politics

Be The Change

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”.

It's a famous quote which lots of us have heard ... but do you know who said it?

Well it was a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - the man who we know now as 'Mahātmā,' Gandhi... and he was born on this day - October 2nd - in the year 1869 .


Mahatma-gandhi-be the changeGandhi was an Indian lawyer, an anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist and activist who is renowned for using  'nonviolent resistance' to lead the successful campaign which led to India's independence from British rule in 1947.

He was a hugely charismatic and inspiring character who, although he was wanting rid of the British Raj who had ruled over India since 1858, epitomised a 'way of peace'. 

At a time when others advocated militant guerrilla warfare against the British, he proposed an opposite way. He fasted to persuade others not to riot. In response to the British monopoly and taxes on salt - among other things, an essential for cooking and preserving food - Gandhi defied the salt laws not with violence or even by shouting, but by leading a Salt March, which ended with him making salt from seawater by evaporation. He had started his march in early 1930 with just 78 trusted followers but the long walk was 240miles and took 24 days, and along the way he was joined by thousands. It's reckoned by the time of the salt making at a place now called Dandi, more than 50,000 people were gathered to watch the act of defiance.

In fact, it inspired people to act similarly. When Gandhi broke the British Raj salt laws on 6 April 1930,  it started a movement of large scale acts of civil disobedience against the salt laws by millions of Indians. They felt empowered and inspired by their quiet leader's example. They saw 'another way'.

Gandhi's life and way of living and being meant that, even before this time in his life he was revered as a 'wise man'. His first political activism started in South Africa where he lived and worked as a young man and it was there back in 1914 that he was first given the honorary title 'Mahātmā  - which can be translated from the Sanskrit as "great-souled"and "venerable".

Mahatma Gandhi's way of nonviolent resistance has down the years inspired civil rights and freedom movements across the world. The idea of achieving goals like social change not through bombs and killings and violence but through quiet protests, civil disobedience and political and/or economic non-cooperation can be seen as 'weak' by some, but actually it's the opposite. It's the way of strength and resolve. It's the way of courage and understanding. It's the way of compassion and empathy.

I'm sure most of us have things we would like to change ... maybe we would like to change the world ... but often we look for outside factors to change before we look at ourselves. We think if we change the circumstances around us then THAT will result in the transformations we desire. 

But this quote from this wise man reminds us that if we want the world to change, we need to make that change happen first within ourselves. 

If we want a world where love is all around, maybe we need to start by being more loving ourselves. If we don't want a world where argument reigns, then we need to hold our tongues and use our own words wisely.

If we wish to live in a kind world, we may need to ensure WE are kind first.

If we want a society which is more understanding, then we need - I think - to practice being more understanding. If we're not tolerant how can we expect our world to be a tolerant place?

So today, let's think about the change that WE might have to be, if we are to see a changed world. It's profound, and challenging, and it may mean we need to completely turn OUR lives around.

What a challenging philosophy! But imagine what the world could look like if we are that change!

Have a great day everyone!

 

 

 


You May Choose

There's a saying that goes something like this ... 

'Once you see something, you can't unsee it" 

It's usually used to describe that feeling when you see something that maybe is rather unattractive or makes you feel a bit strange and 'iffy'. Once the image is imprinted on your memory, you can't forget it.

But today I'm thinking about that phrase in a slightly different way.

It was on this day - August 24th - in the year 1759 that a child called William Wilberforce came into the world. 

He would grow up to achieve something that would literally change the world for millions of people in his time and beyond.

William Wilberforce  was a British philanthropist and politician. A year after becoming an independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Yorkshire in the north of England, he became an evangelical Christian, which led to major changes in his lifestyle and the beginning of a lifelong passion for reform. Although he had been interested in the faith as child, in 1785 he committed his life to God and so began a journey which would eventually result in his becoming a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

At the time religious enthusiasm was viewed rather sceptically in 'polite' society. Many people went to church on a Sunday but their Christian faith didn't really go much further than that. Many would never have considered that what they did on a Sunday should affect the rest of their lives. Indeed many of those who were involved in the Atlantic slave trade - those who either directly owned slaves or indirectly benefitted from the slave trade in goods like sugar - would have considered themselves as 'Christians'.

