they are often unable to evolve their ideas from where the began. Indeed they don’t even see mistakes as mistakes, they are emotionally tied to their ideas and that is a very worrying state of mind because it makes them very easy to infiltrate and influence.

This chap thought it would be a good idea to Occupy the top of a bus stop, meaningful action you say? I’m not so sure

Don’t waste your time with actions that only serve to push the silent majority further away from you, only engage in actions that are worthy and that have an impact. The great movements of our past were great because of their ability to tap into universal truths, I heard very few of those yesterday.

As discussed, the movement would benefit greatly from some media savvy but it could also do with some people who actually understand how some of the businesses that they target on these marches function. For example, after the debacle outside the station, we headed a hundred yards up the road to Occupy one of the three McDonald’s on a 400 yard stretch of road in the busiest retail centre in London. McDonald’s are scientific in their approach to business, there are three small restaurants within a few hundred yards of each other for a reason, to have any impact on the business they do in that area, you would need to split into three separate groups and Occupy all three simultaneously to have any discernible impact and even then it is McDonald’s, they don’t give a crap. Like Top Shop it is a nice symbolic target but are you really serving the cause and utilising your resources in the best possible way here?

During the Solidarity Federation led ‘Occupy Bond street’ march, I also notice a huge amount of flyers being handed out with information relating to their cause, they must have handed out hundreds, I managed to grab a couple of the people handing out the leaflets, none of them could defend the content of the propaganda they were passing around and most could barely explain the content of the thing they were handing me. This is really worrying, if those at the sharp end of movements for change are so easily led then really, they do not have a chance.

I worry about groups like Occupy London and Unions like Unite, you see in my eyes, one of the biggest problems that they face lies in their own approach to their perceived enemies. I get the sense that whilst today was peaceful and the history of the Occupy movement itself has been one of largely peaceful protest (given its size and longevity), the mentality is one of war. Indeed if you watch the interview below with prominent Occupy activist Jamie Kelsey-Fry you will notice that his rhetoric is in line with an individual with the mentality of someone at war.

Whilst I think that is an understandable approach to take in the circumstances, I don’t believe it is smart to go to war with a war machine. The so-called one percent (more accurately the 0.1%) have been doing war for a very, very long time, they own the machine and the machine is perfectly designed for obliterating opponents. If Occupy treat this like a war, they cannot win, they will be smashed out of sight. My advice to Occupy London (each is different and I have only experienced London) would be this, make everything you do fun, make everything you do meaningful and base it around a system of knowledge sharing that can help people step beyond the confines of their current lives into something better. Everything they do should be in an a festival-like atmosphere, with music, great speakers and people having a good time, only when they do that will the tipping point come where people begin to latch on in their thousands.

I have said it before and I will say it again, the key to the future of humanity lies in the creation of a world of people capable of thinking critically and for themselves, a world full of people who do not need to be led, indeed a world full of leaders. I saw in yesterday’s protests nothing more than a reflection of the current system at work. A few people with lots of knowledge leading a group of people who are desperate to be part of something.

This is not the answer, the number one priority for Occupy or any similar group should be to get people thinking for themselves, then and only then will they be fit for purpose. Right now, it seems from my point of view at least, that for every action that serves the cause, there are three or four that serve to diminish it. Wake up and organise!!

I will leave you with the image that has stuck in my mind from yesterday, at one point a young and excitable member of the anonymous wing of the Occupy movement charged over to her scruffy and red bull charged buddies exclaiming, “I just got in trouble with a policeman! I just got in trouble with a policeman over there!” If you Occupy the bodies of lost souls you’d better make sure you nurture one or two of those minds. There is nothing more dangerous than a well-intentioned yet ignorant human with nothing to lose and if Occupy lose sight of this fact, they could end up doing more harm than good.

*Correction: The Solidarity Federation or SolFed, are not an organisation that ‘sprung up’ from the Occupy movement, this was an act of poor research on the part of the author and I can only apologise for that mistake. SolFed, is a federation of class struggle anarchists that have been active all over Britain since 1994. They advocate the abolishment of capitalism and the state through anarcho-syndicalism, which is a branch of anarchism that focuses on the labour movement. The Occupy movement were there to support SolFed’s action against workfare. 

