​why did the tabloid press paint this anti-austerity campaigner as a violent extremist?

Ahead of the huge anti-austerity march in London on Saturday, we speak to Katya Nasim, a peaceful socialist campaigner branded a violent extremist.

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Jun 21 2015, 1:17pm

The tabloid press is full of crap. We all know it; but this knowledge still did nothing to protect me from the shock and anger I felt when the Mail on Sunday chose to paint my friend Katya - a softly-spoken, intelligent and peaceful socialist campaigner - as a "bragging" extremist on the rampage, plotting to cause violence at the People's Assembly Against Austerity march this Saturday in London.

Katya and I met working at a London university a few years ago and she now works in another similar role - the Mail felt it important to include the details of her job, along with several pictures of her face in the article. Alongside her job, she is part of the feminist Bechdel Test Film Club and is a co-founder and active member of the Brick Lane Debates, a grassroots political network who discuss, among other things: feminism; the problems of capitalism; the poor ethics of the fashion production chain; and practical ways of bringing about greater social justice and equality. Katya pops up on my news feed all the time, inviting people to join her at protests against the selling off of public housing; cuts to public services; urging councils to stop criminalising the homeless; and lots more.

Katya was filmed speaking at a meeting of the Brick Lane Debates; discussing the group's participation in the anti-austerity march, Katya used phrases like "disrupt the narrative", which was interpreted as plotting a riot. Ahead of the march on Saturday, I caught up with Katya to find out what she really meant, what it felt like to be targeted in the tabloid press and a why it is important to protest...

What is Saturday's anti-austerity march about?
The People's Assembly End Austerity Now demonstration is calling for the government to reverse damaging austerity policy, to ensure a fair and sustainable future. Austerity means cuts to public spending, the decimation of public services, cuts to unemployment and disability benefits, falling wages and pensions, and further privatisation. Saturday's march is about saying that there is an alternative.

People are against austerity because it is taking a heavy toll on ordinary people's lives. But to make matters worse, it isn't even working to help the economy. For the next five years or more, unless policies change the economy will not grow, incomes will not rise, and there will be almost no new jobs - we face a lost decade or even decades. Austerity has led to a vicious circle of decline. For all of us against austerity, it's about no longer tolerating politicians looking out only for themselves and for the rich and powerful.

What was the purpose of the meeting that the Daily Mail secretly filmed?
The meeting that the Daily Mail secretly filmed brought together locals and activists, to talk about the need for community-led protest.

With the newly elected Tory government about to unleash a savage programme of cuts, there's never been a more important time to do this. So far, the anti-austerity movement has been focused mainly on big rallies and big marches. We wanted to discuss whether the movement could develop by learning from community-led struggles, for example over housing in London or from the explosive movement in Spain, which grew from people coming together locally to resist evictions. It was a public discussion, not a secret rendezvous! The reporter did not infiltrate the meeting but walked in as any member of the public could.

Brick Lane Debates is a grassroots political network committed to principles of autonomy, diversity and social justice. We want people to meet, debate, and network, and, by so doing, contribute to building an anti-capitalist movement. Among the people involved, there's a huge range of different ideas and perspectives: and that's what makes it healthy.

When the video starts, you are mid-way through a sentence that ends: "...there are things that can be done on that march [that people are thinking about] to disrupt that and disrupt the narrative". What were you talking about and what was your intended meaning?
There's a long history of nonviolent direct action or civil disobedience in movements fighting for social and political justice. When I said 'disrupt', it's this kind of non-violent action I meant. What the selective quoting in the Mail does not reflect is that we were discussing how to make the march more high profile, more effective: how we could add to the demonstration, not how we could take away from it.

While I think "A to B" marches without community activism have their limitations I was not dismissing the march, and no one proposed that we storm the stage at the post-march rally. We want a large, energetic event - at the March for Homes demo at the start of the year, we helped organise feeder marches led by local campaigns and a breakaway march to occupy an estate marked for redevelopment.

I think that we need to go beyond 'anti-austerity': for a sustainable future, we need a radical change of the system. We should be saying what we are for, not just what we are against. For me that starts with organising in the community.

Why do you think you (and Arnie Hill) in particular were targeted?
It's really shocking to find your name and personal details have been smeared across the media, and that someone has taken a decision to portray you in such a negative light. You do wonder: who's going to believe this?

I think it's partly lazy tabloid journalism, but it's crucial to note that it's also politically motivated. In the run-up to big demonstrations it's a classic scenario: the scaremongering in the media and the intimidation of activists.

The journalists chose to single out two black activists. I'm a mixed race woman. Attacks like this serve to tell black and Asian activists, especially women, that they have no place taking a stand - because if we do, we will be targeted.

The Tories won a majority whilst being very clear that they were going to enforce austerity; doesn't that mean the country support them?
No. Only 24% of the population voted for the Tories. All the electorate had to choose between was austerity, or more austerity. The times that Ed Miliband was most popular was when he was calling for anti-austerity policies: the repeal of the bedroom tax, taking on the energy corporations, or confronting Murdoch.

Polls suggest that a majority of the population is against austerity to one degree or another, but the fact is that the establishment Right control the media and the battle of ideas by peddling lies about the economy, and stoking fear by bashing the poor and immigrants.

Why is protest important? Do the people really have the power?

The weakness of the Left since Thatcher means that the people have won very few victories, and that we've forgotten our past. We've forgotten the many victories our ancestors have won. All the rights we take for granted were hard fought for and won through popular struggle. Abolition of slavery, parliamentary democracy, the right to form trade unions, the right to vote, the end of old colonialism, the civil rights movement, the suffragettes. There is no way to win major social change other than through protest.

The People's Assembly End Austerity Now demonstration is this Saturday in London, starting at 12 midday marching from the Bank of England to Parliament.

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