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UK activism in an age of COVID-19

Peace News takes a look at how forty different UK activist groups and networks have been responding to life under lockdown.

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An online poster for CND's webinar on conversion

Like everyone else, UK activists have been scrambling to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of ‘lockdown’ and social distancing. On 1 May PN surveyed over forty activist organisations and networks to get an idea of what they’d be doing as well as their plans for the future.

Here’s what we found out …

1. Campaigns, NGOs and activist networks

Calais Migrant Solidarity
Founded in 2009 ‘to keep a constant presence in Calais to support people with and without papers facing daily harassment and abuse from the border regime’, Calais Migrant Solidarity’s website continues to report on events since the beginning of France’s lockdown, including police violence against migrants and hunger strikes inside French immigration detention centres protesting ‘the lack of proper hygiene measures, reduced cleaning, the lack of medical care for those infected with corona virus, no testing for those potentially contaminated [and] overcrowding’.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
After UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gave verbal support for the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, CAAT launched a petition calling on him to ‘turn these words into action by ending the UK arms sales’. It’s also held a number of online events including a ‘Vigil for Yemen’ on 25 March and a ‘Stop the Arms Fair Network catch-up’ on 23 April.

Climate Outreach
Recent blog posts by the climate communication organisation have included pieces on ‘Communicating climate change during the coronavirus crisis – what the evidence says’ and ‘Covid, climate change & citizens’ assemblies: the critical role of deliberation for planned transitions’. It’s also produced a 49m online presentation on ‘Covid-19, climate change and migration’.

CND
The anti-nuclear campaign has held several webinars, including ‘Ventilators not exterminators: why now is the time for defence diversification’ (25 April). It is also running an online ‘Wash our hands of Trident to combat COVID19’ lobbying campaign directed at MPs.

CND Cymru
The group has had to cancel or postpone almost all its significant planned activities for 2020. It’s last event - a screening of the film “The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons” at the Welsh Assembly – which took place shortly before the lockdown, resulted in several useful discussions with Welsh Assembly Members, three of whom signed ICAN’s Parliamentarian Pledge ‘to work for the signature and ratification of [the landmark 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons]. This brings the number of Assembly members to sign the pledge to 15, a quarter of the Assembly.

The group hopes to repeat the event in the Autumn at Westminister on Welsh Affairs Day. In the meantime it has improved its website, set up an Instagram account and is currently revising and creating new physical and online resources, of course. It is also making progress towards digitising the archive of all 74 issues of its magazine Heddwch.

Drone Wars UK
Notwithstanding the pandemic, this small NGO (which works towards the long-term goal an international ban on the use of armed drones.) has continued to publish ground-breaking material on the UK’s drone program.

Recent pieces include: an article on the upcoming PR offensive over the UK’s armed drones, in advance of the MoD’s plans to deploy its new Predator drone in UK airspace for purposes including ‘domestic security’ and surveillance; and an in-depth update on the UK’s ongoing efforts ‘to gain an advantage and expertise in developing its own military autonomous systems, short of lethal weapons’, while failing to properly support measures which would control and prevent the development of such systems globally.

Extinction Rebellion (UK)
The group has produced a seven-page briefing ‘Alone Together’, with suggestions about a range of topics including self-care in isolation, 1-2-1 support, staying connected, mutual aid and online events. 

The group is also producing an extensive daily programme of online workshops using the video conferencing service Zoom (‘Reset TV Online’). A full schedule is available on the website.

Extinction Rebellion Brighton
The group has been holding numerous online events via Zoom, including webinars, meetings and a solidarity vigil with campaigners from Bogota. On 29 April members of the group put up ‘Closed for Good’ posters around the city ‘as part of a national action to highlight the most ruinous industries and businesses in our society and make clear that they cannot reopen for business as usual if we want to rebuild a better world’.

Fawcett Society
Noting that ‘existing inequalities mean that women are set to be disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic’ the veteran feminist organisation has co-ordinated a call by over 60 charities for the UK Government to take action to support women and girls during the outbreak. Actions requested included: the release of all women from immigration detention, the protection of elderly women in care homes, and the reduction of the number of women in prison to save lives. Supporters are being encouraged to send the full list of asks to their MPs and to share it on social media using the hashtag #MakeWomenVisible. On 28 April the group held an online panel discussion (via Zoom) on ‘Women, work and welfare’ in the context of the pandemic.

Friends of the Earth
The environmental campaigning network is pausing most of its lobbying of decision-makers during the pandemic, to give them space to prioritise the health and safety of their communities. It’s encouraging its local groups to use the time to build and maintain connections and plan for the future and has produced an online resource page (‘COVID-19: How to campaign safely) with advice on topics such as how to communicate about climate change during the pandemic and ‘How to join a Zoom meeting for the first time’. Noting that ‘the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how many people – particularly in urban areas – are robbed of important green space’, FoE says that it will be working with others to press for land use changes that will secure access to green space for everyone, once lockdown is over.

