No to NATO; Yes to the NHS (4/4)

by Phil Wilayto, Friday, July 15, 2018

See “My Peace Travels Around Europe” Part 1: On the Road for Peace, Part 2: Civil Resistance at Ramstein, Part 3: Belgium, the Lands the Congolese Made Rich

LONDON, ENGLAND, Sunday, July 15 — Friday morning I could have looked out my window and seen a huge blimp designed to look like a baby Donald Trump, in diapers, hovering near the Parliament building. The blimp had blond hair, orange skin and small hands, one of them holding a cellphone, and a nasty scowl worthy of The Donald himself.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – JULY 13: Demonstrators raise a six meter high effigy of Donald Trump, being dubbed the ‘Trump Baby’, in Parliament Square in protest against the U.S. President’s current visit to the United Kingdom on July 13, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. The President of the United States and First Lady, Melania Trump, touched down yesterday in the UK on Air Force One for their first official visit. Today the President will visit Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers and take tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The headline-grabbing blimp was part of Friday’s massive protests against Trump’s visit to England and Scotland. Media reports put the London turnout at more than 100,000. More protests took place on Saturday.

Statements by protest organizers made it clear that popular anger against the U.S. president is based on his racism, misogyny, promotion of xenophobia and the incredibly cruel policies he has ordered against mainly Central American immigrants to the United States, forcibly separating families, some of whom may never be reunited. So the protests weren’t about any particular anti-United Kingdom policies on Trump’s part, but rather an expression of international solidarity with his victims, which I found very inspiring. There was also a strong antiwar component to the marches and rallies, led by organizations like the Stop the War Coalition.

Trump’s visit to England, during which he has avoided London itself, follows his bull-in-a-china-shop act at the NATO Summit held July 11-12 in Brussels, Belgium.

After showing up 40 minutes late for the first scheduled meeting – thus allowing him to hog the media coverage with his imperial arrival – Trump demanded that the alliance’s 29 members immediately double their military spending from their previously agreed-on goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024, to 4 percent, effective immediately, which would have resulted in even more severe cutbacks in domestic spending on social services.

Spinning on a dime, he then went on to sign a joint NATO agreement reaffirming the previous 2 percent goal, and claimed that his 4 percent demand was the reason for the joint statement. The end result was no change in NATO’s already devastating spending commitments, but a big media boost for Trump, which he doubtless hopes will burnish his image back home as a hard-charging dealmaker. (Note: The 2 percent goal, a wasteful and unnecessary hardship for taxpayers in NATO countries, was first demanded by President Barack Obama at the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales.)

More importantly, the NATO leaders agreed to strengthen their ability to “deter” Russia and further develop the infrastructure needed to move military forces around Europe. In other worlds, they are preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia – which has a military budget just 7 percent that of the 29-member Trans-Atlantic alliance.

Arriving In London, Trump gave an interview to the right-wing Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper in which he sharply criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May for what he called her weak approach to Brexit, Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. He ominously added that he might oppose working out a separate post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, and offhandedly commented that one of May’s right-wing party rivals would make a great prime minister.

Then, just hours later, he turned around and called his own Star interview “fake news,” saying he was fine with whatever Brexit approach May might take and that he was sure the U.S. and UK would negotiate a great new trade deal.

In other words, it was just the Rump being the Rump: part showman, part huckster, part egomaniac and part master manipulator, kicking over the dinner table and then picking up the best pieces of the ruined dinner for himself.

But back to Brussels.

After our meetings in Copenhagen, which I feel confident will result next May in the largest show of international solidarity yet with the anti-fascist movement in Ukraine, I flew to Brussels for the anti-NATO conferences and march.

On Saturday, July 7, I was an invited speaker at a conference sponsored by the World Peace Council (http://wpc-in.org), an international network of peace groups founded in 1949-50. Delegates came from 15 countries, including Germany, Greece, Poland, Italy, Serbia and Nepal. The network’s U.S. affiliate, the U.S. Peace Council, is also affiliated with the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), which I am representing on this European trip. The conference was presided over by WPC Executive Secretary Iraklis Tsavdaridis, of the Greek Committee for International Détente and Peace.

My talk focused on the dominant role the U.S. plays in NATO and how it’s the U.S. that’s holding military maneuvers right up to the borders of Russia, not the other way around. I also appealed for support for WPC participation in the local Odessa solidarity actions that will take place on May 2, 2019, the 5th anniversary of the massacre of scores of democracy activists by a fascist-led mob at the House of Trade Unions in Odessa, Ukraine.