Slavery was not a new phenomenon. Throughout human history there is evidence that people have been involved in enslaving others to do their dirty work, and to enrich themselves. If you 'own' a slave you don't have to pay them, and you can treat them any way you like.  Ancient civilisations are known to have had slaves... apart from anything, it was an excellent way to control others and to dominant your society and culture.

The British became involved in the slave trade during the 16th century. By 1783, the triangular trade route that took British-made goods to Africa to buy slaves, transported the enslaved to the West Indies, and then brought slave-grown products like sugar, tobacco, and cotton to Britain, represented about 80 percent of Great Britain's foreign income. It was big business, British ships dominated the slave trade, supplying other colonies ... not just British but also French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese ...and at its peak British slave traders carried forty thousand enslaved men, women and children across the Atlantic in horrific conditions. In fact, of the estimated 11 million Africans transported into slavery at the height of the trade, about 1.4 million died during the voyage. Appalling!

The British campaign to abolish the slave trade really began in earnest in the 1780s with the establishment of the Quakers' anti-slavery committees, and their presentation to Parliament of the first slave trade petition in 1783.  It was in that year that Wilberforce, while dining with his old Cambridge University  friend Gerard Edwards, met Rev. James Ramsay, a ship's surgeon who had become a clergyman on the island of St Christopher (later St Kitts) in the Leeward Islands, and a medical supervisor of the plantations there.

Ramsay shared what he had seen of the conditions endured by slaves at sea and on the plantations.  Where many people thought the British were bringing Christianity and moral improvement overseas, they realised that it was just the opposite when they heard Ramsay's accounts especially of the way that depraved plantation owners cruelly treated their slaves, fellow human beings.

It took a few more years and more fact gathering and conversations with many powerful men, including a future Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Grenville but eventually Wilberforce committed himself to the anti-slavery movement.

Wilberforce's involvement in the abolition movement was motivated by a desire to put his Christian principles into action and to serve God in public life. As he read his Bible, prayed, discerned what God might be saying to him, and mixed with other fervent Christians, he came to the conclusion that faith needed to be with him every moment of the day. He was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education and he believed faith should affect not just his thinking and personal life and behaviour but even his political work and ambition.

As well as the anti-slavery movement, William Wilberforce got involved in lots of moral campaigns including the Society for the Suppression of Vice, British missionary work in India,  the foundation of the Church Mission Society, and even the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He also supported the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone in Western Africa. In fact, he was often accused of ignoring injustice at home in England while campaigning for enslaved people outside of his own county.

It was in May 1789 that William Wilberforce delivered his first major speech against the slave trade but it would be many years before he would see slavery abolished.

In March 1796 he was crushed when the Anti-Slave Trade Bill was first narrowly defeated in the British Parliament and it wasn't until February 1807 that the bill finally made it through and was passed into law the following month.

But that wasn't the end of it.

That just stopped the slave TRADE. It was not until July 26th 1833, just three days before William Wilberforce's death at the age of 73, that the British parliament passed the bill which abolished slavery in the British Empire - the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. He had been retired for about eight years but continued campaigning until the end.

Now back to my opening thought. Once you have seen something you can't 'unsee it'.

Wilberforce quoteWilliam Wilberforce said something similar about injustice, brutality,  exploitation, prejudice and the suppression of human rights.

'You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know'

We can live our lives oblivious to the difficulties that others are subjected to including the conditions of those still living in what we call 'modern slavery'. Yes, there are still those living enslaved lives including in the sex trade, in agriculture and forced labour of other kinds. Millions upon millions across the globe still live under these restrictions and often the conditions are appalling as they are unable to come and go, and are often treated very badly by those who make money out of them.

What Wilberforce was saying was that ... although we may remain unaware of such things because they don't affect us personally ... once we ARE aware of them, we can't remain oblivious! 

People like Wilberforce and many campaigners even today believe that once we are aware, our conscience or maybe even our faith, impels us to action. We can't just go back into our 'not knowing' mindset. We can't 'unsee' what we now know to be true.

These days we like things to happen quickly, but as William Wilberforce discovered, righting a wrong might take many years. We might have to work a lifetime to see those injustices made right, but once we are aware of what needs doing, our resolve should remain strong. 

And once we see injustice happening, we can't 'unsee' it. 

But ultimately, the question is ... are we doing anything about it?