Greater Manchester CND
Since the beginning of lockdown the group has held a webinar on ‘The environmental impacts of war’ and interviewed Kate Hudson about national CND’s ‘Wash our hands of Trident’ campaign. The cancellation of Glastonbury – a key fundraising opportunity for the group – has severely affected the group’s finances. Supporters are encouraged to help make up for the lost income by joining GMCND’s Supporter Network or contributing to their Campaigning Fund.

Global Justice Now
The social justice NGO is currently running a ‘Covid-19 vaccine for all’ campaign aimed at preventing the big pharmaceutical companies from taking out patents on a vaccine and charging extortionate prices ‘leaving millions of people, and entire countries, around the world unable to afford it.’ You can sign their petition here.

Jubilee Debt Campaign
At the beginning of April, the JDC helped to rally over 200 organisations and ¾ million people globally to demand debt cancellation to help lower-income countries cope with coronavirus. Since then the G20 and the IMF have announced over $12billion in debt payment suspension for this year - good news, but a mere drop in the ocean compared to the $300 billion that the campaign estimates is needed to help middle- and low-income countries fight the pandemic over the coming year.

Liberty
All too well aware that ‘states have a habit of reaching for intrusive surveillance and harsh criminal punishments’ in times of crisis, the 86-year-old civil liberties organisation is calling on the Government ‘to put human rights at the centre of its response and be part of the movement to hold it to account, ensuring it doesn’t take away our hard-won rights and freedoms.’ New web-site articles examine how the pandemic and the Coronavirus Act are affecting policing, migrants’ rights, surveillance and data privacy, people experiencing mental health crises and social care. Their ‘Coronavirus: Know your rights’ briefing does what it says on the tin.

London Renters Union
A community made up of thousands of renters from across the city, the London Renters Union is currently ‘organising collective action to keep each other safe from homelessness and to fight for government action to protect renters.’ Their website features a Q&A ‘about your rights as a renter during the Coronavirus pandemic’ and a webpage that you can use to create a downloadable letter ‘you can use to ask your landlord for a rent reduction or suspension during the Coronavirus pandemic.’

The groups will be holding their first online “Getting Active” training session on Thursday 7 May (you can register through the website).

Medact
According to its website the network for health professionals working on the social, political and economic conditions which damage health and deepen health inequalities is currently adjusting its approach to campaigning ‘to give more focus to supporting campaigns that seek to address the health inequalities intersecting with COVID-19’. Among other things it is currently campaigning to suspend the hostile environment to make it safer for migrants to access healthcare and calling for the home office to release all people in immigration detention to prevent increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Recent webinar’s (via Zoom) include ‘The arms industry in the era of COVID-19: lessons for the future’ and ‘Climate, Health and Covid-19’.

Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign
Have suspended their Tuesday evening demonstrations outside the US spybase for the duration of restrictions on public gatherings, and are meeting with their supporters (via Zoom) on 2 May.

Netpol
In conjunction with the Undercover Research Group, Netpol – a network of activists, lawyers and researchers – has created an online ‘diary of security and surveillance during Britain's state of emergency’ to ‘monitor the everyday impact of the [police’s new powers under lockdown] and whether they are used proportionately’.

New Economics Foundation
At the same time as it’s been ‘fighting for everyone to be supported through the immediate crisis’ the campaigning think thank is also working alongside others to produce ‘a recovery plan that provides us all with access to things we really need to live a good life – such as quality housing, healthcare and social care – and that responds to the long-term crisis of climate change.’ A 27 April blog post stresses that ‘bailing out struggling companies shouldn’t mean a return to business as usual after Covid-19’ and explores some of the ways they could be used ‘to build the world we want, not rebuild the world we had’.

The group’s weekly economics podcasts are currently being followed up by weekly discussions on Zoom. Recent topics have included ‘Childcare under lockdown’ and ‘Coronavirus and the legacy of austerity’.

Open Rights Group
The UK’s digital rights campaign looks to have been very busy since the start of the UK’s lockdown, questioning the role of surveillance company Palantir in NHS plans to “clean” and analyse bulk health data, pressing the UK government to explain its approach to contact tracing (which uses mobile phone apps to help work out who is at risk of infection), and supporting a Coronavirus Safeguards Bill that such measures do not lead to people’s data being misused, repurposed or shared (eg. to the private sector) without their consent. They have also produced a short report (‘COVID-19 and personal data’) summarising their concerns and been holding numerous online discussions about these and other issues (all of which can be watched retrospectively on the group’s YouTube channel).

