Video: I Discuss the Right to Protest, Guantánamo and the Plight of Julian Assange with Team Assange

A screenshot of Andy Worthington being interviewed by Alison Mason of Team Assange on March 20, 2021, discussing the UK government’s attempts to suppress peaceful protest, Guantánamo and the case of Julian Assange.

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I’m pleased to be posting a video of an interview I undertook recently with the London-based activists of Team Assange, who have a primary focus on the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but are also concerned with many other issues of social justice in the UK and around the world.

The interview came about after I met some of those involved with Team Assange in Parliament Square as part of the protests that followed the heavy-handed and astonishingly insensitive behaviour of the police at a peaceful vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, and that also coincided with the second reading, in the House of Commons, of the government’s horrible Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, with its intention of criminalising non-violent protest, and its assault on the rights of Gypsies and Travellers. For my recent articles on these topics, see The Dangerous Authoritarian Threat Posed by Priti Patel to Our Right to Protest and Dissent and Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial.

My interview, with Alison Mason of Team Assange, starts 15 minutes into the one-hour programme, which also features an interview with Action4Assange activist Misty in Washington, D.C., and lasts for 20 minutes. I’ve posted it below, via YouTube, and I hope you have time to watch it, and will share it if you find it useful.

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The Dangerous Authoritarian Threat Posed by Priti Patel to Our Right to Protest and Dissent

Shame on Priti Patel: a placard at the protest outside New Scotland Yard on March 14, 2021 following the heavy-handed suppression of a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common the evening before (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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So the war is on, then — of home secretary Priti Patel versus the people; Priti Patel, the authoritarian bigot, versus anyone who dares to disagree with her about anything; Priti Patel, a woman, and the child of Ugandan-Indian immigrants, who, nevertheless, embodies the worst aspects of an arrogant, intolerant, racist, sexist, planet-despoiling, rights-hating elite British patriarchy.

For anyone concerned about civil liberties in the UK, Priti Patel’s deeply troubling attitude to dissent seems to have fuelled yesterday’s heavy-handed response by the police to a peaceful vigil by women on Clapham Common mourning the brutal murder of Sarah Everard, allegedly by a serving police officer.

The sight of policemen using force to break up the vigil was an act of truly astonishing insensitivity, and while there are clearly questions to be asked of the officers involved — concerning their blatant ‘manhandling’ of grieving women, and claims that some officers deliberately trampled on flowers left by woman at the vigil, as well as the risibility of the Metropolitan Police’s own claims about them having to break up the vigil because of concerns about public safety in light of the ongoing Covid regulations — it seems most pertinent to look up the chain of command for an explanation of how and why such a heavy-handed and insensitive display of force took place — and that chain of command leads inexorably, via the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, to Priti Patel.

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Change the World! A Life in Activism: I Discuss Stonehenge, the Beanfield, Guantánamo and Environmental Protest with Alan Dearling

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House, singing and playing guitar, and challenging the police and bailiffs on the day of the eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford.

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At the start of the year, I was delighted to be asked by an old friend and colleague, Alan Dearling, the publisher of my second book, The Battle of the Beanfield, if I’d like to be interviewed about my history of activism for two publications he’s involved with — the music and counter-culture magazine Gonzo Weekly and International Times, the online revival of the famous counter-cultural magazine of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

In February, after my time- and attention-consuming annual visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening, I found the time to give Alan’s questions the attention they deserved, and the interview was finally published on the International Times website on March 21, just two days before the coronavirus lockdown began, changing all our lives, possibly forever. Last week, it was also published in Gonzo Weekly (#387/8, pp. 73-84), and I’m pleased to now be making it available to readers here on my website.

In a wide-ranging interview, Alan asked me about my involvement with the British counter-culture in the ’80s and ‘90s, which eventually led to me writing my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, and, as noted above, The Battle of the Beanfield. my work on behalf of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, which has dominated much of my life for the last 14 years, and my more recent work as a housing activist — with a brief mention also of my photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’, and my music with The Four Fathers.

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Coronavirus: How Did 8,900 Deaths Worldwide Lead to the Complete Shutdown of the Global Economy?

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I don’t mean to sound wilfully contrarian, but, as the UK enters a phase of coronavirus lockdown so surreal that it feels as though we’re all, almost overnight, living in an apocalyptic sci-fi movie, I have found myself struggling to cope with the imminent collapse of the entire global economy because of a virus that, to date, has killed less than 8,900 people worldwide [Note: as of March 21, the global death count was 11,554 people, and by March 22 it had reached a total of 14,444. By March 29, however, it had reached a total of 33,526, and, by April 3, the total had reached 53,458. By April 11, sadly, the total had reached 102,846].

