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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 16. Going Through the Raid

By Martyn Lowe

Or The emotional cost of radical publishing - A personal Account; or, An autobiographical account of Working For Free Speech.

Why this article?

As I think many of you might already know , I have an interest in both the radical media and clandestine publishing. Librarians and radicals have an interest in alternative publishing and free speech. Yet there are very few radical Librarians that have had any direct experience of this kind of work. I think that I am also one of the few individuals within the radical Library world that has any direct experience of being involved with periodicals that have been raided.

This in turn has perhaps given me a lot of insights upon these issues. Over the years I have mentioned some of these experiences in passing, but I have never given a written account of them. This article is intended not only to give an account of the kind of experiences I have gone through, but also of the kind of thinking that one might have while going through them, and how this has effected my long term world view.

Some of the following stories you might find funny - they are not the kind of everyday experiences most people can really talk about. I have talked about these experiences with my friends, and they do make for a funny story in the pub. Yet it is only with those with whom I have been through these experiences, or who have gone through similar ones, that I have been able to really share my thoughts on what goes through ones mind at the time.

Going through a police raid makes for a special kind of bond with ones friends and comrades. There is also an emotional aspect to these experiences which is very difficult to explain. Going through some of the experiences I shall describe as factual accounts, but with some of them I will also give an account of the fears and worries that I had at the time.

As this is an autobiographical account it should just be read as that. A first hand account for you to study, some personal observations, and maybe some stories that you might find of interest.

By way of background and some notes about burnout.

I have been involved in the Peace movement and with radical publications for some 34 years now. Many of the following accounts are about organisations that I have been involved with. So you will get some of my political history as well. As I reach my 53rd birthday I increasingly realise that in many ways I have become both an 'institute' or just a part of the 'peace movement establishment'. Not that such things really exist.

One of the things that I have also sometimes experienced is being lionised for the political work that I have done over the years. It might be good for my ego, but I just think: What have I done with my life? And What do I want to do next? One of the norms of peace movement activity for many people is to reach 'burn out'. So just to carry on for year after year must mean that I have some insights and observations that might be of use to fellow activists.

In writing this I guess that you will get a number of insights into the kind of person I am, and how I think. It can be frightening to expose oneself, but as an ex-girlfriend once said to me : "what the hell?"

Freedom of Speech

Speakers Corner in London is hailed as an example of just how good democracy can be. I was once threatened with arrest for handing out leaflets, and on a separate occasion, for doing street theatre at Speakers. Well, we did throw a lot of flour around to represent radiation. This was during the summer of 1974, while I was involved in the London Greenpeace campaign against French bomb tests in the Pacific.

Speakers corner regulations say No leafleting. So on later occasions when some of the group engaged in speaking at the Corner we would point out this bylaw, but point out that it would be perfectly legal to hand over the leaflets we had with us on the other side of the park railings. Over the last couple of years I have noted the number of publications sold, and leaflets handed out at Speakers Corner at the start and finish of demonstrations. We are criminals all ! In her autobiography "Living my life" Emma Goldman described Speakers Corner as the Most Difficult Place she ever spoken at.

But what about the published word? Another one of my experiences was in 1983, at Oslo Airport, just at the end of my first flight. I was called into a room and strip-searched, before being allowed into the country. After I was told I could go, and was dressing myself again, the guy who had conducted this procedure walked to the corner of the room and started very ostentatiously to wash his hands. This says something about the official mind - do the dirty work and then just wash your hands of it.

The next day I met and helped out a couple of Sami film makers. A few days later I just missed sitting through the raid upon Ikkevold ( Nonviolence ), the periodical of FMK - Folkerisning Mot Krig, which is the Norwegian section of the War Resisters International. The paper was raided for publishing information about a secret and illegal ( under Norwegian law ) US spy base. This was information that was based upon public information that was available in Sweden.

This was the first time that a Norwegian newspaper had been raided since WW2 and was the subject of a major debate within the Folkting ( Norwegian parliament). A series of trials took 12 years to complete - all concerned were found Not Guilty. As a result of this and the other raids that took part at the time, one of the Ikkevold editors ( Tormod ) had a nervous breakdown and jumped off a bridge. He survived, but his marriage broke up, and he shall always be disabled as a result of his fall. Tormod took the police to court for causing his nervous breakdown, and won a sum of circa £4,000 in compensation.

A Police Raid in Denmark

It was in 1987 that I sat through a police raid in Denmark. I was staying at the time with some friends in an old farmhouse within the Jutland countryside, which had a 100 metre dirt track to it from the road. To get from the bus involved a 15 minute walk from the nearest village, along an unlit road, with a nice cold wind blowing at one from across the fields. Two of my friends at this house were involved in the production Ekomedia, which was an alternative newspaper. It was a Saturday afternoon, and we were watching a video movie.

