Shane Collins has lived in Brixton for about 24 years.
Shane is the Green Party Drugs spokesperson and parliamentary candidate for Dulwich and West Norwood. He is also a board member of the Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group.
Shane has a high media profile and is a well known Green Activist.
Below is an abridged version of Shane's interview:
02.30 I feel there are lots of different communities in Brixton. It is not like it was 20 years ago. There are a lot of people that work out of Brixton and commute back in. They don’t participate in Brixton life in the same way as 10 or 15 years ago when there were a lot of artists and cultural people in the area who squatted here because it was cheap housing. They did jobs in the community within the arts side of Brixton. The community and culture was much stronger then because their work and hobbies were the same.
04:59 I was part of a community arts group called CoolTan Arts that squatted empty factories and put on arts exhibitions. I got involved with them at the old CoolTan Suntan Lotion Factory on Effra road. We opened up a Green Party office, which became a springboard for lots of other political campaigns that we provided office space for: The Anti-Roads Movement in the early 90s, Reclaim the Streets, and Freedom Network, which is a network of groups campaigning against the Criminal Justice Bill. The mixture of art and politics is a very powerful one, and that is what we had. We challenged the corporate power. It is worth remembering that we were winning. We lost a few battles but we stopped the road-building plan. It went from £26 billion to £3 billion. It is important to remember victories. In the 90s we were winning and we can win again.
06:03 There are two types of squatting. What we were doing was taking on empty factories, not primarily for people to live in. It was mainly about returning spaces to the community. There is certainly a need for residential squatting now because there is a huge housing shortage, a huge waiting list of about 1.5million people, which roughly equates to the 2million council houses that have been sold in the last 20 years and unfortunately are not being rebuilt. There is still a need for more cultural squatting. Of putting on exhibitions, community centres, youth projects because the state can’t provide it. If there is an empty building not being put to use and people have a valid reason to use it then it is still legal to squat.
07:21 I joined the Green Party because of climate change in 1989. It was becoming plainly apparent that climate change was going to become an unstoppable force unless we changed our behaviour as bunches of individuals and as a society. I was very concerned about the IPCC Report in the late 80s and early 90s. I came across the Green Party stall at the 1989 European Elections. I had always been involved in Anti- Nuclear stuff. The Green Party seemed to encompass all that I felt. I have been involved with them ever since.
08:14 We have to make provision for future generations. We can’t use up all the resources and create all the pollution so that our children and grandchildren have an absolutely appalling standard of life. If you ask anybody that question logically they will agree with you. But if you don’t ask the question then people just carry on their normal lifestyles in a growth, material, and advertising led society. That’s what is happening and that’s why we need the Green Party, an environmental movement to say we cannot carry on like this. There are limits to our expansion. A limit to what we can exist on. Before oil was discovered in 1865, the world population was 1.6billion, and it had gradually crept up over the last 750 thousand years. When oil was discovered, suddenly we were like bees in honey. Our population now, 150 years later is 6.4billion. Our population has expanded hugely based on cheap energy and cheap oil. And we are now at the peak of oil production. Next year it will probably start dropping. It is already going up in price because the demand is more than production can sustain. Our whole way of life is going to get shaken hugely in the next 5-10 years. We are heading for a Recession. It is very likely going to be a Depression. We are already involved in resource wars around the world. Greens understands this and is already preparing for a transition past a fossil fuel age. Back into using current sunlight through various myriad forms.
12.34 Change is inevitable. The first thing people have to realise is that there are going to be huge changes. We need to prepare for this. We need to be more comfortable living with less. Because it will be living with less and if you are not used to it then it can be very uncomfortable. We need to learn how to survive by ourselves, be a bit more independent. Have a better understanding of how food is grown, how to cook cheaply and well.
