A river that needs crossing political and tech blogs - On the political side, there is arrogance and ignorance, on the geek side there is naivety and over- complexity

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Entries with tag ratcliffe .

ClimateCamp Media

The Ratcliffe Swoop prosecutions caused a backlash against activist media that reverberated around the Edinburgh climate camp. We were not present at the Ratcliife Swoop, and played no part in the gathering of video there. When we saw footage posted of identifiable activists doing criminal damage, we were astonished, as throughout the history of video activism this has been an absolute "no no", without the express consent of the activists pictured. We immediately took this material down from visionOntv accounts where it had been posted, and told the Ratclifffe media team why we did so. Regrettably the footage was later re-posted by the producers to accounts outside of our control.  Having said that, as of writing, we have been unable to find out any details of the prosecutions and exactly which footage was used.

But as a response I (perhaps naively) thought it might be helpful to try to do consensus/affinity group process with activist film at the Edinburgh climate camp. To kick this off, we showed a sneak preview of END:CIV on the Saturday to a crowd of around 50-70 people which sparked off a good and respectful debate about aesthetic of activist film and the old spiky/fluffy debate about effective action. People came away challenged and thoughtful.

The next day after the action on the RBS HQ we showed the rough edit of it to get feedback and make sure it was OK to put out. It was enthusiastically received but there was also a very forceful verbal attack of “you must do this” “do it now, or you are endangering activists” and a refusal to answer simple questions about “why” in exchanges with one person. Finally, after some bad feeling, I found out that she had seen an “object for causing criminal damage” being held by one person in the film. OK, that is a genuine issue, so I agreed to look at it again. I asked her to show me where it was in the film but instead she rushed off to tell everyone that climatecamptv had refused to remove the “weapon” and that we were putting out films that were endangering activists. This led later to many different groups and individuals coming along to have their say over the next day about how the film should made.

See later where this led.

I had watched the film 3 times during editing for legals, and had shown it to to a number of other trusted people. After we had packed up the screening we looked at the “object” on the video and found it to be a plastic horn not an “object to cause criminal damage” at all. Humm... a storm in a teacup you would think, but read on.

Let's briefly go through it - the film of the action had a few legal issues.

* The pushing on the bridge (possibly assault) leading to the earlier dressing-up sections (unmasked) being possibly incriminating of this possible assault.

* We had no video of the breaking of windows (criminal damage) thus this was less of an issue in the film. Nor did we have film of any identifiable possible perpetrators.

* There was one additional shot which could potentially have been "creatively" used by police to prosecute an activist.

* The bridge-pushing was problematic as all the activists were unmasked, with all the FIT team on the roof and 3-4 corporate media TV/photo actively filming. Many photos/images would be available so on the one hand it was clearly done in the open, and therefore accountable. On the other, if they were charged, our video would likely be used in the prosecution, both for and against the activists. It's an issue we face many times and it unless we know otherwise we have to have to err on the side of caution. Without the opportunity to ask them whether they were accountable thus OK to show it or not, we decided to blur this section – rendering the need to blur the early stuff irrelevant as we now had no incriminating video of this “crowd” action.

The other potentially incriminating shot was removed, at the request of the individual filmed.

After running it past the affinity group made up of CCTV/visionontv crew and some trusted legal support we left it to a volunteer to polish the final edit for showing that evening before putting out to the web. In my experience you can never run a film past an audience too many times before it's finished from both a legal and an aesthetic point of view.

The day of action was very busy, and we were all running around filming. While we were out and about a number of people came in to look at the earlier action video being edited and asked the editor to make changes – he responede to their requests and made a lot of changes to hide and obscure many details throughout the film.

When we saw the film in the evening just before the screening we were shocked. Editing a film by committee is always a disaster and the film was now an incoherent and sinister mess making climatecamp look like a bunch of criminals. We now had a film we couldn't put out. This wasn't our volunteer editor's fault, it was a problem with the process we had begun but were not around to control. To top this, at the end of the day the editor had found the people who were at the front of the bridge-push and they had made it clear that they were unhappy being blurred out as it was the best thing they had done in ages. They were willing to be accountable for their actions, so we didn't need to thus put any obscuring in the finished film.

We now had to re-do the film from an earlier version. It was dark and we were late for the nightly screening, we had one computer to gather all the films up and convert then to the right format and re-edit this film – we decided it wasn't possible to screen the action film and concentrated on showing the other 9 finished but less exciting films we had ready. We started the screening with non-action films to cries of "we want to see the action". So an old version of the action film was rush-encoded and was ready half-way through the screening. Unfortunately this contained the ptoentially incriminating shot we had earlier taken out, and was screened to about 40 climatecampers. NOT good. Another person had a very solid go at us...

What did we learn from this?

