Silenced by squatters, silenced myself

You might have seen that, on Thursday, four squats and a market garden attached to a Heathrow protest group were subjected to early morning police raids, ostensibly in connection with the 26th March protests but, as even the Met’s own statement acknowledged, the timing was down to the Royal Wedding. I’m quite chuffed that Londonist was one of the first places to cover it, getting a story up an hour before even the Guardian.

However.

An hour or so after I published to Londonist, someone contacted us on Twitter to ask us to remove the names of two of the squats. Not because I’d got anything incorrect, but because these squats are “private” (by which I assume they meant, not also used as social and learning centres). The Twitterer declined to explain further and, to be honest, I was too pissed off to ask. Because I soon realised she’d gone to the authors of the tweets I’d used as sources naming the squats, and got them to delete their original tweets.

(Incidentally, the bio of this Twitter user is “Shout before you are silenced”. Oh, irony, you are a cruel mistress.)

This left me in a difficult position and I had no option but to remove the names of the squats. However, as Londonist tries to be meticulous about blog etiquette (you should hopefully see that all our reviews now carry disclosures about whether or not we paid to see an event; though I still forget sometimes), I had to post an acknowledgement of the change, and also took the opportunity to vent some steam:

You may have noticed that we originally named some other squats. People have asked us to remove these names – and the public domain tweets we used as a source have also been deleted. Without a source, we look like we’re making stuff up so, though we don’t like amending our posts unless we’ve said something factually incorrect or libellous, we’ve had to take down that information. Sorry.

Reasons I am pissed off:

  • Not open to the public or not, the people in these squats have potentially been the victims of political policing. This is an outrage – people should be emblazoning the names of these squats (and of individuals arrested on Thursday and Friday) on banners, not attempting to suppress them.
  • One of the squats described as “private” has a blog and arranges actions, ffs. And has been named in Indymedia today.
  • It feels like another of those up-manships in the game of “I’m more political than you” that so often gets played on the outer edges of the left (does it happen on the right?). I apparently fell foul of some unwritten squatter rule that only people who are, like, totally committed to the cause know and this marks me out as some sell-out liberal writing for the lamestream media. Yur. (Did you know that some lefties once tried to explain to me how the working classes think? Because they’d read some books and been on some protests and this apparently gave them a better insight than, I don’t know, BEING ONE. It’s only thanks to my nonviolent, liberal-not-Marxist, upbringing and beliefs that saved them from a highly offended and rather working class punch in the face.)
  • The Tweeter who got in contact with Londonist not only deleted their request to us, but requests to at least one journalist (who I was using as a reliable source). She did leave a ‘thanks’ in place, so at least I was able to see one half of the conversation. There’s accountability for you.
  • Oh yeah, and the Tweeter appears to have connections to one of the student occupations – regular readers of this blog may remember that in March I did my best to get in touch with said occupations, and was thoroughly ignored. To be contacted, curtly, now feels like taking the piss.

I’m not claiming that Londonist is on a par with the newspapers in terms of readership, but my post about the squat raids has been, to date, shared 150 times on Facebook and Twitter and received ten times as many views. The site has a responsibility to be politically neutral but we can also get away with a lot more opinion in our news pieces than real papers, and we’re probably one of the most widely disseminated publications in London that wants to, and can, publish the views of lesser heard groups.

Those of us who attempt to write more ‘right on’ pieces (and please remember we don’t get paid for any of it) don’t expect slaps on the back for what we try to do, but it gets so… dispiriting when instead of coming together as part of a wider community to fight back against shocking injustices and abuses of power, doors are slammed in our faces and we’re dismissed because we chose to have a mortgage instead of running the risk of being charged with “abstracting electricity”. Jesus, it’s like being in school again and being blanked because I’m not cool enough.

Well, sadly, I have decided to say “nuts”. If these groups choose to reject help in getting their message out, or try to control what we can say, then I just won’t bother in future. I wonder if this is what’s happened with the bulk of mainstream media – that they’ve decided the controlling and insular tendencies of the left are too much of a pain in the arse to deal with, and have started self-censoring by ignoring stories. We’ve only got a limited amount of time on our hands – why not make it easy for us?

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3 responses to “Silenced by squatters, silenced myself

  1. a6ruled May 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    very interesting, thanks

  2. C May 1, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Sorry, this comes over as a bit harsh – can you blame people for not wanting their homes (squatted or no) in the media & thus bigger targets for further punitive police action?

  3. rachel bagelmouse May 1, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I did think about this; the original text on Londonist didn’t give any street names or go any further than ‘Camberwell’, making the squats less identifiable than all the media outlets naming, for example, the street where Chris Knight lives. Also, the very fact the police have been in means I think they already have them in their eye! I have seen mention on Twitter of people being made homeless in Camberwell, so it’s possible these squats don’t even exist any more.

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