[Image description: large dark green leaves against a millennial pink background]
STRIKE! has just published my essay “Fuck Passing: Class, Respectability, and Trans Healthcare” in their Summer 2017 issue! I’m in brilliant company and could not recommend it highly enough. There will be a launch party in London soon, hold tight.
I’ve written an essay about information security and privacy in Queer Privacy, a collection of essays by other queer people on privacy and community, family, coming out, activism, domestic violence, and suicide. It’s edited by Sarah Jamie Lewis, who was an absolute dream to work with, and I’m very pleased to say that she was able to pay me a proper fee for my writing. You can support more work like it by buying the book as an ebook or paperback. The whole book is under a creative commons license; if you’d like to read it but can’t afford to buy it, send me an email and I’ll send you a PDF.
Book: Queer Trouble
This spring I signed a book deal(!!!!) with Jessica Kingsley Publishers, who recently put out the kids’ book Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity? My book is provisionally titled Queer Trouble, and aims to explore the intrinsic relationship between gender and sexuality, discuss and contextualize queer words, and destabilize pervasive “normal” words and concepts like “gender”, “sex”, and “man”. It’s my main project right now and should be published in spring of 2018.
[Image description: Me, smiling in a white-walled art gallery, holding a copy of the magazine]
Content Note: non-graphic mentions of rape, abuse, and transphobia
Last night I read my piece “I Pity The Cis” at the launch of SALT. Magazine‘s launch for issue 9 at Deptford X. SALT is a feminist magazine run by women, and this issue was themed on The Furies (not to be confused with “the furries”). My piece was about the slow realization of being trans made slower by my abusive rapist ex-boyfriend, and how I pity cis people for having such narrow, heavily policed genders.
The gallery was sparse and the room eventually filled with art school graduates (or people who wanted to look like art school graduates) sitting on the floor. The first performer read an excerpt from her piece on what we will do under duress; the next un/did a hex; and the night ended with a dramatic reading about articulation and cadavers, done over a very wet, reverby soundscape. My piece was angry and bitter and quick, and people seemed to like it. Two friends came with me and I had a nice enough time—but if I’m honest I’m bored of how insular (uncritical) and abstract (inaccessible) the art scene is. I didn’t talk to anyone but my pals and the organizers, who were all very gracious and complimentary, because everyone else was doing that aloof posturing thing that artists and their critics do.
The only acceptable ways to behave in an art space are: like an enthusiastic, just-so-happy-to-be-there puppy with no complaints; or, like a cynical, self-righteous edgelord who is too cool to enjoy anything. Even now I feel guilty for what feels like whining. I’m always glad to be given a platform to talk about stuff I think is important like transphobia and rape apologism, and I did get paid a small sum: £20 with the promise of more, contingent on fundraising. I don’t want to be an edgelord, and I want to be invited back to do more readings. But like my friends have been saying lately, no more fake orgasms to boost the art world’s self-esteem (thanks for sharing that link, actual-artist Megan Pickering). Who is it for? Who’s allowed in and are they legitimate if they’re doing any less than a dozen projects? Am I going to be let back in after trans stuff isn’t “trendy”? Or will I be left outside, a killjoy yelling about rape culture? Maybe I feel the need to be extra nice because if I’m not, I’m a scary/angry trans person (or survivor, or sex worker, or migrant, or autistic, or Jew, depending on what I’m shouting about that day, can’t be all at once tho that’s Too Much). No one wants ‘people like that’ around because it’s uncomfortable. Imagine how much nicer I’d need to be if I wasn’t white.
I don’t have conclusions about how to navigate the tension between performing gratefulness in an ugly institution (the Art World) and relying on that institution for money and networking (to get money), but I want to highlight it anyway. It seems valuable to put a spotlight on tensions.
Content note: death, misgendering, mentions of transphobic violence
[Image description: Pink carnations with baby’s breath against a black background]
In collaboration with Gendered Intelligence and The Corpse Project, I have consolidated information for trans people in England and Wales to ensure their gender identity, and other wishes, are respected in death. It’s written with the aim of being accessible and straightforward, with clear actionable items. View the document here(downloadable PDF).
Death is daunting to anyone, but trans people disproportionately suffer violence and are therefore more likely than cis people to die young. This short document has advice on how the bureaucracy of death works, how to name an executor who will have power over your remains which supersedes your family’s power, and how to write a will and letter of wishes. This document is the follow-up to the “Transfesto” findings of demands by trans people on issues surrounding death. Especially following the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland where several trans people died and were misgendered in death, I think this information is empowering and necessary.
There is another prong of the project, led by Simon at Gendered Intelligence, to change the paperwork about death to remove unnecessary questions like “sex” and “marital status”. Simon is currently liaising with the Ministry of Justice; I will post updates as they happen.
Trans people must constantly self-advocate in life—for those of us with the privilege to plan for our futures instead of just our immediate survival, there is always a worry for us that our corpses will not be respected in death. Living trans bodies are the site of so much violence. We want to ease the suffering of trans people in death, in the hopes that it will ease the worry of living trans people and show our society at large that trans people are deserving of dignity and respect. While the trans corpse is not by any means the most pressing trans rights issue, we absolutely deserve respect in death as in life—and there is no reason we cannot advocate for healthcare, housing, anti-assimilationism, AND dignified deaths.
Sophie Churchill, project leader of The Corpse Project has been extremely supportive and encouraging. Her press statement:
Since being involved in this work, I have been shocked at how frequently trans people’s identity is not upheld in death. When you think that trans people disproportionately experience violence and suicide it is all the more important that we support people to avoid this happening. I hope our work with Gendered Intelligence will reduce one further stress and anxiety for the trans community.
Thank you so much to Sophie, and Simon, Jamie, and Jay at Gendered Intelligence, for your support and insights on this project.
[Image description: Selfie against white wall. Main features: white skin, short brown hair, a white shirt, a black & white tie, round glasses, thick eyebrows, and red lipstick drawn off-center of subject’s lips]
CN: Street harassment, transphobia, misogyny
This is what I wore to the Proms on Saturday night: a normative shirt, slacks, and tie, with a pair of lips drawn on my cheek. I nearly wore a short black business skirt and heels instead, but decided against it at the last minute despite the hot weather.
On the way there, on the tube, a child pointed at me and yelled “Look!”. The parent “shh”d and didn’t say anything else. I smiled and said, “It’s ok”. The parent looked away and the child stared.
The child wasn’t threatening and they were probably more curious and excited than anything else, but the parent’s reaction had strong implications.
“Shh, we don’t point because it’s impolite.”
“Shh, we don’t talk about when people are different, we just ignore them.”
“Shh, if you draw attention to this they might have the nerve to talk to us and how awkward would that be?”
“Shh, yes I know men in makeup are freaks but it’s rude to point it out.”
