Activist toolbox

Urban 75 shot to national prominence early last year when commander Brian Paddick, the police chief who spearheaded a more tolerant and rational approach to cannabis use in Lambeth, became a regular contributor to the site's many discussion boards. Being openly gay and having expressed an interest in "anarchy", Paddick became a favourite whipping boy of the tabloid press, leading to his dismissal and the closure of the Lambeth cannabis scheme. However, from the point of view of U75 as a left resource, it is now on a par with Indymedia. So what does the site have to offer? As I commented in relation to Indymedia, finding a place to begin is difficult, as there are literally dozens of links. The frequently asked questions, tucked away at the foot of the page, is a good place to start, offering a short and potted history of U75's origins. This narrative is expanded on in the 'About us' area of the magazine section, providing short biographies on Mike Slocombe (U75 webmaster/guru), discussion board moderators, the kind of accolades the site has received and press coverage. The home page links are grouped under 12 headings, repeated along the top bar. Moving from right to left, the first is 'Boards'. Opening the link, we are presented with 22 forum topics under six headings. Each of these in turn comprise hundreds of threads with thousands of individual posts on practically every subject imaginable. The quality of discussion varies from intelligent and reasoned debate to vicious flame wars. Overall they are certainly not for the faint-hearted. Next along is the aptly named 'Useless', a collection of pointless games such as Downing Street fighter and Abusive fruit machine. I must admit, though, to spending some time here trading insults with the computer and taking time out to punch the likes of Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch. The 'Football' feature is quite interesting and deserves to be regularly read by all those wishing to reclaim the game. This area carries articles on the effects of the Criminal Justice Act on football fans to pieces dealing with the relationship between the game and big business. Soccer-related games are also listed, along with general football resources and links to Cardiff City (!) sites. 'Drugs' is a very interesting and valuable section. It carries the disclaimer: "This site neither condemns nor condones drug use. This resource is for people to access the facts and make their own, informed decisions." The article collection here deals with the law, drug help lines, tips on safe use, death rates and a guide to 23 different narcotics. Understandably the Paddick/Lambeth affair is covered in depth. There is some crossover here with the music section, which features some shared legal links and first aid guides, as well as the latest news from the party scene. 'Photos' is a fairly kooky page carrying the webmaster's favourite personal pictures, and providing a DIY guide to photography. The U75 magazine page is very much a varied collection of disparate links. Poems, cartoons and more games sit comfortably along with articles on internet culture, London cafes, and cyberspace self-help. But probably the most important feature on the site are the action/campaign pages. Links are grouped under eight sections. 'Direct actions' features reports, histories, photos and comment on recent and ongoing, high-profile campaigns, such as Mayday and Stop the War events. 'Issues' takes a more in-depth look at current affairs. I found the sections on the top five censored news stories particularly interesting, and there is an excellent archive of U75 material covering the 2001 general election. 'Your rights' repeats a lot of the material from 'Drugs' and 'Music' but includes advice on such matters as using the police complaints procedure. The links page is very good, listing an eclectic collection of progressive websites and contact details, alternative news sources, fanzines, spiritual sites, etc. But it was the DIY media section that caught my eye. It is truly an activist toolbox, featuring a long piece by George Monbiot on how to exploit the mainstream media, organising impromptu street parties, tips for budding squatters, small press printing and more. New and seasoned activists are guaranteed to find something useful here. Comparisons are bound to be made with the UK Indymedia website - both being anarchist-inspired independent resources. Yet both are very different: while Indymedia is news-oriented, U75 provides an unparalleled degree of depth on practically every issue under the sun. Communists could do a lot worse than spend a few hours exploring this valuable resource. Phil Hamilton