Episode 9 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we interview Ru from the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence (LCAPSV).
“Very often, the best way to realise what you’re about is actually to do something, and not get caught up in the semantics of it all the time”
Show notes, links
Some extra reading suggestions and links from Ru:
- From Minneapolis to London: who polices the police? (Freedom News, May 2020)
- Hackney Community Defence Association
- Asian youth movements in Bradford (Working Class History podcast, September 2019)
- REVOLUTION IS NOT A ONE-TIME EVENT (The White Review transcript from a June 2020 panel talk)
- The Abolition of Carceral Forms (Base, June 2018)
- As we didn’t get to spend much time talking about NGOs, Incite’s classic Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
- Mariame Kaba: Everything Worthwhile Is Done With Other People (Adi, autumn 2019)
And finally, the Mariama Kaba tweet that was mentioned:
Questions I regularly ask myself when I’m outraged about injustice:
1. What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
2. Who’s already doing work around this injustice?
3. Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
4. How can I be constructive?
Ali: This is Resist + Renew.
Kat: A UK-based podcast about social movements.
Sami: What we’re fighting for, why, and how it all happens.
Ali: The hosts of the show are:
Kat: Me Kat,
Sami: Me, Sami,
Ali: and me, Ali,
Sami: I’m recording this now baby
Ali: Shit it’s a podcast.
Sami: So, Welcome back, everybody, to the Resist Renew podcast. And today we are delighted to have Ru who organises against state violence and also occasionally writes about race, gender, and abolition. Ru is mainly here today wearing a hat of someone who organises with the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence will also be hopefully bringing in other organising experiences. And knowledge is as well. Ru, thanks for coming.
Ru: No worries. Thanks for having me.
Sami: So, to get into it, and could you talk a little bit about the context that you are organising in so I guess broadly, things around like anti violence, campaigning, that kind of stuff? And like, why that’s an area that you focus on why you think it’s a good area to organise around.
Ru: So I’m generally organising against state violence, and how that manifests in different spaces. So be that police violence, or immigration enforcement and certainly previously gender based violence and how that’s exacerbated or accentuated in contact with this state? And why I’m organising. I mean, yeah, there’s, I guess over the years, I was thinking about this before I spoke to you guys, like I guess it’s coming up to like a decade of organising in different sort of spaces. And the thing I’ve obviously my politics have developed over time, you would hope that they would over the course of a decade, but the, the specific thing I was kind of come back to is like, yeah, where is the kind of accentuated power manifesting? And that is the state and how does that kind of interact with the lives of working class people, racialized people, migrants? Or Yeah, like, on the basis of your gender and how is articulated so I think for me, it’s always kind of this core idea that it comes back to for me and how I organise and even in in how my politics has developed is still the state unfortunately is, perpetrates, the worst violence is against us. And while the things I focus on might change over the years, or I might develop new tactics, or, you know, I don’t know, develop my analysis, that’s kind of the thing that I always come back to so.
Sami: And I guess, there’s a lot of, well, there can be, in my experiences, a lot of the people that do anti violence work, a lot of the focus in terms of especially if you start talking about NGOs, charities, a lot of its around, I guess we could broadly term interpersonal violence, in terms of where a lot of funding goes, where a lot of money goes, and IE often abstracting away the idea of the state and the state being a thing that does violence on people. And so I’m just wondering if you’ve got anything around that in to say, or to any thoughts around it in terms of like, what I guess the differences are, and or potentially the crossovers around like interpersonal violence, state violence, how those things kind of intersect, as struggles, yeah.
Ru: 100% and also, we can talk about NGOs later. Yeah, 100% and actually, like, I think I can come on to is obviously actually the problem with NGOs, or professionalised organisations that are securing funding from the state or have to articulate a relationship in collaboration with the state, there’s always going to be a kind of a level of, well, this can be changed, like the state can be made better. It serves us like this idea that, yeah, the state is there to serve us. And the thing it’s doing often is not serving us properly. But actually, the thing you’re able to do with a kind of more, I guess a more material analysis that’s actually grounded in what is happening around us rather than something that might actually be a bit idealistic is understanding that the state can’t be like, made to serve us. It can’t be made better. It can’t. Yeah, I guess this kind of liberal idea of it’s just kind of working wrong and it’s working badly rather than, actually these violences are the natural consequence of how the state is set up. It has to have people that are considered surplus. People that are unfortunately, you know, there’s this kind of balance of there, there are people that are always going to face the violence of the state and like that society is kind of organised in that way. And it won’t be that suddenly, the state can protect, for instance, like undocumented migrants or something.
Ru: So yeah, sorry, in terms of how these things connect. So I mean, you can talk about gender based violence, or Yeah, interpersonal abuse, where, yeah, if you experienced domestic violence or sexual violence, certainly, especially if you’re not white, or if you’re a migrant. So you, you know, there’s ways in which you’re kind of already kind of cast out or you face particular violence that on the state, you may face that interpersonal violence, you also know, for instance, you can’t rely on reporting something to the police. Because, you know, perhaps if you’re an undocumented migrant, you may get shopped to immigration enforcement, or you get read as the aggressor in a situation. So, yeah, I did a lot of work on domestic violence. When I was kind of starting out, I guess. And yeah, so many cases I dealt with were women who were like, migrant women or British, but you know, black or brown, and they get red as an aggressor in the situation, because they don’t know how to communicate with police officers, or at least get them on side.
Ru: So there’s, yeah, you might be facing that interpersonal violence, but like, realistically, are you going to go to the police, or, you know, actually, one of the specific things that’s used against undocumented migrants is an abusive partner or family member saying, well, if you try and report this, we’ll have you removed from the country. So so many ways in which people or you know, your documents are actually kept from you. So you don’t know where your passport is, or someone intentionally, like doesn’t renew your, your visa. So it’s easy, you know, all these things.
