Thursday, August 23, 2012

The noise of dominos

Gloria Morrison is a leader of JENGbA - Joint Enterprise No Guilt by Association - whom I met in London. A white woman, she welcomed Kenneth, a black teenager and friend of her son, into her home, befriended him, keeps in touch with him, and has campaigned against joint enterprise since he was sent away for life. Joint enterprise makes a cell phone call by one person to someone who later commits a crime evidence of conspiracy - and subjects without further evidence of the content of the call, the caller to possible life imprisonment. It is profoundly guilt by association. See here, here, here, and here.

Gloria is someone who, in Staughton Lynd’s phrase, accompanies those who are oppressed See here. Staughton has written a book manuscript distinguishing organizing from accompanying. Organizing is an often poorly paid post in which the organizer comes in, helps the workers, and then leaves for another assignment, something with a lot of dedication but perhaps lacking the full spiritual significance or commitment of accompaniment. Consider accompanying as a version of what is best in organizing. For instance, naming US and Salvadorian elite oppression and murderousness, Archbiship Romero accompanied the people of Salvador until he was murdered.

Attending the Wellstone community center threatened with closure (Prime Minister Cameron’s “Big Society” appears to threaten many places where the old and young socialize in a life-sustaining way and he often attacks and “criminalizes” the young – see here - she saw the role of dominos there and in prison. People are often loud when they play dominos.

The stress of imprisonment (especially unjust imprisonment), the stress of a communal space being shut down - these are the parameters that give the game, at least for winners, a momentary oomph…

As an accompanier (or organizer), one often encounters small meetings. And some people become dispirited because building a movement, no matter how sharp the cause, is a slog.

But the truth is, in accompanying as in teaching, one never knows whom one is going to meet. One can often find in a small class students who teach one something or becoming each their own person, and perhaps their own kind of teacher; the same is true, as Gloria underlines, of accompanying. Perhaps this, too, is like dominos. So one had be fully there to talk with whoever comes, to join the journey, and see what happens.

Another way of putting this: one shouldn't to get too high on a movement when it is going well - some of the expectations for Occupy when it was emerging all over America and changing the conversation, revealing the 99% pitted against the 1%, were like this - or too low when not so many people come. No decent movement from below ever gets favorable publicity from the elite (Occupy has held lively meetings at DU and in Denver in the spring and summer, but gets no publicity in the Denver media). And Occupy needs to grow into multiracial unity and mass civil disobedience. So the activity of accompanying, not the larger consequences, is the motivation - the future is often unclear and difficult - even as one also thinks about what the larger consequences might be.

The Domino Effect

Yesterday evening JENGbA was invited to talk to the community group The Tottenham Defence League by their Chair Dougie Williams. Dougie had met myself, Sharon Spenser and Patrick Davis a few weeks ago in North London - we explained our campaign to him, highlighting the cases we represent. Dougie, a respected community campaigner, like most people you tell about how the doctrine of joint enterprise is being abused was shocked and angered by what we told him.

When I arrived at the Wellborne Centre you could see this vital community building had seen better days. Another community space, used by the public for their own meetings threatened by the Council for closure as they say it is no longer 'fit for purpose' yet same Council take rent on a building they say is now longer 'fit for purpose'. I suppose it depends on whose purpose? The Tottenham Elders were partaking in their regular dominoes gathering; a social event but also a highly competitive tournament.

I was struck by the noise of the competitors banging the dominoes onto the table. I told Dougie that the last time Kenneth had called me from prison he had a rant (which is unlike him), He said he was pissed off with being told when to go to bed and when to get up, pissed off with the smell of manure which wafts through the prison, and amongst many other things (long rant) he was pissed off with being told he was playing dominoes too loudly. Now, seeing how this Elders were playing it I could understand, one woman did a dramatic jump up before slamming her domino down. Dougie laughed and said it was a great way to release anger and stress. So as hard as it was to hear Ken sound so low, at least he has some way to vent his anger rather than take it out on others, just like these Elders who face losing the space they had long created to socialise and play a simple game of dominoes.

The meeting with the TDL was not hugely attended but all who did expressed their outrage at learning about how joint enterprise was targeting working class and BEM [black and ethnic minority] groups. But numbers are never important in the meetings we attend - if the nine people who were there go out and tell nine others, who go on to tell nine other - we have our very own JENGbA [Joint Enterprise No Guild by Association] Domino effect.

Since meeting Dougie that first time, he has invited us to do local radio SLR several times, which led to other local radio stations contacting us. He introduced us to Professor Alan Gilbert who is blogging and supporting us in the USA. He also gave us the contact number for BEN TV and Sharon and myself recorded a live interview with them a couple of weeks ago. Domino effect indeed.


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