What’s Happening newsletter #7

Real Media logo and Phoenix Media Co-op logo side by side

Real Media and Phoenix Media Co-op have teamed up to release a regular newsletter. We collectively seek to provide bold, accurate, accessible journalism which is unashamedly internationalist and subversive. At the centre of this is covering the work of people in the UK and globally who are forging a better world, largely by organising against marginalisation, oppression and destruction.

UK political prisoners

Last Thursday, nine activists were sent to prison for breaching the terms of a private injunction taken out by Highways England Limited, apparently under instruction from the government. 

According to barrister Paul Powlesland of Garden Court Chambers, who we interviewed this weekend, judges can grant injunctions under Section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1971, where it is “just and convenient to do so”. But, he asks, do they grant injunctions to stop the illegal discharge of sewers into our rivers, or to stop the unlawful levels of air pollution in our cities killing tens of thousands of people a year? No they do not. They do it against peaceful protest.

Alice Hardy, a partner at civil rights solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen wrote “Insulate Britain are on the right side of history; the government’s injunctions are not.”

Powlesland also points out the inherently undemocratic nature of injunctions. The maximum penalty for protesters sitting peacefully in the road as set out by parliament, is a fine. But now the judiciary has placed protesters in prison for several months. So they have effectively entered the political sphere and they open themselves up to political critique of their role and what they are doing.

On Friday, Real Media published an investigation into the family connections of Dame Victoria Sharp, the President of the Queen’s Bench, who passed sentence on the nine. Her twin brother is a close adviser to PM Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak, and became phenomenally wealthy through his decades in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, a huge fossil-fuel funder. Her father made much of his wealth from petroleum-based products after a post-war stint as an oil and coal delegate in the UK government. 

There is no suggestion that Sharp was necessarily biased in her sentencing, but the fact is that peaceful protesters were not allowed to face a jury of their peers, and instead were deprived of their liberty by a peer with close family connections to the government and the industry they were protesting against. Doesn’t this risk undermining confidence in and respect for our judiciary?

On Saturday, hundreds of supporters took to the streets, marching from the High Court, passing Parliament and eventually blocking both Lambeth Bridge and the Vauxhall Cross junction at Vauxhall Bridge. It took police several hours to clear the roads and in the end there were 124 arrests

Paralympian James Brown was sent to prison in September, Highways England have served injunction papers on 130 individuals and their prosecuting counsel, Myriam Stacey QC, told the court last week that they were ready to proceed with dozens more committals depending on the outcome of that hearing.

So with 10 already incarcerated, we are heading for dozens, possibly hundreds, of peaceful climate and justice protesters being imprisoned in the coming months – on the horizon are the HSBC window smashers, the Coulston statue topplers, various Beyond Politics cases, and the Palestine Action factory occupiers. All this is even before the utterly totalitarian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is passed. 

Check out more speeches and interviews from last Saturday’s solidarity protest in our weekly YouTube independent news round up on Wednesday evening, and please consider donating to help us keep bringing you independent news at such a crucial moment in history.

Palestine Action

On 22 November, Palestine Action campaigners “shut down” a factory in Wales which they claim supplies materials to Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. They say the Solvay factory in Wrexham produces “materials and adhesives for UAV Tactical Systems Ltd – a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, who provide 85% of Israel’s drone fleet. Specifically, Solvay products are used in the production of the Watchkeeper drone, at UAV Tactical Systems’ factory in Leicester.” 

The Watchkeeper drone is modelled directly on the Hermes 450 combat drone, which was developed through ‘battle-testing’ on Palestinians, and then sold on the international market to a number of Western governments. These Watchkeeper drones are used largely for surveillance and targeting purposes, having recorded over 100,000 hours of use by the British and American coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Activists scaled the roof, daubed the building with “blood-red” paint and dismantled some of the premises, with the intention of disrupting the factory’s future operations. 