However this was an account of my experiences as a protester, there answering the same call from Occupy London that thousands will have received through their Facebook and Twitter feeds over the previous week and therefore I believe the point I made about it feeling hijacked remains valid. As it turns out Occupy were there in support of The Solidarity Foundation which is why they took up the chant of ‘we won’t work for JSA’, led by SolFed. I still do not believe that this is a message that either group should be putting out if they want to get the public on their side, it is simply too ambiguous, as the way in which I interpreted the situation at Bond Street Station stands testament to. Still I must retract my statement that this was hijacked by SolFed, indeed it was actually an attempted act of solidarity (albeit a messy one) with Occupy supporting a long established and important group, apologies to both for my mistake.

I know where I’d like to put my vote, but there doesn’t seem to be a slot for it…

10 04 2012

So, the last two weeks have been ones of pasties’, panic buying and all round petulance from the pathetic politicians of the day. Between them, Messrs Cameron, Miliband, and Osborne have inspired me to share with you why for the moment at least, I am done with voting.

Firstly, I would like to apologise if this week’s blog comes across as a touch vitriolic, I will try to offer up a balanced argument but I cannot guarantee it because of all my beliefs, my position on voting is probably the idea I am most tied to and therefore least likely to offer up a fair opinion on, but I’ll give it a go…

My stance so we’re clear is this, I will never again vote for someone or something I don’t believe in and therefore the chances are that I will never vote again. Understand this, I am not committed to never voting again, I simply refuse to blindly commit to voting regardless of the quality of the candidates on offer. If everyone else likes pushing the poop around Downing Street every four or five years then go ahead, be my guest, but don’t show me shit, call it democracy and then expect me to swallow it.

Before I get into my why’s and what’s on the topic, I’d like you to take a moment to watch this, which in my eyes is one of the greatest five minutes of stand up comedy ever conceived…

I first saw this clip from the great George Carlin five or six years ago and I believe that it was the first time I had ever considered voting from this point of view. It certainly didn’t change my mind in that moment, (those of you who know me will remember numerous occasions in the past few years where I have implored everyone I know to get up and vote), but it did change my perspective and it planted a seed. It conditioned my mind so that I didn’t immediately roll my eyes when listening to someone considering withholding their vote and it meant that I looked more closely at the people I had to vote for and listened to what they had to say.

Let’s face it if anyone does listen to politicians anymore (which I seriously doubt) then you can’t help but feel a sense of flabbergasted wonderment in the face of these wet, out of touch puppets to big business we call our leaders. Take David Cameron, our ‘beloved’ PM who by some measure of good fortune and dumb luck has ended up leader of the same country that less than a lifetime ago was led by Winston Churchill. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Indeed it was Mr Cameron’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that ‘topping up’ at Petrol stations might be a good idea ahead of proposed strike action that sparked this blog. Put simply we once lived in a country (and indeed a world) whose response to a potential crisis was to batten down the hatches, cut back on frivolous spending and save our resources. Now we appear to be a nation that has one stock response to every problem, consume consume consume!

Was Mr Cameron under a rock last time there was a petrol shortage in the UK? Does he not realise that the modern-day Brit needs no second invitation to panic buy and hoard stuff they don’t actually need? Who advised him that telling the British public to “take necessary precautions” would be a good idea? I assume therefore that it came as quite a surprise to Mr Cameron that we then heard stories of old ladies filling up paint cans and jam jars with petrol.

Indeed a friend of mine got caught in a two and a half hour queue at a service station in the middle of a work day, only to then find himself semi-squashed between his own car and that of some poor nut job who had clearly lost their mind in the face of this perceived crisis and  given up on humanity altogether. My mate was understandably delighted upon realising that his body had acted as a more than adequate buffer, protecting his brand new car from the maniac’s and duly brushed himself off, paid for the petrol and told Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t surprise me that this was the advice given, after all George Bush told America to get out and spend money in the wake of 9/11 and that was almost eleven years ago, we’re fighting a different war to the one Churchill was. It is a war of big business and free market economics, this is what guides politicians, not these now empty words like freedom and liberty as they would have us believe. This is one of the chief reasons I do not see myself voting for any politician at any election for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening though.

Very conveniently this morning, I was once again left in awe by the audacity of our own Chancellor George Osborne‘s suggestion that he is ‘shocked’ that some of the richest people in our country are able to arrange their finances so that they pay virtually no income tax. Are you sure about that George? You, the Chancellor of The Exchequer, the supposed go-to-guy in Westminster on all things money orientated, have such a poor grasp of the tax system in this country that you didn’t know people of exceptional wealth could easily and legally pay as little as ten percent tax on their yearly earnings? REALLY?!

