'Je Suis Charlie' rally
Trafalgar Square, London. Sun 11 Jan 2015
Nick Clegg and French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann gesticulate
at the Rally in Trafalgar Square
Nick Clegg and French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann were among the thousands
with 'Je suis Charlie' and other posters in the rally in solidarity with those
killed in the Paris shootings in Trafalgar Square.
I photographed them as they were leaving the event and making some rather
strange hand signals, which seemed to me typically Gallic; I'd just heard
a French woman congratulating Clegg on his French accent.
But I hadn't gone there to photograph these two, but the thousands of people,
many French but also plenty from the UK who were there to express their disgust
at the barbarity of the Paris attacks. Many of them had printed the 'Je suis
Charlie' signs, but others had made their own to express their views which
were sometimes more nuanced.
I'd arrived late and expected to miss the Ambassador and other celebrities,
but had hoped to see the projection of the French flag on the National Gallery
which I had been told would happen at 4pm. By the time I left around 20 minutes
later only one of the projectors appeared to be working, and that was showing
only a test pattern.
The 'fountains in the colours of the French Flag' were also somewhat dissapointing
as this simply meant they changed from being coloured red, to colourless and
to blue. I tried hard to make all three colours visible at once, but soon
13th Year of Guantanamo Shame
US Embassy, London. Sun 11 Jan 2015
A protest on the 13th anniversary of the prison camp
called for Obama to close it and free Shaker Aamer
13 years after the Guantánamo Bay detention camp opened, with
148 prisoners still held without charge or trial, campaigners outside the
US Embassy asked President Barack Obama his own question, 'Is This Who We
Are?' and called for closure now.
There were speeches from solicitor Louise Christian who represented
a number of prisoners held in Guantanamo and Noa Kleinman of Amnesty
International UK, as well as former soldier Ben Griffin of Veterans
for Peace UK who threw some light on the British Army and Intelligence services
long record of torture at least in conflicts since the Second World War, including
in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The only politician
asked to speak was London's Green MEP Jean Lambert who has long been
a supporter of the campaign.
But the main event of the afternoon was a two-part performance, 'Is
This Who We Are?' which used the text of various speeches by President
Obama about Guantanamo (including some from before his election as president)
read by actors with Obama masks hanging around their necks, along with a chorus
and some interviews. Unfortunately I missed the second part of this as I was
on my way to another event.
The protest took place a few days before David Cameron is due to hold talks
in the USA with Obama over security following the recent Paris attacks, and
the protesters hope that he will urge Obama to close Guantanamo and free Shaker
Aamer to return to his family in London. The presence of Guantanamo with its
trademark orange jumpsuits is one of the most potent factors leading to the
radicalisation of a small number of young Muslims who join with groups such
as IS and carry out terrorist attacks in the west.
Free Shawki Ahmed Omar
US Embassy, London. Sun 11 Jan 2015
The family of Shawki Ahmed Omar listen to speeches with
protesters from the London Guantanamo Campaign
Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye and her 9 year old daughter Zeinab continue their
regular protests at the US embassy over the imprisonment of Shawki Ahmed Omar,
who has dual Jordanian/US nationality. I first reported on them in April 2013,
where you can read more about the case on My
Shawki Omar and his wife were arrested and tortured after being held by the
US in Iraq; she was released but he was kept in jail and handed over to the
Iraq authorities when the US left in 2011. Now he has disappeared and the
US denies any knowledge of his whereabouts, although probably US intelligence
are still involved in his detention.
His daughter Zeinab was born shortly after his arrest and has never seen
her father, but comes regularly from Birmingham with her mother to protest
outside the US embassy. With them today was a brother who lives in Sweden,
and as well as holding their own protest they took part in the protest for
the 13th anniversary of the founding of the Guuantanamo Bay prison camp.
Cirque du Soleil - Say No To Apartheid!
Royal Albert Hall, London. Sat 10 Jan 2015
Picket calls on Cirque du Soleil to respect the Palestinian
call for a cultural boycott of Israel
Protesters picketed the Royal Albert Hall performance by Cirque du Soleil
calling on them to respect the call by Palestinians for a cultural boycott
of Israel and stand up against Israeli apartheid and oppression of Palestinians.
Cirque du Soleil, a contemporary circus based in Montreal, Quebec have an
estimated annual revenue of US $810 million and are performing for a season
at the Albert Hall in London.
In 2012 the Palestinian Circus School wrote to Cirque du Soleil asking it
to reconsider performing in Israel, "and join other artists from
around the world who have called on you to support human rights and the right
of all people to be free from military occupation." They ignored
this and other pleas from Palestinians and many others and went ahead with
their visit to Israel.
In 2014, the circus was also picketed in London over its planned performances
in Israel later that year, but these were then cancelled for security reasons
as Israel was engaged in its prolonged attack on Gaza. They now plan to perform
their 'Quidam' show for 11 performances at Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena in July
The picket handed out leaflets to people going in to the hall and to those
walking past along Kensington Gore. I only arrived shortly before the picket
finished for the day, but they intend to return and leaflet at other performances
during the season.
