MERRY CRISIS, HAPPY NEW FEAR!

GREECE-STRIKE-DEMO-CLASHES

The above slogan was daubed on a wall in Chania, Crete. Following a remarkably moving demonstration organised by pupils and students last Thursday week, its intertwined irony, humour, anxiety and anger continues to capture the collective mood. During the march the young people vented their concern about the capitalist crisis,  a corrupt State, police harassment, the spectre of low wages and poor prospects, the contradictions of both consumerism and political passivity. They chided those, who continued their Xmas shopping,  heads buried in gift wrapping. Their profound criticism of their elders’ political conformity is caught in the words sprayed on a banner hung over a bridge in Northern Greece, ‘Your TOLERANCE sat on your couch is COMPLICITY!’ More or less all the schools above primary level were closed up to Xmas as a result of the students’ decision to strike. A group of young women and men brought tears to my eyes as they revived in solidarity with immigrant youth the classic 1968 assertion, ‘We too are  the Undesirables!’  Of course too these young people are not necessarily typical. All manner of motivations course through the veins of any throng. Nevertheless, seen through the eyes of those in control of Youth Work in Britain, this mass expression of young people’s desires would hardly be defined as a ‘positive activity’ and would hardly be awarded accreditation.  In Greece, where Youth Work hardly exists, it remains to be seen what will transpire in the New Year, but the atmosphere remains volatile and fragile, the desire to resist still evidently strong.  And the unpredictable and confrontational character of the world-wide situation – not least the unfolding tragedy in Gaza – suggests that social and political convulsion will continue. What chance a little rebellion from British young people, a surfacing of frustration and anger directed not at each other, but at the core of an exploitative system, which thwarts their potential. Indeed, what price youth workers themselves rising to the challenge of the historical moment?

Of course my rhetorical flourish is open to derision. Perhaps it reflects a nostalgia for the past mentioned above. So for now I’ll content myself with regretting the recent death of Adrian Mitchell, the sometime Shadow Poet Laureate, a revolutionary poet of peace and with quoting one of his poems written in 1964 and often amended, which remains very much up to date.

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To Whom It May Concern

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I’ve walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn’t find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames
Made a marble phone book and I carved all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it’s just my brains.
They’re only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
So stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph* drinking slime
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women,
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about ……

Iraq

Burma

Afghanistan

Israel

Tell me lies about Vietnam.

[A remix of this poem will appear in a new collection of Adrian Mitchell’s poems ‘Tell Me Lies’ to be published in June 2009 – see http://www.bloodaxebooks.com]

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At the very least  let’s resolve in 2009 to pursue the truth as best we can, to laugh and weep, and to keep critically chatting. Our best wishes to friends, readers and, of course, critics.

[Our apologies for not attributing the photograph of the defiant young student. If you know of its origin, please let us know.]

Published in: on December 30, 2008 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Rise and Demise of Neo-Liberal Youth Work?

Back in late November I responded to a request from Andy Hillier at Young People Now to provide a possible Opinion piece for the January issue.  I had only 420 words to play with – a challenge for the verbally voluble?! So I had a crack at something on the relationship between Neo-Liberalism and Youth Work, written with the present economic crisis in mind.

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THE RISE AND FALL OF NEO-LIBERAL YOUTH WORK?

Neo-Liberalism totters, drunk on hubris and greed. The unbridled market has failed. There must be another way. As the ideological somersaults continue, what price the future of Neo-Liberalism’s bureaucratic creation, ‘new managerialism’, which has inflicted such damage on Youth Work?

With New Labour at the helm Neo-Liberalism is determined to discipline Youth Work, to make it toe the behavioural line. It imposes the discredited and inappropriate discourse of indicators and outcomes, the endless pursuit of the completed ‘paper trail’. Fearful of uncertainty it introduces the dead hand of the standard and routine. It seeks to police both young people and youth workers, stifling spontaneity and criticism. Possessing no vision of a different world it is obsessed with the micro-management of what it sees as problematic youth. In turn this contributes to a climate of misanthropy, a mistrust of humanity, which informs a uniform agenda of social conformity. Thus it consigns to the scrapheap of history the idea that Youth Work should be volatile and voluntary, critical and collective – a conversation without guarantees.

It may be that this view is now too entrenched to be moved. Obviously as well a significant number within Youth Work have always cooperated with the familiar ruling class programme of social control, dressed today in Neo-Liberal garb. On the other hand to borrow from J.S. Mill, is there a chance that we might be waking from ‘the deep slumber of decided opinion’? To pinch from the new managerial lexicon, is there now a window of opportunity to think otherwise?