14.01 The Green Party’s Drug Policy is about Harm Reduction. It starts from an understanding that if you prohibit a market for which there is a demand, all you do is create a criminal market. Around 10% of the population take some sort of illegal drugs. Amongst under 25’s it is 15-20%. They can’t buy it legally so they buy it illegally. The criminal drugs market is worth about £8billion a year. The government at the moment is gifting that to criminal fraternity. The government estimate that 57% of crime committed in the UK is done to feed a drug habit. The Green view is that we have to ride above our personal preference and recognise that a small but significant percentage of the population take drugs that are currently illegal. So we just have to accept that and have a system whereby the least amount of harm come to those drug-takers, and society at large. At the moment the drugs policy is causing disintegration of communities because of a very high crime rate. We need communities to be cohesive for the coming peak oil recession/depression. Marijuana’s medical effects are well known now and continuously ignored by the government. It is a cheap medicine that anyone can grow for a variety of ailments – multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and depression. All these uses are being clamped down on by the government under the guise of the “War on Drugs”. Actually it is a war on some drugs and a war on people who use drugs. It leads to corruption at all levels of society. The threat of violence, or actual violence has brought a lot of guns and knives into the community. It corrupts police - we have all heard of the Steven Lawrence case and the McPherson Report. It goes right up to government level. Most South American countries depend on drug money to get money to pay for political campaigns. Probably the most notorious example is the CIA giving clear pathway to Contra drug dealers from Nicaragua. They turned a blind eye as long as the money went back to the Contras to fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. 200 tonnes of drugs a year went into the system in Los Angeles. If the CIA hadn’t let these things happen in the early 80s then Britain, America and Europe wouldn’t have anything like the crack cocaine problem they have at the moment. They did it because it suited them politically. Maybe it was a way also of getting down what was at the time quite a big revolutionary movement in America – The Panthers, the Yippies (Youth International Party), and various other groups who were causing social change. We want to bring the situation back within legal control, and stop it being a free for all. We don’t want drugs for sale in the supermarket. But cannabis, which is one of the largest drugs here, should be sold in cannabis cafes, with clear information on its origin, and there should be age limits set. It works in Holland. Less people smoke cannabis now in Holland than in Britain, and they have half the rate of heroin addiction compared to Britain. Therefore half the rate of crime, less repressive policing, and less repressive laws. It makes sense all round.
21.19 Crime associated with drugs is mainly done to feed crack and smack habits. We want to go back to the old British system that operated here up to the 70s. If somebody had a heroin problem they were treated as somebody who was ill. They were registered with the NHS, with a GP, and given a prescription dose of heroin. What is the affect of that? If the addict can get free, clean heroin, they are not going to have to steal or see a dealer. There will be less crime, less dealers, and therefore less new addicts, less prostitution for women, less thieving for men. Just by treating people through the NHS we would cut crime hugely. That works in Holland. Unfortunately drugs policy in this country is based on ideology and fear, not evidence.
23.18 This year we are doing the litter picking and recycling for the Lambeth Country Show. I am involved with the Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group. We are putting on a Debate Tent. It will be the public asking questions roughly around community safety. The main idea is that any member of the public can ask a question of people who supposedly represent us in Lambeth. We are also doing two Brixton Tea Party cake and tea stalls to raise money for the Urban Green Fair, which is a festival in Brockwell Park that is looking at peak oil issues and climate change and how to “skill-up for power-down”.
24.43 My parents getting divorced led to a very different life for me. Going to Brazil for Carnival in 1988 had a pretty major effect on my life. Going to a place where I imagined everyone would be very poor and unhappy and finding a place where everybody was poor, but communally poor. It was a shared poverty and people were actually very happy. Or, far more happy than a lot of people I had known in England where poverty is a much more individualised experience. That taught me a big lesson about the power of humanity.
27.05 The main idea affecting my life is sustainability in its truest, old-fashioned sense. The idea that we have to make huge changes in our society now if we are to carry on. It might sound dramatic but if we go over the 2 degree centigrade tipping point in terms of climate change, our life will become nasty, brutish and short again. We have to avoid that. We have to create the overall conditions where sharing and cooperation are the things that make sense to do. We have 6 or 7 years to make 60 % cuts in CO2 emissions otherwise we will go over that 2 degree tipping point. We are on a flood plain. If an ice sheet melts and the water level goes up a meter or 2 we are in deep shit. Green activism work is trying to make sure people are aware of this. At the end of the day you have got to do it yourselves. There is information out there but people have to have the inclination, enthusiasm and energy to change their own lifestyles.
30.28 I don’t think you can make generalisations about the youth of today. There is no doubt that they live in a very sanitised world where corporation (big brother) controls large parts of our lives. Advertising and public relations are an extremely powerful and pervasive force that most people are not aware of because we live so deeply embedded in it. There seem to be a lot of youth concerned with looking cool, and having the right material things. But there is also a lot of youth that see through that and see that personal relationships, how you get on, your standing in the community are far more important: If you treat people with respect they are much more likely to treat you with respect. That is a lesson that every age group, every individual, every generation of youth grow up living through.
32.12 Change is going to happen in a massive way whether you like it or not. You can either shape up and help to steer the change or you will get left behind. There is a limited amount of space on the lifeboat... A message to the youth would be: Don’t believe the hype. There are a lot of people trying to distract you into buying things but there are a lot more serious, long-term things going on.