After a few years of obsessing over how the public read my gender, I’ve gotten very good at knowing how I’m being gendered and emitting gender cues so as to be gendered how I want. I know how to be read as a harmless girl who needs help, a hard woman who might cut you if you mess with her, a boring (i.e. straight) middle-class white guy, a flamboyant (i.e. gay) middle-class white guy, a scruffy queer, or a Is That A Boy Or A Girl androgynous mess. I know how to make a shopkeeper dance between “sir” and “ma’am”, “darling” and “mate”. Gender is so flimsy, I can collapse it with a step, a facial expression, a gesticulation, a vocal inflection, or the application of lipstick. You could tell me I’m wrong, but you’ve never seen the way people make space for “men” in public or the way they stare at “women”.
[Image description: a crudely-drawn graph of my experience with street harassment depending on my gender presentation. I had lots of violence as a femme “girl”, none as a “man”, and expect lots more as a “man in a dress”]
My experiences with street harassment as a “woman” were extremely common: constant aggressive “compliments” and invasions of space, occasional groping by strangers or being chased by lads for bantz, a couple of times being stalked and attacked. Once a man helped me carry some groceries for a block and did the “Don’t I get a hug?” line, and when I politely said no he grabbed me and held me against him while he pushed his face against mine. I yelled and beat him off me, and he followed me into my apartment building. That was a single experience which punctuates my long, dull history of street harassment from strangers; and that’s not saying anything of sexual and gendered violence I’ve gotten from people I know.
After nearly a decade of “womanhood” I changed my gender expression from hegemonically feminine to an attempt at hegemonically masculine, which took some six months to perfect. I kept it that way for six more months. That year of performing white masculinity gave me reprieve from the public gaze like a spell of invisibility, only broken when I dared to hold hands with a partner who was also read as a man. But hegemonic white masculinity—bland suits, blending in—felt wrong. It was an uncomfortable gender expression for me to perform and I’ve since moved to gentle-femme boy. The street harassment has resumed, a grotesque reflection of my once-again overt femininity. Will it be enough to dampen my femme expression, especially as my body continues to “masculinize”?
When will our comfort in public stop being conditional?
[Image description: A billboard advertizing the opening of a Byron, photoshopped to include an Immigration Removal van. It reads: “Byron / Exploitation / Immigration Raids / UKBA Collusion / Coming soon”]
On July 4, Byron Burgers called in undocumented workers from 15 UK stores for a “training session” which was actually a UKBA raid. Home Office officials detained and deported “dozens” of people. It’s being widely ignored in English media; that link is to Spanish media. Most of the people detained and deported were Latinx.
Byron is a microcosm of Theresa May’s “hostile environment”: a UK chain company can exploit undocumented migrant workers as long as they rat them out to the Home Office if they’re caught illegally employing them. Byron benefits from cheap labor and precarious workers; the UKBA benefits from companies like Byron ratting out their employees — everyone wins, except the workers, who are apparently disposable. Employers are becoming border guards, along with landlords, neighbors, teachers, and universities. It’s unacceptable.
[Image description: Sisters Uncut members holding a banner and raising their fists in front of the squatted building which is their social centre in Peckham. The building has a large banner which reads “S.E.L. [south east London] SISTERS UNCUT”; below is a smaller banner which reads “ALL WOMEN AND NON-BINARY PEOPLE WELCOME”. The Sisters hold a banner readings “RINGFENCE D.V. SERVICES”. Photo by me.]
CN: mentions of domestic violence and rape, misogyny, transmisogyny
You know I love you. I’ve hyped you since I found out about you, and several times I’ve taken on support roles for your direct actions. But your gender inclusion policy is a point of contention and confusion.
I’ve only been to one Sisters meeting, which happened sort of by accident immediately after photographing the opening of the occupied/squatter social centre in Peckham (great work, btw!). The Sister facilitating tells us that the meetings are open to all women (trans, intersex, and cis), non-binary and gender nonconforming people, those who experience oppression as women, and those who identify as women for the purposes of political organizing. She tells us that in this space, “sister” is a gender-neutral term. We go around the circle and say our names and pronouns: nearly everyone is “she” with a handful of “they”s, and I’m the only “he” (caveated with “I’m non-binary”). Some Sisters look at me funny and later complain on the internet.
Sisters is a decentralized non-hierarchical group and I don’t know exactly how the gender inclusion policy is articulated in every meeting across the UK, but here’s what is says on your website FAQ:
What is your gender inclusion policy and what does it mean?
Our meetings should be inclusive and supportive spaces for all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women for the purpose of political organising. Self-definition is at the sole-discretion of that sister. If you have any queries regarding our gender inclusion policy, please don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Why can’t men come to meetings?
We believe that women must be at the forefront of the movement for women’s rights and therefore we need safe, collective spaces where we can organise, share our experiences, learn from each other and support one another. We want to ensure our meetings are safe and welcoming for survivors of domestic violence, and for that reason we ask men not to attend.
I want to question who the space is for, and highlight the direct contradiction between it being open to “people who experience oppression as women” while not being open to men. (If this is the only phrase you take away from this without reading the rest, you’re killing any chance we have at a nuanced and complex discussion about gender. Please don’t do that.)
Trans men are not “men-lite”, and they don’t experience anything (oppression or otherwise) as women because they are not women, they are men. But claiming the identity label of “man” does not mean that the world genders you as a man. When I realized I was trans, no one else saw my masculine gender or believed me. I was still street harassed, still talked over, still objectified in public space, still abused and raped by my then-partner (s/o to Charles Potashner aka Chuck Potashner, I hope this ruins your reputation). The violence I experienced was absolutely gendered. In fact, it was often transmisandrist, if you’ll entertain the notion that such violence exists: he attempted to correctively rape me into being a cis girl. I stayed with him for years, mostly because I had no money to leave. I later found out about Sisters Uncut but felt like my presence, as a trans masc*, would be imposing, despite my extremely relevant personal experience of gendered domestic and sexual violence and my enthusiasm for direct action.
*I loathe the term “trans masculine” as a catch-all for afab people who aren’t cis / don’t identify as women: personal example of its failing is me being trans but not very masculine. Still, I think it’s the best we’ve currently got.
Trans men are not always read as men. When trans men are read as women, they experience the same external gendered violence as cis women. The transphobic violence which trans men face is gendered violence, usually about a biological essentialism that trans men are not really men but women, and are then objectified and abused as miscreant women. Claiming the identity label of “man” or “masculine” does not change the way you are coercively gendered by society, and it does not erase your history of being coercively gendered (and possibly assaulted) as a “woman”. Trans men might be sex workers who work as “women”.
In discourse, trans women are hyper-visible and fetishized and othered, constantly needing to self-advocate for their gender to be respected; trans men are invisible and also constantly self-advocate, or else assimilate into cisnormative masculinity. In queer spaces, trans men and masc people are dominant while trans femmes, femmes, fat babes, and QTIPOC have less social capital. The desire to create a space which centers these voices is understandable and valuable, but I don’t think including trans men would diminish them; it would empower otherwise disenfranchised trans men who have no safe/r spaces in discussions of domestic violence, like femme trans men, POC trans men, and trans masc sex workers.
