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3 August 2015

Burning the Daily Mail with Sisters Uncut

Sisters Uncut occupied Kensington High Street this weekend, and were met with anger  - and even violence - from onlookers.

By Helen Thomas

This Saturday, a group of 50 or so feminist activists wearing green and purple marched through Kensington’s leafy streets to the offices of the Daily Mail. The subject matter – and location – of the protest  was a new direction for Sisters Uncut, a feminist collective formed in November to protest cuts to domestic violence services. But as one activist told us,  the “anti-migrant propaganda” espoused by the paper in the form of front-page headlines like “The swarm on our streets” enables “racist and sexist” Tory policies on immigration to run unchecked.

Sisters Uncut, while still a relatively new activist group, already has a signature style when it comes to their protests. There’s the green and purple colour scheme – inspired, of course, by the suffragette flag –  a bike fitted out with a boombox, and green and purple smoke bombs.

The group delivered speeches and protest chants outside the Daily Mail’s offices in Northcliffe House, Derry Street before occupying Kensington High Street, where they burned copies of the newspaper. 

The protest was organised in support of the Movement for Justice protest against Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, to take place this coming Saturday. Sisters Uncut press officer Latifa Lee told us: “Yarl’s Wood detention centre isn’t in a lot of people’s consciousness and this week we’re hoping to push it to the forefront”. The all-women protest group shouted chants such as “Never trust a racist story written by the fucking Tories”, “Patriarchy will prevail, ‘till we close the Daily Mail” and “Daily Mail shame on you, migrant lives matter too”.  

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The demonstrators outside Northcliffe House (right). Photo: Sisters Uncut.

Antonia Bright, organizer of the Movement for Justice who also attended the protest, explained why the protest focused on a newspaper’s offices, rather than Whitehall:

This focus on the media is because so many lies are spread – and once it’s presented in an official-looking way, people just assume it’s the truth. But there’s a story behind every person trying to escape a country or try to find a safe place to live. Immigrants are set up to fail – that’s the point of detention, to set people up to fail.”

Outside Northcliffe House, members of Movement for Justice and Sisters Uncut addressed the activists. Anita, a spokesperson from Sisters Uncut told the crowd: “Sexist Tory policies on immigration are propagated and validated by the hate spewed by the Daily Mail. Again and again they push the message that migrant lives do not matter and black lives do not matter. We say enough is enough.”

A fireman puts out the flames. Photo: Helen Thomas.

An ex-Yarl’s Wood detainee, who did not wish to be named, spoke about her own experiences in detention: “Women started wearing t-shirts saying ‘We Want Freedom’. The officers told us ‘If you wear that t-shirt, you won’t get any food’, ‘if you wear that t-shirt, you’ll be moved to prison.’ But we have a voice. We will not be silenced.”

Police and fire services arrived towards the end of the protest, and the activists dissipated shortly afterwards.  Sisters Uncut, as a rule, don’t warn police about their protests in advance. One activist told us: “We don’t trust them – we have a pretty good idea how they’ll treat us if we do warn them beforehand.”  Meanwhile, the group greeted the fire service when they arrived to douse the burning newspapers with another chant: “LBU, we love you!”

Onlookers, meanwhile, responded angrily to the protest – in part because of the road disruption, but also, it seemed, because the protesters were all women. One activist was attacked by a male motorist complaining about the road disruption. Lee described the events: 

He said ‘whatever you’re doing, I hope you fail.’ Then one of the sisters got out her camera and took a picture of him. He grabbed her camera lens, and asked ‘Are you a lesbian?’ The protesters asked ‘what has that got to do with it?’ and he responded ‘you must be a lesbian, because that’s why you’re getting angry’. Then he grabbed the lens of her camera, pulled it off, and pushed her. It was horribly ironic given that we’re protesting against domestic violence against women.”

The Sisters’ signature smoke bombs. Photo: Barbara Speed.

Sisters Uncut formed in November 2014, and describe themselves as “a feminist group taking direct action for domestic violence services.” The group “includes all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women for the purpose of political organizing.” In May the group stopped traffic in Southwark Street in a protest against cuts to essential domestic violence services. 

The protest at Yarl’s Wood will take place on 8 August. More information here