Pluto Press: Radicals in Conversation
Exploring the Radical Politics of James Baldwin

Exploring the Radical Politics of James Baldwin

December 2, 2019

James Baldwin left an indelible mark on the face of Western politics and culture. Novels like Go Tell it on a Mountain, Giovanni’s Room and Another Country were groundbreaking when they were first published in the 1950s and '60s, and Baldwin’s work continues to resonate. The 2018 cinematic release of If Beale Street Could Talk, based on Baldwin's novel of the same name, is the latest testament to his enduring relevance and popularity.

Our final episode of the year features Bill V. Mullen, author of James Baldwin: Living in Fire (Pluto, 2019) in conversation with Megan Maxine Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Purdue University.

Bill and Megan explore the evolution of Baldwin's radical politics - expressed both on the page, and in his activism as a public intellectual - and consider his renewed relevance in the context of Black Lives Matter and police violence.

They consider his early advocacy of an 'indigenous' socialism in the US, his role in the civil rights movement, and his appraisal of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party. Bill and Megan also discuss Baldwin's sexuality and the influence of Black feminists such as Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni and Lorraine Hansberry on the development of his gender politics.

James Baldwin: Living in Fire is available now from plutobooks.com.

Rojava and the Kurdish Women’s Movement

Rojava and the Kurdish Women’s Movement

November 11, 2019

Few political projects in recent years have been a source of greater hope and inspiration than Rojava - the Kurdish region of north-eastern Syria. Inspired by the political philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Rojava embodies a radical ecology, direct democracy and a deep commitment to gender equality.

Although always threatened by a hostile regional geopolitics, the Kurdish people’s revolutionary social and political experiment finds itself now under renewed bombardment. On 6th October Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the region, effectively giving the green light to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to invade, under the auspices of creating a buffer zone in which up to a million Syrian refugees who had fled to Turkey might live. Just a few weeks on and hundreds of Kurds have been killed, and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes.

On 2nd November we spoke to two activists from the Kurdish women’s movement, Dilar Dirik and Elif Sarican, to discuss the situation in Rojava, and what meaningful action is needed in order to safeguard its future.

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For wider reading on the subject, go to plutobooks.com/podcastreading

Women Defend Rojava campaign: https://womendefendrojava.net/en/

Sex Education Transformed

Sex Education Transformed

October 14, 2019

There are few subjects more personal, and more political, than sex. Sex education, as it’s taught in school, has always been a source of controversy, and amongst the pupils subjected to it, a great deal of embarrassment as well. 

But while national contexts may differ, it is perhaps the inadequacy of sex education that emerges as its most defining trait. It is often heteronormative in its assumptions; overly biological in approach. Many young people emerge from formal sex education knowing how to put a condom on a banana, but without a full understanding of what constitutes consent.

In March 2017, the UK government ruled that by September 2020, sex and relationship education will be compulsory. But big question marks remain over what it will look like in practice.

Joining us this month to discuss how both schools and society could benefit from a radical and inclusive approach to sex education, are:

Natalie Fiennes, author of Behind Closed Doors: Sex Education TransformedLydia Hughes, a trade union organiser, and Bryony Walker, a social justice activist involved in the Level Up campaign to change the UK curriculum around consent.

Art the Arms Fair with Peter Kennard

Art the Arms Fair with Peter Kennard

September 2, 2019

On 10th September one of the world’s largest arms fairs returns to London. The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) will feature hundreds of exhibitors, including many of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers - BAE systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and many more besides. Also attending, at the invitation of the UK government, will be countless national delegations, including those from authoritarian regimes, countries in conflict and countries identified as having major human rights concerns. 

This is no ordinary industry event, and the arms fair has faced increasing censure and resistance every time it comes to town. In 2017, this resistance took many forms. One of the most exciting was Art the Arms Fair (ATAF) - a volunteer-run gallery, comprised of donated artworks from a diverse array of artists. With an original work by Banksy among the pieces auctioned off, ATAF raised over £200,000 for Campaign Against Arms Trade

This year, as the arms fair returns to London’s docklands, so too does the gallery. Alongside artists from Yemen, the Iraqi diaspora and local community groups, the gallery will also feature donated artwork from Anish Kapoor, Guerilla Girls, Darren Cullen, Shepard Fairey and Peter Kennard.