Don’t misunderstand me. I recognise that the coronavirus is infectious, and that in China, where it began, and in Italy, where it subsequently took a sudden hold, the local health services were overwhelmed with the scale of its spread. As a result, I understand why the notion of a total lockdown in response has seemed so necessary. And in the UK, responding to the initial response of the government of Boris Johnson, which was to let the virus spread freely, and to let us, the livestock, develop “herd immunity” or die, I wholeheartedly joined in the cries of outrage of those opposing such an invitation to rates of infection and death that would, it seemed clear from the examples of China and Italy, overwhelm our own health service.

And so, in response, as the notion that people should self-isolate — perhaps for a two-week period, perhaps for a month, or two at the most — took hold, I also remained supportive, but now, suddenly, as the reality of a lockdown becomes apparent, with the prospect of total economic collapse, and the unchecked rise of unprecedented authoritarian impulses on the part of governments, and with isolation now being portrayed as something that may need to be implemented for a much longer period, I suddenly find myself in revolt.

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Extinction Rebellion’s Urgent Environmental Protest Breaks New Ground While Drawing on the Occupy, Anti-Globalisation and Road Protest Movements

Climate emergency: Extinction Rebellion campaigners – mainly featuring an impressive samba band – marching from the camp at Marble Arch to the Oxford Circus occupation today, April 18, 2019. Most of Oxford Street was closed to traffic, like so many roads in central London, including Waterloo Bridge (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Well, this is getting interesting. On Monday, when the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion began its occupation of five sites in central London — Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Marble Arch — I wasn’t sure that the ongoing intention of crashing the system through mass arrests, and waking people up to the need for change by disrupting their lives was going to work. 

I’d taken an interest when Extinction Rebellion started in October — although I was still largely preoccupied by the occupation (and subsequent eviction) of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford — but I’d ended up thinking that, although they had secured significant media coverage, which was very helpful, and their ‘branding’ was extremely striking, this wasn’t going to be enough. 

I was somewhat heartened when, in related actions, school kids — inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg — got involved in climate strikes, and I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more on that front, but on Monday I couldn’t see how Extinction Rebellion’s latest coordinated protests were going to work. The police seemed, for the most part, to be trying not to give the protestors what they wanted — mass arrests — and although the crowds I encountered at Parliament Square and Oxford Circus reminded me of aspects of social movements of the past — Reclaim the Streets and the road protest movement from the ’90s, the anti-globalisation movement of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and 2011’s Occupy movement — I couldn’t see how the movement was going to be able to take the next step, and to build the momentum necessary for significant change.

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As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration

Theresa May, Britain's new Prime Minister, making her first speech as PM. I slightly edited the banner behind her.First off, it says little for democracy that, after the biggest constitutional crisis in most of our lifetimes (the result of the EU referendum, which may take years to resolve), the Conservative Party has responded by having just 199 MPs anoint a new leader to run the country after David Cameron, aging 20 years overnight, bumbled off into the sunset of a poisoned legacy.

Cameron, it is assumed, will forever be known as the worst Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain (or Anthony Eden), a so-called leader who, because he was too cowardly to face down critics who were even more right-wing than him — in his own party, and in UKIP — called a referendum that he was then too arrogant to believe he could lose. I was fearful at the time Cameron announced the referendum, in January 2013, that it could all go horribly wrong, and on the morning of June 24 my fears were confirmed as 17 million voters — a weird mix of political vandals, racists, xenophobes, left-wing idealists and the ill-informed — voted for us to leave the EU.

Cameron left his mess for others to clear up, and within days most of those who had run with his idiocy and had campaigned to get us out of Europe fell too. Nigel Farage announced that he was standing down as UKIP leader, hopefully doing us all a favour by, as a result, diminishing UKIP’s weird reptilian personality cult. Read the rest of this entry »

30 Years On from the Last Stonehenge Free Festival, Where is the Spirit of Dissent?

As tens of thousands of people gathered at Stonehenge last night and this morning for the summer solstice — and, presumably, more photos were taken than ever before, including, of course, the ubiquitous “selfie,” an example of which can be seen in the photo to the left — I recall that, 30 years ago, in June 1984, the last Stonehenge Free Festival took place in the fields opposite Stonehenge, and I was one of the tens of thousands of people who took part in it.

I had first visited with friends the year before, and had been astonished to discover that, while Margaret Thatcher was embarking on her malevolent plan to create a taxpayer-funded privatised Britain of selfishness, consumerism and unfettered greed, tens of thousands of people were on Salisbury Plain — partying, yes, or just getting wasted, but also sidelining consumerism and embracing communalism and alternative ways of living and looking at the world.

