I want to wear a Free Bradley Manning t-shirt around Sheffield, but I probably won’t. It could get me into arguments on topics that I haven’t properly thought through. I don’t know all the facts, but I feel that he’s being mistreated. He could be executed by the US government. For what? For passing information of American military atrocities to Wikileaks after the mainstream press refused to listen to him. I feel the injustice, but am I sure? And what would be the point of a t-shirt? People in Sheffield won’t be on the jury, that much is true, so why appeal to them with a t-shirt? They may not know who Bradley Manning is. Is this a way to explain? Would I be a walking advert for my views? Showing off my knowledge of political issues? Or maybe it’s me saying “Look – I know about this, give me a sign if you do too”. And if that happens enough, then we’ll know Bradley Manning’s case isn’t just an obscure political issue; that there are others around us who know about what’s happening in the world, and think about the socio-political side of life.

I would like to say it was my academic study of politics which made me aware of anarchist literature, but it wasn’t. It was probably a t-shirt with the letter “A” in a circle.

Anarchists get a bad press and they’re frequently imprisoned for supposed plots. It’s hardly surprising that a philosophy which rejects the legitimacy of state governments will attract a little hostility from, say, state governments. But they aren’t afraid of drawing attention to themselves, and the annual Sheffield Anarchist Book Fair returns this year in a bigger venue, because it seems to get more popular every year. It will be occupying the Showroom Workstation on the weekend of 11th- 12th May. Pop in and get a flavour of the discussion, stalls, films and talks. On the Saturday evening there will be a social event, and on Sunday a radical walking tour and a game of three-sided football (what!?). And there’s a creche for anarchist kids. What other kind is there?

In fact anarchists have a rich philosophy of liberty, equality and grassroots democracy which leads them to support those oppressed by the powerful. People like John Bowden, in jail in Scotland for murder 20 years after his co-accused were released. He is considered a minimal risk to the community, but remains in maximum security conditions primarily because he criticises the prison system and campaigns for basic human rights. Only small groups like Leeds Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) champion his voice outside the prison walls.

It’s not the state alone which objects to protest. Last year, 21 activists from campaign group No Dash for Gas trespassed on EDF’s West Burton power station at nearby Mansfield. They pleaded guilty. They were making a point about carbon fuels. Large corporation EDF didn’t appreciate the gesture, and instead started a civil claim for compensation of a crushing £5m. That would surely ruin these wellintentioned people, and send a harsh message to anyone else with a protest in mind. As writer Andrew Rowell puts it: “Just as violence is designed to chill people into silence through physical intimidation, so SLAPPs [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation] are meant to chill through legal intimidation.” It’s anti-activist pressure by powerful forces. A petition attracted tens of thousands of signatures and EDF eventually dropped the case under huge pressure from the public, but others in the past have not been so lucky.

Personally I don’t mind whether or not people wear t-shirts with slogans, or know about every side of politics. It’s enough to do your bit. If that means someone feeling incensed about things and getting out onto the town hall steps, that’s a step worth taking and worthy of respect. It’s still a bit cold for t-shirts at the moment, but watch this space.

sheffieldbookfair.org
leedsabc.org
nodashforgas.org.uk
alt-sheff.org

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