i arrived back feeling a great sense of relief in calais. i attended a demonstration in poitiers against a new EU superprison which unfortunately degenerated into a riot. the journey and the protest took their toll and after two nights without any real sleep im intending to have a good couple of early nights (hopefully) and to help make some new stickers! after the barcelona meeting i feel more than ever that its really important to communicate with local people and create discussion around this issue. there are already a good group of local people involved in the more political side of this campaign. the last batch of stickers have mysteriously appeared all around calais and its quite heartening to see school kids gathering around a lamp post to check them out. for migrants things have got much much worse. A and B come round and fill us in on an increase in recent police activity. they all seem a lot more desperate. this is completely understandable as an early morning patrol left me shivering in the new jungles. winter is setting in. i feel so sorry for those who don’t have a safe warm home to go back to as they wander down the road with tshits and towels wrapped around their faces. i later see teenagers wearing sandals and shorts… im surprised that M and others maintain their commitment. we went together to a jungle to find a migrant who is due to be deported this afternoon. M has prepared all the paperwork to challenge the decision and prevent his deportation. after a lengthy search for the deportee he eventually turns up and eyes M’s paperwork with suspicion. he wont sign it. i can completely understand his phobia of this whole rotten bureaucratic system. he comes from a country where the government can never be trusted and bureaucrats, documents and regulations are trouble to be avoided at all costs. but M has toiled over these documents late into the night. he must be gutted. but he takes it in his stride. we wonder whether his amazingly dry sarcasm is partly a result of doing this work for so long. you can never quite tell whether he is joking. about anything. its almost like a more benign version of the mannerisms of the local police. both do a thankless job and receive daily abuse… the next day i agree to translate for another migrant challenging a judicial decision. after a whole morning of waiting around and eventually meeting with the somber deportee he informs me that he thinks the council will be providing a translator. sure enough, the man eventually rolls up in a bmw and eyes me with suspicion. i am waved away after a whole morning of waiting without even a thank you. but how can you complain when you are dealing with someone who spends sleepless nights huddled in the cold. when it is your government responsible for freezing the humanity out of the man. out of his community. out of thousands upon thousands. reducing them to a state worse than cattle?
it only took a day to hitch halfway up france to poitiers. i hitched on my own through the night. had some riveting conversations. and i was taken right to the doorstep of the gathering. it was against detention. with a protest planned in the afternoon against a new european super prison. the biggest in the eu.
i was too tired for the discussion. the literature was interesting though. a pamphlet explained how ‘prison society’ not only encourage locking up social deviants instead of encouraging happy cohabitation. it also referred to how public spaces are being increasingly privatised, surveilled and stolen away from us. the ‘fortress architecture’ of cities leads unwary shoppers into dungeons or indulgence. while shutting out others from entry. im not explaining this very well. so ill stop there. it was good stuff. i tried to get some shut eye. but ended up getting fondled by a a friend instead.
the protest was probably my first proper riot. it wasnt really ‘mine’. i refused to wear a mask. i had no intention to cause criminal damage. or attack a policeman. unlike most of the crowd. i was later identifies (thats what you get for not wearing a mask!) and held without charge for ages.
we tried to go to the circus. it had been cancelled. because of the riot. as were the street performers. and the music. misery.
i really wonder how useful these kind of protests are. they must alienate public support.
that said i think back to a neighbour who asked what was happening at the height of the window smashing, fire blazing, tear gassing turbulence. we explained. his furrowed brow lightened. an explosion went off at the top of the street. he beamed. ‘bon spectacle alors!’
