Ali Tamlit wrote here on the power of SF to inspire politics. But he was also one of the Stansted 15 - now found guilty
In January 2018, we ran a penetrating essay from Ali Tamlit, an activist and member of the educational group Resist + Renew, titled “Seeing Beyond the Crises: Why a new politics needs speculative fiction”. Based on the SF teach-ins that R+R organise for schools and institutions, and writing in the context of our current crisis-ridden moment, Ali wrote:
One other crisis that often gets overlooked, however, is the crisis of imagination. Since the 1970’s we’ve been living in the neoliberal era, where communism was defeated, the hippies all got jobs and we were told that free market capitalism is the one and only solution.
The motto ever since has been T.I.N.A: There Is No Alternative. And because this motto has been repeated so many times, we’ve bought into it and belief in change has been eroded. It’s hard for us to imagine a situation where the Brexit referendum could be re-run and overturned - so how on Earth are we supposed to imagine our Utopias?
This is where science fiction comes in, because in fiction we can break free from these constraints and let our imaginations run wild. We can even go beyond Earth if that’s what’s needed and start building Utopia on the moon, as in Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.
By using our imaginations we can remember the Zapatista slogan that “other worlds are possible” and we can think about the problems that we see in our lives today and imagine what kinds of worlds might be needed to overcome them.
Inspiring words. But Ali also has a very direct and concrete relationship to political reality. For the last year or so he has been part of the Stansted 15, standing on trial for terrorism charges, based on them chaining themselves to a Boeing, chartered to deport people to Nigeria and Ghana. They were found guilty of these charges last week.
Ali begins his story below (taken from a report on Huffington Post):
On Monday 10 December, two months after the trial began, myself and the 14 other activists that make up the Stansted 15 were convicted of “intentional disruption of an aerodrome in such a way that is likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome”. This is a terror-related charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
As we were called into court that morning, I knew we were being found guilty. The direction of the trial and the way the judge’s summary framed things, there was no way we were getting a unanimous acquittal. And so, we sat there holding each other’s hands listening as one by one, we each had our names read out, followed by the word ‘guilty’.
It was a real blow. A few of us were crying. But even so, as the judge asked us to stand, I stood tall because I know that what we did that night was right. We decided to take action back in March 2017 because people’s lives were in danger. We didn’t endanger anyone that night. But the Home Office did: by attempting to force people on to these brutal deportation flights and send them to unsafe places.
Following the verdict, we were all in a state of shock. We mostly stayed in the waiting room of the court, not quite sure what to do next.
While sitting there, a couple of women from the Crossroads Women’s Centre came to say how sorry they were. They were both in the process of applying for asylum and said that if this is how the state treats us – citizens – then how can they expect any better? As we were chatting, I asked about their cases. Both of them had been waiting for seven or eight years. Whilst en route to court one of them had had her claim rejected again. “I’m used to it” she said. “Something like this happens every year at Christmas.”
That short conversation put things in perspective. We had a ten-week trial, but it is nothing compared to the countless people going through the brutal immigration system. Some of us might go to jail, but we will know exactly how long for and we will continue to be supported by thousands of people. But over 30,000 people a year are put in immigration detention centres where they can be held indefinitely and have no idea when they will be released or if they will be deported. We mustn’t forget that it is the people on the frontlines of the ‘hostile environment’ that need our solidarity most and that that is what our action was about.
The day after the verdict we held a demo outside the Home Office. At barely a day’s notice, on a cold December night, over a thousand people came to show their support and rage at both our conviction and the ‘hostile environment’. They stayed for over an hour and a half listening to speeches, and testimonies from people who were due to be on the plane we stopped.
It was an amazing, moving and healing space. As well as a bit weird with so many people wanting to say hello - it felt like we were celebrities. I appreciate the support so much. I just hope this energy can continue and be focused where it is needed most: supporting those on the frontlines and shutting down the border regime.