On trial as terrorists for a peaceful protest

The trial of the Stansted 15 for terrorism is drawing near to a verdict as the human rights protesters face prison for stopping a suspected unlawful deportation flight.

Many other groups have in the past peacefully prevented flights from taking off, whether because of environmental or human rights concerns. The usual charge for such an action has been ‘being air-side without permission’ or ‘aggravated trespass’, but for the first time the government is using terrorism laws designed for bombers against non-violent human rights protesters.

Amongst the defendants are our friends Mel Strickland who came on the Buzz Tour and Joe McGahan whose interview you can see on the website about hempcrete. Five other defendants are also well known to me, as kind and highly principled people who have done a great deal for equality and their communities.

A year and a half ago the Stansted 15 entered a remote part of Stansted runway wearing pink, with pink protest banners and locked on to a Titan Airways chartered flight to prevent the deportation of at least two people they knew whose lives would be at risk should they be deported – one a lesbian threatened with death by her ex-husband in Nigeria and one a man whose family had already been murdered. One of these refugees has since been granted asylum. The group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM) took the action after receiving information about the 15 asylum seekers who were being deported and believing that the Home Office was again acting illegally in it’s deportations.

During my observations in court I saw a video of the defendants walking calmly to the plane before any of the passengers had arrived, erecting a three-poled tripod and locking themselves to it and the front wheel of the plane. In another video police were seen laughing and joking with the group after they were locked on. Stories of violent treatment of asylum seekers were heard including handcuffing them to a bus after it caught fire and a man on another flight who was restrained to death. No charges were ever brought against the G4S employees for his killing.stansted protest

The trial opened with a solidarity protest of around 100 people at the start of October and has been observed throughout by Amnesty International because of their concerns of the use of terrorism laws to punish ‘human rights defenders’. All the prosecution and defence evidence has now been given so what follows will be around a week of legal argument before the jury delivers their verdict probably the week after.

You can find out more detail about the trial by reading the daily court blog of End Deportations Now. You will also find a template on their website to help you write to your MP and a rota if you would like to observe at Chelmsford Crown Court.

The dictionary definition of a terrorist is

someone who uses violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

The UK anti-terrorism laws are frighteningly and intimidatingly powerful, people can be detained without charge for months and imprisoned for life if found guilty. You can be dragged through the court system for months or years at huge expense and stress, risking losing your job. Coming close on the heels of the imprisonment of anti-fracking protesters I think we should ask whether we trust our system to wield such power. As powerful laws are twisted into new purposes it is important to remember the meaning of our words and the power they hold. The non-violent actions of LGSM likely saved lives, and they do not deserve to be treated like terrorists for it.

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The Wildcat – Ethical business tour

My final stop in Scotland was at vegan cafe and shop The Wildcat in Fort William.

It was beautiful to be reminded of the great difference between business’ doing social good because of self interest versus those who do it because of their own ethics. The difference between grudging changes because of customer pressure and businesses who lead the way with passion and heart, even in areas their customers will never see.

Making so many dishes from scratch really shows in the flavours of their organic food. The three part salad I tried looked like a beautiful plate of primarily beetroot and carrot but the flavours really blew me away, both in the salads and in the varied deeply flavoured dressings. The sandwich I had was an unusual vegetable filling mix and again it was really satisfying both in it’s rich savouriness and how filling it was.

I recommend trying as many unusual dishes as you can whilst you sip your ethically sourced coffee and browse the positive environmental books. Whether you normally eat vegan or not, if you are near the Scottish Highlands, make a beeline for The Wildcat and your taste buds will celebrate you for it.

 

Freed

It is with great delight I can update that the Frack Free three were freed (anyone want to make that a song?) from prison on Wednesday after a successful appeal.

The appeal judge ruled the custodial sentence to be ‘excessive’ and they were freed on a two year conditional discharge. Thank you and well done to everyone who supported them and the campaign during this difficult time. The judge who originally sentenced them case has a family connection with the fracking industry which is being investigated. There is a lot more work to stop fracking and in the words of the campaigners:

UNTIL WE WIN!

Our friends just went to prison for protesting fracking

During my work with Reclaim the Power I had the pleasure of working with Richard, Rich and Roscoe, friendly, kind and dedicated campaigners who now as part of the Frack Free Four have shockingly become the first anti-fracking protesters to be sent to prison… for 15 months.  And who need support, both personally to keep their spirits up and to keep the campaign going.

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Last July they helped blockade a site in Preston where the company Cuadrilla is trying to fracture the land (fracking) in order to extract fossil fuel gas. The process generates large amounts of released greenhouse gases as well as generating toxic chemical waste water which usually gets put back in the ground (because it is too toxic to go to a sewage works). The blockade was part of the Rolling Resistance month of action with Reclaim the Power.