Should protesters never trust any video/photo on an action OR should they trust video activists as THEY know what they are doing?

For me, not trusting experienced video activists leads to the very real danger that through bureaucratisation it pushes the working affinity group structure underground and renders it ineffective – the option of bureaucratic/consensus process isn't an option with film which is at its best a skilled creative story-based process.

But now we have to deal with the rumour mill which quickly churned around the "weapon" / plastic horn issue. Rumour has more power than truth when there isn't a functioning media. I heard the misinformation that we had put out footage of window-smashing weapons three times while leaving the camp to get home. And that's why I wrote this post as this rumour could distort the very real pro/anti-media debate in activism which needs to happen in a constructive way.

On the subject of social media and underground/wannabe mainstream film-makers/photographers, there are very real dangers that is the subject of another post.

Collective statement from some individuals affected by recent infiltrations Various 2011-03-02

This statement has also been published at http://dysophia.wordpress.com

A group of people involved in radical action around the environment and other social struggles who have been involved with and been affected by recent exposes of infiltrators have come together to create a joint statement on how the issue has evolved and been represented in the media.
We are issuing this statement in solidarity with all those, in the UK and beyond, who are facing charges or have been affected in any way by the work of the undercover agents recently discovered.
We are a diverse group of individuals who have been involved in radical action, including actions based around the environment, for close to 20 years. This has included organising the Stirling Eco-village, the Camp for Climate Action, Earth First! Gatherings, anti-GM decontaminations, as well as many other forms of social struggle. We have been up trees, down tunnels and on the front line. We have taken beatings from the police and received convictions for the pleasure, and we make no apologies for our belief in direct political action.
The media frenzy that followed the collapse of the second Ratcliffe trial was met with an equally frenetic flood of articles and comments in the alternative media. Many of these were infuriating and/or very depressing, particularly as all the anti-media comments posted on Indymedia seemed to conveniently forget the fact that the site was one of the main sources of information used by the journalists covering the story.
It is difficult to convey what we feel without falling into the same contradiction. Many of us who were very close to the situation wished to remain anonymous and refused to join in the flood of opinions and speculations. This was an attempt to avoid or at least not to feed into the media (and Indymedia) craze. This refusal to take a public position seems to have been interpreted as acceptance or even active participation in the media strategy.
Historically we have always tried to rise above the 'society of the spectacle' and it is has proven to be an important strength. We hope that comrades in other countries can comprehend the complexity of networks and political positions within the UK, and understand that the very public position taken by a few individuals in no way represents us all.
The environmental movement is not the only network affected by the recent exposures. We are all involved in different struggles beyond environmental concerns. Many movements, from animal rights, to migrant solidarity struggles have been targeted. Marco Jacobs was connected to the No Borders network, Lynn Watson to the peace movement. Mark Kennedy began to make connections to the animal rights movement, and had a ongoing interest in anti-capitalist struggles within the UK and across Europe. These are just some examples.
Despite this diversity, there is a tendency to refer to 'the Movement' without distinguishing that there is a broad range of social struggles taking place in the UK and elsewhere. These struggles often overlap, as is the case with our own activism. It is a mistake to suppose that the environmental movement is capable of representing all of the other social movements that have been targeted by the police in this case, and there has been little recognition of this by the people dealing with the media. This has shown not only a lack of solidarity with these struggles, but has explicitly played into the rhetoric of 'good' and 'bad' protesters.
Now that the sensation seems to have died down, we are making this statement in the hope that it will undo some of the damage that has been done.
How the ecological movement is being portrayed in the mainstream media We feel that self-selecting individuals and groups have gone to the media with a strategy that presents a movement of gormless idiots, that is totally ineffective and of no threat to the State, in order to argue that the placement of undercover officers is 'unjustifiable' and 'over-policing'. This is a very dangerous position to take as it facilitates the repression of those who are being identified as a genuine threat.
Regardless of the intention behind them, the statements that have been made in the mainstream press appeal to a narrow sector of middle-class, left-wing liberals. Downplaying our radical tendencies is not a way of broadening the appeal of radical environmental demands. If anything, the very opposite is true, as anyone who has done stalls in the street is able to tell you.
[Indymedia does blah. Content is good, and free to use for non-commercial purposes under the Open
Content license. if you have questions, email someone.]
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We are angry at the way the movement we have been so involved in has been portrayed, with such a profound lack of basic political understanding. We want to be clear we that are not trying to make things 'a little bit nicer' or tweak the system, we are challenging capitalism and the dominant ideology as being responsible for the ecological destruction of the planet.
The very nature of what we aim for is in direct opposition to the system, and it is therefore no great surprise that the State and corporations target us. The more economic damage that is done, or the more successfully the dominant paradigm is challenged, the more inevitable infiltration becomes.