Joining us to discuss the arms trade, 'artwash' and the power of political art, are:

Rhianna Louise, an organiser at Art the Arms Fair, and Peter Kennard, one of Britain’s foremost political artists, and author of the new book Peter Kennard: Visual Dissent (Pluto, 2019).

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artthearmsfair.com

caat.org.uk

Queer Tours and Rebel Footprints

Queer Tours and Rebel Footprints

August 12, 2019

History can often feel remote - its subjects separated from us by the barriers of time and geography. And more often than not, those of class, gender, sexuality and race as well.

But history doesn’t exist in a silo, and it is hardly remote, if you know where to look. With the prevalence now of People’s History or history-from-below, we have a subject that lives and breathes. And not just in books, but in the architecture around us, the places we meet, and the social movements we build. Nowhere is this intersection of history with geography and with politics more keenly perceptible than right here in London. 

This month we are joined in the studio by two people whose work uncovers and celebrates the individuals, communities and movements that have shaped the city:

David Rosenberg, an educator, tour guide and author of Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London's Radical History;

and 

Dan Glass, an award-winning activist, mentor, performer and writer, who founded Queer Tours of London in 2017.

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Get your copy of Rebel Footprints with 50% off for the next month at plutobooks.com. Use the coupon code PODCAST at the checkout.

Climate Justice

Climate Justice

July 15, 2019

The last 12 months has seen the unprecedented resurgence of public engagement with green politics. Climate Change - although of course it never actually went away - is back. Extinction Rebellion; Greta Thunberg; the Green New Deal - words that would have failed to register only a year ago have become household names. 

The urgency with which we need to act in order to prevent the worst effects of runaway global warming is now widely acknowledged. But the big questions remain, of what that action should be. 

Is a renewable technology revolution adequate, if the logic of market capitalism remains intact? Are we all in this together? Or does the softness of our governments’ emissions reduction targets point to the expendability of those in the Global South?

Joining us to discuss the climate crisis, and a vision of climate justice, are: 

Chaitanya Kumar, Senior Policy Advisor at Green Alliance;

Simon Pirani, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, and author of Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption (2018);

and Asad Rehman, Executive Director at War on Want.

We also speak to Anna Taylor, founder of the UK Student Climate Network, and organiser of the first national school climate strike, to get her perspective on the wave of activism that has brought climate change back to the top of the agenda.

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For wider reading on the subject, go to plutobooks.com/podcastreading

After Grenfell

After Grenfell

June 12, 2019

In the early hours of the morning on 14th June, 2017, a faulty refrigerator on the 4th floor of Grenfell Tower, situated in the North Kensington area of West London, sparked a fire that quickly grew into an inferno, engulfing the whole building. At least 72 people died - though the number may be higher - and 70 more were injured, as fire fighters attempted to extinguish what was soon to become the deadliest fire in Britain for over a century.

But as it transpired in the days and weeks that followed, the fire was no mere tragic, unforeseeable accident: the building had only one stairwell, no sprinklers, and its exterior was encased in a highly flammable cladding material, installed as part of a recent ‘refurbishment’, for no other purpose than to make the tower block more aesthetically pleasing to the borough’s affluent onlookers.

In short, the fire, and the terrible extent of its devastation, were the result of a long history of negligence, structural violence and inequality; an embodiment of the contempt with which the British elite holds racialised and working class people.

But the story of Grenfell is just as much about the strength of those who survived, and the resistance and solidarity of the local community, in their search for accountability, and meaningful justice.

In May 2019, Pluto published a new book, After Grenfell: Violence, Resistance and Response, edited by Dan Bulley, Jenny Edkins and Nadine El-Enany, and featuring over 20 contributors. This month we are joined in the studio by four of them:

Gracie Mae Bradley, a writer and campaigner interested in critical human rights, state racism and data/surveillance; Monique Charles, an independent researcher, writing about Black music, music analysis, class, gender and race; Nadine El-Enany, senior lecturer at Birkbeck School of Law, and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Law; and Daniel Renwick, a videographer and writer who made Failed by the State – the struggle in the shadow of Grenfell with Ishmael Francis-Murray and Redfish, who has also worked as an advocate and youth worker in the North Kensington community.

