March for the Homeless and the Occupation of City Hall

Karl Howarth covers the recent protests about homelessness in Norwich and the subsequent occupation of City Hall by Class War.

On 15th of April, there was a nationwide day of action for the homeless population to try and show solidarity, as well as raise awareness of their plight. The ConDem government have been victimising the most vulnerable members of our society during their reign, and their austerity has caused thousands to lose their homes.

The Norwich March for the Homeless was organised as an event on Facebook collaboratively by Elle Joanna Jacobs and Zoe Rayner-Terror, as well as local soup kitchen organisations the People’s Picnic and the Norwich Soup Movement. These are both independent, grass-roots organisations founded in 2013.

In a statement concerning the march, the People’s Picnic had this to say:
“We recently attended the March for Homeless, it was great to see so many forward thinking individuals unite together to show support and raise awareness to the prevalent issues surrounding homelessness across the country. The subject is one that is either not often addressed in modern politics or portrayed in a negative light by the media so it is sometimes easy to forget that it could happen to any one of us, in fact we are just one pay check away in many instances. Homelessness is a complex issue with a multitude of depths, we have often found that providing a roof over somebodies head is just hitting the tip of the iceberg, similar to putting a plaster over a gaping wound. It may provide temporary relief but extra support is needed to ensure people do not fall back into a vicious cycle. A cycle which is very much kept in motion by the Conservative government through its abhorrent welfare sanctions and withdrawal of vital services. So for us it goes a lot deeper than simply handing out food to the hungry or fighting for the right to housing, it’s about developing relationships, taking the time to truly listen to people, and through doing this it enables us to build a stronger more autonomous community, one where we can help support and value each other. Additionally, I would have to say the most important factor to us is that we are now proud to call many of those who come to The People’s Picnic our friends.”

The march itself was great, if not a bit pleasant. Starting at the war memorial, we looped around the city centre, going via Castle Meadow before returning. There were a few cringe-worthy chants, and we marched on the pavement rather than the road, but I firmly believe that we did raise awareness of the realities of homelessness to local politicians and voters. Only a few political figures attended the march, including a couple of members of the council and Norwich’s very own Sheriff, William Armstrong, who I’m told “turned up off his own back”. He didn’t, I noticed, forget to bring his ostentatious gold chains that signify his high status, however. Also attending was Class War’s Norwich South candidate, David Peel, with whom we formed the “Kett County Class War” bloc. It was interesting to hear the classic “we’ve got to get rid of the rich” chant originating from somewhere other than behind our banner.

Ultimately, the march didn’t last very long, and we saw the hundred or so people disperse fairly quickly, leaving only the organiser’s stands, the Class War bloc and a few protesters. After a brief discussion, Class War decided to take the protest to City Hall in order to get the march’s message out to the people of Norwich. They successfully occupied the balcony, displaying the Kett County Class War banner over the railing, demanding through a loudspeaker an end to homelessness and an end to the rich.

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Transcribed from a video of the occupation, Peel said: “Homelessness in Norwich is a crime. Stop homelessness now! There are too many people in this city sleeping rough: not able to get food, not able to get shelter. It’s time for homelessness to stop. Homelessness is a crime because the rich buy up houses all over the country and leave them empty. They leave them empty while people sleep rough in the streets. And it is a crime to do that! It’s time we stopped the rich. It’s time we got rid of the rich, because the rich are in the way. The rich are ruining this country and the homeless, we the homeless, have paid the price! It’s time to stop!

“Class War stands for squatting! We don’t think we should sit down and wait for Labour or the Tories to build more houses, my god, we’ll be waiting for ever! We’d be dead before we get them. We need housing now. People are dying on the streets of this country: tens of thousands of people…” [at which point they were escorted off by police and security to the chorus of Class War and anti-police chants].

March for the Homeless and the Occupation of City Hall

NO MORE GIGS SPEAKS TO STAN GRANT

Stan Grant is running for MP in Norwich North under the Class War banner for the upcoming election. I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions that I thought the readers might be interested in knowing.

– Tell me a little about Class War; a) Where does it stand on the political spectrum? b) How is the party organised?

Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. Its great to be involved with a DiY publication again, zines and blogs are hugely important in terms of democratising the media.

