“There is no honest politics that revolves around the word again – there is only the future and making it better” – Pete Buttigieg

On our first week in Iowa, we attended a rally for Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Some of Buttigieg’s main policies include supporting Medicare for all who want it; setting him apart from Sanders and Warren, more affordable higher education, racial justice, and investing in teachers. He is also one of the first openly gay presidential candidates.

Whilst he may be unlikely to overtake Warren, Biden, and Sanders in vying for the Democrat Presidential Candidate, he made a statement that I think is important to share:

“There is no honest politics that revolves around the word again – there is only the future and making it better”

Trump’s tired jargon of “Make America Great Again” and rhetoric surrounding nationalism, which correlates with our own Brexit dilemma back home, portrays a misunderstanding of our past and present political climate. It has also encouraged racism and anti-immigration thinking. Brexiteers have used the tired rhetoric of sovereignty and “we want our country back” – as if leaving the EU will somehow return us to this wonderful promise land. In reality, the past is the past. It is something we can learn from, not something that we can return to. When looking to the future and how to make it better I don’t see Donald Trump or leaving the EU as the solution. Today the United States has been engulfed with police racism and brutality, gun violence, and an inhumane border crisis. Whilst tackling these issues, most of the democratic presidential candidates are also trying to push for universal health care, more affordable education, a universal minimum wage, etc. These things can make the future better, and this is the goal we should be focused on.

There is a real element of an identity crisis here. By looking to the past as the goal for the future, we’re disregarding our current political and social climate and our place in it. When you really think about where you’re going in life, are you looking to the future? Are you learning from your past, and trying to see the lessons you have learned from the positives and negatives, in order to inform your present and future? That’s the biggest piece of advice I could give from this, and really if you’re someone that believes that everything happens for a reason, why would you ever try to return to your past?

One thing I always enjoyed about studying history in school was being able to see the pattern between the past and present. History has informed our present and will inform our future. Honest politics should always recognise the past, and learn from it, but should focus its attention on how we can make the future better. The past is an example of how to improve. As soon as we try and repeat the past, we are completely diverging our attention to an unrealistic and unobtainable goal.

Whilst Pete Buttigieg may not make it as President, he has launched his political career beyond his accomplishment of Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, something he has already achieved at a young age. Many have also speculated that he would be a successful Vice President. What I take from Pete Buttigieg is a powerful message, that I think sums up our current political crisis at home (particularly with Brexit) and in the United States. We need to focus on making the future better, and this needs to be achieved by going forwards and not back.

Nevertheless, she persisted – Elizabeth Warren

Nevertheless, she persisted. As a young female pursuing a career in politics, this phrase deeply resonates with me.

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This sticker will undoubtedly remain glued to my laptop until it’s completely faded, by which point it will be impossible to get off anyway. I gifted my cousin a cork placemat with the same slogan, for completing her medical degree. For my mother, a fridge magnet. And for my best friend of twenty years graduating in December, a card with the slogan front and center. I guess this is also quite a good way to test if she reads my blog posts.

 

To me, Warren epitomizes the fact that females should be in high power positions, with an incredibly strong will, and a determination that is perhaps even stronger than our male counterparts in politics. This is certainly the feeling that I experienced whilst watching Elizabeth Warren speak. It is the same impression that I get from Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).  All three women are ridiculously inspirational to our generation at the moment, especially as a female. I would certainly recommend you-tubing them publically speak or debate.

It is no secret that the United States needs big structural change. They also need significantly tighter gun reform laws, and a lot needs to be done to the healthcare system. The number of mass shootings is disgusting, as is the number of individual shootings that occur daily across the US. Whilst in Iowa, we attended a Gun Sense Forum, whereby the majority of the political candidates attended to address what they would do for gun control. Gun survivors and the victims’ families also attended and shared their stories, and asked the candidates questions. To hear the heartache that so many families have had to go through, and the number of people that had lost multiple family members to gun violence, was devastating. Elizabeth Warren’s gun control reform couldn’t be much more extensive, and I strongly recommend reading it, particularly if you are a U.S. citizen: https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/gun-violence

I was speaking to a couple whilst door knocking, and the woman had diabetes. The cost of insulin had almost crippled their family in debt multiple times. Warren is advocating for Universal Healthcare (Medicare for all). This is a right we easily take for granted in the UK. Speaking to families that desperately need and deserve this right, brought to light just how blessed we are to have never had to live through a time without our NHS.

One of the key elements that we talked about in the campaign involved Warren having a plan for literally everything. It is often hard to keep up, but when you look at just her key policies, you can see just how extensive they are. Unlike so many governments, including the UK, instead of just having an aspiration, Warren has a plan. My hope is that by reading these key policies you will have more of an insight into the problems that need addressing in the U.S.