During their trial they were not allowed to use the reasons for their actions (stopping fracking) as a defense. So their actions were reduced to ‘sitting on trucks for several days’ and they were convicted of public nuisance. The difficult and courageous work of protecting our communities and country from fracking is about as far from a public nuisance as it gets.

At this very moment people are gathered in Preston for a ‘Free the Three’ demonstration, but if you can’t be there there are still many ways you can help.

Here’s how you can support them:

1. Writing letters to the prisoners. This really means a lot to people inside. 
Information on how you can write and prison numbers are here
:

http://frackfreefoursupporters.org/write-to-them/

2. Please sign and share the petition to the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the declining space for civil society to meaningfully oppose the fracking industry:
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/hold-an-inquiry-into-the-declining-space-for-civil-society-to-oppose-the-uk-fracking-industry-1

3. Financial donations to the campaign support fund:
https://chuffed.org/project/free-the-three

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4. Hold an event to spread the word


5. Join the Week of Action against Permitted Development from 8th – 14th October:
The Conservative government are proposing to make exploratory drilling for fracking a ‘permitted development’ – which would bypass the need to submit planning applications to local councils and remove the right of communities to raise objections. This represents a huge attack on local democracy. Find or create an action near you: https://gofossilfree.org/uk/let-communities-decide/

Richard is a piano tuner from London, Roscoe is a soil scientist from Sheffield and Rich is a teacher from Devon. Imagine the impact on your life if you were suddenly in prison for months. It took a lot of courage and commitment to do what they did. Let’s get them out of prison and back where they belong – out in the world making it better.

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Buzz Tour audio book

We’ve begun work on an audio book version of Pollinating Change!

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It’s been several years since we published Pollinating Change – The Buzz Tour, and an audio book has been in mind for all that time but it’s finally begun. We’ll initially be releasing the chapters one at a time for you to listen to for free online and then you’ll be able to buy the whole book. We’ve recorded about a quarter of the 34 chapters so far and aim to start releasing them this winter.

Locavore – Ethical business Tour

In the south of Glasgow sits the grocery store and cafe Locavore which has been farming and supplying local produce for the last six years. I spoke to Kim from the social enterprise about the newly expanded shop and the range of goods they stock to keep packaging low whilst providing great environmentally responsible food and products.

Locavore organically grows much of its food at three sites, just 3 acres in total, within 10 miles of the city. They also run a scheme called Grow the Growers where they help growers gain experience and skills whilst supplying the shop. The founder Reuben started Locavore after working in community gardens around Glasgow and wanted to use a social enterprise to make a bigger difference for sustainable food.

We think at the root of all these big overwhelming global and local problems is the basic model of the big corporations who run the food system. They exist to extract as much money as possible from customers for the benefit of their shareholders. With supermarket chains in the UK holding 97% of the grocery market, it’s not much of a surprise that things are in such a dire state.

The shop stocks a great range of refillable goods including dry foods, spices, household cleaning products and even milk. At the cafe you can enjoy a seasonally grown organic menu with a good range of vegan dishes, salads, a stew, sandwiches and ploughmans. Locals can also enjoy the abundant vegbox scheme. With business in their new larger shop already three times what they expected it looks like the demand for more sustainable options in Glasgow is growing well. I also spotted some hemp tea on the shelves from our friends at Hempen 🙂

Locavore’s principles: Fairness, A healthy environment, Using money to do good, Honesty and Great food

Ethical business tour

Over the next year I’ll be visiting my amazing stockists around the country, to interview them about their businesses, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands.

The first stop is Anything But Plastic, an online shop based in Glasgow, which as well as our Fit Pit deodorant also sells soap, laundry soap, toothbrushes, tooth tabs, floss, shampoo, makeup, containers, bags and cleaning products. In the beautiful setting of Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens I interviewed Jenny about her first and very successful year of Anything But Plastic.

ABP is here to help you cut down your plastic consumption. Plastic is the most pervasive man-made material ever, it doesn’t just go away when you throw it in the bin, it’s here to stay. So if you want to help contribute to a world with less plastic, you are in the right place!

nullMy sister Suzanne and I approached a local hotel a few years ago to use their waste jam jars for our business and Jenny told me that she also now reuses hotel jam jars for products. “You guys definitely inspired me and I’m looking for more hotels to get them from too.” When collecting from the hotel Suzanne used to encourage them to stop using single use jars all together. Week after week they would see the jars pile up in the buckets and we would take them away. Until one week they said that they were sorry but they would be stopping using the little disposable jars and were switching to refillable pots on the table. Far from being disappointed we were delighted at the reduction in waste, so it was really exciting for me to hear that Jenny too was influencing her local hotels.

Anything But Plastic has seen a great interest from customers as well as the media and is part of a growing trend of plastic-free businesses. It gives me hope that we can look forward to disposable plastic becoming history.

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