Notes from a Fast-Track Activist

On 23rd January I attended City of London Magistrates’ Court to support three women at their court case who had been charged with breach of Section 12 of the Public Order Act. They had briefly disrupted traffic as they slow marched down Shaftesbury Avenue in July 2023 to raise the alarm about climate and ecological breakdown. They were part of a Just Stop Oil Mothers and Carers march.

This was my first time in court. I was there to offer support to these women and also to learn more about court proceedings as I have my own possible court case looming following an arrest in November 2023. In the past six months I have become a fast-track activist. Goodness knows where I was before; I suspect in a whirlwind of bringing up young children and trying to save my freelance music career post Pandemic. In the past few months I have joined the Just Stop Oil movement, as well as my local Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion groups, become vegan, had my first arrest, spoken on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about why I was willing to risk arrest for my children and met an incredible number of peaceful and inspiring activists many of whom I feel grateful to call friends. 

On the same day as this court case, Michel Forst (UN Special Rapporteur) issued a statement about the ‘increasingly severe crackdowns on environmental defenders in the United Kingdom, including in relation to the exercise of the right to peaceful protest’ as the world faces ‘a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution’. It also came the day after the UK Government passed the new Offshore Petroleum licensing bill at the second reading, despite the fact that we are very close to locking into 1.5 ºC of warming – the upper limit in the 2015 Paris agreement. 

As I watched the court case play out I was struck by the theatrics of the procedure. I felt as if I was in a film – all of this new to me: the formality, the structure, the behaviours of the police officer witness, the crown prosecution service, the clerk and the judge. None of their personal views were evident of course; they were all doing their jobs and remained civil to the defendants at all times. Business as usual was the order of the day and the judge explained she would not be able to take climate breakdown facts into consideration.

These three women were not to be crushed by the state. They had no solicitor but instead self-represented; they were thoroughly prepared and gave an excellent account of themselves. Each of them watched their own arrest from bodycam footage. When it was their turn to take the witness stand and give evidence, they each spoke with conviction, grace and passion. The judge allowed them time to speak their full truth in which they mentioned their motivations for taking action. They acknowledged their privilege, spoke of their responsibility to act with the knowledge that they have and opened their hearts when they spoke of their fear and their love for their loved ones. 

I felt utterly privileged to be there; this being just one of many protest cases in our courts. In this world where we are all encouraged to consume and spend and stick with business as usual, I wanted to cheer for these women as they risked so much to tell the truth at this crucial time in history. But where do their stories go? These court room scenes remain whispered secrets, far from mainstream press. The judge had no option but to find them guilty – the rigidity of the law would allow nothing else – though we all felt her humanity and wonder what she told her family when she went home that evening. 

I was inspired and emboldened as I heard their stories and their sacrifices. All for a greater cause. All to raise the alarm. All to try to avoid the very worst of what is to come. All of them there for a shared love of humanity and our beautiful planet.

As I write this letter I have Ivor Cutler’s words in my mind: ‘Women of the world take over. Because if you don’t, the world will come to an end and we haven’t got long.’

We all need to be fast track activists. We don’t have time not to be.

Anna Oliver, Southampton, 25 January 2024