Ru: It’s really easy to fall into the logic of like talking about the state as an abuser, but it’s not. It enables abuse and enables abuse to be more pronounced for people that are already vulnerable. But the machinations of this state are set up in a way in which it doesn’t need to like be your abusive partner or like the abusive, I don’t know, parent, or however people try and think of the state, the way it’s already set up naturalises violence against certain people.
Ru: And so yeah, I mean, I can also come into this later. But I think it’s so important when you’re organising to have a proper understanding of power, and like how that manifests. And it’s, I mean, it’s really complex. But in some ways, it’s like, really easy when you’re talking about the state, because it’s like, there’s just not a way that you can change this, you can, you can certainly soften the blow, which maybe isn’t the right analogy when I’m talking about violence. But yeah, you can basically soften the blow of how the state operates, you can’t make the state good. So in that way, it’s fairly straightforward.
Ru: But yeah, when you’re talking about someone facing interpersonal abuse, it’s made worse by how the state operates, and the state can’t be made better. Although, yeah, sorry, I think that sounds really nihilistic. But we’ll come on to, like, what you shouldn’t be sorry. So when you’re when you have an articulation of like, what power is and how it manifests, you understand that you can’t make that thing good, what you can do is reduce the violence in the way that it operates. And you can scale back its power. And that’s why I always come down to like, you have to understand how power operates. And also in an organising context, it helps you to understand how you’re exercising power, even if you feel pretty powerless, right? In the face of this giant machine, or in the face of racism, or like structural whiteness. Actually, there are still ways in which we hold informal power, or are involved in a kind of ecosystem of power that we need to be critical of. And we need to use that to frame our organising and also how responsible we are to each other, because that’s how we’re developing a new way of being with each other that needs to then create the conditions for like, how we want to be down the line. Yeah, which again, we can we can talk about when we’re talking about abolition and, and stuff like that. But
Sami: I think it’s, I just think I think it’s really crucial because it is often an accusation that is slung at people who do the work that you do people to do, the work that we do is around that point of nihilism and being like, Oh, well. So if you don’t like the state, well, what do you like? And it’s like no, pointing out that it is futile, in our opinion, to make the state good as a project doesn’t mean therefore you do nothing. There’s loads of things you can do. And it’s far more fruitful to acknowledge the structural limitations that exist in the world, and put your energies where they can be productive. Rather than being like, Ah, this petition is going to be it, you know, like, this is the one
Ru: that petition and all petitions.
Sami: Finally there will be enough media spotlight on this day, and then everyone’s going to not care anymore.
Ru: Because it’s really depressing when you realise, like, oh, it wasn’t actually like the awareness that makes people mobilise. And I think you, you know, you kind of first get into it, you’re like, Oh, if only more people knew about this thing, there would be a scandal and people would, you know, be mobilised into action. And we see how that happens again, and again, especially around like, migration, and like people that are refugees and people that are fleeing danger or not, like, even if they’re not doing that, and they’re just trying to move to a different place, and how people are treated, or I don’t know, the condition in prisons, that people will surely say, this is so outrageous, and we have a moral duty. And then it actually, as you say, understanding that that’s not going to be the thing that actually spurs people into action. And coming to terms with the fact that people know what is happening. But unfortunately, it’s easier for them to ignore what’s happening, because actually, life is going to be more comfortable for them. And like, I don’t even think that happens maliciously. I think that’s it’s just much easier to take for granted that you can’t really change everything. So you might as well just kind of deal with it. And again, yeah, we can talk about this as well, like in organising, it’s the process that you go through, like doesn’t stop. The process of realising this stuff is bad. And it needs to change. Oh, and it just kind of gets worse sometimes before it gets better. And in fact, really often, that’s what happens, right? And oh, you start a campaign or you like want to materially change something that’s happening, or you want to meet material needs that people have right now. And surely, if you give people a thing to do, they’ll support it. If you just say, hey, dedicate a bit of time to this thing, like that will just happen, and then kind of realising why that doesn’t happen, gives you sustenance and enables you to kind of keep going through it. And yeah, it sounds nihilistic. But I yeah, I really don’t think it is, I think, for me, it’s a it’s a mode of like, actually being able to survive as recognising that the way that our world is set up right now, there’s some people that literally aren’t meant to survive it. And there’s people that aren’t, you know, you can’t appeal to people’s humanity if they don’t believe that certain people are human. So, yeah, I don’t know it. I think it starts off with a lot of probably soul searching, and being really angry at everyone all the time. And it’s really funny, because I see that happening, right? And how that plays out in my friends or like, I don’t know, you see someone kind of posting appeals on like social media or something? And why don’t why aren’t people paying attention to this thing? And you kind of Yeah, I think there’s a process that you go through that explains why that’s happening, and actually being able to come to terms with it. And also, it kind of stops you it jolts you from the naivety of thinking, if we just did this one campaign, we’re gonna win. And then that’ll be it. Because if, eventually when that doesn’t happen, you’ve actually got something to fall back on and say, okay, right. Well, that didn’t happen. But actually, we still get on with it. And there’s still other things that we do. And there’s ways ways that we, we survive.
Ali: Yeah, I think that’s really important. I definitely have gone through many cycles of that, like, hope and then despair. And then like, Yeah, and I, I saw someone post on social media saying, like, I wish I didn’t know this stuff, life is so much harder now. And I was like, That’s a shame. But it’s actually true. But also, like, you have to, like, I’d still rather than know, and keep going through those cycles and keep learning. And I guess I had a question of like, you were talking about, like, the state being an enabler of violence and like how, yeah, that’s just how it functions. I guess I was wondering, like, Are there particular things about this moment and this current context with this government in the UK, that it, is there a particular form that violence is taking now those specific?
