Archive for September, 2010


Thirteen thousand seven hundred and seventy six, I want to be a love monger

This morning I woke up to find that in Gothenburg, my adopted home town, 13,776 people had voted for the Sweden democrats an openly racist party. A lot of people today are going to find themselves wondering if the person sitting next to them on the bus was one of the 13,776 and that can’t be too healthy. To say that 13,776 is not a comfortable figure is an understatement. Five would be an uncomfortable figure but 13,776 is, I don’t know, incomprehensible. We have a problem.

It’s dangerous to generalise but I think it’s relatively safe to draw certain conclusions about these 13,776 voters. Most of them are not politically active on any kind of level except for voting occasionally. Most of them are also living in segregated social groups with little contact across ethnic, educational or class barriers. The word disenfranchised springs to mind. With reflection there must be a lot more than 13,776 people in Gothenburg that these generalisations could be applied to. And this is not just a Gothenburg problem.

In the current shocked atmosphere here in Gothenburg I probably won’t be too popular by saying that apart from the party leaders I don’t believe that most of these 13,776 people are bad people, misinformed yes, but not inherently evil. What I do believe is that anyone with even relatively limited personal contacts within any specific social group will be reluctant to make sweeping negative generalisations about the group as a whole.

We have a problem. A problem that is not going to be solved with hate. A problem that violence will only exacerbate. Social segregation is part of the problem and segregation will not be overcome by building barriers. Segregation can only be broken by kicking down the barriers. We live in a sick society. Capitalist induced global warming is only going to make matters worse if we can’t retake control from the corporations and change the course of history.

These 13,776 misguided souls are almost certainly not cynically destroying the very world we live on for their own private gain on any large scale. 13,776 people have been persuaded that immigrants are the problem rather than the real enemy, the bottom line worshippers. The exploiters and the exploited are the only “us and them” that really matters. Let us please not forget this. The exploiters never do.

What happened in the election is a symptom of a sick society, but we should be careful of cutting off our collective ass to cure a bad case of piles. And for piles caused by sitting down too much the best cure is simply to stand up and move about a bit more. Diversity is not a threat, it is a strength as long as we avoid marginalisation of any single individual or group in society. All of us would benefit if we each could make a concious effort to mix more and diversify our social connections. Empathy, trust, understanding and better contact with each other is what we need to chase off the racist hate mongers. Becoming anti-racist hate mongers won’t help. I want to be a love monger.

Gothenburg 20th September 2010


Mobility day in Uddevala, one day before the election

Imaginative land use in central Uddevala

Sometimes I get asked to come and speak and when I turn up find that the location for the talk is not at all how I imagined it to be. Such was the case yesterday when I turned up in central Uddevala looking for a marque full of seats placed facing some kind of podium. No seats, no podium, no marque nothing like that. To celebrate the European Mobility Week the town of Uddevala had filled it’s central square with cars. To mark the international effort to persuade ordinary people that there is an attractive alternative to auto-mobile addiction, the town filled the only semi carfree square in the centre with cars. They must have been special cars, I hear you asking and they were, that is if your definition of special is meeting the present, far to weak, European emissions standards for new vehicles.

To be fair the town had also two electric bikes for test drives and a bus parked up on the square. Allowing the Uddevala locals to at least get a feel of these exotic modes of transport. Giving them the chance to lean back in a bus seat and smell the upholstery or something. That and the fact that they invited me in to speak. “To give the whole thing a bit of balance.”

Just to make things just a bit trickier one side of the square, the side where all the people were, was taken up with election campaigners. As is the Swedish tradition at election times every party has their own shed placed out in rows. These sheds provide shelter for tired campaigners and rallying points for party support. The other speakers for the day were all politicly active locally but instead of sharing a podium and taking turns to speak they all stood outside their own sheds to orate. They did take turns though, no one tried to shout down the others, there was no debate just orderly party political burble.

Shopping centre Torp on the outskirts of Uddevala

Then my turn came, using the plinth of a handy statue as a podium (old habits die hard) I took the microphone and faced the empty square. Empty that is if you don’t count the twenty shiny new cars and a couple of salesmen. And I started to speak. Standing in an empty square surrounded by parked cars. Separated and blocked from the only public available by a row of politically coloured sheds I abandoned my planed talk. Facing the row of sheds I gave the local political elite a piece of my mind. I don’t know if they listened to any of the home truths I flung at them about autocentric town planning. I couldn’t see if they where cowering behind their sheds and listening or just burbling on as usual while handing out their fliers but one thing I do know. I’m loud.

And I did get asked back 🙂

Gothenburg 19th September 2010

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