Troubling Labour: the Labour leadership contest.

Expanded version of letter published in The Guardian (04 08 2016).

  • Preamble.
  • More than mere words.
  • Desperation, futility, duplicity. What a shameful mess.
  • Crushing Labour’s progressive potential: the neoliberal mindset that is Blair’s legacy.
  • Reviving Labour’s progressive purpose.

Angela Eagle approves Labour MP, Owen Smith’s apology for his recent, aggressive, sexist comments about prime minister, Theresa May (Guardian, 30 07 2016), when he suggested Labour should “smash” the prime minister “back on her heals”. This was described as “his recent slip-up” and as “a clumsy promise” (Anushka Asthana interview, ‘There’s no point being sore’, The Guardian Journal, 30 07 2016). In this interview, Angela recommends “sensitive use of language” and comments: “Owen has shown a capacity to recognise and apologise for insensitivity, and that’s important”.

More than mere words.
But this is not, as her stance implies, a question of rude, unkind or cruel language, or even language that offends. Her own language about Smith’s “slip-up” is distinctly cautious, conservative and apolitical: uninformed by years of theory and research (especially feminist and post colonial), which has reframed and extended politics in terms of the politics of, e.g. food, violence, sexuality, health, housing, multiculturalism and language. I suspect she is concerned not to be identified with the idea of ‘political correctness’, within which issues of language and behaviour have played such a big part; a label used by politicians and the media to rubbish and ridicule equality and social justice initiatives, especially those pertaining to gender issues, racism, homophobia and misogyny.

Angela’s stance fails to acknowledge that the issue is about language as a function of and constitutive of prejudice, bigotry, discrimination and incitement to hatred. It is about language as social power and as an abuse of power and privilege, which in turn contaminate the body politic and public spaces, rendering these less safe for their targeted constituencies, and making society and individuals less welcoming and accepting of difference and diversity, and more fearful of each other.

The recent EU Referendum campaign exemplified how months of public figures, including politicians, relentlessly demonising ‘foreigners’, and/or those whose difference was visible (skin colour, facial features, dress), as the enemy within, as Other, have consequences. Recklessly racialising political discourse resulted in an overnight change after the Brexit vote, in terms of what was seen as allowable speech and behaviour. People of colour and others suddenly felt less safe, less accepted, more at risk as citizens, even if they had lived and worked here for many years.

Owen Smith’s reaction to Theresa May on this occasion, like previous ‘gaffes’ by Cameron (“Calm down dear!” to Angela Eagle herself), Boris Johnson, Farage, et al, was no mere linguistic misdemeanor. Such behaviour exposes the inner workings of these men’s minds: their lingering heterosexism, racism, homophobia and/or misogyny; who they are as men. For the Labour party to think an MP who exhibits such attitudes is fit for office, never mind being considered as leadership material, is beyond belief. As reported in the New Statesman, the Independent and elsewhere online, this man has form.
27 Jul 2016 –

Desperation, futility, duplicity. What a shameful mess.
The acceptance of Owen Smith as a leadership candidate confirms that the entwined issues of racism/misogyny/homophobia as both legitimate political targets for Labour (as important as social class and poverty) and as serious issues for the culture of the Labour party and the trade unions, still have a way to go. In the unseemly rush by the PLP to support any MP prepared to stand against the current elected Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the Parliamentary Labour Party has exposed its lack of commitment to equality and social justice issues, and democratic values, in particular regarding misogyny and homophobia. The sight of prominent Labour women embracing (literally) a candidate whose back story and political conduct display ignorance of and/or unconcern for those hard fought historical campaigns and political issues and values, made me catch my breath in disbelief.

It’s 2016, but these values are clearly not part of his personal and political identity and practice as a man. Citing Owen’s track record so far, David Wearing doubts that Owen Smith is “the man to drive through root-and-branch reform of British capitalism, and to challenge majority views on issues including welfare and immigration” (see David Wearing, ‘Labour’s bitter battle isn’t about Corbyn – it’s a fight for change’.The Guardian, 27 07 2016).

So, at Saturday’s Liverpool Pride (30 07 2016), there was Owen swinging along, busy with damage limitation: having his smiling photo taken with as many women as he could fling his arm around (it looked as if he had brought his own photographer). In view of his leadership bid, he really needed to be seen mingling with gay activists and other non “normals” (having previously described himself as the “normal” candidate – heterosexual, married with kids – as opposed to Angela, ‘the gay candidate’). Meanwhile, Wallasey CLP members were out in force behind their banner, but there was no sign of Angela, their MP, who this year presumably felt she couldn’t afford to be seen with them, given her complicity in the accusations of homophobia and intimidation in the LP and by Wallasey CLP members.

She has been reported as saying that “Jeremy Corbyn had created a ‘permissive environment’ in which Labour MPs who opposed him faced abuse, on and offline” (Hadley Freeman, The Guardian Weekend, 30 07 2016). And she has said that “Corbyn’s failure to deal with bigotry and intimidation had ‘tarnished the party’s reputation”’ (cited Peter Walker & Rowena Mason, ‘Up to 50,000 new Labour supporters face vote bar’. The Guardian, 03 08 2016). By contrast, there are Wallasey CLP members who see things very differently (see…/homophobic-slurs-against-angela-eagle-wallasey-ive-only…

Crushing Labour’s progressive potential: the neoliberal mindset that is Blair’s legacy.
The latest smear against Jeremy Corbyn, the claim that before he became leader there were no such problems, is laughable (but not funny), mendacious and vindictive. Those MPs (and Guardian journalists) adopting this stance, could do with reading some evidence to the contrary, posted in October 2012: ‘Sexism and Activism: What’s the problem?’ and ‘Thinking Through and Beyond “sexism”. Reflections on the challenge for the “Left” (and willing others)’ at in the Category ‘Essays’.

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September 2015, Corbyn supporters / Momentum, have been variously demonised as the ‘hard left’, as ‘extremists’, and more recently, akin to Donald Trump as a “fringe group” and “cult” (Hadley Freeman, ibid.). Hadley ties Corbyn and Trump together as heading “cults of personality”. This is quite nasty stuff, not least from a journalist I have previously respected. But I suspect that Labour MP, Diane Abbott, is better informed, as she describes a scenario I recognise from these last months of my involvement with Merseyside Momentum (public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, conversations, debates, and great warmth and good humour between us):

Like (Bernie) Sanders, the left insurgency Corbyn is associated with is not about one man or a cult of personality. The insurgency on both sides of the Atlantic is about millions of people realising that ‘a better way is possible’ and wanting to move beyond neoliberalism. That realisation is not going away (cited Walker & Mason, 03 08 2016). Emphasis added.

Similarly, Wearing argues that:

Jeremy Corbyn’s support unites around clear basic principles: the need to break decisively with neoliberalism, in favour of a new egalitarian economic model, and to defend migrants, minority-ethnic people and those on social security from the rising tide of bigotry and the effects of spending cuts (Wearing, ibid.). Emphasis added.

“A burning rage at New Labour’s politics of inequality widens a divide that goes well beyond the leadership” (ibid.) Wearing notes that New Labour’s agenda was never transformative, but was “primarily about deference to the established order (ibid.).” He cites an illuminating example from a Fabian society conference in 2010, when:

A pitch for a Green New Deal to provide a Keynesian stimulus, create good jobs and    decarbonise the economy was greeted enthusiastically by delegates but rejected by Gordon Brown’s pollster, Deborah Mattinson, who said that while climate change was ‘the biggest issue facing humanity” this was not an idea she could sell to voters (Wearing, ibid.).