Her key policies are:

  • End Washington Corruption

Washington works for the wealthy and well-connected. Big companies and the wealthy are allowed to spend billions each year to influence Congress and Federal agencies, putting their interests above public interests. To solve this deep-rooted corruption, Warren has proposed the most ambitious set of anti-corruption laws since Watergate, fundamentally changing the way Washington does business. This will be achieved by ending lobbying as we know it, shutting the ‘revolving door’ between Wall Street and Washington, making the Supreme Court follow a code of ethics, and forcing every single candidate for federal office to put their tax returns online. Everyone who lobbies would have to register, foreign governments would be unable to hire Washington lobbyists, and lobbyists would also be unable to move freely in and out of government jobs. Crucially here, Warren has integrity. She does not accept any contributions from PACs of any kind or federally registered lobbyists. By closing the ‘revolving door’ Warren assures that senators and congressmen will permanently be banned from trading stocks in office and becoming lobbyists when they retire. This will end the dominance of money in Washington, “by taking power away from the rich and powerful and putting it back where it belongs…with the American people themselves”.

  • Rebuild the Middle Class

The United States has seen decades of largely flat wages, exploding household costs, and people of colour have been shut out of their chance to build wealth. Warren wants to put the power back in the hands of workers and unions. Second, she wants to transform large American companies by letting workers elect at least forty percent of the company’s board members, giving them a voice in decisions involving wages and outsourcing, and establish strong antitrust enforcement in order to stop giant corporations stifling competition, depressing wages and driving up the costs. Warren recognises that the government needs to stop handing out huge tax giveaways to the rich and giant corporations and start asking those who have gained the most to pay their fair share. This includes an Ultra-Millionaire Tax. This tax would be put on the US’s 75,000 richest families. This alone, Warren states, will produce trillions which could build an economy that works for everyone. This economy would have universal childcare, student loan debt relief, down payments on a new green deal, and Medicare for all. This could also bring down rents by 10% across the US and create 1.5 million jobs. This tax has unsurprisingly been rather controversial, and I am yet to conclude whether I find it to be an effective and fair proposal.

  • Strengthen their Democracy

Warren believes that democracy is a threat at home and abroad. To start, she wants a constitutional amendment. This is to protect the right of every single American to not only vote, but have their vote counted. Next, “our democracy is not for sale”, Warren intends on ending the influence of big money on elections. This means overturning Citizens United. It means ending unwritten rules which require everyone who wants to run for office to start by sucking up to rich donors and Washington insiders. This means no more donations from federal lobbyists, or from PAC’s, and it means no more Billionaire Super PAC’s. Warren also pledges to overturn every single voter suppression law that racist politicians use in order to steal votes from people of colour.

“When foreign governments sow division, attack our democracy and interfere in our elections, we must fight back and hold them accountable”.

  • Equal Justice Under Law

These four words are etched above the Supreme Court. This is supposedly the promise of the U.S. justice system. Unfortunately, in reality, there is one system for the rich and powerful, and one for everybody else. For example, for exactly the same crime, African Americans are more likely to get arrested, charged, convicted or sentenced than another white American. The U.S. needs criminal justice reform. This will end racial disparities, ban private prisons, embrace community policing, demilitarize local police forces, have comprehensive sentencing reform, and rewrite the laws to decriminalize marijuana. The latter has already been initiated in multiple states across the U.S., for example in California. Equal justice means that everybody will be held accountable when they break the law. In addition to this Warren has a new commitment to prosecuting giant corporations and their leaders when they cheat customers, rob their workers and stamp out competitors.

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  • A Foreign Policy for All

Endless wars have strained military families. Trade policies have been crushing the Middle Class. Washington’s foreign policy has been serving the rich and well connected at other’s expense. Warren pledges to strengthen labour standards, and then fight to enforce them. She will stop prioritizing corporate profits over American paychecks. For Warren, “a strong military should act as a deterrent so that most of the time, we won’t have to use it”. All the tools of their national power should be leveraged, and not just their military might. The bloated defense budget needs to be cut. This will also end the ‘stranglehold’ of defense contractors on military policy. This will free up resources to be reinvested in diplomacy. It will mean standing with their allies to advance shared interests. It will produce new solutions to new global challenges (from cybersecurity to climate change).  A new foreign policy is essential to not only the U.S. but its allies and the rest of the World.

The U.S.’s foreign policy took them into Iraq and Afghanistan. Our close relationship with the U.S. took our troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. This is one of the main reasons I am so invested in U.S. politics. Our relationship to the United States, and their global status, has often resulted in our foreign policy being closely aligned. But the Iraq war should never have happened, and our soldiers died as a result of it. Whilst I marginally understand the reasoning behind the war in Afghanistan I completely condemn the way the war was carried out and continued. The number of innocent lives lost is disgusting. It is time for a strong military to act as a deterrent, and for diplomacy to be used correctly and be at the forefront of foreign policy.

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Not only are Warren’s policies amongst some of the most detailed and extensive I have ever seen, but her personality is also incredible. Hundreds of people show up to her rallies, and she ensures that she engages with every single person who wants to. Whilst a lot of candidates are rushed off after their speech, stopping to give the odd few handshakes and photos, Warren swaps her heels for trainers and kicks off her famous selfie line. Even when we rallied for her at the Wing Ding, she got out of her campaign tour bus, and came and gave every one of us a hug and some motivational words. The woman really is just great. I remember at one of our training days they were telling us how her campaign thought it just couldn’t happen when she first announced her plan. But she persisted because she never wanted anyone to leave feeling even slightly disappointed.