J and i have been going to the squatted circus every day now for a week. its an amazing way to tak your mind to a different place. hours of stretching. then trapeze. tight rope. swinging on the silks!
yesterday someone asked me if i could teach them a trick on the silks. and i told him id only started yesterday! he was really lovely. very handsome. deep searching smiling eyes. i lost it. i started thinking about those afghan children. i thought about those cops and my hand closed into a fist. i scared off the columbian boy. the whole way home on the metro my hand was clenched in a fist.
i have to leave to leave and have some quiet time away. i have to go home and answer bail.
deep deep disappointment. but still im sure all of the calais crew came away feeling pretty inspired…
by day four we had really had enough. E thought it was the macho italian men. i thought it was the macho spanish women (can women be macho?). fifty odd people sat while the same four or five people talk continuously for twenty minutes before handing over the mike to a random person of their choice. who will continue to talk about something completely unrelated. but equally monotonous.
it had already been decided for us that ‘no group conclusions would be reached’ during the forum. well that was a bit of a blow for us. it had been a week of police brutality and institutional racism. and we had left our friends in calais to pick up the pieces while we sought solidarity in spain. we wanted action.
we cornered the convenors. we asked if we could have just 20 minuted of small group discussions. we worried that linguistic minorites were being neglected – all but two english speakers had already left. but M did not approve. our suggestion was ‘racist’: it would inevitably lead to people grouping by nationality. something the meeting format had been designed specifically to prevent.
we attempted a half-hearted intervention. pretty much everyone was in favour of the set up. and we were unanimously asked to stand down. our proposal was taking away valuable time from their macho posturing.
i walked out with J as an italian stood up and announced we would block any international action network where we would communicate with any other means than carrier pigeon.
one of the reasons i got into political activism is that i was sick of sitting around stoned out hippies moaning about how we should all go back to living in caves.
i lived in a cave. its fun for a bit. but give it a few months and it gets really fucking boring. we have to live and work with those around us. we cant ignore them.
throughout the forum attempts to set up a freedom of movement network were rejected.
a frenchman whod also travelled a great distance to be here took the floor. ‘we need a network’. he said. ‘some of the people in this room have worked for the same cause for years and have never met each other. we need to come together. we should be helping migrants in detention centres to organise synchronised protests across europe. they need us to communicate. this very weekend two international forums on the same subject in the same country clashed. we need to get organised!’ the frenchman sat down.
K took the mic. her response was interesting: first of all we were in barcelona which is not in spain. it is in catalunya. the other forum was in malaga, spain. 500 kilometres away. the same distance as rome or paris. and certainly not in the same country.
this was an international forum because it was in an international city. with an international crowd. but it by no mean should encourage international networks of resistance. we have to challenge deportation and detention centres with the support of local people. the impersonal, officious national and international networks belong to the authorities. such networks inevitably end up being dominated by the priveledged and socially mobile. the well spoken, the well travelled, the well educated…
for us english people it was important to taste what it is like to be part of a minority group. to be isolated from group discussions by mediocre translations (my translations were mediocre). we do have to think globally but work locally. and we have to give other people the opportunity to organise our movement. we cant always be the same old few. ‘just look at the climate camp prefects’ J reminds me as we wander the barcelona streets.
time to take a back seat with no borders…
we walk out of calais and we think weve *finally* got away from things. the constant police harassment. were taking them to court. but weve barely started hitching before a police van pulls up. theyre just sitting there. a lorry stops and offers us a ride to spain! but then takes one look at the cops and changes his mind.
‘can we help you at all?’ they all start laughing. its those guys from coquelles again. their chief looks a bit embarassed. soon enough they fuck off. probably off afghan hunting again. but what can we do?
ive really had enough of calais police. part of the reason were off to barcelona. yesterday morning we went to discuss a hunger strike with the iranians and were arrested almost immediatly. (when i say ‘we’ i mean that only the white activists got arrested) they took us to the station and some of us refused to give our id or nationality. the new activists were really a bit shocked by the way they treated us. A keeps getting insulted by one policeman – ‘god, youre so ugly’ ‘youre so evil’. but ive become quite accustomed now to the long waits in the copshop. (stay passive, keep a few good books in your bag)
theyre allowed to keep us for 4 hours without charging us. so i settle in for the long haul. A has her interview first and recommends the translator. so when its my turn i decide to have a translator for a change – a funny very polite little old man in a suit. on the way into the interview room they tell me i dont look as stupid as the others (thanks!)