To date, not one of the murderers, clearly identifiable on many Internet-posted cellphone videos of the massacre, have been brought to justice, thanks to obstruction by the Ukrainian government, which came to power in February 2014 in a U.S.-backed coup that relied heavily on support from these same fascist groups. The WPC has been very supportive of the relatives of those who died on May 2 and we’re hoping it will encourage all its affiliates to hold local actions in 2019.

You can view my talk here: https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipM1iovxt6f-hkEa6sn6xDWK3V9_ln-IRJd4EB2I

After the WPC conference, there was a march of about 2,500 people through downtown Brussels involving a wide range of peace and social justice organizations. The unified demand was that NATO should be abolished. Spirits were high, with lots of loud chanting and colorful, creative banners and signs.

One group held a banner in solidarity with U.S. political prisoners, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, other still-imprisoned members of the Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier and Kevin Rashid Johnson, a prisoner leader the Defenders were in touch with when he was held at Virginia’s Red Onion SuperMax prison. Rashid is now back in that hellhole, along with Virginia Prison Justice Network co-founder Askari Danso. The European group had lost contact with Rashid, and I think I’ve been able to get them connected again.

The next day I attended a conference organized by the No to NATO Coalition, of which UNAC is a member organization.  Among the featured speakers were No to NATO leaders Rainer Braun, Kristine Karch and Lucas Wirl.

This time my talk was about the origins of U.S. military bases as colonial-era fortresses designed to cement European control over stolen Indian lands in Virginia, and then the development of a largely Southern-based network of bases founded as staging areas to suppress slave rebellions. (For example, the famous Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, was founded in direct response to the attempted rebellion in Charleston led by formerly enslaved Denmark Vesey, born Telemaque.)

I also suggested that European peace activists could use the U.S. demand that all NATO members increase their military spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product as a way to appeal to their working classes to oppose NATO.

You can view the talk here: https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipNxIryizouwTb-KdSLQqKZCOhp731peOsGMzxGp

By the way, I was the only activist in Brussels to speak at both the WPC and No to NATO conferences. UNAC is trying to work with all forces on a principled basis. After all, in this period when we are facing wars and the threat of war all across the world, antiwar forces are at their weakest point in a very long time. When I represented UNAC at anti-NATO events in Warsaw, Poland, in 2016, the WPC conference was attended by about 75 people. This year there were 36. The No to NATO conference in 2016 was about 150 people; this year there were about 100. Organisers here in Europe said the turnouts of about 2,500 people each at the Ramstein and Brussels protests were noticeably lower than in previous years.

Back in the States, this spring UNAC was able to work with other U.S. groups to sponsor some 40 protests called the Spring Actions, but only a few were able to turn out as many as 1,000 people.

UNAC isn’t going to compromise on its fundamental principles of opposition to all U.S. wars and interventions and support for the right of oppressed peoples to self-determination. But within that framework, it’s possible to work with many organizations with which we have differences. Hopefully this view will prevail, or we’re all in for a very rough ride. UNAC is one of the organizations sponsoring an international conference to oppose U.S. and NATO bases to be held this November in Dublin, Ireland, and we’re hoping all antiwar forces will participate.

So that was Brussels:  a lovely city with impressive old buildings built with the wealth extracted from the Congo at a cost of 10 million African lives. Congolese cacao became the famous Belgian chocolates. I even saw a small street named after King Leopold II, who in 1885 seized the Congo as his own personal fiefdom. Ten million lives. A trademark of that personal colonial rule was cutting off the hands of Congolese men, women and children who didn’t work hard enough on Leopold’s plantations to please their Belgian masters.

When the country finally gained its independence in 1960, its first prime minister, the great Patrice Lumumba, proved too independent for Belgium which, with help from the CIA, had him brutally assassinated. (For information about current events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, see Friends of the Congo, also a UNAC affiliate)

After the No to NATO conference, and a few beers with friends at a sidewalk café, I got a good night’s sleep and the next morning boarded a high-speed train to London, passing through the Belgian and French countrysides and then zipping 380 feet under the English Channel through the 31-mile-long rail tunnel known as the “Chunnel.”

Once in London, I found my AirBnB (only $38 a night) and headed out to the nearest restaurant, called the Mayflower. Believe it or not, this is the bar (“pub”) where the Pilgrims had a few before heading out on the ship the Mayflower for the so-called “New World,” landing at Plymouth Rock and thus launching the mythology about how “America” was founded by religious dissidents looking for religious freedom.

Actually, the first permanent English colony in what would become the United States was founded on the banks of the James River (real name: the Powhatan) in Virginia. The settlement was named Jamestown, after the English King who “generously” gave vast tracts of Indian land to members of the Virginia Company of London, the world’s first shareholder corporation.

