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Knock, knock, knocking on Number 10’s door

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It was a scorching morning, the sun bearing down on our squinting faces, as we posed for photo’s, fake knocking on the famous door of Number 10.

I was representing Oxfam, along with other activists from Concern, ONE, Action Aid, Unicef and Save the Children, delivering a huge box of names – over 600,0000 people calling for immediate action on hunger in the Sahel area. The Prime Minster is holding a summit with all the VIP’s in town on Sunday – we had to let him know that we were all watching.

We toyed with what expression to put on for the photographer – happy, because everyone looks nicer with a smile, and we were thrilled that such a HUGE number of people were behind this, or stern, because 18 million people are starving to death each year? We each opted for something different, to mix it up a little. Unfortunately I was the Furious Scowling One. With the unwashed hair and the stain on her tee shirt.

There were some press inside the gate, and we piqued their interest a bit. They bossed us about, moving us around to get a good shot. I hope they cover this, I hope they show telly watchers how many people are involved in this fairer-world movement.

After much dillydallying, we handed over the box. And posed, fake knocking a bit more.

I really had to Instagram the hell out of this to disguise my slovenly ways

Job done, and as we thought about heading home, someone mentioned we could stay a bit, watch the Prime Minister get in his car.

Er.

I wasn’t keen. I was anxious, I had had to get friends to look after my daughter, Ramona, and I was already running late for them. And, why would I want to watch a stranger I wasn’t a fan of get in their car? I have to admit, a tiny bit of me considered whether I might be able to shout something out, to get across to him how urgent this was and how passionate we were. Would I get the sack? Or gunned down? Could I call out but in a kind, friendly, I-don’t-have-a-bomb-or-custard-pie way? As I wondered, someone else approached.

They ushered us out from behind the barriers, and explained that the Prime Minister would like to say hello.

We gathered by the door and a second later his chummy, pleasant face appeared. Not wanting to let a moment slip, in my Very Best, Most Articulate and Confidently Loud voice announced, like some kind of Head Girl speech, “We trust you are going to do every thing you can to create a world free from hunger” He pledged to. “We are passionate about a just world and hundreds of thousands of others are too.” He understood and chatted a bit more. Mo Farah was coming! They were gonna set up a race track! But he seemed positive that his hunger summit would be worth it.

As he left, we celebrated, we hugged and high fived. Delivering a petition turned into something that bit more. Not because we were stunned by the (very) rich and famous but because we hoped that the Prime Minister picked up our energy, that our faces, a little gang of global citizens, might be in his mind as he heads up Sunday’s meeting of leaders. Maybe he captured our hope and maybe we helped fortify him, to make the decisions he must. We can only wait and see.

And now I can say I didn’t even wash my hair for the PM. THAT is how much I don’t care for his Toryism and THAT is how much of a hippy I am.

Be a Good Un, find out more and continue to take action on Sahel here.

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Streets filled with peace (not tanks, thanks)

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There have been a fair few surreal moments in my 5 years history as a campaigner with Oxfam.

I have taught Richard Branson how to do the running man.*

I have trundled around the streets of Tunbridge Wells dressed as a big cuddley polar bear.*

I have wheeled a GIANT Santa in front of the US embassy and sung carols.*

I have bantered with Esther Rantzen in front of an audience of hundreds.*

I have mimicked those New York builders sitting on the girder eating lunch- whilst pregnant nonetheless.*

And then today I ‘as bin gallivanting around the streets of London with a big fat genuine TANK. *

Come with me for a tick, back a couple of years, to another amazing and surreal experience with Oxfam. It involved spending time in rural Cambodia, seeing the work Oxfam does in poor villages out there, arriving home just days before my daughter Ramona was conceived.  (In fact, we joked for most of my pregnancy about how a little Cambodian baby might surprise us, bahahahaha, ooh, teehee.)