Wearing describes this as the essence of Labour’s current civil war:

On one side a grassroots bursting with ideas, determined to tackle the most urgent    issues; on the other a party establishment so deferential to ‘political reality’ that the             survival of human civilisation has to take a back seat (ibid.).

This, he says, is the struggle between small-c conservatives and progressives, and Corbyn “represents a head-on challenge to a status quo that a broad swath of left-progressive opinion now considers intolerable” (ibid.).

Reviving Labour’s progressive purpose.
The fact that Owen Smith is 46 would seem to have disadvantaged him, in as much as he was pretty much born into neoliberalism, and appears untouched by critical feminist and social justice values, for example. By contrast, like many longstanding Labour supporters, or those returning to the fold, 67 year old Jeremy has lived through and been part of many of the liberatory political campaigns of the past 40 or 50 years. He has been that relatively rare being: an activist, as well as a politician.

At the same time, the unprecedented, burgeoning support from young people, their wild enthusiasm for Jeremy as Labour leader and what he stands for, suggests that, even despite the power of consumerism, they have not internalised the neoliberal mantra (TINA – there is no alternative), that pits us against each other, dismantles the public sector and its values of service rather than competition and exploitation. For them TINA makes no sense and is a call of despair, an invitation to accept powerlessness.

When Angela and Owen publicly agree that Austerity is the right way, perhaps they should pause and reflect on how Austerity politics positions, not just young people, but the majority; and the contempt for them that adopting even an Austerity-lite position conveys. Labour can never be the party that deploys poverty as social control and as a political strategy. That’s the Tory way.

Born into a period shaped by feminist and environmental activism, multiculturalism, heightened LGBTU and disability awareness and confidence, and improved understanding of mental health issues, for these young people (and oldies who have stayed awake and sentient during these cruel neoliberal years), climate change, the importance of gender power relations, multiculturalism, racism and public health issues, for example, are no longer niche political abstractions but lived realities: a new ‘normal’ that nonetheless needs defending, not rolling back.

And after 6 years of first the Tory coalition, now full blown Tory war on the very idea of society, including human rights legislation, and post the EU referendum result, there is surely more urgency in working towards proportional representation, and the strategic building of alliances between anti Austerity social democratic parliamentary parties, if the Tories are not to be left (with their tiny majority) to settle in for the long, foreseeable future (which is no future for the majority).

This is not the 1980s and this is not a journey back to what has gone before. It is a movement to create a different and better future, rooted in the contemporary realities and social movements cited above, starting by changing how we do politics now, together, for example by democratising the Labour party. Peer process, not hierarchy: all ages, all backgrounds, all circumstances.

(See also ‘”The trouble is . . .  ” Economists, economics, and the UK Left.’ Posted 07 02 2016 in Commentary 2016 category at And ‘A “shared somatic crisis”: enough common ground?’ Posted in Conference Presentations 2014 category at

val walsh / 04 08 2016




The 2016 EU Referendum.


The recent homophobic and racist murders in Orlando, and the misogynist, fascist murder of UK Labour Party MP Jo Cox, are not incidental to the EU Referendum this Thursday (23 06 2016). These violations have not just added urgency to the Referendum decision, but, I suggest, changed the substance of that decision-making process.

Since November 2012, we can and must speak of a post Savile era: a necessary cultural and political break with a shameful past of uninterrupted child abuse in and around public institutions, and paedophile denial and collusion over many years, that protected Savile and left children exposed to sexual abuse and its lingering psychological aftermath into adulthood, as victims were blamed and silenced. Four years later and UK society is openly predicated on that past as it seeks to become a social and political refutation of those historical presumptions and denials: a different society. 

No longer a referendum on the EU.
The way in which the Leave camp has conducted its EU Referendum campaign, escalating distortions (on immigration, housing, employment); reiterating lies (notably the £350M EU price tag and its devotion to the NHS); and misrepresentation (e.g. regarding EU democracy and its legislative process, the relationship between EU directives and UK social, environmental and industrial practices and safeguards, and the movement of peoples), makes this, just days before the vote, another such pivotal moment for the UK.

Faced with the combined rhetorical efforts of media favourites, Michael Gove, Boris Johnston, Ian Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, and sundry other poisonous political ‘heavies’ on the Right, the virtues or otherwise of the EU, even the facts we might wish to consult or highlight, such as: ‘There’s no hope of saving the planet without making rules together against scorching ourselves to death” (Polly Toynbee, ‘On Friday I’ll get my country back. We will vote remain’, The Guardian, 21 06 2016), have become incidental. Not to mention international, fascistic ‘stars’, such as Vladimir Putin and Marie le Pen, aligning themselves with the Leave team. As John O’Farrell presciently (and hilariously) declared back in April: ‘Never mind the EU arguments, just look who’s talking’ (The Guardian, 25 04 2016). Two days away from the actual Referendum, it’s no longer funny and right, but seriously, frighteningly right.

It is not a matter of different opinions and choices: shopping cannot be the model for our politics. It is rather the difference between values and behaviours that uphold and nourish (however imperfectly) social democracies, against anti-democratic behaviours that embody authoritarianism, elite heteropatriarchal male dominance and violence, as ways of doing life’s business. And that business is the annihilation of difference, via homophobia, misogyny, racism, together with institutionalised and escalating inequality: the enforced impoverishment of the majority and the runaway wealth of a tiny number:

The system is designed to transfer wealth from the people who create it to the               people who already have it” (Paul Mason, ‘Executive pay is obscene – restructuring               the economy is the only way to curb it’, G2 14 06 2016).

So the task for us in the EU Referendum on Thursday is quite simply to demonstrate our understanding that these are the enemies of democratic and peaceful co-habitation and that as a society we will not endorse that path. We will stop these elite white men’s triumphal ascent in the UK to even more power at the people’s expense.

Orlando and Jo Cox
These most recent murders teach us that our individual votes should not be dependent on how we value and evaluate the EU as an economic / social / cultural / political project or dream. More urgently, it has become about how best to avoid violent social meltdown in England and the wider UK. How best to interrupt the momentum of those politicians, media and other power brokers on the Right, who, in particular since 2010, have been promulgating fear and inciting hatred, to further their own vested interests, their desire for untrammelled personal and political power, dominance and control.

How to stop them ripping us out of the EU; breaking up the UK; and finishing the job the Tory government has set itself, of dismantling our precious post 1945 welfare settlement and the public services that underpin our democracy, including the NHS?

Voting Remain is surely our only hope of blocking their exuberant and well funded attacks on our society and democracy, and buying ourselves time to come good on the values and priorities that informed the life, the love and the work of social justice activist and Labour MP, Jo Cox. It will not be sufficient, but it is a necessary step in turning the tide against this Tory government and the bigotry, racism and social divisions it has been instrumental in fostering as tools of social control.

val walsh / 21 06 2016

[This is an expanded version of a statement presented from the floor at a public meeting organised by ‘Another Europe is possible’, at The Liner Hotel, Liverpool on 20 06 2016.]

Intercultural co-creativity: More than liminal adjustment.

