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Out of Sight, Out of Mind


I've just been listening to the excellent Radio 4 Programme Things We Forgot to Remember, in which Michael Portillo talks about the Morgenthau Plan, drawn up to punish post-war Germany. This consisted, amongst other things, of wrecking industry and forcing Germans to make reparation by working in labour camps outside of Germany. Before being abandoned in favour of the more progressive Marshall Plan, the proposals had gained the support of Churchill and US President Franklin Roosevelt. Shockingly they were prepared to endorse slavery, but at the last minute they turned away in favour of reconstruction led by the IMF and World Bank and a system of universal human rights to be delivered through the United Nations.


Picture of Harry BelafonteOver the weekend I had the honour of attending an event with the singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte at the 25th Hay Festival. He reminded me that millions of black men returning from the 'war for freedom' came back to countries where they had no voting rights or economic prospects. Whilst the USA poured money into the reconstruction of Europe, former soldiers in urban ghettos and the rural south were left to fend for themselves. Unlike the Germans, they were out of sight and so out of mind. In fact, according to Harry Belafonte, they were so out of sight that when he met JFK, he hadn't even heard of the civil rights movement! Belafonte and his brothers and sisters later embarked on a lengthy campaign of non-violent direct action to gain citizenship rights. Like others I've heard before and since, Belafonte was prepared to shed blood, but thought nonviolent action held greater moral authority.


Later in the same day at Hay, I was fortunate enough to see the excellent film How to Start a Revolution by the friendly Ruaridh Arrow. The film reflects on the work of Gene Sharp, the controversial American academic, and its impact on the Arab Spring. In his book From Dictatorship to Democracy, Sharp argues that "By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly." His thesis, now borne out by nonviolent revolutions in several countries, is that revolution is best served by adopting a nonviolent strategy built around the following 4 principles:

  • "One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;
  • One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;
  • One must create a powerful internal resistance force; and
  • One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully." p7-8

In the UK today, thousands of sick and disabled people are seeing the citizenship rights gained through Article 6a of the Treaty of European Union in 1997 and Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 ignored or sidestepped. Reporting has been limited, and we run the risk of disabled people becoming increasingly invisible as they lose the help needed to participate in society. Campaign groups like the Hardest Hit and UK Uncut are mounting a valiant fightback using a range of nonviolent means. However, so far we lack a 'wise grand strategic plan' that can knit our diverse actions together. Perhaps it's time we started to develop one.


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