Active citizenship


If you think that signing petitions and sending e-mails is a waste of time, keep reading till you get to the bottom of this page. Here are a few appetisers to get you started… These are bits of text from e-mails I’ve received that informed me about various campaigns’ successes. They’re only examples.

29 October 2022: Saifullah Paracha – the oldest detainee in Guantánamo Bay at 75 years old – has just been released! Last night, he was finally reunited with his family in Pakistan. 

21 October 2022: Just got an e-mail in my inbox saying “We did it! The airline Privilege Style just told us they WON’T fly refugees to Rwanda.” Among other things, we’d been contacting a sports team that uses this airline. The Guardian has the story too: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/21/airline-hired-uk-rwanda-deportations-pulls-out-privilege-style

1 July 2022: For years, I have been using a photo of a monkey in a cage, being transported by Air France. Yesterday, the company announced that it will cease transporting monkeys to laboratories as soon as its current contracts end. (Today, I wrote to Egyptair.)

25 June 2022: “Reprieve client Asadullah Haroon Gul has just been released from Guantánamo Bay. Asad is the fourth person released from Guantánamo in the last three years. And he won’t be the last. Together, we are fighting for four other men to be freed. None have been charged with a crime, yet they’re still locked up.”

23 June 2022: The U.S. bans imports of products from Uyghur Region. (Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act)

22 June 2022: Bahram, the former police officer from Iran who had refused to discharge firearms into a crowd of protestors and then had to flee but was now being deported to Rwanda from which he would likely be sent back to Iran, has been released. “Yesterday, Bahram was released from Brook House Immigration Removal Centre. We are happy to say that he was not released with an ankle tag and has now spent his first night as a free man.”

20 May 2022: “The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Office of Inspector General have just removed at least 145 dogs found in “acute distress” from Envigo’s beagle-breeding facility in Cumberland County, Virginia, pursuant to a federal search warrant.”

18 May 2022: “Fashion brand Burberry has confirmed that it will no longer use exotic skins in future collections.”

4 April 2022: “Two years ago, twenty thousand campaigners like you came together to write to MPs and Ministers. Together, they called on the Government to keep providing free school meals to children from migrant families. At first, these meals were only offered as short-term support during lockdown. Last week, the Department for Education finally committed to permanently providing these meals. This is a real step forward. It will provide a lifeline for thousands of children.”

1 April 2022: “Thanks to public pressure the Government has now confirmed that, amongst others, frontline NHS staff will get free lateral flow tests. “

16 March 2022: Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe AND Anoosheh Ashoori released from Iran. They were among the people I have signed petitions for etc. Far too many people are still stuck, some even technically free but still at Guantanamo, if I am not mistaken, often detained for over a decade just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

22 February 2022: “Early next week, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is returning to the House of Commons for its final hearing, with an amendment to scrap the Vagrancy Act – the archaic law that criminalises homelessness. In response to the Lords amendment that we supported, the Government has now tabled their own amendment to repeal the Vagrancy Act!” (The Vagrancy Act also criminalises for example Roma people.)

7 January 2022: “Go Overseas, a company helping thousands of volunteers around the world travel abroad, has just implemented a new system on their site to flag the harms of volunteering in orphanages and the risks of orphanage trafficking. ” “Your campaign absolutely moved us to do something about orphanage trafficking.” – Go Overseas 

28 October 2021: Ali al Nimr has been released! “Ali was 17 years old when he was arrested. He was locked up for almost ten years – most of that time he spent on Saudi Arabia’s death row – for so-called ‘crimes’ linked to attending pro-democracy protests, including teaching others to administer first aid.”

30 July 2021: “Acting pursuant to a court order, PETA has rescued all six of the remaining chimpanzees held at former breeding compound, Missouri Primate Foundation (MPF), where they’d been primarily warehoused in cramped cells for decades. It was documented that the chimpanzees were living amid trash and their own waste—with the stench of urine in one room so overwhelming that a volunteer couldn’t enter.” 
24 June 2021: “Victory! Canada Goose Ditches Fur!”
22 June 2021: “Victory! Genesco Inc. has made the compassionate decision to stop using alpaca across all of its brands, including Johnston & Murphy, Journeys, Little Burgundy, and Schuh.”
18 June 2021: “Victory! Osime Can Stay With His Family!”
18 June 2021: “Fashion retailer Vince Holding Corp. has made the compassionate decision to stop using alpaca fleece across all of its brands, including Rebecca Taylor and Vince.”
5 June 2021:VICTORY! Court orders the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos.”
19 May 2021: “Cruel Morrisons Pig Farm Forced to Close”
21 April 2021: “We did it! Today, Parliament voted for a government amendment to exclude torture, genocide and crimes against humanity from the scope of the presumption against prosecution in the Overseas Operations Bill.”
19 June 2017:Sainsbury’s commits to humane wildlife deterrence following public pressure”

Along with millions of people in the world, I sign many petitions and write many e-mails in support of the well-being of humans and non-human animals. It initially often felt futile, but in the course of 2019, I noticed that I received many e-mails that taught to me that it isn’t futile at all.

