A short dialogue with Karen Reissmann. Black Lives Matter in Hulme
Karen Reissmann is a long-standing socialist, a member of the SWP in UK, and a nurse from Manchester. She is on public sector union Unison’s National Executive Committee . In March 7, 2021 she was fined £10,000 for organising a protest at NHS pay 1% offer, and in 2007 she was victimised at work for speaking out and organising against cuts and privatisation. From this pages we send a message of solidarity with her causes.
Revista Nueva Realidad(RNR): Can you tell us a little about yourself Karen?
KR: I am Karen Reissmann(KR). I have worked in the NHS in Manchester for 38 years as a mental health nurse. I have been a life-long campaigner against injustice – at work as a health worker, as a trade unionist, in my union Unison where I am on the National Executive Council and in the wider community.
RNR: What do you consider most valuable, the most important to strengthen and take care in society?
KR: I think the world is driven by the need to make profit, not to meet the needs of all. Ordinary people suffer as a result. You can feel that the world gives you no control. The only way we can fight against this is when we act collectively. This makes us feel less powerless, and can inspire and strengthen people. We need to have principles, a clear strategy to fight for what is right and solidarity with those who are challenging inequalities.
RNR: What is the ingredient or element that you consider necessary to enhance the quality of life?
KR: You need to have things like food, warmth, shelter, safety and security before you can talk about quality of life. These can only be gained when we work together collaboratively. I think that collaboration, the social contact energy of working with others, making choices together about the priorities, what we want from life, is the key to quality.
RNR: How do you think is going to be the New Reality after the Covid-19 pandemic?
KR: It depends. If the people in charge like our government continue to (and are allowed to) make decisions based on how to maximise profits and how to blame and scapegoat anybody but themselves for the consequences of their decisions, then things will be terrible for the majority of people. They will be asked to pay the price. The pandemic has both made clearer to people and made worse the existing inequalities in society. It is possible that people will rise up against this, like they did over the death of George Floyd in Black Lives Matter and begin to change society for the better. It is possible to control Covid 19 if you put money and energy into a Find, Test, Track, Trace, Isolate and Support system which can leave us without the huge disruptions we have now. People will have to mobilise to make this happen and then rather than just return to “old normal” we might return to a better world with better priorities, better and kinder politics, welcoming people from anywhere in the world, dealing with climate change, feeding/housing all, not just those we make money out of.
RNR: What do you think about recent politics?
KR: Parliament feels remote, with little opposition to what is awful in the world. But politics in the street, like our little weekly Take the Knee in Hulme here I live, which has gone on since George was killed, inspires me, and gives me hope. That sort of politics I love, the real actions of ordinary people together.
RNR: Can you tell us about the Black Lives Matter movement and your participation? How is growing in your community?
KR: I live a mile out of Manchester City Centre. When George Floyd was killed, nearly everyone was outraged. We were still in Covid lockdown restrictions. There were some big protests in Manchester centre of 15,000, which I went to but felt a bit unsafe. So we decided to set up local protests where we lived. I started with people who had done the clap for the NHS and other key workers in my street, and others in labour Party who I knew. We Took The Knee in our local park and decided to do it every week same time. 6 months later we are still doing it. Sometimes we just Take The knee, sometimes we offer solidarity. For example we marched to the university blocks in solidarity with students locked in due to Covid and blamed by our government. Sometimes we have talks, eg. from a Nigerian woman about the massacres there. Others about mental health, criminalisation of Drill music, education etc. Despite the dark and cold, we are determined to keep going, 43 this week, we have developed a solidarity.
RNR: What it would be the strategy for social movements to fight against conservatives and xenophobic groups?
KR: We need to oppose inequality such as racism, sexism. Uniting the biggest numbers possible – Black and White, men and women and those who identify as neither etc. White people don’t benefit from racism, capitalism does, and when we oppose racism we fight for a better world for both Black and white working class people. We also have to oppose the class inequalities in which racism grows. So when people don’t have a job, a home, a hospital bed, we don’t blame each other but blame a society which consistently takes from working class people. It encourages us to fight each other over the scraps. We need to say we will fight together against the racism and the attacks on our living standards and the priorities of this world which always leave us out. We can only fight the attacks if we have united and to unite we need to oppose the racism and sexism and other inequalities.