Peace Pledge Union
Since the pandemic hit the UK, this venerable pacifist organisation has: held a day of online action (17 April), calling for military budgets to be diverted to tackling Covid 19 and related threats; protested against the UK military’s use of a corona virus briefing to ‘to push a pro-military and pro-nuclear agenda’; and contested government plans to “celebrate” the 75th anniversary of VE day, which the group says ‘risks trivialising the suffering of millions of people by turning the anniversary into a party’.

Upcoming events include a national online ceremony to mark International Conscientious Objectors' Day on 15 May, with actor Michael Mears and Niat Chefena Hailemariam from Network of Eritrean Women.

Platform
The London-based art / activism / education / research organisation joined groups from around the world in making online videos as part of an online #oilinthewater day of action to mark the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on 20 April (search Twitter!).

The group is also organising webinars for local divest groups: upcoming topics include 'Just Recovery' and a workers panel, the latter is fixed for 12th May. Together with the New Economics Foundation and the Sunrise Movement it is also participating in a series of workshops (‘Building our power’) focussing on transforming our economies and financial systems post-pandemic. Currently, workshops are scheduled for 4, 11, 13 and 18 May.

Scientists for Global Responsibility
SGR has already held a webinar on ‘Arms conversion: initial lessons from the COVID-19 crisis’ (exploring ‘the sudden interest by leading arms companies in manufacturing health equipment during the COVID-19 crisis’) and is one of a number of UK organisations supporting 350.org’s five principles for a Just Recovery from the pandemic.

A 28 April blog post notes that ‘the government and much of the media do not mention risk factors identified in the 2020 report ‘Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 years on’ which highlighted a startling rise in poor health in more deprived areas of the UK due to austerity policies’ and draws attention to a recent poll in which 48% of the public agreed that the governmens should respond "with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19", with just 28% saying it shouldn't.

Scottish CND
Since the start of lockdown the group has been promoting a #ScotlandnotTrident window-placard-making challenge, supporting calls for a global military ceasefire (see the entry for the Peace Pledge Union) and urging the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to order the shutdown of the Torness nuclear generation plant ‘in the light of concerns over adequate staffing levels as a result of the [pandemic]’.

Sisters Uncut
According to its website, many of the feminist direct action group’s chapters are continuing to organise online. In a long statement issued 27 April the group demanded: ‘a moratorium on further detention and incarceration, and the immediate release of people who are held in cells’; ‘a basic universal income and the suspension of rent and utilities so that households and survivors fleeing domestic violence can have the adequate means to meet their needs’; ‘universal access to healthcare and care, housing and welfare’; and ‘an immediate end to new police powers.’

Stand Up to Racism
On 28 April the anti-racist campaign held a online rally to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day, highlighting the disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths amongst BAME people and calling for a transparent public inquiry (not a “white wash”) over the issue. The group has also hosted an exclusive online preview of Rubika Shah’s documentary, _White Riot_, about Rock Against Racism, and an online meeting on ‘Covid-19, Racism & The Hostile Environment’.

Stonewall
Noting that ‘LGBT people are at greater risk of marginalisation within [crises such as the Corona virus pandemic]’ but that LGBT communities across the UK are also ‘coming together to show each other solidarity, support and provide lifesaving services, Stonewall has produced a useful inventory of what’s happening on this front, grouped into categories such as ‘Mutual Aid’, ‘Self-isolation helplines and guidance’ and ‘Trans-Specific Care’.

Stop the War
The national anti-war campaign has been blogging regularly on the war-and-peace dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic since the beginning of the UK’s lockdown. Recent posts include ‘Military Spending Peaks in the Age of COVID-19’ and ‘Under Sanctions, the Iranian People Battle With COVID-19’. On the 28 April is held an online public meeting ‘Coronavirus & War: The Case for a Global Ceasefire’ (now available on YouTube). Upcoming events include webinar’s on stopping the extradition of Julian Assange (6 May) and ‘Healthcare not warfare’ with John Pilger and Kate Hudson (16 May). Registration for these events is through the website.

Veggies
Nottingham’s Vegan Catering Campaign has converted the social centre where it is housed into a hub for the distribution of foods around our community ‘for those isolated at home or those that wish to distance themselves from the madness of Tesco & Asda’. More info – including a stock list and order form – can be found on the website.

2. Publishers and booksellers

Five Leaves Bookshop
Nottingham’s radical bookshop closed down (for staff safety reasons) before the Government did. All staff are on furlough on full wages save for the owner and the part-time publishing worker (who works from home). At the time of closure they cancelled 27 events that they had lined up for the spring.

The owner (Ross Bradshaw) is now working full time on mail order for the business. The shop is offering all orders post free, as well as £50/£100 "mystery boxes" (let them know what kind of books you’re interested in and they'll do the rest).

They are also planning how to re-open safely when the time is right, reconfiguring the shop to allow social distancing and how to screen staff safely. 

