Comment

A Haringey Just Stop Oil member on going on trial for protesting

Kim Valdez is an artist and activist from Crouch End who was acquitted in court last month

Why do hundreds of ordinary people risk arrest, fines, and imprisonment by slow marching with Just Stop Oil? The answer is because we are desperate – and so we should be! As I write, the Labour Party has joined the Tories in downgrading its policies on climate change. Just as the world records an annual temperature of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and we are already seeing the deaths and instability caused by floods, droughts, fires, and famines, our politicians are closing the door on hope.

I am a Crouch End artist and a founder of the Crouch End Open Studios. Over the years I have made a lot of art about environmental issues, climate change, protest and war. In October last year, I had a ceramic work about the Greenham Common protests exhibited at the Barbican Art Gallery in the exhibition Re/Sisters: A Lens on Gender and Ecology. After that, I felt I had to ‘put my money where my mouth was’, so I went along to Trafalgar Square and joined others in a Just Stop Oil protest march down Whitehall.

It’s not every day you find yourself alone slow-marching through central London, the last one walking because all the others have been arrested. I am white, middle class, and too old to worry about my career. Many of the younger marchers had been arrested on other occasions and were putting their future and present careers at risk. We owe them thanks and great respect.

We were all driven off to various police stations. As we swept down Piccadilly past the Marina Abramovich exhibition at the Royal Academy, I laughed at the thought that in the last hour I had become a performance artist! How great would it be if all the Royal academicians and artists of the next summer exhibition were to turn out for a slow march from Piccadilly Circus to Hyde Park! Do we have any RAs in Haringey?

As we saw on Remembrance Day, the government is set on preventing protests of all kinds, and under their new laws we are losing all our hard won civil rights. Currently there is a defence for some actions based on freedom of
expression and freedom of assembly articles set out by the European Court of Human Rights, but I have read that the government is planning yet more serious restrictions and these new measures will be introduced as amendments at the report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Commons. Instead of recognising climate change as a driver of migration and growing inequality, politicians spend their time and our money on repressive and retrograde new laws.

Just Stop Oil protesters are ordinary people from all ages and all backgrounds. If taken to court they face fines or imprisonment. They usually have to ‘self-represent’, since the starting price for a solicitor is around £1,500. Haringey resident Marcus Decker is still in jail after receiving a 31-month prison sentence for his environmental protest in 2022.

With the help of more experienced protesters, I survived a crash course in arrest and prosecution. I found out the police routinely bail you in the small hours when there is no transport home. The magistrates courts I visited were quite modern buildings operating an archaic and underfunded legal system. The courts are not geared towards ‘self reppers’. The Crown Prosecution Service is chaotic – they won’t or can’t communicate with ‘self reppers´ by email and so deadlines are routinely missed and evidence is sent by post to defendants. Video evidence arrives on a CD that no one with a modern computer can read. The good news is that many protesters have been acquitted or have had their cases dropped for a variety of mostly mysterious reasons that might only be understood if one had a solicitor. The bad news is that we are up against a group seduced by the powerful lobbying of ‘big oil’ and politicians who are not interested in a future beyond election day.

I’m back now in my ‘normal life’ but I wonder how much longer we will experience life as ‘normal’.


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