That was in 1607. Twelve years later, the English ship White Lion docked at Jamestown and the colonists bought about 20 captured Africans to work on their tobacco plantations, beginning the process that developed into commercial-level chattel slavery.

Meanwhile, the religious freedom-seeking Pilgrims established their colony, which eventually prohibited religious freedom to anyone but Pilgrims.

So I was now on my sixth stop, London, with plans to meet with a leftist group that had held events in solidarity with Odessa. Unfortunately, I woke up in the middle of the first night gasping for breath. I called Ana, who insisted I get to a hospital, and she quickly found the closest one: St. Thomas, which turned out to be one of the best cardiology hospitals in the country and right across the Thames River from the British Parliament building.

The next morning I took an Uber to the hospital, was admitted, and spent the next five days there. Seems the old ticker wasn’t hitting like it should, causing fluids to enter my lungs. This is why I had been feeling tired and out of breath on the trip. I thought I was getting old, but fortunately, it was just my heart. Whew!

And so began my introduction to the National Health Service of Great Britain.

Anyone who tells you that we have the best health care system in the world either doesn’t know any better or is just BS-ing you. The U.S. may have some of the most advanced medicine, but it’s only there if you can afford it. In the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), health care is free. If you want to, you can go to a private doctor and pay through the nose, but the same doctors also work for the NHS. The only difference, beside the money, is you might see a private specialist sooner.

In the U.S., you’re free to see any doctor you can afford, but how much you’ll pay and what level of service you’ll get depends on your insurance, which depends on how much money you have. Even after you qualify for Medicare at age 65, you still pay something to see a doctor, more for a specialist and something for meds, which can be expensive. Here in England, all services for UK citizens are free, including medications.

During my stay at St. Thomas I must have been attended to by more than 20 doctors, nurses, specialists and assistants. And they came from all over the world: Poland, Chile, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana, Gayana, Portugal, France and I forget how many more.

I’ve known a lot of very dedicated health professionals in the U.S., but there definitely is a difference here. All the people working at the hospital seem to feel they have a mission to provide the best possible care for their patients, whom they treat as equal human beings, not “customers” or “consumers.”

So far, at least four health care workers, including two doctors, have told me they literally don’t understand the concept of charging for health care. They think it’s something society should just provide all its members – that’s it’s a basic human right. All of them could make more money working for the private sector, but they seem to think it’s a privilege to serve the public.

The only other time I’ve felt this attitude from public employees, as a group, was when I visited Cuba back in 1991. The difference is that in the UK health care is financed by taxes, while in Cuba it’s financed from what would be profits paid to business owners. That’s an example of social-democracy vs. socialism. Another difference is that in the UK free national health care is under attack by right-wing elements in society and the government. 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS, and its unions have adopted the slogan “Celebrate and Defend.” There is no such threat to socialized health care in revolutionary Cuba.

Not only that, but everyone – doctors, nurses, technicians, porters, medical specialists – everyone seems politically conscious and definitely to the left in their politics. Along with the other patients, we had long discussions about unions, NATO, Brexit, the wars in the Middle East and North Africa, Trump and the anti-Trump protests.  One doctor brought me a photo of the Trump blimp, saying, “I thought this would cheer you up!”

I love my country, but don’t let anyone tell you we have the best of everything. We have the best that money can buy, whether it’s health care or education or justice in the courts system. England is a capitalist country, just like the U.S., but it has strong unions and left movements that fought for and won a national health care system that provides excellent and humane medical care to all its citizens, and excellent free emergency care to foreigners. So yes, there is a solution to the health care crisis in the U.S.: a free, national health care service.

So today is Day 20 of my European Journey for Peace. It’s been an amazing experience: getting arrested blocking the gates to a U.S air base in Germany; marching and speaking for peace there and in Brussels; meeting with anti-fascist activists in Vienna and Copenhagen; and now experiencing first-hand in London how “socialized” medicine works in practice.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the expenses of this trip. I traveled as cheaply as possible, stayed with friends or in AirB&Bs and paid for my own meals, but the expenses have still added up, including the $232 fine I had to pay for the civil disobedience action at Ramstein.

If you’d like to make a modest contribution, just log onto: https://gofundme.com/help-me-work-for-peace

Take care everyone, and see you soon on the barricades.

For a World of Justice & Peace for All,

Phil Wilayto

Editor, The Virginia Defender
Coordinator, Odessa Solidarity Campaign
Member, UNAC Administrative Committee

3 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
18 − 14 =