By Yula Burin.
Austerity politics stink. Budget cuts here, there and everywhere are beginning to bite and leaving indentations on the skin. Soon, the blood will flow. And people are indeed biting at each other if recent news stories of cannibalistic tendencies in certain quarters are anything to go by.
At the heart of austerity politics, I think we find the usual suspects: greed, theft and deception driven by the arrogance and contempt of those who wield political and economic power over those of us, most of us, who do not. We have learnt in recent years that our votes don’t really entitle us to much. Believing that our votes give us the stability and security from which to creatively engage with the challenges of our lives is the (big?) lie that is becoming increasingly and glaringly obvious. We know that our votes are meaningless in a political culture that privileges the needs and welfare of multinational companies over the needs of people in their families, workplaces and communities. Because of this, grassroots organisations like the Lambeth Women’s Project are rendered vulnerable to extinction by the rapacity of austerity politics. These organisations are executed without any due care or respect for the consequences, and always to the detriment of their communities.
In the case of Lambeth Women’s Project, they have been given two weeks’ notice of eviction by Stockwell Primary School, and have to be out by Thursday 14th June 2012. This is how nearly thirty-five years’ worth of working with girls and women in Lambeth may come to an end.
Lambeth Council don’t seem particularly bothered about stopping this travesty from occurring; they certainly have the power, but not the will, to do so. By not intervening and putting a stop to this injustice, Lambeth Council are displaying their complete and utter contempt for the life chances and outcomes of girls and women who need access to spaces like Lambeth Women’s Project. The demise of the project will impact negatively on girls and women of all ethnic backgrounds, working-class women, neets (people not in employment, education or training) who have been alienated from, and failed by, a poorly-functioning education system, and women seeking to recover from the trauma of domestic and sexual violence.
Lambeth council, by allowing Stockwell Primary School to pursue this eviction, are saying that there is no municipal responsibility to nurture the development, healing and recovery of women and girls when families, schools and peers have disappointed and let them down.
The loss of Lambeth Women’s Project will make it harder for women and girls to envisage the possibility of a route out of difficult life circumstances. They will not learn and come to know that they matter, that they are valued, that they are not surplus to requirements. They will not be able to access the pleasure to be had from plumbing the musical depths of the bass guitar, or bashing away their frustrations and griefs on the drums, and just revelling in the thrill of rhyme and rhythm – all of this and more is available with Girls Rock UK, one of the programmes on offer at the project. Adolescent girls and women will not be able to use the library there to inform and educate themselves about feminism, women’s health, the politics of menstruation, alternatives to allopathic medicine. They will not have the chance to learn how to make soap or candles, or learn silk-screen printing or batik. They will not learn about the herbs that are growing in the front garden. There is so much they will not be able to do if the project goes. It saddens me. It angers me. Women have to live with a paucity of services that is outrageous.
Austerity politics would have us believe that feminism was just a passing phase and, besides, the law says women and men are equal now so we women don’t have to fight for our rights anymore; or that the Black Power movement was ok in its day and everything is just so wonderfully post-racial; or that Britain’s former colonies really were better off when they were part of the empire because the British knew best how to run things; and that the belief in the fair and equal distribution of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of us all is an aberrant and unnatural philosophy to be sure.
It’s time that we served notice on the peddlers of austerity. We must become the warriors of our communities, committed to saving women’s spaces, projects and institutions. We can’t keep losing the services we need whilst banks and multinational companies are being supported with corporate welfare by European and American governments, to ensure that it’s business as usual. Profits over people. Economic growth at the expense of those who will not benefit from it. Environmental degradation and despoliation. The dismantling of the welfare state in preparation for its privatisation. The deliberate destruction of communities, because then people are easier to control, coerce and manipulate.
If last August’s street disturbances happen again in the weeks and months ahead, it would be disingenuous of us to say we are shocked, surprised, or uncomprehending of the reasons why.