Ecuador: The ‘drone revolution’ against Moreno’s IMF package

By Denis Rogatyuk.

“Se acabó la zanganería”.

With this phrase, President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno announced the end of the 40-year long policy of fuel and petrol subsidies that traditionally benefited the working class population. “Zánganos” (or drones) is a slang term traditionally used by the richer parts of society to refer to the workers and the poor as ‘mindless’ or ‘uneducated’, once again reflecting the neoliberal president’s classist attitudes of disgust towards Ecuador’s working class.

Overnight, the slang turned into a buzzword used by Moreno’s opponents to refer to themselves and the new movement as “la revolución de los zánganos” (the drone revolution).

Following this shock economic measure, the past week has seen a series of large demonstrations across the country, as a new package of neoliberal reforms was presented by the Moreno government in a bid to satisfy the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The latest explosion of mass protests was caused by the government’s announcement on October 1 of a series of new economic measures designed to reduce “wasteful” public spending and further balance the budget. The most controversial measure of all has been the complete elimination of the fuel and petrol subsidies, in place since the 1970s, thus directly contributing to a 123 per cent rise in the price of diesel and similar increases for other fuels. Furthermore, the package introduces a 20 per cent cut to the salary of public employees, and the initiation of plans to privatise pensions and to remove safeguards to workers’ conditions and job security.

‘State of emergency’ declared

Foreseeing the likelihood and the magnitude of protests against his government, Moreno declared a “national state of emergency” and proceeded to deploy both the police and the military against protests in the capital Quito and other areas around the country.

Among the most visible political forces leading the protests have been the Citizens’ Revolution Movement (MRC) of former left-wing President Rafael Correa, as well as a number of social and trade union organisations, such as the United Workers’ Front (FUT), the CONAIE indigenous organisation and the Popular Front (FP) political party. Furthermore, both transport workers’ unions and the taxi drivers’ associations announced strike action on October 3, bringing several cities around the country to halt, among them Quito and Cuenca.

The province of Pichincha converted into the epicentre of popular struggle, with more than 10,000 taking in part in the strike and the protests. Although the transport workers suspended the strike action on October 5, the protests by other organisations, particularly the indigenous, have shown no signs of stopping.

Below: Police retreating from mass protests in Quito

Below: Police repression in Quito – “Police retreating after injuring a protester with ammunition”

The state of emergency itself has been severely criticised by Correa’s MRC as being unconstitutional, as it lacks any specific parameters regarding proportionality, legality, temporality, territoriality and rationality (as mandated in the constitution) and is widely considered as a measure of preventing mass-scale uprisings in major cities that overthrew the neoliberal governments of Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutiérez in 2005.

A total of 350 arrests have been made since the protests began on October 2, including of several activists from the transport unions, while more than 20 people have been injured around the country. In the city of Caymabe, Pichincha, the police are reported to have used live ammunition against the protestors. During the transport workers’ strike of October 3-5, several delegates and local leaders were detained by the police in the city of Cuenca, and a further four members of the taxi drivers’ associations were arrested on October 4 in relation to the strikes.

Moreno’s right turn

The cuts to the fuel subsidies have only served to fan the flames of popular discontent that has been spreading across the country since Moreno’s neoliberal economic turn and the embrace of authoritarianism.

On the economic front, Moreno has attempted to consistently discredit Correa’s (highly successful and popular) economic strategy of combining increased social spending with public investment in major infrastructure and energy projects, and the diversification of the economy away from oil through the building of a new productive matrix.

Instead, his government has pursued an IMF-mandated package of reforms that included dismissal of thousands of public sector employees, reducing the size of the public sector, initiating privatisation of parts of the public sector (particularly the public banking services), and introducing cuts to education and healthcare sectors.

Consequently, the levels of poverty and inequality have seen significant increases over the past several years of Moreno’s government. According to the official numbers, the level of structural poverty has increased from 23.1 per cent in June 2017 to 25.5 per cent in June 2019, with some economists projecting that structural poverty will reach 30 per cent by the end of the year if the new economic measures are enacted.

