Environment

The Hit List: Who We Should Protest Next

Imagine the change we could bring if we concentrated efforts on the people and organisations whose minds might actually be changed by smart, focused activism.

by Ellie Mae O'Hagan
Apr 1 2017, 10:02pm

This article first appeared in VICE UK.

All images by Marta Parszeniew

Yesterday, Britain triggered Article 50, starting our exit from the EU in earnest. It has only been nine months since the referendum, but in that time the world has become strange and unfamiliar. We all felt that glacial horror come over us when Trump won the election, when Boris became Foreign Secretary, when we realised that on a host of issues from climate change to workers' rights we were going to have to stop fighting for improvements and start defending what little progress we've made.

The upside of everything apparently unravelling at the seams is that people have never been more willing to take to the streets. I was in Washington DC when a million women crowded out the lobbyists and hacks who usually populate the city. I spent an evening in central London squashed up against a set of railings, after 30,000 people assembled outside Downing Street for a protest announced just three days previously. Already we've seen Trump's healthcare bill fail, in part because of sustained pressure from constituents phoning members of Congress and getting mad at townhalls.

It's good: resistance is fertile, as the old placard slogan goes. But it's also fragile, and sometimes aiming all your outrage against big political leaders like May and Trump, and then watching them carry on as if you didn't exist, can be disheartening. If there's going to be a movement lasting at least four years, it's going to need some victories to propel it along.

So we've singled out some potential targets activists could consider if they want to keep people's spirits up with some easy wins. They are mostly targets who care about public opinion, who rely on the support of centrists and liberals, but have made some bad decisions. These are far from the worst people, companies and problems in the world; they're the people whose minds might actually be changed by smart, focused activism. If we push these on-the-fencers it could have a big impact on the wider political sphere.

Labour MPs Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Rob Marris, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart

What do these Labour MPs have in common, other than being five people you literally never think about? They're the people partly responsible for putting your French mate back on the first Eurostar to Paris. Despite the Labour Party's Brexit minister Kier Starmer arguing that Theresa May should guarantee the rights of all EU citizens to remain in the country, these five decided to vote, with the government, against an amendment that would protect the residence rights of EU citizens who were lawfully resident in the UK on the date of the referendum. What's even weirder is that three of them represent constituencies that voted Remain, and Gisela Stuart was born in Germany.

Obviously the responsibility for Brexit lies with the Tories. David Cameron was the one who decided the referendum would be a good idea and then abandoned ship before he'd have to do any of the "hard shit". Theresa May is the one pushing the whole sorry affair through with the enthusiasm of a toff on a hunt. But do we ever expect the Tories to do anything other than making the worst possible decisions?

Labour MPs might actually be moveable on this. A highly localised campaign involving the constituents of these MPs, particularly those who represent Remain constituencies, could really highlight the fact that EU citizens are real people – our neighbours, partners, friends and colleagues. All the more important now Article 50 has been triggered.

British Gas

This one is pretty easy: the parent company of British Gas, Centrica, has been covertly donating money to the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a climate change-denying think-tank with links to the Trump administration. According to Energydesk, the TPPF has strong relationships with Republican politicians, including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Centrica refuses to say how much it has donated, but it also says it's not going to stop.

Given Trump is wildly unpopular with the British public, and increasing numbers understand that climate change is a man-made phenomenon, it wouldn't be difficult to convince the people that our erstwhile national utility should desist immediately. And thanks to the privatisation of energy in this country, switching your provider is a remarkably easy thing to do.

Bill Sandbrook and US Concrete

Perhaps the families of the thousands of migrants who have perished along the US-Mexico border will take some consolation in the fact that the share price of US Concrete, the company that wants to build Trump's notorious wall, has soared by more than 37 percent since the election in November. "We have a lot of wind in our sails at this point," said CEO Bill Sandbrook. Good for him! According to Bloomberg, his annual income is a mere $3 million. Who wouldn't begrudge him a little more?

