Home | SchNEWS Annual 1998| Intro

Justice? Brighton's Campaign in Defiance of the Criminal Injustice Act

INTRO

A snapshot of life in Justice/SchNEWS circa 1997 and discussion of direct action and politics in the late 90s by Jo Makepeace. All names in the following feature have been changed

48 HOURS>

I head into town. It's a dum-de-dum, nothing special happening type of weekend. Rare. At the cafe, I meet Harriet to collect one of the tapes I'd asked people to do for this intro. A DiY interview. She's moaning about the mail-out: "The mailout isn't just one job of stuffing the SchNEWS, it's 600 licking the stamps and putting them on, another 600 sellotaping the addresses to the envelope, another 600 stamping the address on the envelope, and 600 stuffing with flyers plus. Every week. I'm going mad. I'm going completely stark-staring envelope stuffing-mad!".

"Are you John ?". It's Ken, who Gordon's arranged to do the web-site this week as he's in Scotland at Ecotopia. I give the disk to this man I've never met before. Tony walks past on his way back from a picket of the local YMCA who are supporting the compulsory Project Work scheme [they later pull out under pressure]. The local police activist-watcher, Sergeant Keating, has been hassling them.

I head down the beach, and there's a Cuba benefit going on, with Frank belting out tunes. I'd met him this summer at 'Encuentro' an international gathering of 4,000 activists in Spain, and ask him down to SchNEWSnight, our monthly 'political cabaret' cash-cow.

Everyone's pretty mashed down the club. Sunday hangovers cause a delay to the setting up of a camp at Offham, an SSSI under threat from a farmer and EU stupidity. A couple of holidaying Rampenplanners, (a Dutch catering co-op) help to move bodies and tat [the campaign is successful]. Today's Observer carries a piece on the police misuse of the new Harassment Act to harass animal rights protestors, exposed in SchNEWS a fortnight back. David's on the telly, talking about police surveillance of activists: "They should police the environment, not the environmentalists. " It works well, especially as David looks like a cop.


WAKE UP!>

Encapsulating and squeezing three years of Justice? is an emotionally demanding task. Extreme images flash continuously across the mind. There's just been so MUCH of it. Like any explosive time, it would take that time again to regale the tale. In July 1994 the Criminal Justice Bill was about to be passed before Parliament's summer recess. Across the country, and here, definitely, were the seeds of change. The e-generation politicised. Action. I went to the pub.

The Prince Albert was where Justice? met. DJs, doleys, politicos, squatters- people. Margaret remembers an early meeting: a stark reminder of the break with the past. "There were 14 people there, 13 SWPers and me. Everyone else had lunched it that week." How did you deal with it? "I just didn't give them anything to do! [laughs]. The following meeting everyone turned up and we banned the selling of papers."

"A quickly put together office containing nothing but lots of paper and the energy of those who run it." was swiftly set up. The desk was a kitchen table, the office: Margaret's spare bedroom. On the desk was a motto: 'a task without vision is drudgery, a vision without a task is a dream.' The task was to go all out to scream and shout about this horrible new shadow, this strange hotch-potch of prejudices masquerading as a law. An alien and dangerous invasion into people's lives and lifestyles. Or something.

HYPE>

One of the great features of direct action has been to unite over common ground, to link issues, to hurdle problems. We don't have to follow a party line, everyone speaks for themselves, we are honest in our intentions and are honest in self-criticism. I've always liked the self-reflective question mark in Justice?. Activists are not politicians. Sometimes we have been guilty of hyping it up but that's been in the intoxication of successful actions and as a natural, defensive reaction to press slur. In this passage from the "Forward!" of the first book, the SchNEWSreader, there's a random sample of quotes from papers to illustrate the general tone of the media at the time...

We are 'naïve', 'childish', 'simplistic', 'dysfunctional anarchists', 'lumping on the band wagon of today's trendy topic'. We are 'supreme idealists', 'spongers', 'woolly liberals', 'zealots' and 'airheads' engaged in 'uncharacteristic protests of a minority'.

... or at least we were until the world loved Swampy. There's a quote from Chai Ling, a Tianamman Square demonstrator on the wall in the office: "Are we going to tell lies against our enemies who lie? Don't the facts speak enough?" We've always asked people not to believe what we write but to go and see it for themselves.