There is a theoretical trans man who does not belong in Sisters Uncut: he has always known he was a boy/man, he has lived his whole life “stealth” and is assumed to be a cis man by people on the street. This is the assimilationist trans man, who is honestly completely unknown to me (to everybody) and who has a very different gendered experience than most trans masculine people. The domestic violence he might face, if his abusive partner did not know him to be trans, would not have the same gendered dynamic as a trans man who is out to their partner, or a closeted trans man. As you know, 4 out of 5 trans people experience domestic violence. This is not exclusive to trans women.
I am sympathetic to the desire to create a safer space which does not include men, and the empowerment which comes from politically organizing without men. I also appreciate the assertion that trans men are men despite its reductiveness. But if Sisters Uncut welcomes “people who experience oppression as women”, then it must welcome men. Who “experiences oppression as a woman” or is “a woman for the purposes of political organizing”—yet is not a woman or non-binary—if not men? If men are not welcome, what is the point of these clunky phrases?
There’s understandable reluctance to say that “trans men don’t have male privilege before they’re read as men” because it could imply an inverse “trans women don’t face misogyny until they’re read as women” or even worse that “trans women have male privilege until they’re read as women”, but this isn’t true. Trans femininity and trans masculinity are not opposites in patriarchy. Both are differently punished. This is very difficult to bring up for fear of treading on trans women, and because trans mascs have years of internalized shame and discomfort with masculinity.
Identity policing, whether it’s in-person at meetings or written to exclude certain ID labels, will keep some people away from the space who have relevant and valuable contributions to the discussion. Even saying “no cis men” will keep out amab trans people who aren’t ready yet to claim a trans identity. Baby queers and baby transes need space where they have plausible deniability as straight/cis to explore their non-normative identities. Instead of policing identity labels in order to keep out the wrong people, may I suggest: doing lots of housekeeping to frame the discourse so those who choose to participate are self-selecting as feminists who know when to speak and when to listen; and removing people from the space based on their behavior rather than your perceptions of their identity, e.g. if they’re taking up too much space or being aggressive.
It would be simplest for Sisters if you decided that the purpose of the group is to empower and help women, and only women, in protesting the closure of domestic violence services. This would make Sisters a still-valuable group, but ultimately it’s a cop-out. I would be surprised if Sisters is comfortable with the compromise of excluding people who suffer gendered violence for the sake of maintaining the purity of a No Men Allowed policy. Sisters Uncut has already made controversial but important decisions, such as supporting sex workers’ groups in demanding the decriminalization of sex work. You like doing the hard work and being at the forefront of feminism. It would be deeply disappointing for Sisters to take a reactionary, second-wave feminist stance on gender. Assuming that trans men are inherently violent because they identify with masculinity, or that they’re “gender traitors” for “abandoning womanhood”, is the kind of TERFy bullshit I hope we can wholly reject. Our language is utterly inadequate and will never capture the nuance of our lives but that’s no excuse. You (we) need to be better.
I would bring this discussion to the occupied space itself, but at this point I don’t feel comfortable there even when specifically invited by Sisters who have been active in your organization for months. If a group purporting to support survivors in demanding the end to austerity cuts for DV services excludes trans and non-binary survivors like me, it’s failing in its objective.
With fondness and in acknowledgement that this will literally lose me friends (oh well),
Post script: I’d also critique the inclusion of “gender non-conforming people” as part of the gender inclusion policy. A cis man in drag is gender non-conforming, but he does not experience gendered violence (though he does experience violence from patriarchy which insists that he repress his femininity, which might manifest in physical violence). “Gender variant” is a more appropriate term, but still unnecessary since you explicitly include “non-binary”, but I’ll concede that “non-binary” is a new and very western term and I might be missing some context.
EDIT, 4 July 2016: The following is some more context, lifted from a comment I made in the conversations on facebook:
Maybe this needs some more context. I’ve been on the sidelines of Sisters Uncut for several months. A couple of Sisters have explicitly encouraged me to attend meetings & actions but I haven’t because it felt like I’d be intruding on a women’s/femme centered space, even with the “non-binary people allowed” caveat. The reason I’m writing this *now* is because I did (very gingerly) attend a meeting *which I was explicitly invited to* and was met with a sense of discomfort, which (I’ve since learned) reflects the experiences of lots of people read as men/masc, including amab non-binary / trans-femmes. I know everyone at Sisters is exhausted by all the work they’ve been doing and some people think now’s not a good time—but this is in direct response to a particular moment at the space, and at a time when the gender inclusion/exclusion policy is being visibly, publicly “enforced”.
I’ve privately and publicly supported Sisters—individuals and the group—for a long time and hope to keep doing so. I’ve broached this topic with some Sisters and my trans family privately, and decided to write about it publicly for two reasons: because I didn’t feel comfortable bringing this up in the forum of a Sisters meeting; and to make this a wider and transparent discussion about gender and feminism. I also know that this semi-/academic language is not necessarily accessible, but I’m a single individual and this is just how I write. I’d be super enthusiastic about re-working these points into a more accessible format if there was an interest in that.
Sisters Uncut is a wonderful group and I’m so encouraged by the responses I’ve gotten (thank you again everyone for the love and support). I’m also concerned by some people suggesting that they’re above public, online critique. I know this is hard. I know it’s a lot of work and most of the labor is invisible. But Sisters is a public/community group and I think it’s fair to make a public comment about it, especially when that comment is about my inability to make a comment internally. Tbh I’d rather have these talks in person and this online stuff makes me pretty anxious.
PS Don’t call me a trans man; I’ve been really clear about being non-binary for months now. It’s disrespectful misgendering—and in this context it’s a willful political attempt to discredit what I’m saying—and I’m out of patience for it.
[Image description: a drawing of a person holding their skin open like a coat to reveal their skeleton]
CN: mentions of death
In recent weeks, The Corpse Project has worked with participants through Gendered Intelligence to explore the trans and non-binary body after death. We visited several sites in the death and burial industries and learned about the practical and bureaucratic aspects of dead bodies in the UK.
Trans people must constantly self-advocate in life — for those of us with the privilege to plan for our futures instead of just our immediate survival, there is always a worry for us that our corpses will not be respected in death. Living trans bodies are the site of so much violence. We want to ease the suffering of trans people in death, in the hopes that it will ease the worry of living trans people and show our society at large that trans people are deserving of respect.
Trans people are more likely to die young: we might be denied medical treatment, the long-term effects of HRT are under-studied and may well mean we die sooner, and we are more likely to kill ourselves. While the trans corpse is not by any means the most pressing trans rights issue, we absolutely deserve respect in death as in life—and there is no reason we cannot advocate for healthcare, housing, anti-assimilationism, AND dignified deaths.
As a group we created a “Transfesto” for respecting trans bodies in death to better help the living. My film interview and a quote (in part) is featured in The Independent. Here is the full text of the image above:
The Corpse Project worked with a group of from the trans community, through Gendered Intelligence. In life, trans people fight hard to their gender and their bodies and we wanted to know about the issues for them with the body in death. This statement is the result.
1. We want a massive social change which results in awareness of and respect for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.
ACTION 1: THE INDUSTRY
To investigate levels of awareness in the funeral service industry and the training it receives, so that we can test and create trans-friendly practice. For example, we want respect for chosen gender and name, regardless of the body’s appearance.
