Balnacra Arts & Pottery by Vicky Stonebridge

speaking out.

I wear many hats, some overlap, many carry responsibilities. Being an artist is all about communication, being an activist is all about uncovering the truth and the greater good. Being censored is one of the worse things you can do to an artist. We know that people who speak out will get into trouble and get punished, We know that women who speak out in particular get silenced, bullied, repressed. Of course it is hard to prove when repression is gender based, we women live with it our whole lives, ‘ it must be me’, ‘what did i do wrong?’. It is hard to combat when it is subtle and insidious. I feel UK culture is very much a censoring one, what will the neighbours say? don’t create a fuss, button it, stiff upper lip. In the workplace there seems to be a particular climate of fear these days, in society a general fear, a need to conform and not stand out, to blend into the crowd, don’t speak, don’t act, don’t draw attention to yourself, cross the road, don’t involved, look away…

The leveson Inquiry, is raising lots of questions about what is in the public interest, censorship and privacy. The SOPA and PIPA issues this week and online blackouts have been subjects of great debate, protecting creative rights and information verses protecting freedom of information, freedom to create. Ironic then that i find myself again getting into trouble for speaking out.

I write and talk about politics a lot. All things are political. This has cost me facebook peer/colleagues and created enmity with a couple of folks in the small world of comics publishing. My personal honesty has also cost me a friends/collaborator or two in other spheres.  Whats weird is it was not the political opinion or content, left / right etc, but the mere fact that i talk about issues…rather than shoes, food or whats on telly. ‘Shhhh don’t make a fool of yourself dear’, ‘oh no, is it me? what did i do wrong?’. But it’s okay as i’m sure i gain more friends/ creative connections through being myself, than those that i loose.

I am privy to a lot of information that is not for public consumption, is confidential;
local gossip. family backgrounds and medical background of young people i have worked with.
what the inside of peoples houses are like and who is in who’s house on occasion, via my fire service work.
Individuals work/ family/ health issues via trade union work.
Company policies and proposals that are in the offing, through Trade union work.
Health and Safety issues, near missed and dangerous occurrences, through union work.
Delicate negotiations and things under discussion, via trade union. confidential reports, internal documents.
Things that have happened in community, who earns what, who ripped who off, who’s on which benefit. Vulnerable people within the community. What happens at emergency incidents. Health and Safety reports.
Some political wheeling and dealing. Things going on the in background in charities and organisations.
Things children have revealed to me about famillies, just when i’m out and about with no hat on.
The list goes on and on.
We all have things we sit on; because it is the responsible thing to do, the legal thing to do, the employment policy, the agreement, the unspoken agreement, professional conduct, for the greater good, benefits no-one, would cause trouble, would be cruel or undignified to share, the list goes on.
I have a self censoring mental cut off switch, when i am told something this is not for sharing, i mentally file it away and almost forget i have heard or seen it, until later when it becomes public domain or a newspaper headline. If i had £1 for every time i say, ‘I’m not prepared to say’, ‘I’m not mentioning names’ etc… I’d be doing ok. But of course no-one hears this.

I believe employers in certain organisations like the banks are made to sign agreements that prevent them for speaking against their employer or saying anything negative, or discussing in any way their workplace. This to me is a violation of workers rights. It’s not like a bullying boss or an incompetent manager is a matter of national security. We also see the term ‘whistle blower’ being used in a threatening and derogatory matter, what is so wrong by exposing fraud, incompetency, anomalies, rule breaking, lies, bad practice, safety violations? What are the bosses so afraid of?  I have not had to sign any such documents in any of my work places. Confidentiality agreements with my youth and vulnerable people work, yes, that makes sense. I’ve never signed anything which stops me talking about the way any of my workplaces is organised. Yet i am constantly called out on it. Sometimes for specific reasons it would cause more trouble to go the employment grievance route and we have to find subtler, quiet and dignified strategies to deal with people who step over the bullying or unacceptable behavior line. Or we have to just put up with it, when we shouldn’t have to.

The climate of repression and fear builds up gradually. I am doing a course just now, the exercises, essays and reports require me to write up about a couple of my organisations, structure, planning, policies, problems, issues, my roles, how to resolve problem areas. Trying to do this i started to realise how much I’ve become afraid of stating the facts, i’m writing them up looking over my shoulder, watching my back. I’m being repeatedly told i should not write or speak, i should not discuss or consult. It is becoming a major issue, where to draw the line? My rights to speak out? I’m not a journalist but i see the work of an artist in a similar light, i have a right to an opinion, and to express it, i paint what i see, why should i cover up for people who do not have my or the public interest in mind? When does the artist end and the obedient unquestioning worker drone begin? Why should i cover up things that don’t need covering up? What happens when something goes wrong and there is a big inquiry? why did no-one speak up at the time? why didn’t you tell us how dangerous things were getting? We’re all trying to cover ourselves. I feel i am reaching a cusp, at what point is it for the greater good and ethically best to put up & shut up, to toe the line, and when is it the right time to walk away for freedom and free speeches sake? Do the public not have the right to know when their safety is an issue? Next public meeting make sure I only mention kittens, shopping and soap operas okay? Everything is nice, everything is lovely, move along, nothing to talk about here, don’t rock the boat now. shhhhhhhhhhh.

One comment on “speaking out.

  1. esther ward
    January 20, 2012

    A wonderful piece thank you. The main limit I place on myself is that I ask myself to spend at least twice the amount of time listening to speaking and hope that this helps me speak from a place of understanding and compassion and not just from the soapbox.

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This entry was posted on January 20, 2012 by in Blog and tagged , , , , .

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