Libraries Gave us Power – Save the Machen Collection in Newport

Libraries gave us power, then work came and set us free.

So goes the opening of the Manic Street Preachers’ song A Design for Life, the line “Libraries gave us power” was taken from the inscription above the old Carnegie library in the Pillgwenlly area of my home town – Newport in Gwent. The old Carnegie library is no more and the residents of Pillgwenlly have to make do with a tiny library/resource centre better suited to being a corner shop than a font of learning and education.

I left Newport more than a decade ago, truth be told, I rarely visit. I haven’t returned there for around three or four years. I do still however have a certain pride at coming from Newport. The city is, or maybe was, known for its thriving music scene -mostly thanks to the fantastically grimy TJs venue. It was a place where there was always something creative happening. That was always thanks to the people of Newport though, never the local council.

It seems that the local council have always had an aversion to the arts and to the heritage of the town. When a medieval ship was uncovered on the banks of the mighty River Usk it took a concerted campaign by local people to stop the council from simply building on top of it. Recently the council destroyed a marvellous mural celebrating the people of Newport’s role in the Chartist Uprising of 1839 and the struggle for working class representation in parliament to make way for a new shopping centre. Friends of culture the council are not.

Now, under the guise of austerity, the council are wanting to close the city’s central library, art gallery and the city’s museum. The library was like a second home to me when I was a youngster. I would always spend my Saturday afternoons reading in the library or exploring the museum -which shares a building with the library and the art gallery. When I discovered the reference section of the library at the age of 9 or 10 I was in hog heaven. So many wonderful old books! I could easily lose myself there come rain or sun on a weekend.

The library is about as central to the city of Newport as it’s possible to get. The building stands on John Frost Square, named for the leader of the Chartist Uprising, right in the heart of the city. It is a place that is accessible to all the people of Newport and, so far as I’m concerned, is vital to the essence of the place. A library is a place of collective self education and betterment. That this library shares a building with the art gallery and museum makes it even more of a hub for the heritage and culture of the city.

Added to that Newport library is also the home of the best collection of material by, and related to, the lauded author of the fantastic, Arthur Machen. The library houses rare items donated by family, friends, and fans of Arthur Machen and it is vital that this collection is protected. More than that it is vital that this son of Newport (Caerleon, Machen’s birthplace, is separated from Newport by a couple fields is all) is celebrated by the city.

Machen c.a. 1905 Wikipedia

Machen had an immense effect on the fantastic literature of the 20th, and 21st, Centuries. He has influenced the works of HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, China Mieville, and many, many more. His literary influence has spread beyond the world of literature though and has also been felt in the multi-billion dollar movie industry. Newport City Council should be celebrating this heritage and using it to promote Newport. They should not be slashing and hacking at the services that the people of Newport deserve and stripping future generations of the heritage and culture they too deserve.

So, what can be done?

Well, I’m sure that the people of the ‘port will not be taking this lying down, they can be a feisty lot when their dander is up. However those of us that are in places rather distant from mae hen wlad fy mamau can still show our support and highlight to the council the international significance of the Machen collection.

There is a form on the council website asking for feedback on the proposed cuts. It asks where in Newport you live but you can leave that blank and then tell them that you are from elsewhere in the world on page 2 of the form. You can access the feedback form here.

You could also write to Bob Bright, the current council leader

Bob Bright
Leader of Newport City Council
80 Allt-yr-yn Road
Newport
South Wales, NP20 5EF

or contact him via the council website.

I would also recommend getting in touch with the local media. The local newspaper for Newport and the surrounding area is The South Wales Argus and you can write to them here. the lcoal radio station is Capital, South Wales and you can contact them on 02920 942940(news room) or 02920 949494(studio) or use the email form here. Local television comes from ITV Wales, who can be emailed via wales@itv.com and contacted on Facebook(click), and BBC Wales who can be contacted on 02920 323 255(news room), emailed on newsonline.wales@bbc.co.uk, or via their Facebook page(click).

Newport also has two Members of Parliament, Paul Flynn and Jessica Mordin.

Paul Flynn can be contacted on 01633 262348 / 020 7219 3478 and emailed at paulflynnmp@talk21.com.

Jessica Mordin can be contacted on 01633 841725 and emailed at jessica.morden.mp@parliament.uk

Newport also has two members of the Welsh Assembly, Dame Rosemary Butler and John Griffiths.

Dame Butler can be contacted on  01633 222 523 / 0300 200 7104 and emailed at Rosemary.Butler@assembly.wales

John Griffiths can be contacted on 01633 222 302 / 0300 200 7122 and emailed at John.Griffiths@assembly.wales

(Note: for all phone numbers replace ’01, 02 or 03′ at the beginning with +442 if calling internationally)

Hopefully if enough people, nationally and internationally, kick up a stink it will help those people in Newport who want to stop this happening.

Thanks to the good folks at Wormwoodiana for spreading the word about this.

Occupy Wall Street? Aye, Right.

So, there was a call out in the US for people to occupy Wall Street inspired, no doubt, by the occupation of Tahrir Square which, coupled with mass rioting, destruction of government buildings and the military changing sides, helped end the corrupt regime of Mubarek(and bring in another one on his coat tails but that’s by the by for now).

When I first heard about the plan a couple of weeks ago I did a wee bit of a face palm. After all a) there is no way on Earth that the police in New York are going to let you get away with that b) there isn’t the wide spread anger against the government in the USA that there is/was in Egypt. The largest expression of anger that I can see, aside from sporadic events as we saw recently in Wisconsin, is that of the Tea Party, not exactly progressive in nature. I also thought that if the occupation was at all successful then a lot of people were going to get shot. The finance markets have contingencies in place should one of their financial centers be closed down, especially since a certain day ten years ago, but they will still do anything in their power to prevent it from happening.

Unsurprisingly the turn out for this event was pitiful. 1,500-2,00 dwindling to a few hundred. Unsurprising for the reasons outlined above. However the states response to the protest was kinda surprising given how few people were actually involved. There have been large numbers of arrests and people have been, to one extent or another, brutalised by the police. The video below has shocked a large number of people. If you don’t want to watch it features police using an orange net/fence to pen in a group of unarmed women who they then proceed to pepper spray into submission. like I said, brutal.

Brutal but hardly surprising. The reason for the occupation was to shut down the financial center of global capitalism. The bad guys don’t like it when you come a knocking, as has been seen countless times in the past(trigger ahoy).

Obviously it is terrible that this has happened to these poor people. The violence of the state is all the more sickening because it is portrayed as somehow legitimate. What gets my goat and bewilders me is how people can be so ignorant of their own history that they are shocked and do not expect this kind of reaction from the powers that be. Movements for social change need to be aware of their own history and need to shed the liberal lie and fetishisation of violence. The state has no such fetish for violence, it simply sees it as a tool it is willing to use. With precise and deadly skill.

If you attack the forces of capital then they will respond. You can not win by shaming them into submission. you can not vote them out of their positions of power. If it were possible do you think we would even be able to vote? If we are going to change society for the better then we need to forget the ridiculous notion that the ruling class and its agents will act in a civilised manner. The only use they have for civilised behaviour is as a tool with which to try and shame us into inaction.

They have been pepper spraying us, beating us, imprisoning us, shooting us and executing us for as long as we have been trying to make the world a resource for all to enjoy rather than but a privileged few. If you want to change the world then educate yourself. Read about where we have succeeded and where we have failed. Educate yourself about the lengths to which the ruling class will go to maintain their grasp over the produce of our collective labour.

For more information on the history of class struggle and how it is waged today then see the links below.