Ru: Yeah, I guess it’s like two ways, which kind of might even contradict each other in saying them like, firstly, obviously not to exceptionalise what we’re going through right now. But also, specifically still to recognise that there is a mainstreaming of like, you know, far right politics or which has kind of been happening for a long time, but is definitely pretty powerful right now. And, yeah, obviously, while I don’t put many of my eggs in the social democracy basket, I still understand like, I know understatement of the century. I still understand the importance of having like, not an outright, like fascist enabler in government, right, but also, again, that throughout, certainly this country’s history, the relationship between like fascism and like far right politics, and the state has not really been like a fringe relation. And they set the terms of the discourse. So what we’re seeing right now, if we’re talking about particular violence is again, obviously, migrant groups. So, right now, we’re obviously seeing how people that might be trying to flee and arrive to this country are being treated. And again, really specifically how the far right is like framing what the political response to that is. So scouring beaches on the shores of off the shore of Kent, turning up to hotels, where they think asylum seekers are being housed, and demanding to know why they’re there. And like literally recording, you know, Britain First and others recording themselves going to room by room, and to find out who is inside. And there was here, I mean, there’s stories of migrants recently that have been physically attacked. But again, this stuff’s been going on for a long time. If you look at the areas where asylum accommodation is, and the sort of conditions that people are being placed in. And, again, kind of talking about it in terms of saying, well, that is obviously an inhumane. Again, it stops kind of making sense describing things in those times when you understand that we’re intentionally it’s being set up in a way where we’re not encouraged to consider these people as being human.
Ru: And yeah, I think, obviously, how the police, you know, in conversations at the moment where there has been this international response to like Black Lives Matter, and, and people being able to speak about police violence in this country. And unfortunately, they’re the kind of mainstream political will, across the divide is, we have to support the police like this, you know, the kind of narrative in this country, we have a much less developed narrative of critiquing police here. I think if you compare it even just to like, the mainstreaming of something, an idea, like defund the police in a place like the US where it’s not that helpful to make a direct comparison, obviously, because it’s so vastly different. But, you know, hear that’s just kind of really difficult to get for people to get their head around.
Ru: That said, I do think we’ve had a real opening in the last few months of people beginning to grapple with these ideas and like, it kind of filtering into maybe more like liberal aspects of political discourse and how people are thinking about the police. I think, actually, in a kind of perverse way, like the Coronavirus, like policing regulations, and the Coronavirus Act and the increased powers that police have like I’ve had really interesting conversations with people that definitely don’t normally encounter the police every single time they step outside the door, right saying, but I was stopped going to the park or you know, like, this is really outrageous is this and beginning to kind of join up the dots of right, so is this how someone experiences the police every single time they’re outside? If they’re black, or you know, in a working class neighbourhood or them, you know, how it depending on how old they are as well. Yeah, but at the same time, those powers have still disproportionately been used against the same targets of police violence, and really, yeah, increasingly, in ways where they just don’t face any impunity at all. And you have the Commissioner of the Met, who turns around and says, There is no racism in the Metropolitan Police and actually look at the kind of conditions of the Met at the time that things like the McPherson inquiry and stuff was happening. It’s just not any different right now. And in fact, they face as I say more, they have more impunity.
Ru: But also where it’s, yeah, I think the worst thing now is, and this is a thing I talked to, I guess, people that have been organising for many decades that have kind of seen the shift in political discourse. And kind of, you know, that people, at least, there was this idea that that there are resources, and actually you can support people, and actually, you grew up working class in this country, and you still have opportunity. And you see how that kind of that foundation has just, like eroded. And where we are telling young people growing up, we don’t have funding for like your education or like even your survival, but we do have funding for the people that terrorise you on a daily basis. And if anything, yeah, you know, there’s austerity widespread austerity for the last decade. But we still have money for the police and we still will expand the prison system. And while we may scale back, you know, immigration detention centres, immigration enforcement will still be a presence on your street. So as we obviously we understand three things like the hostile environment that it will encroach increasingly upon the communities that you’re in.
Ru: So the ideas of, you know, policing by consent, everyone is a cop. And, again, if you’re an anarchist, you would be kind of engaging with that politically anyway. But again, interestingly, especially around immigration enforcement, people are beginning to grapple with this idea of like you right, policing logic pervades, like, every point of access of getting support or like living in a society being a vulnerable person. Yeah, living in poverty, there is just like policing logic, which is pervading all of these interactions that you have as a working class person with, with these arms of the state.
Ru: So yeah, I think it’s bad right now, in short, but I think it’s for me, even in the space of a few months, I found it really heartening, how people are kind of coming around very rapidly, actually, to like some political ideas that certainly, I’ve been talking about abolition for years, and have had really varying responses to talking about things like abolishing the police, or, yeah, just the people not being able to even get their idea on what what a world looks like without police, and how we organise to get there. And how it won’t be an immediate demand. And unfortunately, it takes quite a while to kind of build up to those steps.
Ru: But yeah, so I think I’m, I don’t want to say optimistic, but yeah, I find it heartening, like it’s a thing. I don’t I actually, I think I am like weirdly unerringly optimistic about stuff, like I felt really high, like I felt exhausted the last few months. And there’s like, kind of demands coming in on all sides, but also, like people are really willing to learn. And angry. And like, it’s really, I guess, the depressing thing is always like, normally, people kind of get into this realisation through some form of crisis, or like some personal experience that is negative or through pure rage. But like, it’s a shame, it kind of has to go through that for them to get, you know, be able to grapple with stuff. But yeah, I don’t know, I think that stuff has been really positive and really promising. And I think it shows because the people that should be worried about it, have been worried about it. So that’s good for us.
Ali: Yeah, I guess, with the multiple crises we’ve been going through for the last few months, like a lot of people have gone through that experience and that hope, yeah, that is that thing of like, things are really, really bad. and stuff is impacting people in a really negative way. It’s particular people in a really negative way. And there’s that like potential. And that’s like, a tricky one to grapple with.