 

 

 

 

 


The Audacity of Hope

On Wednesday January 21st 2009,  I was in a hotel room in Christchurch, New Zealand, having set my alarm for an early wake up call so I could be witness to a truly historic moment.

I was enjoying the last couple of days of an amazing holiday which had taken me first to Australia and then on to the north, and finally the south island of New Zealand.

But although I had spent more than a month virtually cut off from the world, away from the news, enjoying some solo travel and relaxing, I was determined to be part of something which was happening in the USA.

So it was that, at 4am that morning, I turned on the TV to watch the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America.

Time-zone wise, Christchurch is 16 hours ahead of Washington DC - hence that early alarm because it was at 12noon in Washington DC on Tuesday January 20th that Barack Obama stood at the West Front of the United States Capitol building and took the presidential oath of office - the first ever African American president of the USA.

What an incredible moment in time and history!

I had followed the future president's journey to the White House over the previous year, read some of his books and was inspired. I think I was particularly intrigued because he has some roots in the country of Kenya, where I grew up. His father was from that country although of course, Barack was born in Hawaii in the USA. His book 'Dreams from My Father' is the first part of his amazing life story.

His second book 'The Audacity of Hope' picks up his story and actually the book explained and unpacked many of the subjects that became part of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency.

HOPE became a central feature of the campaign and of the new presidency and that was truly inspirational.

Of course, President Obama would go on to serve another term and among other things later in 2009, he would be honoured wit the Nobel Prize for Peace. The motivation for the prize was President Obama's "...extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." This, the Nobel Committee determined, was at the core of inspiring hope for a better future, not just in and for the USA but also for the world. He encouraged dialogue, co-operation between peoples, democracy and human rights, and this was recognised by the Nobel prize, along with his work to combat climate change.

President Obama still inspires today. His story continues.

His latest biography - 'A Promised Land'  - focuses on the first couple of years of his time as president. I look forward to Volume 2 !

But back to the theme of Hope ... 

It's an intangible thing. We can't touch it but we CAN feel it! We can't see it but we can experience it. When things are going wrong or at least not as we expected, it's easy just to cave and give up believing that life CAN be better. It's easy to lose hope.

But no matter how uncertain life might be, let's not lose that hope that sustains us. Let's keep the dreams we have for our lives, for our families, for our futures, alive. 

And here's a reminder which might help us...

To mark the birthday of President Barack Obama, who was born on this day ... August 4th  ... in 1961, I share an inspiring thought from the man.  

Hope - a belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead!

Now THAT is audacious!

Hope - Barack Obama
What an inspirational thought!

Oh and an interesting footnote about Barack Obama ... if you've done your sums, you'll know that today is a significant birthday for the great man.

He was 47 when he was first elected as president, one of the youngest American presidents in history - the average age of the presidents is 55 and, as we know even from very recent elections, many of the incumbents of the White House are often much older!

Happy 60th birthday Mr President!!

 


Pursuing our Dreams

Today is my brother's birthday!

So straight up I want to say 'Happy Birthday Steve!' ... the sun is out (at last) and life is good!

However, what I didn't realise was that Steve shares a birthday with someone who features in my kitchen! Or at least something he said is on a magnet which sticks to the side of my microwave!

And this is what is inscribed on that magnet...

"We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes"

I love that thought, and it inspires me every time I see it because it reminds me that although I might be scared of the future, I can still hope. You'll note this is not just about 'dreams' but hopes, which for me are a bit more 'solid' because hope is, in my opinion, a little bit more 'active' than dreaming. 

I can dream about things and that's important because it may stretch my imagination as to what MIGHT be possible. However, in reality that may be just out of reach. But when I begin to HOPE for something rather than just thinking about it, I may do something a little more proactive to make it happen rather than just dreaming.

The man who said this certainly had hopes ... for himself and his family I'm sure, but also for his nation.

Because he was John F Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, who was born on this day in 1917.

Sadly, we know that his time in the presidency was brutally cut short when he was assassinated in November 1963. He was only 46 when he died and it's always poignant to imagine what else he might have achieved had he not been cut down in his prime. 

But still, he has gone down in history as an inspirational figure, for all sorts of reasons, although he probably never thought his thoughts would end up on a magnet on the side of a microwave in the Channel Islands!

But they did and I hope today this JFK thought inspires you too!

Jkf


The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.