I know it may seem like I have majorly tried to sell Elizabeth Warren to you, and I’m totally fine with that because I believe in her integrity. I believe she can bring the change that the U.S. needs and deserves. I am realistic to the fact that campaigns are often incredibly overstated, in the U.S. and in the UK. Do I believe that every single thing Warren plans will be easily achieved? No, I don’t. But the point is, she is an integral leader who sees where change needs to happen and how to achieve it. And that is why I am proud to say that I was part of her presidential campaign this summer.

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How The U.S. Presidential System Works

This summer, I worked on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for president. My role was to gain support for Elizabeth Warren for the first caucus vote, which takes place in Iowa, in February 2020. Whilst I was there I got a lot of questions about how the elections actually worked, so before I kicked off my series, I wanted to ensure you all understood the process. I’ll be explaining the presidential system in terms of how the final candidates are chosen. Explaining the whole system, including the House of Representatives and The Senate will confuse the piece even more. If you want me to explain this as well, in comparison to the UK system, feel free to comment or message me via my social media @etienne.2.0

To start with the basics, every 4 years Americans head to the polls to cast their ballot for their preferred presidential candidate. Due to the nature of the system, two main parties dominate – The Republicans and the Democrats. The action of casting a vote may seem simple but the lead up is long and complicated.

Usually, candidates announce that they’re running for president, as a Republican or Democrat candidate, anywhere up to 2 years before the election. So far 27 prominent Democrats have announced their candidacy, and 1 Republican, besides current President Trump. This number has gone down to 19 as 8 candidates have dropped out of the running. The top four in the running are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris.  As explained above, the U.S. system works differently from the U.K. because instead of a national vote they have a series of state votes which take place over the course of 5 months. This is because it is the most direct way of people influencing what the party stands for instead of just voting for the party.

JB, KH, BS, EW

As you can see, a key difference is that there is no official leader of the opposition (Democrats at the moment). So for instance in the U.K. Jeremy Corbin is the official leader of the Labour party. Whereas in the U.S. there are multiple candidates running for the presidency, which are Democrats.

 

Unlike most countries, the American campaign finance laws are a lot less restrictive, and therefore cost a lot of money. As a result of this, all candidates have large campaign teams who help raise the tens of millions of dollars needed to keep their candidate afloat.

The candidates travel across the country, holding massive rallies, where they set out their policies and ideas for the country, and try and gain as much support as possible. If you kept up with my social media accounts (@etienne.2.0), you will have seen that I attended multiple rallies, for example for Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. The key messages I connected with, from these rallies, will be discussed throughout this series and the key images and videos will be shared on my social media tagged above.

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As aforementioned, there are a lot of candidates running for president. So how is the final candidate to stand for the democrats chosen?

The presidential election cycle is split into two voting phases. First, are the primary elections and caucuses. Starting from February 3rd (in Iowa) each state will hold elections for their favourite candidate. These votes will take place on different days in different states. The difference between a primary election and caucuses is that primary elections are run by the state and local governments, whilst caucuses are private events directly run by the political parties themselves. Some states only hold primary or caucus elections, and others use a combination of both.

Primary elections work in a similar way to the UK system, state governments fund and run them and voters go to a polling place, vote and then leave. A caucus is very different from the system we are used to in the UK. Individuals who are viewed favorably within the party are identified as potential delegates. There is a comprehensive discussion and debate, resulting in an informal vote to determine which individuals will serve as delegates at the National Party Convention.

Another difference to the UK system is that you can have closed primaries and caucuses. These require voters to register with a specific party in order to be able to vote for that party’s candidate. For example, if you were a Republican who wanted to vote for a Democratic candidate you would have to re-register as a Democrat. When I was in Iowa over the Summer my role was to speak to Democratic candidates to find out who they were voting for, however I spoke to many Republicans who also wanted to vote for a Democratic candidate but were not on my list, and would have to register themselves as Democrats in order to vote that way in the upcoming caucus. This massively differs from the UK, whereby a voter can vote for any party they want, regardless of their usual voting pattern.

The Iowa caucus is a little different. In February Democrats and Republicans meet with their respective party members to make their presidential pics, choose delegates and discuss party platforms. The meetings are held in schools, restaurants, churches, and other public buildings, and even in private homes. Iowa has 1,681 precincts. Any registered party member can participate in the caucusing. The key difference between the Republicans and Democrats is that the Republicans cast secret votes for a candidate, whilst Democrats physically cluster to show their support for a particular candidate.

