Got Me Some JUSTICE!

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Personal Blog 22/5/2018

First and foremost I want to express my infinite gratitude to all my friends and family for putting up with me these last three years or so. In particular, singular thanks to my excellent solicitor, Anna Thwaites of Bindman’s LLP. for helping me successfully pursue restorative justice. These are my personal reflections on getting nicked, being vindicated at trial and successfully pursuing legal action against the police, who have not accepted liability but have paid a reasonable settlement out of court. 

I am overwhelmingly relieved to discover that there is not only just us, there is sometimes also justice. I feel very privileged to have been born in a country where institutions like the Legal Aid Agency and solicitors like Bindmans LLP exist.

It has been extremely difficult not being able to talk about ‘my case’ these last three years. Ironically now that it’s been settled, I don’t really want to talk about it. I feel obliged and compelled to share my experience though, for my own sanity, for those who care and for those who are interested.

Context

Almost Three Years Ago, I was arrested while livestreaming from Runnymede Eco Village who were hosting the Festival for Democracy, which was a folk gathering of peace activists, environmental activists, students and hippies. The event was intended to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta being signed. I was there to learn some history, to relax, to perform some music with friends and move in for a bit. Runnymede eco-village was an amazing place, which was later shamefully destroyed by bailiffs. I’m gutted that I didn’t get to spend time there before it was demolished.

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As far as I understood it, the organisers of the festival had permission from the local council and the police months in advance of the festival but when we arrived there was a heavy police presence. They had cordoned off the eco-village and were preventing people from attending what they were calling ‘an illegal rave’.  I think it’s most likely that the ‘illegal rave’ was a simple ruse to shut down the festival.

I started livestreaming immediately, to let people know what was happening and to seek advice from comrades online. I was able to broadcast a transmission from Phoenix who reassured people that it was all a misunderstanding and the festival for democracy was going ahead. We did some more broadcasts of Phoenix showing us around and liaising with the police at the entrances.

 

They arrested me while livestreaming Phoenix in discussion with a police officer at the main entrance to the site. The officers who arrived were overbearing and rude. They offered me no opportunity for discussion. They handcuffed, fingerprinted, DNA swabbed and detained me in a cell overnight. They confiscated my phone and refused to return it for months. They released me with conditions to leave the area and not return. I could not collect my belongings from the eco-village. I had just over £1 to my name. If it wasn’t for the comrades who waited all night to help me out, I would have been absolutely fucked.

I was the only livestreamer broadcasting from the site. I later discovered that the broadcast of my arrest had put people off attending – because the over-policing of what was intended to be a peaceful political gathering was so frighteningly disproportionate. It cannot be proven at this stage whether or not it was their intention to discourage people from coming by singling me out for arrest midway through a broadcast but that was the effective outcome.

They took me to court several months later under threat of a prison sentence. I was found not guilty by a prosecutor who expressed their discomfort at my having been brought to trial, let alone arrested. My vindication apparently came by virtue of the footage I had livestreamed before and during the arrest. (Bambuser’s free livestreaming service is sadly offline now but I have saved the footage).

When used effectively, livestreaming inverts the traditional, ‘top down’ technological paradigm. It is ironic that the Orwellian surveillance state now feels so threatened by it’s own technology. “They” clearly don’t like it. Unfortunately, “they” still hold the monopoly on the use of force.

Amongst various other factual inaccuracies in the information the police had on me, they had placed a marker for ‘weapons’ on my custody record. I was not then and do not carry weapons. Understanding how livestreamers are now routinely picked off at protests, demonstrations, actions and peaceful assemblies, I wonder if they categorised my livestreaming phone as a ‘weapon’ in the information war. It’s not that implausible.

They also placed markers for ‘psychosis’ and ‘schizophrenia’ on my custody record. I have never been diagnosed with either of these conditions.

After three years of asking them to correct the inaccuracies on my custody record, they finally agreed to add an amendment. On page 20 something of that document.

Does the State Now See Me As An ‘Arrestable’?

In my few years on various frontlines of UK activism, I have often wondered what happens to all the people who get arrested. A few people I know and know of seem to be in a continuous cycle of getting nicked and then being prosecuted (dragged through the courts) for protesting, demonstrating, occupying, blockading etc. A few have even done time in prison for peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience.

These brave few ‘arrestables’ seem remarkably at ease with the risks they take on a seemingly regular basis. I admire them all for their courage, for the strength of their convictions and for their determination to use their lives to help unfuck the world. They inspire me to do all I can to help. I also wonder which of them are political, corporate, or state plants. I wonder which political parties, which corporations, which states…which agendas…

Many more of the people who get nicked simply vanish from public view altogether. They either burn out and fade away, or go incognito as I have done to some extent recently.

It’s for this reason that I had never voluntarily been an arrestable. I would take part in mass actions but I’d always been too scared to put my hand up for cracking the squat, or doing the lock-on, or the lorrysurf, or the blockade. The unknown was scary. Being arrested was scary. Being taken to court and prosecuted was scary.

