Unsung Heroes of XR: Alice and the Arrest Welfare Team

When we contacted the Regenerative Cultures UK-wide Working Group for a nominee for our new Unsung Heroes of XR series, two names came up immediately: Alice and Zaza from Arrest Welfare. 

The reason? “They have been doing a huge amount of work since April, creating a support system for our 1400-plus XR arrestees whilst working full-time in other jobs since April. I’m a big fan!” comments a fellow rebel. 

Zaza is on the Regen team retreat, so on
this occasion we catch up with Alice, joint internal coordinator of the UK
Arrest Welfare Team. In typical ‘unsung hero’ fashion, Alice is quick to point
out that it has been a team effort all along — “and not just our team, but
other teams as well,” she adds. 

We reassure Alice that the focus on
specific individuals in this new series does not mean we do not recognise the
incredible investments made by people from across the movement, individually
and collectively. We also emphasise that, were time not a factor, we would
attempt to feature every single rebel – all heroes in their own way. 

Today, though, it’s her turn. We ask her
to tell us how it all started for her. 

“It was the second day of rebellion in April. I had gone along with a few people to Oxford Circus, just after a Section 14 had been imposed. At the time I didn’t really know what a Section 14 was, I’d simply heard that something had happened at Oxford Circus. 

So,
I went down and there was this amazing atmosphere but then people were being
arrested all over the place, and in a really random manner! They were being
carried away and walked off and – for somebody who had felt so inspired and
hopeful when XR burst onto the scene – to see those people who were making this
movement work get arrested – this was really emotional. 

At the same time, I was aware that I wasn’t willing to take that step. And while I stood there, some policeman came up to me and started telling me that I could be arrested; it was really confrontational and stressful, their camera was in my face, and I couldn’t register much of what they said — so I turned around and left to go back to Marble Arch. At that moment, I felt very powerfully that – for all those people who were making that commitment and getting arrested – supporting them was very important.” 

Alice then got involved in Police Station Support
during the April rebellion and by the second week, she found herself
coordinating this support. After the Rebellion, she and a small group of
rebels met and discussed what they could do for the 72 or so arrestees who had
been charged. 

They
decided to formalise the group, which they initially named the ‘Ongoing Arrest Support
Group’.  Their task would be to fill a gap in existing arrestee support
provision: while in April the Legal Team was already in existence, there was
relatively little in place that could address the personal and emotional needs
of arrestees.  “So that is how it started.” 

The fledgling group’s first major challenge came soon
after the Rebellion, when, in mid-June, the decision was made to charge all
April arrestees. Prior to April, recalls Alice, the expectation was that
the majority of arrestees would be released under investigation but never
charged, as had been the case up to that point.  

Following the decision in mid-June, however, hundreds
of April arrestees started receiving letters summoning them to Court. 

So suddenly we went
from having to support 72 people to almost 1000 and we didn’t even know who
they were. It was very tough.”

Improvising in the light of the new circumstances, Alice and other team members began attending the mass plea hearings at the London City Magistrates court every Friday. There, they could collect the details of arrestees in the hope of reaching those in need of support. 

She remembers with sadness the moment it became apparent that some arrestees had had very little help: “while some people were very well supported others were a little adrift and didn’t know what to do, even what plea to enter.” Understandably, she reflects, a “fair number” of arrestees were left disappointed by the gaps in support following the April Rebellion.

In
the following months, the arrest support team grew considerably and by most
accounts the team was now well prepared to meet the needs of arrestees come
October. Alice comments, “though it was exhausting — the back office ran well,
the police station support ran well, we had lots of wonderful volunteers and we
got lots of good feedback”.  

Even
so, the October Rebellion was not plain sailing: while in April, the movement
was growing exponentially, generating huge enthusiasm and interest from the
public, and positive responses from politicians, developments in October left
the team feeling demoralised and full of self-doubt. 

In
the changed, and harsher, political climate of the autumn months, XR just
didn’t seem to be having the same level of impact. For Alice and others in the
Arrest Support team, the challenge now became finding in themselves the
capacity to carry on and keep up their spirits – this time without the reward
of positive feedback. “A lot of people found it tough.”  

Looking back, there is no doubting the result of Alice and the team’s indefatigable efforts. Support structures for arrestees that did not
exist in April 2019 are now in place: from pre-arrest training, which explores
with potential arrestees their motivation, resources and the consequences of
arrest; to back-office support and police station support during an action; all
the way to post-arrest support, when teams of volunteers are on hand to offer
telephone and court support to arrestees and defendants.  

Since April 2019, the team has trained and
on-boarded over 60 telephone support volunteers; a
similar number of court support volunteers; and has worked to support the
development of over 25 local arrest support groups. During this time period,
the team has organised support for almost 1000 rebels as they have made their
way through the court system, and is currently in email communication with over
2000 arrestees.

But
Alice and the team’s achievements cannot be measured in numbers alone: since
those early days, they have consistently
tried to push for the need to change thinking around arrest within XR
structures – driving home the point that support for arrestees must be designed
into actions from the start rather than being an afterthought or left to
chance. 

“Arrest support should
be one of the things in there as you plan your action, your food, your
logistics etc. It should be a standard consideration, that’s what we want to
encourage people to think.”  

She admits that changing mindsets around arrest can be
challenging and frustrating at times. Yet it is
fundamental for XR as a movement which uses the tactic of mass arrest to
achieve its aims, but which also holds the principle of care – for
oneself, for each other and for the planet – as
a core value

Alice explains: “A good support system is an expression of the care that we have for
people who are willing to take that step and be arrested. It has a positive
effect on the people receiving the support but also on the community, as it
makes people see that we care about people… and their willingness and
commitment is strengthened. This makes us much more sustainable.”

As we near the end of our conversation,
it is clear to us that it has been quite a journey for Alice – from being a new
XR participant caught up in police action last April to her current role as a
strong advocate for arrestee welfare. We sense the cost has been countless hours of
work and a rollercoaster of sometimes difficult emotions – but Alice is keener
to talk about the rewards – notably, what she describes as “the privilege of
going to court and hearing so many wonderful and motivated people”.

She
is also keen to talk about the team’s plans. In the immediate
future this will involve reaching out to regional and local coordinators to
support the creation of a disseminated arrest support network. “We are still
going,” she comments at last, with undimmed enthusiasm, “and a lot of exciting
things are happening.”

If
you would like to get involved in supporting arrestees at a National, Regional
or local level please get in touch by emailing
[email protected]

If
you’d like to get training on how to support arrestees, see this live calendar of fortnightly
trainings
.

If you are an XR arrestee who needs support or who has questions about what support is available, please get in touch by emailing [email protected]

And if you’d like to nominate someone to feature as an Unsung Hero(ine) of XR, get in touch by emailing [email protected]

This piece was brought to you by the Rebel Writers. We’re always keen to meet new people and hear new ideas! Anyone from anywhere can join us here, or read our guide for more information.




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