  • Introduction
  • The problem of the status quo:
    social class
    gender inequalities, misogyny, homophobia
  • ‘Beautiful Words for Difficult Times:
    We are the sum of our parts.’
  • The relevance of Liverpool’s social, cultural and political waters.
  • Poetry as community, as partnership.
  • Interculturalism and identity.
  • On the night.
  • Art as experience, art as behaviour.
  • Engaging as intercultural communities.
  • From ‘gift’ to gifted, to gifts. The significance of women for social recovery and renewal.
  • Appendix 1: Our founding statement for the poetry event.
  • Appendix 2: From first version of the poster for the event.
  • Appendix 3: Two poems:
    ‘High Wire Act’
    ‘The Politics of Love’.

An edited version of this paper was presented as a keynote address at the EUROPEAN FORUM of the Platform for Intercultural Europe Conference (08 06 2009), The Distinctive Contribution of the Arts to Intercultural Dialogue: A View from and on the Arts. Brussels, Belgium.


The paper opens with some scene-setting, regarding the entwined factors of demographics, political culture and equality issues in the UK City of Liverpool. These provide the backdrop to a community poetry event (05 04 09), which is discussed and analysed as a process, and as non-violent intervention. The issues of identity, empowerment, women’s lives and purpose as poets are considered; the significance of claiming our multiple identities; and performance as embodiment of both poetic and political purpose.

The paper moves on to identify the shifting ground of art and aesthetics, art and community, art and politics, and the more recent challenge posed by interculturalism. It cites the multiplicity of both the arts and interculturalism, and their synchronicity in the public domain, as virtues; as well as the central significance of women’s participation and creativity, in what are seen as core peace-making and community-building activities, rather than optional, cultural add-ons or ‘entertainment’ as distraction.

The problem of the status quo.
“A sense of belonging in an intercultural society cannot be based on race, religion, or ethnicity but needs to be based on a shared commitment to political community. Such a commitment requires an empowered citizenry.”[1] 

In the wake of identity politics and multiculturalism from the 1970s, which were both important stages for social constituencies challenging marginality, oppression and subjugation, in the pursuit of equality and social justice, the concept of interculturalism provides key concepts and guidelines for the shift from multiculturalism, with its emphasis on acknowledging and celebrating difference and separation, towards intercultural dialogue, with its emphasis on what can be shared.[2]

Leonie Sandercock confronts the reader with two key concepts: a shared commitment to political community, and empowered citizenry; as prerequisites for a sense of belonging in an intercultural society. These do not happen by accident, or automatically through the mere passing of time. And to be clear about their urgency, think about the opposite: a lack of shared commitment; the proliferation of vested interests and conflict; a disempowered population, that feels subjugated or at least marginalized. Implicitly, Sandercock highlights the importance of political and cultural awareness. This suggests that citizens are knowledgeable and educated, as well as experienced. As opposed to subjects (as in the UK monarchical system), who are technically only required to be compliant and obedient.

Using the City of Liverpool as my starting point, I take as read that Liverpool is distinctive, as a port city, historically at the centre of the industrial revolution and empire; yet always ‘on the edge’; and not quite an English city. At the same time, it typifies some of the challenges of C21 cities, and is therefore instructive in relation to the concerns and ambitions of the Platform for Intercultural Europe, and Sandercock’s analysis and vision.

  • social class

Out of twelve industrialised countries, the UK now ranks as the second most unequal society, after the USA, calculated by how many times richer are the richest fifth, compared to the poorest fifth.[3] This intensifying social inequality is stark in the Liverpool city-region. Liverpool’s identity as 2008 European Capital of Culture, and the extensive inner city regeneration projects that were a feature of this process, only serve to underline the neglect of its outlying estates, where previous inner city populations now find themselves.

The city-region is 97% British white. Does this make it a C21 monoculture?

It includes many areas that are solidly white working-class: what might be described as another ‘layer’ of monoculture. This intense singularity promotes a sense of territoriality: marked by feelings of powerlessness / abandonment / defeat; manifested variously as apathy, defiance, violence, in the context of some of the worst levels of poverty, unemployment, ill-health and educational attainment in the UK.[4] Gangs, drug culture, violent crime and murder also feature.

‘Strangers’ are easily identified in these areas, and can be a cause for concern rather than interest. By definition, monocultures lack diversity and complexity; are more likely to be standardised, unstable, and fragile; need a lot of ‘defending’; and are vulnerable to degeneration, wipe-out or internal collapse. Against the backdrop of increasingly diverse and multifaceted populations, communities and countries, such enclaves of ‘purity’ stand out. These are cultural communities that identify themselves as indigenous. However, the fate of indigenous populations at the hands of capitalism and now globalisation (worldwide) has been either exploitation (worked to death or injury), or abandonment (dumped and ignored); or both. In these circumstances, whether in India or the UK, indigenous comes to mean, not settled and self-sufficient, with established (or sacred) rights: but poor, immobilised, outcast, left behind or moved on.

  • gender inequalities, misogyny, homophobia

At public meetings and events in Liverpool, whether cultural or political, the line-up of key speakers remains persistently mainly older white men. Depending on the event, these will be men from working-class backgrounds and/or middle-class backgrounds. I am not saying these men are irrelevant, past their use-by date; but they are part of the problem, a symptom, in that their unselfconscious dominance has blocked and continues to impede the participation and prominent contribution of other constituencies: notably women and members of BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities.

That this continues to be the public profile unselfconsciously presented in the C21 by institutions, the City Council, organisations, such as unions and corporations, suggests a lack of equality experience and expertise amongst organisers and convenors: resulting in no active seeking out of those different from themselves; and a lack of awareness of and concern about the resulting imbalance and exclusions; or resistance to involvement on the part of those absentees. And while nationally, homophobia has substantially receded since the 1980s, Liverpool does not feel as if it has quite joined the C21 in this respect, and gay men are likely to identify Liverpool as less safe and welcoming than nearby Manchester, for example.

The greater acceptance of lesbians and gay men nationally (though it is mainly men who have the visibility and increased business and cultural presence) has run parallel to a worsening of the pressures on girls and women, via the media and society’s institutions and industries, to preoccupy themselves with and conform to a hypersexualised, heterosexual norm that is costly, coercive, dangerous and damaging, and all about woman as body, as sex, as available. So, win some lose some.

  • ethnicity

Returning to Liverpool after ten years working in the USA, Dr Mark Christian, a Liverpool-born Black academic, now of the Miami University, Ohio, shared his dismay that the prospects for Black people seemed hardly to have changed. In two lectures during his recent visit: one at Liverpool’s new International Slavery Museum, entitled ‘The Age of Slave Apologies’,[5] the other, with co-presenter Dr Philip Boland of Cardiff University (also an ‘exile’), under the banner of: ‘Whose Capital and Whose Culture? Looking Back on 08’, as part of the WOW (Writing on the Wall Festival, 13 05 09), he concluded that the city had effectively failed to move towards equality and integration.

And I have often asked myself, why would members of the BME communities / people of colour, an undeniable minority @ c6% of the population, but nonetheless significant and important to the City, want to get together with whiteys, who have so visibly held sway in the City for so long? Not to mention the broader issue of our ‘shared’, unequal, painful and shameful history worldwide. Nonetheless, Liverpool has four universities attracting a wide range of international students. Yet it is not an integrated city, with its range of ethnic and social class communities held together in productive tension, or social and creative symbiosis. In the light of this recent history of multicultural failure, one wonders what lies ahead for more recent incoming communities, for example asylum seekers and workers from the enlarged EU.

As a white woman who came to Liverpool from multicultural London, I note, with Mark Christian and Tayo Aluko, that Liverpool has not achieved a working level of multiculturalism and equality, and that therefore it has a way to go before it achieves Sandercock’s shared commitment to political community, and an empowered citizenry, and can identify itself as an intercultural city. Meanwhile Liverpool is marketed as a European Capital of Culture (2008); ‘the world in one city’; and as ‘cosmopolitan’.

