2021 has been a big year for protest, occupations and direct action. As we move into the new year and continue organising and strategising, I think it’s helpful to look back at what we’ve been up to. I hope this really brief overview will be a useful resource for activists in the UK, as well as international comrades who are less familiar with the UK situation.
I know that the category of ‘activism’ limits what we recognise as meaningful political action. Why is Extinction Rebellion always included in this category, when union organising, for example, or anti-fascist youth work, usually isn’t? If I had the capacity to take a broader look, I would’ve included the work of social centres, tenants’ organising (including student rent strikes and occupations) and anti-gentrification projects (*) – as well as all the local grassroots campaigns and community work that rarely get recognition.
What I have covered is obviously very condensed, so I’ve tried to put in lots of links to more information. All the information here is public knowledge; for everything I’ve written about, there’s so much organising and action that goes on behind the scenes or is never noticed.
The anti-HS2 campaign has seen several evictions, and gained publicity with the month-long Euston Square Gardens tunnel eviction in central London, starting in January. There were also evictions at Poor’s Piece in February, Leather Lane in March, and WAR Camp starting in October. Earth First organised a bike ride ‘Roll Back the Tracks’ in August, along the proposed route of the Northern HS2 phase – of which the eastern leg was officially scrapped in November!
While March saw the eviction of legendary 11-year-old protest site Grow Heathrow, there have also been lots of camps and tree occupations popping up this year: Ryebank Fields in Manchester, Camp Beagle outside MBR Beagles in Cambridge (see below), Dunsfold Climate Emergency Camp opposing gas drilling in Surrey, Save Ashley Down Oak (which succesfully saved the tree!) and others.
Stonehenge Heritage Action Group still have a camp, set up after December 2020’s mass trespass. They’ve held solstice celebrations, and will hopefully hold their postponed anarchist bookfair next year.
Kill the Bill
The Kill the Bill campaign sparked after the the PCSC Bill was announced on the 9th of March – the same day a cop was arrested for Sarah Everard’s murder. Sisters Uncut’s vigil on the 13th of March, and the violent police response, tied together the issues perfectly: violence against women, the expansion of police powers, and the need to Kill the Bill.
Lots of organisation and action followed immediately. There were strong demos in Bristol every few days, with violent police responses – including a riot in Bristol on March 21st, with cop vehicles set on fire and Bridewell police station smashed up! Squatters in London occupied the former Clapham Common Police Station around that time to protest the Bill too. A national day of action on March 23rd, called by Resisting Anti-Trespass (RA-T), saw trespasses and solidarity actions happening across the country. RA-T occupied a pizza shop in Soho, giving out free pizza – both that and the Clapham squat were violently evicted in the following week. Another demo took place in Bristol on that day, the occupation of College Green, which was met with incredibly violent ‘revenge policing’.
Resistance to the Bill continued throughout the year, with large demonstrations across the country, especially on Mayday. The former Camberwell police station was squatted in July, and the squats in Bristol (see below) were also part of the Kill the Bill movement there. Drive2Survive was set up, a campaign group bringing together people from across different GRT and nomadic communtities to resist the Bill. They held a demo in July, and at the Tory Party Conference (see below) in October. There has also been lots of ongoing repression in Bristol following the protests (I’ll go into more detail later).
2021 saw several international events: the G7 in Cornwall (an intergovernemental political summit), DSEI (a biennial arms fair) in London, and COP26 (United Nations climate conference) in Glasgow. There was also the Tory Party Conference in Manchester in October. Resistance camps, actions and demos were organsied for all of these. The Young Communist League have been in the spotlight: they managed to disrupt DSEI from inside, and got kettled by police at COP26 and the Tory Party Conference.
Some radical things happened in Glasgow while COP26 was happening (alongside a lot of liberal stuff!), such as Baile Hoose squat (see below) and a week-long Radical Free School at Glasgow Autonomous Space.
Squatting has continued across the UK. Squats in Manchester and Cardiff have opened again. During COP26, Baile Hoose opened in Glasgow to house activists and run workshops – challenging the view that squatting isn’t legally possible in Scotland! The Lockon squat in Cambridge has continued to run Cambridge Community Kitchen and many events, including ‘Lockfest’ to celebrate their one year birthday!
It was a big year for squatting in Bristol – Pigeon Shit Collecive opened a mutual aid centre in February, which was evicted in March. Subsequently 40a Space opened, followed by two more squats on the same street (!) and another in Bedminster (at one point holding all 4!). They actively supported Kill the Bill and other demos/campaigns, and turned one squat into Wonky Arrow Books, a radical donation-based bookshop. The police response was pretty wild – they received unusual police closure orders, and had huge riot police (from at least 6 different forces from around the country!) raid two of their squats and surrounding buildings.
The squatting scene in London is still thriving, with hundreds of residential squats and squat parties, benefit gigs, workshops, free shops, and recently an Autonomous Winter Shelter for homeless folk. There have been several weekendenders of workshops: Space Pirates’ SquatFest in September, a Temporary Autonomous Art weekender (celebrating 20 years of TAAs!) in October, and School of Trespass’ Weekend of Resistance also in October.
Black squat crew House of Shango have been holding events and running mutual aid projects (many POC-centred) in Brixton, historically a centre of squatting and Black radicalism.