The dogs started barking and Peter went out to find out what they were barking at. They were good guard dogs. The dogs continued to bark and Otto went out to find out what was going on. The next thing I saw was a guy who walked past the window in the yard, and into the house, passing me and going straight for the kitchen. What went through my mind was that he was not dressed like anyone in the house might associate with. Otto came in with another guy and said: "I'm sorry about this Martyn. This is inspector Hansen from the Glostrup police, and he has a warrant to search the place."

So Otto made another pot of coffee as we talked with Inspector Hansen, while the other 10 cops searched the place. They took away all of the typewriters, and 4 large paper rubbish sacks with the motto "Hold Danmark Rent" (Keep Denmark Clean ) printed on the side of them. It turned out that the raid was in relation to an investigation that they were conducting about a firebomb attack that had taken place on a Shell gas station in Copenhagen. The story had been covered in Ekomedia, and the cops were looking for any communications that might have been made about this attack.

While the house was being searched we continued to watch the rest of the movie - coffee cups in hand. What else can you do while a police raid is going on around you ? For some obscure reason that I have never worked out, the police automatically assume that those who report things in the Anarchist press must be involved in the event they are reporting. They seem surprised that one can learn of illegal activities from just reading the daily newspapers, or by having no relationship with those one might be writing about.

Some hours later we said good bye to Inspector Hansen, as one would say goodbye to his friends. After that we went back into the house to watch the sport on the television, while Otto passed on news about the afternoon's events with various friends and comrades on the phone. In a subsequent newspaper story Inspector Hansen described his investigation as a fiasco. Later on the police had to pay compensation for a "wrongful raid", which after paying lawyers fees made a 1,000 Krone ( £100 ) profit for my friends.

During the raid I had several of my own documents taken away - though they were returned to me 10 days later as of no interest to the investigation. I had to visit the local police station to pick them up, which in turn prompted the question about what I was doing in the country? All I wanted to do just then was collect my things, and get out of the place.

As an aside - Bent is a very common 1st name in Denmark. Danish Phone books also give/gave the occupation of the person listed, and so it was easy to find a Bent Policeman listed. Another fine example of misdirected information work ?

If I were to state that this raid left me in a very scared frame of mind, then you would just be thinking understatement. It is not what one goes on that is scary, but the uncertainties that go though ones mind at the time. If you ever go through such an experience yourself, then take a tip from me. Talk it over with someone who knows the law in the country, and who is a good friend too. My mate Gordi helped me a lot that way at the time.

As an observation - sharing an experience with a cop who has the same 1st language and cultural references seems less scary than dealing with a foreign police force that don't. There is a longer and funnier version to this account, but it is best told over a pint or two - your round ! I'd also like to tell it as an oral history piece. Anyone want to get me drunk some time ?

In dealing with the police we should also remember that sometimes they are on our side. There is a story about a policeman who went into the SCRAM (Scottish Campaign to Resist the Atomic Menace)office some 20 years back. This cop purchased some 20 smiling sun "nuclear power - no thanks" stickers. It turned out that he was just about to go on the police presence at a Scram demo. Of course the cops could not show any "official support" for the aims of the demo, but he and a lot of the police escorts fully agreed with the aims of the demo. So they put the smiling sun stickers on the inside of their caps.

At the time SCRAM was working to stop a nukiller reactor being built at Torness, some 30 miles to the East of Edinburgh. I was involved in the Torness Alliance, and was on a 10,000 strong demonstration, and 2,500 people occupied the site in 1979. For the full story of what occurred - see back copies of Peace News for that period. I was also told that the local police station used to have leaflets against the reactor being built held under their counter. Not that I can verify this fact. You just have to take my word for what I was told at the time.

There is a related story about 30 people that were arrested at Torness, and held in a police station in Edinburgh. When the police refused to release a couple of them for refusing to give their names, the rest of the group held an occupation of the police cells. This story is worth a whisky chaser.

The 14

At one stage I shared a flat with Paul Seed, who was one of the BWNIC (The British Withdrawal for Northern Ireland Campaign ) 14. The BWNIC distributed leaflets to soldiers about the situation in Northern Ireland, and gave out details about the various ways in which soldiers might legally get out of the army, and the various pitfalls that they might face by taking a variety of other options e.g. desertion, or faking being gay.

For this 14 members of the campaign were put on trial at the Old Bailey, for conspiracy to break the Incitement to Disaffection Act, 1934. The act is aimed at stopping individuals from trying to "seduce soldiers from their allegiance to the crown". One of the defendants was Tenebris Light, who went on to found the gay publishing house Brilliant Books. His classic remark at the trial was in a very camp voice : "I have never tried to seduce a soldier in my life."

This was way back in 1975, and at the time it was the longest political trial in British legal history. The 14 defendants were found Not Guilty. The trial ended on December 10th 1975 - Human Rights Day. Every year since then there has been a party held by one of the defendants to mark the day and the outcome of the trial.