‘Beautiful Words for Difficult Times: We are the sum of our parts.’
This was the title of a poetry event that took place in Liverpool (05 04 2009). It was organised as part of a wider, interdisciplinary, multicultural festival, PAX, which ran over several days, at one of Liverpool’s iconic Victorian venues, The Black-E, an arts and community centre focussed on: ‘education / exploration / enthusiasm’.[6]

The relevance of Liverpool’s social, cultural and political waters.

When asked to organise this event, I approached local poets whose work I knew, and whom I thought would be drawn to the stated aims and values of the PAX project. My goal was to bring together diverse poets, encompassing difference, including ethnicity.

These poets had all been involved in previous community events: such as   poetry events organised for International Women’s Day week in 2008 and 2009; as well as other poetry forays into the community, for example Liverpool’s annual Poetry Marathon, part of National Poetry Day, held in the magnificent Victorian Picton Library in the city centre; Liverpool’s now annual Peace & Ecology Festival, which brings together a range of activist groups inside the shell of a bombed out church in the city centre in July, with a view to engaging with the public in a positive way, including young people: enjoying music and poetry; providing information; participating in social and political discussions and debates, etc. in the best British tradition of free speech on the street or in the park.

There are a number of other festivals throughout the year, for example outdoors at the wonderful Wildflower Centre, and indoors at events organised throughout May by the WOW (Writing on the Wall) Festival, which in 2009 included theatre performances, e.g. plays and readings related to the Israel/Palestine situation; writers reading memoir and short stories; a multi-media community art/music/poetry performance; social/political meetings considering aspects of Liverpool’s recent history; and a meeting about the phenomenon of Barack Obama and the actual consequences and potential implications for the City of Liverpool (and the world), and in particular the BME   communities in Liverpool.

But segregation across these events was evident: for example (on consecutive evenings), between the Obama meeting (Afro-Caribbean) and the Palestine performances (Muslim). And at the event where Dr Mark Christian was one of two keynote speakers, apart from the WOW Festival co-ordinator, Madeline Heneghan, there was only one other member of the BME community in the audience: the architect, activist, writer and singer, Tayo Aluko. The rest of us were variously white. And, on taking a voluntary count, hardly anyone in the audience was indigenous: born in Liverpool.

Such social / cultural / political events provide opportunities for creative and campaigning groups to engage with the public, and for the latter to find a place for the day in a positive community setting: listen to music, play games, get information and learn stuff, discuss and argue, rub shoulders with people different from yourself, eat food, buy plants. And sign petitions![7]

But many of these groups and events attract the support of only small numbers of white working-class people from the outlying estates mentioned above, and fewer from BME communities; and even fewer of either as members and as activists. This suggests that these populations, along with asylum seekers, feel least like ‘empowered citizens’ and are least committed to a shared political community; and/or community action is all/mainly local to and within their own ethnic and social class ‘home’ patch.

The key locations over several years for the most mixing across and between communities and generations, have been street protests, marches, vigils and other events, involving food and films, triggered by the intensifying plight of the Palestinian people, notably events in GAZA in 2008 and 2009. On these occasions, we are all ages (from babies to the elderly), all cultures, all backgrounds, and all ethnicities. No longer strangers to each other, even if we haven’t met before, the action of risking visibility for a common cause, and in a city (and national) environment that is increasingly and tightly under camera surveillance and police control, produces a momentary bond. This is Liverpool at its integrated best: in solidarity and strength, standing up for peace, and against abuses of power, be they military or political.

Poetry as community, as partnership.

The process we went through in developing the first poetry event was a model of creative and social development that was not premeditated or mapped out, but experiential, informal, organic:

  • we came together as individuals
  • we formed a group
  • we became a team.

Starting as a top-down initiative, the project quickly moved to a flatter structure, where everybody felt able to engage (critically if necessary) with the initial suggestions and plan, and make their contributions to what would emerge as the performance on the night. [8]

Our patience and stamina were tested along the way, due to delays and postponements, but his did not dent our determination and commitment to deliver something special: because by then, we knew we could do something unique in and for Liverpool. Out of this process arose a new way of performing our poems together: not as a sequence of individual sets, but as an integrated performance; a choreographed sequence with harp accompaniment and back projections, within which individual voices intertwined to produce an experience, for both poets and audience, that was more powerful and more challenging than conventional approaches.

This new form was akin to a conversation or verbal dance, and suited our purposes, which were not simply poetic. As one of the poets, Brenda Vasona Gwanvoma, who came to Liverpool from the Cameroon via Paris, puts it in the title of one of her poems: ‘Building Bridges Not Walls’.

Dr Wendy Sarkissan, a social planning consultant, who has worked with Aboriginal communities in The Block, Sydney, Australia, recognises:

“the need for a language and process of emotional involvement and embodiment using a range of techniques, such as storytelling, drama, music and visualization, to enable people of widely different backgrounds to describe the world as they saw it.”[9]

As poets, we aim to cross the divide between social, political and cultural communities of interest; to get poetry to people who think they ‘don’t do’ poetry; and ‘politics’ to those who prioritise poetry as some apolitical, artistic special case. And to do this we must embody both the challenge of difference and its resolution: by being a team that encompasses, for example, differences of age, colour, culture, faith, health status and social and class background. Our complex and multiple identities are vital to this project, not as fixities, but as ingredients in our creative and social interactions, and our cultural output. (See Appendix I) [10] 

Interculturalism and identity.
“Poetry was privileged speech – simple, but never ordinary. The magic of poetry was transformation; it was words changing shape, meaning and form. Poetry was not mere recording of the way we southern black folks talked to one another, even though our language was poetic. It was transcendent speech. It was meant to transform consciousness, to carry the mind and heart to a new dimension.” [11] Added emphasis.

This is bell hooks reflecting on how she experienced poetry as a child, growing up as a black woman in the racist South of the USA. She illuminates the potential and purpose of poetry for everyone: the politics of language, speaking, writing, and being a poet in your society; and these insights are set firmly in the context of her understanding of both the psychological and political significance of speaking, in particular for the marginalized and oppressed, and women most of all.

“Speaking becomes both a way to engage in active self-transformation and a rite of passage where one moves from being object to subject. Only as subjects can we speak. As objects, we remain voiceless – our beings defined and interpreted by others.”[12] Added emphasis.

She also implicitly demonstrates how taking the lead from women’s lives and testimony affords insight into general human predicaments and social projects.

“To know our audience, to know who listens, we must be in dialogue. We must be speaking with and not just speaking to.”[13]

This observation is as relevant to individual poets as to community organisers, or politicians, and by extension, for intercultural dialogue and co-creativity. Poetry is exploration and discovery, of world, self and Other, and involves an effort to make sense of something, where we experience dissonance, a puzzle, discontent, friction, an intensity of experience, such as loss, desperation or anger: to dig deep. It is also an effort to communicate beyond the self, to a public, to create a community of co-participants, and to make something capable of countering powerlessness, fear, despair, even the impacts of fascism and corporatism on individuals and communities. As hooks says, ‘It is transcendent speech’: at its best, transforming, healing, courageous and ambitious.

The quantum physicist, David Bohm (1917-1992), wrote eloquently about creative process and the importance of dialogue (1996; 1998) in his later years,[14] in the context of his growing concern for what he saw happening in the world.