As a result of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot years Cambodia had a huge share of weapons within its borders.  When the armed struggles began to fizzle out soldiers from all sides went back to their homes and took their guns with them. Some estimates suggest there were close to one million unregistered weapons in that small country. As you can imagine, the presence of guns in almost every home was having a dire effect on families, in much the same way the presence of guns has an effect in my own neighbourhood of Peckham.

Fortunately for Cambodia, back in 2003, some passionate peeps decided to tackle this injustice by launching the Control Arms campaign- fighting for a UN treaty on the arms trade.   Mobs  of people from across the world joined in with the One Million Faces campaign – I added my freckly grin, as did thousands of Cambodians- even those based out in local, rural villages joined this struggle for justice in the arms trade.

Such a global force couldn’t be overlooked and  just a few months after the  this creative petition was presented to the UN work began on a historic, legally-binding international Arms Trade Treaty. (Campaigning works, it really truly DOES!)

As we know these things take time but whilst in Cambodia I was gobsmacked to see that even just TALK of an Arms Treaty was making an impact. The momentum of the global campaign had fortified national efforts to stop the arms trade, developed the campaigning consciousness of Cambodians AND lead to the handing in and burning of thousands of weapons during Gun Destruction week.  (Campaigning WORKS! Yes! It blooming WORKS!)

Now, two years on from my visit to Cambodia we have entered the final stages of an Arms Trade Treaty, and I have a little tot. Once you have children, your hopes for a more peaceful and just world become just that bit more crisp. The chance for a strong Arms Treaty that could make the lives of other children untold times more peaceful is moving nearer.

Which brings us to today and our tank. We (some activists and some policy wonks) were delivering letters and reports (read it if you like that kinda thing) to 5 key embassies, countries that have a key role to play at one of the final negotiating conferences beginning on Monday in New York. On that day too, a  global petition is once again being handed over, asking them to ensure this Treaty is effective and strong. You have just FOUR days to add your voice.

I want to see a world free from mindless violence, communities restored from the damage of guns. I want to see the young people my husband works with as a youth worker in Peckham and the young people I met in those villages of Cambodia knowing the sense of tangible peace. I want to see kids playing in streets free from tanks. I want Ramona and her generation to  inherit a more reconciled world . An Arms Treaty is one step along the way.

As we know (I may have mentioned it once or twice already) campaigning WORKS – let’s make it happen this time.  

 

*We were promoting Oxfam as the primary charity partner for the London Marathon.

*We were enticing people along to see the fantastic film, the Age of Stupid.

*We were singing climate carols and asking them to stop blocking progress at the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.

*I was basically trying to mass invite the audience to come along to the Put People First rally and she saw straight through me.

*We were raising awareness of how risky childbirth is in poor countries.

*We are giving a final push to get people to sign up for a robust Arms Trade Treaty. Please join us!

Solidarity stitching and a jar full of hope

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 An inner-city meadow, a three piece band, jam sandwiches, a strawberry patch,  fifty stitchers, a barn of animals and my little toddler rampaging around.  It was a weird wee scene; both very local (I’m sorry, but East London is crazy. Everyone wears such silly clothes but I KNOW they are clothes that we will all be wearing in two years time. *gah* Those hipsters) and hugely global.

We were crafting up lids to fit on to jam jars, jars that would eventually be filled with a scrumptious tomato jam – based on a recipe from a Kenyan farmer, Christine.

In a way Christine is your typical farmer – but what makes her typical is pretty surprising. She is a woman, for starters (women are responsible for most of the world’s food production). And she also doesn’t have quite enough food to eat (small scale farmers like Christine make up 50% of the undernourished and women make up 80% of the world’s poorest.)

 But Christine’s jam oozes with bold, sticky hope.

A few years ago Christine was destitute, her husband had died of Aids and with no rights or access to power, Christine and her two kids were reliant on the kindness of strangers. Now, however, she chairs a small female cooperative group who grow tomatoes (one of those mega crops that is resilient to livelihood upheavaling drought) and they make this jam to sell at the market. The jam is BEYOND delectable and is a right old hit with the customers.

That is quite a story for one little jar to contain, don’t you reckon?

