On the 23rd of January feminist activist Jennifer Swayne was arrested on suspicion of
criminal damage and displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Her crime? Putting up stickers drawing attention to the numbers of women killed by men in domestic violence incidents around the city of Newport. She was roughly restrained by police, causing her physical pain and what she describes as a “PTSD attack”, kept in custody for hours without her essential prescription medication, namely Lithium for severe bipolar disorder, and released to the streets of Newport at 3am, alone, without a mobile phone and in a mobility scooter. The police searched her home and took stickers, posters and academic books. She was released on bail on condition she posted no more stickers or posters within the boundaries of Newport.
Her date to present to the police station was set for the 24th of February, however as was seen in Marion Miller’s court case, her bail was later extended to the 11th of March. However in solidarity with Jennifer, I, along with about 70 others, the vast majority of whom were women, attended a planned protest outside Newport police station on the 24th.
I got there early, while the organisers were still setting up. The protest was blessedly free of any counter-protesters, trans-rights activists or otherwise. And in a dignified and beautiful demonstration of the quiet power of women simply saying “no”, a choir of women began to sing. They sang, in English and in Welsh, about the violence we face, about the power of our voices and about our strength in the face of an outright assault on our rights, safety and liberty. It was a moving and powerful display; a huge change from the usual menu of activists shouting over each other, arguments and conflict. As time went on and the crowd grew there was an atmosphere of peace, fun and friendship. Children ran around blowing bubbles and climbing the statue we’d set up next to, women held banners and flags and handed out badges and wildflower seed packets, and once Jennifer had arrived, to much applause, the speakers began, while police officers looked on from the windows of the station across the road.
I hope they heard the words of the women speaking. The women who spoke about the harassment and lack of justice they have experienced from the police service. Who spoke about the importance of reality and our ability to stand up for our rights. Who spoke of the harm their sisters have experienced at the hands of men. And who spoke of our history and our language and how the fight for our rights has never really gone away.
It was a beautiful, dignified protest. And as the snow began to fall and the demo was wrapped up, the women gathered for a photograph. And in their hands, along with the banners and flags and placards, they simply held books; books now apparently considered hateful and seditious, and they stood in solidarity and in rebellion, the latest in a long line of stubborn and courageous women, carrying on the centuries-long tradition of simply saying no, we do not accept this.
I end with a quote from one of the original suffragettes, Christabel Pankhurst, “Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand beside us, fight with us.”