Choose to Challenge

Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to support and celebrate women's rights. Not that we shouldn't do that EVERY day but it is a good thing to have ONE day at least when the world comes together to celebrate the achievements of those of the female gender and to think about what we all might do to help ensure girls and women gain the equality they deserve.

Iwd hillary clinton quoteIt's also a day to encourage girls and women to believe in themselves, to believe that they have as many rights in life as anyone else to follow their dreams no matter how big. I love this quote from Hillary Clinton ... it says it all I think! Even if the world around you is telling you that you are second class, all girls and women are deserving of the same chances as boys and men. And we all not only have the right to dream, but to make those dreams come true.

In 2021 this might sound a peculiar thing to say, because in many cultures women have equality with men across the board ... don't they?

Don't they?

Well, perhaps in many countries women do have equality, even in law, but that doesn't mean females get equal treatment and are considered equal by everyone. And we do know that there are many cultures still where women ARE treated as second-class citizens and girls still don't have the same chances as boys. There are still communities where girls are not allowed to go to school, where some are held back from school because they need to be at home to help the family - collecting water, looking after siblings. There are some cultures where girls are married off to older men even before they are teenagers, effectively ending their childhood. There are still places where women do much of the work in the community, as well as taking the lion's share of family responsibilities and child care, but are excluded from decision making and leadership.

And that's just for starters!

Today International Women's Day has become increasingly about standing up for women's equality and challenging the norms of society which keep women and girls subordinate.

And this is interesting because that's where IWD began back in the early 1900s, when women's inequality and oppression was beginning to result in more and more women fighting for change. 

The campaign for women's suffrage - the right of women to vote - had actually begun in the mid 19th century, with corresponding advocacy for economic and social as well as political equality. But by the early 20th century not much progress had been made and there was growing unrest and debate. Women still felt largely oppressed and they became more vocal.

In the USA in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights and the following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28th as the first National Woman's Day (NWD).

In 1910 there was big conference in Copenhagen in Denmark -  the second International Conference of Working Women - and it was there that the idea of an International Women's Day was mooted. The conference was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries and the idea was approved.

Although the USA marked their National Women's Day on the last Sunday in February for another couple of years, in 1911 International Women's Day was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19th. On that day, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. And the right to vote.

As the world stood on the brink of global conflict which we now know as World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on February 23rd in 1913 - again the last Sunday in February. At that time, Russia followed the Julian calendar while most of the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar where that day equated to March 8th. Hope you're keeping up with this.

Anyway, it was at this point that discussions began to try to align everyone to celebrate on the same day and it was agreed to mark International Women's Day every year on March 8th.

In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the impending war and to express solidarity with women across the world. In London a women's march resulted in the arrest of suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst as she made her way to speak to the large crowds in Trafalgar Square.

Although women remained passionate down the years, it was not until 1975 that the United Nations celebrated International Women's Day for the first time. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by nation states, in accordance with their individual national and historical traditions.

Moving into the 21st century and by the year 2000 unfortunately there was little appetite for or activity in most countries for International Women's Day. The world had moved on from the years of 'feminism' and in fact that concept was now a bit of a dirty word. But still the world was not equal. Women were still being treated differently, including being paid less than men and given fewer opportunities in many areas of life. 

So it was that in 2001 a website called www.internationalwomensday.com was launched, with the aim of reinvigorating International Women's Day. Today the site provides help, resources and guidance to all those campaigning for better equality between the sexes, and more opportunities for women and girls across the world. Every year there are different themes which sum up some of the challenges facing women across the globe, and call us to action. Some of the themes have included #ChooseToChallenge #TheGenderAgenda #EachforEqual #PledgeforParity #PressforProgress #MakeItHappen ... you get it right?

In 2011 the centenary of International Women's Day was marked across the world, and in the USA, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month", calling on Americans to mark the day and to reflect on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" in shaping the country's history. Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, who was then US Secretary of State. She launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges".

Down the years, there's been a substantial change in attitudes to International Women's Day. There has been sign up from many international groups working with girls and women, lots of charities and business organisations now organise events and many business leaders and celebrities actively support the day.

In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers, and the day is officially recognised and celebrated in many countries around the world, including some where gender equality is still not a given.