As anarchists, we believe in solidarity, and autonomy. When we take action, we do so because it is an appropriate response, a valid tactic. We reject, therefore, the way in which several individuals have presented their 'story', in connection with infiltrators, as having been persuaded to act by them.
State informers have been used for hundreds, or even thousands of years. We have been dealing with and exposing police and informers as long as our movements have existed. Our aims are radical, and repression from the powers-that-be has always been expected and dealt with. We object to the way history is being re-written.
Relationship with the mainstream media We are concerned that the relationship with the media is coming to define the eco-defence movement and its actions. It is clear that the media has been given preferential treatment on access to materials
and this is breeding distrust (as clearly demonstrated in recent clashes on Indymedia). We reject the notion that the likes of
The Guardian and The Independent newspapers can ever be part of the solution to the problems we face.
Our story is strong enough that we will get the media attention regardless. We do not have to change who we are to satisfy
the wishes of these for-profit companies and their advertising agendas. High profile liberal journalists are not our natural
leaders or spokespeople. While the media is (at times) an important tool for activism, pandering to it is a dangerous spiral to
ineffectiveness, damaging the integrity of the movement in the long term for shallow, short-term goals.
Relationship with the police and the State The tone of many of the statements made to the press implied the need for
'reforms' or better regulations for undercover policing. We would like to stress that we do not want 'better' or 'more ethical'
police infiltration.
Some groups and individuals have used the mainstream press to call for police reform. However, in reality, the actual
result is an ongoing consolidation of power within the Metropolitan Police who have taken control of the 'domestic extremist'
units, including those which ran various of the infiltrators. The police exist to protect the State, private property and profits. To
do this they use infiltrators and sleep with militants to get information. They also beat people in police cells, and frame people
for crimes they didn't commit, etc. etc. Superficial reforms will never change that. Even if a public relations battle has been
won against the police and other infiltrators, they will no doubt regroup and continue their activities. Pretending that they can
be reformed is not just dangerous but serves to legitimise their on-going existence.
The victories of our movement will not
be won through The Guardian nor in the plush offices of civil liberty NGOs. They will be won on the streets, in our
communities, in the fields and in the forests. The ecological defense movement and the other struggles we are involved in
have grown strong because they have stepped outside the political campaigning/lobbying box and sought change from
multiple directions, such as working directly with communities, taking direct action and causing economic sabotage. Today,
lobbyists with very different agendas from our own, are using the space we forced open, and we should stop helping people
co-opt our work.
“Those most affected” The press and others have placed a morbid emphasis on sexual relationships in these cases. This
totally ignores the complexity of human interpersonal relationships and the range of emotions and experiences involved
here. We have all had different kinds relationships with one or more of the undercovers recently exposed, and feel very
uncomfortable by the assumptions made in statements and actions that took place in the wake of the media frenzy. Attempts
by third parties to define the abuses of trust experienced by the people who were close to these infiltrators (often in the name
of 'solidarity') have been extremely disempowering.
Unfortunately, some people (not just from the UK) have put pressure on people to act and to talk to the media without
considering their own personal well being, and the impacts this could have on others. We call for practical solidarity through
awareness; respecting everyone's individual boundaries. We want to discourage people from talking publicly (or encouraging
others to do so) about relationships (again, of any nature) without considering the wider implications for others who are also
[Indymedia does blah. Content is good, and free to use for non-commercial purposes under the Open
Content license. if you have questions, email someone.]
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dealing with this. We request that people make no assumptions and only talk from their own experiences.
Moving on This has been a difficult time, but it has also made us aware of how lucky we are to know so many people who
continue to act with dignity and integrity, and to be part of networks of resistance which stretch across the globe. The process
of the wave of exposures has revealed many false unities in respect to our politics. We call for solidarity and respect across
networks, we need to consolidate our allegiances and to support each other. The State will continue to use surveillance and
infiltration, and we hope that valuable lessons are learnt from this process, and not forgotten.
Notes [1] This statement was put together through a collective process that involved approximately 15 people, the majority
in the UK but a number across Europe as well. It includes people who were close to the exposing of various police infiltrators.
The point of contact is dysophia@riseup.net - comments & feedback can be sent to this address.
[2] For more background on the story as it appeared in the Guardian see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/mark-
kennedy http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/surveillance http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/activism
[3] There are many threads on Indymedia relating to this, however, some key 'debates' are at
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2010/10/466477.html
http://sheffield.indymedia.org.uk/2011/01/472102.html
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/01/471865.html
[4] BBC coverage of Ratcliffe trial & interviews http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDttEnl8r34&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsr-V5Bqt9E http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12148753
This statement has also been published at http://dysophia.wordpress.com/
 

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