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A Democratic candidate needs at least 15 percent of the voters at the caucus site to remain viable; otherwise, these voters will be persuaded to realign and join another candidate’s cluster. The size of each group (basically a “preference group”) determines the number of delegates it can send to county conventions in March. These delegates then meet to decide only who they are going to endorse for their nominee, based on the outcomes of the caucuses. The representatives of the caucuses will then pledge their delegates to the candidate they voted for at the National Convention. All of the Republican vote totals are forwarded to GOP state headquarters to determine their delegates.

A democratic Iowa caucus certainly seems a lot more interesting and exciting compared to a typical secret vote cast in the UK. However, it can be very overwhelming having a room full of people, with everyone knowing who you are voting for. For this reason, some people choose not to go to the caucus. This is obviously not good and will likely affect the percentage of support that each candidate is given. Moreover, in February Iowa is often below freezing so some voters will not feel inclined to leave their homes on a bitterly cold February night. Luckily Iowa is looking at running a virtual caucus this year, alongside the typical in-person caucus, for voters which would rather stay at home and vote.

The National Convention is where the Democrat and Republican nominees are officially chosen by the delegates. So the more support a candidate gets in the primaries and caucuses, the more delegates they will have representing them at the National Convention. The result is often known beforehand because of the results of the primaries and caucuses, but this is the official announcement of the result. In the convention, the delegates from each state will say whose nomination they will support. The convention becomes the opportunity for key political figures to endorse the presidential nominee as well as reinforce the campaign’s key message, such as MAGA (Make America Great Again) … but please lets never speak of that again.

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After this comes stage 2 – the main public election which will take place next November (2020). The public doesn’t vote directly for their choice of President. Instead, a system called the Electoral College is used. This works by each state being allocated a number of Electors that will make the final choice. A state has the same number of Electors as it does Senators and Representatives. In the majority of states, the Electors are supposed to vote for the Presidential Ticket which received the most support from the public vote.  A Ticket = Presidential candidates usually choose someone with different skills or knowledge to be their ‘running mate’. This presents voters with the best package. Together, they are known as a Ticket.

Just like in the UK, the electoral college uses the first past the post system. 270 or more electoral votes need to be won in order to win. During a Presidential election, each state holds its own independent vote. The winner of this vote then tells the state’s members of the electoral college who to vote for. For example, let’s say Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic nominee and she gets the majority of votes in California, the electors in California would then vote for her in the electoral college on behalf of the people of California.

And there we have it, that is the Presidential Election system in the U.S. explained as simply as possible. Don’t worry if you found this confusing, I did too, and I am always there to answer any questions you have. But for now, I am excited to announce that my next post will be focused on the pretty awesome Elizabeth Warren.

 

 

Why I was working in the U.S. this summer…

So if you follow me on social media you’ll know that this summer I was working in the United States. Next November (2020) is the U.S. Presidential election. FINALLY, the chance to get rid of Trump. You may have heard of the attempts to get Trump impeached, but with no success as of yet, it’s nice to know that there is at least one concrete chance for his removal coming soon.

This is such a weird time. I can imagine the confused conversation I’ll be having with my children in the future when I try and explain this bizarre time in, what will then be our history. First came Brexit, then came the openly racist Trump-a businessman with little political acumen. Both have consumed the political narrative for the past few years. Then, just as we thought it couldn’t get much worse, enter Boris.

In conclusion, it’s time for us, the younger generation, to take our stand and become politically active. So for that reason, I spent my summer in Des Moines, Iowa, working on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for president.

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Why Iowa? It definitely seems like a bit of a random location to be travelling to in the U.S., but in terms of the election, it is the most important state to be in. Iowa is the first state to caucus, next February, and for that reason, a lot of campaigning is concentrated there. This includes volunteers, campaign workers, and even the presidential candidates themselves. In addition, the Iowa State Fair, which runs from the 8th to the 18th of August, brings in even more attention to the state in the lead up to the caucus. All of this made my experience even more special, as not only were we right in the center of the action, but we got to actually meet and interact with the candidate’s multiple times throughout our trip.

 

72185158_2510930165616672_3273105773537787904_nThis summer I got to campaign for an amazing candidate, with such strong integrity, door to door, on the phone, at rallies, wing dings and at the State Fair. I met and hugged Warren twice on my trip and met and shook hands with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I made it on stage with Bernie Sanders at an amazing pro-choice event and even got our photo together retweeted by the man himself. Those were just a few of my highlights. Being able to be a part of such a powerful grass-roots movement bought a great sense of pride and hopefully, I will have the opportunity to continue campaigning again in the near future.

So, commence the U.S. series. My next post will explain how exactly the presidential system works, it is rather complicated so I will do my best to simplify it. The following posts will be about my candidate – Elizabeth Warren, the other leading candidates in the running, why and how to get involved in campaigning, and I will also be properly blogging my trip and what I got up to. I hope you enjoy.