For me, this moment is simply re-confirming, for the umpteenth time what many of us were absolutely certain of quite a while ago. George Osborne is either clearly so out of his depth that he is potentially the single greatest threat to the long-term stability of the British economy, bar none, or he is a genuinely evil man who time and again shows nothing but utter contempt for the British public and is convinced we are a bunch of gullible, alcohol obsessed morons. Either way, I’m not sure he should be left in charge of the budget of a local GREGGS, let alone that of our entire nation.

Politics should lead business in terms of forward thinking, but time and again it is the other way round, I believe the reason for this shift is because of the role that big business has played in politics since the end of the second world war. We now live in a world where it quite literally owns our politicians, indeed we have seen in the past couple of weeks how if you have enough money, you can pay to have dinner and drinks with the PM and potentially influence policy both at home and abroad. Where’s my dinner Dave?

Ironically big business now leads politics in many areas, including that of sustainability where on the one hand we have Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan which is a genuine and ambitious commitment to long-term sustainable development. Then on the other hand you have stories of cuts in funding for green businesses like wind-farms and uninspired clap-trap about the need for sustainability to make ‘fiscal sense’, from the government. Well yes of course it does but if that is at the heart of your thinking then you are kind of missing the point. No wonder voters are fed up.

Don’t get me wrong, business still has a long long way to go, but it is at least moving in the right direction, something that cannot be said for politics, which appears to have given up, turned around and gone home for a pot noodle and a wank.

The big problem is that the blame does not lie solely in the hands of Dave, Nick and Ed and their chums in westminster. You can’t even completely blame Maggie or Tony, yes they got into bed with corporations, but those mean old corporations didn’t have to be so rough and my god were they rough!

What was once a trade for great leaders of men, for people with wild and crazy notions of a brighter, fairer future, is now one for sneaky little back  stabbers and ‘poster boy’ politicians who are groomed and then controlled in order to perpetuate the established society and to serve the best interests of their ‘generous’ backers.

If politics really is in the back pocket of the worlds biggest organisations (and I think if the Leverson enquiry and the ‘cash for access’ scandal are anything to go by, they are), then how can politics ever get back to a place where it is once again a meaningful expression of democratic freedom?

George Galloway of the Respect party and Big Brother fame is certainly giving it a go and has been for some time, if I’m honest he says some things that I agree with and you cannot deny that the pounding he handed out to the Labour Party and the Tories in Bradford last week was mighty impressive.

In reality however, the Respect party are at best a protest vote, an option currently without a representative thanks to the Lib Dems, who appear to be on the verge of complete annihilation, and protest votes don’t really stand for much anyway. All-of-which leaves us hanging on the edge of a two-party system of the sort the Americans seem so very fond of.

Even if George Galloway didn’t say mental things like “The Bradford Spring” and was capable of putting his views (which are not without merit) on Palestine and the Middle East forward in a way that doesn’t sound like a big fuck you to Israel and the Yanks, I still don’t think he’d ever have a chance of breaking the two-party system in this country because big business will never back a politician like him and neither will the media.

The media in particular, absolutely hates George Galloway and always has done, I have not seen an interview with him since his victory where the interviewer showed him one ounce of respect. They spend so much time with ridiculous questioning about nothing that you never really get to hear what he has to say and he ends up coming across so defensive that you can’t possibly begin to buy into his politics. The interview below with SkyNews is a prime example of what I mean. This is what happens to anyone who thinks differently in politics, they are shifted to the side and either disappear into nothingness or become a social pariah to their peers, the media and the wider public, thus crippling their ability to do, or indeed say anything.

As I sit here today with my modest (at best) intellect and having thought about it for at least six minutes, I can see one possibility that could not only dramatically alter the way we think about politicians but the way they think about us. I believe this could be easily implemented and could have a rejuvenating effect on our society, which for the moment at least appears to be limping towards its own destruction.

Basically and very simply, I think we need to begin counting no shows at all elections as a ‘must do better’ or a protest vote, I believe everything you do on voting day should count, it all matters. Regardless of whether someone doesn’t vote as a protest or out of sheer indifference, both signify a massive failure of politicians to engage that person in the future of the country.

At the last general election thirty-five percent of the UK’s eligible voting population failed to turn up, if that thirty-five percent had counted towards something, at the very least a registering of disapproval of the candidates and parties on offer, then it takes on a whole new level of significance.