A jar of hope

I guess it was in an act of solidarity that we came together in one of London’s city farms to eat said jam on sandwiches, and to let our creative juices pour out over needle and thread.  We talked about hunger, the parts of our global food system that are utterly broken, the ways people can do something, who we were going to give our jar of jam to.

Stitching my first jam lid. I had to unpick it as it was properly ugly

We have masses of tomato plants in the garden and I can’t wait for the glut to hit *probably announced a bit to hopefully* –  I am going to fill my little jar up, pop my stitched up lid on and give it to my MP, Harriet Harman.  I will ask her to stand up on behalf of small-scale farmers like Christine, to fight the powerful tentacles of huge food corporations, and to promote local food systems in our urban village of Camberwell.

Freedom from hunger. (Bit rubbish eh, but you can understand how bad my first one was if I kept this one!)

Needless to say, Sunday was probably my ideal kind of day. Dreaming together of a future where everyone has enough to eat, crafting up world changey messages and letting Ramona frolick with the farm beasts (check out this little video of her encountering a rooster) combined all the things I love.

And I think it is here,  taking what you love and doing it for a more beautiful world, where change lies.  Hope doesn’t thrive when limited to certain behaviours,  and activists fizzle out after the one millionth petition signature. But if people can marry the thing that gives them energy – be it sewing, blogging, gardening, writing poetry, being a hipster-  with their passion for justice and fairness, change will come.

Solidarity Jam:

 Makes 6 jars

 Ingredients:

● 5 cups peeled and quartered tomatoes.

● Strips of the tomato skin

● 5 cups of sugar

● 1 lemon, sliced thinly and seeded

● 2 tablespoons butter

Method

Put tomatoes, sugar and sliced lemon in large, heavy pot and bring to slow boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. When foam rises to surface, add butter and continue stirring and simmering until preserves thicken, about 45 minutes. (To test, stick a fork in. When preserves cling to tines of fork, it should be thick enough to can). Pour preserves into sterilized jars, seal and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.

This is your world. Shape it, or someone else will! 

Read about Oxfam’s GROW campaign and join the movement of people who share a vision of EVERYONE thriving and NOT A SOUL going hungry

It isn’t too late to join in. Perhaps you want to host your own lid stich-in and get solidarity jam making in autumn?

To get the full low-down on this beautiful project have a peep at Craftivist Collective founder (and the wonderful person I job share with here at Oxfam) Sarah, explain it in this AMAZE vid:

Have you found a way to do the thing you love for good?

The Politics of Thrift

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Sometimes after being stuck in a jumper that smells of jumble all day because the initial wash failed to plumb the depths of the ancient fibres I like to climb up onto my moral mountain and let my mind rest upon the bigger picture of thrift.

Of course, I am addicted to charity shopping and car boot sales, I find huuuuuge joy in discovering unsung teacups going for a song and finding tossed out fabrics fit for a king. I take pleasure in finding a new purpose for my odd ends, or sewing a bit to a bob to meet a need.  It isn’t a chore, I don’t do it for The World or to fit in our budget.

But there is more going on, an activist undercurrent to all these thrifty antics.

Thrifting flips new The Bird.
I used to live in Oxford Circus in a big old house with a bunch of people, it was fun, I loved it. But when I moved to Camberwell, just a few miles south, we felt a huge relief from aggressive advertising campaigns. Everywhere you turn up in central London there is a monster poster revealing the latest new thing we require. Shiny things to boost our low self esteem, to show our individuality, to highlight our status (just the men)/beauty (the ladies, of course), because we deserve it.

When we get thrifty we reject the myth that NEW makes us. We hold on to our innate precious sense of identity, remain confident in choices, revel in relationship and community, understand that we exist to love and be loved, not to consume. (Or it is at least an attempt to hold on/ remain/revel/understand.)

