It will come as little of a surprise to most of us that ‘permacrisis’ – the feeling of living through “an extended period of instability and insecurity, especially one resulting from a series of catastrophic events” – has been chosen as Collins Dictionary’s word of 2022.
Britain is a mess. With three prime ministers in ten months, we have witnessed the gradual hollowing out of the country’s democratic institutions. The cost of living crisis is forcing more and more people to cut essential spending while soaring gas and electricity bills are matched only by soaring profits for oil and gas companies.
The NHS, meanwhile, is in a desperate state. There is an actual military-run concentration camp in southern England and beaches along our coasts are suffering from a literal shitstorm. Already decimated local services are likely to close down due to a lack of sufficient funding – and some cash-strapped councils are starting to talk about cancelling Christmas.
On top of everything else, even new records for extreme heat this summer are met with a continued failure by the British government to act on the climate crisis – and instead of accepting where the real responsibility lies for carbon emissions, ministers are busy denouncing campaigners demanding action as “thugs and vandals” and plan even more aggressive anti-protest laws.
Quite frankly, people in Britain have every right to feel aggrieved. No wonder more and more are reaching the conclusion that in order to prevent the destruction of their communities, to resist industries that will fuel the climate emergency, and to stop the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers, all we have left is disruption.
It seems like the only way to make the government listen.
Labelling us ‘aggravated activists’
Unfortunately, policing in Britain has chosen a new and highly subjective way of categorising campaigners who support or participate in civil disobedience as an alleged risk. One discredited label, “domestic extremism”, has been replaced with a more impenetrable one, “aggravated activism”.
In July 2022, we highlighted how this involves highly politicised judgements about campaigners’ supposed “ideological framework of intended outcomes” (political aims). Particular views are immediately treated as a substantial threat and another glance at the Collin’s Dictionary shows that “aggravated” in this sense does not mean fury or displeasure, but is used to unreasonably portray certain kinds of activism as serious crimes and even associated with violence.
Decisions about how campaigners are categorised are made by political policing units that help to dictate the kind of policing operation and the level of surveillance these groups can expect to have used against them. These are the same units that have always been deeply antagonistic towards groups challenging state or corporate interests.
Taking the label and owning it
Amidst a growing intolerance towards the right to protest, Netpol has been keen to remind everyone that protest is not illegal – not yet – but it has become a lot more uncertain. Together, we need to create the conditions to challenge the spread of uncertainty.
That’s why – as part of our Defend Dissent campaign – we have called on campaigners to avoid seeing themselves in isolation from others and to understand that the threat of oppressive policing falls on all of us – so we better start offering solidarity to each other.
That need for solidarity was a driver for announcing Aggravated Activism Day on 15 February 2023 – as a day to celebrate our fundamental right to express our displeasure and anger about the mess Britain is now in.
We are taking a label the police see as a negative and turning it into one that we are proud to embrace.
On 15 February next year, you can participate by simply scheduling a meeting, a protest, a talk, a lecture or an action and labelling it as an ‘Aggravated Activist Day’ celebration.
We urge you to start planning this now and to let us know so we can help to publicise it.
If you support the right to protest as the best way to challenge the government – disruptively if necessary – then you can also mark ‘Aggravated Activism Day’ online in your own way using the hashtag #AggravatedActivism
This is an opportunity to publicly show the strength of opposition to the “permacrisis” – and to ridicule the way a politicised label is used by police to describe activists trying to help working class and racialised communities to survive it.