Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sanitised Wliberforce Museum promotes Anti Gay campaign.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of Slave Trading in 1807 - and I have had the pleasure of listening to the Wilberforce Lecture given The Prime Minister of Barbados, the Right Hon. Owen Arthur. I am hoping that the speech will be made available in text form because unfortunately, I only managed to understand about half of it due to his strong Caribbean accent.

However there was some good stuff there, including a few references to the role of multinational corporations in perpetuating slavery by supporting slave labour in the production of goods they sell at extortionate mark ups in the west some of the worst culprits being Wal-Mart and Nike.

One of the important messages coming out of the current anti slavery campaigns is that slave trading is not just a white crime as was stressed by John Prescott MP who opened the speaking today. Black chieftens were often guilty of supporting slave trading just as today they are prepared to accept billions from the USA and other western governments and corporations in exchange for resources or even unimpeded access to slave labour.

Following the Wilberforce lecture I walked round to the newly opened Wilberforce Museum to see how it had been refurbished. I had been involved in a couple of consultation exercises during last year which had not gone well - and I had real doubts about what they were planning. Those doubts were, I regret to say well founded. The museum has totally sanitised slavery.

In the previous exhibit there was a wonderful construction of what it was like in the Middle passage. It was as if for a brief moment you were taken below deck to where the slaves were packed into racks barely large enough to take a human body, where the smell from the lack of any sanitation was so great it could be smelt 10 miles away. This exhibit was so realistic that I am told many children left very upset and as a result suffered some sleepless nights. So now the middle passage is a combination of wall panels and audio visual presentations. All the images are etchings and drawings from the 18th century - but none convey the horror of what this much have been like.

I noticed parents having to explain everything to children because the entire museum, is made up of wall panels and display cabinets with occasional audio visual presentations. In a city where 20% of children leave school unable to read I can see that this will struggle to get the message across.

But worse was to come for me as I entered the section on Slavery today - OK the message about use of slave labour was there- but I did not see any name of villains. It was close to closing time so I will return and have a second look when it is not so busy. But the panel that angered me was one displaying a huge banner saying Homosexuality is a SIN.

This was picture of a religious demonstration in Northern Ireland against civil partnerships beside it was a picture of a gay couple in York following their civil partnership. There was an interactive exercise for kids regarding rights. One of the messages was encouraging people to respect the beliefs of religious groups. Coupling those two messages and the lack of any comment endorsing gay rights - it is clear that this exhibit is promoting a negative attitude towards homosexuality.

I have no idea what this exhibit has to do with slavery, but I do know that it is one of the strongest messages in the entire museum - no baggers on display opposing slave trading - no images of white slave trafficking for prostitution in the UK - in all a very sanitised display - with a huge anti gay banner in the middle of it.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Amazing Grace - Inspiring Political Activism?

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a preview of Amazing Grace, the film about the political struggle by William Wilberforce to abolish slavery. I live in Hull the home 200 years ago of William Wilberforce MP, so this is of special significance here and we were honoured with the presence of actor Ioan Gruffudd who plays Wilberforce, Director Michael Apted and screenwriter Steven Knight.

Although this is a film about Wilberforce's particular struggle 200 years ago, I found it had strong connections with modern times because it is more a film about the struggle against powerful, political and commercial self interests and greed. The wealth of the British empire had been build on slavery and following the abolition of slavery, the plantations in the West Indies failed to produce the huge profits of the past.

As an activist I came away very inspired. Although there were some minor historical inaccuracies, the story remained fairly true to fact and it showed that with persistence we can stop the extreme excesses of the the rich and powerful, but as is increasingly being seen today, unless we do something they will continue to chase profits with total disregard for human life - which is why I want to encourage you to view this short trailer for The Corporation - a documentary that highlights why we need to remember the legacy of Wilberforce - not the abolition of slavery - but the passion to keep on fighting against the unbridled greed that has driven powerful men throughout history, and today is embodied in The Corporation.

You might also like this short interview with Director Mark Achbar

"Just because you can't fix everything doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything" - Mark Achbar

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why are we still spending money on more nuclear weapons?

Yesterday 409 of Britain's MPs voted to spend £20 Billion (that nearly $40 Billion) to start replacing nuclear submarines to carry Trident Missiles - we currently have 160 nuclear missiles, the smallest arsenal of the arrogant group of western countries who feel they need to hold "total world destruction" as a "deterrent" over other countries. What the bloody hell are we going to do with 160 nuclear warheads. We have never used one in anger thank God - only one country in the world has ever done that - and the USA has 10,000 nuclear weapons. Watch this very short video from Ben of Ben and Jerry to see the total futility of this.

USA has the equivalent of 150,000 Hiroshima type bombs - Now at the same time as we are building and maintaining these weapons of total destruction, we pressure Iran to not be able to produce them - Hypocrisy? Do as I say not as I do - Thankfully 165 MPs voted against the Trident decision including 87 labour MPs who rebelled and plan to keep on opposing it. Note that the conservative party mostly supported the Trident Vote.

Time to Call Time on Nuclear weapons I think.

Share this Post