“The defence of opinions separates people. Each of us defends his (sic) own opinion, and then we don’t meet. We don’t really listen to one another; we try to win.”[15]

Bohm’s words point to the value of the methodology of the arts: which is about listening, about being receptive, about being willing to be changed; equalising power relations; combination and collaboration, not competing or winning. The C20 British poet, W H Auden, believed that all poems are love poems, which hints at a poem’s roots, as well as its transformational potential. And the C19 British poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, invokes our courage and ambition:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;

To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;

To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;

To love and bear; to hope till Hope creates

From its own wreck the thing it contemplates . . .

We have used this stanza to open our poetry performances. We found it spoke directly to our human predicament, as well as our purpose and ambition as C21 poets and women.

We are not a group of women divorced from the common realities of women’s lives: as, for example, daughters, sisters, partners, lovers, wives, mothers, artists, non/professionals, colleagues, comrades, friends and activists, we variously embody women’s complexity, social vulnerability and strength. And we encompass the range of life’s disadvantages and sorrows: grief, prejudice, stigma, grievance, loss, abuse, betrayal, bereavement, exile, as well as the joys of intimacy, affection, love and community. And there are boys and men in our lives in various capacities, as well as in the audience; and as collaborators, providing lighting, back projections, sound technology and film documentation.

We nonetheless do not presume to represent women / all women, but to draw on, share and illuminate lives which infrequently take centre stage in the public domain, except, for example, as fodder for male fantasies, vehicle for corporate consumerism’s excesses, and as evidence of the widespread misogyny that continues to confine, damage and curtail too many women’s lives worldwide. Courage is what marks these women’s poetics. For speaking as a woman in and against a society that throws rocks in your path, because you are a woman, because you are Muslim, because you are old, because you have a disability or HIV status, because you speak (out / up), because you refuse to defer, remains a high-risk, ‘insubordinate’ act.

And identities, such as ‘academic’, ‘poet’, ‘activist’, ‘citizen’, ‘feminist’, rebel’, ‘woman’, ‘mother’, are not just attributed: labels acquired through position or performance. Identities are also to be claimed, taken up, activated: that journey from object to subject, so central to bell hooks’ critique and vision. For this is creative and political territory, involving struggles against oppression and injustice, stereotyping and marginalisation; as well as struggles over resources, policies, social, cultural and political priorities, and meaning. Women performing as EMBRACE in Liverpool, do so with some of those struggles under our belts too.

As editor Amy Wack testifies:  

“I’ve been privileged to witness the development of confident, technically astute, inspirational women poets of all ages. It is worthwhile to remind ourselves that these poems are the flowers that grew on battlefields.”[16] Added emphasis.

On the night:

  • What we had was a performance that went beyond individualism, and manifested our shared commitment to political community.
  • We were the sum of our parts: and more. We all felt it, poets and audience alike.
  • We were showing that we added up, that in that entwining, in that meshing and interaction, we make more sense, more beauty (and therefore safety): new possibilities of understanding and affection emerge and evolve; as well as intimations of future challenges. We were performing as empowered citizens.
  • We felt that our poems were enhanced and intensified as part of the integrated sequence, which itself had evolved so seamlessly out of our discussions, sharing and practices, because we listened to each other, gave each other good attention and support; and no egos reared up to create a negative or hierarchical organisational straitjacket. We are all women of substance (to borrow a phrase from my son); but there has been no competitiveness, no vying for centre stage or dominance. We have facilitated each other, and been clear and forthright when decisiveness was required.
  • Audience members said it had been, for example: beautiful / inspiring / inspirational / wonderful / so warm / lovely / thought-provoking / a lot to think about / beautifully performed with excellent content.
  • We went beyond poetry to act as a catalyst for community. But to go beyond poetry, we had to go via poetry. It is not the only route, but…… It’s the art element in experience and relationship that acts as both means and catalyst; triumph and surprise.

Art as experience,[17] art as behaviour

“All aesthetic judgements may eventually be re-examined and re-evaluated in terms of new cultural relationships.”[18]

Nathan Knobler signals the link between aesthetics and ethics; aesthetics and politics; aesthetics and people’s daily lives. Such a statement is a challenge to entrenched eurocentric values and assumptions, not least about the superiority of the white western way (in all things, not just art). It puts the idea of ‘civilisation’ up for scrutiny, and points to the ways in which these élite, disciplinary domains are open to plunder and reconceptualisation: not in the abstract, and strictly within the confines of the academy, but out in the wider, messy world, where beauty and hope are susceptible to attack and bleeding, as cultural relationships shift, become more interactive, even conflicted.

Thirty years later, artist turned author and social commentator, Suzi Gablik noted, in relation to what Ellen Dissanayake had referred to as ‘the anomaly of modern aesthetics’ [19] and Western art practices:

“One of the key points of contention in the culture war is the issue of intellectual and aesthetic merit. . . .[as] the site of aesthetic experience is shifting, . . . . from the self-referential orbit of museums  and galleries.”[20]

The “boundary which philosophical aesthetics so carefully makes between art and real life” [21] was becoming blurred and challenged by the practices of artists themselves, working out in the community, on the street, in the woods, etc.. Women artists, particularly feminists, were prominent contributors to this historical shift from the 1970s.

Ellen Dissanayake had asked, ‘What is art for?’

“When you view art as a ‘behaviour’ of making important things special, it seems quite evident that this is universal, even though every culture may not paint or sculpt or make installations.”[22] Added emphasis.

And she turns to the evidence of earlier societies, where, for example:

“Decorating and adorning were ways of showing that one participated in a social order and was a moral member of society.”[23]

The work of the EMBRACE poets in Liverpool attests to this social and cultural function: not as conformity, but as non-violent intervention. Similarly, Fiona Boundy discusses the cross-disciplinary and participatory practice of artist Lisa Cheung, who came to the UK from Canada via Hong Kong, and notes: “The relationship is the point rather than the outcome”. [24]

Carol Becker, Dean and Vice-President for academic affairs of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, identifies the enduring distortion in the West:

“This is a very bourgeois notion of freedom that we’ve encouraged, which is a freedom for the individual apart from society, not a freedom for the individual within society.”[25]

This individualism is also a gendered model of freedom: implicitly rooted in the lives, expectations and sexual anxieties of élite white western men, aspiring to roam ‘free’ of emotional attachments and domestic responsibilities that might curtail their ‘creativity’ and ‘autonomy’.

The conversations in Gablik’s book are now fifteen years old. There was clearly an expectation at the time that the tide was turning for the arts; away from an emphasis on objects cloistered in museums and galleries; away from the idea of the artist as necessarily separate and élite. This had been foreshadowed, notably in Gablik’s lightening-strike earlier book, The Re-Enchantment of Art, [26] in which she charted a new paradigm that ‘reflects a will to participate socially: a central aspect of new paradigm thinking involves a significant shift from objects to relationships’;[27] ‘making the transition from spectator to participant’.[28]

However, during the intervening years, turbo-capitalism has gained ground and dominance, and the western art world has split rather than morphed. It has bifurcated into, on the one hand, a lucrative market within the global economy, mainly focussed on objects: art as commodity;[29] and on the other, a cultural fabric teeming with local and community projects, public art and creative interventions, that include the critical, participatory and interactive.[30]

Engaging as intercultural communities.