Extreme poverty has risen from 8.4 per cent to 9.5 per cent during the same period. Furthermore, the Gini coefficient of economic inequality has increased from 0.462 in June 2017 to 0.478 in June 2019, reflecting Moreno’s policies of reducing social spending, principally benefiting the rich.

On the legal side, the country has witnessed a continuous breakdown of constitutional law, with the persecution of the former vice-president Jorge Glas on dubious charges, the censorship of various critical media channels, and the scandal of the INA Papers and discovery of secret offshore bank accounts linked to the Moreno family.

It has also witnessed the dismissal of the newly elected Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), the withdrawal from UNASUR and OPEC and the continuous political witch-hunt against Correa and other leaders of the Citizens’s Revolution, such as the former Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and former deputy Sofia Espin.

Esther Cuesta, a member of the National Assembly of the Citizens’ Revolution Movement, explained her party’s position regarding both the new rebellion and the growing authoritarianism and repression by the Moreno government: “Millions of Ecuadorians, whom we join as the Citizen’s Revolution Movement, reject the neoliberal economic measures, dictated by the IMF and imposed to the Ecuadorian people by Moreno’s government, mainly because they will impoverish the vast majority of the population: the middle class, the working class and the poor, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, to the detriment of the future of children and younger generations.”

She further explained the significance of the Zánganos movement in the historical context of the Ecuadorian people’s struggle against neoliberalism: “Since the paquetazo [IMF package] announcement, what started as a transportation strike emerged as a growing social protest all over the country and from different sectors of the population.

“Ecuadorian people have memory. The adjustment policies applied in the country the 1980s and 1990s provoked massive unemployment, impoverishing of the population, and about 12 percent of the population emigrated.”

Denis Rogatyuk is a Russian-Australian freelance writer, journalist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter @DenisRogatyuk.

This article originally appeared in The Grayzone and has been reprinted by Irish Broad Left with the permission of the author.

CULTURE: Being a working class writer in Ireland

By Dave Lordan.

On the same Easter Week of the 1916 rising, a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition was held in Dublin. Chaplin, well-known to be a socialist as well as the world’s leading entertainer at the time, had a mass following among the Dublin working classes.

Truth be told, among many in the Dublin working class, there was probably as much interest in the Charlie Chaplin competition as there was in  what the crowd of poets with guns and big ideas were at in the GPO. There were many dozens of entries to the lookalike competition and the various merits of each were discussed in newspapers and among young and old in working class communities. For many, the Chaplin lookalike competition must have seemed a supremely important event, and the unannounced eruption of the Rising an unwelcome distraction.

The story goes that about halfway through Easter Week — while field guns pummelled the GPO from across the street, and the rebels inside did their best to hold tough and return fire — one of the most impressive of the Chaplin lookalikes decided to amble Chaplinesquely right down the middle of O Connell St, in between the hostile lines.

Both sides, it is said, ceased fire and both sides, it is said, looked on in appreciative amazement at the slick and entertaining performance — as unexpected and courageous as the Easter Rising itself.

Once he/she/they had finished the cannon-silencing performance, they turned and bowed in both directions, and a general applause broke out. No observer could have told which portions of the noise of the applause was British Loyalist, and which emanated from the clapped hands of Insurrectionary Irish.

Minutes later, once the fabled impersonator was out of range, the unresolved hostilities resumed and bullets sought heads to explode in every direction.

Art does not ask or expect of its appreciators that they subscribe to one political point of view or another; does not inquire as to whether they be on one side of the class and anti-imperialist struggles or the other.

Mozart was popular among the officers of the death camps. Trotsky recognised the avid fascist Céline as the greatest of inter-war French novelists. No contemporary liberal novelist could or presumably would claim to be of equal artistic stature to the religious reactionary Fyodor Dostoevsky.

