This has been a year of firsts. Over 4,000 miles from home and in my 30s, I got to attend my first protest. I was among over 2,000 protestors outside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Yarl’s Wood is one of 13 centres in the UK, holding foreign national considered by UK Immigration to be out of status prior to their case being determined and if decided, deported.
It was electrifying, loud, colourful, full of music and people. We all joined in one voice shouting – No human is illegal: Shut it doooowwwwnnn, shut it dooooowwwnnn.
As all this was going on, my mind was taking in the scene, thinking about the drive there and long walk to the centre. Below are my reflections on the day:
Yarl’s Wood is out of the way and not accessible by public transport. As we waited for the coach, we met a gentleman going to visit a ‘detainee’. He had been waiting for a while. As we were the last group to leave and had an extra seat he got a lift. This made me wonder – what happens to families wanting to visit their loved ones? Are visitors allowed in the first place? How do they get there? Considering the location, is the State consciously hiding its actions from its citizens?
Yarl’s Wood was for me a picture of the state controlling life and living; bare life as described by Agamben (1998). The windows at the centre open slightly, only allowing one arm to pass through and limiting view – I guess this is also to save life as any wider would aid suicide. The message hung out by the women uses two words that are of interest – ‘relationships’ and ‘vulnerable’; indicating their bodies are not their own as they are vulnerable to rape and exploitation by guards.
The voices of the women inside were voices of desperation – a lady whose friend/relative put forward to speak could not as her words were all jumbled up. This frustrated her friend/relative, who in response shouted repeatedly, ‘speak, say, speak slowly…’ Listening to this exchange, I concluded that it was not that the lady on the other side could not communicate but perhaps it was emotional for her which resulted in jumbled speech.
It was interesting to see the ladies throw their cutlery out the window! Reflecting with another lady on the bus about this, we decided that the ladies would have achieved this based on two scenarios – they had collected their trays over time OR had refused to take them back on the day and just threw them out the window….BRILLIANT. Even detained, the ladies were unruly. The protests presented an opportunity for rupture with the potential to get away with it. That said, I wonder what happens after…do the guards treat them worse? Or do they leave them alone because there is more attention drawn to the place?
As people were streaming out and noise dying down, the voices within the centre were clear. I could hear them from across the fence – ‘Thank you for coming’, ‘Don’t give up the fight’ and so on. This was touching, for me. I thought about the strategy used – bring pots and pans and make as much noise as possible for the ladies to hear everyone’s support; bang on the fence; call the ladies inside and let them speak to everyone on speaker. I thought, what about – SILENCE – allow the ladies inside, for a time to speak, to shout through.
From where I was standing, I could see the organisers deciding on who would speak; or calling those on the inside to speak. This made me consider the fact that there was a narrative being shared. How were narratives selected? Who was and why were the individuals selected to speak. For a moment, it took me to my days working with INGOs where ‘locals/community reps’ were selected and flown to international platforms as the ‘voice’ from the field/south.
At the end of the day I asked myself, was this action unruly?
Can an unruly action be that organised, with police directing protestors? Is it unruly if the state accepts it and does nothing about it or does not seem to be affected by the action?
Is unruly action and its definition relative by country?
The Unruly Class kept its promise, I am left with more questions than answers.
Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Part two: Homo Sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp.71-115.
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