Videos: Speeches at the Close Guantánamo Protest in London, Jan. 8, 2022, Including Andy Worthington and John McDonnell MP

Screenshots from videos of Andy Worthington and John McDonnell MP speaking at a rally in Trafalgar Square calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 8, 2022.

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Back in January, campaigners in the UK, calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, put up with torrential rain while marching from Parliament to Trafalgar Square, where a rally was held, with speakers including John McDonnell MP and myself, calling for the closure of the prison just days before the 20th anniversary of its opening on January 11.

The protest was coordinated via the Guantánamo Network, a coalition of concerned groups including Amnesty International, Close Guantánamo, Freedom From Torture, the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign, and it was also attended by a number of Julian Assange supporters. Particular thanks are due to Sara Birch, the Guantánamo Network’s convenor, who is part of the Lewes Amnesty Group, and “under whose energetic leadership”, as I have previously explained, “Lewes has become something of an epicentre for Guantánamo activism.”

39 campaigners, hooded and dressed in orange jumpsuits, represented the men still held in the prison at the time, and, despite the rain, created an eye-catching protest, as I recorded in photos I took on the day.

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Act Now or Face Extinction: My Birthday Present From the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

A car driver in California watches a wildfire spread on December 6, 2017 (Photo: Noah Berger/AP).

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Today is my birthday.

59 years ago, in Salford Maternity Hospital, my mother brought me into this world during one of the coldest winters in modern history, believed to have been the coldest since the winter of 1739-40.

59 years on from my birth, as I reflect on all that has happened to me in the 21,550 days of my life — all my struggles, my achievements, my loves, my joys, my sorrows, and my persistent inability not to question what those in authority tell me — and as I also reflect on the political and cultural changes of these many decades, I am struck by how this is all in the past, and how the pulse of life itself, which inhabits a continuous present that so many of us struggle to accept, is now located in a world in which bleak winters, like that of 1962-63, will never happen again.

When we look at why that is, one abiding truth becomes clear. Life on earth is a chemical miracle, one that requires a fine balance between its various components to maintain an atmosphere in which life is abundant. We know of nowhere else in the universe where life teems as it does on earth, and yet, because of capitalist greed and hubris, and a dangerous disconnection from nature, we are undermining the miracle of life, changing the atmosphere, primarily through our use of fossil fuels, into one that that will make the world inhospitable.

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Photos and Report: The Wet But Spirited Close Guantánamo Protest in London, Jan. 8, 2022, and an Online Gathering of Former Prisoners

Campaigners across the road from 10 Downing Street during the Guantánamo Network’s march and rally against the continued existence of Guantánamo on Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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It would be hard to imagine more challenging weather conditions than the torrential rain that dogged a protest against the continued existence of Guantánamo in central London yesterday, marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison in two days’ time.

39 campaigners in orange jumpsuits and hoods — representing the 39 men still held — marched in solemn procession from the Houses of Parliament, around Parliament Square and up Whitehall, stopping opposite 10 Downing Street, and ending up at Trafalgar Square. Each campaigner carried a laminated sheet featuring a photo of one of the prisoners, as well as their name and nationality.

The protest was organised by the Guantánamo Network, a coalition of groups that includes members of various Amnesty International groups, myself as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, two long-running London-based Guantánamo groups (the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign), and Freedom From Torture. Particular thanks are due to Sara Birch, the Guantánamo Network’s convenor, who is part of the Lewes Amnesty Group — and under whose energetic leadership Lewes has become something of an epicentre for Guantánamo activism.

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2021 Review: Covid, Climate Change, Corrupt, Complicit Governments – and ‘Don’t Look Up’

A poster featuring a quote from Kate Dibiasky, played by Jennifer Lawrence in Adam McKay’s climate denial satire ‘Don’t Look Up.’

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As 2022 begins, Covid-19 continues to dominate our lives. It’s now nearly two years since its arrival triggered levels of panic unprecedented in the lifetimes of most of us in the West — isolating people in their homes, shutting down offices, the hospitality and entertainment industries, and most retail outlets. After restrictions were eased over the summer of 2020 and into autumn, a second wave of the pandemic shut society down again for several long and gruelling months at the start of 2021, and, after another easing of restrictions, a third wave — of the Omicron variant — has once more derailed notions of a return to “normality.”

Thankfully, it looks as though this variant, although highly infectious, is far less deadly, although it will still put a strain on overstretched and exhausted health services. In the UK, however, another serious lockdown looks unlikely — not for medical reasons, but because Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a backbench rebellion that will topple him from power if he once more imposes serious restrictions.

Throughout this period, a far bigger crisis — catastrophic climate change, caused by humanity’s obsession with fossil fuels — has generally been relegated to a secondary position in the considerations of politicians and the media. Activists did a great job of amplifying the concerns of largely ignored climate scientists in the years before Covid hit, but although there was a brief reawakening of interest in climate change in November, when the COP26 climate summit of world leaders took place in Glasgow, it passed as soon as the conference ended, and the Omicron variant took over.

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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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Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial

Kill the Bill: protestors in Parliament Square on March 15, 2021 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

With the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown approaching, I look at how how the protest movements that have arisen over the last 12 months — about racist oppression, the safety of women and an attempted ban on protest itself — have spontaneously arisen when the logical limits of strict lockdowns have been reached. I also note how these movements stand in stark opposition to the protests of those engaged in Covid denial, who wilfully flout genuine public safety concerns through a toxic mix of dangerous conspiracy theories.

The devastatingly incompetent and corrupt government of Boris Johnson

Ever since the first Covid lockdown was declared in the UK, on March 23 last year, the British people have, for the most part, complied with the rules laid down by a government that was spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with a global pandemic, that has handled it with shattering incompetence, and that has also engaged in cronyism to an unprecedented extent.

Elected in December 2019 to ‘Get Brexit Done’ by just 29% of the registered electorate, Boris Johnson stacked his cabinet with inadequate, second-rate politicians whose only requirement for being chosen was that they were fanatically committed to Britain leaving the EU, an astonishingly misguided policy of national suicide that came out of David Cameron’s shameful capitulation to Euro-sceptics in his own party, and the threat posed by UKIP under Nigel Farage.

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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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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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I Pledge My Allegiance to the Struggle for Survival Against Catastrophic Climate Change

Golfers in September 2017 playing a round at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington State, while a devastating wildfire raged in the tree-lined hills behind them (Photo: Beacon Rock Golf Course on Facebook).

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It’s several weeks now since Extinction Rebellion (XR) occupied four sites in central London — Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch — bringing traffic largely to a halt and noticeably reducing pollution, and raising climate change as an urgent matter more persuasively than at any other time that I can recall.

In the first of three demands, they — we — urged politicians and the media to “Tell the Truth” — no more lies or spin or denial. Tell the truth about the environmental disaster we face. When XR formally launched at the end of October, the timing was right: the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had just published a landmark report, in which, as the Guardian described it, “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.” The authors of the report added that “urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target”, which they called “affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the [2015] Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.”

The same week that Extinction Rebellion shut down much of central London, the BBC broadcast ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, an unambiguous documentary by David Attenborough, more hard-hitting than anything he has ever done before, which made clear to millions of people the scale of the environmental catastrophe that we’re facing.  

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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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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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