2. We want our names, pronouns and gender identity to be respected throughout — on our death certificates, during ceremonies and at any time our bodies are handled.
ACTION 2: THE PAPERWORK
To review and potentially campaign to change paper work and processes from a trans-inclusive perspective. For example, we want to remove unnecessary and invasive questions about gender. It is also important for some people that executors can have rights over next of kin and can control what happens to the body.
3. We want trans people to be able to make informed choices about what happens to their bodies after death.
ACTION 3: INFORMATION for the TRANS COMMUNITY
To put together an accessible resource pack that will detail information, legalities and the essential preparations every trans person should make. For example, how to make a low-cost will and who to make your executors, because this is crucial to your wishes being carried out.
Response from The Corpse Project: If invited, The Corpse Project would want to offer support to Gendered Intelligence and the group which wrote this Transfesto, to see it implemented.
[Image description: close-up of two hands gently holding each other, both covered in red paint. Photo by Jade Jackman]
Carl Andre killed Ana Mendieta.
Yesterday, at the opening of the new Tate Modern building, the Whereisanamendieta collective and Sisters Uncut protested the inclusion of Carl Andre’s work and the exclusion of Ana Mendieta’s (objectively better) work. It was a protest in three simultaneous parts:
Several activists silently circled a Carl Andre piece and held out their arms painted red—both a reference to Ana Mendieta’s murder and her piece Body Tracks. They covered Andre’s art with a banner which read: CARL ANDRE KILLED ANA MENDIETA
Other activists held a banner in the Tate windows facing outside asking, demanding: WHERE IS ANA MENDIETA
I distributed 1000 fliers in front of Andre’s work which read: CARL ANDRE KILLED ANA MENDIETA
The Tate owns both Andre’s and Mendieta’s work, but are only exhibiting Andre’s while Mendieta’s is hidden in private storage. We will not be complacent in cultural institutions willfully glorifying the work of violent white men. We will not be complacent in the exclusion of women of color. We demand the removal of Carl Andre’s work, and that Ana Mendieta’s work replace it.
[Image description: Travis, a black trans femme, wearing black lipstick, a black headscarf, black shirt and chunky gold chain, sits in a bookshop facing camera with a stoic expression. Photo by Alexander Lijka]
Beyond The Binary asked me to review “Stories Of A Queer Brown Muddy Kid” by Travis Alabanza. It was their final performance of the intense, funny, moving autobiography of queer black life in London, and I’d already seen it twice before. The piece is all about, and for, queer black femmes, so I was reluctant to take on the task as a white boy(ish), but I gave it my best.
Acutely aware of racialized violence in the queer scene, Travis scornfully highlighted colonialism in sexual relationships, their role as “his bucket to empty his microaggressions” and a “brown fetish of the week”. “I’m not your black boy top”, they insisted, but then, “Why do I still need him?” Their vulnerability about intimacy, about simultaneously recognizing abuse but longing for your abuser(s), was bold and affecting.
tl;dr I absolutely loved it, Travis is amazing, give them all your money.
[Image description: pointilated mannequin legs resting on a grate, in black and white]
Content note: mentions of transphobia, transmisogyny, and gendered violence
I’m very happy that my latest angry trans rant has been published (online and In Print) by the Occupied Times. The OT is a collectively run broadsheet with a solid history of publishing critical, anti-capitalist writing, and while they always produce great material, I’m glad to see a little more about gender/queer stuff on their pages, even if it meant contributing myself:
Fuck respectability politics. Trans people don’t need to conform to cisnormative standards of beauty to be worthy, to be sexy, to be human. This only serves to create a hierarchy of “acceptable” gender expressions and modes of transness – ones which fit the gender binary.
[Image description: “No Human Is Illegal” cardboard sign held up against Yarl’s Wood detention center gates, among many hands and tops of heads, with pink smoke billowing in the background]
Content note: discussion of institutional racism and non-graphic mentions sexual & gendered violence
“Shut down Yarl’s Wood!”
On Saturday, over 1,000 protestors surrounded the Yarl’s Wood immigration and removal center (IRC) in protest of the UK government’s practice of indefinitely detaining and deporting asylum-seekers. The protest also highlighted broader injustices with the UK’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies, state-sanctioned gendered violence, and for-profit prisons and IRCs.
The protest was led by Movement for Justice and decentralized Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants chapters, with support from Sisters Uncut (also decentralized), the No Borders movement, trade unions, and student activist groups. Protestors and organizations traveled by train and coach to Bedford from London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Brighton. The 2,000+ crowd was mostly young women and femmes, but also included babies and children, elders, men and mascs, and gender-variant people.
Today we march to surround Yarl’s Wood IRC and join detainees in building a movement to end detention, to fight for real equality and freedom for ALL, and to build a Britain capable of fulfilling it’s promise of justice, opportunity and dignity. The breadth of national support for this demonstration is enormous. Everyone making this journey through the farmlands of Bedfordshire to Yarl’s Wood, organising talks and fundraisers to make today happen, is playing a part in a new movement in Britain – one in which people with and without citizenship, of any gender or sexual identity, religion or nationality can stand up as leaders to the whole society.
The grounds at Yarl’s Wood are bleak and muddy. There aren’t any trees visible from the detention center; only gnarly barbed plants without any flowers or leaves, and tall yellow grass. We marched across a large field to amass outside the large beige building where the women are held.
Choice signs from protestors included: “Theresa May, No Way”; “Victim-Blaming, Racist Media: We See You”; “Borders Are Bullshit”; and “No Human Is Illegal”. Some protestors were condemning IRCs because they lock up innocent people seeking asylum and protection (“Protection Not Persecution”). Other intersecting messages of anti-capitalism, feminism, housing, and queer issues, were also represented.
Protestors kicked against the imposing sheet-metal fence, rattling it. People also beat drums, blew whistles, clapped, and screamed their voices hoarse. The high energy was sustained for several hours, only tapering as the sun went down.
The policing was light, considering the size of the protest: a discouraging reminder that the action did little to disrupt or threaten operations at Yarl’s Wood. The purpose of the demonstration was to show solidarity with the women inside, and to draw attention the violence of detention centers and UK immigration policies.
Edit: But we mustn’t underestimate the impact that the women inside are able to have on the disruption of operations, more than outside protestors ever could; this was a coordinated effort between those inside and out to resist the immigration/imprisonment/deportation system at large, not just a solidarity demo (thanks for pointing this out, MFJ).
Ex-detainees give speeches
Former detainees of Yarl’s Wood and other IRCs in the UK gave impassioned speeches. It was an all-too-rare moment where those affected by the immigration system were given a platform to speak about their experiences with it. Their speeches reflected the experiences of the former Yarl’s Wood (then-)child detainee I interviewed last year.
[Full transcript at the end of article]
“We love you!”