I received messages about people having been freed or found, laws changed, animals rescued and taken to a sanctuary where they finally received medical care and also from people who let us know that the birthday messages they received from us while illegally imprisoned meant a lot to them.

Signing petitions is the least you can do as a responsible grown-up in a democracy. If you can’t do that and can’t participate in demonstrations, you’re living in a dictatorship.

Throughout 2020, and as you could see above, also in 2021, I have continued to receive messages of success, from the company Sephora banning mink fur from its false eye lashes to the Banks Group being stopped from starting a new opencast coal mine in County Durham, UK. Yes, I’ve sent a few e-mails about some of that planned mining activity in the north of England.

 

I took part in a Safe Passage demonstration in Parliament Square in London on 18 June 2019, in which Lord Dubs also participated. Plenty of city councils in the UK had (and have) places waiting for child refugees, but the UK government was refusing to let them in, reneging on its earlier promises.

 

It was the second, no, third, no, fourth demonstration I have been part of. A long time ago, I demonstrated against apartheid, in Amsterdam, at an event during which Allan Boesak spoke in Museum Square. (I had a subscription to the Dutch magazine Amandla.) I also collected signatures for Amnesty International against the atrocities committed during the Yugoslav Wars (ethnic conflicts) in the 1990s.

When I worked in tourism & hospitality in Amsterdam, a man checked in one day who was living in the US, but completed part of his registration form in French and who had been born in Oran in Algeria. Realising that Algeria was a country that I knew nothing about about, I went to the public library and started reading. I soon ended up in the southern part of the country, among the fascinating Touareg with their poetry and amazing culture, then crossed into the Sahel and so on and so forth. I also bought some old books about Africa, some with amazing photos. When you read such books, you can’t help but notice white arrogance and the damage we white people from the west have done in other countries, including telling people how their own natural environments work – as if they’re stupid – and drawing artificial lines in the sand that we call borders, stopping people from migrating along with nature, among other things. We are so judgmental. Why do we see our own way of living as superior? (That way is the reason why the entire planet is now in a crisis.) Why do we think that only white people can make observations and draw conclusions from them? This was how I somehow ended up subscribing to Amandla (issued by what used to be called the Dutch Angola Comité, which later changed its name to Komitee Zuidelijk Afrika or KZA).

In Portsmouth, I have walked around town in solidarity against violence directed at women and in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo during “Je suis Charlie”.


I’ve attended “Beyond Windrush”, a meeting on the hostile environment, organised by Liberty and others in London and I’ve been to a the State of London debate with the current mayor of London (Sadiq Khan) at the O2 arena. 

I’ve sat in the audience during a meeting of the London Assembly (a visit that was sponsored by Portsmouth City Council, I should add, as part of a course I was enrolled in) at a time when “some funny American who cycles a lot” was London’s mayor.

In Portsmouth, I’ve also attended various meetings and debates, mostly in 2009 and 2010, when I still knew almost nothing about Britain’s massive inequality and what that looks like in daily life. 

Among others, I’ve heard Vince Cable speak at the University of Portsmouth when he was Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and I’ve heard LSE law professor Conor Gearty talk about human rights in the UK, at Le Café Parisien. I’ve heard MP Penny Mordaunt speak and I’ve heard MP Mike Hancock speak, at the Guildhall.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve attended many online events in the US as well as in the UK, on one occasion ending up being puzzled by the automatic endorsement of anything Keir Starmer said when he was interviewed, the complete lack of any journalistic acuity. It turned out that this platform for young people in the UK apparently was actually a Labour platform, as it was started and run by a Labour councillor. It had not been presented as such at all when I began attending those particular events. (In fact, I initially thought it was a forum related to EU citizens in the UK because I was invited to join within that context.)

For the UK counter-terrorism police to list movements like PETA, Greenpeace, “Stop the badger cull”, pro-cycling groups and many others as potential breeding grounds for extremist terrorism – along with genuine extremists who are actually against certain humans – may reflect the counterterrorism services’ own low level of professionalism (low efficiency and low effectiveness). More likely, as I mentioned above, it reflects something else. (Have you heard of the Banks Group, for example, and if you have, do you know what it does? Have you heard of a guy called Arron Banks and his role in the UK’s exit from the EU?)

