Posts Tagged ‘institutional racism’

Close Down Yarl’s Wood – August 2015

Monday, August 8th, 2022

Close Down Yarl’s Wood – Yarl’s Wood Immigration prison, near Bedford

Saturday 8th August 2015 saw a large protest outside the immigration jail at Yarl’s Wood where asylum seekers are locked up indefinitely by our racist immigration system without trial, a prison run for profit by a private company where detainees are subjected to abuse and sexual harassment.

Yarl’s Wood was used to detain women, many of whom had fled abuse and violence in their own countries only to arrive in this country and be locked up and further abused here. The detention centre is in a remote location in a business park on a former wartime airfield around five miles from Bedford.

The protest was one of a long series organised by Movement for Justice, but was supported by a large number of other groups, particularly many women’s groups including Sisters Uncut. In my post on My London Diary I listed 25 of them, but there were others too. This was only the second protest they had organised at Yarls Wood, but it came after a series I’d photographed at the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres.

MfJ is a small Trotskyist group which has been one of the most active UK groups organising against racism and for civil rights in the UK since it was formed by students in North London in 1995. This protest came a couple of years before a bitter dispute led many other groups to end cooperation with them, but MfJ continue their active role, in particular in opposition to deportation charter flights and the shameful Rwanda plan.

The main entrance to the detention centre is on a private road which is gated some distance from the centre. The coaches bringing people from across the country, and me and others from Bedford Station were parked in a long line at the side of a public road around a mile to the north, close to the locked entrance to the business park. The protest began on an area of grass here as we waited for everyone to arrive, and there were speeches and much chanting and dancing.

Finally the protest began its march, setting off around 300 metres along the road to a bridleway which eventually after around a mile of walking led to a hilly field beside the 20ft high fence around the prison. The lower 10ft of this is solid metal sheeting, but the upper 10ft a sturdy metal gauze, and from the hill we could see women at many of the windows waving to greet the protesters. Those held inside feel isolated and forgotten, though there are a few prison visitors and they are allowed some phone contact with solicitors and others to pursue their asylum cases.

Protesters made a great noise, kicking and banging on the metal sheeting of the fence as well as shouting, and had brought a sound system so that they could speak to the women outside. They were also able to make phone contact with some of them and amplify their voices too.

The windows of the centre only open a couple of inches, but some were able to squeeze their arms through the gap and wave cloths or articles of clothing, while others held up messages to the glass. One carefully drawn one read ‘We Want Freedom – No Human Is Illegal – Close Yarls Wood’ while another simply read ‘Help’. Others wrote their mobile numbers large enough to be read by the protesters to contact them.

A group of people wearing face masks began to write slogans on the fence, and soon a long length of it was covered with them ‘No Borders’, ‘No One is Illegal’ ‘#SetHerFree’, ‘Shut it Down’, ‘Gaza 2 Yarls Wood Destroy Apartheid Walls’, ‘Racist Walls’ and more.

The speakers on the hill facing the prison included several who had been held inside Yarls Wood and could see women inside they knew, and others who had been in other detention centres. Most people who are held in this way are finally released and allowed to stay in the UK – sometimes after several years of imprisonment – and their seems no justification for locking them up in this way.

Here’s the final paragraph I wrote back in 2015:

Too soon we had to leave. And they had to stay. As I walked away to catch the coach back to Bedford station I felt ashamed at the way that my country treats asylum seekers. They deserve support and humanity and get treated worse than criminals.

More on My London Diary: Close Down Yarl’s Wood


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Fossil Fuels, Bradley Manning & Global Racism

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

Fossil Fuels, Bradley Manning & Global Racism – my Saturday 27th July 2013 began with a “radicalized midsummer cloud forest dream” against the support given to fossil fuels and climate chaos by the banks and the City of London, continued with a vigil for Bradley Manning who exposed US war crimes and ended with a march and rally against and Injustice.


Rev Billy at HSBC – Victoria

Fossil Fuels, Bradley Manning & Global Racism
Golden Toads to the rescue with ice

I met the Rev Billy and his choir on the Stop Shopping Church Tour England in a green open space on Victoria Street, opposite New Scotland Yard (which has since moved to the Embankment.) There they practised their performance as species – monkeys, jaguars and eagles – among those threatened by climate change.

Fossil Fuels, Bradley Manning & Global Racism

Some had heads of Golden Toads, a Costa Rican species already made extinct by climate change. These were hidden away as the group walked towards the HSBC bank at Victoria, and we all walked in trying our best to look like normal customers and going up to the long line of ‘Express Banking’ cash machines.

Fossil Fuels, Bradley Manning & Global Racism

Then the group erupted into dance action, with the Rev Billy using a megaphone to tell bank staff and customers what is happening and why we are in HSBC. Fossil Fuels are killing life on this planet and London banks and the London Stock Exchange play a key role in this – a quarter of all fossil fuel shares are traded on the LSE and in 2010-12 the top five UK banks raised £170 billion for fossil fuel companies, with the HSBC in the lead. He promised that they would leave the bank after the short performance.