Of course, what we should actually do is make Sandbrook's life difficult. Protesters should turn up wherever he goes, transform him into a pariah and trash the reputation of US Concrete, which has the audacity to wax on about social responsibility on its website. A decent campaign could make him one of the most despised figures in America (and a hero if he then walks away from the project). If we treat any company that offers to build Trump's wall in the same way, the wall will likely never get built.

Jinn


Jinn is a nascent delivery company operating rather like Deliveroo, except it will deliver anything you want – not just food. If that sounds too good to be true, it's because it is. Jinn is able to offer customers absurd levels of convenience by not paying its staff minimum wage, with some couriers alleging that they are earning as little as £1.74 an hour. According to the Guardian, one driver had expected to earn £759.60 for two weeks of work in Leeds, but was paid just £264 after Jinn stopped paying its drivers by the hour.

When the Guardian asked Jinn to comment on its practices, co-founder Leon Herrera said couriers were free to accept or turn down work, and were not exclusively contracted to Jinn, and then some gobbledygook about "aggregating demand" and "spaciotemporal data". In any case, Jinn now plans on expanding its operation beyond London. Protesters could join the company's drivers outside its offices to say that this absolutely cannot happen until Jinn can guarantee decent pay. It would also be a good opportunity to get unions involved in Jinn while it's still developing.

Northern Ireland

When North Carolina was pushing the HB2 bill (which you might know as "the bathroom bill", because it dictated that transpeople had to use the bathroom corresponding to their assigned sex), it was defeated in large part because of all the sports teams, celebrities and so on who wouldn't visit the state while the bill was still on the table. Probably the most famous example of this was Bruce Springsteen once again earning his moniker of "The Boss" by refusing to hold concerts in North Carolina.

In Northern Ireland, the police raid women's homes looking for abortion pills. Women have been threatened with prison for seeking abortions. This is nothing short of appalling and goes way beyond any of the anti-abortion acts British onlookers castigate Trump for. These women urgently need solidarity from across the world. A campaign similar to the one that took down the HB2 bill should take place, with artists, sports teams and musicians across the world refusing to visit Northern Ireland until abortion is liberalised. It's quite amazing that women living in one part of Britain are treated as criminals for accessing services that are freely available to others.

David Beckham

Despite his recent outbursts over honours, Beckham remains a national treasure. But the awkward truth is that the honours committee was actually right to refuse him a knighthood. Sir David, as we all pray he will one day be called, had invested in a scheme that HMRC said amounted to tax avoidance – and you can't get the title if you're not willing to pay your dues.

Campaigners could use the story of Beckham's rejection as a way to shine a light on the scheme he was engaged in – which is called the "Ingenious Media scheme" and is used to fund movies and reduce investors' personal tax liability – and ultimately call on the government to outlaw it altogether, starting with a pledge drive where celebrities agree not to engage in it.

There are lots of MPs, judges, tax experts, celebrities and activists who already oppose tax avoidance, and they could use this to start a popular campaign. Hell, even the Daily Mail, which led with the headline "Shame of Saint Becks", is onside.

Right-wing radicalisation

One of the great contradictions of our racist age is the fact that Muslims are obsessively monitored by the state, while white men are free to peruse white supremacist websites until they manage to get hold of a firearm.

The problem here is not in the need to keep people safe from potential attacks; it's in the fact that the way this happens in practice is by focusing disproportionate attention on one group of people and very little on the other. And this is before we even begin talking about domestic violence as a form of hate crime, which is overwhelmingly carried out by men too.

With the emboldened far-right of America, and Nigel Farage being given his own radio show in Britain, there has never been a more urgent time to start a proper campaign about far-right radicalisation. So let's start one. Let's get parents and teachers looking out for signs. Teachers unions which have objected to being roped into Prevent-style programmes aimed at Islamic radicalisation might come on board, plus those who have been affected by some of the crimes that have already taken place might lend their names to it. And if anyone argues that intrusively watching a person's every activity by simple virtue of their race is over the top, we can say: well, yes, it is.

@MissEllieMae