Ali: So, I wanted to move us on to like talking about a bit a bit about London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, if you could just tell us a little bit about the group and like, how it came to be and like what it what it tries to do.
Ru: Yeah, so yeah, so London Campaign Against Police and State Violence is one of the groups that I’ve organised with for quite a few years. It’s probably one of the ones that takes up most of my time, in terms of organising. So we’re, we’re just a community group, not an NGO, again, for reasons that I can explain. So we don’t take state funding, we just kind of fund the thing, the activities that we need to do, we don’t have paid staff or anything like that. And the group was set up in 2015, in response specifically to the violent stopping search of the family member of one of the members wanted the chair actually, of the group. And it was a community campaign that kind of coalesced around that. As, as often happens, we’re stop and searches, particularly against young black men, the person was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer after being violently assaulted by several police officers. So there was a kind of campaign that began around, firstly getting that person out of the the police station that there’ll be being held up, and then also fighting that case. So doing advocacy to support that person through their kind of interactions with the criminal justice system, and then supporting them to make a claim against the police for the violence of a civil claim against what they had done. Because very often you can only pursue a civil claim against the police when when you face police, so called police misconduct. So the group used to kind of do quite a lot more of this less so now, but like advocacy of people that were having to have these interactions with the police in terms of going through the court system, making civil claim, making sure they have the right lawyers, you know, this stuff is all a really alienating process. Very often when you talk to people that regularly interact with the police. They don’t feel there’s even any point in pursuing action against them because it doesn’t often amount to very much you might get. You might get a case that drags on for years, and then you get a bit of money at the end of it. And it’s kind of like, you know, it really isn’t often worth all of the time and the trauma.
Ru: But yeah, I guess one of the founding, the kind of key ideas of a group like this is building self determination, so and mutual, well, yes, mutual aid, and like, building knowledge and power within a community and for it not to sit with I don’t know, whatever people perceive as being like a movement leader or like a spokesperson. But this is very much like sharing power and knowledge and resources amongst ourselves. So that was one of the things we used to do a lot of, we also do things like stop and search workshops, or workshops with young people kind of connecting up, not just stop and search, but also like the history of the police in this country. And it’s it’s links to like colonial power and force used in other countries. Workshops around Yeah, non policing solutions to issues such as youth violence. And we did a thing last year where we kind of it was a community meeting that we held on youth violence, and kind of really pushing back against the narrative that has kind of perpetuated around that where it is, you know, well,
there’s an idea that these are just kind of inherently criminal, young people. And the only way to control them is more community police officers, and we really resist the idea of any level of policing. And certainly community police officers are no less violent than, than TSG, or whoever out or riot police. So community education, community advocacy. We set up a police complaint project in 2016, in collaboration with some kind of activisty or like good police lawyers. And that’s the other thing you have to kind of do a bit of digging to find who the ones are, that are that really get it right and understand how to navigate these systems. And that involved training up people that were just again, community volunteers that wanted to support people through the police complaint project, process, sorry. And it isn’t because we inherently believe in the weight of justice falls on the side of someone that is complaining against the police, very much the opposite, as I’ve explained, but unfortunately, you get things like, certainly the Met will look to the fact that they get very few complaints that are made against them and say, Well, look, there’s no problem with how we operate, because no one’s complained against us. And not digging into that data of like, Well, actually, there’s so many reasons why you wouldn’t complain against the police, because it’s a long process. And there’s really kind of strict criteria on when you can do it. And the process that you follow. Some people are getting, you know, like I you if you talk to teenagers in London, like they’re getting stopped so many times, it’s like, why would I even bother doing that like, or they didn’t even give me a slip to say who they were or. And but actually, the grounds under which they’re being stopped is, you know, you match. You match the description of someone who committed a crime in the area. And they can’t actually say what that description was other than probably that they were black and male. So yeah, it’s not we certainly didn’t do that project, because we thought like, the police complaints are a just and a fair system, but it is that you know, kind of you need to build up that power, firstly, for people to negotiate things and understand how these things work and be able to navigate that for like, for themselves and for their peers. And second of all, again, yeah, just to kind of continually show up the system for like the shit show that it is.
Ru: So that’s some of the stuff that we do in recent years. Oh, yeah. Actually, during the lockdown, we were working with some lawyers, and kind of supporting people that contacted us that had, again, faced really kind of intrusive, aggressive policing during lockdown. They wanted advice on their rights and kind of creating a mechanism for people to get that sort of support.
But yeah, we’re a group of a number of people, a lot of people who have, I guess, had experiences with the police or certainly have grown up being subject to police harassment regularly. There’s a mixture of kind of ages. And I think that’s really important in a group in terms of there’s been some groups I’ve been involved in where there’s really not a kind of differentiation in like kind of the age range. And there’s some people that have been kind of organising against the police for decades, right. And in parts, yeah, in, you know, South London, where we’re based where policing of like migrant and black and other PoC communities has been has always been aggressive.
Ru: But also, importantly, one thing I just wanted to really quickly talk about is we have a kind of combination of political approach. So some people kind of abolition, you know, believing the abolition of the police and fundamental the abolition of the state. And I’m certainly one of those people. But also, there’s people in the group that maybe have a bit more kind of stock in being able to maybe tweak bits of the system, but also obviously understanding that the function of policing is fundamentally violent and fundamentally racist. But that we’re able to kind of come together around a specific demand, which is kind of reducing the power and the impunity of the Met. And that’s still possible. And I think I just wanted to kind of flag that because certainly, I’ve also been in contexts in organising contexts where there’s like, maybe an obsession kind of with, like trying to get a consensus on what you’re about. And actually the best way, sometimes actually, very often, the best way to like realise what you’re about is actually to do something, and not get caught up in the semantics of it all the time.