So it’s not the purpose of this essay to dispute this fundamentally supra-political aspect of art. Great art disintegrates all borders, ignores all our divisions. Within this universally levelling effect, the aesthetic bears a radical promise of no nations, borders, classes or any kind of unequal and agitating divisions on Earth — “all the people together in harmony,” as John Lennon sings it.

Art is Utopianising in its collective effect on us as a species — it unites us by temporarily obscuring or abolishing our real divisions and without asking for a sacrifice of our individuality. Though of course it does so only temporarily, only in the realms of feeling and imagination, and without much actual impact on borders and class divisions in the here and now.

It is important not to have the illusion that making art, generally speaking, is a kind of political activism. Art is most often not political activity so much as it is the suspension or deferral of political activity.

Bertolt Brecht wrote many songs and poems and plays and novels aimed at, and enjoyed by, millions of German workers in the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism came to power anyway and would likely have done so in exactly the same way had he never in his life bothered to write a single line.

All the protest songs and singers of the 1960s and 1970s couldn’t prevent the election of Reagan and Thatcher.

There certainly are occasions when art and artists can make a centrally important contribution to social causes. The relationship between Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League is one such good news story, as is the successful resistance to the Carnsore nuclear reactor here in Ireland.

Others will have more examples, I’m sure, but all will be exceptions to a general rule of artistic creation, which is that it takes place in a separate sphere from political activity, and with its own traditions and orientations which are different to and even opposed to political activity. Activism always seeks to highlight the social divisions that anthropologists argue it is art’s social and evolutionary role in human societies to paper over and obscure.

On the other hand, this grand distinction between spheres of activity makes anyone trying to fuse them a priori a subversive. And it is obviously true that a poem on a picket-line or an artistic online video can inspire and promote causes.

But it is usually the case that artists make their best contributions to social movements in the same way as plumbers or nurses — that is, by handing out leaflets, turning up to meetings and demos etc. — by blending in rather than standing out.

Similarly, the cultural value and aesthetic quality of a work of art has nothing to with the class background or political opinions of who has produced it or who is relaying or performing it.

Nor does the personal morality of the artist have any bearing at all on whether the music they compose will be beautiful, or the book they write un-put-downable.

W.B Yeats lived a long and luxurious aristocratic life paid for by the hard labour of Irish peasants.  He owed the inspiration of many of his plays and poems to the lore of Irish peasants. The music and diction of much of his poetry is simply a refined version of the daily speech rhythms of the Irish peasantry.

Nevertheless, he enthusiastically supported the war crimes of extra-judicial torture and execution of socialist and republican POWs from peasant backgrounds during the so-called Irish civil war. Yet he remains the most melodious and memorable Irish poet of the early 20th century.

Margaret Atwood’s practical support for apartheid Israel in breaking the cultural boycott does nothing to reduce her status as one of the pre-eminent global novelists.

Conversely, some of the worst poetry ever written has emerged from council estates where a local loudmouth has discovered an online rhyming dictionary and decided to inflict their thoughts on world affairs on us in toddleresque rhymes.

So when we talk about how injustice and inequality manifest themselves in class society in relation to the arts, we are not talking about anything to do with aesthetics or the internal qualities of works of art.

Demanding increased access to art for workers

Working class people, despite the obstacles they face, make and appreciate art in countless ways and by various means. There, obviously then, is no one way of being a working class artist, and there is no ‘working-class aesthetic’ as such. Therefore, a socialist party should have no aesthetic policy or prescriptions whatsoever.

The role of a socialist party or movement is to campaign for increased working class access to the arts, period. It is never to poke its nose into the processes of artistic creation. A Stalinist policy of interference in artistic creation and limiting artistic freedom must be totally rejected and struggled against for art as well as for politics’ sake — there are no ‘socialist realist’ novels worth reading.

None of this means that we cannot highlight and unpack some distinctive ways in which working class communities have evolved artistic traditions, and which are markedly distinct from the dominant bourgeois way of doing things — ways that might incorporate something subversively political, above and beyond the artistic.