“Diversity (has been) regarded at best as an issue to be managed, at worst a problem to be solved – just another thing that makes life more complex and tiresome.”[31]

This is the ‘diversity deficit’, which impedes ‘the diversity advantage’ (of cities, for instance), where ‘the complexity of diversity is to be embraced and harnessed’.[32] The concepts of intercultural praxis and cultural competence;[33] of mediation and relationship-building at the centre of intercultural theory find echoes in the methodology of the arts. The specific relevance of the arts is also anticipated by the acknowledged importance of ‘needs, desires, dreams and prejudices’.[34] Art processes and projects can be one of the best ways of ‘working with the grain of diversity’ [35] and moving away from the parallel lives[36] alluded to earlier. Factors that exacerbate distrust and disengagement can be diffused, even overcome, through, not least, the process of getting to know each other and acting together.[37]

The UK Kings Cross Development Forum highlighted the challenges of overcoming pessimism;[38] Manchester City Council’s Sense of Place project found enhanced cultural literacy to be central; as well as sensory impact, in exploring ‘the meaning of belonging and placelessness’.[39] Storytelling and role play may uncover hidden traits, suppressed memories, latent fault-lines and unrealised aspirations.[40] And as Theodore Roszak observed in relation to (early) environmentalists, it cannot be about coercion:

“They’ve usually behaved as if they could simply force people to change their habits by sheer guilt-tripping or scare tactics.”[41]

Art is not about telling; more about sharing, showing, exploring. It requires discipline, but is not disciplinary or authoritarian. These are vital virtues.

Art’s register is rooted in the model adult-adult of Transactional Analysis, rather than its obverse, the conventional, negative parent-child structure of authority, which spells and perpetuates inequalities and prepares the ground for abuse and injustice. The problem of gatekeepers, and the importance of dealing directly with each other, with communities and people[42] is linked to this too-prevalent dynamic.

In this connection, the arts can contribute to the process of unlearning the inculcation in childhood and early adulthood, of the superiority of one way over another[43] as well as undoing internalised inferiority, and alleviating its consequences for individuals and communities. Making art in and with a community can help people acknowledge and provide insight into, the unequal power relations so influential in their lives, and wedded to differences, such as social class, ethnicity and gender; but, crucially, without the process undermining or breaking them. And so another western binary, art v therapy, gets disrupted.

Leonie Sandercock points to the extent of the challenge:

“The ‘right to difference’ at the heart of interculturalism must be perpetually contested against other rights (for example, human rights) and redefined according to new formulations and considerations.”[44]

Art too involves this critical, self-reflexivity, though its importance is still contested, in particular by those still wedded to the dominance of the western gallery system.[45]

To address societal problems, David Bohm, whose roots were hybrid (born in the USA of Hungarian-Lithuanian Jewish parents; later taking British nationality), wrote a proposal for a solution that has become known as ‘Bohm Dialogue’, in which equal status and ‘free space’ form the most important prerequisites of communication and the appreciation of differing personal beliefs;[46] as opposed to élites at the top and the disaffected at the bottom. The methodology and processes of the arts can facilitate and enact the transformation envisaged by Sandercock and Bohm. Rome’s L’Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio is one such inspiring example: fifteen musicians, eight languages, eleven nationalities.

Nine years ago, the project’s instigators, Francesca Povoledo and her rock musician husband, Mario Tronco, moved to a part of the city of Rome taken over by immigrants and avoided by ‘native Romans’. They found ‘an island of exhuberant diversity in one of Europe’s most conservative and conformist capitals’.[47] The initial idea, which could be seen as artistically motivated, underwent a sudden transformation, as Tronco explains:

“But then came 9/11, and what had seemed like just an idea became a political exigency,”[48] in the face of the escalating fear and suspicion of immigrants after the attack on the Twin towers. However, marrying so many diverse musical genres is no easy task.

“The Arabs, for example, don’t have the concept of four beats to a bar; they mark time essentially in twos. The most difficult thing was – and, at times, still is – the issue of tempo.”[49]

Sandercock spells out the learning curve required and the material obstacles:

“Reducing fear and ignorance can only be achieved by addressing the material as well as cultural dimensions of ‘recognition’. This means addressing the prevailing inequalities of political and economic power as well as developing new stories about and symbols of national and local identity and belonging.”[50] Added emphasis.

Building sustainable communities requires committed funding for the arts; not the insecurity and low status of sporadic, temporary, project funding (or no public subsidies from the Italian state, in the case of L’Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio; only promises). In C21 the arts and interculturalism go head to head with the media and its arsenal of resources: financial, political and cultural; as well as the forces of globalisation. Both treat us as targets and markets.[51] As consumers. This inequality / iniquity needs to be acknowledged and proactively redressed via funding agencies and public monies. These are Bohm’s equal status and ‘free space’ prerequisites, which have to be ‘designed in’, not left to chance.

Sandercock goes further, to emphasise the importance of ‘the critical freedom to question in thought, and challenge in practice, one’s inherited cultural ways’ and ‘the recognition of the widely-shared aspiration to belong to a culture and a place, and so be at home in the world’.[52] Here she touches on the core difference, even conflict, between dogma and the creative arts; between authoritarianism, fundamentalism and fascism, on the one side, and the aspirations and complexities of open democracies, academic and media independence, and interculturalism, on the other.

Through the arts, conflict can be experienced, plumbed and illuminated;  worked through, rather than denied, avoided and buried; only to erupt at a later date, often in an unrelated context. The turbulence that may be part of intercultural praxis need not be seen as a sign of failure or deficit. Friction, after all, is part of healthy relational process as well as creativity.

Echoing Bohm’s concern about separation and hierarchy, Sandercock maintains that it is vital to ‘recognise and nurture [those] spaces of accommodation and intermingling’.[53] These are, by definition, dangerous, liminal locations; where borders spill over or recede and reconfigure, and where hybridity flourishes. These ambiguous and unpredictable spaces and places can be experienced as intimidating, because unfamiliar, turbulent, and the site of ‘strangers’; but they are where movement, hope and creativity can break through stereotype and mistrust; fear and a sense of unbelonging and powerlessness. These are the liminal sites of creativity, interculturalism and renewal.

“Thus we arrive at a lived conception of identity/difference that recognizes itself as historically contingent and inherently relational; and a cultivation of a care for difference through strategies of critical detachment from the identities that constitute us. In this intercultural imagination, the twin goods of belonging and of freedom can be made to support rather than oppose each other.”[54] Added emphasis, last sentence.

The problems alluded to at the outset, in relation to the status quo in the City of Liverpool – of social class / ethnicity / gender / misogyny / homophobia  – are connected, deeply enmeshed. Hence the importance of educational, social and political action to combat the organised and well-funded forces of bigotry and prejudice in society (such as religious fundamentalisms and the rise of fascism in Europe), in addition to violence rooted in ignorance, inexperience, fear and uncertainty; as well as lack of education and opportunity. But this paper argues that, without the mind-opening, liberating and heart-healing opportunities afforded by the arts, and projects that ‘deepen communication and lead to celebration and cohesion’,[55] there can be little progress towards interculturalism and productive co-existence. 

From ‘gift’ to gifted, to gifts.
The significance of women for social recovery and renewal.

Women’s movements across the world have made women’s gifts / talents more visible, as we have risen to the challenges bequeathed us. Rochdale Open Forum in the UK, is but one example that ‘showed that women across cultures could connect in ways that men would not’.[56] Historically, women have been ‘gifts’: to be bought and sold, and as the means by which societies and cultures have been organised and controlled. The position, status and rights of women in different societies and cultures in C21 remain the sharpest, most poignant and most disturbing reminders of these differences, and how forcefully they are defended and secured.

