by New Worker
DOZENS of progressive activists from a wide spectrum of organisations last Sunday packed into the Albany community centre in Deptford in the south London Borough of Lewisham for an afternoon and evening of debate, discussions, short films and entertainment, presented under the auspices of the local Young Mayor scheme.
The main issues covered were fighting racism and fascism, an eye-witness report from Afghanistan, climate change and solidarity with the people of Palestine.
The event began with an account of 70 years of fighting racism and fascism in Lewisham and a film on Love Music Hate Racism. The presenter, from Lewisham Against Racism and Fascism, stressed the importance in the coming general election of mobilising as many people to vote as possible to ensure that whatever vote the British National Party gets is only a small proportion of the total turnout.
He stressed that the campaign was broad and encompassed supporters of many different political views – united only by their determination to keep the fascists out at all costs. For this reason the anti-fascist campaign does not promote any particular party and there is no place for sectarianism.
Photo journalist Guy Smallman gave a talk with slides of his travels in Afghanistan – completely independent of the imperialist war-propaganda machine – through villages recently decimated by US and British bombing and the tragedy and horrors that he witnessed among farming people who cannot understand why they are being bombed.
He spoke of the habit of British and American troops on the ground, when they are in trouble, to call for air cover. “Whenever there is shelling or bombing from the air there are always civilian casualties,” he said. “That is inevitable.”
And Guy pointed out that every time it happens there are hundreds of new willing recruits to join the Taliban from among the angry bereaved families.
He refuted the claim by the imperialists that they had gone into Afghanistan to help liberate the women there. “They are now far worse off than they have ever been.”
Many are widows but cannot work outside to support themselves and their children. A few women do work behind the scenes in offices and so on but none in public places. They have no recourse but to beg.
In answer to a question from the New Worker, Guy said that the Najibullah era is now regarded by most with affectionate nostalgia as a time of comparative peace and prosperity – although many of them hated the Russians at the time.
He said: “The civil war after the Russians left was the worst time. The Taliban rule was very oppressive and the people there are well aware that the Taliban got its money and support from the CIA. Since the Americans invaded it’s been worse than ever,
“At least the Russian built things. All the main buildings in Kabul were built by the Russians,” he said.
For most people in Afghanistan there are no health services, no hospitals and no medicines – except one that is in bountiful supply: opium. Ruined buildings in Kabul are now full of opium addicts, many of them casualties of the war, or illness or deprivation and opium is the only medicine they can get.But for the friends of the government and the dealers in opium there are still resplendent hotels and shops where you can buy diamond-studded I-pods.
Jim Jepps of the Green Party showed a film produced by American environmentalists which explained effectively how the processes of capitalism are ravaging this planet.
And Leah Levane and Sarah Sturge spoke of their experiences visiting Lewisham’s twinned town of Beit Furik on the West Bank and as part of the food and aid convoy that recently travelled from Britain and, after many difficulties and obstructions, finally delivered the aid to the people of the bombed and beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Leah questioned: “Why do the Israelis make life so impossible for the Palestinians? Why do they make it impossible for them to live in peace? It doesn’t seem to make sense until you realise it’s all about the land. The Israeli government couldn’t care less about the Palestinians and whether they can live or not. They don’t even care about their own people. They just want to keep on taking as much land as they can.”
She called on people to do anything they can to break the isolation that the Palestinians feel. “Whatever you can do will make a difference,” she said, “just send one email or letter a week.”