Because, of course, there are still brave, often isolated souls pursuing a practice based on young people’s not the State’s terms. And there are promising signs. Organised, dissident resistance is growing. Adult Education, devastated in the name of vocationalism, is reviving at the grassroots. The Social Work Action Network is debating the renaissance of a radical practice. Closer to home the Federation of Detached Youth Work describes its members as neither social entrepreneurs nor social spies, but democratic educators. The National Coalition for Independent Action campaigns to reassert the autonomy of voluntary groups. Indeed such initiatives offer the chance to ‘join up services’ under our own steam.

There is a strong case within Youth Work for an open and independent gathering focused on the unifying potential in Bernard Davies’s eloquent ‘Manifesto for Our Times’. This is not a moment to abandon fundamental principles, although such tenets should always be questioned. It is a moment, perhaps brief, to challenge the dire legacy of Neo-Liberalism. It is not a matter of lagging behind or moving with, but of changing the times.

Tony Taylor [Coordinator, the Critically Chatting Collective]

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In the event the piece did not pass muster. The initial response from the magazine was framed as follows: ” I really like the arguments in the piece but I think our readership will struggle to follow the theme in its current form. I think the argument would need to be simplified to be accessible to the majority of our readers.” A touch patronising  to the readers methinks.

There followed a few editorial alterations in respect of the opening few lines that skewed the piece and could not have been written by me. I was understanding and simply said that these were unacceptable – indeed the proposals made the piece less accessible – and that we would have to agree to disagree. In reply YPN commented pleasantly that they recognised I wouldn’t want to ‘dumb down’ my style. And thus ended the dialogue.

Obviously this dismissal of the submission may reflect my lack of tone and style and perhaps my failure to grasp the simplicity of affairs. Ironically though others were far angrier than me about the ‘rejection’, which may be of some interest. Given the article’s brevity, they thought it was literate, accessible, stimulating  and appropriate in the present climate. And they felt the piece may have  been blocked for other reasons than its evident difficulty.

Fair enough, this is no big deal, except that its concluding argument  intimated that there might be mileage in an Open Letter along the lines of the Social Work initiative of a couple of years ago, which itself has led to a significant agitational response from this much maligned part of the Welfare State – see http://www.socialworkfuture.org

In this context we hoped that our thoughts  would reach out  to a wider audience if carried in Young People Now.  This is not to be.  Of course we’re not giving up.     Thus we’re venturing the following course of action:

– if you think it’s worth it, please circulate the Neo-Liberal piece as widely as possible.

– in the meantime we hope to put out for comments a possible call-to-arms, a draft succinct Manifesto, which will attract criticism and support.

– if this process is promising, we would be looking to a mini-launch of the Manifesto at Youth and Policy’s History conference at Durham in early March.

From thence, of course, we’re in each others’ hands. For now your comments and indeed encouragement are most welcome – send to tonymtaylor@gmail.com

TT on behalf of the Critically Chatting Collective

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY OR JUST ADOLESCENT ANGST?

You will have seen the scenes of the uprisings in Greece catalysed by the death of a young Greek lad in Athens at the hands of the State a few days ago. Whilst I confess to a touch of romanticism about the events, I am not naive about the complex mixture of motives coursing through the veins of those involved in such adrenalin-fueled activity. Indeed in Chania on Crete the other night it was difficult to be detached from the emotion. It must be said though that the targets for the crowd’s anger were the symbols of capitalist greed and corruption, the banks, many of which were trashed. Hardly any other buildings were touched, except, unfortunately, a public cafe.

This said, the purpose of this note is to draw your attention to an Open Letter produced by young people  in the middle of the drama, which has been circulated widely in Greece. The piece loses something in the translation  and yet….

WE WANT A BETTER WORLD! HELP US

We are no terrorists, hoodies, the known – unknowns

WE ARE YOUR CHILDREN! These known – unknowns…

We are dreaming – don’t kill our dreams!
We are impetuous – don’t quell our impetuosity

REMEMBER! You used to be young too.
Now you only chase money, you only worry about your image!
You have grown fat and bald.

YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN!

We were expecting you to stand by us .We were expecting you to care.
To make us proud of YOU just for once.

IN VAIN!

You are living fake lives, you have given in, you stoop and are just waiting for the day you die.
You are not using your imagination, you are not falling in love, you are not creating. You only buy and sell.

MATERIALISM EVERYWHERE! LOVE NOWHERE ! TRUTH NOWHERE!

Where are the parents? Where are the artists? Why are they not coming out to protect us?

THEY ARE KILLING US! HELP US!

TA PAIDIA [THE KIDS]

PS: Don’t throw any more teargas. WE CAN CRY FOR OURSELVES!

I have seen this plea derided as adolescent angst – perhaps youth workers might resist this easy put-down? Without doubt the situation is complex and contradictory, but whilst the response of Greek youth would not be regarded as a positive activity in many circles, it holds out more hope, however frail, than a million accredited outcomes.

As ever the struggle does continue.


Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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