At the very least it forces us to engage properly on the subject of why people don’t show up to vote at elections, it gives us a genuine option as a protest vote and it would force politics in a very short space of time to revolutionise the way it interacts with the voting public. In the long-term it is the sort of thing that could turn the power structure on its head, taking the power over politicians out of the hands of global organisations and putting it back into the hands (in some small measure) of the people.

It would also force the media to discuss more openly the growing number of disaffected voters who are angry at the polarisation and school boy politics of our system that bounces us from one inadequate, one-sided way of doing things to another. It might even allow some of the smaller, but wiser voices in our political system to be heard on a wider scale.

Imagine if fifty percent of the eligible voting population didn’t vote at the next general election, what would that do to politicians? How could anyone in power continue to run things with this top down, fuck the man in the street attitude of today? You couldn’t do it, not if fifty percent didn’t turn up, not if that fifty percent knew that their not turning up meant something. Suddenly that fifty percent is united, not seen as individuals and outsiders but as a vehicle for political and social change, now that would be worth voting (or not voting) for…

One final thought. Time and time again, friends, family and acquaintances have come up with the old argument that I ‘spit on the graves of those who fought for my right to vote’ if I don’t go out to vote. In fairness, I used to believe them, I even used to spout the same nonsense myself, but I ask you one question and answer it honesty. Do you truly believe in your heart of hearts that Martin Luther King, members of the suffragette movement, the people of the Arab spring and many others laid down their lives so we could vote for these sneering merchants of economic doom? I cannot believe that this is the best we can do, I will not believe it, we must demand better…

I’ll be having a barbecue on the 3rd of May and at least nine beers, none voters and voters alike are welcome to join me without prejudice, but leave your party politics at the door, they don’t live here anymore…

“The grass will always suffer when two elephants fight” why a KONY war is a Phoney war

15 03 2012

Never trust a man who preaches an end to war with an AK-47 in his hands

Did anyone else go to bed full of hope last Wednesday night only to wake up with a dazed and confused feeling as the harsh reality set in on Thursday morning? I did, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, I got caught up in the hype and before I knew it found myself promoting something that actually may not really be in the best interests of the people of Uganda or as it turns out, myself.

Let me get one thing straight, I despise the military industrial complex that has dominated the post second world war era. It is a strong word hate, I try to avoid using it because it is the antithesis of love and love in all its wonderful complexity, is an all-consuming thing, something that if felt deep within can be projected out ten fold. So it is with hate, it too is rich with complexity and will consume you with the same vigour but with markedly darker consequences.

Therefore I try to avoid hate, but if I had to hate something it would be the idea that your military can dictate foreign policy, distribution of public spending and can pick and choose the wars to fight that either generate the most money or reinforce the economic principles of the invading country. You can imagine my state of mind therefore, waking up last Thursday to the realisation that I had helped communicate an idea that essentially supports the military industrial complex and the interests of American free market economics… KONY 2012, you nearly had me, but now I’m not so sure…

There are a number of aspects to this whole thing that have been widely discussed in the media and throughout the blogosphere in the past week, I’m sure most of you are aware by now that there have been question marks raised over the distribution of funds, the timing, the true motivations, the egotistical nature of the video and the focus on Uganda despite Kony’s diminished presence in recent years. If truth be told I think most of these doubts are valid, Invisible Children are pretty opaque as far as I can tell and nothing that has come out since the video hit 70 million views has done anything to arrest my doubts about their motivations.

If you haven’t seen the video of Ben Keesey -CEO of Invisible Children- responding to the criticisms, watch it below and you’ll see what I mean. For one thing the guy is just creepy and I have never heard someone use the words transparent or transparency so much in an 8 minute clip, you’d think he was a lobbyist for an oil company ;-). You will also notice how he seamlessly transitions from defending the questionable motives and finances of the organisation to shamelessly ramping up donations, quite the salesman…

Look I am absolutely certain that when Jason Russell, Ben Keesey and the rest of the Invisible Children head hauncho’s get out of bed in the morning, they do so with gusto, in the firm knowledge that they are making the world a better place, but I’m also absolutely certain that this was true for Hitler and Rebecca Brookes and is true for the likes of Bashar al-Assad and Piers Morgan.