For all the countries we seem to have abandoned…

I’ve been conflicted over how to write this post for a few weeks now. To me, and those around me we have a life full of opportunity and freedom. We should be thankful every day for the simple things that we just see as normal; things like free education, the NHS, the right to vote. The latter is a big one for me, I really struggle to comprehend why people do not vote. It’s a privilege that so many people in this world never get to have. If you keep up with my blogs, you’ll know my last couple have been about Sudan. This post is a conclusion to ‘For Sudan’, but crucially it’s not just Sudan that I want to draw attention to. The media is a selective snippet of what they want us to see. And when our eyes are drawn to a conflict on the news, it’s temporary, even when this conflict is continuous. So many people on my timeline were posting about Sudan, and do post every time something happens that draws social media and general media attention. But then very quickly, people forget, or just continue their own lives. I understand this, a lot of the time it is very hard to associate with the tragedies and violations that occur around the world, it almost feels alien. For me personally, I feel a lot of guilt for not being able to do anything about it, but that’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to have this blog. The media leaves a lot out, and we don’t always pay enough attention.

So for all the countries we seem to have abandoned, all I can do for the time being is to draw attention to what is going unnoticed and unpunished.

 

If you read my blog posts on Sudan you’ll know of the violence that occurred, why and how. Since my last post, the internet went back up, but the violence and protests have not stopped. 37 people were killed during the intercommunal clashes in Port Sudan in the last week alone. For now, the US stance appears to be that they encourage regional and international support to Sudan but they will be waiting to see the commitment of the transitional government to democratic reforms before they remove Sudan from its terror list.

For Yemen… in March the United Nations published how 10 million Yemenis are ‘one step away from famine’. Yemen is currently in its fifth year of conflict between pro-Government forces and Houthi rebels. Some twenty million Yemenis are food insecure. That is 70% of the population. The hunger is threatening a whole generation. Multiple charities are trying to support Yemen, but worldwide support is crucial.

For Syria… 2015 saw the start of the European migrant crisis from Syria. But just because we do not hear as much in the media about the crisis today does not mean it is anywhere close to stability. In 2018, according to the United Nations (UN), at least 6.1 million had had to flee their homes inside Syria, whilst 5.6 million had to flee abroad.  Syria is still unstable, their leader Bashar al-Asaad is still in power.

American troops are still in Afghanistan today.

For The Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Iraq…

There are countless countries I could talk about, many that would cause controversy. I have my own opinions on the never-ending tensions between Palestine and Israel. I have been debating whether to resume writing posts about this conflict, but it’s something I need to approach rather sensitively. (Feel free to ask me if you want to know more Palestine and Israel, the way Israel came to be back in 1947, etc., and I will be able to provide you with a neutral overview which may be easier to understand than articles, as it covers about 70 years of history.)

 

Today, the world is looking at the burning Amazon. These fires are deliberate, created for farming cattle. This happens every year, but they have increased by 84% since last year. Whilst trying to understand the world’s continuing conflicts and being conflicted with what I can do to help, this is a global crisis that we can all aid. We all have a responsibility to make these small changes :

  • Stop eating beef completely, and if possible attempt a more plant-based lifestyle
  • Reduce your oil consumption (try to walk, or bike more, or use public transport)
  • Reduce your paper and wood consumption (write notes on your phone etc.)
  • If you want to donate, donate to frontline Amazon groups such as the leonardodicapriofdn.
  • Influence and educate your family and friends with these small steps

 

There are countless other steps that we can take to ensure we are being more environmentally conscious and friendly. Things like not using plastic straws, not using makeup wipes (and if you do, there are now biodegradable alternatives – I have used Nivea and Simple biodegradable makeup wipes and they both work just as well), not leaving lights on or the tap running when you clean your teeth. These are such easy steps we can take. For the United States, as you consider who your candidate will be in the upcoming caucus and primaries, consider a candidate who is willing to take action to aid our global climate crisis.

To conclude, remember how fortunate you are, and never take it for granted. If I had written about every country we seemed to have abandoned I would probably be posting an article as long as my dissertation will be. Remember how selective the media is, and do not become someone who simply posts when conflict happens and quickly forgets. Whilst there is little we can do for these countries besides spread awareness, the global climate crisis is something we can all work on and all have a responsibility to improve.

For Sudan. Part 2, Omar Al-Bashir

So if it wasn’t obvious by the fact that the people of Sudan wanted him gone, Omar Al-Bashir was not a great guy. Firstly, Omar Al-Bashir has been the president of Sudan for the past 30 years, which, until 2011, was Africa’s largest country. Bashir was born in 1944 in Northern Sudan, which was then still part of the Egyptian Kingdom. His career has been defined by war. He joined the Egyptian army, rising through the ranks, and fought in the 1973 war against Israel. He became a military commander before establishing himself as the President. He took power in 1989 in a coup, holding power for 30 years before being toppled by the military this year. He is the last of the Arab world’s long-term dictators.

