Supporting activists on trial
Brian Wardrop explains how Chelmsford Quakers have been supporting Just Stop Oil activists on trial in Essex.
Being arrested for protesting in a nonviolent way about something you passionately believe in must be a frightening experience. To be called to appear in court in front of the full power of the state, charged with an offence, even more so.
Many of the Just Stop Oil (JSO) activists appearing at Chelmsford courts following protests outside oil refineries in Essex are in their teens and early twenties, and are experiencing these ordeals.
Quakers, including we in Chelmsford, have accepted the need to rapidly decarbonise our society. We have great sympathy with the cause of these defendants, though many of us are not yet prepared to break the current laws and face arrest.
So what does our desire to put our faith into action on this existential matter of climate change demand from us?
Those of us who happen to live within easy reach of court buildings, and are able to offer temporary sanctuary during court appearances, have a ready-made solution: host one or more of the defendants, and make their time outside court as comfortable as we can.
In September 2022 we hosted a group of JSO activists in our meeting house, which is just a few minutes walk from the court. We supplied them with food, together with the support of one of our members, who stayed with them at the meeting house during their court appearance.
In January of this year, our meeting was contacted again to see if we could support a stream of JSO defendants appearing in court over the coming months. We agreed that it would be difficult this time to offer accommodation in the meeting house but those of us who live close to the town and its courts, agreed to offer rooms in our houses when we could.
We have had many spirited conversations with our guests round the dinner table: hearing tales of being taken to Ebbsfleet police station for processing, and then released at two o'clock in the morning to make your way home as best as you can. Or of trying to explain to the judge the reasons for your actions, only to be told that, in his opinion, there is no climate emergency!
When our guests learn that we are Quakers, they tell us of the numerous Quakers that they have encountered during their protests and their growing interest in learning more about this religious organisation that has so many members ready to put their faith into action.