Because although many people, including from younger generations who didn't live through the years before Gender Equality legislation, might think that the battle is won, there is still much to be done. Women are often still not paid the same as men doing the same job. Women make up at least half the population of the world but we still don't have equal representation of females in politics and the business world. Many women choose to create their own businesses rather than enter the male dominated business world. Around the world, as I said at the start, girls are often disadvantaged for cultural reasons. They experience inferior health and education, and violence against women and girls is often worse than against men and boys.

Today we are encouraged to not just act locally but also to think on a global level and to try to make a difference, and not just on International Women's Day.

But what might that mean for us? Might it mean stepping out of our comfort zone? Not just accepting the treatment of others because it doesn't affect us personally?

This year's campaign theme on International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge

We might not march like those women in 1908 and in 1914. We might not get arrested as Sylvia Pankhurst did, just for deigning to speak up for the rights of women.

But we can CHOOSE to celebrate the achievements of women. We can CHOOSE to challenge inequality and unfairness when we see it and help create a more inclusive world.

And, as it says on the International Women's Day website,  today maybe we can all spend just a few minutes in reflecting how WE might be able to do our bit "to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding".

We might not feel we can make much of a difference on our own, but two voices are better than one. A thousand voices are better than a hundred, and a million voices, all challenging the status quo where women and girls are still not given the opportunities they deserve, could change the world.

And you don't have to be female to take up the challenge. It's something we can ALL do!
 

 


Keep Left

We're fortunate here in Jersey.

Luckier than many parts of the world, we know.

Although during the Covid19 pandemic we've had some big numbers relative to our small population, and we have been locked down, with no family or friend visits, schools closed, businesses shut, cafes and restaurants and hotels not open, we are in a good place right now. Or at least, we're beginning to get there.

Numbers have fallen, people are being vaccinated and gradually our island is beginning to re-open. 

And that's why non-essential shops re-opened a week ago and we are beginning to see a relaxation of the restrictions. Schools are already open, next week we expect hairdressers to open their doors again and soon we will be able to go to eat out, indoors, at a very safe distance and with all the safety measures in place.

We've been here before. We were doing well last autumn until some people decided to forget that we were in the middle of a pandemic and organised parties, and then coronavirus numbers shot up and restrictions had to be imposed again. Everything closed on Christmas Eve and it's only now we are beginning to see things easing.

So hopefully this time around people are being more cautious. Keep left

It's been more than a month since I ventured into 'Town' ... Jersey's capital of St Helier ... but I had to do so this week and that's when I experienced the Keep Left system in the main shopping area - King Street and Queen Street.

I was, I have to say, rather disappointed that not EVERYONE was keeping to the  left, and lots of people weren't wearing masks outside of the shops, but I didn't feel unsafe. Because I was keeping to the rules, wearing a mask and even had gloves on ... woollen ones because it was freezing!

But it got me thinking.

We all need some 'rules' in life, don't we?

If we are living in community, we need to know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour. We can't all just do as we please because by doing that, although we might make life good for ourselves we risk making life unbearable for others.

Most societies have rules for living - laws - and mostly they are in place for the common good. Many of them are based not just on consensus but also have their basis in shared culture, history and even in religious/spiritual tenets.

Think of the Ten Commandments handed down to us from early Biblical times. The first few are about the relationship between humans and God, but most are about living in family (honour your father and mother) and living in community - you shall not steal, commit adultery, murder, lie against your neighbour or 'covet' what they have and you do not. It's just basic stuff, common sense really, but on this set of rules many laws of lands across the globe are based.

I understand there are some people who just don't like to keep to any rules. In political terms that's called 'anarchy' but most people who make a decision to pass on the rules set out by their community would not call themselves 'anarchists'. They might think of themselves as 'individuals' or 'free thinkers', but imagine if we were ALL just determined to do our own thing, regardless of others.

If there were no rules of the road, and we all just drove on any side of the track, there would be chaos, and probably some accidents. If there were no speed limits then people could just drive as fast as they wanted and risk killing people ... and yes, I am aware that speed limits are some of the rules that many many drivers tend to ignore! If we just took whatever we fancied from a shop without paying for it, knowing that we would not be changed with theft, what would that do to the economy?

Anyway, you get my drift.

Not that I want to live in a highly controlled society, but there is a need for some boundaries for our behaviour. And whether it's because you're a free thinker or just basically selfish and think only of yourself before others, one thing that this pandemic has taught us is that we DO all need to behave responsibly and follow the set out guidelines if we are to beat this virus.