so im sat in front of the ‘brigadier of calais’. he calmly asks me why i refused to give me nationality. i start to explain how it is one of the few means of protest left to someone who witnesses constant and brutal racism from the police on a daily basis. the brigadier stands up and starts to scream at me. the over zealous translator ceases to translate for me and starts shouting what the brigadier is shouting at me in english. ive got two people hurling insults at me in two different languages. so i (stupidly) start insulting them back in english and trying to shout over the comotion in french. i tell the translator to stop translating. he puts on a puppy dog expression. hes offended. he tells me that the interview is almost over. and i should just keep quiet and listen and then hell go away. im told that i should be a good boy and if i dont cooperate were all going to end up in prison.
im quite angry now. i reply in french that ive done nothing illegal. if he is refusing to listen to me then i have nothing else to say.
more shoutingt in french and english. i just stare at the clock. 5 minutes til they have to let us out. im ushered downstairs. were all told that because i misbehaved in interview we will all be kept for longer as a collective punishment. we inform the guards that weve been kept longer than 4 hours without charge and they have ten minutes before we call our lawyer on our mobiles.
sure enough ten minutes later the brigadier is back. he tries to force us to sign some documents in french. the translator has mysteriously disappeared and the documents are full of mistakes.apparently my interview took place two hours ago. we refuse and are forcibly ejected. we later find out that our signatures were forged anyway.
on the road. weve finally got a lift for spain!! its off to the international forum for freedom of movement in barcelona. i get a text from our lawyer. apparently weve got a case..
its been five days but feels so much longer. thirteen of us sit in the apartment watching a video of the demo this morning.
‘stop deportations. stop deportations. no borders. no nations.’ as the band strikes up the french national anthem.
we had decided to plan a protest with migrants to see if they were interested. the iranians had been almost offended when we occupied the town hall without inviting them. they made some beautiful tshirts – ‘peace has no borders’ with writing in farsi and pictures in a myriad of colours.
we were all a bit worried about being disrespectful. this was a war ceremony we were joining. but throughout the ceremony we stood together respectfully. iranians, iraqis, afghans, eritreans. we listened to and translated veteran’s tales of resistance and sabotage, hiding jews and forging identity papers. the parallels needed no explanation.
then natasha bouchard, mayoress of calais stood up and came out with one of the most extraordinarily hypocritical speeches i have ever heard in my lifetime. ‘we must remember that calais was once a city under siege. where people were afraid to leave their homes. we must remind our children that this must never happen again.’
as soon as the veterans had left we tried to take a banner from a bag. but the police who had been warily watching us throughout grabbed the banner and tore it up! i started struggling with a cop who was trying to steal my tshirt off me. it read simply ’50 years on and still fighting fascism’.
cameramen and concerned faces surrounded us. and we were eventually allowed our five minutes of protest after a lengthy struggle. it was a powerful moment. refugees from the world over. overpowering policeman and spontaneously chanting ‘no border. no nation. stop deportation.’
a phone-call. S has been arrested at the eritreans. the police are snatching afghans. we pause the video and leave our freshly served dinner and dash off into the night.
im sitting in a gaudily decorated office watching two obese police officers scoff down pastries with rye smiles of superiority on their chubby faces. an enormous vietnamese translator struts up and down the corridor balancing precariously on enormous high heels.
‘but theyre happier in detention centres’ purports the chief officer of coquelles detention centre. it is difficult to tell whether or not theres a hint of sarcasm as his concerned expression transforms into a benevolent smile. ‘here they have everything. a tv. regular meals. a warm bed…’
‘but what they want is freedom. what theyve never had is freedom. what about the riots at yarls wood? or when they burnt down valencennes?’ the two rotund policemen crack up.