Then the Golden Toads arrived to save the species, bringing with them some large eggs of ice to help cool the planet down, and then as promised people left the bank to continue to the end of the performance on the wide pavement outside. Police arrived and went into the bank as the players were leaving to celebrate their action in a nearby cafe and bar.

More at Rev Billy at HSBC


Free Bradley Manning Vigil – St Martin’s, Trafalgar Square

Saturday 27th July 2013 was an international day of action by the Bradley Manning Support Network, and in London they held a vigil on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Bradley Manning’s trial had started on 3rd June in Fort Meade, US, and protests have continued both inside and outside the court, with the ‘gay whistleblower’ being celebrated in countries across the world and awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize. Many see Bradley – later Chelsea Manning as a hero who should be honoured rather than imprisoned. Her trial ended on 30th July with a sentence of 35 years, but in 2017 this was commuted by President Obama to seven years, dating from her arrest in 2010.

Free Bradley Manning Vigil


Against Global Racism and Injustice – US Embassy to Whitehall

Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK held a rally outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square before marching to Whitehall in solidarity with families of Trayvon Martin, Stephen Lawrence, Azelle Rodney, Jimmy Mubenga and many others to highlight the reality of racism and seek justice, both in the UK and US.

The protest was supported by many anti-racist organisations including Operation Black Vote, the National Black Students Campaign, Global Afrikan Congress, PCS, RMT Black Members, Counterfire, UAF, Love Music Hate Racism, Lambeth TUC and Lambeth People’s Assembly and a number of well-known faces from the British left were among the marchers, some were scheduled to speak at the Downing Street rally.

The US Embassy was chosen as the starting point because of the killing in Florida of Trayvon Martin and the global outcry against the acquittal of his murderer under the Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.

But although this was a protest against global racism and injustice, and it had a particular focus on this country, and as Lee Jasper stated “We march for Jimmy Mubenga, Mark Duggan, Kingsley Burrell, Smiley Culture and Azelle Rodney.” And others also made clear in speeches they were appalled by UK cases, including We march for Jimmy Mubenga, Mark Duggan, Kingsley Burrell, Smiley Culture and Azelle Rodney and many, many other cases.

I followed the march as it went through Mayfair, but then had to leave rather than attend the final rally.

More at Against Global Racism and Injustice.


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Goldsmiths Occupation

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Goldsmiths, University of London was once a small college in New Cross, establishe in 1891 by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths as Goldsmiths’ Technical and Recreative Institute in a building built in 1844 for the Royal Naval School who had outgrown the site. It became a college of the University of London in 1904 as as Goldsmiths’ College, losing the apostrophe in 1933.

Goldsmiths College is still its official name, but it no longer uses the ‘College’, perhaps too much of a reminder of its past role largely in training teachers, although also offering other courses. Many well-known British artists studied there, perhaps benefitting greatly from a thriving south London art scene in the 1970s in Bermondsey and other areas of nearby Southwark.

Goldsmiths too has outgrown its old building, although it is still its main building, but has spread its campus across a much larger area, with both new buildings and incorporating older ones, the most prestigious and ornate of which is the former Deptford Town Hall on the New Cross Road.

Over half the students at Goldsmiths are mature students, and around a fifth are overseas students as well as many BAME students from this country. That mix was evident when I visited Deptford Town Hall where students were preparing for a party to celebrate 50 days of occupation in the building – as it has also been on other visits to the campus. It feels more like a London university than most.

The Goldsmiths occupation was prompted after a candidate standing in student elections was racially abused and the university authorities failed to take action, but has longer and deeper causes. Students claim that the university fails to treat its BAME students and workers fairly, with higher dropout rates for them as well as lower academic results. I’d been at Goldsmiths a couple of months earlier, on St Valentines Day for a protest to launch the campaign by the IWGB union and students to directly employ its security officers and give them decent pay and conditions.

I was signed into the building by a student and given a conducted tour of the occupied areas, then watched and photographed the occupying students preparing for their party – and wished I could stay as the food looked delicious.

The students had a long list of demands, including that Goldsmiths develop a strategic plan to tackle the institutional racism – and bring workers on the campus into direct employment, several versions of which were written up in the occupation and on-line.

They also demand that Deptford Town Hall be made more available to the local community, as they say Goldsmiths have failed to live up to the promises they made about this. It really is a splendid building, and the interior even more so than the impressive facade, and it would be good to see it become a community asset rather than solely used for university purposes. It was after all built for the people, doubtless with money from taxpayers as well as from our exploitation of the Empire.

The occupation finally came to a successful end in July after 137 days when the Black, Minority Ethnic, Muslim, LGBTQ and disabled student-led occupation by Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action obtained a legally binding dcument signed by the Senior Management Team to their demands including that they would not pursue further legal action against those who had carried out the occupation.

More pictures from my brief visit: 50 days anti-racist occupation at Goldsmiths.


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