The women inside pushed hand-made banners out the small cracks of their windows with distressing messages: “Yarl’s Wood officers in relationships with vulnerable women”, “We are not animals”, “Help me! I’m 63 years old”, and “Shoplifting = 1 year IRC”; these are especially concerning considering that they were the messages made by the detainees with limited resources and probably at the risk of disciplinary action. They also threw out paper into the yard, waved t-shirts, and waved their hands through the small openings.
The women detained inside banged on the windows and led chants of “Shut it down!”. They screamed out that no human should be locked up like they are, and called out, “Thank you!” and “We love you!” to the protestors. We waved back. Some people shouted their solidarity and commended their strength. Tears marked my cheeks and I was left with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness as we prepared to leave; all we could promise in return was, “we’ll be back!”
Transcript of the speeches by former detainees and their supporters
MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE SPEAKER: … the 30, 40 people, who protest with the people inside detention from Harmondsworth to Colnbrook. Today we’re over a thousand, more than a thousand. [cheers] From day one, there were from people, ex-detainees, coming to these demonstrations, and speaking back, to the people that are still struggling inside, because detention changes your life, and it makes it clear what Britain—the worst side of what Britain is about, and the side that we most need to fight back against. So every time it has been with people speaking out inside detention, and outside detention, and people who used to be in detention. People who live every day under the shadow of detention. This system is cruel. It is cold-hearted, it is brutal. But we—we are passionate people. We care what happens. We’re the ones that are gonna fight, and it’s gonna be on our shoulders to make Britain the kind of place it should be, to make Europe the kind of place it should be. It should have open borders; it should be letting people through. [cheers] There are two directions for Europe: we can go down the road of this brutal, racist, twisted system, or we could build a better society and a better future. And it’s gonna be the people who have the most desire and the most ambition and the most determination, the clearest, clearest plan, who are gonna be the side that will win, and that’s gonna be our side, our side! [cheers]
So, so we may have about 40 minutes or so before our coaches get desperate for us to return. But that is enough time to make our voices heard. I just want to to introduce some people to be able to speak, and give a message to the people inside, as well as to people out here: to keep fighting, and to keep that struggle strong. I want to introduce Lydia, who was only just freed from Yarl’s Wood in December of 2015. [cheers]
LYDIA: Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Yarl’s Wood is not an easy place to be, but my [muffled]. Alright, I have some friends there which I made and I left. They are still there. There are people in there in Yarl’s Wood who have spent more than two and a half years, no good food, the treatment we receive in Yarl’s Wood: they call us animals at times. Oh my god, it’s horrible. It’s the worst place to be. If I look at the window: few inches they can come out, they can’t do anything in Yarl’s Wood. They don’t even call us by name, at times they call us by room number, or the block number. Please, give us any way, any means we can help and support them to come out. I am…
PROTESTOR: Release them now!
LYDIA: I am one of them. Please, let us join hands together and free them. Yarl’s Wood has to be down. I am an asylum-seeker, I am not a criminal. They arrest me when I went to sign, without nothing, straight to the airport to deport me, but thank god for the women of [Movement For] Justice, I am here today, free. So please, please [cheers] Freedom is just all we need. Freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of anything. Right now I don’t even care what will happen to me, all is that, freedom is what I want. Freedom, they deserve it. Every individual needs it, freedom. So Aisha! The rest of you! Freedom! Freedom! [cheers]
MFJ: You know what? Every time we come back, we grow bigger? And every time we come back there are more ex-detainees to speak out. These walls are gonna come down, because detention is gonna become unmanageable. You can’t keep inside, locked up, people who want freedom who are ready to fight. These walls are gonna come down. I just want to introduce Azuka who’s also come out of Yarl’s Wood just last year and has been ever since continuing the connection with the people inside and fighting to support everyone and bring Yarl’s Wood to an end.
AZUKA: Hello, um, Yarl’s Wood is hell. Yarl’s Wood is hell. The people that were here together, when they saw me today they said, “What? Wow, is this you?” The woman who has just spoken now was arguing with somebody that said, “Is that she?” The person said, “Yes, she is the one.” I’m only telling you that Yarl’s Wood is hell, it is, because when I was inside there, a lot goes on. One of us had a hospital appointment—she was handcuffed to go for the appointment. So she refused, she refused them to handcuff her, she missed appointment; she missed three good appointments. So, we are inside there, we fought, with Movement For Justice, they encourage us to speak out. And when we came out, most of us hundred of us here, we have been in there and out. And we have been working, fighting, fighting day and night for our freedom, and our sisters inside there. Eighteen years old are inside there. Pregnant women are inside there. Some women in there, their husbands died, inside there; they became widows inside there. Please, please, please, I am begging all of you, to stand with Movement For Justice, and all the organizations that are fighting; together, we can win. But single-handedly, we will not win. But if all of you here, stand by us, we will win. We will win this racist, evil deeds of Home Office. They treat us like animals, we are human being. There’s no illegal person on Earth, we are all legal. But they label us “illegal”, and they treat us—most of us because of when we, when we were going to sign, and we, we obey them, they said, “go and sign”, we obey them and sign, and they pick us up there and then bring us here, and then treat us like animals. You inside there, my sisters: fight! Continue to fight! Don’t give up! Don’t give up! Don’t give up! [cheers] We are fighting out here! We are fighting out here! Set her free! Set her free!
MFJ: … to have all people out of Yarl’s Wood, and some speakers who have come out of the other detention centers, and we want to see all the detention centers shut down. I just want to introduce Choogoday [sic], who’s been a leader and fighter in Movement For Justice, and been speaking out against Yarl’s Wood ever since release.
CHOOGODAY: Hello everybody! [cheers] Yes I was in station for three months last year, I was detained, I was illegal here, I was um, I put in my application and they said it was rejected but I had to put another one, I was [?] that, Please don’t ever, ever let this place open again. This place must shut down. Yarl’s Wood must shut down. It is hell! The treatment is horrible! The food is horrible! When you are sick, they treat you like as if you are pretending, they say you are lying! I was there for a while, I was very sick, and I was told I was pretending! I couldn’t [?], and I was told I was pretending. As if, they said “No you can’t go and see a doctor”, and they look at you and say “Ok, you have scabies”, I say “How do you know I have scabes?” There was no test for me to do to tell me what I had. I had a lot of infection there.
Please shut down Yarl’s Wood! It is not a place for anybody! Our mothers are there; our friends are there; our sisters are there; the young who have [?] are there. I want to talk about, children like Deborah, they shouldn’t be there, they’re just nineteen years old kids who are there. Release Deborah! Release Aisha! Release Edith! It should be shut down. People who have come there they have lost their children to immigration. They have lost them to, to Home Office. So people who are there have lost their children for one year. So people who are there have lost their kids; their kids are now in foster homes. Their kids are now adopted. And do you know what they do to you [when] they want to deport you? They inject you! If you refuse to go they inject you.
CHOOGODAY: … are not human. They inject us, if you resist deportation they inject you. That’s not good. And they deport you by force. Please we have come with our daughters who are there, our mothers who are there, who have lost their children. Some people have become mentally ill. I saw a little girl there, she has she suffered by herself, [?] Please release our girls, release our girls. Shut down Yarl’s Wood! [cheering]
PROTESTORS: Shut down Yarl’s Wood! Shut down Yarl’s Wood!
