Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 by three women: Alicia Garcia, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, following the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on 26th February 2012. In July 2013 his killer was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Trayvon was by no means the first African-American unjustly killed in the US, and he would sadly not be the last, but the injustice of his killer’s acquittal inspired a movement that is still going strong seven years later.
On 25th May 2020, George Floyd was killed when police officers knelt on his neck for almost 8 minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His was not even the first violent and unpunished death of an African-American that hit the headlines this year; the killings of Ahmaud Arbery on 23rd February in South Georgia, and Breonna Taylor on 13th of March in Louisville, Kentucky also caused disbelief and anger. But it was the killing of George Floyd that sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, leading to protests around the world. Protests and rallies leave traces on the environments they take place in; they alter streetscapes, even if only for a little while. A few days after a BLM protest in Brighton in the UK on 13th June 2020, I photographed some of those traces. Regular readers of my blog will know that I normally write captions describing and explaining the photos I take documenting protest and resistance, but this time I decided to let the photos speak for themselves.
Since the start of the UK Lockdown in late March, I have being staying at my family home in Portslade, a suburb of Brighton and Hove. I used my daily exercise to do a lot of walking around Hove and Portslade, and as the weeks went on I started to notice more and more Lockdown-related ‘things’ appearing on the streets. First of all rainbows and messages of support for the NHS started appearing in people’s windows, then things began to appear in people’s front gardens and on the streets. Ranging from images and messages chalked, pasted or taped to pavements, walls, and lampposts to objects such as painted pebbles, bunting, and cuddly toys. I have been photographing protest stickers for a while now, and I am interested in the ways that people use public space to communicate with each other. So I started taking photos of Lockdown artefacts too. Below are some of the photos, and some thoughts on why people might be doing this kind of thing.
The Protest Memory Network is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and brings together archivists, curators, activists, artists, and researchers to think about how memories of protest are preserved, materialised, recirculated, and utilised. The Network is organising three workshops and a conference between 2018 and 2020, amongst other things. I was invited to take part in the first workshop, on the subject of Researching Protest Memory, at the University of Sussex on the 30th and 31st of May 2018.
The workshop was a combination of paper sessions and workshops exploring the methodological opportunities and challenges of researching such a broad and frequently intangible topic. A whole range of research methods were discussed, ranging from the conventional (oral histories, archival research, mapping, social media analysis) through the creative (film making and artistic engagements), to the rather unconventional (embroidering interview quotes onto handkerchiefs and baking them into empanadas). My contribution was a paper on my work on protest stickers.
We had workshops run by: the TAG Lab, (Text Analysis Group), which conducts research into the analysis of text and language by computers, and applies it to social media and other forms of communication; the Business of Women’s Words project, which explores feminist publishing in the UK during the 1970s and 80s; and the Mass Observation Archive, which is a fascinating collection about everyday life in Britain in the twentieth century. The workshop was also supported by the Sussex Humanities Lab, which looks at the ways in which digital technologies are shaping society and culture. Over the two days, I was reminded of just how many options there are when it comes to selecting a research method, and the importance of considering your options when embarking on a research project, rather than just falling back on what is easy or familiar. The workshop was a chance to learn about unfamiliar methodologies in a supportive environment, where I didn’t feel stupid asking potentially obvious questions.
Invariably, it is difficult to think of research methods without also thinking about research outputs. Over the two days, the topic of research outputs came up often, particularly in terms of how to make research more accessible and engaging for those outside of academia. The alternatives that came up ranged from working with cultural partners such as museums and libraries, to creative outputs such as documentary films and even board games. On the Tuesday evening, we were treated to a radical history of Brighton walking tour. It was fantastic, if a little fast-paced, and highly informative; I learnt a lot even though I have lived in Brighton for most of my life. There are a number of researchers who make use of walking tours as a form of public engagement, and I’d love to have a go myself.
I have written before about how much I value the academic communities I am a part of (see Parts 1, 2 and 3), and the Researching Protest Memories workshop was a nice reminder of that. It was much smaller than most of the conferences I am used to (20-30 people), which meant I had a good chance to get to know everyone and their work. I came away feeling like I was part of a new (to me) academic community of supportive, creative, and energetic researchers, and as far as I’m concerned, the more communities I am part of, the better!