My focus is on illustrating just this kind of politicised working class literature. For any worker to start making art is by definition to make the case that we are not born solely to consume and be exploited — that we too, just like the bourgeoisie, are capable of both creating and appreciating on the higher plane of art. It is in this sense that we can agree with Michael Hartnett when he writes, “the act of poetry is a rebel act”.

The work of art is always concrete and historical, whether it be artefact or current. Art has all the apprehensible qualities of the real, whether it is a song that passes us by in three minutes or a statue of a mother deity that has withstood 65,000 years on Earth. Because of this, we can both share an encounter with an artwork, and differ widely in our opinions of it, as we can with all other historical events and objects.

But we can say definite true things about works of art as well. We can keep in mind that the work of art is a self-contained object that can only be authentically judged in relation to other self-contained objects of the same kind. As stated above, we cannot judge art by the nature of the person or person who produces it. The work of art is supremely indifferent to the name and nature of he/she/they who made it, be they saint or sinner.

And yet class is a determining factor in who gets to make art and appreciate it in so many unjustly political ways.

For example:

1) Working class access to arts education

Access to quality arts education is not provided at all in many Irish public secondary schools, and only at the most rudimentary, amateur, and unenthusiastic levels in most of the rest. Despite the overwhelming pedagogic evidence of a hugely positive impact on teenage mental health, there is no creative writing curriculum in public secondary schools.

Even more disgracefully in the year 2019, there is no multimedia creativity education (production of podcasts, videos etc.) whatsoever in Irish secondary schools. By contrast, private schools have all of the above. Well-off parents can and do pay for additional extra-curricular arts education, giving their children a huge advantage.

2) The lack of Arts Council support for predominantly working class art forms.

Literary funding in the Arts Council goes almost exclusively to predominantly middle- and upper-class forms such as the page poem, opera, and so-called ‘literary’ fiction.

There are no funding streams for performance poetry, rap, storytelling, singer-songwriters or bands, online video, podcast, digital music production — all forms that are far more accessible to and engaged with by working class people as both producers and consumers of art.

This is nothing but institutional class prejudice.

3) The cost of being an artist.

Many successful writers (it takes 15-25 years to become a successful writer) are sustained by crucial financial support from their well-off families.

Most of us do not have such parents and so we are systematically excluded in yet another way.

So to level the playing field, we need not a few legislative tweaks, not just a token couple of panels on ‘being a working class writer’ at literary festivals few working class people have ever heard of, but a complete overhaul of education, art funding, and arts access from the bottom up — that is, a revolution.

Part Two of this essay will appear on Irish Broad Left next week.

Photo above shows Christy Moore performing to protesters at an anti-nuclear protest at Carnsore Point, Co Wexford, in 1978. Picture by Eddie Kelly.

Dave Lordan is a writer and community educator and socialist activist. Check out his work at www.davelordan.com.

How do we build a climate movement that can win?

By Lisbeth Latham.

The unprecedented glacial melting, diminishing sea ice shelves, and extensive fires globally have fuelled growing existential angst around the looming climate catastrophe. This angst has been a major source of the emergence and growth of the climate strike movement globally which has seen millions of people drawn onto the streets with the strikes on September 20 and 27.

Growing numbers of people – particularly young people – have become aware of both the depth of the crisis and the refusal of state actors or the fossil fuel industry to take serious steps to address climate change. This has given rise to the urgent question of how and in what circumstances the necessary changes can be made, particularly around energy use, to halt the planet’s slide into irreversible and escalating climate change.

Yes, socialism is the solution, but so what?

Arguing for ecosocialism is not enough

The response to this crisis from many revolutionary organisations has been to make arguments against the capacity of the climate crisis to be addressed within the framework of capitalism. Of course, the Anthropocene began with the start of the industrial revolution and has been driven and accelerated by capitalism’s inherent drive to constantly expand and increase profits.

It is also the case that an environment-focused socialised economy would be able to mobilise both the population and the economy to meet the challenges confronting the planet in ways unimaginable in our current context.  However, as Marx argued, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

In almost no country do we have a revolutionary government. As a consequence of the betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism, and the social defeats in the face of triumphant neoliberalism, almost nowhere on the planet are there the social forces or leadership required to carry out the necessary revolutionary process to achieve such governments.