Ru: And actually, so much of the ways that I’ve learned best is, yeah, I’ve done the reading around stuff. But that wasn’t how I got into it. Like, it has been in learning the complexities of how these things play out, and how your relationships with people play out. And yeah, how informal power structures operate, or like how dynamics of abuse might occur in a group, and how you actually are materially accountable to each other, all of this stuff like has happened in how the spaces I organise in, have have operated
Sami: And great. Yeah, I think we’re definitely gonna get back to that question. And spend a chunk of time on that question of like, holding those values and like living those values within the way your group works. But I did just want if it’s possible for you to just like, quickly say about because I know that London campaign against police and state violence did have that COVID project something. And I was just wondering if you could just spend a couple of minutes talking about that, just because I think it’d be interesting.
Ru: Yeah, so like I said, one of the things was supporting people that had had specific negative interactions with the police. And actually, one of the things that we had been looking at was also like mapping where incidents were taking place. But actually, yeah, this is a really useful example. Because the thing that prevented us being able to sustain a sustained amount of effort behind this was because we all have like demanding day jobs and lives and things that happened around it, that actually was really difficult to kind of, because there was certainly for me things kind of pulling me in a million different directions during the last few months that it’s been really hard to kind of sit interrupted with this thing and be able to do it. So yeah, we didn’t get to do that. But we did manage to kind of coordinate with other groups as well. So groups like the monitoring project, to support people that had complaints or things that they needed to get support with, and including people that hadn’t really had to navigate this before, and certainly haven’t had the sort of interactions with the police before.
Ru: And then some of the other stuff we were doing during the lockdown was we provided Well, we produce these kind of information posters and leaflets that people could distribute through their mutual aid groups or just put up in their local area. Because we were really concerned about obviously, the regulations have been changing all the time, at the kind of drop of a hat. And people don’t really understand or, like, know where we’re at, to begin with. But also, I think, again, going back to the idea of like, how everyone behaves like a cop. In many scenarios, like we saw how people were like, enforcing, you know, calling the cops on the neighbours, like we were getting emails from people that were like, I went to the park with my housemate and someone called the police on us. But also where people might not think about the fact that actually somebody might be going to work or like they might be caring for somebody or home isn’t a safe place for them. And we’ve seen obviously some kind of data into like, the increase in like cases of domestic violence that have been happening during this period where people are kind of, you know, trapped at home in unsafe environments. And actually, people don’t kind of think about that, when they’re all they see is when you’ve broken the rules, and I have to tell someone about it. So yeah, we’ve provided these kind of information posters.
Ru: I think the one thing was they were quite different to what we normally do. They were like, colourful and engaging and like had to say, beautiful, yeah, they were great. We had this really great designer that worked with us being quite demanding about it and really great about it and a group blew up the posters and put them up around London. So that it was like an a lesson I think for us as a group who kind of maybe are quiet, hardline, grumpy, like you know, hectoring maybe, I don’t know I don’t know what other people think of us as a group but maybe I can imagine they might think we’re hectoring when it comes to being like talking about the police or whatever, but this is kind of like, an a way because we, you know, we were thinking about this idea that like, people that haven’t usually encountered the police in this way, are angry and like, they don’t want this to be happening. And they want a way to be enacting care towards their neighbours. And they want to be looking out for each other. And obviously, the proliferation of mutual aid groups. And actually, there’s this real groundswell of support for like being there for people, obviously, there’s kind of varying ways in which those things had momentum and might have dropped off. But the point was that there was this idea that people want to help other people, and they want to look out for them. So we kind of pitched it in that way. And yeah, we had really good kind of feedback to that. But yeah, it was kind of one that was like the more outward facing thing of what we were actually doing.
Ru: And just to say, some of the members of that group and members of like GVC, ACAB, and yet some legalise over networks, we have, for instance, during the protests, coordinated arrestee support. So one of the really important things around like having protests, basically every week, for the last few months is they’re kind of happening at the drop of a hat, you know, people that perhaps aren’t organised protests before, which is really great. And it’s really brilliant. But there’s a kind of whole foundation of support that happens around doing a protest during a direct action, which is, again, acting from a position of care for people around you. And one of the things that that requires is, yeah, certainly having arrestee support. So you know, there are people that are very young, like there were teenagers that have been kettled and arrested by police officers as young as like 13. So we made sure, and we drew upon just again, people that kind of volunteered and wanting to support, making sure there are people waiting outside police stations, in the early hours, up until people were the final people that we knew in there were released. And again, doing that in collaboration with the lawyers that were supporting people inside, and making sure that those lawyers were good ones, too.
Ru: So yeah, that that kind of grunt work, which people you know, and people like, you’ve never encountered that before. Like, oh, like, what, what organisation is this? And again, it’s like, we are all just community groups. And it’s just people that were really keen to support that were like, yeah, I’ll go down to like, the opposite bit of London and cycle there, four o’clock in the morning, and make sure that I wait outside the station for somebody.
Ru: And, yeah, it’s really a kind of thing that people seemed really keen to get into as a way to support if they couldn’t be at the demos themselves for safety reasons, maybe their shielding or whatever. And we still had to do that. And in a way, where we were attentive to the fact that, you know, we shouldn’t really be encouraging people to get public transport. Because this was obviously during the summer, it wasn’t really safe. And they were kind of discouraging people from doing that. So who are the people we know that have cars? And is that one of the only times that I was like, mournful that I don’t know more people with cars in London.
Ru: But yeah, people’s liking down. And we made sure that people had face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as the usual things, which were like snacks and like, you know, money for someone to get home. And so we kind of adapted to what the thing was the kind of context that we’re in right now. And it’s been really great. And actually, we’re trying to create a kind of template for that. So people can scale it up whenever they need to wherever that’s happening.