MFJ: There’s a reason why we call it a racist prison: because it is so racist that no matter what they see, even if they see that you are ill, they say that you’re lying. Every person in detention is treated like they must be a liar, because that is how the government wants us to view people who are Black, who are South Asian, who are from the Philippines, who are from China; this is how they want us to view the migrant community. They want us all to think that everyone is a liar, everyone is a cheat. It is a lie designed to divide and rule us, all of us. It’s a lie designed to divide the exploited, and get people to fight against each other. We reject that lie. We’re gonna stand together united, no matter what country, what language, what religion; what sexuality or what gender identity. We are together in this fight and we will not stop. [cheering] I want to introduce Jane.
Oh sorry. There’s one announcement that I need to make, for anyone who wanted to leave earlier if you have so far to go: there is a minibus that is gonna leave at four o’clock, and if you follow the guy in the orange jacket, down the front here, if you need to leave, he is gonna be heading off soon, so find him to be able to get a bus to Bedford station. Fourteen seats, for first come first served.
Um, I want to introduce Jane, who also has come out of Yarl’s Wood. And this is the thing, more than half the people that are detained get released at some point, but detention is designed to try and crush you, so that even when you come out you’re depressed, and yet, Movement For Justice and the fighters inside, they’re coming out more powerful, and being organizers of a movement. So this is Jane.
JANE: Hello, I thank you all who are here, supporting us. I was in Yarl’s Wood for two years, I’m Jane Surray [sic] from Uganda. We are detained there, I had my heart, my blood pressure was too high, 200 every day, 200. They took my blood test, they did what, I don’t know, because some of them, the doctors say that I was pretending, because I was fearing. Whatever, whatever, whatever they can say, but it was true.
I thank Movement For Justice, for the work they have done, fighting for us. I encourage all Ugandans, all Ugandans, to be strong! Everybody from each country, be strong! Victory, victory, victory! Come up! Come on! Yarl’s Wood people are detained: Mabel, Aisha, whoever is there, we are behind you! Be strong! We are behind you! Thank you very much, Jane from Uganda! [cheering]
MFJ: I’m gonna, I’m just gonna introduce… Like Jane said, victory, victory will be ours. I’m just gonna introduce Veronica, also who’s come out of Yarl’s Wood.
VERONICA: Hello everyone. [cheering] Hello everyone! [louder cheers] I believe all of us is excited to be here, this afternoon. You know there is something I used to tell people; I tell people that there’s some certain things in life that you cannot choose by yourself. Take for instance, you can’t choose your mom, can you? Can you say, this is the mother that I want to carry my pregnancy? Nobody can choose it. And if they share this bond, every [?] is entitled to life. If they share this bond, if it doesn’t cry, what does the medical person do? They begin to panic; they want the child to live. So why should anyone say, tell you, that you are not entitled to be on the surface of the Earth to live? Why should anyone tell you that you are not entitled to work? Why should anyone tell you that you are not entitled to be educated? Why should anyone tell you that you are not entitled to have a roof on top of your head? [cheering] I tell people, this land, the land that we all have, belongs to god, and it belongs to everyone. So it’s everyone, if you can move to anywhere, when god is making anyone they do not say, “Oh, this is the limit that I want you to go.” So if you are just, probably, maybe if you have the choice to make sure, to make, to choose where you want to be born, [?] I don’t have the choice but to tell people where I want to be born: I want to be born in Buckingham Palace, or White House. [laughing] But unfortunately, fortunately and unfortunately, I was born probably on the road, or I don’t know, in one village. But that does not mean that I should [be in?] my past. I need to move on, and take my future in my hand, so I am entitled to go anywhere that I’m supposed to be.
Last year, this Home Office, they called me, they were telling me, they told me that I entered here illegally; I never entered here illegally. I came here legally and my passport was stamped. And then they sent me a letter from nowhere, and told me that I entered here illegally, I said “No, I came here on this so-so-so dates of this year.” And they are not telling me, I say ok, come at the sign in. I go to sign in. And then one of these days I was just going there to sign, they told me that I have an interview. I said, “An interview? But nobody told me.” They say, “Yes, you don’t need to be, need to be phoned.” That is an insult. At least if somebody want to tell me to agree with you or to do anything, I should be phoned. But nobody told me. I was annoyed. I [met?] myself at Colnbrook. From Colnbrook through this, Yarl’s Wood. Before I know it, I’m just looking at myself, but, we continue to fight. And we will win, we will win. [cheering] I’m not for any man! Irrespective of your color, irrespective of your age, irrespective of whatever your gender, you are entitled to live your life. [cheering, whistle-blowing, banging against the compound fence]
MFJ: I want to introduce someone we’ve heard from before, a powerful speaker and advocate, who has also been released form Yarl’s Wood, this is Lorencia.
LORENCIA: Freedom! [cheering] I love Yarl’s Wood for one thing: it’s a battleground. Here you will learn a lot of skills. This is where women fight for their right, for their freedom. You fight and fight and fight until when the Home Office is tired of you, they will release you. So my sisters in there, I encourage you to keep fighting. Keep resisting. [cheers] Hold one another, we are out here for you. Look at the number of people who came here today. They left their job, their home, their comfortable bed, to come here and encourage you. I was there with you, I know how painful it is, but keep on fighting while we are fighting here. I keep encouraging you; and those who are outside, we have to keep encouraging them also. And I thank everyone that came in here. It is not easy to be in Yarl’s Wood. By the time you come out of Yarl’s Wood your mental status is gone. Look at them, with their small space where you only bring out your hand, this window that the women are suffering under [referring to the windows which only open 2 inches]. Imagine. But we keep fighting.
I remember what happened one day: a Chinese woman was very ill, in Yarl’s Wood here. The officers were doing one-to-one on this Chinese woman. She was here for a long time. At the time, she can’t walk again, almost dying. The women all of them hold their hands and call ambulance. When they called the ambulance, ambulance was coming to pick the woman up, and officers learned that ambulance was coming, they turned the ambulance back…
LORENCIA: Then they asked, “Who called the ambulance?” The women called the ambulance. oppressor, and the oppressee; that day women won because they gave the lady an attention, that was what [?] and other things. But I thank you for coming here today; I thank you very much and I appreciate it. God bless you all.
MFJ: I’m just gonna introduce Rosemary, who came down, organizing with the people with Leicester, who came out of Yarl’s Wood.
ROSEMARY: Hello everyone. Yeah, my name is Rosemary. I was in detention center for four months, and while I was inside, I was fighting, and now outside, I am excited to be here. I am a member of Movement For Justice, I am an asylum, and I came all the way from Leicester, and today I could tell you guys something that happened while I was inside. Last time you guys came I was inside; I was one of those people that was moving, waving my [?], whatever I could reach, but today I am outside. So I’m so, so excited, and the fight continues. But [cheers] But one thing I want to say; when you’re fighting a battle, you don’t know what to expect. Of course no battle is easy. Something happened last year during the deportation, I can’t remember the date, but it was sometime in November, we came up with a plan, because whenever you want to win, there must be unity in whatever you are doing. There must be collective effort, there must be sacrificial. You must sacrifice your time if you want to win, [cheers] in everything you are doing. And you want to determine, you want to determine to push, not matter the obstacles on the ways, of course when you’re fighting a battle there must be an obstacle. When we were doing this we were [?] for beaten, for beaten, from the officers but we didn’t care. And we didn’t care whether we were gonna win or lose, but all women were determined to fight.
