Monday, December 28, 2015

One song at a time

Olive Swingler is one of the supporters of the White Ribbon Project. As a song-writer, Oliver has done some inspiring work to bring awareness to the cause of  Violence against Women. The White Ribbon Campaign is a campaign that is organised by men to end violence against women by men. Currently, 23841 pledges have been made in support of the campaign in the UK’s branch of the movement. Here's Oliver's story, as told to Niruthavignesh Sundararajah.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?  
I’m now retired at 67, having had more than 40 different jobs, ranging from farm and factory labourer, youth leader, flat cleaner, housing advisor, shop assistant, adult education lecturer (in astrology), customer services supervisor, teacher (VSO), waiter, government sales manager of a computer company.  I’ve been a campaigner for much of my life, brought up on Aldermaston marches and Anti-Apartheid, but also have been a member of a semi-religious cult, more recently finding new vocations song-writing for a choir, and as an avid tweeter!

What inspired you to be involved with the White Ribbon Movement?
When I was 39, I was staying with my mother, and got her talking about her childhood – and was the first person she’d ever told that she’d been a victim of child sex abuse. She’d kept that horrific experience bottled up for 60 years, with no support or counselling – and it had hugely affected not only her psychology, but also her mothering.  I’ve been given many meaningless labels as a mental health (and ECT) survivor, taught by psychiatrists that in some way my problems conforming were my fault, when I can actually trace many of them back to the violence against my mother.
For centuries countless women have suffered in silence, whether from rape as an instrument of war, or in a family ruled by a brutal man – and I feel very strongly that it is time men stopped dismissing domestic violence and rape as ‘just’ women’s issues, and took responsibility for the crimes perpetrated by our gender.

How has the response to the campaign been within the UK and how what improvements would you like to see?
I think it’s very mixed.  On the one hand current statistics show appalling levels of violence against women, whilst cuts in funding to Woman’s Aid and Rape Crisis centres mean that support services for victims are having a  really tough time.  On the other hand, a new law of coercive control and change in attitude of most police forces means that domestic violence is being taken much more seriously.  There are excellent examples across the country of voluntary and statutory agencies in health, social services, police and education co-ordinating activity and support, but without adequate funding these beacons of best practice cannot be rolled out across the country.

And the White Ribbon Campaign is growing steadily, more and more men signing the pledge, with new local groups forming, sports teams happy to be photographed wearing white ribbons, music celebrities backing the campaign.  All the thousands of women who’ve been victims of rape and domestic abuse have got fathers or sons, brothers, nephews, uncles, male partners and/or work colleagues and friends – and hopefully more and more of us will want to take a stand and speak out.

What do you think of the impact that social media has had on your campaigns (both White Ribbon and environmental campaigns)?
I think social media is crucial for communicating ideas.  There are some really dedicated men who’ve been campaigning for 10 years or so, such as UK CEO Chris Green, sports co-ordinator Ikram Butt, Music WRC Dave Boardman, Mark Charlton in Hull, and John Clough who speaks so passionately about the issues, and many more around the world.   I’m a very recent supporter of the White Ribbon Campaign, and met it via social media, signing the on-line pledge, and keeping in touch via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter – which would otherwise be very difficult, particularly as I’m walking-stick disabled.

On the environmental side, a song I wrote, performed by Making Waves choir, got hundreds of likes and shares on Facebook, and retweeted by thousands of people/organisations to their more than 2.23 million followers in scores of countries around the world – without social media that would be totally impossible.
Even within the UK, we still have newspapers running articles today that question the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change. What do you think of these messages and what do you think needs to be done to better engage the public regarding this issue?
From what I’ve read, most of climate change deniers get direct or indirect funding from fossil fuel lobbyists protecting their vested interests, and unfortunately almost all UK newspapers are owned by multi-millionaires with similar investments, seemingly much more interested in short-term profits than truth.  What does gall me is the attitude of the BBC, so afraid of offending people in power, which in the interests of supposed ‘balance’ still gives time to people who deny the findings of 99% world climate scientists – which is rather like, whenever a photo of the Earth is shown, allowing flat-earthers to spout their nonsense!  I’m really glad there are people constantly watching the media, who like me are habitual complainers!

What role do you think citizen activism has in today's world and what are your hopes for the younger generation?
It’s crucial.  All great social changes – such as the ending of the slave trade (though not yet of slavery!), worker’s rights, votes for women – have come about not because some ‘leader’ convinced Parliament, but because supposedly ‘ordinary’ people got together and campaigned by whatever means were available – writing to MPs and the press, songs, dramas, pamphlets, marches and demonstrations, vigils, challenges to those with power.

As far as younger generations, on the one hand I’m horrified at the levels of blatant sexism and violence on video games etc watched by young people on a daily basis, making the utterly unacceptable in some way ‘normal’.  On the other hand, I’m incredibly heartened by the number of young men actually publicly talking about their feelings – unknown in my day – and proudly calling themselves feminists, and reading speeches by primary school children making the case for solar energy and for halting fracking.  With the Paris conference on climate change yet another last chance event, I just hope there is a habitable planet for them to reach my age …