Ali: Amazing. That’s awesome. I think. Yeah, I thought that was really great. When that was all happening. And I was like, definitely felt like other people who like hadn’t been as active in other areas, we like seeing quite a practical way to get involved. And that was like, a nice way to like, add my name to the spreadsheet. Someone call me. That’s cool. Yeah. And I like what you’re saying before, like, about acting from a place of care, like, because I think that was a really practical thing of care being enacted. And I think that links us back to that. The question we wanted to ask is like, yeah, so like, anti violence, anti state violence, abolition. Those are like, pretty big values and involve, like some big systemic changes, but they also involve like practices you were talking about in your groups. So it’s like, curious to know, like, a bit more about like, how, how have you like, found, like, trying to put some of those values into practice?
Ru: Yeah, it’s funny, because when I was thinking about this, like, yeah, how do I operate in my organising, and care is the thing that, for me, it has come up a lot over the years and like, it’s a thing that I say more now than like, maybe the kind of quite militarised language of like winning and stuff that I find really off putting actually in how people kind of talk about demands and winning and like fighting and actually that’s just really not what I’m interested in. And when I think about like, why have I gotten into this, like what was my kind of, you know, like process of getting into politics, it’s always been around how this kind of idea of like wanting to protect people and like yeah, acting from a place of care. But for me, it’s not this kind of abstract idea of, you know, I don’t know, like care can encompass quite a lot of stuff. And I mean it in a really material way. So yeah, protest support being one example of that. So you’re actually materially showing up with four people. But yeah, you’re making sure they have sustenance, you’re making sure that they’re fed and that they’re, they’re safe, they have a way to get home.
Ru: In a group, it means you know, groups don’t just operate by like having a demand and like doing a campaign around it, you have to check in with each other, there will be people that are struggling, there’s people that are encountering the violence is that you’re trying to fight at the same time. So it’s so hard to not use that kind of militarised fighting language. And I find it really off putting, but I still can’t help but do it. And so yeah, care like materially showing up for people.
Ru: The thing I really want to heavily resist, and the thing that I find quite troubling is like people kind of have this idea of, there’s people that are like the movement leaders, there’s the people that do the like, spokesperson, spokespeopling, or whatever the word for that is the verb for being a spokesperson and a leader are the people that do the like, pushing something forward. And then there’s just the people that sustain a social movement. And they’re the ones that were like, bring food to a meeting or like, check in with everyone or give people a call. And actually, we should all be doing that. And the problem with how are organising is up at the moment is it’s not, that’s not happening. And certainly I have repeatedly been the person in the groups that I’m in. And that is the person that kind of does that stuff and kind of tries to like socially hold a group together.
Ru: And there’s really few people in the groups that I’ve been involved in, they are the ones that do that. And I think the reasons why they’re the people that do that very often is because they feel this kind of compulsion that they have to and really often it’s like, you know, as simple as, like, that’s just how you’ve been conditioned, you know, certainly in a gendered way. Or like maybe you’re an older sibling, or like, you know, you just kind of, there’s ways in which you’re more attentive to stuff like that. And there’s some people that just won’t think of things in those ways. And I think it’s such a damaging thing right now that we’re dealing with. And it’s one of the reasons why abuse is so rife in so many groups, unfortunately, like among the left, and the dynamics, the structures of abuse. So again, always coming back to this idea of like power and how it manifests. And like, it’s not that it’s often intentional, but like, there are people that because they hold, they’re kind of at the top of a hierarchy in a group that they won’t be held to account or like they can behave with impunity. And it certainly isn’t like in a malicious way really often, but it’s just not, it’s not questioned or like, there’s people that always relied on to be the ones that will do the grunt work or like do the like unsexy, like unexciting stuff behind the scenes.
Ru: And I think a thing that, yeah, it’s one of the things I have found really quite difficult, has been the idea that the ways I’ve seen that play out in groups has been that it’s really often just like a few people that that falls on. So I think for me, one of the ways that I I act out those values is like, in recent years, I’ve developed a language around like boundaries, which has been like mind blowing for me, and actually just saying, like, No, I’m not going to do this, like I can’t do this, I can’t hold everyone else’s stuff, let alone like barely having the space to do that for myself. So yeah, I think I read a thing a while back, which I can’t remember who the person was, but it was about when we talk about like boundaries, or when we understand how abuse abuse plays out, like in our organising or just like in the spaces that we’re in, we kind of have to start from a position of like articulating for us like protecting ourselves, not in a not in a defensive way. But if I can’t even say, Well, this is the limit for me, it’s going to be really easy for me to keep falling into these scenarios where I kind of end up holding everything, and I keep being the one that has to like, fix everything in the group that I’m in. And I’ve certainly found myself in that position before. And if there’s people that never do that, like inward reflecting work, they’re gonna keep being the people that like, go into these environments and just face no level of like self reflection and potentially do quite harmful things. And so yeah, for me, it’s like, material care.