We are society. All our individual actions determine what society looks like. If you stay silent when you see things that aren’t right, you are effectively signalling that you’re okay with it.

That people can get emotional about topics that are close to their heart only makes sense.

In a fair and just society with a great deal of equality, you won’t have many disgruntled people with lots of worries, hence there will be much less tension in society. No children should have to grow up in deep poverty or in war situations, for example. 

And let’s face it, culling badgers to stop bovine TBC is largely scientific nonsense likely only carried out to make some farmers feel that DEFRA is doing something for them. The petition for turning that around has resulted in the decision to switch from culling to vaccination over the next few years.

Acknowledging all of that and even sounding enraged about innocent animals being killed, well, doesn’t that indicate that you’re actually a very positive human being, one that is against senseless killings and for life? The same goes for any other kind of environmental activism. Environmental activism means that you want the human species to survive.

Rest assured that I am also very aware that growing corn as a source of biofuel or woods so that we can burn wood chips is not the solution to our problems either. (Oil, gas and coal are condensed plant matter.)

Hunting for lithium and aluminium and mining them so that we can run the electrical cars that enable us to stop digging up coal and extracting oil and gas is also merely more of the same, isn’t it? One of the problems we have is that recycling materials is still often more expensive than extracting them from the earth; this is why governments need to subsidise recycling and related research.

No, I don’t have all the answers either. Nobody does. But when looking for answers, the latest insights and the kind of swift action that we need, politicians almost always are the last to join the line.

I repurpose, up-cycle and recycle a lot. I walk a lot. I don’t own a car but I am a member of a car club. I stopped using toothpaste – then discovered to my astonishment that my “sensitive teeth” were caused by the use of toothpaste – and I make my own liquid hand soap. That saves me a lot of money and lowers my amount of plastic waste. I recycle most of my laundry water, using buckets and a little twin tub washing machine. It’s not only cutting my water bills, it also provides badly needed exercise (physical activity, weightlifting). I stopped using my fridge five years ago. I don’t need it, to my surprise, now that I no longer need to refrigerate my eye drops. I very occasionally run it for one or two days.

Like everyone else, I too still pollute a lot and create a lot of waste.

That the kind of activities I talk about on this page tend to get you noticed by the UK’s counter-terrorism police as such activities are seen as potentially related to domestic terrorism – ya can’t make it up – is sadly so undemocratic that it can only be seen as reasonable from within extreme capitalism and shameless cronyism. 

I also submit responses to public consultations from time to time, both in the UK and in the US. Here is an example of how other people’s alertness and activism are benefiting the environment in the UK: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/20/government-retracts-unlawful-pollution-guidance-for-englands-farms

Note, however, that I do not automatically see “change” as a reason to step in an carry out “conservation”. Nature is dynamic; change is part of it. You can see real nonsense at work sometimes when the same birds that used to be seen as a pest in one country have gained endangered status or species of concern status while they become targeted in other countries in which their numbers are increasing, and many of the “pests” we have actually only became a pest because of our own constant interference with other species without ever considering if other species perhaps also have rights, for starters because they’ve often been around on the planet far longer than the human species.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_evolutionary_history_of_life

55 million years ago, modern birds such as parrots, woodpeckers and swifts appeared on the planet. 38 million years ago, the first bears started populating the planet, 25 million years ago, the first deer, 20 million years ago, the first giraffes. Elephants have been around for 5 million years.

Modern humans? 250 thousand years.

I too used to swat flies and wasps. I think that I started changing that in the 1990s. I was living in Florida at the time and called around for volunteering opportunities, to grow roots in the community. A bird hospital was the first to call me back; in fact, I think it was a woman who I am still friends with today who left a message on my answerphone. I remember mentioning it to Jabe Breland, bout something that sounded like “Tiarode” to me and he said that it was likely “Tierra Verde”. That’s how I ended up volunteering with Lee Fox for a while, who was well known for her oil spill contingency planning and who even my avian vet in Andover had heard about. Lee Fox was probably way ahead of the times back then. Visionaries are always ignored and scoffed at until their vision is proven accurate later.

Up to that point, I had felt no particular affinity for birds. They were like flying goldfish to me, often colourful but alien creatures. Fun to watch and often nice to listen to.

In the course of the decades that followed, my view of birds changed profoundly, but I only started noticing pigeons 7 or 8 years ago. (I had an unconscious bias with regard to pigeons.) Now I know that these creatures that I had overlooked for years are a lot like parrots. Intelligent, inquisitive, observant, in possession of super skills and even capable of what often seems to be more than mere Theory of Mind (which in itself already is something that we humans tend to think only humans possess).