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Take Action

We’re so frequently battered by issues of political, environmental, economic and social injustice, that it’s easy to feel powerless to paddle against that tide. So last summer, we met four women who would have us think otherwise, who believe as individuals, that we always have the option to take action

Words by Posy Dixon, photography by Robin Mellor

The Film Maker

Documentary maker Emily James first experienced direct action first hand when she was recruited to film the shutdown of Stansted Airport’s runway in 2008. “Plane Stupid, the group organising the action, wanted a tape to go to the news. I could use a camera and I was curious, so I did that and immediately saw the opportunity for a film. Until I’d witnessed direct action I’d never seen that combination of really bold action with wit and humour, incredibly serious messages, delivered with a tone that was really playful and fun.”

Gaining access to and the trust of the characters in the film was a lengthy process, due to a wide distrust of the media and fear of the legal implications of being filmed breaking the law. However an anthropological approach, identifying and addressing specific concerns, eventually gained Emily trust, and access to the worlds of a selection of dedicated activists.

What followed was two years of documenting some of direct actions most dedicated and intriguing characters as they planned and executed numerous actions, from climate camps and reclaimed banks, to protests and power station shutdowns. The result Just Do It – a Tale of Modern Day Outlaws provides an honest view of an often misunderstood group, portraying an admirable group of humans who simply refuse to sit down and watch their natural world go to ruin. Find out where to see the film, or arrange your own screening at justdoitfilm.com

 

The Campaigner

Josie Cohen found her way into campaigning having grown up within a youth organisation, aware of and attuned to issues of social justice. Having completed a degree in politics she landed a job as a campaigner’s assistant with the League Against Cruel Sports, swiftly realizsing there was a career out there for her that she hadn’t even known existed. “As a campaigner you come in, you identify the change you want to make and then you use the creative tools at your disposal to make that change happen. I wanted to do something strategic and creative and that was a great mix of those things.”

Several years down the line having completed a stint at Save The Children and a period working in Israel, Josie joined ActionAid, “As they were of the most radical of the big development agencies out there. Like all the development agencies they are about ending poverty, but the difference with ActionAid is that they work towards long term solutions, towards empowering people to make the changes needed themselves.”

Right now Josie is leading ActionAid’s campaign against the prolific increase in use and growth of biofuels across Western countries. “Ten years ago we thought biofuels were the answer to our fuel and climate crisis, but what we can now see is that the western demand for cheap land on which to grow these fuels is creating its own disaster, that of farmers getting driven off their land, rising food prices and pushing more people into hunger.” The answer to the problem, public scrutiny and government lobbying – learn more at actionaid.org.uk./biofuels

 

The Creative Resistor

Artist and activist, Sophie Nathan was drawn towards direct action having found her way to Gleneagles for the G8 meeting in 2005. It was never an intentional move she explains, “My friend and I just jumped on an overnight bus to Edinburgh, there was this big ‘thing’ happening, with the world’s biggest powerhouses discussing the end to poverty, and it just felt important to put our bodies in that space.”

They ended up camping in a mass inclusive anarchist camp, with collective kitchens and barrios, and joined a week of discussion and action. “It was the first time I’d integrated with that kind of open inclusive space that had quite radical politics,” Sophie explains, “and it fitted very well with my personal politics, it was a model that I wanted to get involved with, to me it was a model that I thought you could push out and make a difference with.”

Since then Sophie has been consistently involved with various actions, finding her place in “creative resistance”, the idea that by combining creativity, and a level of humour and mischief in your action, you can push legal or social boundaries that little bit further to make your message heard. “There’s a diversity of tactics involved in activism and every tactic is worthy in it’s own way. Why I choose to use creative resistance is because its fun. I’m really interested in boundaries, those grey spaces that don’t quite make sense. Creative resistance creates those spaces that just walk that line of illegality. It’s pushy enough to get noticed by the media or the police, but you can always withdraw at what ever level you want to, and still have made a difference.”

 

The Student Activist

Karen Doyle got involved in protesting and politics at 16, after a fellow student at Kingsway College was nearly killed in a racist attack in East London. Gathering together fellow students she became involved in creating a “Community Defence” group to organise patrols and defend against further racists attacks in schools and colleges in the area. “Getting involved in politics was a liberating experience for me, it allowed me to see that it was possible to win if you fight – I grew in confidence and certainty.”
Since then political activism has been a central part of Karen’s life. “The early 1990s was an era when many family campaigns against injustice were defeated, and simultaneously the government were talking about a massive stepping up of immigration policy. In response to this, I along with other students and campaigners, set up the ‘Movement For Justice By Any Means Necessary’, a group committed to building a mass, independent, integrated civil rights movement that would be capable of winning.” The group rose to the media’s attention after throwing paint at Tory Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney in 1995, in reaction to his proposed Asylum and Immigration Bill, which the MFJ believed was racist.

MFJ is still going strong, currently engaged in a battle to win amnesty for all immigrants and one against education cuts. Karen’s motivation to keep fighting against thsese “giant” forces of racism and injustice is simple, “I’m a revolutionary and I see the fight against racism as central to achieving change in Britain. I’ve learnt from my own experience that the hardest fighters for freedom are those with the least to lose and the most to gain. That’s why the fight against racism and oppression is central to every struggle for progressive change.” Learn more at the movementforjustice.org

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