We Shall Overcome at Christmas

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We live in a culture that is, in my opinion, becoming increasingly toxic. As fascism creeps into our society so the cultural air becomes poisonous. It’s a toxic culture that says it’s every man for himself, that those we see on the street or signing on at the Job centre are sub-human, that it’s their own fault and they should be looked down on. What’s more it teaches us that ‘these people’ are ‘costing us money’ and that it’s you, Joe Taxpayer that is funding their lavish benefit lifestyles. It’s spread by the vile ‘benefit porn’ we see on TV and in the newspapers.

Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester has more than it’s fair share of this. Ashton has been the experiment for the Government’s new Universal Credit and the human costs of this are high. Disabled people, carers, parents – all demonised and sanctioned, forced into starvation, many forced onto the streets by government policy. This is all expressed so well in the brilliant writing of Charlotte Hughes in her blog The Poor side of life – essential reading if you want to know what’s really happening on the front line of the Austerity wars.

wsoAs depressing as this is, Ashton is also home to a remarkable fight back. A truly beautiful expression of the best of human beings. Charlotte and others keep a weekly vigil outside Job Centre standing in solidarity with those affected. Across Tameside there are volunteers and organisations that are getting practical help to those who need it. For me no one embodies this better than Pauline Town who has taken on the We Shall Overcome banner and given it a soul. As one of the founding members of We Shall Overcome I’ve been blown away by what it has become and very connected to Pauline and the Station pub in Ashton-Under-Lyne.

Words can’t really do justice to what a special place this is. The Station stands for so many things I believe in – the power of community, supporting people who are struggling and fighting back against the toxic culture of austerity. Christmas is the hardest time of the year if you are homeless, alone, vulnerable or have mental health issues – with Austerity biting hard and cuts to so many services and budgets, there isn’t a huge amount of support out there for those in most desperate need.

I’ll be sleeping rough on the car park of the Station pub from Midnight on Sat 3rd to 8am on Sun 4th December raising funds, as part of We Shall Overcome, to meet 12 aims that will help the local homeless and those struggling in our community.

1) Greystones/Impact.
Christmas Dinner for all the homeless men at our local hostel – turkey and all the trimmings for around 70 men.
2) Infinity Initiatives.
Christmas extras for the families they are helping and sleeping bags and warm coats for their work with the homeless locally in Tameside.
3) Emmelines Parlour Pantry
Gifts for women, babies and teenagers in the Refuge as well as festive treats for their food bank.
4) Street Treats
12 draw-string bags of Christmas gifts along with warm coats and clothes for their homeless outreach.
5) Roofless
A selection of Christmas treats for outreach work in the city.
6) Pennine Pen Animal Shelter & 7) Tameside Animal Shelter
Christmas dinner and a toy for every animal in the Shelter.
8) Anthony Seddon Fund
Help for patients in the Acute Mental Health ward at Tameside Hospital. Budget cuts have bitten and many have no family to support them on Christmas Day. We want to provide 40 gift packs for the patients there.
9) Pennine Mencap
We want to give them a special Christmas social to show them that people out there do care.
10) Christmas Hampers
Ten hampers for elderly, vulnerable or disabled people who have been supported with food parcels by the We Shall Overcome family at The Station pub.
11) Tameside Against The Cuts
Ten food parcels helping those who have been sanctioned by the Job Centre.
12) Manchester Activists Network
Deliver extra food and essentials to the young people in the squat in Manchester to see them through Xmas

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