Interview with Andrea Brock and Nathan Stephens-Griffin about their research, and the open letter in support of imprisoned colleague Jan Goodey

As ever, guest posts and interviews do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or the journal.

Who are you, what’s your research and how does it tie to you creating an open letter in support of someone who has committed illegal acts and end ended up in jail for six months?

We both research criminalisation and repression of ecological dissent, but this solidarity statement is really not about us or our research – anyone in the UK, researcher or not, activist or not, should be alarmed by the sentencing of Jan Goodey and others who are imprisoned for taking direct action against ecological destruction. You don’t need to be an academic to see that this sentencing, and the policing bill that prepared the way for this, is yet another step into authoritarianism, a government holding on to the illusion of control, revenge policing those who dare challenge its ecocidal, racist, and misogynist policy making, without any regard for ecological or human health.

One after the other, the government is passing acts and policies that secure private profits and repress dissent, to secure the exploitation of people and nature while benefitting the elites. Most recently, the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act that was passed through Parliament this year, not only criminalises protest and allows police to clamp down on protester. It criminalises a whole way of life of travellers, effectively constituting cultural genocide of GRT communities. The Public Order Bill that is currently going through Parliament will give further powers to the police to stop and search, introducing much harsher sentences for civil disobedience, and allow state ministers to impose injunctions. The government is planning further attacks on human rights and freedom of protest through potential withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and introduction of more laws.

While Jan and others may have committed acts that are considered illegal under the current legal regime, that doesn’t mean they weren’t needed. Extracting and burning fossil fuel is legal, cutting down trees is legal, ecocide is legal, while protest is becoming ever more harshly criminalised. Just because something is legal that doesn’t make it right, and just because something is illegal that doesn’t mean it’s morally or ethically wrong. We shouldn’t be feeding into the government’s attempt to frame people as good or bad protestors, legal or illegal, obeying the law or not. It’s the government and the countless corporations whose interest they defend that are acting in immoral and unethical ways, without regard for human and ecological health. This is a government that is wanting to withdraw from some of the most important protections of human rights, the ECHR, and impose ever more strict laws. They do not care about the interests of the public or the environment. Social change has always required people to break with the laws that protect the status quo.

What has been the uptake/speed of people signing the letter? 

The uptake has been quick, and people are still signing it. Many share the concerns we outline, but don’t know how to act or what to do. Signing a statement doesn’t change the world, but we want to send a sign of solidarity and let Jan know: you are not alone, and this is not right. We should all be doing so much more to resist government repression, and social and ecological injustice.

In academia, many of us are struggling with huge, unsustainable workloads, falling pay, precarity, and gender and race pay gaps. That’s why we are taking industrial action at the moment, joining so many others who are fighting for better pay and conditions, from nurses to posties. But as we are realising our collective power, the government is already planning the next thing to stop us. Rishi Sunak is preparing to announce new legislation that would limit the rights of ‘essential workers’ (NHS workers, teachers, firefighters etc) to take industrial action. After performatively clapping on front doorsteps whilst these people worked tirelessly through the horrors of Covid, this government now wants to remove their ability to take collective action and represent their own interests through industrial action. We already have the most repressive union legislation in Europe, but the attacks keep coming. This is all part of the same struggle against state power that is defending profits at huge costs. We need to resist this wherever we can.

What do you hope happens next around this particular case/other cases?

Jan’s imprisonment shows how prisons and policing act as a means of social control, to protect the interests of those in power, against those who care about their ecologies and their human communities. We don’t believe in prisons to solve social problems.

We encourage people to show solidarity with Jan and other prisoners, who are incarcerated for taking action – whether to defend the earth or to survive in a world shaped by inequalities and injustices.

Let’s show them – they are not forgotten, they are not alone.

We are sure that the increasing repression of dissent will not lead to less protest. It will make people angrier and more creative, hopefully. Make people realise that the government is not going to tackle the ecological or social crises we are facing, it’s up to us. We don’t have a choice but to take action, against a government that doesn’t care and will do anything it can to defend the status quo. For example, after the protests against the PCSC legislation in Bristol in 2021, 47 people have been charged with offences relating to civil disobedience. So far 15 people have been convicted of the escalated charge of ‘riot’ and have been sentenced to a combined total of 75 years in prison. News reports at the time foregrounded the false police narrative that protesters were violent (police retracted claims over the extent of injuries sustained once the noise had died down), allowing for these prosecutions to be presented as ‘just’. In fact, these are for the most part young people, with no prior history of law breaking, who were legitimately making their voices heard, and who were in some cases themselves brutalised by police. That so many of these protesters are now in prison on deliberately jumped-up charges is a scandal, and more evidence of revenge policing in action. 

What do you see as a likely trajectory for environmental protest in the UK, and what does responsible academic engagement with this protest look like? (Yes I am asking you about responsible scholarship during the anthropocene!)

As academics, we cannot see our work and lives in isolation from the ecological crises that capitalism, industrialisation and the state have created. Responsible academic engagement is impossible without centering ecological and social injustices and harm – in our research, in our teaching, in our engagement with the world.

We need to be much bolder, we need to reject mythologies of objectivity and neutrality, the view that as researchers we can be impartial and observe the world as if we weren’t part of it. We need to critique corporate and state power and violence wherever we see it. We must stand up even if that means we risk our jobs or our careers.

We need to show solidarity and do whatever we can to support those on the ground who are putting their bodies in the way of ecological destruction, authoritarianism, and injustice, and build better world. Or better: join them.

We ask everyone to write to political prisoners, just in time for Christmas, but also next year, and  support organisations like Netpol or ABC that monitor and hold police accountable and support prisoners.

Anything else you’d like to say.

Please consider supporting Jan’s family!


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