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After Grenfell is out now. Go to plutobooks.com to find out more.

All royalties and 10% of Pluto's profits from sales of the book go to the Grenfell Foundation.

Boycott Eurovision!

Boycott Eurovision!

May 10, 2019

On 18th May, millions of people around the world will tune in to the 64th annual Eurovision Song Contest. Last year, Israel’s Netta Barzilai won the competition with the song ‘Toy’, scoring a comfortable 93 point margin over runner-up Cyprus. As a result, Eurovision 2019 broadcasts from Tel Aviv, and in doing so, wades deep into political controversy.

Netta’s victory in 2018 was seen by the Israeli government as something of a diplomatic triumph; reinforcing the narrative of Israel’s LGBT and Queer-friendly credentials. But the Palestinian reality of continued occupation and apartheid has not been elided, and accusations of ‘pinkwashing’ and ‘artwashing’ - along with calls to boycott Eurovision - have gained considerable traction in the last few months.

Discussing this unlikely flashpoint in the history of the Palestinian struggle and the BDS campaign, we are joined in the studio by Hilary Aked, a London-based writer, researcher and activist, who is currently writing a book about the Israel lobby in the UK; Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, a criminal barrister, and consultant for Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq; and Alia Malak, a British-Palestinian from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

To find out more about the BDS campaign, and the numerous alternative events being planned to coincide with Eurovision, go to:

https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi

https://boycotteurovision.uk

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Go to www.plutobooks.com/podcastreading for 50% off selected books relating to this month's episode. Simply apply the coupon code 'PODCAST' at the checkout.

Deportation Charter Flights and the ‘Stansted 15′

Deportation Charter Flights and the ‘Stansted 15′

March 27, 2019

In March 2017 a group of activists surrounded a plane at Stansted Airport in a peaceful protest, to stop what they believed was the unlawful deportation of 60 people on a charter flight to Ghana and Nigeria.

Charged with ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ - an obscure piece of anti-terror legislation brought in after the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing - the 'Stansted 15' faced maximum possible sentences of life imprisonment. After a protracted and high profile court case they were all found guilty. Sentences were handed down in February 2019 - in the end, all non-custodial.

The heavy-handed prosecution of the Stansted 15 feels emblematic of our dark political times. But equally, the group's story shows the importance, and efficacy, of solidarity through direct action.

This month we are joined by Lyndsay Burtonshaw and Laura Clayson, two of the Stansted 15. We talk about the government's deportation charter flights, the colonial mentality underpinning the 'hostile environment', and what led them both to take the action they did. We also hear some of the stories of the people who were on the plane bound for deportation and discuss the many ways in which people can offer solidarity and take action.

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Go to www.plutobooks.com/podcastreading for 50% off selected books relating to this month's episode. Simply apply the coupon code 'PODCAST' at the checkout.

Healthcare and the Hostile Environment

Healthcare and the Hostile Environment

January 31, 2019

As the UK hurtles towards the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the chaos engulfing Parliament has all but eclipsed any other political issue. And yet there are cruelties being enacted through policy that predate the current political crisis, which demand our attention and our resistance.

This month we discuss healthcare and the 'hostile environment' - the 'sprawling web,’ as described by Liberty, ‘of immigration controls embedded in the heart of our public services and communities.’ Covering the Windrush scandal, privatisation, and the impact of Brexit, we unpick the policies and hear the stories of the people most affected by them.

We are joined in the studio by three guests who are all working at the intersection of healthcare, human rights and the ‘hostile environment’:

Guppi Kaur Bola, Director at Medact; Minnie Rahman, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants; and Bethan Lant, Casework Manager at Praxis Community Projects.

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Go to www.plutobooks.com/podcastreading for 50% off selected books relating to this month's episode. Simply apply the coupon code 'PODCAST' at the checkout.

Find out more about the organisations:

jcwi.org.uk

medact.org

praxis.org.uk