This was Palestine Action’s first factory occupation in Wales and it was supported by the Welsh Underground Network. A spokesperson said: “The Welsh Underground Network endorses and supports all participants in the occupation of this factory. Such actions are essential to end the apartheid regime in Palestine. We call on all comrades to come together in support of this action and investigate other businesses that support the Israeli regime and take action.”

Help for refugees at Poland-Belarus border

Polish locals on the Poland-Belarus border are offering refugees ‘food, a chance to warm up’ and charge their phones via the ‘Green Light’ programme. “In the house marked with green light from evening on, you will find emergency help,” it says on the initiative’s Facebook page which also offers information in Polish, Arabic, Kurdish and French. This help is a respite from the increasingly hostile treatment people are receiving, as Polish lawmakers have approved a draft proposal to build a wall on its border with Belarus.

The genocide of Black and Brown trans women

Trans activists worldwide highlighted the genocidal, misogynistic and racist attitudes the trans community faces across the world on Trans Day of Remembrance on 20 November. The year has been the “deadliest” on record for trans people, with reports of more than 375 murders according to the Transgender Murder Monitoring November 2021 Report.

Black and Brown trans communities are among the worst affected among global communities, according to Aria Sa’id, an African-American trans activist and political strategist. “Transgender people are more visible than ever – gracing red carpets, starring in movies, breaking records in policy and government,” she wrote in an article recently. Despite that, she says, “black and brown transgender women are being murdered at alarming rates across the world”.

Dalit trans activist Grace Banu highlights the violence and murder committed particularly against trans women belonging to the underprivileged Dalit and Adivasi communities in India. “We continue to hold the memories and honour of these and countless other transgender persons who have been lost. We continue to fight for justice on their behalf. We continue to fight for safety, education, housing, healthcare, representation, human dignity and well-being of all trans people.” Read more about Banu’s activism in Phoenix Media Co-op’s story here.

Indian government U-turn on controversial farming laws

A year-long protest led by Sikh farmers against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agricultural reform, a loosening of regulations which was feared to damage the livelihoods of smallholding farmers, came to fruition on Friday 19 November, as Modi announced a rare U-turn against his plans. The announcement coincided with the 552nd birthday of Guru Nanak Ji, one of the ten spiritual leaders of the Sikh religion. Despite the celebratory mood, protesters send a message to the world that the fight is not over. Tikri Updates, which has been following the protest, tweeted: “Farmers shouldn’t move an inch from borders until we get written confirmation that 3 laws are repealed and MSP guarantee provided”.

Other actions and news

  • DHL drivers plan to take action to fight for fairer pay and working conditions.
  • Market Forces UK, a campaign group working to shift banks, pension funds and governments away from activities that harm the environment is organising a protest in London for Wednesday 24 November. And in Bristol, there’ll be a rally and march in protest against cuts to education spending on the same day.
  • London, Thursday 25 November, 1pm-3pm. Million Women Rise vigil outside New Scotland Yard, SW1 2JL.
  • There are a number of Reclaim The Night marches taking place around the country to stand against gender-based violence and harassment against women and to highlight that every woman walking alone at night has the right to feel safe. Check to see what’s organised in your local area. Please be aware that some marches are exclusively for women or those who identify as women.
  • France is set to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, TV shows and parties, following a parliamentary vote to update animal welfare laws. The new legislation will also put an end to dolphin shows and the farming of mink for fur. It includes harsher penalties for animal abuse, with up to 5 years in prison and a €75,000 fine.
  • Many Indigenous people in the US will commemorate the annual National Day of Mourning on the country’s Thanksgiving holiday. As the United American Indians of New England say: “Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures”. Those participating aim to “honor Indigenous ancestors and Native resilience” and “protest against the racism and oppression that Indigenous people continue to experience worldwide”.


That’s all for this week, but please let us know of any stories and issues you’d like to see more of, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out our Wednesday evening shows (UK time).