It follows, therefore, that being at the centre of difference and conflict, women are well placed to act as creative agents for change, within the arts and interculturalism: helping undo the damage inflicted on populations, individuals and the environment, and envisaging ways out of the mess.There is a history of men and their hostilities, divisions, competitions, wars and abuse (colonial, tribal, economic, sexual). We need to build a history of humanity, and quick. If women, children and men remain buried in the rubble of men’s history and conflicts, sustainable communities will remain an unrealisable aspiration.

This paper has intimated the connections between inequalities and oppressive practices too often seen as distinct and separate. It follows that interculturalism, like anti-fascism, cannot be conceived as solely about anti-racism, but must embody the realisation that partnerships and sustainable communities require a more holistic approach. In C21 neither the arts nor interculturalism can proceed as single issue politics or cultural practice. Their synchronicity lies in their common and proven capacity to address our human complexity and the diversity of our identities, despairs, failures, dreams and aspirations. Simultaneously: as acts of responsibility and imagination. (See Appendix 3.) Even in making room for laughter.[57]

References, endnotes.

[1] Sandercock, Leonie (2004) ‘Reconsidering Multiculturalism: towards  an intercultural project’ in Phil Wood (ed.)  Intercultural City Reader. Book 1. Stroud, Comedia: 19.
[2] Landry, Charles (2004) Riding the Rapids: Urban Life in an Age of Complexity. London, Building Futures in association with Comedia: 24. See also Wood, Phil (ed.)(2006) Planning and Engaging with Intercultural Communities: Building the Knowledge and Skills Base. Stroud, Comedia.

[3] Wintour, Patrick (22 07 2009) ‘Britain’s closed shop: damning report on social mobility failings’. The Guardian: 4.
[4] Health is Wealth. A Report for Discussion (April 2008). The Liverpool City-region Health is Wealth Commission. See Walsh, Val (19 06 2008) ‘Health is Wealth. A report for discussion. Personal response.’
[5] Aluko, Tayo (06 2009) ‘A Christian greeting to the former Capital of Culture’. NERVE Issue 14: 23.
[6] The Black-E was in fact the first such centre in the UK, when it opened its doors in 1969, with the aim of drawing in its surrounding multicultural communities (it lies at the entrance to China Town in Liverpool and in close proximity to Toxteth, an ethnically mixed area mainly identified with the Afro-Caribbean community), as well as others, such as students and those in  informal education, to events and exhibitions which always placed the emphasis on interaction and participation: on creative involvement and co-operation. The Black-E was seen as a suitable venue for PAX, because of its declared emphasis on creativity, the values of intercultural dialogue, and trans-national communities and understanding.
[7] Aside from these events, this strand of community and public life is sustained routinely in the city centre throughout the year, by a variety of community and campaign groups: for example, peacefully setting up their tables and publicising the issues that concern them. These range from, in 2008/9: Animal Rights, No To Identity Cards, Freedom for Palestine, Keep Our NHS (National Health Service) Public, Liverpool Friends of the Earth, and most recently, the national, anti-racist, anti-BNP (the fascist British National Party) HOPE NOT HATE campaign, in the lead up to the EU and local elections, jointly sponsored by a national newspaper, The Daily Mirror, and a national union, UNISON.
[8] We also had to cope with organisational obstacles and inconveniences not of our own making and beyond our control over several months, as the date got put back more than once. These delays and obstacles could have led to a loss of motivation and confidence, given that as women we all have busy lives, other responsibilities and are mainly time-poor.
[9] Cited Wood, Phil (11 2006): 39.
[10] The team of women, known as EMBRACE: Women’s Words Live. Liverpool Poets / International Voices, in itself attests to our potential and purpose, when we present ourselves to an audience or community, before a single poem is read. We simultaneously embody our visible (and invisibe) differences, as well as our willing partnership. (See Appendix 2.)
[11] bell hooks (1989) Talking Back: Thinking Feminist – Thinking Black. London, SHEBA: 11.
[12] Ibid.: 12.
[13] Ibid.: 16.
[14] See Bohm, David (1996) On Dialogue, editor Lee Nichol. London, Routledge; and (1998) On Creativity, editor Lee Nichol. London, Routledge.
[15] Cited Gablik, Suzi (2000) Conversations Before the End of Time. 19 Dialogues on Art, Life & Spiritual Renewal. New York, Thames & Hudson: 108.
[16] At the end of her Introduction to Salzman, Eva & Wack, Amy (eds.) (2008) Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English. Bridgend, Wales, Seren: 38.
[17] Art as Experience (1934) was the title of the philosopher John Dewey’s influential book.
[18] Knobler, Nathan (1966; 1971) The Visual Dialogue. An Introduction to the Appreciation of Art. Holt, Tinehart & Winston.
[19] Dissanayake, Ellen (1988; 1991) What Is Art For? Seattle & London, University of Washington Press..Cited Gablik (2000): 38.
[20] Gablik (2000): 31.
[21] Ibid.: 275.
[22] Dissanayake, in Gablik (2000): 43.
[23] Ibid. (2000): 46.
[24] Boundy, Fiona, Lisa Cheung, Colchester, First Site Papers, cited Khan, Nasseem (2006) The Road to Interculturalism: Tracking the Arts in a Changing World. Intercultural City Series: Book 4. Stroud, Comedia: 30.
[25] Becker, Carol in Gablik (2000): 362/363.
[26] Gablik, Suzi (1991) The Re-Enchantment of Art. New York & London, Thames & Hudson.
[27] Ibid.: 7.
[28] Ibid.: 83. See also Walsh, Val (1995) ‘Eyewitnesses, not spectators – activists, not academics: feminist pedagogy and women’s creativity’, Katy Deepwell (ed.) New Feminist Art Criticism. Critical Strategies. Manchester & New York, Manchester University Press: 51-60.
[29] See Wu, Chin-tao (2002) Privatising Culture. Corporate Art Intervention since the 1980s. London & New York, VERSO.
[30] This certainly describes Liverpool’s cultural fabric, with its proliferation of writers, poets, musicians, singers, and other creatives and performers, meeting and making in a wide range of groups and venues across the City.  See also Higgins, Charlotte (09 07 2009) ‘The birth of Twitter art’, The Guardian.  For some bureaucrats and funders, still bound by conventional categories and demarcations, this poses the ‘problem’ of how do you identify what is ‘art’ and what is ‘environmental’ and/or ‘community’ and/or therapy and/or (worse) ‘political? And how do you judge ‘intellectual and aesthetic merit. . . .?! In Liverpool, if a project is identified as ‘political’, rather than ‘cultural’, it will not get funded. NERVE magazine, ‘promoting grassroots arts and culture on Merseyside’, falls into this category.[31] Wood, Phil (ed.) (2006): 10.
[32] Ibid..
[33] Ibid.: 7.
[34] Ibid.: 9.
[35] Ibid.: 11.
[36] Ibid..
[37] The Four Corners Project (now in its 4th year ) in Liverpool, is an example of participatory art processes being linked to making changes in the way people live. Residents made connections and links between themselves, others and the wider world: showing ‘how people can come together to imagine, create and realise new ways of being.’ Ruth Ben-Tovim, Artistic Director Four Corners 2009. The project brings together cultural organisations, neighbourhood management services and hundreds of residents from Liverpool’s five neighbourhoods, and culminates in an exhibition at The Bluecoat, an established visual and performing arts venue in the city centre.
[38] In Wood (2006): 28.
[39] Ibid.: 31.
[40] Ibid.: 15.
[41] In Gablik (2000): 341. See also Walsh, Val (2002) ‘Equal opportunities without “equality”: redeeming the irredeemable’ in Howie, Gillian & Tauchert, Ashley (eds.) (2002) Gender, Teaching and Research in Higher Education. Challenges for the 21st Century. Aldershot, Ashgate: 33-45.
[42] Wood (ed.)(2006): 36.
[43] Ibid.: 13.
[44] Sandercock (2004): 19.
[45] See the conversation with art critic Hilton Kramer (2000) ‘No art in the lifeboats’, Gablik: 106-132.
[46]­­_Bohm Downloaded 27 07 2009.
[47] Hooper, John (17 07 2009) ‘A piazza of their own’, The Guardian: 11.
[48] Ibid..
[49] Ibid..
[50] Sandercock (2004): 19.
[51] See Wu (2002).
[52] Sandercock (2004): 19.
[53] Ibid..
[54] Ibid.: 19/20.
[55] Ben-Tovim, Ruth (2009), Artistic Director Four Corners 2009, Liverpool. Introduction, Four Corners 22-29 July 09 (programme & brochure): in which people in Liverpool’s five neighbourhoods explore the question: ‘What makes a neighbourhood?’
[56] In Wood (2006): 33.
[57]The members of L’Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio have had to learn to live with each other, not just to make music together: ‘We even manage to joke about subjects like Islam and homosexuality’, said Mario Tronco. Hooper, ibid.. And British stand-up comic, Chris Addison (21 07 2009), explaining ‘how to get comedy out of awfulry’, argues that ‘not only is it OK to laugh at bad things, sometimes it is – in all senses of the word – vital.. . . . Analysis helps us understand them; grief and sorrow help us exorcise them; but laughter gives us power over them’. Added emphasis. In ‘Any hedge fund managers in tonight? The Guardian: 22.


