I spent the day in Westminster Magistrates Court to attend my cousin’s hearing. After sitting through the trials of a Romanian pickpocket, a reckless HGV driver and a deaf bagpiper who’d hit a doorman when he wasn’t allowed his bagpipes in a casino, my cousin, Jan Goodey arrived from Belmarsh where he’d been on remand for 3 weeks for civil resistance.
His was the first case to be tried under new “public nuisance” section 78 of PCSC Act 2022 previously a common law offence. He was given six months, reduced from 9 for an early guilty plea. He will serve 3 months plus 3 on licence and then be subject to supervision in the community for a further 9 months.
His offence was traffic disruption to draw attention to the wider issue of continued fossil fuel extraction. He was sentenced with the full weight of a political machinery who will not tolerate dissent as they actively increase new oil field exploration in the North Sea.
I might question the motives of my cousin to involve himself with a group who encourage arrest as a form of protest. I value my freedom and I’d be no use to anyone behind bars, particularly myself. His long-held beliefs and the action he took were a matter of personal conscience. Although he is more aligned with Earth First, his sentence was a direct message of deterrent to the coordinated efforts of Just Stop Oil who provoke controversy to accelerate the conversation and prefer their own legal resources to decades of experience and knowledge from Netpol or Activist Court Aid Brigade. Even though I question their strategy, my deeper concern is with a public who have been turned against the part of themselves ready to fight and stand up to injustice, and a media who successfully redirect blame onto activists rather than those who have the ability to make change. It seems not just the seas and air are contaminated but the whole ecosystem of thought too.
My cousin was given six months for causing a 3-mile traffic jam. He harmed no-one. Yes, he inconvenienced people going about the mechanised production of Orwellian daily life; doctors’ appointments, work, school, funerals, I’ve rarely seen an ambulance or fire engine on a motorway. He’s guilty of interrupting the pattern… of breaking the dream… which is actually a nightmare for some. A third of Pakistan has been flooded because its’ glaciers are melting. 10 million children there are in need of immediate, lifesaving support. Sub-Saharan Africa is almost uninhabitable and nearly 22 million people are estimated to be internally displaced by climate change every year. None of those people have homes any more. Who exactly is being ‘inconvenienced’?
The government is prosecuting protestors for the exact crimes they are trying to prevent. ‘Public nuisance’ is defined as ‘intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the public or a section of the public’. Aren’t people in Pakistan and Sub-Saharan Africa a part of the public too? Or do we only care for people on the M25? Isn’t it reckless to continue exploring for fossil fuels when we know they cause so much harm?
The ‘dangerous radicals’, the ‘selfish and unlawful who cause misery and mayhem’ to hundreds of thousands of people, are not activists holding up traffic, but a certain class of financiers and politicians who act with impunity and criminalise anyone who disagrees with their version of the way the future must unfold. Research shows that while the majority are undecided, only a tiny minority of people oppose a ban on new oil exploration, if we question the motives of those few, we might find they are the ones most likely to benefit.
While climate crisis may seem abstract to a general public struggling with the demands of daily life in the hostile environment which is Britain, the cause and symptoms of industrial pollution lie here. The UK industrialised first, escalated manufacturing through Empire, and has financialised and globalised trade since. Climate issues are not separate from but linked to worker exploitation, the theft of resources and a long history of disregard for the well-being of people in other places by a capitalist class who, with the machinery of institutional domination, asset strip every single last possible drop of resource, from people and the planet alike for profit and insist everyone else comply.
Helen Pankhurst questioned how exactly we’re supposed to have our voices heard and play a significant part in the sham of ‘democracy’ when dissent is ‘illegal’. I’ve been wondering why Liz Truss isn’t in prison for being a public nuisance and did google that without a satisfactory answer. The tactics implemented by the home office to stop protest and asylum seekers alike do not stop either, they only escalate tactics further.
Image: Maura Framrose