People not corporations
Thrift places power into the hands of the homemaker, the discoverer, the determined. Thrifters make decisions that follow their gut or needs, not to benefit the profit margins of manipulative corporations. The pennies we have dished out for our magical junk will go in to pockets of enterprising parents at the car boot, or excellent charities (even better.) We are consciously stepping out of the consumption rat race, throwing a gloriously rusty spanner in the works- jarring the demand for unethically made goods and the tyrants that build empires from them.

Thrifty gets you crafting and there is power in making
In my stubbornness not to buy new things I do end up with some bizarre  mashups – slippers out of armpits, a book for a shelf. Thriftiness fuels creativity, it lends itself to making. I have written about the power of making before. I am certain that making puts you in touch with your soul, it is like scratching an itch, or filling a hole. When we Make do and Mend we feel like a million bucks, able to take on those big bad corporations, to survive and thrive without their help, thanks very much.

                                         ***************

Have you seen the Story of Stuff? No???? Oh. My. Days. It is completely brilliant, you will not even notice 20 minutes of your life have just whizzed by. It pulls together all the strands of, like, stuff and things.

 

 

PS- I think there are other nuances that I haven’t gone into – like thriftiness and class, or how being thrifty can almost be a luxury as it kind of requires you to be time rich? These are maybe to explore another day…

PPS- As ever, would love to know your thoughts. Do you see your thrifty self as an Op Shop activist? Would you like to be thriftier?

Activist mummy

I have been blathering on about crafty shenanigans and vintage hauls for quite a few posts now. I would absolutely forgive you for thinking that I have forgotten that there are many ways to make the world a more beautiful place.

I get a feeling that when I post about political/socioeconomic/protest stuff readers roll their eyes and think “DULLLLLL”. They tend to be my least read and least commented posts. Is it because it is alienating? Or lacking creativity? Or bereft of cute Ramona photos and stories?

She lost a pompom. A pom?

Who knows. Let me try and remedy this by ticking ALL those boxes. Wish me luck!

This morning I woke up pretty stoked. We have had a brilliant few days having a sort out and beautifying our home with a few licks of paint (tick) and finally getting some of our lovely secondhand goodies on display (tick!) Ramona and I have been having so much fun chilling out together recently, her talking her little head off (it seems she tends to mostly talk about Gok Wan) me showing off all my moves as we crank the music and have dance parties, as we chase each other for HOURS around the living room, ending up rolling around in stitches.

The faces she pulls!

But as I tuned in to Twitter to find my timeline filled with the latest info on the UK’s corporate slave trade (Workfare in government lingo) and a link to a Suzanne Moore article about demonising poor people I became ANGRY. Like sweary angry.  Stomach crunchingly, teeth clenchingly mad.

What sort of a world are we putting up with? How can we be okay with increasing numbers of our neighbours being pushed further into poverty? Why is our government getting away with policies that consistently discriminate against vulnerable people? What am I going to do about it?

It has never been more easy for me to ignore these questions, to pat them down and say “Sit! … Stay..Stay” as if they are some persistent Jack Russel trying to get attention.  Being a mother is BUSY! It is physically exhausting all this running up and down the stairs, crawling around with a toddler clinging on, throwing a giggler into the air. But it is also meaningful. It is a wonderful and satisfying thing loving a new little person. It gives me a contentedness that makes my striving for other goodness in the world fade away just a little bit.

The truth is I do feel like being a loving parent is enough. I believe that children who have strong attachments and are loved and loved and loved are going to be the people who pour out more love later. By loving we create lovers. And the world definitely needs more lovers. We need lovers to run our countries, the IMF, the ECB. Lovers to paint and build. To organise our banks, to teach, and police the streets.

But still…

I do want Ramona to see me getting angry with the unfair status quo. I do want her to feel that individuals can be powerful, that action can change things. That letter writing, marching and tweeting can create a new mandate and a new story for our world.

I think I need to work on that balance, to make sure motherhood doesn’t ever blinker me to the reality of injustice and the power of fighting it.  Thank goodness for Twitter, where in those few chilled out moments as she drifts off to sleep I can get a little bit furious AND do something about it.