The black bag

IssueSeptember 2008
Feature by Jane Tallents

Court support.

Showing up at court to help people through a court case is really important. Just by being there you make a difference. However, from feedback it seems that direct action campaigns keep people actively involved after going through the courts if they help make that experience more empowering than intimidating.
To do that you need to provide information that helps people plot some kind of course through the court proceedings.
Briefings sent out to people being prosecuted and available through websites is a good start. And having folk at the end of a phone or e-mail to answer questions is valuable. Finding somewhere for people to stay before and after court and simple things like maps of where the court-house is takes some of the stress out of the whole thing.
I take my trusty black bag along with me with all sorts of things in it to help people in practical ways but what you don’t see in there are the hugs and encouragement that are the most important thing to supply! And of course in return I hear the most moving, inspiring speeches that keep me energised.

Using our action skills everyday.

We develop ways of coping with all sorts of situations as activists. My many years of doing court support has meant that I now have a bag permanently packed ready with everything I need to pop along to court at the drop of a hat.
However, these skills can come in handy in other parts of our lives.
A friend found that preparing to accompany his partner to hospital for cancer treatment was similar to preparing for an action; making sure that he had everything he might need for an overnight stay, mobile phone charged up, phone numbers to hand, even a book to read – all this was a reassuring ritual. And in other ways too we call upon the things we learnt while confronting the state.
Another friend planned how to discuss some difficult things with a relative as if he was planning a workshop - allowing time for paired listening, practising clear explanations, scheduling in some breaks.
So although sometimes we find the idea of reading yet one more briefing or attending another action training off-putting, you never know when those tools will help you in everyday life.