Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “National Front”

Living In Fear

I grew up in a rough area of London during a time when there was a lot of racism on the streets. It was the 1970’s and the British Nationalist Party (then the National Front) were becoming too popular. I learned to be constantly aware of where I was walking, never wearing headphones (we had walkmans then), never going on the top of a double-decker bus, watching for alleys and dark driveways etc.

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It was a stage that I am glad I have passed through (I still cross the road if I see a group of white men with short hair or shaved heads), but half our population doesn’t get that opportunity.

A female friend of mine, young and attractive, with long blond hair, said these words a few weeks back that are still haunting me: Every woman imagines her own rape. She was quoting someone else, but I could only think of those women I know and love.

When she had moved to the city, her mother had urged her to cut her beautiful hair short, warned her never to wear flip-flops (the attacker can step on them from behind and trip you), and brought her pepper spray.

When my wife began working at a clinic in a rough area and needed to lock up in the dark and walk to her car in a deserted car park, I bought the best pepper spray I could find. I was probably more scared than she was, but it was an insight into what goes through every woman’s head.

images-2 We live in a country where we believe we are free. The question is, are we truly free, when half of our population needs to continually look over their shoulder?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Remembering Blair Peach

I was fifteen years old when he died. I don’t think I had even met him, but I might have. We had participated in the same demonstrations. We had shared the same political agenda. Yet I took his death hard and it left its mark on me to this day.

Blair Peach and many other Englishmen and women were demonstrating against the unthinkable. Not even four decades had passed before Hitler’s Nazi army were massing on the Normandy shores to invade Britain, not forty years since six million of my people, a third of all the Jews on earth, had been murdered in the Holocaust.

And now the British National Party (might have still been called the National Front) was making alarming gains in local elections. As they marched through immigrant neighborhoods, many of us swelled the ranks of the Anti-Nazi League.

I had been brought up to trust the police. “If you get lost,” my mother drilled into me, “find a policeman. He’ll help you.” The neighborhood bobby was still a British value.

And yet, as I stood in the demonstration, preventing the Nazis from marching, the police charged us. I will never forget the one who punched me in the face. I had learned early to duck and weave. My school wasn’t in the nicest neighborhood and I was Jewish, with friends who were black, Asian and Irish. I just never expected a policeman to pop one at me without cause and then look on with no apology. To this day, I fear the uniform.

But Blair Peach, a man who had dedicated himself to teaching kids in a public school for children with special needs was not so lucky.  On April 2nd, 1979, he was pulled from the demonstration by members of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group, and beaten unconscious. He  never woke and died 24 hours later. The  next day, over 10,000 of us took to the streets. Disband the SPG (Special Patrol Group) became our mantra. A huge cover up ensued. SPG members shaved their hair, mustaches and every uniform was laundered the next day before any evidence could be found. Many SPG officers, however, were members of the Nazi Party and used unauthorized weapons such as baseball bats, crowbars, and sledgehammers. No apology was ever given, no one brought to trial for police brutality.


I share this as the police patrol the streets of Cairo. I vividly remember an US army officer, flown in to take charge of the army in New Orleans after Katrina, yelling at his troops to put their weapons down. “We don’t turn them on our own citizens,” he barked.

A police officer, a soldier, like any one else has the right to defend him/herself when their safety is threatened. There is no other justification to use violence on anybody.

Blair Peach should be thinking of retirement right now, at the end of a distinguished career, giving four decades of himself to his students. They were denied him, his family were denied him and the police brutality that killed him is still being denied.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com

 

Accusing From Afar Pt. 2

Yesterday I blogged about my first days on campus as a student.

Billy Bragg, a British songwriter and political activist, has a knack for summing it up succinctly.

What is fascinating are the racist comments below his song on You Tube. When I grew up in London in the 1970’s, the Jews, Blacks, Asians and Irish were all victims at our schools and in the streets of the National Front, now the British Nationalist Party.

Sometimes, unfortunately, we just never learn. Still, it helps inspire people like Billy Bragg to write the caliber of songs that he does. Every cloud…

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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