Oh! Mother Against Knife Crime
Padbury Court, Bethnal Green, London. Sat 10 Jan 2015
Joel Adesina's mother marches behind the 'Enough is
Enough' Oh! Mother banner calling for end to killing
Nigerians from across the UK joined the Oh! Mother campaign against
knife crime, founded after Olamide Fasina was murdered in October in Thamesmead,
to march in Bethnal Green protesting the unprovoked stabbing to death of 15-year
old Joel Adesina.
Following the brutal murder of Olamide Ben Fashina by a gang of young men
in Thamesmead on October 14 last year, a group of Nigerians, coordinated by
Bridgette Peters, set up the campaigning organisation 'Oh! Mother' to campaign
against knife crime. They aim to persuade youths about the dangers of carrying
weapons and joining gangs, and help those already in them to leave, and also
to support parents, especially mothers and make them aware of the problems
and how they might take greater care of their children. Oh! Mother also aims
to support single mothers and to provide comfort for the families of the victims
of violent crimes.
Together with Youth Against Crime not Crime Against Youth, Oh Mother organised
the march and rally in Bethnal Green following the stabbing of Nigerian youth
Joel Adesina, a 15-year old keen footballer from Dagenham who was regarded
as a potential professional.
Today's march follows the stabbing death of 15-year-old Joel Adesina. Police
say that there was a fight between two groups late at night on Bethnal Green
Rd on December 5 and shortly afterwards Adesina was stabbed in the abdomen
in a narrow street, Padbury Court just to the north. An ambulance was called
but he died in hospital three hours later from a liver wound. Police have
arrested a number of people and have charged one man in connection with his
People, including Joel Adesina's mother, sister and other family members
and some from Olamide Fasina's family met at the corner of Padbury Court,
where a graffiti on a brick wall a few yards down the street with the message
'RIP Joel' marked where he was killed. I stood next to a TV reporter and took
pictures as Joel's mother and others went to the spot before rejoining the
Before the march there was a prayer from the pastor before people, mostly
Nigerians, formed up behind the Oh! Mother banner with its message 'Enough
is Enough', with Joel's mother at its centre, for a march down Gibraltar Walk
to Bethnal Green Road, along past a parade of shops and then up Brick Lane
and back along Padbury Court to the scene of his death.
After another prayer there were speeches from the organisers and leading
members of the Nigerian community in London, including a magistrate, about
the problems of gun and knife crime and what might be done to prevent it.
Then came some moving contirbutions from three young friends of Joel, and
from his sister speaking for the family.
Pay John Lewis Cleaners a Living Wage
Oxford St, London. Sat 3 Jan 2015
protester holds a message from John Lewis customer Una Kroll: ,'Outsourcing
is a way of avoiding responsibility'
Cleaners and customers protested outside the flagship Oxford St store
calling for them to live up to their ethical reputation and pay those who
keep the shop clean a living wage. The cleaners complain John Lewis treats
them as second class citizens.
Unlike their pre-Christmas protest, this had been widely advertised and notice
give to the police and the protest took place in Oxford St on the busy pavement
outside the store, with a line of police between the protesters and the doorway.
As well as protesting against their unfair treatment by John Lewis, the IWGB
cleaners were also protesting against the attacks by police on protesters
inside the store last month, where police assaulted many of the protesters
and others as they were trying to leave, stopping and arresting three of them.
Also present at the protest were a number of John Lewis customers, just a
few of the over 125,00 who have already signed a petition calling on the company
to live up to its ethical reputation and ensure that the cleaners are paid
a living wage.
John Lewis attempts to disclaim any responsibility for the cleaners who work
in their store by outsourcing their employment to a contractor, but the cleaners
still work there alongside the directly employed staff, who enjoy better conditions
of employment and a large annual bonus as "partners" in the business.
But the 127,865 people who have signed the petition, as well as the cleaners
and other trade unionists see this as a shallow attempt at deception. The
work done by the cleaners takes place in the store and is essential to its
running and should be properly recognised and paid.
The cleaners belong to the Cleaners And Facilities Branch of the IWGB (Independent
Workers Union of Great Britain), a registered trade union, and complain that
neither John Lewis nor the cleaning contractor recognise the IWGB, and that
they treat the cleaners as second class citizens.
The IWGB states:
- The London Living Wage is an hourly rate calculated according to the basic
cost of Living, currently £9.15/ hour.
- 650 companies, including KPMG, Nationwide & Tate and Lyle are committed
to the London Living Wage.
- John Lewis is the UK's leading retailer and last Christmas enjoyed the
highest Market profit in the retail sector. Directly employed staff received
a 14% bonus.
- But John Lewis has contracted out its cleaning services. Its cleaners
receive less than the living wage and are not entitled to the bonus payment
paid to directly employed staff.
- There is no reason for cleaners at John Lewis, a hugely profitable company,
to be treated like second class citizens.