‘i just dont understand how you can have no nationality’. a mocking apologetic tone.
at 7 this morning i awoke with the iranians to a police arrest. i refused to present my passport or give my nationality and was surprised when B and M and other iranians also refused.
a touching moment. we got roughed up a bit – pressure positions. A got a beating on the head. they confiscated my camera. and now here we are at the detention centre causing considerable concern amongst the rank and file who for weeks have been carrying out race specific raids. this week its the afghans. next week they deport the ethiopians… its disgusting. and someone has to stand up to them. and apparently its me and the iranians. ‘look you dont want to end up on a plane headed to kabul do you?’ one of the chubby faces jokes.
im threatened with imprisonment and deportation (bizarrely) and eventually we are all released together. the iranians laugh at police and ask if they can come on our next no border protest as we begin the long walk home…
i had a delicious nap at the no borders office. i delivered some food to migrant friends in hiding. then i went out for a glass of wine with V that never happened. a dark figure passing me in the street. a towel wrapped around his head. i offer him an apple. but his exhausted face barely registers a sign of gratitude. perhaps contempt would be more appropriate? it is a face i havent even seen in the few unfortunate friends ive lost to heroine.
i try to lead him to the friterie – a chip shop. but he shakes his head.
he live in birmingham. he used to work in a restaurant. he has no family left. and now he wanders the streets. wary that the moment he falls asleep he might be snatched.
were all out of talk and he sits. waiting. but no waiting for anything. i want to go home and sleep. but what can i say?
‘im going to go home and sleep.’
still he looks into my eyes. he is not going home. and he is not going to sleep. his gaze is empty. there is nothing. it has no present. no future. only sleepless insomniac days and nights lie ahead.
nothing. not even death.
around 5 i fell into a deep deep sleep. as my brain began to digest the day i slipped into the same calming dream that comes back so often. im stroking a beautiful smooth shape of wood. carving it. and it has so many shades of colour. its like a shell. its like my…
pain confusion and limbs everywhere! ‘pardon, pardon’ a cameraman has landed on top of me. the whole place is swarming with cameras and journalists. and all i want is my fucking shell back. so i try to get back to sleep. but its as if a hundred different televisions have been left on in ten different languages. ‘and here we are in calais and its a veritable media circus’. authoritative – yet compassionate – voices recording history, clutching microphones and adjusting their make-up. a journo quizzes a dazzled afghan teen next to me. ‘so how old are you?’ i wonder how genuine her furrowed row really is – something learnt from experience or from a journalism degree? i glare at her bitterly but shes already gone. the star-struck filthy clothed teenager sits confused.
‘can you move just behind the banner please? thats good. all of you behind the banner now. okay serious faces.’ the children obediently follow orders as trained professionals coreograph their tragedy.
suddenly theres vans and buses of police pulling up and the journos dash off in search of good shots. and what are WE going to do? its chaos. the police line up outside the jungle. ominous yet unsure. then i hear shouts.
‘freedom of movement. a human right. we are here. and we will fight.’
i can see V and G and other familiar faces clutching banners. creating a line opposite the police. the afghan kids dont have a clue what to do. a couple of them peg it. the rest of them stand there dazzled by camera flash. the terrified expressions of children. rabbits. caught in the headlights of some supernatural force.
the police are closing in. the journos sandwhich themselves between activists and afghans. some of the journos without cameras even start chanting absurdly for want of something to do. french voices which slur their words without comprehension of their meaning.
‘no borders. no nations. stop deportations.’
things are starting to look nasty. the police are out of their depth.
‘we are here. and we will fight.’ i shout in the face of a cameraman who is politely asking me if i can put down my banner a moment so he can walk through the blockade.
a very young afghan boy begins to wail in terror behind me. a visored riot cop grabs me in a head lock and drags me back. my foot starts screaming with pain as i struggle for breath – hes landed me on the embers of a fire and the media circus follows as my body and face start to contort in agony. that all too familiar moment when i wonder ill get out of this alive. i try to choke out a few words of protest.im dragged into an enclosure. disorientated by breathlessness pain and rage. it looks like im nicked but in the general panic i quickly dearrest myself.
but its too late. already dark skins and light skins have been separated. i cant bear it. i wander off gradually becomeing more aware of the painin my right foot.
S cycles past and wraps my foot up in bandage and we share our anger at our cowardly government for paying off the french police to round up a bunch of children. lock them up and drop them in a friendless warzone far away. i feel a sense of deep deep shame.