Our founding statement for the poetry event:

‘Bridges Not Walls’:

The Sum of our Parts

An evening of poetry, stories, music,

in the performance space at The Black-E, Liverpool:

5 April 2009.

Our vision and conviction are that culture and art are peace-making activities: the quintessential bridge-builders, with the potential to move us out of narrow and private worlds, towards each other and our co-creativity – personal / domestic / social / public. Pleasure and joy are vital parts of these experiences and efforts, as we hope the evening will demonstrate. And risk-taking is also required, if we are to work with and across our differences: not to become like each other / the same, but to like and trust each other enough to hold hands and dance!

This is a collaborative performance, evoking both difference and commonality, rather than a series of individual readings. From the problems of society, we move through matters of the heart: including loss and mourning; we celebrate recovery and renewal; life process itself, through poetry, story and music.

To avoid catastrophe, we must first name our concerns; through our co-creativity, we demonstrate our capacity for survival, reconciliation, adventure, and the enduring power of love.


From first version of poster (printed in a combination of colours):


Poetry and story from Liverpool’s

multicultural heart.

To be held in the performance space at

The Black-E: connecting artists and communities

Great Georges Street, Liverpool L1 5EW

 Sunday, 5 April 2009

Arrive @ 4 40pm for 5 00pm start. Finish @ 8 00pm.

Naming anger and despair
in the face of violation, atrocity and injustice.

 Demonstrating courage and imagination
in the face of damage, loss and bereavement.

 Evoking the healing processes
of conversation, compassion, community and creativity.

Asserting art and love
over the dead hands of fear and guilt.


Bring your community!


                                                                                             High Wire Act

is all about

you bring your
to me

I bring my
to you

and we begin
the process
of knowing

Val Walsh (2006)

The Politics of Love (May 2009)

[see, poems section]

In 2009, ‘The Politics of Love’ was performed at the following events:

  • 16 05 2009: ‘Jamsoup’ multimedia event, in the WOW (Writing on the Wall) Festival at Park Palace, Liverpool.
  • 19 05 09: by radio presenter and former actor, Roger Phillips, morning show, Radio Merseyside.
  • 25 05 2009: HOPE NOT HATE open air Music Festival, sponsored by UK national newspaper, The Daily Mirror and UK national union, UNISON. Crosby Village, Liverpool
  • 03 06 2009: Dead Good Poets Society, Liverpool. Third Room, Everyman Bistro.
  • 25 07 2009: The Peace and Ecology Festival, within the shell of St. Luke’s Church, Liverpool.

On not reducing ‘inequality’ to income differentials or social class.

Kate Pickett is Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, UK. She is co-author, with Richard Wilkinson, of The Spirit Level (2009), a now famous book translated into 23 languages. She gave the annual John Hamilton Memorial Lecture to a packed auditorium at the University of Liverpool (30 10 2013), her chosen title: ‘Inequality: The Enemy Between Us’.

Kate Pickett is an excellent speaker: clear, probing, nuanced and expressive. I have heard her speak on the Spirit Level work three times now. The themes and issues raised by this body of research support such in depth scrutiny and reiteration. It is clearly one of the most important books published in the last several years. Mine is a 2010 copy and is well thumbed and festooned with post-its!

At the end of her talk, she responded thoughtfully to questions and comments from the floor. I raised my concern that The Spirit Level evidence was being used by men on the Left as a basis for an economistic definition of equality, where inequality is understood as simply equating to poverty, i.e. economic disadvantage.

While many may argue persuasively, on the basis of the available evidence, that “Poverty is the cause of causes”, for example in relation to psychosis,[i] the danger is that this in fact simplifies and ‘disappears’ the inequalities, disadvantage (including stigma) and injustice consequent upon power differentials rooted in and serving to perpetuate, racism, homophobia and misogyny, which in turn are not bound, determined or explained by social class.

For example, the fact that 48% of women who experience psychosis have previously suffered sexual abuse, 48% physical abuse and 69% one or the other,[ii] evokes an inequality and injustice insufficiently captured by an economistic focus on income differentials, poverty indices or social class statistics. The social determinants of (mental) health / public health include racism, homophobia and misogyny. These each produce bullying, intimidation, violence, fear and trauma:[iii] psychic and social disorder of a high order with severe personal and societal consequences. Damage.

Given that for many men on the Left in particular, an economistic analysis, emphasizing poverty and social class, is a familiar comfort blanket, grounded in their interpretation of Marxism, the challenge to stop these other significant determining factors from dropping further out of sight becomes harder but even more urgent.  Not least because they are all historically well established justifications worldwide, not just for discrimination, but for violence, abuse, even annihilation.

Poverty and social class are being ‘re-discovered’ as sociologically and politically relevant. To counter the accompanying political cover up taking place, the Left needs more holistic, qualitative, intellectual and political approaches, that incorporate, rather than deny, the insights of the identity politics and liberation movements that have contributed to the greater visibility of the social and political needs and rights of those affected by these inequalities, violations and violences.

val walsh / 19 11 2013

[i] John Read (18 11 2013) ‘The Social Causes of Psychosis: From Heresy to Certainty.’ ISPS UK (The International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis) Evening Event. Liverpool Quaker Meeting House.

[ii] Ibid. See also John Read & Jacqui Dillon (eds.) (2013, 2nd edition) Models of Madness: Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Psychosis. East Sussex, Routledge.

[iii] As Derry Hunter’s gendered autobiographical narrative of sexual violence, oppression and psychosis testifies (18 11 2013): ‘Madness and uncivilisation’. ISPS UK Event, Liverpool.