Flex Photography Blog – 22 September 2014

Medway Speakers’ Corner

by Joanne Murray

High noon on Saturday saw Chathamites ready to duel… with words!

Medway Speakers’ Corner (MSC) was pitched by the Anchor, on Military Road in Chatham, for an exposition of free speech and equality. This was an opportunity for the people of Medway to, well, speak! On this open forum, developed by the Speakers’ Corner Trust, working with the local MSC Committee, we heard a wide variety of people express their views, from those who had come to speak, to passers-by, who stopped, heard and were moved to vent their own opinions. Despite the common apathy that we hear so much about in today’s Media, it was encouraging to hear that so many people do feel passionate about our society and want to strive to make it  better place, for all of us!

Tom de Havas spoke about several issues, including our education system. He was concerned that there is a “clever / not clever” divide, which he believes causes more problems than it solves. He used an analogy of different types of transport serving different needs, to make the point that the different types of “clever” serve different needs in our society and so should be equally valued and encouraged, within education.

Zoë Kuhn replied to Tom’s exposition, with concerns that parents may be excessively passing responsibility for their own children’s needs on to the state. She stated that she did not see a problem with the separation of pupils by ability and that she didn’t think it was the school’s job to make education more interesting. Instead, she is more concerned about the “nanny state” and wants parents to, “make more of an effort, to work on children’s interests, rather than expecting schools to do everything.”

Jack Wood spoke about the prevalence in the Media of discussion on the vote for Scottish Independence. He believes that the whole vote was a waste of time and was in fact a set up, for Scotland to gain more powers, being “bought off” with additional powers, if they stayed in union.

One homeless man passionately shared with us all about losing everything: his passport, his everything. He spoke about sleeping outside and how this is not what he had imagined life would be, when he came to this country.

Azhar Ahmedi spoke about feminism and what he claims to be misrepresentation of women in Islam. He was concerned that people seem to, “be more interested in what they look like, rather than who they are”. He bemoaned how women are portrayed in the Media, calling it, “nothing short of exploitation of the fairer sex”. To illustrate his point, he claimed that, “women who read the news are quit photogenic, while the men are more ordinary-looking.” He also went on to denounce the disrespect he has encountered locally for prophets, including Muhammad (pbuh).

Another lady spoke about Jesus. She explained that Jesus does not want “religion”. Religion causes wars! She stated that Jesus died on the Cross, for us. He forgives anything, whatever. All you have to do is to ask Jesus into your life. She claimed that if it weren’t for Jesus, she would not be here today. She explained that people just see her size but there are reasons for her weight. That doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has saved her life.

The atmosphere was so inclusive that I also got up and spoke. I spoke about issues within our local Mental Healthcare system, particularly the transition from Primary to Secondary Care in Psychological Services. I encouraged listeners to stand together, to speak out against long waiting lists and insufficient care of people who are among the most vulnerable in our society. I also spoke about the lack of awareness, from the general public to healthcare professionals themselves, about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Complex PTSD in women. This is a subject very close to my heart and I hope to help women suffering from this condition. If this is an issue which you think could be affecting you or someone you know, please check out the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/RAPCW. I also shared some political poetry, along with other poets, including local poet and singer, Connor Betts, who shared a couple of cool, contemporary poems.

Chloë Goldsmith, a teenage girl from Rochester, was prompted to also speak about mental health care in Medway. She spoke about GPs being ready to prescribe anti-depressants, while making patients wait in excess of five months (and counting!) for basic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. She echoed my appeal for people to come together to enact change, stating that, “If we’re all together, we have got a better chance of making change!”

Chloë also questioned the illegality of cannabis use, citing the fact that cannabis will be removed from a user but a can of beer will not be removed from a drunk person. She claimed that people intoxicated with alcohol cause more damage than people who have used cannabis.