Class War is a pretty young political party, which got started in the run up to this election. Some of your readers are probably aware of the Class War paper or federation, which have been around on and off since the 80s but for those who aren’t I’ll give a bit of background.

a) CW is an organisation which exists to promote working class politics, not sanitised ineffectual bollocks like the Labour party, but hands-dirty street politics. For the working classes, and unlike a lot of the left, by the working classes. We do not have an ideological line, we have marxists, anarchists and others in the party, our main concern is the common battle we fight against the rich not our minor differences of opinion. The party is a party for people who think all career politicians are scum who realise that the system exists to preserve the status quo and that no meaningful change can come from within it.

Running this year should give me a chance to ask the difficult questions politicians are adept at avoiding, holding those that do or want to rule us accountable for what they have or intend to. It will be a campaign of harsh realities,heckling and guerrilla politics. Its about taking the fight to them, we are forced by them to work under crap conditions in this country and we want to bring some of that uncomfortable feeling to them.

CW are about direct action and have scored a series of victories last year with actions against luxury property developers Redrow and Minister for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith who was forced to flee his own jobs fair when he heard we were coming. Individual members and regional groups also organise local actions [watch this space!]

b) The party is pretty decentralised and autonomous, we’re left to get on with it but know support is there if we need it. Most of our candidates are working with election agents, but really no one has a huge amount of experience doing this, many of us are lifelong principled none-voters although some people do have some experience and are quick to share what they know with others. We’ve had great support from crowdfunding, gigs [again watch this space] and benefit merch from sabcat.com so the party is able to help most of the final candidates with some of their deposit costs.

– Why did you choose to run for MP, and why Norwich North, in particular?

After this unelected government and its European partners began to impose austerity, in defiance of many respected economists, it became clear that this was just another way to rob the poor and give to the rich. American tycoon Warren Buffet said that there is a class war raging and his side are winning because they are the only ones fighting. We felt that the time had come to prove them wrong, publicly. So when Class War announced they were planning an election strategy I saw an opportunity to have some fun at the system’s expense.

I initially considered standing against Simon Wright (Lib Dem MP for Norwich South) as he reneged on promises of voting against tuition fees after UEA students won him the 2011 election. However despite his inability to stand up to the whip Simon is certainly no Chloe Smith. Her debacle in the treasury, indifference to the plight of mental health
services in this county, and general voting record made it a no-contest.

– What are your main policies?

Our main policies are stopping austerity, doubling benefits, dismantling the two-tiered education system, abolishing the monarchy, and introducing a mansion tax, which Labour nicked off us though ours is 50, not a toothless 1%. These aren’t policies to end the deficit, or appeal to the knee-jerk populism of the press they are about making the rich, not the poor pay for once.

Individual candidates also have free reign over what they want to get behind, we have a pro-marijuana legalisation block, war crimes charges to be bought against Tony Blair and other collaborators is out there, scrapping trident and all the other usual calls you would expect to hear from an anti-authoritarian platform are also there. But really our policy is about drawing attention to how the rich are redistributing wealth upwards and putting the shoe on the other foot.

– How would you respond to criticism saying that you are dividing the left-wing vote?

I don’t consider Labour to be on ‘the left’, a vote for Labour, Lib Dem, Tory or UKIP is a vote for austerity consensus. They are all part of a system which represents the interests of the ruling classes not the public it claims to represent.

As for the rest the Greens have some good stuff to say, but there are a lot of politicians in the party… I have serious problems with at least one of their candidates and some of their councillors voting records don’t match their rhetoric. There may be a little crossover in the CW and Green vote, but I can’t see it swinging the election.

Smaller parties like TUSC and Left Unity fill a space which is always filled by some left party or other and we may get a few floating voter from there but really we are a party for people who do not want to reform this system but to debase and ultimately destroy it. We want people who aren’t registered to vote because they don’t trust any politicians to vote for us, we want people who feel betrayed by parties they have supported, we want people who want to organise more than transfer their power to someone else. We are the ultimate ‘none of the above vote’.

When Stan’s not terrorising Tory MPs or sneering at toffs, he writes poetry under the pseudonym ‘Stan Skank’, and has been published in issue #1 and #2 of this very zine.

[interview conducted by Karl Howarth, originally published in No More Gigs issue 3, February 2015]

NO MORE GIGS SPEAKS TO STAN GRANT