Apology to my Mum; or, Why I’ll be Arrested

By Cameron Baillie

When I first expressed an interest in joining Just Stop Oil (JSO) and attending meet-ups ahead of moving to London to begin my MSc, my mum’s near-immediate response was what one would expect of any parent, let alone a high-achieving criminal barrister. “Just don’t get arrested,” she’d said – it could affect my job prospects, hinder my ability to travel abroad, or disrupt my masters studies. It was, in short, a very bad idea.

These sentiments were mirrored by our Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, writing to UK university vice-chancellors. Her letter, picked up by the Mail Online (who else?), advised universities to warn students about the perils of joining “the eco-group’s ‘horrifying’ plan to infiltrate freshers week and build an army of impressionable undergraduates”. It also bade them to be vigilant of unlawful activity by the “militant eco-activists [who] will descend on universities” this term.

If convicted, students could face fines, community service, even imprisonment, plus a criminal record that “would follow them through their lives”. They also quoted Dartford’s Tory MP, Gareth Johnson, who chimed in that it’s “one thing to protest for a cause, it’s another to indoctrinate others to carry out criminal offences”. He separately called for JSO to be labelled a ‘terrorist group’ in light of actions which closed down the Dartford Crossing and M25 last year.

The infantilisation of ‘impressionable’ students and sensationalist discourse from both the Tories and press are hilarious. Last year, 177 climate activists were killed, primarily in South and Central America, for speaking truth to power – were they ‘impressionable’, or were they fighting desperately? How could I sit by while they made such a sacrifice? But, then again, Keegan’s letter did mirror my dear mum’s advice. Consequences for one’s future of illegally protesting, or rather of being convicted, are real. Under normal circumstances, such concern would be perfectly valid. I’d like to travel without worrying about conviction-related visa troubles. I’ve been a teacher, and I don’t want to perjure that important part of my life with dodgy DBS checks. I’m well aware of personal consequences I could face. But I also want the children I’ve taught to have futures. I’m desperately aware of the consequences that failure to act now will have for the fate of human civilisation and our collective future.

Perhaps you see climate collapse as a problem for those in the Global South, not us. You might wish to dwell on this reasoning, but you should also consider the facts of our hyper-globalised world economy, and our delicate planetary ecology. I don’t have space for detailed science, but for anyone still needing convincing on why drastic action is needed, now, here are some phrases for your own research: ‘carbon-bomb projects’, of which 95 are currently underway; ‘permafrost thaw’; ‘multiple-breadbasket failure’; ‘environmental refugees’ (of which the IPCC predicts over a billion), ‘tipping-points’; ‘ecological collapse’. If these headlines don’t unsettle you, then I’m really not sure what would.

So why, against my mum’s best wishes, will I be arrested? There are multiple ways to interpret that question. The first are motivational: slow responses to climate collapse are central to climate activism. Specifically, however, is our government’s announcements in September of their full-scale plans to squeeze “every last drop” out of our remaining fossil fuel reserves, in spite of overwhelming evidence that we cannot continue to do so. Rishi Sunak has made it perfectly clear that he would gamble our futures against his slim chances of reelection with an anti-‘woke-eco-mob’ culture-war stance, in a desperate appeal to anybody still blind enough to not see his government’s destructive and wilful ignorance. The irony of such terrible policies being billed as ‘Long-Term Decisions’ will not, I hope, be lost on most. They would sooner put oil-shareholder value before humankind’s fate. It is them who would have criminal records in the eyes of generations to come.

There are also structural reasons. The Public Order Act was revised last year to expand police powers and restrict our civil liberties, by lowering the threshold for ‘public disruption’ from ‘severe’ to ‘moderate’. The law came into power in May, making slow marching, a building-block of any social movement or protest, now effectively illegal. Refusal to disperse upon implementation of Section 12 orders on specific protests then becomes arrestable. I believe that our fundamental right to peaceful protest is now on the line. So, unless I rescind peacefully protesting at the first threat from the state – wouldn’t that be convenient? – I’ll be arrested. 

Lastly, then, are the final motivations for being arrested, or what I hope to achieve in doing so. It is a statement: about the desperation we’re facing; about the government’s  (literally) disastrous policies; about the Public Order bill. Slow marches and occupations are only as disruptive as any strike, despite media furore, and there is no other viable non-violent option. There is a long, rich history of civil disobedience movements, the predecessors and inspirations for JSO’s tactics: the Suffragettes, Civil Rights, anti-war, anti-apartheid, workers’ movements, etc. All were labelled ‘radical’ by corners of political and media establishments. And all of them stand on the right side of history today. The science is unequivocal as to which side of history Sunak’s government will fall on, as they would sooner crack down on peaceful protestors than address the looming crisis at hand. But no amount of disruptive protest could ever compare to the global devastations that climate change is already unleashing on the planet.

Recently in the Netherlands, thousands took to the streets to block the A12 motorway, calling for the Dutch government to end billions of euros of annual fossil fuel industry subsidies. After over 9,000 arrests, the police stated that they would not continue arresting people, placing responsibility on the government to open negotiations with climate activists. The matter of ending subsidies was then successfully brought before the Dutch parliament. Political empowerment has never been given; it must always be acted for and taken. I encourage anybody who cares enough to join me in doing just that.

So there is precedent for what we’re doing, and there remains hope, so long as people are willing to stand up to the state’s failures and authoritarianism. I am privileged to be able to take such a stand, as a white British man, and recognise that not everybody can. I’m not at risk of deportation, nor am I likely to be sexually assaulted by Met police or face racial discrimination, and I can afford a small fine. And, unlike the climate heroes of South America, my life really isn’t on the line (even if career options might be). But such privilege is merely entitlement if it serves only me. So while I owe apology to my mum for ignoring her caring advice, I would owe far greater apology to those on the climate frontline, and all future generations, for doing nothing. That’s why I’ll be arrested.

JSO will be running student actions and slow marches the week commencing 12th November in Central London and around the UK. Join the climate calling now.

Photograph from GettyImages

Why would anyone voluntarily get themselves arrested for a Just Stop Oil protest? Staff writer Cameron tells us what he told his Mum.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

scroll to top