The Free Palestine movement has grown and responded to situations in the Middle East this year, with big demos across the UK in May. Direct action network Palestine Action have been really active, especially in their campaign Shut Elbit Down against the arms manufacturer supplying weapons to Israel. They’ve targeted factories and offices of Elbit, as well as its subsidiaries and landlord company (Jones Lang LaSalle) all over the country (**) (including an occupation in Leicester in which the fire brigade, when called in by the police, refused to remove protesters), and disrupted the Liverpool Arms Fair and DSEI.
They’ve been subjected to lots of state repression, with many of their activists remanded to prison instead of being granted bail after actions. The group have also experienced raids, including of a co-founder who was arrested for ‘blackmail’ in February. In June, PA/HS2 activist Yogi Bear was remanded to prison and started a hunger strike, which lasted 37 days til their release!
Environmental direct action has continued across the UK, with land campaigns like the resistance to HS2 and Stop Cambo seeing wins.
Extinction Rebellion held their Rebellion in August, did actions at COP26, and targeted Amazon and the WWF. In spite of the relative immunity their liberalism has given them in the past, they’ve been facing repression and raids this year – including the imprisonment of James Brown. Their controversial offshoot group Insulate Britain have gained a lot of publicity, and 10 of their activists are in prison too.
The animal liberation movement and hunt sabs all across the country have continued being active throughout the year, liberating animals and sabotaging hunts and events, as well as exposing cops who are hunters.
They’ve had several direct action campaigns this year including Rabbit Farm Resistance, Free the MBR Beagles (who set up a protest camp, Camp Beagle) and resistance to the annual practices of fox cub hunting and badger culling.
Kier Ends Here is a campaign targetting construction company Kier, which builds prisons, vivisection labs, parts of the HS2 line, and lots of gentriying housing projects, among other things. The campaign therefore brings together lots of different struggles, and the week of action in April saw loads of actions all across the country. This included blockading access to the building site of megaprison HMP Five Wells for 2 days!
Campaign for Psych Abolition has been campaigning for psychiatric abolition and against the SIM model (/cops in mental health care). Among other things, they’ve been supporting those incarcerated in psych wards, and running workshops (including at the School of Trespass and Baile Hoose!)
There have been several campaigns to close down detention centres Penally and Napier Barracks because of the unsafe living conditions (a High Court case was won recently against the Home Office over the ‘accomodation’). The Home Office announced Penally would be closed in March, after a self-organised residents union started a closure campaign, and protesters blockaded the Home Office in Cardiff. in February there was a fire at Napier Barracks, apparently caused by a riot, and there were days of action (including a Festival of Solidarity) calling for its closure in May and September.
No to Hassockfield! and Abolish Detention Hassockfield have been organising against a women’s detention centre near Durham. It unfortunately opened as Derwentside in December, despite monthly demos and days of action against Galliford Try, who had been commissioned to work on the centre.
There has also been increasing organisation against the horrific Nationality and Borders Bill (NABB) and the New Plan for Immigration, which groups like No Borders Manchester have been opposing and providing information about.
Channel Rescue have been monitoring channel crossing and tackling the militarisation of the Channel. In September they spotted the UK Border Force practicing refugee pushbacks, and have since announced a legal case they’re taking against Priti Patel.
Prisoners + Defendants
Abolitionist organisers such as Anticarceral Solidarity and Community Action on Prison Expansion have continued to support those inside, particuarly opposing racism within prisons, including holding noise demos. There has also been sustained opposition to proposed megaprisons (you can find info on objecting in consultations here)
In the wake of the Bristol Kill the Bill riots, Avon & Somerset police have made 82 arrests and several house raids, in a pretty brutal and unrelenting repression operation. 10 of those arrested have pled guilty and recieved sentencing totally 49 years, including for things like urinating in public and stealing a policeman’s hat. Recently Ryan Roberts, in the first case to go to trial, received a 14 year sentence.
The amazing Bristol Defendant Solidarity and Bristol ABC have been doing great work to support defendants and those incarcerated. There have also been loads of fundraising events, in Bristol and further afield, to support the defendents/prisoners. You can donate to their fundraiser here and find addresses to write to here. This year Cornwall ABC was also set up, who have been running abolitionist events.
The Colston 4 trials also took place in December, and we’re expecting verdicts in the new year.
Anarchist prisoner Toby Shone was sentenced in October to 3 years 9 months (8 already served on remand) for drug offences, after Terrorism charges pinned on him last year have were dropped, following Counter-Terror police raids against 325.nostate.net as part of ‘Operation Adream’.
2022 and beyond…
Looking into the new year, I’m hoping for continued resistance and resilience in the face of undoubtedly increasing state violence. We’ve seen networks developed over the past year across the country, as activists moved up and down camps on the HS2 line, coordinated resistance to the Bill, and came together to resist summits.
However, the repression we’ve seen has probably given us a taste of what’s to come. I hope we can learn from this year, as well as from repression operations around the world – although this feels like an escalation in the UK, there are plenty of parallels we can draw internationally. The response in Bristol has been inspiring, and I’m hoping that we’ll carry on developing abolitionist solidarity organising.
If (when?) the PCSC Bill is passed, I hope it can be a chance for us to reconsider the most effective ways to resist, and to find ways to move forward. And let’s not forget international struggle; I can only wonder what 2022 will bring on a global political level, and how we’ll respond to it.
For a free life everywhere; til all are free; solidarity forever.
(*) such from Block the Block in Manchester and the Hidden Corner Cafe in Bristol
(**) including Wrexham, Bristol, Kent, London, York, Manchester, Brighton, Oldham, Leicester, Tamworth, Birmingham, Shenstone and Runcorn
Image by Guy Smallman.