Housmans
The King’s Cross-based radical bookshop closed its doors on 18 March ‘to protect staff, volunteers and customers’ and has had to cancel both the London Radical Bookfair (which was scheduled to take place in July) and dozens of book launches and talks. Though it hopes to be able to resume this before too long, it has also temporarily suspended its online shop ‘in solidarity with warehouse and delivery workers’. However, it is encouraging supporters to create a ‘wishlist’ on its website: ‘Once we can fulfill online orders again, we will let you know.’

News from Nowhere
Liverpool’s radical and community bookshop is now (2 May) closed due to the pandemic, but is still being staffed Monday to Saturday, from 10am till at least 3pm, to deal with mail orders, answer email and phone calls, and to receive deliveries. Books are still available by mail-order though the range may be limited due to supplier closures and they are encouraging customers to contact them to check about availability.

Pluto
Notwithstanding its 50 year history, the radical book publisher describes the COVID-19 pandemic as ‘the most serious existential threat we’ve ever experienced’. It’s currently asking supporters to help ‘give us a future’ by pledging £3 (or more) a month via the website Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/plutopress. Pluto is holding a number of online events as part of #RadicalMay (see Radical Publishers Alliance below) and appears to be holding its first virtual book launch on 7 May (see website for details).

Printed Matter Bookshop
The Hastings-based radical bookshop is currently shut, but is now able to take online orders again. Those who want free local delivery should tick the option to 'collect from store'.

The Radical Publishers Alliance
An international group of left-wing publishers have formed this new coalition to support each other during the world shutdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s so new that (as of 5 May) it doesn’t even have a web-site!

Their first joint initiative is #RadicalMay, an online radical book fair featuring panel discussions, talks, and teach-ins with authors from 50 radical publishers worldwide throughout the month. UK members of the alliance include Verso and Pluto (see below).

Verso
Over the last 6 weeks the radical publisher’s authors have contributed blog posts on Coronavirus and the refugees crisis in Greece, why the Covid-19 pandemic is more opportunity than threat to neoliberalism, and the more than 100,000 sailors who were quarantined on their ships, unable to return home or access adequate medical care. The blog also contains suggestions of ‘Quarantine reading’ from Verso authors and an update on workplace safety practices from Verso’s distributors.

Verso are part of the #RadicalMay initiatives (see above) and are offering a 50% discount on all their print books (and an 80% discount on their ebooks) until 24 May.

Zed Books
Recent blog posts from the radical book publisher’s authors include ‘seven good reads about ignorance’ (for those stuck inside), Roslyn Fuller on whether digital technologies could (and should) be used to create ‘a mass, direct democracy’ in the wake of COVID-19, and Stefano Ponte on why this is the time ‘to expand and rethink our socio-economic models to stimulate a more sustainable approach to consumption – not limited to consuming more sustainable goods and services (such as organic milk, ecotourism holiday or FSC certified timber), but also on consuming less.’

3. Media projects 

New Internationalist
The global justice magazine has been able to continue printing and distributing its bi-monthly magazine even under lockdown. Recent online articles have explored the likely impact of the pandemic on gig workers and those living under occupation.

Novara Media
The lively left-wing media platform has continued to produce articles, podcasts and videos throughout the period of lockdown. Recent material includes coverage of ASOS workers’ fight for workplace safety during the pandemic, an hour-long discussion with George Monbiot on the ‘The Coronavirus Climate’, and a call for the left to look beyond simply ‘challenging austerity’ in a post-pandemic world.

Open Democracy
Recent articles published by the independent global online media platform have included Richard Norton-Taylor on ‘why the UK spent billions on nuclear bombs but ignored the pandemic threat’, the UK government’s failure to bring in new legislation to protect workers’ safety during the lockdown (leaving it up to bosses to decide to decide whether it’s “possible” to do a job from home, and whether to take the government cash to furlough some or all of their workers) and an account of what it means to be an urban refugee in Turkey during the pandemic. It has also held several webinars on issues relating to the crisis. The next one (on 7 May) will be asking the question ‘Why is COVID-19 making Britain more unequal?’ Their weekly email list (COVID-19 Democracy Watch) provides a global round-up on how governments are using the crisis to suspend civil rights, ramp up surveillance and roll back hard-won freedoms:

Red Pepper
The quarterly socialist magazine of left politics and culture made its April issue available free online throughout that month, while launching a crowdfunder ‘to ensure that we can properly support our writers and editorial team’ during the pandemic. Content is currently focussed on ‘The Politics of COVID-19’, with articles on the government’s response to the virus and its implications for immigration detention, housing and precarious work. On 29 April it held a live online debate, ‘Can video games change the world?’ – part of a recent series on the politics of video games.

If your group has an initiative you’d like to tell us about then please drop us a line at promos [at] peacenews.info.

Topics: Activism | COVID-19