I’m not saying that Invisible Children or Piers Morgan are Hitler, I’m just saying that everyone that does any wrong starts at a place of perceived nobility, be it a holocaust or a viral video that preaches peace by manhunt. Albert Camus once said “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding”  

I think you could easily argue that Hitler’s fascist views came from a place of ignorance and that ignorance led him to do great evil in the belief that he was doing a great good, he didn’t see what he was doing as evil, no one ever does. I think you could also quite easily argue that the removal of one man -who’s influence continues to dwindle- by a foreign influenced Ugandan military will probably do more to heighten the tension in an area only just beginning to climb out of the mire from a 30 year conflict that goes way beyond Joseph Kony. So you can definitely argue that this film comes from a place of ignorance.

Kony by the way is pronounced as Kohn by most Ugandan’s and most other documentary makers, the irony of which should not be lost on you as that is precisely how this whole thing is starting to feel, like a bit of a con. You’ve certainly got to question both the level of understanding and the motivations of filmmakers who can’t even pronounce their protagonist’s name.

Whilst I cannot deny that the intentions of the filmmakers and all who are connected with invisible children are good, I do not believe that they come from a realistic place and I believe they’re actions may actually serve to create more conflict in the area and a subsequent influx of western corporations to rebuild and mine the natural resources for their own profit.

KONY 2012 has done some good though, it has awoken a sleeping majority to an issue that has lain dormant for far too long, to step outside of themselves. It has also planted a seed in the collective consciousness, one that says humanity does not have to be a top down organisation, there is power in the masses (particularly in an educated masses) to bring about real change, but there needs to be a deeper understanding before we start to demand said change.

These are good things and it is a seriously emotive video, (if little Gav doesn’t melt your heart then nothing will) there are lessons to be learnt on how to build a campaign and I admire their focus -something Occupy lacks- but I cannot endorse a focus on military action and an escalation of violence by foreign forces in an area in need of some peace.

I am a firm believer that we (the west) should cease meddling in foreign affairs until we have put our own house in order. Should we not be looking to the policy makers and the people who profit from the military industrial complex? How many of the conflicts in today’s world have their origins in American and European foreign policy and the unfair distribution of wealth?

Most I would say, and until we stop making money from these conflicts, removing one man will do nothing to change the situation in Uganda or Sri Lanka or Syria or anywhere else where human tragedy is a daily occurence. As the Ugandan saying that is the title of this post goes (taken from this great blog on KONY 2012) ‘The grass will always suffer when two elephants fight’. Are we an elephant?

So KONY 2012, great idea, wrong target, thanks but no thanks, maybe make LOBBYISTS famous 2012 would have been a better campaign?

P.S. watch this video response to KONY 2012 Hillarious!

KONY 2012 – that is all

7 03 2012

I was planning to write about the state of education today and how I feel it needs to be revolutionised if we are to forge a new sustainable future, but I woke up to 30 minutes of the most powerful film I have seen in a long, long while so education can wait for the weekend, because right now, I can’t get my mind off of one Joseph Kony.

For once there is little for me to say here other than watch the video below, it says it all and is well worth half an hour of your time. I will add just one thought, the pyramid that our society’s hierarchy is based upon can be turned on its head by the success of this campaign. It is as unique as it is brilliant in its approach, let’s make this evil bastard a celebrity, let’s make him a household name and then see how quickly he is brought to justice.

This attempt to bring evil to justice by Invisible Children has the ability to change the way we the people perceive our power, it can show us that we are in control of our own country’s actions and that understanding could change the world for ever. Most importantly if successful, it will remove from power, a man who over the last 26 years has been responsible for the slaughter of millions, the kidnapping of over 30,000 children to be used as child soldiers or sex slaves and the destruction of Uganda, the Congo and the Sudan, worth doing no?

The great thing is you don’t have to do much, you already know his name so you’re part of it like it or not. So I guess now you’ve joined the movement you should watch the video so you know Joseph Kony’s deeds and what you are campaigning for. I’ll see you all in London on April 20th for some arts and crafts and game changing fun, let’s bring this mother down!!! Better late than never humanity…

Why the Occupy ethos will kick capitalism in the balls, with or without St Pauls

28 02 2012

So, Occupy London was evicted last night from the St Paul’s camp, tis a sad day indeed, but somehow I feel this moment is more the end of the beginning than it is the beginning of the end, so the question on my mind is this, what next for the Occupy movement?

