Forty years on from New Cross, the need to build a mass anti-racist, anti-imperialist movement is still paramount. No justice, no peace!
Shortly after our recent statement, Extinction Rebellion (XR) officially responded to the Met Police declaration of its intent to press charges against all 1,130 protesters arrested in the last few months and to rewrite sections of the Public Order Act in co-operation with the Home Office.
In our statement, we outlined the duty and obligation XR is under to support its activists facing political repression, through the founding of political defence campaigns, using for this purpose the funds they have crowdfunded in support of the central XR organisation in Britain – now adding up to over £500,000.
In their statement, XR declare that protesters “knew the risks”, and that political repression is “a necessary price to pay”. This is a shameful denial of responsibility and yet another example of the ways in which the XR leadership is using activists as a political statement without providing crucial legal support. A defence campaign is just as much a part of the struggle, if not more so, as the initial protest.
Without repeating our own and others’ criticisms of XR’s attitude to the police, the fact is that there was hardly any suggestion that activists would face charges in addition to arrests, and the arrests themselves were celebrated by XR as a victory. Additionally, XR has provided inadequate legal support to protesters, in some cases increasing the risk of further charges by distributing inaccurate information or publishing police-imposed conditions on demonstrations. We also cannot forget that the official XR guide to withstanding arrest emphasises the opportunity for reflection and meditation in custody rather than the extreme danger faced by any protester, more so for protesters facing additional structural oppression, e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia/transphobia etc. It is a known fact that BAME people are disproportionately more likely to die in police custody, for example, and that trans people in custody often do not have their gender recognised as they move through the penal system.
What is perhaps more galling is that XR do not even deign to address the ongoing consultations on the Public Order Act between the Met and the Home Office. This is hugely dangerous. A rewrite of the Public Order Act potentially places not only activists on XR protests in danger, but the right to protest itself.
It is clear that XR have no intent to defend those arrested, nor to take up the defence of the right to protest. The time has come for others to do so. Red Fightback is calling on those forces critical of XR’s approach to the state – for example, the recently founded Green Anticapitalist Front, those signatories to a recent open letter in Red Pepper, or Green and Black Cross – to get in touch so we may begin to organise these vital defensive struggles. We would also implore any arrestees to get in touch with the same aim.