We kept, I myself on that day I was not on the chartered flight, but I was determined to fight for myself too. We were in a room, with these guys that was to deport her to Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, so from one until nine we were there, I was there, I wasn’t going out to get something and come back, so at the end of the day when they were coming, when it was time for the deportation, because, they of course always pack our day, to take us. So when the first officer came in and said, “Call names, our names,” nobody spoke, we just kept quiet. “You guys you don’t want to talk,” we didn’t talk. So she went back, they came in again, they spoke, we didn’t talk. So what they did they went to bring the pastor, the man of god, because in there we have a pastor and we respect him a lot. So when he came, we appointed a spokesperson because you don’t talk collectively; for your voice to be heard you must get somebody to speak. So we had a spokesperson. And they led us to them, we said, “Pastor, if the one person from Home Office will come and tell us why they have to sign on our traveling document”—because that is a fraud, you don’t sign travel documents on behalf of anybody, it’s like me going to the bank to forge your signature—so we told the pastor, “Get one of them to come and tell us why they have to sign for on our behalf.” That was full fraud.
You know what happened? The pastor went back because what we were saying the truth. Nobody could come and tell us why. “If anybody comes to prove they have to do, we go back to Nigeria,” that what is what we told the man of god. And when this matter continued, we’re coming on ten o’clock. Those were the [?] left where we are, deported to Nigeria. But we were able to save about, maybe about fifteen to twenty that were in the room with us [cheering] so when we did, when they left, yeah when the coach left for the airport, I personally I went to room to room, getting some snacks, some biscuits, banana, whatever I could reach, all of us we were hiding together in the room. I would say something to them, all of them going to sleep tonight, together, “Nobody’s going to your room, you’re gonna sleep together in that room, if anything happens, just go ‘Oh!’ and we’re all out.” But obviously nothing happened, we won the battle. That is a battle for you. [cheering] We won. I told them one thing, I spoke, I didn’t speak for myself, I didn’t go there for pity, no, I told that because, because I know—some people would say that because my sister is now involved, my mother is not, I don’t want to come out. But I tell you one thing: that all of you have to unite. If you want to stop Immigration coming to terrorize you, if you want to Immigration coming to raid you, embarrass and intimidate you, all of you have to come out together, to be one, to determine to fight and stand. That was it. So thank all of you for coming. I am so happy that I am outside here, I was there, and I’m here now. Thank you very much! [cheering]
MFJ: I’m gonna introduce Sarah, who’s been working with some of the detainees, some of whom have been released, so she’s gonna tell us the news.
SARAH: Hi, I’m from an organization called the Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, that started in 2000 when Yarl’s Wood was opened. And since then people have been visiting people inside, and there’s a long waiting list of women inside who want visitors. It’s the most amazing thing to do, I’m so glad; it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve got some cards with me if anyone wants to get involved. Imagine if everyone here became friends with one person in there: we would link them up with all the organizations that will help them, like Medical Justice, like the Helen Bamber Foundation, and make sure they don’t slip through the net. Some of them don’t have a friend in the country; you can be that friend. It’s amazing, it’s an absolutely brilliant experience.
You hear such awful stories, like the other day I was told by a woman that she’d gone for a blood test, she’d had this awful pain in her arm the rest of the day, and then at 5 o’clock—she’d had the blood test at about 10:45—she’d found they’d left the tourniquet on her arm; that’s G4S [subcontractor at Yarl’s Wood] healthcare. They are absolutely shameful, and they’re given the contract to look after those women in there, can you imagine how bad the healthcare is, G4S. Um, another terrible thing was, a woman was told, “You’re being released,” and then they said, “Oh sorry, we got, it was someone with a similar name, you’re not being released.” These people are messed around, they are at the mercy of the people in there. And they are people who, as we know, have already suffered awful experiences: FGM [female genital mutilation], rape, all sorts of horrible things from their countries and they’ve come here for safety and what do we do? We lock them up, we make them more traumatized. And when they’re released, their story isn’t over. And I’m here today with the first woman that I visited, and she was released in December, and since then she has made a life for herself: she’s got two voluntary jobs, she’s learning to ride a bike, she’s got a solicitor, she’s got a house. I’m so proud to be her friend, these women are an inspiration! [cheers] I’ll keep coming back, you’ll keep coming back, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, make a friend in there, you’ll be amazing, thank you! [cheers]
MFJ: And as well Yarl’s Wood, of course, there are detention centers up and down the country because the UK has the most detention of anywhere in Europe. It’s the only place that keeps people indefinitely so that the Home Office can sit on their backsides and know that they’ve filled their beds, they’ve justified— they’ve shown they’re “tough on immigration”, and in the meantime people can rot inside these detention centers, all across the country. So I want to introduce someone who has come out of one of the men’s detention centers, is Morton Hall, where Ruben Ahmed died last year. So I want to introduce Kingsley.
KINGSLEY: Thank you. [leads chant] Shut it down, shut it down! Shut it down, shut it down!
In 2010 when I came to the UK, uh, when I passed through Birmingham airport, the only reason I have come here was because I thought this was one country where I was going to come to learn how to go and teach the governments in Africa how to be humane. I came here, I spent £12,000 at the University of Birmingham to study a Master’s degree in international politics, but then I was completely let down by the system because I realized, that the UK is [?] the current government, which coincidentally came from us in 2010, is the worst ever government you can think about. Now let me talk about two [?]. The first thing I want to point out is: when they call it “immigration”, it looks nice. But if you want to think about it, how it goes, how they do it, everything they do is similar to what was been done in South Africa: institutionalized racism. It is apartheid.
KINSGLEY: And then just think about it again. David Cameron, as a student, was campaigning, he went out marching, campaigning against Mandela being released from prison. Many people don’t know this, David Cameron was one of the people who supported Mandela’s detention. So David Cameron has not changed! He’s just covered himself with the position of Prime Minister. It’s something that he was supporting in South Africa, he’s doing it today. What is happening in the UK is just institutionalized racism because in South Africa if you didn’t have a pass, you go to prison. Today in the UK, if you don’t have a piece of paper—you know, racism has moved from the color of your skin to the color of your document. If you don’t have a red passport, you are liable for detention. That is what the paper tells you; you are liable to be detained. No trial, nothing! You are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.
