international women's day

What Women Can Teach Us About Protest

We spoke to Sisters Uncut about techniques and attitudes we should all adopt when resisting Trump, Brexit or anything else.

(Top photo: A Sisters Uncut protest. Photo by Alice Zoo)

As the world heads in a scary, isolationist, jingoist direction, more people than ever are getting involved in activism. Many of us are taking to the streets to protest, in the hope of preventing populist politicians from enacting laws that could leave the world in peril.

For many people new to activism, though, it's easy to feel like you're not really making any difference, and with so many protests, sit-ins, petitions and discussion groups going on, it's hard to know the most effective way to make a difference. So for International Women's Day we wanted to speak to a group that has managed to make a legitimate difference in many people's lives in a very short amount of time, to find out what we can all do to make things a little less shit.


Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct action group taking steps to defend domestic violence services. The group formed in late 2014 in response to David Cameron's cuts to women's shelters; a move they feared would leave abuse victims vulnerable and without any real escape from their abusers. They work with trans, cis and intersex women, as well as gender variant and transgender people. Since 2014 they have staged a number of different and effective protests, worked with abuse survivors and split into several regional arms. They garnered mainstream press attention in 2015 when they demonstrated at the premiere of Suffragette against cuts to domestic violence services with the tagline, "Dead women can't vote."

They've grown quickly in the last two or so years, and their work has made a legitimate difference to the lives of abuse survivors all over the country: they helped get a women's aid service in Doncaster reopened after it was closed down, for example, and squatted an empty council house, turning it into a community centre.

I spoke to Janelle Brown, a Sisters Uncut member, to find out what we can learn from them about enacting social change.

(A Sisters Uncut protest. Photo: Alice Zoo)

VICE: How did Sisters Uncut manage to organise so quickly?
Janelle Brown: Many of us are domestic violence support workers or survivors, so we feel the urgency of the cuts to domestic violence services very acutely. Our goal is clear: to make sure the government is supporting domestic violence survivors to flee, and we are very focused on what we want to achieve, so we roll up our sleeves and get to work.


Are there specific organisational frameworks that Sisters Uncut works within?
We're a mass movement that operates by consensus, which means that all decisions are made collectively and often through lengthy discussions. Sisters are always willing to listen to one another and take each other's points, to craft a path of action that everyone is happy with and feels they have ownership over. What advice would you give to other activist groups?
Clear messaging. Too many activists try to say too much all at once, but we make a real effort to develop clear, accessible public messaging that anyone can hold onto. It's like throwing a ball at someone – if you throw one ball, they're likely to catch it. If you throw 18, very quickly, they'll miss all of them and walk away pretty confused.

"Be ready to get stuck in for the long haul. You can't rock up to a couple of protests and expect a revolution."

Okay, so then how do you prioritise different issues?
We are intersectional feminists, which means we recognise that all struggles are connected. Therefore, it's not such a matter of prioritisation, but drawing the links between different oppressions, making those very clear and holding certain oppressions as central to our movement. For example, the connection between the power and control exerted in domestic violence and the power and control held over the migrant women abused in Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre. We stand in solidarity with lots of other struggles and recognise the connections between them.


And what about people who want to get involved in activism now – who are maybe new to it; what can they learn from Sisters Uncut?
Be strategic in your approach about who you're targeting and what your message is. Stay clear and focused. Also, be ready to get stuck in for the long haul. You can't rock up to a couple of protests and expect a revolution. We've been going for two-and-a-half years and still haven't seen the progress that we want, but we're not going to stop fighting. In fact, as government shrinks its budgets for domestic violence support, our movement only continues to grow. Direct action works. Do it.



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