ROOTS>

Here's not the space to relate action after action. We've written nearly three-quarters of a million words about that already. Read SchNEWSreader and SchNEWSround. But the squatted Courthouse was the birth of it all for Justice?. "The council had estimated it would cost 4M for them to renovate it. When we went in, Justice? had 193 in the bank," remembers Robin. Tony: "We learned a lot from other struggles. At the Courthouse, Women Against Pit Closures came down to talk to us and it was the best thing 1 ever heard there. I think they convinced a lot of people we should barricade and stop the bailiffs. Up 'til then, many were saying we should just walk out and go to another squat - then along came these women from a mining village and said: 'It's your space, defend it'."' Mo: "A lot of people involved in Justice? are 17, 18 ... they don't know anything about that history. It's up to us to get that information out to everyone." It was the time we hammered out our differences, openly, in public. Often over a hundred people would sit in a circle and debate, debate, debate. It was heated, comical, exhilarating. We scrabbled for the common ground but we reached it and we stood proudly together.


SINGLE ISSUE?

You don't worry about the hole in the ozone layer when there's a hole in your roof. Environment, poverty and social sanity are impossible to divide.

When SchNEWS invited striking Liverpool Dockers down to our first birthday party, two months into the lock-out, it was in recognition of this. Docker Bobby Moreton: "The keyword is action. When we were earning say 20,000 a year, in full-time employment and could go to the pub every night, when we met at trade union meetings we used to argue like cat and dog about Marx, Lenin, Trotsky - fuck me these people have been dead for 50 years! But all of a sudden, once you are thrown into a dispute and taking part in action we don't talk about them anymore, thank God, we have to sort out day to day activities. When you are taking action your mind is working and you're not dwelling on the past." Over two years later, we are still battling the same forces of corporate power. Ordinary people, together, defending the bottom line. One Dutch activist observed: "The UK is years ahead of Europe. You don't get paralysed by factional debate. You just do it."

THE OFFICE>

The light switch is a big red and silver heart, from some demo or another. All manner of leaflets and posters fight for every available inch of space. Colour blasts out from stencilled graffiti dominated by Frankie, the Repetitive Beast, on the far wall. A rumpled blanket on the sofa - someone's had a late night. There's an emergency condom on a string. It's never been pulled. (The same can't be said of most of the activists). It's .... The Office. Our office has been one of the few constant contact points of the 90s protest movement.

Here's a sample of this week's karma bonuses - the things that keep us all going: a cheque this morning for 250 for a SchNEWS subscription; a newly released prisoner just called to say they want to come down to Brighton to thank us all!; an e-mail relates the story of the late Vincent Hanna, a TV political hound, who kept a copy of SchNEWSreader in the loo:

SchNEWS gets read in the most unusual places, "it says. (Someone jokes there were only two pages left) A sample phonelog from yesterday:

"Have you got Resource Centre catering equipment?"

"Isabell from CNN. Wants to do a program on the Anarchist Teapot."

"Heavy breathing (!)"

"Meet at Brownsword Library for Zapatistas."

"A geezer called Sparky wants 10 SchNEWSround."

"Mark Thomas wants to do a genetic action for Ch4 and looking for ideas."

"Crap arrest at COPEX. One dropped his trousers at cameras and gave the Full Monty saying 'the law is an ass"'

Giving it a rough guess, we reckon on answering about 150 phone calls, 100 letters, and 200 e-mails a week. That makes for a pretty hectic office.


BIG BROTHER>

Sussex Police once tried to ban our meetings by leaning on the landlord in a local pub. So we simply marched down the police station and held it there, a hundred grinning activists in the foyer and one bemused desk sergeant. They didn't try again after that. Several people have been approached to provide information for cash. They got their bugging knickers in a twist one time and we were greeted with "Hello, Devizes HQ" on picking up the phone. We are followed around and photographed and filmed and filed just about every week. It's not worth losing sleep over. When the words police, arrest, court and prison are being uttered daily the only recourse is to black humour - hence the regular "Crap Arrests" feature in SchNEWS.


AND FOR OUR NEXT TRICK>

Since 1994 we've branched out, moved on, dug in (our allotment is a jewel of a forest garden). Of the hundreds involved, people are infiltrating all sectors of society, touched by what is being achieved together. Now we are under threat of imprisonment for just writing about actions (support the GAndALF 3! - see Sch143). Corporate power is reaching it's capitalist utopia - it's MAI-DAY! (see Sch141) and we are globalising ourselves in response. And, of course, there's New Labour. On his last visit to Brighton, on the election trail, we followed Tony Blair and offered him a copy of SchNEWS for an autograph. "I never know what I'm signing" smiled Blair and duly obliged. The world is safe in their hands? Nope. It's up to us. You and me. DiY. This is the SchNEWS...

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