SO - for all those in Jersey planning to do some Saturday shopping in Town.

Please ... Keep Left, keep your distance, wear your mask and sanitise endlessly.

Yes, I know I know ... lots of rules and some of us might be getting a bit bored of it all.

But if we don't do it, we could well find ourselves indoors, stuck at home, no seeing family members, with no retail therapy, or sports or eating out for much much longer. 

Not sure about you but I'm happy to stick to the rules if it means that I won't have to do so forever and ever, until the end of time!

Thanks everyone!

 

 


A Long Walk

Memory is a strange thing. 

It is rather choosy in what it chooses to remember.

I know that, as a person who was born at the very end of the 1950s, SO many things have happened in my lifetime but most of my memories aren't of the BIG events, but lots of little, personal things. Making a snowman with my brothers when I was probably about 5, hanging upside down on the 'monkey bars' at school at about the same age. My first memories of moving to Africa with my family ... more on that another time.

As a person who has worked most of my life in the news business, I strangely find that I don't remember even many of the big life-changing events. Although I DO know where I was on September 11th 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York.

And I remember the events of February 11th 1990 because I clearly recall watching them on the television.

It was the day the world watched Nelson Mandela walk free from prison on Robben Island, in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, after 27 years in captivity.

The crowds were incredible and then we saw him, holding hands with his then wife Winnie, walking through the crowds. Walking into Freedom.

It was incredible. It really felt like I was watching history in the making.

For my whole life I was aware of South Africa - I had relatives living there and had visited my brother and seen apartheid in action, even the reaction of some black people against members of their own community during these very turbulent times as they worked their way towards independence. I had witnessed terrible scenes on a television screen, an horrific 'necklace killing' which was shown on TV. If you don't know what this is, please click on the link... I can't bear to repeat it here. I still have the images in my mind.

One of the iconic songs of the era, 'Free Nelson Mandela', was a cry for freedom not just for the man, but also for the black population, the nation of South Africa. With the real threat of a racial civil war and pressure at home and internationally, including economic and sporting boycotts, eventually the government of President F. W. de Klerk saw what needed to be done.

And here Mandela was ... walking free. The man who had been imprisoned for sedition and conspiring to overthrow the state of South Africa was a free man. At last!

It was incredible.

But what came next was even more astounding.

It would have been easy for Mr Mandela to insist on power for the black population, immediately, and to rouse them to action.

But instead, he worked with President de Klerk to negotiate an end to apartheid, that system of institutionalised racial segregation that had been formalised in 1948. Eventually there was a multiracial general election in 1994 which resulted in victory for Mandela and his party, the ANC - the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of his nation.

After assuming power, and especially after suffering 27 years in incarceration, one might have assumed that Mandela might then have wanted his revenge on the white politicians and civilians who had made life so unbearable for the black and 'coloured' population for so long. But no.

Instead he emphasised reconciliation between the country's racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. 

It was barely a year after that 1994 multi-racial election, which my own family members were pleased to be part of, that I visited South Africa again. Life in the country seemed familiar and it didn't feel like much had changed really, but there was hope in the air.

And although it is still a troubled country, with much poverty and even inequality of all kinds, today I remember the man who guided his country through such a momentous era, which could have turned out so differently. Long walk to freedom

In his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' (Little Brown & Co 1994) Nelson Mandela shared not just his life's story but also his wisdom.

He wrote ...

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And he left us with thoughts which can inspire us all ...

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

 

 


An Original Power Couple

I'm thinking about weddings today and specifically a marriage that took place on this day in 1840.

It's an unusual day for a wedding ... February 10th ... or at least it is these days. Most people don't chose the dark days of February or a Monday for their special day - yes February 10 1840 was a Monday!

But the couple who got married on this were different.

Because it was the day chosen by Queen Victoria to marry her Prince -  Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

And for all sorts of reasons it was a significant day not just for the couple, but also for the future of Great Britain, and some might say, the world.

Victoria was a young bride of 20 and she had been the monarch of the British Isles and Ireland since 20 June 1837. She ascended the throne at just 18 after a troubled childhood surrounded by intrigue and control.

Even though she was queen, the conventions of the day meant she had to live with her mother, who had been at the centre of that controlling childhood. One might say Victoria was determined to escape, and quickly.