She also went on to disclaim “slut shaming”, with her friend, Elyssa Donoghue. They exerted that it is wrong to call girls, “sluts” and that “slut shaming” (publicly airing a girl’s sexual behaviour, in a bid to make them feel ashamed of their actions) was very damaging and unfair. Elyssa explained that a girl’s body is her own and it is her own decision as to what she chooses to wear or do with it. She questioned why that is anybody else’s business. Both girls stated that we all have equal rights, to express our opinions and views, whether we be gay or straight, young or old or whatever differences we might have. We should all be treated equally.

This is very much in keeping with the premise for the Speakers’ Corner Trust, which states on www.speakerscornertrust.org that, “The format of Speakers’ Corner meetings should reflect the equality of participants, including speakers…” This was never more prevalent than when Roy Smith, Chair of the Medway Speakers’ Committee, asked for input from those gathered, as to how they suggest we could structure the input of speakers, to encourage people to speak but also protect the people. This was sparked by one man, who was intoxicated and had been given the stage but had become a little aggressive with passers-by and had wanted to speak again. This was a difficult situation which, after he had left (at the suggestion of his friend), prompted Roy to ask the question. Several people shared their thoughts, to encourage speakers and avoid censorship, whilst keeping the forum accessible to all, when difficult situations arise. If you have thoughts on this, why not come to the next MSC event and air your opinions?

Roy Smith also spoke about concepts of reality and questioned what is “real / not real”, as well as sharing some very entertaining poetry. I asked for Roy’s thoughts on today’s event and his passion for the people of Medway was clear, as he explained, “Today’s speaker’s corner had a great mix of new faces stepping up to have their say. I was really impressed by some of the younger speakers, who took to the podium to speak about issues ranging from Scottish Independence to feminism and equality. This was our third event and we are learning a lot. It’s great to see people stopping to listen for a few minutes and some longer and the feedback from the public has been generally positive. There is always the occasional heckler and a few people who don’t understand why we are doing this, but most people seem to appreciate speaker’s corner for the intriguing thing it can be.”

I can second this, as it was a wonderful sight to behold, seeing the young and the old, the shoppers and those in the area to hang out, skateboarders and mothers with children, homeless and professionals all coming together, to listen and to be heard. Several individuals spoke in response to others and this also led to fascinating discussions between people from different walks, within those gathered around. Personally, I believe that communication between people who do not usually encounter each other is a vital aspect of community and events such as Medway Speakers’ Corner are excellent facilitators of exactly this form of rapidly diminishing communication.

There is so much negativity circulating around the image of the Medway Towns; not least purported by its own inhabitants. But, do we not indeed make the Medway Towns what it is? Do we, the people of Medway, not constitute the creature itself? Surely it is up to us, to decide whether it is a beast or a thing of beauty. We hear, from different sources, that there is little point in striving for positive change but it is down to us, which voices we heed. Roy shares these concerns. “One of the worrying things I’ve come across is the amount of people who feel negatively about where they live. Luckily there are always people about who feel differently. I hope MSC can become a gathering point for people who want to change things for the better.” Hear here, Roy.

Finally, if you are in two minds as to whether their next event is worth attending: if you are questioning whether or not what you have to say is really appropriate or whether people will want to hear what you have to say, please know that this is an open stage, for all to be heard. There is no decision-maker, with an agenda to push. This is by the people of Medway and for the people of Medway. Without you, it does not exist.

This is evident in Roy’s statement that, “Medway Speaker’s Corner aims to give public platforms to local people to speak about things they are passionate about, whether that is politics, religion, arts, social issues or any other topic. We also welcome poets, story tellers and singers who would like to perform. Medway Speaker’s Corner is always looking for volunteers to help with running events and developing more opportunities for people to be heard. Find out more at www.medwayspeakerscorner.com.

Whether you would like to reply to views expressed from this MSC or have something completely different to express, I hope to see you at the next Medway Speaker’s Corner event!

Check out the Medway Messenger (part of the KM group of newspapers), for a summary article, written by and photographed by yours truly! Link to follow.

View gallery of the event.

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