 

To give a bit of context on Sudan: when Bashir seized power in 1989 Sudan was in the midst of a 21-year civil war between north and south. Although Bashir’s government signed a deal to end the conflict in 2005, another conflict was breaking in the western region of Darfur. Here Bashir was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of organizing war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was then issued an international arrest warrant by the ICC. Despite this, he still won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015. His arrest warrant resulted in an international travel ban, but he still made diplomatic visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

 

His overall goal was for a unified Sudan, but upon signing a deal to end the conflict between the north and south, he also agreed for a referendum on secession for South Sudan. In January 2011 99% of South Sudanese people voted in favour of separation. 6 months later South Sudan declared its independence. Al-Bashir agreed to let South Sudan go, but his attitude to Darfur has been characterised by belligerence. Darfur has seen conflict since 2003 when rebels took up arms at alleged government discrimination.

 

For some time during Al-Bashir’s rule, there was ‘pockets full of dollars’. This was mostly due to Sudan being an oil-rich country. And oil tends to mean money, well, that and the interest of a lot of foreign powers. This often doesn’t end well, and Iraq is a prime example for that… unless you believe the United States transparent cover up for invading. Anyway back to Sudan –  In this time controls were lifted and the telecommunications system was revolutionised. But since the succession of the South, the economy struggled. When the South separated it took ¾ of the country’s oil along with it. Despite Al-Bashir claiming that he would not stand in the way of South Sudan’s independence, tension has been rising since the region separated.

 

The North is the part of Sudan where unrest falls, as the South is officially independent, with its capital being Juba. Whilst north Sudan’s capital is Khartoum. Essentially, remaining tensions between the North and South, which greatly impacted the economy of the North, have only added to the unrest and have made the lives of ordinary Sudanese people even tougher than before.

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From this map you can see how the country was split.

So just to prove my opening statement, here are the accusations against Omar Al-Bashir

Genocide

  • Killing members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups
  • Causing these groups serious bodily or mental harm
  • Inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about these groups’ physical destruction

 

Crimes against humanity

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Forcible transfer
  • Rape
  • Torture

War crimes

  • Attacks on civilians in Darfur
  • Pillaging towns and villages

 

In March 2009 the ICC indicted Al-Bashir on 5 accounts of crimes against humanity and 2 war crimes.

 

So the conclusions from this are as followed:

  • Anyone who has had that many ICC accounts of crimes against humanity and war crimes is not a great guy
  • It is therefore unsurprising that there were protests to want him gone
  • Despite ending the official conflict between the South and North, tensions remain
  • This separation led to a decline in the economy, which meant the quality of life was greatly weakened in the North.

 

On a closing note, labeling Omar Al-Bashir as ‘not a great guy’ is a pretty big understatement. I think it is clear from his charges from the ICC that he was a despicable leader. The people of Sudan want the same rights that we in the U.K. take for granted. This is not a punishable offence.

 

For Sudan. Part 1, what is happening?

I’m sure you’ve seen all over your newsfeeds about the atrocities taking place in Sudan, but I wanted to give a more in-depth explanation.  This blog post will give an overview of the situation. The following blogs will give a more in-depth understanding of the history of Sudan, and what has happened since the protests turned violent. I will also discuss what the world is doing about Sudan, and a comparison to other events which have sparked worldwide attention, as well as similar massacres and the world’s reactions. I will also allude to why a lot of countries haven’t intervened.

 

Let’s start with the basic facts first.

6 months ago back in December 2018, Omar Al-Bashir, who had been the President of Sudan since 1989 (the past 30 years) was still in charge. His government began making cuts to bread and fuel in December, stopped people from taking money out and increased the price of food and amenities. Naturally, the people of Sudan were angry about this, as we would be if our governments did the same. This anger spread to the capital, Khartoum. Initially, the protests were due to the cuts, but they turned into protests to remove Bashir and the government in place. There were multiple reasons for this, ultimately he was not a good President. I will explain this further in the next blog posts. The people of Sudan wanted, and are entitled to, a fair civilian government. By April the demonstrators demanded that the army physically force Bashir to leave, which appeared to be successful as a few days later he had been overthrown. Since then, Sudan has been controlled by a military council. The military and the protestors came to an agreement which would allow a three-year period for the country to come under civilian rule. This was largely due to the complexities of Bashir’s government and political network. To the people of Sudan, this looked like the power was being handed back to the people, with democratic elections.

 

But then security forces began shooting innocent protestors that were outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum. These forces are the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia, known as the “Janjaweed”. This is all during the holy month of Ramadan. There is an estimated 100 plus dead, with over 650 injured (please note that these numbers are an estimation based on internet reports, there is no way to be sure).  Hundreds have also been arrested and detained. This all appeared to be for absolutely no reason. The three-year agreement was also scrapped and they claimed that new elections would now take place in 9 months. Innocent people are being killed and suppressed, for what? These people have only ever wanted a better life, for Sudan and their families.

 

Every day the death toll is rising, what is anybody doing about it?

Women are being raped. People are being killed in the streets. They are burning bodies, throwing them in the river Nile as if their lives are nothing. They are mentally and physically tormenting people. They stopped Muslim people from going to Eid prayer. The streets are being looted. There is no internet and a ruthless crackdown on dissent.  It is our responsibility to share their torment for them.

