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  • Writer's pictureAltered State


24TH JAN 2024

Altered State was born in a room above the Hen and Chicken pub, Southville, on a bitterly cold evening in January 2024. It was conceived by Paddy and Al, two country-living culture vultures who bonded over independent thought in politics. They’re also anxious not to see climate change cook our world, they’re interested in fringe lifestyle ideas and as ever it really helps that they love the same bands and festivals.

With Brexit Britain broke and dysfunctional, the liberal world order under significant threat and populism and nationalism on the rise, it might be wishful thinking to suppose that talks above a boozer in Bristol could actually change anything for the better. Perhaps it would be best to manage expectation at a level by way of an invigorating discussion and a couple of pints with like-minds? After all, it is just the three of us (Paddy’s daughter Stella is on board too), what can we really do? Well, have a go, for a start. So somewhat ambitiously, we chose Altered State for our moniker because we want the state of things to alter, we want The State altered and we want to alter our state and those of our guests by the means of interesting and grown-up conversation. Pass it on.

Our debut event was The Price of Protest, we wanted to talk about the authoritarian direction of the current Government as they seek to significantly curb our rights and ability to protest. To balance that, we looked at the unintended consequences of activism when it stops ordinary people getting to work. Middle class climate activists sitting down in the road and stopping low income workers going about their day does nothing for unity at a time when the cross party consensus on net zero has broken down and climate is once again a political dividing line. Our panel comprised Jasmine Monroe, an activist imprisoned for her attendance at the Kill the Bill riot of March 2021, Jess Etherington, a solicitor at McCue Jury and Partners and Dr Oscar Berglund, senior lecturer at the school of policy studies at Bristol University. Louise Leigh was our host and she let the conversation flow.

Jasmine’s story is compelling, she sees protest as something we should all do. She was beaten badly by the police at the riot, so she filed a complaint to them that evening. This interaction snowballed into her being arrested and charged, with additional charges escalating in a remarkable coincidence with her complaints. Having been found not guilty by the jury for arson with intent, she was jailed for plain arson. She had pushed a bin at an already burning police car. A black friend of hers is still in prison, reminding us that not everyone gets treated the same by the law. Jess knows the letter of the law and was passionate in her warnings about the feeble low bar that the police now have to clear when it comes to a decision to arrest activists, courtesy of last year’s Public Order Act giving them almost unlimited discretion to arrest. Jess sees further draconian legislation and increasingly divisive law like the Boycott Bill coming down the tracks from the current Government. Oscar was glass half full. An expert on activism and social movements, he reminded us all of the immense power we have when strategised and unified. Disruptive protest is the most effective he insisted, but this can take the form of industrial action. He reasoned that key elements for successful protest should be picking a cause that is achievable and that will resonate, sticking to your guns with longevity and persuading the political opposition to take up your cause. He spoke about successful protest like the incredible support for Black Lives Matter but also had some sobering stats about the significant level of Just Stop Oil’s unpopularity, just 15% of people in the UK support their tactics whilst 70% find them really irritating. Oscar also pointed out the discrepancy between the civil rights movement’s arrests (for not being allowed to do something we should all be allowed to do) versus Just Stop Oil doing things they are not allowed to do in order to be arrested and generate media coverage. There is a difference.

Louise adroitly handled some great audience questions both in person and via the Slido app and we ended with THE TOOLBOX, where we ask each panelist to send everyone away who’s been impassioned by the talk with some basic info on how they can influence the subject matter the very next day. Jasmine listed ways you can support people arrested by attending trials and writing to prisoners, that you should follow your heart and act upon your value system. Jess closed down an equivocation over violence (if you set fire to things, guess what? You will be arrested and sent to prison) and reassured us that people involved in the law are strategising to effectively litigate a response to the new laws relating to protest. She cautioned that protestors should know their rights (her bustcard follows this, it lists what to do if arrested, your rights and who can help you) and that protestors must stick together. Oscar encouraged us to think local, to start within the family or workplace where you know people best and to join community projects. Oh yes, and they all agreed: if you’re going out on the street to protest, do NOT wear bright colours and if your aim is to simply get arrested for the sake of it in order to raise awareness, then don’t complain when you do.

We were moved by the evening. There was plentiful practical advice and lots of attendees took notes. It’s sad and worrying that our Government is so thin-skinned that it seeks to crush dissent in a manner not seen for 90 years but there was a clear feeling in the room that there is great strength to be drawn by sticking together and knowing the law. Solidarity.

Altered State supports Freestyle Bristol, who take students from the more marginalised communities in the city and gives them experience and opportunity in the creative and tech industries. A percentage of every ticket sale goes to them.

Our Price of Protest playlist that we spun on the night:

Armagideon Time - The Clash

For What It’s Worth - Buffalo Springfield

Fight The Power - Public Enemy

Jah War - The Ruts

Pata Pata - Miriam Makeba

Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards - Billy Bragg

Express Yourself - NWA

Afro Beat Blues - Hugh Masekela

What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye

Legalize it - Peter Tosh

Kick Over the Statues - The Redskins

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott-Heron

Revolution - Congo Natty

Ohio - CSNY

Strange Fruit - Nina Simone


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