My experiences were central to my book Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a social history of Stonehenge, which I wrote over an 18-month period from 2002 to 2004, and which was published ten years ago. It’s still in print, and you can buy it from me here, or from the publisher, Heart of Albion Press, or, if you must, from Amazon. After ten years, it is also — finally — being stocked at Stonehenge itself, in the new visitors’ centre that opened last December.

From humble beginnings ten years before, the Stonehenge Free Festival had grown to become the definitive counter-cultural expression of hedonism and dissent, a month-long manifestation of an alternative society, which so alarmed the authorities that the following year an advance convoy, travelling to Stonehenge to secure the festival site on June 1, was set upon by 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD, and decommissioned with shocking violence at an event that will forever be known as “The Battle of the Beanfield.” My book, The Battle of the Beanfield, about the terrible events of that day is also still available. For bulk orders, please contact Enabler Publications. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s 29 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield, and the World Has Changed Immeasurably

Buy my book The Battle of the Beanfield here.

29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.

The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.

The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »

Back in Print: The Battle of the Beanfield, Marking Margaret Thatcher’s Destruction of Britain’s Travellers

Buy The Battle of the Beanfield here.

Yesterday, December 1, 2013, was a cheerless anniversary of sorts — 28 and a half years since the Battle of the Beanfield, on June 1, 1985, when 1,300 police from six counties and the MoD trapped and violently decommissioned a convoy of several hundred travellers — men, women and children, the new nomads of the UK, including free festival goers, anarchists, and anti-nuclear activists — en route to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival. From humble origins in 1974, the festival had grown, by 1984, into a month-long counter-cultural extravaganza attended by tens of thousands of people, and in 1985, fresh from her success in suppressing the miners, Margaret Thatcher turned her attention to the festival and its loose network of organisers, planning to destroy it as ruthlessly as she was destroying British industry.

in 2005, to mark the 20th anniversary of this key event in the modern state’s clampdown on dissent, I compiled and edited a book about the Battle of the Beanfield, drawing on transcripts I made of interviews with travellers and witnesses to the events of the day and the months building up to it that were recorded for a 1991 TV documentary, “Operation Solstice” (screened on Channel 4 and available to buy here); the police log, liberated from a court case brought by some of the victims of the Beanfield; and other relevant information, book-ended with essays putting the Beanfield in context, written by myself and Alan Dearling, whose publishing company, Enabler Publications, launched the book in June 2005.

Eight and a half years later, The Battle of the Beanfield is still in print, and, to slightly contradict the heading of this article, it has never actually been out of print, although in summer, when Alan and I reprinted it, I was down to my last few copies. You can buy it here, in time for Christmas, if you, or anyone you’re hoping to buy a present for, was there, was affected by it, or is simply interested in knowing more about one of the key events that shaped the relationship between the state and those perceived as difficult. I should note that my previous book, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, is also still available, as is my third book, The Guantánamo FilesRead the rest of this entry »

It’s 28 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Crushed Travellers at the Battle of the Beanfield

It has become something of a tradition that, on June 1 every year, I add another year to the counter and write an article explaining how many years it has been since the Battle of the Beanfield, and why it is important for people of all ages to recall — or to find out about — the day when, in a field in Wiltshire, the late and unlamented Margaret Thatcher sent a militarised army of police from six counties and the MoD to decommission, with outrageous violence, a convoy of new age travellers, free festival goers, green activists, anarchists and — most crucially — those opposed to the establishment of US nuclear weapons based on British soil. Last year, I wrote, “Remember the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal Suppression of Traveller Society,” incorporating an article I wrote for the Guardian on June 1, 2009, and I’m pleased to note that my commemoration of the Battle of the Beanfield a year ago has been liked on Facebook by over 6,700 people — the majority, I believe, since Margaret Thatcher’s death in April.

Unlike the women of Greenham Common, opposed to the establishment of a US cruise missile base on UK soil, who couldn’t be truncheoned en masse for PR reasons, the convoy of men, women and children who had set up a second peace camp at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire in the summer of 1984 could be — and were — evicted by 1,500 police and troops on February 6, 1985, with further violence obviously planned. The Molesworth eviction was the single largest mobilisation of police and troops since the war, and, for the Royal Engineers, their largest operation since the bridging of The Rhine in 1944. Afterwards, the travellers were harried around southern England for four months until their annual exodus to Stonehenge, to set up the anarchic festival that had occupied the fields opposite Stonehenge every June since 1974, when the planned opportunity came for them to be violently attacked, the festival stopped, and the travellers’ movement crippled.

To commemorate the anniversary this year, I’m posting below excerpts from the opening chapter of my book The Battle of the Beanfield, published eight years ago, and still in print, in which my analysis bookends transcripts of accounts by many of the major players. You can, if you wish, buy it from me here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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