Farewell as Liberty’s Interim Director

Posted by Gracie Bradley on 06 Dec 2021

Last week was my last as Liberty’s Interim Director, and what a year it has been. Liberty is at its heart a civil liberties organisation, with a mission to defend fundamental freedoms from overreach, maintain a critical analysis of state power, and act in solidarity with marginalised people. 2021 saw the collision of the pandemic, an ongoing public health emergency, with a Government agenda that is hostile to accountability mechanisms in general, and minoritised people more specifically.

I was determined to apply learning from previous policy and campaigning work, and avoid being too reactive, despite the hostile climate. I was keen for Liberty to shift to a flagship campaigning model, building coalitions around positive solutions in genuine partnership with grassroots groups, and breaking through the unhelpful ‘something or nothing’ policy binaries that recur with alarming regularity, on the pandemic, youth violence, and beyond.

This shift in approach was encapsulated in our Protect Everyone Bill and campaign. Drafted in partnership with frontline groups and lawyers, our alternative Coronavirus Act set out a vision for a pandemic response that would recognise the significance of this public health emergency, ensure sure nobody left behind, safeguard civil liberties, and minimise the role of policing and criminal punishment in favour of material support such as proper sick pay and universal access to essential services.

A cross-party group of 76 MPs voted against Coronavirus Act renewal earlier this year – over triple the number who voted against in 2020. Labour MP Dawn Butler introduced a version as a Private Members’ Bill. And prior to the most recent Coronavirus Act renewal vote, the Government announced that many of the most draconian measures in the Act would expire. Result.

I’m glad that alongside the Protect Everyone campaign, with our partners and supporters, we’ve held the line against vaccine passports in England, as well as making a nuanced and powerful case against mandatory vaccinations.

With a chorus of voices, including notably Sisters Uncut, Liberty was at the forefront of galvanising public opposition to the Policing Bill following the unconscionable policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common – an event at which I was threatened with enforcement by police.

The Policing Bill aims to strike at the heart of our freedom to protest; upend the nomadic way of life of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, and foster discrimination against young, black, working-class and disabled people through additional stop and search and data-sharing powers.

While the Government has recently amended the Bill to make it even worse, the reality is that protest is not a gift bestowed on us by the state, and hostile legislation can’t take it away from us.

Liberty has also defended the right to protest in court this year, successfully representing legal observers from Black Protest Legal Support to challenge enforcement by the Metropolitan police under coronavirus powers.

And on the subject of legal challenges, while attacks on trans equality continue thick and fast, our intervention in the Bell case in support of life-affirming healthcare for trans people played a part in achieving a positive outcome.

Finally, our membership has sown some exciting seeds for future work by passing an AGM motion endorsing non-policing solutions to social problems as a better way of safeguarding rights and freedoms than society’s current approach.

All too often, organisations assume that ‘including’ minoritised people into the same old ways of working and decision-making is an end in itself, to be achieved purely through recruitment. Yet ‘welcoming’ minoritised people into oppressive and hostile structures is worse than window-dressing, and when it happens, we are harmed and/or we leave. Shifting organisational analysis and practice is key to retaining people and supporting them to flourish. The issue is not that some people are mysteriously absent from institutions, but that we are actively excluded.

To that end, we have continued work as a staff team to do even better at living our values, not only through educating ourselves about class, anti-racism, and trans equality, and refining Liberty’s political analysis and external relationships, but also through resourcing and restructuring our Operations team to improve our employment practices. I have also led work to improve Liberty’s complex governance structure.

Next year will be a busy one, with threats to fundamental freedoms and our Human Rights Act gathering pace, and the pandemic still not out of view.

But with Liberty Investigates on a permanent footing, a new Advice and Information strategy, and unprecedented growth in membership, I am confident that Liberty will meet those challenges well.

Liberty’s permanent Director, Martha Spurrier, has now returned from parental leave. I’m looking forward to resting. It has made all the difference to do the work of leading Liberty this year knowing that we are part of a principled and buoyant movement, alongside an amazing staff team.

Thanks, and see you soon.

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