The Bad

The last three years have definitely taken their toll on me physically and mentally. I’m not going to detail all of the fuckery that’s gone on because I don’t think that would be very useful or helpful but it has all been very taxing. I’ve struggled to sleep. My physical and mental health have suffered. The legal chicanery was nauseating. My solicitor was cautious about me discussing the case publicly, which was extremely frustrating. By the end of it, the cost budget if the case proceeded to trial would have been six figures. Despite being protected to some extent by the Legal Aid Agency, this was a huge privilege, responsibility and pressure to bear. Channelling the anger and fear, balancing the paranoia and caution has been extremely difficult but…

The Good

It was well worth it. I was not only vindicated at my criminal trial but I got justice afterwards. I feel great now. I’m sleeping better. I’m in a much better place psychologically and materially than I have been for a long time. I’ve got an opportunity to properly recuperate healthwise, to square up with all the people who’ve helped me and to pay some forward to comrades who need help now. That’s also what I’m trying to do here with this bit of scribbling, in a non-materialistic sense…

Perhaps most significantly, I’m a lot less scared of it all. Arrest, trial and litigation are not as unknown and scary as they were. I don’t especially want to go through it all again, but I’m much better prepared if I decide that I must voluntarily or if I’m involuntarily forced to again.

Hindsight

As difficult and counter-intuitive as it was, I now believe it was the right move to self-censor about the litigation. Regardless of the impact on my case, it would have had a detrimental impact on people’s perception of the ‘scary unknown’. Being arrested and prosecuted. Facing trial, possibly prison. Pursuing restorative justice. It was all scary and I was very freaked out by it. I kept a personal blog for my darkest moments, which became thousands of words long. I don’t think any of it would be of much use to share now, though I’ve boiled down some of it here so as not to sugarcoat it.

Three years was a long time to wait, but it is extremely satisfying to have walked this road to the end. I’ve learned a lot about myself, the people around me and about how another pillar of the prostitute state operates.

I feel very privileged to live in a part of the world that still enjoys freedoms that would see you assassinated elsewhere. I’m looking forward to getting stuck back in to using this privilege as effectively as I can to help unfuck the world.

Lastly, again, I am overwhelmingly grateful to Bindmans LLP’s excellent solicitors, Samantha Broadley and legal counsel, Owen Greenhall who helped to vindicate me at my criminal trial, to Anna Thwaites who helped me get restorative justice and to the Legal Aid Agency, without whom I would not have been able to get legal representation at all.

Thanks to everybody who’s helped me out materially and emotionally.

You know who you are and you’re awesome.

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The Extinction Symbol represents extinction. It is quite important to raise awareness of the 6th Mass Extinction, particularly as corporate power invests so much pretending that it isn’t really happening…

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Streams [PRAXIS]

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The pace and scale of the chaotic changes we are living through today is bewildering. Terrifyingly dystopian, while brimming with potential for a better world out of all the madness. Cognitive dissonance and existential angst have become near inescapable aspects of conscious life. It’s no wonder that so many people chose to remain asleep for so long. Sleep is no longer an option though. The climate has collapsed. The fascists are in charge. The sky is falling in. We are out of time.

I have been an avid spectator and supporter of alternative, independent media for most of my adult life. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, the UK’s alt media scene was then a vibrant sub culture. A smattering of local and national freesheets and websites offered windows out of the saccharin neo-liberal myopia, speaking truth to a generation of otherwise silent witnesses. I would occasionally engage in memery, art, video and music, but mostly I was just a spectator back then.

The history of the struggle for a more truthful, independent media goes way back, to well before they tried to brand it ‘fake news’. It predates Iraq, Hillsborough and Orgreave, Murdoch, Bernays and Machiavelli. Like most controversial struggles, it’s not on the prescribed curriculum but thanks to the tireless work of many digital activists and independent publishers, it is now available online…if you know what to look for.

First the internet, then smartphones with cameras and now livestreaming have been massive gamechangers in this aspect of the struggle. Today, anybody who is privileged enough to have a smartphone and an internet connection can become a source in realtime, almost anywhere. Like agent Smith from the matrix, (but hopefully with somewhat better intentions and outcomes).

The first ever TV shows were broadcast live. Videotape wasn’t invented until the late fifties, and didn’t become really affordable until the seventies. Modern livestreaming technology has been around since the late nineties. With a few notable exceptions, the ability to broadcast live video had been limited almost exclusively to corporate media until fairly recently.

By 2011, most people had livestreaming technology in their pocket. The freeflow of uncensored information and ideas online had already monumentally shifted our perceptions of ourselves and each other. The Occupy movement was arguably the first global movement which was able to see each other in realtime, uncensored, worldwide.