During September 1974 I answered the front door and was greeted by two gentlemen, and the classic line: "Good evening, we're police officers. We understand from our colleagues in Luton that a Mr Seed lives here." As luck would have it Paul was not in at the time, and I had not seen him for a couple of days. This was a very strange experience, as I seemed to be at the receiving end of the classic nice guy/nasty guy approach.

The next day I found out that they were Special Branch and had intended to charge Paul, for the crime of handing leaflets out to soldiers, as a part of a campaign to get the military out of Northern Ireland. My friend Albert Beale also had his flat raided as a part of the pre-trial investigation.

He woke up in bed with a friend, only to find the two gentlemen as mentioned above, standing at the foot of the bed with a crowbar in hand. I'll not say that this situation frightened me, but it did leave me feeling very nervous. Sometime during the week that followed I came upon a carton in the living room, which contained various documents that the two afore-mentioned gentlemen would have just loved to know about. A visit to the paper (recycling) bank over the next couple of weeks would have been of interest to these two gentlemen too.

I will not go into a full account of the trial or the BWNIC campaign. You can find information about it in copies of Peace News for that period. I also have had a very long involvement with Peace News, which was founded in 1936, and has also been taken through the court on a number of occasions for its radical publishing activities.

I was also involved with a local radical publication - Fly on the Wall. This had the byline: "Richmond and Twickenham's other scandalous rag". This was a fun periodical to be involved within. I also contributed to the Crouch Ender, which was a local satirical periodical in North London, which deserves a long article upon at some later stage.

On Law

As a result of all these activities, and my involvement with other publications and organisations that have also been raided, I can now talk very learnedly about legal issues, such as the libel laws. I was involved in the Greenpeace (London) group during the period 1973 - 1985. During this period I spent most of my time working on the issue of nukiller bomb tests, and also helped to pioneer the work against Nukiller Power.

At one stage I was engaged in correspondence with Petra Kelly, who went on to found the German Green Party. The group involved itself in campaigning against the Arms Trade, toxic waste, Sami and Australian Aboriginal land rights, etc. It was always one of those groups that was very good at taking up issues which most people did not know existed. At the end of 1984 I drafted the text of a leaflet, which came out of a remark in a pub after one of the group meetings.

This leaflet was used on the first anti-Muck demonstrations that took place outside of one of their joints in the Strand in London in the winter of 1985. This was a leaflet entitled: Macdonald's - the sawdust people i.e. Sawdust from what is upon the butchers floor, from trees that were cut down for cattle ranching, & the nutritional value of the 'food' they sell.

The group got a very upset letter from the company lawyers about this, but they did not pursue the matter at the time. After I had left the group it produced the MuckD factsheet, which resulted in the Mclibel case. The rest of this story is very well documented, which you can look up on the Mcspotlight website.

This website also contains a brief history of the Greenpeace (London) group, and the text of a factsheet that I once wrote about the advertising agencies which are involved in military recruitment within the UK. This factsheet needs to be updated, but I don't think that I am the right person to do it, as I think it is best approached with fresh eyes.

There is a class basis in which military recruitment is done. My analysis is that present MOD recruitment would seem to take the 3 following approaches : the good citizen, look at the humanitarian work we are doing, or more displays of guns and aircraft.

One MOD recruitment Cd rom that was produced a couple of years back looked like a cross between the movie "Star Ship Troopers", and a humanitarian help organisation promotion about all the good work that they had done in ex-Yugoslavia.

From all of these experiences I would always advise that in putting together any story or factsheet, it is always worth quoting existing sources, while making observations upon the facts, and then raise questions. Comment without comment upon published facts is how you can land up in a libel case, even if what you say is TRUE ! The same holds true within any political debate. You can loose political struggles if you don't get the factual sources of your arguments right.

Some Afterthoughts

Writing this article has been one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. Writing the above accounts has been a very straight forward thing to do. It is more a question of trying to put words to the thoughts and feelings that it has left me with. It is also to do with feelings about exposing myself and people I care about to people that I don't know. Having regular contact with Peace Movement and Human Rights activists, many of whom have spent time in jail for their activities, has helped to frame my world view.

Active involvement in more campaigns than I could ever list, picketing many embassies on a wide range of issues, and walking more miles on marches than I could ever give a figure to, also help me understand why many activists suffer from "burn out". Activism can have a high emotional and physical cost, which many people find they are unable to sustain. It is true to say that many activists are involved because of a political commitment, it is also true to say that most people are involved because of a feeling that "something needs to done" about social injustice.

I also wonder about the kind of interest that people might have in me that might result from the accounts given above ? I have never tried to write an autobiography, and maybe this is the best I might ever do. So enjoy it for what it is. In writing this I have also become aware of other stories that I should also write up at some other time, but there is only so much that one can do at a time.

Many activists never write up their experiences, which are often unique. As information workers we should look for gaps in our collections for which no documentation exists, and actively go out and collect it.


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