For a long time I’ve wanted to host interviews with other activists about their first activist related arrest. In my own experience, resources and education around repression is typically weighted heavily in favour of the types of cases that very few will ever face – conspiracy cases, large scale property destruction, multi million dollar economic pressure campaigns and SLAPP suits. Education around these cases are vital for ensuring support is there when it is needed – but in this kind of environment it can be hard to relay the actual kind of risks activists are more likely to face – trespass and failure to leave tickets, public nuisance, contempt, cause disturbance, mischief, etc. I also think that in the absence of these kinds of actions, support for those more rare cases will lessen as well.
In my own organizing – the animal advocacy community in Southern Ontario (so-called Canada) over the last 7 years I was always encouraged to learn about repression and support prisoners, while at the same time it was generally accepted as taboo to face arrest yourself – something to either not talk about or be ashamed of. I saw this same dynamic in many other animal advocacy communities post Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty 7 conviction/Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) in 2006-2007. There was a new push around ideas of “having the same effectiveness” of campaigns like SHAC, but doing it “with legal means.” To chart that development to now, there are many now in the animal advocacy movement who believe that state repression is a result of “wrong” action on the part of those fighting for justice – not simply a state response to effectiveness. A continuation of this idea of having the same effectiveness by only using “legal means.” In this environment, people are shamed for “draining resources” and shamed for encountering repression – instead of others seeing repression as a goalpost and something inevitable for any successful social movement. This is an ahistorical idea that refuses to acknowledge that any effective tactic will be criminalized – no matter how “peaceful,” “compassionate,” “non violent” or “love based” it is. Criminality is a function of state power.
Without surprise, this span of time has seen a decrease in civil disobedience and direct action in the animal advocacy community. New metrics of “vegan outreach” (leafletting), social media/youtube views and mass media outlet/tv audience reach have instead taken over. Alongside this, many of those who still do engage in street protest have a distorted view of the risks of protest – “will I be on a watch list?” “will I get arrested for just for protesting” “will I face conspiracy charges/a SLAPP suit for running a campaign against a fur store?” I hear these questions all of the time and they are part of this shift in animal advocacy away from direct action and civil disobedience and all part of shaming people who still face repression. In this context “direct action” in animal advocacy is now currently associated and being popularized with the tactics of street/performance theatre – a campaign where people enter into Chipotle restaurants chant and leave when asked. How did we get to this point?
Getting involved in other communities and meeting and learning about more and more cases of state repression by people who have become friends I wanted to really get at the heart of confronting these kinds of distortions about the what kinds of repression exist, who is likely to face what, and how best people can prepare themselves based upon the activism and organizing they do. There is overlap, especially in communities that include a lot of folks from positions of privilege, and my hope is that hosting people telling their own stories around their first activist arrest will help counter some of this in meaningful ways.
I will be sending out the questions below to close friends and folks I think might be interested – but the project is open to others as well. You can always email me at email@example.com.
Huge caveat – the focus will be activist arrests, which I recognize itself is problematic as facing arrest for many communities is a daily occurrence and not something attached to “activist” politics or organizing. The focus will remain, at least for now, first “activist arrest” simply because the context for those arrests is typically different from carding, stop and frisk, and the daily terror that marginalized and oppressed populations face. The hope is that by dispelling some myths around repression those with privilege will become more aware of how state repression operates and how solidarity with those criminalized simply for existing should be a priority.
First Arrest Questions
When was your first activism related arrest?
When you were arrested were you prepared/intending to get arrested?
How did you react to your first arrest? Did you fight any charges/tickets, etc?
How did others react to your first arrest? Did you feel you supported?
Looking back on your first arrest what would you have done differently? What did you wish you knew then?
What impact, if any, did that first arrest have on your activism later in life?
What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about state/corporate repression within activist communities?