Given this reality, arguments that capitalism can’t address the crisis give the impression that the task of combating climate change is utopian and something that has to be put off to some unstated future – something that ends up sounding a lot like capital’s dominant response to the crisis.

Can the climate crisis be addressed under capitalism? Frankly, who knows, and it doesn’t matter. Capitalists and their representatives in government act to defend their interests, which is primarily achieving constant growth in profits, but ultimately is about maintaining a stable system within which capital accumulation can occur.

Divisions on climate action among capitalist class

This means that sections of capital, particularly those not tied to the fossil fuel industry, have the potential to view action to address climate change as being in their own interests – hence the thousands of companies encouraging their staff to participate in the climate strikes. Obviously this action has a range of motivations, including for some cheap greenwashing PR.

However, a number of capitalists may actually be confronting the reality that the climate crisis will disrupt capitalist accumulation. They too may see the planet dying and might come to the conclusion that there is no planet B, or they may see ways in which they can profit from transformations in the economy.

The current solutions gaining traction internationally around combatting climate change are notions around a Green New Deal, alluding to Roosevelt’s New Deal response to the Great Depression, and the reproduction of the Second World War industrial mobilisations that massively expanded productive forces in war industries to support and sustain, particularly the US war effort.

While both these examples highlight how the economy can be mobilised to transform and defend the economy and society, they are also examples of capitalism and capitalists mobilising to defend the capitalist system from an existential threat.

In both historic examples, working people played a key role in seeking to ensure that saving the system had some benefit for the popular classes in society – rather than simply re-securing the conditions for capitalist accumulation. This resistance took the form of building and renewing unions, fighting for improvements in wages and conditions, in government projects ensuring that workers were paid union rates, and attempts to shift some of the war profiteering into improved wages and conditions for workers in war industries.  

More importantly, what can be achieved under capitalism can’t be prejudged. It is a consequence of the conjunctural balance of forces – between what the ruling class believes is necessary to concede to maintain order, and the consciousness and confidence of the popular classes to carry forward the struggle.

In the wake of the mass strike and protest wave in France during May and June 1968, employers offered massive wage increases to help enable the ending of the strikes. While these wage rises would have eaten considerably into company profits, it was a small price to pay for saving the capitalist system.  

During the development of his Transitional Program, Leon Trotsky held discussions with US Trotskyists about the intents and purpose of the program. Part of this discussion focused on the extent to which the demands, particularly the transitional demands contained within the program, were achievable under capitalism. In addressing this point, Trotsky made it clear that what could or couldn’t be achieved could not be prejudged, but also that what does or doesn’t seem possible is a consequence of the march of events and dynamics of consciousness and working-class power.

This approach is also consistent with Lenin’s discussion of the development of class consciousness through the lived experience of workers and poor peasants during the Russian revolution of the unwillingness of pro-capitalist forces to deliver on the Russian revolutionary forces’ demands of peace, bread, and land rather than the specific limitations of the capitalist system itself.

Formulating immediate demands

The real and immediate challenge facing socialists (and anyone who genuinely is concerned about the environment) is not the struggle to convince people of the necessity of socialism, or even the need to change the system – but the need and possibility of achieving immediate concrete action to confront the climate crisis.

After decades of inaction and backsliding, this may feel impossible, and as the climate moves closer to tipping points it may mean even more rapid transformation than the movement’s current demands of no new coal, oil and gas projects; 100 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030; and funding a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. 

These demands appear radical and potentially impossible at the moment, but they are more likely inadequate and too slow given the urgent need to not only stop the release of more carbon into the atmosphere but to massively increase the planet’s capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere – and to reverse the other practices destroying the biosphere, particularly the massive waste of water and the use of toxic chemicals associated with both mining and industrial agriculture.