Ru: Not as this kind of abstract thing, but as a really concrete and like ongoing project. Like we always need to be acting from a position of care. And I’m actually much more interested nowadays, when I’m organising with people in knowing how people understand that versus like, do they have a 10 step plan to winning or like, whatever, like,
Sami: or what’s their opinion on the 1980s Russian Revolution, right,
Ru: But also like, Yeah, I don’t like and maybe like my impression of it is quite fleeting, but actually the people that have that and haven’t sat with like, have I harmed somebody? Or like, what does it mean to like be accountable to myself as a way of producing a behaviour that then means that I will be accountable to other people and other people know that they have to be accountable with me. If someone hasn’t done any of that, but they’ve read a million books, I’m going to be wary of them. Because, yeah, it’s just really unfortunate, like the number of times that this stuff has played out were incredibly intelligent people who are really well versed in all the kind of right stuff that Yeah, certainly I would say, I’m not immediately well versed in all of those things, can do really harmful stuff. And so, yeah, increasingly, I’m kind of not interested in organising with people, if I don’t think they kind of understand that. And also with care, like, is your organising putting other people at risk? So care also means not subjecting other people to surveillance? For instance, like, when you are messaging things to people about an action? Are you immediate, you know, do you have people listed under their name? Like, are you deleting messages, these are all ways that we enact care that are really material solidarity. So you might be fine with like, having all your details on the internet or whatever, but do the people that you organise, with feel comfortable with that? And, again, acting especially when we are facing like we have faced for many years, the state surveilling activists and I picking out people that they believe are the leaders of movements? This is what care means it’s protecting people from state surveillance from from police, police spying, or, you know, facing risks with like, their work or other stuff. If it’s not actually kind of Yeah, it’s not safe for them to kind of talk about the organising and stuff that they do. Or like, as basic as if you’re organising with in solidarity with working class, migrant community, are you doing things that actually make them feel more or less safe in the community that they live in? Or like, you know, like, it might be an action that looks really cool to you and your mates? And you can say, you know, show off about it down the pub or whatever, but like, did it? Did it centre the, this idea of care towards people?
Ru: So yeah, sorry, that was a really long winded way of me Just saying. Care, ideas are kind of transformative justice, accountability. And yeah also being really conscious of how increasingly also, unfortunately, this language can also feed into ways that people end up policing each other. So we still haven’t quite gotten there. But just like having an attentive to attentiveness to that, and yes, certainly how power manifests as well. And having an articulation of that.
Ali: I thought that was like really practical, and really like, helpful reflective questions. And I’ve definitely like being on both sides of those things of like, holding loads of things for other people. And also like taking that like, sexy role of doing the fun stuff that like, feels really important, but can neglect the other side? So it’s like, keeping that in mind and keeping reflecting on like, which side I am on, on that kind of stuff is really helpful. But yes, Sami…
Sami: I was just gonna say that. I think it’s really important. Because I think often, when we talk about ideas like transformative justice, we talk about care. We talk about these like big, broad, nebulous concepts, to ground that in what it is that actually means in practice. And I think it’s really helpful to think of care as a thing that spans from making sure there’s food at the meeting, to good security practices to developing your own boundaries to, I guess, like, economists have the phrase like perverse incentives, right, like removing the perverse incentives that exist within our movements and undoing those power imbalances that happen around the kind of perennial tug around roles that get media attention, and voice and panel chats, and all that kind of thing. And so I think it would be really useful to know, because given that we’re going that kind of like practical shift in the conversation like what do you think that people should do? If they’re really vibing off the things that have been brought up in this conversation, and they’re really inspired by what’s been come up in the chat? What would you suggest people like focus their time on or into?
Ru: Yeah, um, I find that really hard question actually. Because I think if I had like a set of easy like campaign demands or something that would be really weird. And like, suspicious. Join my policy platform. Oh, God, yeah. Am I gonna have time to even we’re probably wrapping up right. I’m like, oh god, this So many things I haven’t even like gone into that much detail about which will just probably end up being me ranting about stuff anyway, I don’t have a set of policy, I don’t have a set of like things that you can immediately get involved in. And like, sometimes I’ve done yeah, like small light discussions or like panels and stuff and said, like, here’s a group that I organise with, and you can get involved in it if you want. But actually, for us, as a group, it’s sometimes really hard to even deal with that offer of support. And I felt really bad, where people email us and say, I just really want to get involved, anything you’re doing. And it’s like, well, actually, the things that we’re doing are like, you can’t, yeah, like, actually, this project we’re doing right now, it’s not easy to kind of just jump into it. And we need to kind of guide you through it, because we don’t want you to get involved and then feel really off put and overwhelmed by and then never want to do anything with us again.
Ru: Also, unfortunately, when you’re a group that is organising against the police and state violence, like we also have to have particular security practices to make sure that we don’t have like, undercover cops trying to join our group, or even if they do join, maybe we can only get them to do useful stuff rather than, like, tear the group apart. And you know, they can leaflet for us. That’s fine.
Ali: They’re the ones with cars.
Ru: Yeah, exactly. No, actually there’s like, yeah, we can there’s groups that have had police infrastructure infiltrators, that people have been fine with, because actually, they’ve done really useful stuff for them. Like, it’s really bizarre. But yeah, that’s the sort of stuff that we have to kind of worry about. So the things that I would say, if you want to get involved in doing doing stuff, there’s I think it’s like Walter Rodney or something that kind of talks about, obviously, he was kind of an intellectual, but we talk about things like, get involved at the point that you have a realm of influence and power, and again, certainly figure that out. And then realise, yeah, you can kind of come to a realisation yourself of like, Where will I have maximum impact? I’m sorry, I’m talking like a campaign training right now, which I feel really self conscious about. But so is it that you’re a teacher, for instance, and actually, like there’s a thing that needs to be organised through your union in your school? Which obviously, at the moment, with a global pandemic, there’s quite a lot you can be organising around? Or is it like food distribution is that you’re, you know, you’re in contact with Yeah, young people that are facing stop and search? Like, can you be getting a workshop set up and like, guiding them to kind of join the dots between the policing they experience and like the violence of the state? Because Yeah, there’s obviously young people are amazing at kind of being able to, if you give them the resources, they can make these connections. The problem is very often they’re not being given this information and these resources. So I don’t think I have like, an immediate way that people can get involved in stuff. But yes, certainly, I guess thinking about Marian Carba who talks about if she hears of an issue and is like, Oh, wait, what is why is no one talking about this? And kind of taking a step back and saying, Oh, right, maybe it’s just I haven’t heard about this thing. But there’s probably somebody that’s doing something around it. And some usually have
Sami: I literally have the tweet up.
