Over the past few weeks Class War and LSE’s Lisa Mckenzie in particular have been taking a lot of stick for their choice of target and tactics. For months Class War and the Women’s Death Brigade have been standing up against the relocation of young teenage mothers by supporting E15 Mums’ campaign, opposing Poor Doors, challenging Gay Pride’s for profit associations with big business and international banking, and exposing the dodgy deals and marketing of working class women’s bodies for profit at the Jack the Ripper Museum in Cable St. All pretty straight forward. Not everyone likes the shouty, irreverent style of the brigade, but its pretty hard to defend kicking out teenage mums, humiliating social housing tenants, censoring gay activists in the name of Pride, or possible shonky negotiations for planning permission. But then Class War went too far. They went for the hipster – and the infamous Cereal Killer Café. Jokes were made on Radio 4 quizzes. Newspapers dug around in activist’s private lives and recreational choices for a few exposes. Friends of mine argued that these were the wrong targets and the wrong tactics. I’m not going to get into analysis of cultural capital and bearded entitlement (but honestly doesn’t your face take up enough space already?). But I found it difficult to see the cereal café as the biggest victim in the struggle around austerity.
Fair enough, the other side of that coin is that the bearded cereal sellers might not be your biggest problem either. In fact you might not have heard about all the grassroots activism that Class War and the Fuck Parade had been doing if they hadn’t annoyed Shoreditch. [disclaimer – I am gluten and lactose free so cereal prices are never going to be my biggest issue] But the issue of personal taste, and personal tactics really isn’t the problem anymore. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what your personal political style is. It doesn’t matter how your particular political form and content sit together. Because whether you like it or not, whether we like each other’s style or not, we really are all in it together. If we didn’t know that already, the CPS have just made it very clear.
Lisa Mckenzie, whose book Getting By, is compulsory reading on our first year History course and whose methodology has inspired much of my recent work, has been summoned to Stratford Magistrates Court to defend herself against three charges relating to the Poor Door Protests in April 2015. She was arrested on 1 account of criminal damage and later charged with 2 counts of public order offences. Since then the Crown has been unable to gather evidence directly linking her to these offences. They have instead shifted to a charge of ‘Joint Enterprise with Persons Unknown’. In Lisa’s words ‘this means that I can be charged and held responsible for any actions that persons unknown have engaged in…The Police plan to issue me with a Criminal behaviour order on conviction which will limit my freedom of speech and movement for 5 years.’
The Poison Girls Persons Unknown on Crass Records 1980 was released to raise funds for an Anarchist community centre.
Jimmy McGovern’s film for the BBC Common (2014) was inspired by the real life case of Jordan Cunliff, sentenced for 12 years for a murder that he did not actively take part in.
We know that in the past conspiracy laws have helped make comrades out of competitors. In the late 60s the police made connections where they didn’t really exist. The conspiracy charges associated with the Angry Brigade roped in two female members of the Gay Liberation Front because they had edited an issue of Frendz with the other female defendants. The police were more used to monitoring rigidly structured leftist organisations or terrorist cells than the amorphous counter culture and saw vague moments of shared space, shared vocabulary or style as evidence of a tighter connection. Conspiracy legislation is a special type of magic wand. It can turn legal behaviour into crimes and ignores intent. Prisoners have been convicted for conspiring to escape from prison for being part of a conversation about something none of them wanted to do, that was never going to happen, and was physically impossible, for example. The two GLF activists arrested, and acquitted, for crimes associated with the Angry Brigade didn’t support the Brigade’s style, tactics or structure. But that hadn’t mattered. The trial, not the counter-cultural scene, was the process that broke down those barriers. They might not have agreed on targets, tactics or analysis, but when the state came for them, they were in it together regardless.
Joint Enterprise can be traced back to a 300 year old common law offence but its use has been growing over the last ten years. It is becoming the go-to charge in the absence of evidence. More than 1,800 people were charged with homicide using Joint Enterprise in 8 years. There has been considerable public concern about the use of Joint Enterprise in cases of assault and homicide. In 2011 the House of Commons Justice Select committee called for immediate and urgent ‘guidance on the use of the doctrine when charging. In particular, we would welcome guidance on the relationship between association and complicity’. McKenzie’s case can only add to these concerns and extend them into the right to protest.
With the proposed Trade Union reform, Prevent Strategy, and Joint Enterprise already in place its going to take some thinking to come up with any legal form of protest, whether its your personal style or not. The proposed Trade Union legislation will make a nominated Union activist responsible for the behaviour of anyone associated with a picket or action. That sounded bad enough. But at least the Union rep gets a high-vis and a clipboard. At least they know they might be liable. Under Joint Enterprise you never know who you will become responsible for, and indeed who will be responsible for your behaviour. If you didn’t get it before, you should now, we really are in it together. Other people’s tactics are not the problem here. The criminalisation of protest is the problem.
What you can do
Find out about Joint Enterprise
Tweet, publicise, be heard
As Lisa says: ‘Tell the media, Tell your Mam’ [my Mam is furious]
Come and show your solidarity on Wednesday 21st October, Stratford Court, 10 am.
Watch your back
NEWS: Lisa McKenzie found not guilty and further charges dropped. Judge also raised concerns regarding the level of profiling behind the prosecution. The original charge of criminal damage related to a sticker that had been put on a door. Best we keep watching our backs, and each others!