It is in this struggle for such demands that the limitations of capitalism in the struggle to save the planet will be highlighted, particularly in confronting market-based solutions aimed at creating new speculative markets rather than achieving serious reductions in carbon emissions and extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

There is also a pressing need for industrialised countries to fundamentally address our consumption patterns (which are promoted and encouraged by the capitalist system) to more accurately reflect the resources available to the planet as a whole, at the same time as the living standards of the global south need to be uplifted to overcome poverty caused by centuries of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism.

More important than the development of demands that could potentially address the climate crisis is the development and escalation of the movement. Although this youth-led movement is remarkable and extremely inspiring, it still remains far too small and intermittent in its mobilisation to build the level of pressure necessary to force action by governments on the climate.

A focus on the struggle to build the movement and achieve immediate demands to address and redress the crisis confronting us – rather than simply posing abstract arguments for socialism – is far more in keeping with the socialist tradition and is the only way to build a movement that can win.

Lisbeth Latham is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow her on Twitter @grumpenprol.

Channeling anger into action on climate change

By Damien Thomson.

Anger is generally characterised as a negative emotion, but I’d beg to differ. Social movements need anger. Anger motivates. It unites. Last week in climate politics gives us a lot to be angry about.

Monday

At the United Nations headquarters in New York, the UN Climate Summit took place. It was convened by United Nation’s Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, for a very specific reason – for countries to boost their climate ambition. 

The summit was nothing less than a flop. Mr Guterres wanted countries to come forward to make bold statements, calling it “a summit of action plans not platitudes”. He wanted countries to outline their carbon-neutrality plans, stop harmful subsidies, and end coal. He wanted big, and he got miniscule. 

This wasn’t one of the regularly scheduled climate summits; it was specifically a purpose-made opportunity for countries to show that they are responding to the climate strikes and committing to renewed, more ambitious climate action. 

The highlight of the summit wasn’t any announcement on renewed climate ambition from any country; it was, once again, Greta Thunberg. This wasn’t just any of Greta’s speeches, where she has shown stark tone and sharp attacks. This was in the context of a failed climate conference, one where world leaders did not rise to the challenge, not in the slightest.

When she said “how dare you”, it wasn’t hypothetical or poetic, it was really addressed to the crowd of leaders who were sitting on their chairs, preparing for their mediocre climate announcements later in the day. Her raw display of anger wasn’t some dramatic culmination to spice up her speech (she’s been on the road for a year delivering harsh speeches), it was unveiled emotion. There was nothing performative about it.

To sit in front of these people, knowing that a special moment and space has been created to allow them prove themselves, to show they’ve listened to the people, and then to know that they weren’t going to rise to the challenge – no wonder she was steaming with anger. It even got Donald Trump’s attention, who spitefully called Greta a “very happy young girl”.

Could it be that Greta’s angry speech was indeed the most productive thing to come out of the UN Climate Summit?

Wednesday

Later in the week the IPCC published its third special report in a year (there have only been four previous to that since 2000). The latest report was a study on the Ocean and the Cryosphere, the frozen parts of the world. 

Valérie Masson-Delmotte, one of the lead authors of the report, commented at the report’s launch in Monaco that “climate change is already irreversible… due to the heat uptake in the ocean, we can’t go back”. If this doesn’t make your jaw drop, then you need to read this sentence again. 

For a long time, climate change was spoken about as some future apocalyptic event, to take place at least the day after tomorrow. Now we are finally talking about how we are being affected by climate change today on a regular basis. What’s really terrifying, however, is that the feedback loop is already activated. This is the threshold past which the climate spirals beyond our control and global warming accelerates, no matter what we try to do. It’s like we are filling a bath full of water and eventually we break the knob and have no way of putting it back on. 

And while this news is horrifying, there’s also reason to be angry. European Commissioner’s welcomed the newest IPCC Special report in a joint press statement – ‘nice’ you may say, but considering that the “save the oceans” hallmark of the Commission over the past five years was just a proposal to ban plastic straws, it’s clear they haven’t gotten the message. Our ocean is dying, and we are continuing business as usual, while alarm bells ring on clogged ears.