I don’t think I would be alone in saying that the Researching Protest Memory workshop was a resounding success. I went home exhausted, but with my head buzzing with thoughts and ideas. I would like to thank the Protest Memory Network, particularly Pollyanna Ruiz, for organising the workshop and inviting me to participate.
One of the most common themes of protest stickers is anti-fascism in pretty much every city I have visited (see London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Fascism 1 and 2), and Brighton is no exception. There is a strong tradition of anti-fascism in the UK, inspired by events such as the Battle of the Cable Street (1936) and the Battle of Lewisham (1977). I have found anti-fascist stickers all over Brighton, some unique to the city, others that I have also found elsewhere. There is a local group called Brighton Anti-fascists, but the stickers I have found suggest that the city is also visited by a lot of other anti-fascist groups.
For the past year or so, I have been living in my home city of Brighton. As a place with a general anti-authoritarian vibe, the city has a pretty lively culture of radical street art and protest stickers. I have featured Brighton’s protest stickers on Turbulent London before, but now I’m living in the city again I’ve decided to do some more blog posts on the topic. Electoral politics often feature in protest stickers, mostly as the target of criticism. Occasionally, however, stickers are supportive of mainstream political parties, particularly Labour. Perhaps because Brighton regularly plays host to the Labour Party annual conference, quite a few of the protest stickers in the city relate to mainstream electoral politics. Below are some of the stickers that I’ve found on my various wanders around the city.
The city of Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England, has a reputation as one of the UK’s most cosmopolitan, radical, and open cities. I have blogged about protest in Brighton before, as well as the city’s role in the campaign for female suffrage. Brighton must also be home to a large number of sticker-ers, as the streets are covered in stickers of all kinds, including protest stickers. I have already blogged about the stickers I found on one walk down London Road, but I have found some other great stickers elsewhere in the city that I wanted to share.
Brighton is a coastal city in the south of England, about an hour away from London by train. It is well known for being an open and accepting city, and it also happens to be my home town, so it’s very special to me. I have written about protest and dissent in Brighton on Turbulent London before, but the city also has an awful lot of protest stickers so I think it deserves (at least) one more post. I took the pictures featured here on a walk down a single (admittedly quite long) road in the city. London Road runs from the city centre to the outskirts in the direction of London, funnily enough. Quite run down when I was younger, the area along the road is going through a rapid process of gentrification, to the extent that is known by some as the Shoreditch of Brighton. Gentrification is frequently a contested process however, and London Road has no shortage of protest stickers.
Last Friday, I went on a walking tour in Brighton about the city’s suffragettes. Organised by Dr. Louise Fitzgerald of the University of Brighton, the tour was given by Karen Antoni, a historian and actress. I have written about protest in my home town before, but I still have a lot to learn, so I was keen to go along and find out more. The event was organised to coincide with the release of the film Suffragette (which I still haven’t seen- I want to see it with my Mum, who is hard of hearing, and subtitled film showings are in woefully short supply!) and The Time is Now Campaign, a series of events focused around film exploring the role women play in affecting change.
With Brighton’s reputation as a cosmpolitan and contentious city, it is no surprise that Brightonians were no strangers to the campaign for women’s suffrage. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) set up a local branch in 1907, and many of the organisation’s most well known members, such as Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, and Emily Wilding Davison, came to visit the city. The tour started in Pavilion Gardens, which is bordered by the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Dome, both of which were used for meetings which the WSPU hosted, and tried to disrupt. We learnt the lyrics to a popular suffragette song, which adapted the well-known Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory/The Battle Song of the Republic, and sung the song as we travelled around the city. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of singing an empowering song in the middle of the street with over 50 other people, even if we did get a few funny looks!
Glory glory hallelujah, glory glory hallelujah,
Glory, glory hallelujah,
And the cause goes marching on!
Rise up women for the fight is hard and long,
Rise in thousands singing loud a battle song,
Right is might and in its strength we shall be strong,
And the cause goes marching on!
Suffragette song, sung to the tune of Glory glory hallelujah. If the religious reference puts you off, you can always replace ‘hallelujah’ with ‘revolution’, although most of those campaigning for female suffrage would probably not have approved!