There has since been a massive groundswell in grassroots-led, social media powered citizen journalism, reporting on injustices being suffered all over the world, from Palestine to Syria, from Standing Rock to Preston New Road. Arguably, this groundswell is what led to the bizzare, post truth spectacle of ‘mainstream’ corporate media denouncing social media as #FakeNews…

2017 is the year that the livestreaming subculture finally started to go mainstream in the UK. Facebook launched their streaming feature in January this year, making the technology accessible to their 2 billion users. Twitch.tv, the pre-eminent videogame streaming service added an ‘IRL’ (In Real Life) streaming functionality in March.

Now, it seems that some sections of the 1%’s corporate media are finally changing too. Empowered by social media, the massive groundswell in grassroots-led citizen journalism is apparently forcing them to.

In July this year, during the BBC’s gender pay gap scandal, Sky News political correspondent, Lewis Goodall (who is a self declared comprehensive school boy), acknowledged that their whole profession’s class gap is ‘worse’.* He said: “And it’s quite unfair to single out the BBC in this regard anyway, I’m sure the pattern of private school dominance is repeated across our industry: at Sky, ITV and across Fleet Street“.

In August, Channel 4’s Jon Snow used his McTaggart lecture to tell his colleagues that they have become too far removed from ordinary people. He said that the media was “comfortably with the elite, with little awareness, contact or connection with those not of the elite” and that Grenfell had shown this lack of connection was “dangerous”.

Snow was acknowledging the media’s responsibility for the tragedy, which was so eloquently expressed by Ishmail Blagrove in the video that went viral of him telling sky news.

Last week, the BBC’s Nick Robinson whined that “guerrilla war” is being waged on the BBC. As Thomas Barlow of Real Media and the Media Fund points out, “We know why: Robinson’s not as afraid of the independent media as he is of the Murdoch press, and he shares more political and personal affinity with the tabloid press. It’s not just that he’s a Conservative, it’s that the BBC’s news agenda is largely set by the tabloid press.

Despite the Nick Robinsons of this world, there have been acknowledgements in word and we’re slowly starting to see them in deed from factions within the ‘mainstream’ media. Channel 4, ITV, Sky, the independent, the grauniad, all seem to be accepting that they need to shape up. Social media and citizen journalism are here to stay. People are sick of corporate bullshit and they have an alternative now. Who’s going to pay to be lied to when you can access truthful, firsthand information for free? Even the Daily Fail and S*n have started to report slightly more accurately (online, if not in print).

Crossing The Streams

It is no longer unusual for corporate media to suddenly appear on independent livestreams hurriedly setting up their cameras and asking people for interviews. Yesterday, I was watching the Occupy News Network streams from the last few days’ #StopHS2 action at Colne Valley. On the last stream, 24 hours into a seven person lock-on, a journalist from ITV news turned up just as the protectors were starting to be removed. He explains that ITV are planning to do a live report that evening. Dan, the livestreamer laughed, “yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m already live…

The game is changing. Livestreaming technology (and internet access generally) are levelling the battlefields for truth and justice. It is a reason to be hopeful, but we must not become complacent.

The independence referendum in Catalonia is one of the most striking recent example of how most corporate print and broadcast media are still trying to distort people’s perceptions of reality.

This photo was published with the caption: “Firemen try to hold a group of people in front of Spanish Guardia Civil officers outside a polling station in San Julia de Ramis CREDIT: LUIS GENE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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The firefighters were actually defending the voters from riot police who were attacking them with batons. (Again, even the S*n newspaper acknowledged the reality of the situation).

I share Craig Murray’s suspicion that “were it not for social media, UK mainstream media would have told us very little at all. This is an object lesson in how the mainstream media still seek to continue to push fake news on us in the age of citizen journalism. They no longer have a monopoly on the flow of raw information; what they can do is to attempt to distort perceptions of what people are seeing.

Corporate media had near exclusive access to livestreaming technology when it first appeared. Today, the technology has been democratised and corporate media are playing catch up with it.

Whether this results in a more or less truthful account of our objective reality is up to us. There are at least 7 billion different ways of seeing the world. None of us have a monopoly on truth, all of us do. We don’t have to be passive, silent spectators, consuming the corrupt corporate culture which guards the status quo anymore. We can all be active, outspoken participants, creating meaningful change in our daily lives and sharing the effort with each other. In realtime.

The culture we are finally outgrowing has historically thrived on division and conflict. It is designed to pit all struggles against each other, in it’s preferred language: Violence.

We can keep getting drawn into the dominant culture’s outdated, ultrapolarised, dogmatic and combative worldview, or we can keep tuning in to real life and getting on with helping to build the other world that we all know is possible.

Together.

—End Rant—

* It’s a shame that Lewis hung this article on the gender paygap headline, because the class gap is equally deleterious to our cultural diversity. ‘The gap’ is the fulcrum of intersectionality, not the identities of all those disenfranchised by the gap. The headline: ‘class gap is worse’ risks setting feminists against class warriors, which is unhelpful. Reading beyond the headline though, it is apparent that the author is sincere in their conviction and makes some excellent points.

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