The African Union voted to suspend Sudan

The U.S. is sending a top diplomat to Sudan to encourage talks

Egypt, an ally of Sudan, has been slow to respond. Its president is also head of the African Union

The United Arab Emirates have described what has happened as a ‘massacre’ and have called for an investigation

Saudi Arabia, who provides economic aid to Sudan, has been slow to respond

The European Union has condemned the Sudanese military

But does any of this sound like real action?

These were the initial reactions of the world.  Since then we still don’t seem to have any action from the world’s governments.

Where are the United Nations?

Why is no one helping?

Again, it is down to us to share what is happening in Sudan, and campaign for help, in a time where they cannot.

Sudan, the world is listening.

 

 

 

 

‘Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the MALE body?’ – Kamala Harris

This week the Alabama state Senate passed the country’s strictest abortion bill. This bill bans ALL abortions in the state, with absolutely no exception for cases of rape or incest. If a woman, or even a young girl, chooses to have an abortion it would be classed as ILLEGAL. The only exception to this rule would be if the pregnant woman’s life was at risk or if the unborn child has “a lethal anomaly”.

 

And here’s the icing on a bitter tasting cake: If a doctor performs an abortion for any other reason they could face up to 99 years in prison. Whilst the chance of a doctor receiving a 99-year life sentence is unlikely, it puts abortion in the same category as a Class A felon – the highest level in Alabama. The minimum sentence for which is 10 years.

Here are some examples of Class A Felonies in Alabama:

  • First-degree murder or capital murder
  • First-degree kidnapping
  • First-degree rape
  • First-degree domestic violence

How does giving a woman the right to choose whether she wants to carry a child come into the same category as these crimes?

If a woman has been raped, not only would she be forced into carrying her rapist’s child, but if any doctor does carry out the abortion he would be charged in the same category as this rapist and could even face a longer sentence.

 

It is utterly ridiculous that it only took until May last year for Ireland to amend their constitution. And now Alabama is pushing for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which gave women the constitutional right to abortion in 1973.  If the Supreme Court does overturn it this would become an issue for all individual states. Alabama may be taking the lead on the strictest abortion law yet, but they are not the only state. Sixteen states this year have placed restrictions on abortion rights. Georgia, Mississippi, and Ohio recently passed “heartbeat bills” which prohibited abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This is something which can occur as early as six weeks. How many women can you think of which have not realised they were pregnant until long after the six-week mark?

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This bill was passed by 25 MALE Republican senators. Just 4 women sit in the Alabama Senate, all of whom are part of the Democratic party minority. They all voted against the bill.

 

 

It is 2019…

and yet the world is regressing back to a time where women had absolutely no control over their bodies

25 men have decided what women can and cannot do with their own body

It forces every female to continue their pregnancy regardless of their age, mental capacity, or circumstance.

The numbers of babies being placed in care are likely to increase

And of course, Alabama has added no punishments for rapists

This is 2019.

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Is it right to ask a survivor to hand their phone over?

In my last blog post, I stated…

The Crime Survey for England and Wales in 2018, claimed that many sexual assault offences do not result in a conviction. And that a lot of offences do not proceed any further than the police investigation because of ‘evidential difficulties.’

 

Ok, I understand you need some kind of evidence to convict a person. But most sexual assaults don’t leave visible evidence. And also that’s only assuming that a survivor wants to come forward straight away. For a lot of people, it’s a subject that they want never to be talked about. Or it’s something that takes time to come to terms, if ever, with what has happened.

And if you wait too long, any evidence that could have remained is most likely gone. Therefore,  something needs to be done to change the way that the law looks at, and convicts sexual assault attacks, especially in regards to evidence.

 

An alternative way to collect evidence has been initiated:

A very recent BBC article titled “Rape victims among those to be asked to hand phones to police” (not the most sensitive of titles) details how people who are “alleging rape, are to be asked to hand their phones over to the police – or risk prosecutions not going ahead.” This change has apparently come after numerous rape and sexual assault cases collapsed following the emergence of crucial evidence. The move is meant to provide new evidence, particularly where “complainants” know the subject, and therefore their communication could hold crucial evidence.

 

But somethings not quite right here.

“One woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says she was raped in April 2016 by someone she knew and reported it two months later.” (BBC News)

Apparently, she had messaged multiple people that night about the incident, and therefore the police wanted to extract data. But it then took 2 years and repeated requests to get her phone back, and apparently when she received it hadn’t been turned on in two years. Not only that, but the phone of the perpetrator was never taken, despite her giving his name and address. He has since faced no consequences.

 

Another woman, a university student from London, was sexually assaulted on campus last year. She stated, “I didn’t have the courage to report it straight away – but when I saw him on campus again, I had to.”

According to her, a policewoman then called and informed her that she would need to see her phone. When she turned up to the interview and didn’t hand her phone over, she was made to feel as though she had done something wrong. “It felt so invasive”

“I got halfway through the interview and then stopped. It was almost as traumatic as the incident itself.” (BBC News)

 

Would you really want to hand over your phone?