Now this is the situation. I was working, I was editor of a magazine, I was living in a good house; the next thing I knew, they came in a raid, stood there, they knew where I was, I didn’t have any problems with them, I have never committed a crime, but the next thing I was in handcuffs, I was at the police station, and I found myself in a place that I never heard of—in Morton Hall. For three months they did everything to break me down psychologically; they almost succeeded, I will give you that. So I respect the women that have come out from this place. Each time I come here I just have flashbacks of what goes on in Morton Hall, because it is a horrible system. It is a place where you are sexually assaulted, because people come in and look at you, they treat you like you are a caged animal. You have women who come there at Morton Hall—we are men, and women just come in and open your door, they don’t even knock. So, I think if men are working at Yarl’s Wood, how do they do it?
PROTESTOR: They are the same!
KINGSLEY: Do they open the doors?
KINGSLEY: Women who have been in Yarl’s Wood, do the men just open the doors without knocking?
KINGSLEY: So tell me what, where on Earth can people’s dignity be so degraded? And what else makes people to be treated that way, other than the fact that they have a different color of passport? So if you are here today wondering what this is all about, stop calling it immigration; it’s not immigration, it is institutionalized racism. It is a new form of apartheid that the UK government has introduced. [cheers] And let me make another point again. When a British person goes to Cameroon, or goes to Nigeria, do you know what they call them? They call them “expatriates”. But when a Cameroonian comes to the UK do you know what they call him? An “immigrant”. So why is it that there are different [?] for people who move to different countries? Why is it that some people go to other countries and they are called “expatriates” and some people come to others and they are “immigrants”? There is no immigrant, because we are all humans, and we have moved from one country to another then you are an expatriate because if a British person can be an expatriate in Africa then a Cameroonian can be an expatriate here and Africans can be an expatriate. So we are all expatriates, here, seeking better lives because we have over two to three million victims [?] and do you know what? None of them is put in detention, none of them is being locked up. [cheers] So we have to tell this government to stop scapegoating immigrants, to stop scapegoating people because of the color of their passports, because it is another way—because they cannot do it again because of the color of their skin, they cannot do it openly—they’ve just shifted the posts.
So I want to say, thank you to everyone who has come here today, let us continue to fight, let us join Movement For Justice, sign up, let us push this and see that every detention center in the UK is shut down. Thank you very much. [cheers]
MFJ: I’ve got one quick announcement: just for those who came via the train, from Bedford Station, the coach may be due to leave at 4:30. [“Shut it down!” chants in background]
Ok I just want to introduce another speaker really quick, because we’ve had a struggle to get support, you know, to fund all the coaches and all that we need to be able to make a day like this happen. For the first time we had somewhat of a breakthrough with the trade unions, sponsoring some of the coaches and really supporting. We need to take this further and we need to spread this. so I just want to introduce the next speaker who’s from the Liverpool trade unions, Martin. [cheers]
MARTIN: I just wanted to say, first of all: I come from England, but I am 100% against Cameron and what he’s trying to do to people who are welcome! They are welcome in this country! [cheers] Not only are they welcome; we need you! We need you! [cheers] Because you are some of the best fighters on this planet, and we are all with you! So what is my message to the trade union movement, and anybody that supports the trade unions, from today? What is my message? We have five union branches in Liverpool that say, come down here, because, we say, we agree: shut it down! Shut it down! Shut this place down! [cheers] But that’s not enough. We’ve got to go, and if anybody here is in a trade union branch, take this message back from Martin Roth, who is representing the trade unions from Liverpool: every, every trade union, every trade union branch, must be the same, and they must get down here, and they must say, “Set them free! Set them free!”
PROTESTORS: Set them free! Set them free!
MARTIN: And I wanna, I wanna finish with this. What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do when we get back? Back to our places, back to our cities, back to our workplaces? We are gonna invite everybody that wants to come and speak to the hundreds and thousands of people that wanna know your story; they wanna listen to you, and they wanna fight with you! Thanks very much. And to finally say, let’s finish, with: shut this place down. Shut it down!
PROTESTORS: Shut it down! Shut it down!
MFJ: I have one last statement, one last speaker to speak, who’s from Movement For Justice, because we’ve got to build this fight beyond today and take it forward. So one last speaker, then we can continue the rally until we have to start getting on coaches.
TONY: Hi, it’s Tony from Movement For Justice. I want, I want everybody here to think back three or four years, would anybody three or four years ago, imagined that we would have a demonstration like this here today?
TONY: No. Three or four years back, people were saying, “It will take a lifetime to end detention. You can’t do it. It won’t be popular.” Nobody would say, “Shut it down”, they would say, “Set a time limit. Restrict the categories of people that could be kept in detention.” But they would say, “Don’t just ask to shut it down, that is a foolish idea, it’s politically impossible.” No— many, many groups were saying that. Now they’re saying, “Shut it down!” And they’re saying “Shut it down” because of what the people here have been doing over the last two, three years. And most of all, because of what the women in Yarl’s Wood have been doing over the last three or five years. That rising struggle has made it impossible to defend detention one moment longer. Nobody a year ago would have thought that by now two more detention centers would have been shut down; nobody. A year ago, people would expecting that Campsfield [House] near Oxford was going to be doubled in size; instead that whole plan had to be dropped. [cheers] In the last three months of last year, the number of people held in detention dropped by 25%. [cheers] The number of people who are being held in detention centers for over a year has dropped by something like 70%; that is because of this movement, it’s because of what people here are doing. Don’t believe anybody who says that the whole system can’t be shut down; it can, and it will. [cheers] And that will not be the end of the struggle, when we’ve shut them all down. We’re in a fight to end the whole immigration policy, a fight to open the borders, to allow freedom of movement, and to end the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees. And we don’t rest until we’ve won that whole struggle. This system of detention has been central to the scapegoating of immigrants. We can build our movement even stronger by closing this system down.
I’m gonna say one last thing, I spoke about this here last time: a detainee—we’re now finding more detainees fighting back, fighting on planes, and getting off planes. There’s one ex-detainee from Yarl’s Wood who didn’t feel that she wanted to speak; it’s her first demonstration since she got out, Fatmarta, but she got out for one simple reason: when they tried to deport her, back to Sierra Leone—this was the fifth time they tried to deport her—they got as far as Paris; and when they got to Paris, she delayed the flight for three hours; the other African passengers going back to Guinea Conakry, and Sierra Leone on that plane, stood up and supported her, they filmed the guards, and in the end Air fRance had to call the french police to order taskcorp off the plane. [cheering] And that’s what Martin means when he says, these are best and strongest fighters for freedom in this country now.
There’s another one who did something very similar in December 2013: she caused a demonstration on a plane, she delayed that plane for three hours. In the end, the Kenya Airways pilot was ordered by the airway to taxi down the runway until people sat down and put their seatbelts on; she’s back in Uganda, but she’s been fighting to two and a half years; she has never given up determination to win. And because she’s stayed in part of the movement, and because this movement has ended Fast Track, the system that she was deported under, we are now in a fight that we are going to win, to bring her back this year, to bring a new asylum claim, not in detention, in conditions of freedom, and she will establish her right to remain in Britain, as a lesbian, fighting to be the person she is. These are the [cheers] these are the fighters that can change the future direction of British society for the better! [cheers]
MFJ: [leading chant] Yarl’s Wood, shut it down! Yarl’s Wood, shut it down!