Random Reflections of a Domestic Extremist

About Me

Taken from the prologue of 71 Arrests and Still Fighting – The Life of  a Domestic Extremist

I’m no innocent. No driven snow metaphors apply. My record speaks for itself. I’ve participated in direct action for fifteen years. During my time as an activist, I’ve blockaded things, locked onto things, occupied things and spray painted things. I’ve participated in rooftop evictions and international riots. Over the years I’ve advocated anti war actions ranging from non violent sit downs in Whitehall to smashing The City in response to war.

I believe in the power of direct action to change the world. I believe people should engage in illegal protest. History has shown we have to threaten the status quo before anything is changed. With issues such as war and climate change, there is a real necessity, a real urgency to stop these things from happening. If we don’t act now, it’ll be too late, and many people and animals will die

So I break the law, and am proud to be a small part of a long and valiant history – a history responsible for winning all the rights we hold so dear. One million people legally marching against the war through London did not change anything. Had one million people smashed The City or occupied a military base, things might have been different.

I’m also an anarchist. One of those nasty troublemakers the mainstream press loves to propagandise. Yes, I’m part of that “violent minority set on ruining things for the peaceful majority.” One of the ones the police talk about when they claim extremists have arrived at protest camps, those “veterans of Reclaim the Streets, May Days and G8 Summits”.

It’s far easier to see things in black and white, isn’t it? Far easier when the picture doesn’t start blurring and flickering until you are forced off your seat to beat the top of the telly with your fist. Do you want to see those complicated shades of grey? The ones that throw conventional assumptions into turmoil.

Like a lot of people I would like to see a world run for people not profit. I would like to put the needs of this beautiful dying planet ahead of a monstrous mega machine. I want to see workers and communities reclaiming their lives, empowering themselves to look after each other and organising themselves collectively. In many ways my beliefs are no more extreme than anyone who has ever thought about downsizing and living the Good Life. Only, I believe personal self sufficiency is not enough. Political action, political direct action, is also needed. We need to cause economic damage to force corporations and governments to listen to us.

*

It is never enough to advocate militant politics and not play an active role. There is always a good reason for not taking risks, albeit single motherhood being a particularly good one.

My love for my six year old is more powerful than anything I have experienced. A love that brings tears to my eyes every time I try to express it. A love capable of cutting so deep, it penetrates every fibre of my being, stabbing me in the stomach like a throbbing appendix needing urgent attention.

However, using this love as an excuse is a Western luxury: a Western indulgence. This love is universal, a primal feeling which transcends race and religion, class and creed. I have the luxury of being able to give in to this love, but I also feel a responsibility to mothers everywhere: a responsibility to mothers who are being bombed and battered for Western profit. The mothers whose hardship ultimately supports our decadent lifestyle through their blood, sweat and tears.

What right do I have to say fuck you to those mothers? The mothers who have just seen their beautiful toddlers blown to pieces by a British made bomb. Do I say sorry love, but I’ve got a kid now, or do I extend my solidarity to mothers everywhere? Do I evaluate the risks I am taking as being petty compared to what other mothers face on a daily basis? Do I do everything I can to fight the companies and individuals who make money selling these bombs?

Only I don’t do everything. To say I did would not be honest, and it is all too easy to make grandiose sweeping statements.

I have limits and won’t take part in actions that could lead to spending years in prison. I’m prepared to do as much as I can without risking my relationship with my son. I’m prepared to do months, not years.

I say this glibly, but it is the most terrifying prospect I’ve ever faced. I’ve been to prison three times, once when Jack was four, and the idea of being parted from him again is too extreme, too wretched.

But each time I act, I know the reality of the situation. I carry a photograph of Jack with me whenever I go away to a protest. A talisman reminding me how much I am risking, stopping myself from getting carried away.

*

Labelled a “domestic extremist”, I am frequently arrested for my beliefs rather than my actions, with a strategy of preventative policing meaning I am often dragged off and locked up without any evidence of a crime committed. Since becoming pregnant in 2003, I have been arrested over twenty times, but have only one conviction from this period, currently being appealed, for holding a piece of black cloth in front of a police camera. Some of my experiences are extreme, but they are not isolated.

All protesters, peaceful or otherwise, are actively and routinely monitored by FIT (Forward Intelligence Teams), both outside meetings, and at demonstrations. It is likely that anyone who has attended a publically advertised protest meeting during the last ten years will have been photographed and had notes taken about them. These notes are entered into a criminal intelligence database with references to the relevant photographs. The photographs themselves are stored on a separate standalone database at the Public Order Intelligence Unit. Containing details of thousands of people, many of whom have no criminal convictions, inclusion on these databases is based on unaccountable police intelligence, and has resulted in many people being labelled as potential extremists for doing nothing more than attending a meeting.

FIT were introduced by the Metropolitan Police in the early 1990s to combat football hooliganism, but by the mid 1990s were being used on protests to spot known activists and to prevent disorder by creating an overt intelligence presence.

However, their power has increased over the last ten years, aided and abetted by piece after piece of repressive legislation, and their influence now spreads throughout the entire protest movement. Described by Jacqui Smith as “harassment style policing”, tactics have ranged from arbitrary stop and searches, repeated flash photography and following known to activists, to making abusive comments, assaults, and wrongful arrests.

Deploying a range of tactics from blocking police cameras to monitoring their activities, I helped form Fitwatch in 2007 as a street level response to this intimidatory policing.  After ignoring them for many years, it became necessary to highlight and challenge not only what they were doing to us on an individual basis, but also the destructive impact they were having on all national protest movements.

Political policing is becoming notorious in the UK.  Ian Tomlinson’s death, the subsequent police cover-up and a series of high profile media exposes, including my own arrest and imprisonment at Kingsnorth Climate Camp, has ensured protest policing is finally in the public consciousness.  Things are slowly changing, but the direction and permanence of any such change is still unclear.

*

I had begun to believe my life had a defined narrative structure; I naively hoped I had cracked the story arc of my life.

I have no answers, no illuminated path. I’m a confused woman trying to get a small flicker from a match on a dark windy night. I have some days when everything makes sense. I have others where I am clueless.

If only life were as simple as writing a chapter breakdown. But this story was always going to be ambiguous because I’m still actively involved in direct action. There is no finality, no completion. No closure.

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