As Queen of Britain, others knew that she was a good catch and plans for her future were already being cooked up. As early as 1836, even before she ascended to the throne, her maternal uncle Leopold, who was King of the Belgians, hoped she might marry Prince Albert, the son of his brother Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Victoria's cousin.

Apparently the reigning King William IV, Victoria's uncle who she would succeed, wanted her to marry someone else. But in 1836 when she travelled to Coburg to visit her German relatives, including Albert, Victoria was rather taken with him. And like any young girl, it was his looks that grabbed her first. "Extremely handsome... beautiful nose, very sweet mouth, charm of his ... expression which is most delightful" were just some of the things she wrote about her cousin in her diary.

But she was so young, too young to marry and although there was a sort of 'understanding' between the couple, it wasn't until she was queen that the pair's relationship would move to the next level. In the meantime, as was common in the day, their relationship was kept alive through letter writing. 

Move forward to October 1839 and Albert visited England and just five days after he had arrived at Windsor, Victoria had proposed.

Yes, she proposed. She was, after all, Queen! It would not have been up to Albert to ask.

Four months later - on 10 February 1840 - they were married in the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace, in London.  Like his bride, Albert was just 20 years of age.

Looking back at the relationship you could say that it was a marriage of convenience. Victoria had the independence of a married woman and her mother was out of the picture - she was soon moved out of Buckingham Palace. Uncle Leopold had his person at the centre of power across the water from Belgium. He had managed to keep it in the family, and indeed the family that Victoria and Albert went on to have would dominate the ruling houses of Europe for decades.

The couple barely knew each other really, if you think about it. But they had family connections, history and tradition to draw on, as well as one other thing.

Miraculously, the couple had fallen madly and deeply in love. Victoria was said to be 'love struck' on her wedding day.

And I said at the start, this marriage wasn't just significant for them as individuals, but also important for the future of Great Britain, and even the world.

Although Victoria was Queen and, if you believe all you read, rather good at ensuring her husband was aware of that status, they also became a phenomenal 'Power Couple'. 

Initially, we're told Albert felt rather frustrated by his role as Queen's companion - Prince Consort. He had no responsibilities, no power. But he gradually blossomed. He would become an important political adviser to his wife, and took on more roles especially when his wife was pregnant, which she often was. The couple had nine children!

The period of Victoria's reign, which lasted for 63 years (longer than any of her predecessors) has become known as 'The Victorian Age', a time in history renowned for industrial, scientific, political and military change in the United Kingdom and the world. It was also a period of great expansion of the British Empire. In 1876, the British Parliament granted Victoria the additional title of Empress of India.

Prince Albert was at the centre of much of the innovation of ideas. Despite the rather frustrating start, he developed a reputation for supporting public causes like educational reform, the abolition of slavery and scientific and industrial development. The very successful Great Exhibition of 1851 , which showcased many of the new developments and innovations of the time, was organised under Albert's patronage.

As Victoria turned more and more to her husband for guidance and support, he also helped her to understand that she needed to be more impartial when dealing with her governments, which helped to develop the concept of the British constitutional monarchy 

And perhaps more importantly for family dynamics, Albert even managed to help to slowly improve the relationships between his wife and his mother-in-law.

Sadly Albert would die early in 1861, at the age of just 42, which thrust Victoria into deep depression, leading to years of mourning and self-imposed isolation ... she wore black for the rest of her life and mourned him until the day she died in January 1901.

But, as with all couples on their wedding day, the future was unknown to Victoria and Albert on February 10th 1840. They didn't know what lay ahead. They were just full of promise, and love.

So on that I'll note, I'll leave you with a little thought.

Thank goodness we don't know the future.

If we did, it might stop us doing the unusual, dreaming the impossible, braving the unthinkable, daring to think you can change the world, daring to love. 

 

 

 

 

 


Take the first step

I'm starting today's thought with a picture and quote from an awesome woman

Quotation-Rosa-Parks-To-bring-about-change-you-must-not-be-afraid-to-84-42-21

The fantastic woman who is featured above is Rosa Parks and if you haven't heard of her before ... where have you been?

Rosa was an American activist and she was born on this day - February 4th - in 1913.

But it was around 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 1955, that she did something that changed the course of history and human and civil rights in the USA.