Ru: Oh, please. Yeah, I was like, I’m definitely gonna bastardise it. So you say
it’s just because it when you said that we’ll throw out anything is what it really reminded me of. Sami: And it’s the thing which I always it’s my reference point, rather, the questions I regularly asked myself when I’m outraged by injustice, question, one, what resources exists, so I can better educate myself. Question two, who’s already doing work around this injustice? Question three, do I have the capacity to offer concrete support and help? And question four? How can I be constructive?
Ru: And the last two are actually so important? Because like, very often, there’s this rush of goodwill? Yeah, just because I couldn’t see somebody did a chef’s kiss? Because it’s like you, yeah, do the education, which I mean, actually, sometimes I think people get stuck at that point, and just want to keep consuming information constantly, and want to like, watch all the panels and like, read all the articles. And it’s like, you kind of have to progress beyond that at some point. So I would say, firstly, move beyond the first point, because, as I said, the learning is really important, but very often you will, like, develop an understanding in the doing. But yeah, certainly the last ones where you might really want to support with something, but do you actually have the time, you know, you might have children or other caring responsibilities, you might have a very demanding job. This is the thing I am personally quite bad at, is to do things – having an incredibly demanding life. And like carve and again, talking about that stuff around, I have now developed a language of having a responsibility towards myself. So I’m like, actually, no, I have to say no to that, and I can’t do that, but I will give money towards this thing. Or like, you know, I will check in with the people that are doing something and just say, Well, look, I can do this small amount of this just in case that’s needed.
Ru: So yeah, I don’t want people to think put off by this idea that you need to have any sort of expertise, specialist expertise. And very often people have just done the most amazing organising through like a burning rage and a desire for things to be different. My quick ways for people to get involved are really long. So one of them is like, you don’t need to go to NGOs, there’s like community groups that are doing stuff and look them up. And like you don’t often need to even start your own thing, because there’s probably someone operating with very limited resources in your area that you could be supporting. And certainly do the learning, but also do the self reflecting about what are your own limits? What are the things that kind of draw you to a certain type of organising? And like, Is that going to be nourishing and fulfilling? And is it going to help you to kind of work safely with people? Or is it actually also coming from a kind of space of trauma, which really often there’s people that kind of organise in certain spaces where it comes from a particular space of trauma, which again, it isn’t, it isn’t necessarily bad, but if you’re aware of it, and how that plays out, in your relationships with people in how you operate, that’s the important thing. And yeah, where do you have power and influence? Again, like develop analysis of power and your own power? And where you can, you can enact it? And if you can’t, like, if you don’t have the time, or like, actually, it’s really hard for you to I don’t know, organising Migrant Justice, because actually, that’s not a world that you’re kind of involved in, maybe you feel wary or whatever, actually, could you just be giving money to a group like, is that just the best way you can do it? And that’s fine. The one thing I would just say is like, please do try and get involved in stuff, because there’s a lot of us that are like, prematurely ageing, and sad and tired. I only say that, because I have noticed many more white hairs recently, and I feel like they’ve just yeah, happened over the last few months. And like, it is really hard. Because if you are somebody that says okay, yeah, I don’t want to be involved in like, being a professional activist that works in an NGO, it means that you do a demanding job. And you might even have like other responsibilities. And you have to find time for this. All because you try to be politically principled, and then it feels like you shouldn’t have bothered trying to do that, because it’s really exhausting. But like, you know, if it if it isn’t safe for you to kind of be entering the spaces in a visible way. Yeah, think about how that kind of plays out. And make sure you Yeah, make sure you look after yourself as well in the ways that you want to be there for other people.
Sami: That that conversation reminds me of something that we’ve talked about within Resist Renew, around when you’re talking about like self reflection, and like that kind of like personal work you need to do when you’re like trying to get involved in organising. And around was something that we discussed after doing some workshops with mutual aid groups to support mutual aid groups after they set up. And and we had a conversation about well, what could the follow on things from this be? And and there was definitely something around trying to hold that conversation for people and say, like, Well, let’s think about if you think about this, these things as like a movement ecosystem. And you think about these different roles that people embody, in these kind of groups, think about what you’re best matched to in terms of like, your general vibe and approach. And what is the kind of like asking, like giving a structure to those questions of like, why is this the thing that you want to get involved in? Like, what is it you’re bringing to this work? Like, what are the skills you’re bringing, but also, what are the traumas you’re bringing, what the difficulties you’re bringing? And how can you like, think about that? So not to say, therefore, you shouldn’t do this thing, but how can you like get into it in an informed way? There’s probably so much more we could chat about in this thing. There’s so much more we could chat about in terms of like NGOs, NGOisation industrial complexes, solidarity, and all that kind of stuff. But it probably is best to maybe draw this to a close now. And we can who knows, maybe even have some subsequent chats. Who knows how it’s gonna go. But is there anything that you’d like to throw in before bringing it to an end?
Ru: Wow. Um, yeah, obviously, thank you guys for having me. I really hope that people haven’t who anyone that listens to this doesn’t feel really off by like the work because I promise you it gets a lot easier when you actually just do it. So that’s the one thing I would say is like, for me, like there’s I people that I organise with, there’s some people that I will actually trust my life with, and that’s like a really great feeling to have. And yeah, it’s certainly where it’s worked really well. That kind of sense of care and like feeling that there is somebody that is there to support you and will kind of Yeah, when this stuff gets really hard, but there are people around you that you can rely on to do this stuff with is a really great feeling. And for me, it’s been one of the few things that helps me to kind of get through the shitstorm of like, everything that’s going around in the world on a daily basis. So yeah, I guess I just end on a note of hopefully, positivity or just hope. Yeah, just. There’s really great things that are happening right now. And there’s really amazing ways that we can imagine being with each other and creating a new world through the stuff that we’re doing right now.
Sami: There is the only business acronym which I like jfdi – just fucking do it – is applicable. Now. So Perfect. Thank you so much for taking the time. This has been a joy. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been a lovely way to spend a Friday night.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai