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Supporting prisoners

In the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity, Autonomous Nottingham wish to take a role in supporting prisoners and the struggle against prison. We have started a new prisoner support page in order to keep our readers informed about people in prison and ways to support them. We have started with the case of Hicham Yezza, the writer and activist imprisoned as the result of a string of events that followed a senseless terror raid last summer. The state-created climate of fear and suspicion regarding arabs and muslims has undoubtedly played a large part in his current predicament.

Hicham Yezza

Hicham Yezza

Hicham Yezza was wrongfully arrested under anti-terror legislation at the University of Nottingham in May 2008. Quick and simple checks by the university authorities or police would have established his innocence and could have avoided this course of events.

Following its policy of trying to deport foreign terror suspects, the Home Office immediately detained Hicham (who is an Algerian national) following his release and attempted a ‘fast-track’ deportation. A massive campaign of support got Hich out on bail but the Home Office continued its persecution of the writer and peace activist.

In March of this year, Hicham was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for the immigration offence of ’securing avoidance of enforcement action via deceptive means’. He has always maintained his innocence and is preparing an appeal, but for now he remains behind bars. Please consider writing to Hicham at the address below. You can send books, magazines and CDs as long as you include the sender’s name and address on the envelope:

Hicham Yezza, XP9266, HMP Canterbury, 46 Longport, Canterbury, Kent United Kingdom, CT1 1PJ.


Mass arrests for thought crime

A mass police raid in the early hours of yesterday morning resulted in the arrests of 114 individuals in the grounds of a Sneinton school. Those arrested have been released on bail following questioning related to “suspicion of conspiracy to commit trespass and aggravated criminal damage”. The police are saying that those arrested were “planning a period of prolonged disruption to the safe running of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station”. The Nottingham Evening Post, in it’s usual measured and objective style, is saying that there was a “plot to attack a power station”.

Thought crime

Thought crime

Whilst this kind of raid is unprecedented in size, it is nothing new in the world of direct action. There is even a precedent in environmental direct action in the region, with police arresting eight people for “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance” in relation to anti-M1 widening protests in 2007. After a year on bail, the 8 had the charges against them thrown out of court.

As is now usual for those accused of environmental direct action, several raids were made on the homes of those arrested and the Sumac Centre was raided. When raids were being made in the aftermath of a blockade of E.On’s offices last year, they used keys from the accuseds’ personal possessions and attempts to observe the police’s actions were met with refusal and intimidation. The police often use these raids to confiscate important personal belongings such as computers until the investigation is over – a punishment for the arrested irrespective of whether they are ever actually convicted.

The use of conspiracy charges is also a tactic increasingly employed by the police. This blog has already covered the SHAC trial, where animal rights activists were convicted of “Conspiracy to blackmail”. Earlier this year, those accused of large scale damage at Brighton arms company EDO had their charges changed from the ridiculous allegation of burglary to “conspiracy to cause criminal damage”, and there are numerous other cases where anti-war direct actions have led to conspiracy charges being brought. For the police, conspiracy charges are an excellent way of arresting first and then finding the evidence to selectively charge. When they can’t find anything through raids on homes, questioning and intimidation they still gain from having gathered a load of information on protesters, taken their personal details, fingerprints and DNA, and intimidated and harassed those individuals. Whilst defendants have the many months until their trial to worry about proving their innocence, often under ridiculous bail conditions, it is harder for them to get involved in campaigning.

Of course, the police are using the media to try to get convictions already, making claims that they have found “specialist equipment” that would lead them to suspect that those arrested were planning direct action against Ratcliffe. Given the nature of “specialist equipment” that was seized outside last year’s Camp for Climate Action in Kingsnorth (board games, crayons, bike tools) it would not be surprising if this turned out to be very flimsy evidence indeed, but the phrase “specialist equipment” has now been planted in the public imagination. E.On, as we might expect, are also trying to demonise the arrested. A spokesperson said of the alleged ‘plot’ “While we understand that everyone has a right to protest peacefully and lawfully, this was clearly neither of those things.” Whilst it is not clear that anyone was actually planning any direct action from what ‘evidence’ has been released so far, this is a little presumptuous. Even if there was an intended action against Ratcliffe, the only comparable incident, the 2007 direct action against the station, was not lawful but was peaceful. Activists walked onto the site and chained themselves to equipment. Indeed, the climate change movement has been characterised by non-violent direct action – chiefly blockades, office occupations and protests. But don’t worry about the evidence – E.On want to inject the spectre of violence to the precedings.

This mass pre-emptive arrest is a very worrying precedent indeed. Whilst it is still too early to say much about what was and wasn’t going on, the fact of the matter is that the police were able to find out about it and are using it as carte blanche to raid and interrogate. Whether they get any successful convictions or not is almost irrelevant. It sounds like a lot of activists are going to be taken out of action for the duration (which looks likely to be long) and the seeds of suspicion and recrimination will be sown. It is absolutely essential that everyone involved in direct action takes security culture seriously so that incidents like this cannot happen. Everyone needs to know why security is important, i.e. so that you don’t incriminate yourself and all your mates, and be sensible regarding how information is distributed.

In the meantime, we will need to keep a look out for the fallout of these arrests and support anyone who is charged. The cops have certainly not beaten climate change movement but we do need to rethink how we organise and act.


Alternative Education in Nottingham: Some thoughts

I was recently invited to be part of a really exciting new project in Nottingham. The idea results from people’s thoughts on what education is about and should be about, from reflection on our own educational backgrounds, and views about recent events at the University of Nottingham. Some initial ideas have been worked on, and these are some thoughts resulting from meeting on 26/3/09… They are just my own recollections but this might be a useful forum to mull ideas over in…. Please get involved!


An important over-arching idea was being able to articulate what we are doing and why in an accessible way via some sort of statement of intent. We discussed this from two angles essentially; what we felt about the University itself, and what we felt about the relationship between ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’.


The starting point for many of us is the realization that we often feel that we operate in a stifling, uncreative and even repressive environment. We have come to understand this not just as an abstract critique of the modern university but in our everyday experience. This has increased over the past couple of years, most obviously in the arrests and subsequent racist treatment of two members of the university community, the elitist position taken in issues of academic freedom, culminating in the physical suppression of student protest over Gaza. We want to challenge the University’s understanding of itself as standing outside of and above the community except when there is money to be made or a PR opportunity. We don’t see it as a neutral institution, setting standards whilst remaining aloof from conflict. Conflicts within society should be expressed and explored as part of university life. In suppressing this, the University itself becomes a focus and source of conflict.


The other thing we take as our starting point is that we are trying to undermine the roles of someone who teaches and someone who learns, and that that everyone is an expert at something and a novice at others. Someone who initiates/leads/teaches a class has as much to learn from it as someone who takes the class. Indeed, we should be open to the possibility of the divide breaking down completely. We are engaging in a creative and challenging process denied to us through almost all mainstream education, and in itself this challenges the state and its vision of what education is about and for.


As part of this we discussed the idea of ensuring that the content as well as context of the classes should be radical, as appropriate. We are doing this because we want to transform the world, after all, not just to entertain ourselves or make ourselves skilled essentially in a sense that capitalism can exploit. Why use uncritically the concept of money in engaging in basic numeracy classes? Why learn nouns for concepts that don’t interest us, rather than discussing what excites us or confronts us in daily life?  Radical and challenging concepts can be engaged with in everything from creative writing to computer literacy, architecture to history, engineering projects to domestic science. The divisions between these disciplines is indicative in itself of education being handed down to us as ‘useful’ rather than fulfilling. We think it should be both. We discussed the nature of education as not neutral but being for either liberation or domestication.


We might consider making it usual that whilst someone is ‘leading’ a class in their field of expertise they should be taking another that interests them but at which they are unskilled. The ‘teacher’ also needs to listen to what the class knows or thinks about a subject before they start, so that dialogue about a subject and an understanding of where everyone comes from precedes assumptions of expertise.


More usual is that we know a bit about a subject that we would like to study, to the extent that much of what we do is a knowledge-sharing and –building dialogue rather than the one-way transmission of knowledge. This is radical in both a university and community context. It is not non-hierarchical for the sake of it, but a valid pedagogy.


We like the idea of semi-formality so that there is a sense of the courses being part of something bigger with an over-arching purpose. This would also mean we stick at something for 10 weeks rather than dipping in and out, and as such are committed to each other’s learning experience. Also it means that you know that the class will take place each week; someone will turn up to make it happen. We discussed producing a brochure and having a web site to help here.


We need to think about terminology. Are we running ‘courses’, ‘classes’, ‘seminars’, or what? Will we have a ten-week ‘term’? What title do the ‘teachers’ have, esp. as we want to encounter ideas rather than just be ‘taught’ them. And what are we called as a project?!


How do we address the professional divide between academic and non-academic staff, staff and students, ‘skilled’ and ‘un-skilled staff’, and so on? We have to significantly undermine roles that might be slipped into too easily. We discussed the potential for doing this ‘off-campus’, where the differences are lessened to some extent anyway, and then taking it back into the learning environment having left our baggage behind and learned from the process.


The relationships between people involved are important. Each class would benefit from a positive internal dynamic encouraging us to see ourselves as learning collectively as well as individually. Again, this is quite subversive in itself. It might be interesting to explore the idea of interrupting the ten-week course structure so that the whole class can go and do something completely different together. Or do it in addition to the timetabled class. As such, one-off classes, workshops, social activities etc. will be appropriate and part of our ethos. We could link into regular events run by like-minded people as well, such as Food not Bombs, People’s Kitchen (Sumac).


Venues suggested include Sumac Centre (Forest Fields), The Sparrows’ Nest (St. Ann’s), The Chase Community Centre (St. Ann’s), & the university itself. Several of these venues would find themselves benefitting from this. Sumac has as a core ethos of engagement with the community in Forest Fields and a good deal of its work is in this context, most obviously the Skill Share programme. We could establish an on-going link here. The Sparrows’ Nest Anarchist and Class-Struggle Library so far lacks a manageable and safe way to draw in people outside of the radical scene, and so classes and other events there would benefit it because of the diverse nature of people involved in classes. We considered making confident overtures to other venues, e.g. libraries and community centres.


We also discussed some precedents such as nineteenth- and early twentieth-century didacticism, result in working class self-education projects such as the Workers Education Association (and as part of this Anarchists in the 1980s were paid to run classes on Anarchism by the WEA in several towns), the Café Culturel and Café Scientifique (Cultural Studies-style seminars which used to take place in Café Wax). Some people have experience with the large-scale alternative university projects such as at Lancaster. In particular we discussed learning more about the experience of the ‘Knowledge Lab’ held a couple of years ago. We discussed holding something like this again next Summer maybe, or even as a launch-pad this year?  





The Sparrows’ Nest: Putting the “Shhh…!” into Smashing the State.

The Sparrows’ Nest is a self-styled ‘Centre for Anarchist Culture and Education’ in St. Ann’s, Nottingham. It was set up in Autumn 2008 by the Anarchist Federation’s Nottingham group. We wanted to make contemporary, classical and international Anarchist ideas accessible to an even wider number of people in a town already vibrant with anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist culture.

Continue reading ‘The Sparrows’ Nest: Putting the “Shhh…!” into Smashing the State.’


Cries of Foul Play

This weeks protests were a great public display of discontent with the current system that has ushered in this latest cycle of bust and served to collect the vast majority of the world’s resources in the pockets of a few. Despite the diversity of opinions present at the protests, like so many public displays of rage over the last few years there was unity under the banner of ‘anti-capitalism’. Events like these serve to remind us that we are many and we are angry.

We cannot, however, ignore that from the din outside the national bank the majority of the public do not see a ‘viable alternative’ emanating from our disparate horde. To then focus our attention on our masters keepers as they do their bidding seems at best a distraction and at worst naïve. That the police will use force to get us off the streets to resume ‘business as usual’ is to put it plainly, their job. While it is right that we highlight their tactics and demonstrate the use of the police to suppress dissident voices it is more important that we do not get distracted by this conflict and revel in our sense of injustice.

It is upon the exploited and angry, the powerless and the alienated that we must focus if we are ever to rise above our spats with the police and sweep them aside.


Trying to make sense of the G20 protests

There have been ominous signs of it coming for some time but it seemed protesters were still unprepared for the level of police violence that was unleashed in London yesterday. The infamous kettling tactics of the British police have claimed their first life and there are numerous reports of head wounds, crushing and unprovoked attack. Today the convergence centre and Ramparts have been raided by riot cops and there are reports of further arrests. When we attack capital the defenders of capital will hit back, viciously.

On the positive side, thousands of anti-capitalists made it onto the streets to disrupt the smiling facade of capital’s leadership conference with graffiti, uncontrollability and a good old fashioned bank trashing. A branch of RBS was well and truly gutted. Protesters also managed to swoop onto Bishopsgate and set up a temporary climate camp, although, true to form, the boys in blue violently evicted it later in the day.

Anarchists from Nottingham were there and we hope that they are in one piece and make use of this space to tell their stories. We will need to make sure we show solidarity with those injured and arrested who may be facing serious charges. There may well be further arrests days and even months down the line. It is essential that support is given to those who have risked their lives and freedom to fight capital.

This statement from Glasgow anarchists says it all. The fight continues…


Nottingham anarchists protest immigration prison

No Borders, No Nations

No Borders, No Nations

On Saturday, a number of No Borders activists from Nottingham joined about 150 others in marching from Bedford town centre to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Yarl’s Wood is part of the UK Border Agency’s immigration detention gulag where migrants are held in prison-like conditions, often for years, without ever having been charged with a crime. Yarl’s Wood is particularly controversial because it specialises in the incarceration of families of migrants and women. The demonstration called for an end to indefinite immigration detention, an end to ‘fast-track’ deportations of migrants, an end to medical abuse and detention of victims of rape and torture, an end to the use of violence within the immigration system and a stop to the expansion of Yarl’s Wood and the ‘detention estate’.

Perhaps because we had the biggest banner, the Nottingham contingent found ourselves at the front of the march (often asking locals which way we had to go!) It was a long walk (over 5 miles) to the detention centre and we regretted bringing the big banner at times! Perhaps unsurprisingly, we encountered some hostility in the village of Clapham, the nearest habitation to the detention centre. It is likely that many of the workers at the detention centre live in the area. However, we made a strong and defiant stand against the degrading and dehumanising immigration system that reigns in this country. Outside the gates of Yarl’s Wood we heard moving testimonies from former inmates and, via speaker phone, from people inside. We must continue to show solidarity with those who are criminalised for having crossed borders and continue to take action against the Home Office and companies like Serco, who run Yarl’s Wood.