Greta spoke at the UN about the “fairytale of eternal economic growth”, while the Commission starts work on its Green Deal for Europe – with high expectations of it being a ‘green Growth package with a funny label. Instead of a press statement “welcoming” the terrifying scientific analysis, we need a recognition that we are on the wrong track and we need radically new climate politics. Otherwise, they’re not really listening. 

Friday

The second global climate strike took place, finishing a week of student-led climate strikes that mobilised more than 7.6 million people across the world – the largest climate demonstrations in history.

Four million people took to the streets on Friday September 20 ahead of the UN Climate Summit, and more than three million protested on September 27. How many more need to pick up their placards to get the message through?

The next real chance to boost global climate ambition and for world leaders to show real commitment to climate action is at COP25 in Santiago, Chile. That won’t be until December. Given that the special UN summit on boosting ambition barely raised an eyebrow, what expectations can we have for COP25, where parties will only be threshing out the technical details on implementation of the Paris Agreement? What more can civil society be expected to do to put raising climate ambition on the agenda? 

So if you’re still in that phase of climate grief where you feel trapped in sadness or denial, it’s time to move on to the phase of anger. This is the productive phase that will lead us to the streets and keep the pressure on. 7.6 million, we learnt this week, is not enough to get world leaders to act. We need more people to be angry.

Keep being angry, keep building momentum.

Damien Thomson is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. Follow him on Twitter @dmacthomais.

How my Autistic Traveller son is changing the world

By Rose Mairie Maughan.

Before I had my son, as a Traveller activist, I thought I was good person, a good human rights activist in solidarity with all struggles – but there was one I could have been more supportive and aware of; that is, the Autistic struggle. 

Before he was diagnosed I thought I knew what being Autistic meant but in reality I actually knew very little. After we got his diagnosis, I learned a great deal about being Autistic from reading and training – but the real learning came from my son and the wider Autistic community.

I learned that autism is a neurological difference impacting on how an Autistic person sees, feels and responds to the world and how they communicate. My little boy taught me what being Autistic really means and opened my eyes to the Autistic struggle, which has many similarities to our struggle as Travellers.

For example, the Autistic community suffers social exclusion; lack of acceptance and understanding; discrimination while trying to obtain employment and services; they are often viewed as ‘broken people that need to be fixed’ and are forced to live in a world that is not sensitive to their needs as Autistic people. 

Some Autistic children suffer serious abuse, are abandoned to the care system and even killed simply because they are Autistic, misunderstood or not accepted by their parents. Some parents search endlessly for a ‘cure’, but there is no cure because autism is not a disease.

Autistic children are bullied, and currently there are hundreds of Autistic children across Ireland and the UK with no school place for next September. Most are waiting for vital therapy and some are on waiting lists for up two years in many parts of Ireland. Just like us Travellers, due to this oppression and lack of acceptance, the Autistic community has a high suicide rate of nine times higher and a life expectancy of 54 years, something that is seldom talked about and needs to be addressed.

Once my eyes were opened up to this struggle for acceptance and human rights, my heart broke for the Autistic community and for my son – not because they are Autistic but because of the abuse, discrimination and oppression they are forced to endure.

Comrades: Evaleen Whelton, Autistic activist from AUsome Ireland, and Rosemarie Maughan, activist and ally 

As a part of my journey of learning about autism, I knew that I had to try help as an ally, not just to create a better future for my son but for all Autistic Traveller children and the wider Autistic community. I noticed many more Traveller children being diagnosed with autism but as a community we were not talking about it or the issues these children and their families were facing.

I started to think: where are the Traveller Autistic adults? How come I had never met one? Surely there are Autistic Traveller people who have struggled through life without a diagnosis or suitable support? That’s when I decided I had to create more awareness and acceptance within our own community. I wanted to start the discussion as a community.