Critics of the move, have said: “it could prevent victims, particularly teenagers, coming forward over fears that they will have to hand over their mobile” (BBC News).

And really, in this day and age, a mobile, especially to young people, is very important. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t want to hand it over. But if it was being handled properly, it really could contain vital evidence that could strengthen the case and this is what is needed when there is limited physical body evidence. This is especially what is needed when it is rare for people to come forward straight away. Often physical evidence does not remain for a long period of time.

 

But it’s not just about losing your phone, the other concern is that your other messages and past sexual history could be brought up in court. We all remember the outrage sparked last year when a defence lawyer referred to a survivor’s underwear, saying “you have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

In this case, the underwear was used against her, suggesting that she was consenting by her choice of underwear. This not only faced an onslaught of backlash but was completely inappropriate and out of touch with reality. The clothes we wear DO NOT give our consent, and it should never be implied that they do. A crucial consequence of this is that it most likely deterred people from wanting to come forward. The court is an already daunting experience, without the invasive discussion of your clothing and “victim blaming”. By taking someone’s phone, this could repeat itself, and be used by the defence to weaken the survivor’s case by invasively using their previous messages or sexual history against them.

 

The Daily Mail has also questioned the proposal, highlighting the amount of backlash from critics who believe it’s ‘Licence to let rapists go free’. Apparently, the consent form lets detectives ‘trawl through texts, emails, photographs and social media posts’, this form is being deployed in multiple forces. People are being pressured into it by being told that their case could be dropped if they fail to agree. Why would they need to look through their whole phone, how do past photographs and social media posts determine whether or not someone has been sexually assaulted? To me, it just seems like a way to bring up information that could undermine their case and is incredibly invasive, something that a survivor does not need after they have just had to go through an invasive assault.

 

If they were to take people’s phones, it wouldn’t work for every case of course; a lot of people wouldn’t have had contact with the perpetrator over their phone. But if it was someone they knew then they may have had contact. And even if they didn’t have contact with the perpetrator over the phone, they may have had contact with friends or family after it happened that could strengthen the case.

 

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nicholas Ephgrave recognised that the move would need to be done “with the minimum disruption and irritation and embarrassment to the person whose phone it is that we’re dealing with.”

 

But it doesn’t appear that the move is always being handled with care, empathy, or in good time.

 

There’s no perfect solution.

It feels invasive to take the survivors phone and could give off the impression that they are being treated as suspects. It could also be used to the hindrance of the survivor, bringing up previous messages or their sexual history and using it against them.

Or it could even lead to “victim blaming”.

The survivor shouldn’t be made to feel like they are the ones on trial.

At the same time, something needs to be done to create more evidence for the prosecution.

Could this be a new way, if handled correctly and sensitively, to ensure that more evidence is found?

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: There’s no easy answer but we need to talk about it, and something needs to change.

It’s taken me over two weeks to plan this post. And consequently, it’s taken me over two weeks to realise that no amount of planning is going to create the ‘perfect’ post, on such a complex and horrific topic. So here’s a rather imperfect attempt…

 

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) ‘estimated that approximately 700,000 people aged 16 to 59 years were victims of a sexual assault in the last year’ (2018). But only 150,732 were police recorded. And even then many of them will not result in a conviction. Many offences also don’t proceed any further than the police investigation because of ‘evidential difficulties’.

This is where I got really stumped in writing this post.

 

Seven Hundred Thousand in One Year

 

How could anything I could write make that ok? And if only 150,732 were reported that’s over 500,000 survivors (personally I don’t like the word victim) that have gone without legal justice. But also that’s over 500,000 perpetrators who, at least in the eyes of the legal system, went without punishment. Without any kind of conviction, or record. And crucially, that’s also over 500,000 people that could do it again.

 

 

Why aren’t people coming forward?

If you look online there are hundreds of reasons people have come up with as to why someone doesn’t report their abuse. A lot of them conclude that its shame or that they’re blaming themselves. Or there are cases of disbelief, hopelessness, denial, fear of the consequences, and the list goes on. I’m not going to rely on any of these reasons. Everyone is different. Having never been sexually abused myself, but knowing people that have, the reactions have all been completely contrasting.

 

It’s easy to say that everyone should report sexual abuse, it’s just not so easy to actually do it. And especially when you could report it, and nothing could come from it.

I often find a pretty negative stigma on sexual assault too. I hear a lot about people not believing someone, or think they’re exaggerating. Or people blame the survivor etc. But we should always be supportive to anyone that comes forward and never “victim blame”.

 

All I can really say, having absolutely no experience, knowledge, or right, is that clearly something is pretty f***ing wrong here. 700,000 a year, is about 1,918 assaults a day.

 

Consent shouldn’t have to be something that someone needs to learn. But clearly it is.

Something needs to be done in schools and universities.

We need to know how prolific this is; it shouldn’t be a hushed subject.

Why are that many lives being affected?

Why are people getting away with it so easily?

Why don’t people understand that no means no?

That you can’t force yourself on someone.

That you are not entitled to anyone

But most importantly, what needs to be done and how?

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