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Activism and... Having a laugh

I used to belong to an affinity group whose motto was ‘fun and effective’. Every action was supposed to be both effective in advancing our cause, and fun for those of us carrying it out.

We did do some very amusing things. The most bizarre of which was when we were campaigning about East Timor, which few people had ever heard of, and British arms sales to Indonesia, which was then occupying the tiny country. (I still find it hard to believe international pressure forced Indonesia out.)

Anyhow, somehow we got the idea of a protest that focused on the fact that no one knew about East Timor. A half-dozen of us paraded around central London underneath a giant blackout curtain which came down to our ankles. On the curtain was spelled out the question: ‘What’s going on in East Timor?’ Other members of the group handed out leaflets to bemused passers-by.

There’s a beautiful photo of a copper lifting up a corner of the curtain and peering underneath.

We also had fun dressing up as professional ‘Ethics Detectors’ after the then-foreign secretary referred to an ‘ethical dimension’ to British foreign policy. We wore name labels and white overalls, and waved cereal-box-and-toilet-roll-based ‘ethics detectors’.

To be honest, I think the biggest laugh I’ve ever had in connection with activism was when two of us travelled through the night to turn up at a police station – after midnight – to hand ourselves in after arrest warrants had been issued for us.

We were both exhausted and giggling hysterically at everything in sight. We read out every sign or poster we could see, and they were all totally hilarious.

I guess you had to be there.

Man, 40s