She refused to move from her seat in a bus!

Rosa lived in the south of the USA in the state of Alabama where racial segregation was part of the system and the culture.

Since the turn of the 20th century, the former southern Confederate states, including Alabama, had adopted new electoral laws and constitutions that disenfranchised black voters, and even many poor white voters. The were called the 'Jim Crow laws', and they imposed racial segregation in shops, public facilities and public transportation. Under the law, bus and train companies introduced and enforced strict seating policies with separate sections for black people and whites. In fact, there was no school bus transportation available in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and Rosa Parks herself remembered going to elementary school where school buses took white students to school, but black kids had to walk.

In December 1955 those rules were still in place in the city of Montgomery, where Rosa lived and worked. On the buses, individual conductors were allowed to assign seats to ensure the races stayed apart. The first four rows of seats on buses in Montgomery were reserved for whites. There were 'coloured' sections for black passengers, even though around three quarters of passengers on any bus were black people. The sections could be changed if the bus conductor saw fit, they had movable signs which meant that if a white person needed a seat, a row was re-assigned and black passengers had to move. People of different colours were not even allowed to sit in the same row of seats on the bus!

If the vehicle filled up with white people, basically black passengers were forced to move further and further to the back so that the whites could have their seats. If the bus got overcrowded, it was the black passengers who had to leave  - by a rear door. Black people could only enter and leave by the back door.

On that evening of December 1 1955 Rosa Parks was on her way home from work. She paid her bus fare, and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "coloured" section. She was sitting near the middle of the bus, and her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.

As the journey progressed, more and more white people got on the bus and soon all the 'whites only' rows were taken. The bus driver ordered Rosa and three other passengers to leave the row they were sitting in, to make way for white passengers.

The three other passengers in her row moved to seats behind. Rosa refused.

She argued with the bus driver but stayed in her seat. The police were called and Rosa was arrested.

Now just to explain, Rosa was already involved in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a secretary in the local NAACP branch and had been involved in civil rights and other political activity for a couple of decades.  But her main job was as a seamstress at a local department store.

And, as she explained in an interview with National Public Radio  in 1992, Rosa remembered that she hadn't set out that day to cause a ruckus. Here's what she told NPR's Lynn Neary  

'I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time ... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.

The actions and orders of the bus driver James F. Blake that day was the straw that broke the camel's back for Rosa. Although hers was not the first arrest on a bus of a black passenger who refused to give up their seat for a white person, Rosa Parks' defiance was to be a turning point in the civil rights movement.

After her arrest for civil disobedience, with the backing of the NAACP, Rosa began a prolonged court battle. Other court cases were also underway and nearly a year after her arrest, the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which was a court case separate to Rosa's, led to a ruling in the US Supreme Court that bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

But what followed Rosa's arrest was the clincher in the whole saga, because it was the catalyst that sparked a boycott of the Montgomery public bus system for almost a year.

Remember, although they were treated badly, black passengers made up around 75% of the bus company's business. Black residents just refused to take the bus and eventually the bus company's finances were rock bottom, but it was only the repeal of the law following that Supreme Court ruling that forced the transit company to change its rule. On December 21, 1956, Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated and black people could ride the bus again, without segregation.

So Rosa has gone down in history as an icon of the American civil rights movement. She would became internationally famous and work alongside, among others, Martin Luther King Jr. In later life, the US Congress would call Rosa Parks "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".

But life wasn't always kind to her. She was fired from her job and struggled to find work and she received death threat for years afterwards.

From 1965 to 1988 she also continued to be involved in civil rights and in politics, including the Black Power movement. This former seamstress who took a stand for right would go on to receive national and international honours including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

When she died on October 24, 2005 aged 92 she became the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda at the Capitol building in Washington DC and a statue was posthumously erected in her honour in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall.

Today the States of  California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4, while other states - Ohio and Oregon  - commemorate the anniversary of her arrest, December 1.

The quote from Rosa Parks which I've used at the top of this thought says it all I think.

'To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try'

I'm inspired by that idea.

So often when we know there are things that need changing, in our life, in our communities, in our world, we are scared by the prospect of getting involved. It'll be too hard, it'll take up too much time, it'll be beyond my ability.

Maybe I just need to take Rosa Parks' advice and take the first step. 

Who knows where that might take me?