Since his diagnosis, I have been creating awareness mainly through social media as I am on a career break at present. After spending many years working within Traveller organisations, I am now focusing on investing in my son’s development. Recently I started a blog inviting in Autistic voices to educate us on what being Autistic means and how it impacts their lives, as they are the experts – not me, and not professionals. All too often marginalised groups, such as my own, are the subject of studies but are left out of the conversation and this was something I did not want to practice myself. 

Utilising the information gleaned from my consultations with Traveller parents, Autistic Traveller adults and the Autistic community, I gave a presentation on ‘hearing the Traveller Autistic voice’ to the Seanad on July 9, 2019, which was the first time these voices and experiences were ever mentioned in terms of Traveller policy.

I am ashamed to say that if my son hadn’t opened up my eyes to the Autistic struggle, I may not be doing what I am now, working as an ally to Autistic Travellers and the wider Autistic community. Many Travellers and Autistic people thank me but really the thanks must go to my son as he is the reason for the positive change occurring within our community in terms of us talking about being Autistic, and Traveller Autistic issues being named and discussed in the Seanad for the first time ever. He is the reason for the growing collective action between Travellers and the Autistic community; for bridges being built between our communities; and for a greater awareness and acceptance within our community. What a massive achievement for a little boy of six years old! 

The most important lesson I have Iearned from the Autistic community is that it is their preference to be referred to as Autistic rather than as ‘having autism’. This excellent video explains the reasoning perfectly and I would urge everyone to watch it; words really do matter and the way that we use them has an enormous an impact on the way that Autistic people are viewed.

If people are referred to as ‘having autism’, then autism itself will always be viewed as a disease, an illness, something that can and ought to be fixed – as though Autistic people are in some way deficient. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Autism is a part of a person’s identity, much as my ethnicity as a Traveller is a part of mine and should therefore be viewed as such. Unless and until this happens, then disgusting and dangerous practices such as forcing Autistic people to drink bleach and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) ‘therapy’ will continue to be promoted.

I was shocked and appalled upon discovering that Autistic people are continuously forced to defend their existence and their legitimacy by lobbying for the end of these extremely dangerous ‘cures’ for Autism. There is a growing movement of Autistic people and allies protesting the use of MMS bleach, where parents actually force their children to ingest bleach, a truly horrific practice by anybody’s standards.

This bleach is banned in Ireland; however, it is still being used and promoted, primarily online. Unfortunately, under the guise of ‘free speech’, a promoter of this abhorrent practice has been invited to speak at a two-day event in Waterford in November. While they may choose not to speak about this particular, well-documented view of autism at the event itself, their presence is nonetheless very distressing for the Autistic community and its allies. Free speech is one thing; promoting misinformation and pseudo-scientific quackery that is physically damaging to Autistic children is quite another. 

The Autistic community are also calling for the end to the extremely damaging ABA therapy, which is nothing short of conversion therapy, trying to make the Autistic child ‘less Autistic’. Unfortunately although a lot of today’s therapies claim not  to be ABA, the principles are the same, attempting to alter certain Autistic features such as increasing eye contact, which Autistic adults will tell you is very difficult to do at times and actually not necessary for effective communication. Many people listen better and process what is being said without having to give eye contact.

If we continue to force people to undergo harmful practices and to change fundamental aspects of their being in order for the rest of us to feel more comfortable, then we’re not only letting the Autistic community down, we are letting ourselves down. As with other minority communities, it is up to us to learn from Autistic people how we can challenge what we think we know about autism and adapt ourselves accordingly. 

Below are links to Autistic led groups, blogs and pages where you can learn what I have learned. I hope you listen to the Autistic community and, like me, become an ally to them standing in solidarity and supporting the rising of the Traveller Autistic Voice

Rose Mairie Maughan is a human rights activist working within the Irish Traveller Movement since 2004.  Follow her blog here.

Informative links: 

Konfident Kidz

Facebook group: Irish Travellers in solidarity with the Autistic community

An autistic person’s view of the anti-vax movement

The ableist history of the puzzle piece symbol for autism

Hashtag: #TravellerAndAutisticCommunitySolidarity.