The next stop on the tour was the intersection of North Street and West Street/Queen’s Road (the Clock Tower). This is where the headquarters of the Brighton WSPU branch was located, above the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The building is still there, although the ground floor is taken up by more contemporary chain stores now. Just around the corner on Queen Square used to stand a church where a suffragette-themed wedding was held; the wedding vows were adapted accordingly (the wedding was still between a man and a woman, the suffragettes weren’t that radical!)
The next stop was Victoria Road, a short walk from the town centre. Number 13/14 used to be a boarding house called Sea View, run by local suffragette Minnie Turner. By 1913 Minnie’s guest house had a reputation for hosting suffragettes, and in April her windows were stoned by disgruntled locals. Minnie was arrested 3 times for her suffragette activities, and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for 3 weeks in 1911 for breaking a window at the Home Office. In July 1912 Emily Wilding Davison stayed at Sea View whilst recovering from being on hunger strike in prison. The tour finished outside Churchill Square, the city’s main shopping centre, where we had one final sing song.
I have always thought that walking tours are a fantastic way of communicating and engaging with historical research, and this Brighton Suffragette walking tour is no exception. It is informed by 7 years of research- many hours spent trawling though local newspapers and the collections of the Brighton Museum. It is wonderful research, and it is so important that it is accessible to all, academic or otherwise. Walking tours are just one of the many ways to disseminate historical research, but they are a very good one.
A campaign is being started to try and get some blue plaques put up around Brighton honouring the city’s suffragettes. To join the campaign or find out more, check out the Facebook group here.
I spent the Christmas holidays with my family in Brighton, my childhood home. Officially called Brighton and Hove, it is a city on the south coast of Britain with a population of just over a quarter of a million residents. About an hour on the train from London, it has been a popular seaside retreat for several hundred years. George IV built the Royal Pavilion as a luxurious retreat for himself between 1787 and 1823. In recent decades, it has become home to a thriving LGBT community, with Brighton Pride being one of the biggest Pride festivals in the UK. With a reputation for being cosmopolitan and easy-going, the city was a fantastic place to grow up, and it is very special to me.
With its open and accepting nature, it is not surprising that Brighton is a focus for protest. As Pollyanna Ruiz (2014; 119) describes it, “Brighton and Hove is a city that enjoys pushing social boundaries, and I would suggest that these qualities also characterise its political life.” Brighton Pride, arguably perceived by many as primarily a reason to have a good time, contains a strong campaigning element, raising the profile of issues faced by the LGBT community. Despite the progress made in recent years, homophobia is still a very real concern, as events in Brighton in October 2014 show. The Student’s Union of the University of Sussex organised a mass ‘kiss-in’ in a Sainsbury’s store in the city in protest about the treatment of two gay women by a security guard. The women were asked to leave after another customer complained to the security guard about them kissing. About 200 people attended the protest, designed to celebrate equality.
However, LGBT issues are not the only contested ones in Brighton. Since 2008, the group March for England have been holding annual marches in the city during the April bank holiday weekend. Since 2010, there has been a concerted campaign to oppose them, with counterdemonstrations attempting to disrupt the marches. In 2014, 150 marchers were opposed by at least 1,000 anti-fascists (Argus, 2014). The general perception is that Brighton was chosen as the location of these marches because of its liberal reputation. Personally, I think that the March for England continues to return to Brighton because they know they will be opposed, which results in a lot more publicity than they would otherwise get.
Another long running local campaign has been organised by the group Smash EDO. EDO MBM Technology Ltd. is a Brighton-based company that manufactures parts for military aircraft, including bomb release mechanisms. Smash EDO has been organising events and campaigning against the company for the last decade. They have also begun campaigning against Barclays Bank, whom Smash EDO argues profits from the weapons that EDO help to produce. Their activities have been varied, but perhaps the most dramatic took place in January 2009, when 6 activists broke into the EDO building and sabotaged computers and machinery. All 6 ‘decommissioners’ were cleared of conspiracy to commit criminal damage in July 2009. This campaign is a fantastic example of how global issues can be connected to local areas in a very tangible way.
I grew up in Brighton and Hove, and I think that the city is at least partly responsible for my own liberal beliefs. I would like to be able to say that in Brighton you will be accepted, whoever you are. However I know that in reality that is not always the case, but it is heartening to know that there are people in Brighton willing to struggle to bring us closer to that ideal.