The protest was led by IWGB General Secretary Alberto Durango and
President Jason Moyer-Lee. There were short speeches of support by
others including Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones,
(Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb) and Mick Dooley of London TUSC, as
well as a great deal of noisy shouting and blowing of horns. Many of those
passing took a flyer about the protest and expressed their support. During
the protest people held up some of the comments written by John Lewis customers
who had signed the protest, expressing their disgust at the failure by John
Lewis to treat its workers properly and including some who stated they were
boycotting John Lewis until they paid the living wage, and some of these were
read out by the protesters.
After around an hour and a quarter of protest, the event ended with a tour
around the outside of the store which occupies a whole block on the north
side of Oxford St. The protesters stopped briefly at each of the doors of
the shop but made no attempt to actually go inside even when they arrived
just before the police and in-store security.
Vigil for Leelah Alcorn
Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 3 Jan 2015
People light candles before the minute's silence
A candlelit vigil took place in Trafalgar Square for transgender teen
girl Leelah Alcorn, who threw herself under a truck after her Christian parents
forced her into 'conversion therapy', calling on this medically unsound and
dangerous practice to be banned and for her grave to bear her chosen name.
17-year-old Leelah Alcorn from Kings Mill, Ohio, USA, wrote a poignant suicide
note on her Tumblr blog where she blamed her Christian parents for refusing
to acknowledge her gender and forbidding her from transitioning before walking
to her death in front of an oncoming lorry.
Her devout Christian parents had forced her to undergo 'Conversion Therapy'
which attempts to change sexual orientation through counselling. This practice
has no basis in medical science and has a high risk of suicide, leading to
its banning in two US states. Some of the speakers at the event expressed
their anger about this practice and called for it to be banned, and for those
who carry it out to be prosecuted.
In the note which she posted publicly shortly before her suicide, Leelah
Alcorn wrote of having felt since she was four "like a girl trapped
in a boy’s body" and her relief when she found out about the
possibility of transgender transitions, and her feeling of hopelessness when
she realised that her parents "would never come around"
to her transition.
She wrote: "The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender
people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid
feelings and human rights."
"Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better.
My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number
of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look
at that number and say 'that’s f**ked up' and fix it. Fix society."
Her supporters are also appalled at the thought that she will be buried with
a gravestone carrying not her chosen name of Leelah but the name she was given
at birth, Joshua.
People gathered in front of the National Gallery in light rain, with many
holding umbrellas as well as candles. After a number of short speeches, including
several from people who had themselves transitioned, everyone was invited
to light a candle for a two minute silence in memory of Leelah.
New Year's Day Walk
Pangbourne, Berks. Thu 1 Jan 2015
A pond near Sulham when we had taken the wrong path
I went for a walk with my wife and son, starting and finishing at Pangbourne
Station. They had planned a route from a rather old book of 'tea shop walks'
but the teashop was shut on New Year's Day. I wasn't that bothered, as tea
shops are not really my kind of thing. For me a good walk ends in a pub, and
if there isn't a pub let's get home before my legs stiffen too much. Linda
takes a flask of tea with here anyway.
We got off to a bad start, with our train arriving in Reading rather late.
We should have had twelve minutes to change but it got stuck just outside
reading. 'Swans on the line' seemed a silly reason to stop, as they would
surely have hopped out the way sharpish if the train had simply proceeded
at walking pace towards them. 29 minutes to wait in Reading Station for the
next service to Pangbourne.
We wasted more time in Pangbourne as they went to find the tea shop to ascertain
whether it would be open. It wasn't. Finally we could start the walk. The
first 3 miles or so we'd done before, though in the opposite direction, along
the Thames Path to Mapledurham Lock. Wind in the Willows country - although
Grahame wrote the book a few miles downriver in Cookham, he later moved to
Pangbourne, and scenes from around there were the basis for the best-known
illustrations of the book.
From there (after sitting to eat our sandwiches on a cold and draughty seat)
we walked away from the river, through the fringes of Purley to Long Lane
and Sulham Hill. Here we followed a direction to go through a gate onto a
footpath from the car park, but unfortunately chose the wrong car park. Half
a mile on, when the directions made no sense, we wandered lost for a while
before consulting map and compass and realising we were going in entirely
the wrong direction. But it had taken us past a couple of ponds which yielded
perhaps the most interesting pictures of they day, which otherwise we would
Soon we were back on route, and on leaving the woods on a very muddy path
to Tidmarsh and the River Pang, surprisingly guarded (or at least at some
time in the war) by several pill-boxes. A short walk aong the main road and
another footpath took us to the River Pang and a path beside it led back to
Pangbourne, which we just reached as darkness really fell. My companions insisted
on missing the next train back to Reading to go and look at the Whitchurch
bridge again, so we had another wait on a station platform. The train to Reading
came and ran more or less to time, giving us another wait of 25 minutes for
our connection at Reading. But at least our trains were running, unlike so
many around the country, which seemed to be in almost continual chaos.
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