Until now I have refrained from passing judgement or making comment on this blog about what has been going on at St Paul’s,

The eviction of St Paul's Occupiers passed pretty peacefully but they cannot remove the idea from the heads of the protesters

mainly for the reason that I have not been down to the camp (a fact I am somewhat ashamed of) and therefore don’t feel totally qualified to discuss the movement. Having said that I feel a certain affinity with the Occupy protesters and have followed them from afar via twitter, Facebook and YouTube (God knows the news hasn’t been great for Occupy coverage) and given last night’s eviction of the St Paul’s site I feel now is a good time to offer up my point of view.

Firstly and most importantly, you cannot evict an idea like the Occupy movement, over the last 6 months it has planted a seed in the hearts and minds of many that has taken root inside a new collective consciousness which places freedom, liberty and justice for all at its centre. Now that is a hugely powerful idea, one that once at home in an individual’s mind, cannot be removed by the eviction of a campsite in central London. This is not like a dot-com or housing bubble, there’s no short-term thinking involved here so you can’t burst it so easily.

Capitalism has had a pretty easy time of it since the Baroness broke the working classes of Britain in the 80s and Nixon broke the spirit of the Vietnam war protestors. In my lifetime (I was born in 86) I have seen very little unrest in the western world and I have seen my country and other countries potter about the planet destroying every society that has a natural resource we like in the name of ‘democracy’. Make no mistake, this is generation fucked’s Vietnam, and we feel pretty strongly about the whole thing but we’re willing to bide our time.

Occupy is intriguing on many levels, but I think the most fascinating element, and indeed the one that shows its true power lies in the lack of leadership or manifesto. How does something seemingly so unorganised survive ten minutes, let alone 6 months (Occupy Wall Street)? It is a remarkable thing and one that is hard to understand from the context of an individual living in a hierarchical society.

Most would say its lack of direction is the major weakness of the Occupy movement but I see something different. I see large groups of people living together all over the world in major urban sprawls without rigid structures and hierarchies for long periods of time without killing each other and seemingly thriving in the presence of other open-minded, free thinking individuals. Occupy seems in part to have become a centre for learning and communicating great thoughts, that’s why it attracts people and that is why it has survived without an agenda. It is a haven, the antidote to the big city life that swallows up so many people, it is overwhelmingly a good thing and I’m gutted I didn’t pop in while I had the chance.

To put it into context, since the 17th September 2011 and the start of “Occupy Wall Street”, Occupy protests have sprung up in 70 countries in over 250 cities ranging from Mumbai to London to Buenos Aires. That is a remarkable thing whatever way you look at it, I’ve had a look around and I am struggling to find anything from written human history that has represented such a massive and sudden shift in collective thinking on a global scale. Sure the various religions did it with great success but it took quite a long time and quite a lot of brutal murder and land grabbing for that to happen, where as Occupy has had 6 months and is yet to try to kill anyone, I will agree it is perplexing.

I don’t know where Occupy will go from here in the UK, if anyone is looking for a suggestion I was on the Waterloo and City line for the first time last night (the one that goes between Bank and Waterloo) and it could do with a few more friendly faces if you ask me. The truth is that those at the heart of Occupy itself probably do not know where to go next, but I think that is ok, if you read a previous blog of mine on dreams you’ll understand why I think this way.

The thing is, Occupy isn’t like the Church, it does not need to survive to bask in the glory of its victory, it has done what it set out to do. Two ideas have been planted in the minds of millions of people, even those who are against it have the seeds of doubt and of new possibility lying there, for some it will lay dormant and for others it will grow and somewhere in-between you might get a major paradigm shift.

Think of it this way, a major artist unveils an incredible new sculpture, everyone is blown away by its beauty and the intricacy of the

A rude awakening for capitalism?

craftsmanship, but a couple of days after the unveiling a young teenager on a school field trip suddenly notices that out of the corner of your eye it looks remarkably like an erect penis, he points this out to a couple of friends and suddenly they see the penis too!! Within moments you have a class full of kids rolling around with laughter at the oversized schlong that has appeared before them. Yes some will be grown up about it and try to point out the beauty of the work, but even they will be unable to deny that they now see a cock every time they look at this so-called masterpiece.

That is what Occupy has done, shown us all that Capitalism is basically a large phallus, and once you have seen that you are never going to see it as anything else. If something only wants one thing (and penis’ only want one thing I assure you), chances are you’re going to be less likely to fall for its good looks and fancy cars, because after all, most of us are after something more than a one night stand, especially if you go to bed with a filly and wake up with a mare. So move over capitalism, you old war-horse you, its time someone put you out of your misery…

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