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Photography Jannes Van den Wouwer

How to cause chaos at a government event, according to young activists

Speaking to Dazed, Green New Deal Rising explain how they challenged Priti Patel on her plan to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda

If you’ve been on the internet recently, it’s likely you’ve seen the video of a group of eight young activists heckling Priti Patel mid-speech at the Bassetlaw Conservative Association Spring Dinner.

Green New Deal Rising (GNDR), a youth climate activist network, disrupted the dinner by challenging Patel as she began to make a speech about her recently-announced plan to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda. Patel’s plan has been widely branded as racist and inhumane, and many asylum seekers have reported being fearful of being sent to Rwanda. As Patel began to speak, the first challenger stood up and shouted: “Priti Patel, your racist policies are killing people. Your plans to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda are inhumane and are going to ruin people’s lives.” The video of the disruption has since gone viral, racking up nearly five million views on Twitter. 

This isn’t the first time GNDR have disrupted Tory meetings and directly challenged politicians on their policies. In November 2021, they confronted Rishi Sunak at COP26 and in February 2022 stood up to him again following his decision to approve the construction of six new oil fields. Disruptive tactics like these are becoming increasingly popular among other activist groups too: take Extinction Rebellion singing “money, money, money, it’s so scummy, in HSBC’s world” to the tune of the ABBA song at HSBC’s AGM or Insulate Britain blocking busy roads to protest against climate change.

Dazed spoke to five of the campaigners who disrupted Priti Patel’s speech about how they pulled it off, how other young activists can get involved, and the power of disruptive tactics.

Why did you decide to disrupt Priti Patel’s speech?

Holly Hudson: Because her Rwanda plan and Nationality and Borders Bill are violent, inhumane and racist. The Rwanda Plan follows a model of offshore detention that has caused among the worst human rights abuses in recent history. The fact that this is even being considered is utterly horrifying. I want to live in a country that treats our global community’s most vulnerable with dignity, and respect – that’s why we disrupted Patel.

Cat Baron: Friday’s event was an important opportunity to stand in solidarity with migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum, to publicly call out these unacceptable and cruel policies and hold Priti Patel to account.

Josh Deroux: We disrupted the speech because we were left with no other choice. People around the world are fleeing war, poverty and climate nightmares, and the UK continues to contribute to the imperialism and extraction that causes these crises. It is our basic responsibility to deal with the consequences of our actions - to stand against further harm, and provide safety to those seeking refuge.

Charlotte Rose: Decisions are constantly being made for us that are supposed to represent us and our views on migration, racism and climate justice. This government does not represent my views or many of my generation and I do not want to stand by and allow them to commit these illegal and inhumane acts against the most vulnerable in our society.

Fi Quekett: GNDR is a part of the movement for climate justice, which recognises that issues like migrant justice are interlinked with the climate crisis. As the climate crisis displaces entire communities, we must act with compassion and provide safe refuge to those left vulnerable to exploitation and violence. 

How exactly did you ‘infiltrate’ the event?

HH: We dressed up in posh suits. I tucked my mullet behind my ears, and off we went! We created backstories for our characters and entered in groups for safety and support. 

CB: We tried to make sure we wouldn’t stand out too much at the event, which for me meant I borrowed my housemates’ clothes and changed my jewellery.

CR: We slipped on posh, tasselled shoes and looked as corporate as humanly possible with our mullets and vegan diets! I think the key thing was how we behaved at the event, taking on aliases and backstories. I had two plain clothes policemen sitting right next to me who I had to engage with in chit-chat so as to not rouse suspicion – that was terrifying.

FQ: We turned up to the event as if we were just part of the Bassetlaw Conservatives like everyone else, including some fake backstories. We didn't disguise who we were at all, but a few of us including myself did struggle with figuring out what would be appropriate for the dress code.

JD: A lot goes into organising these plans, including hard work from the GND team and our wider network of volunteers. It’s not just the challengers – there are people involved in researching and finding events, people involved in outreach and movement building, people involved in arranging logistics and a place to stay, and people making sure that challengers are looked after and prepared for the build-up, actions and aftermath of the event itself. We plan challenges weeks, and sometimes months in advance.

Were you nervous?

CB: I was definitely nervous but knowing that we all had each other’s backs really helped. We’d spent a lot of time reflecting on why we were doing this, and in the moments before disrupting her speech, thinking of all the people whose lives are being destroyed by this government’s dangerous and hostile policies definitely helped keep me focused.

CR: So nervous! As someone who believes in the importance of a society structured on care and respect it feels so weird to stand on a chair and shout at another human being. But I knew the act itself was an act of compassion, an act of solidarity and love to people escaping terrifying situations and fighting for their right to live, their right to be cared for.

FQ: I was definitely feeling nervous, mostly because I wasn't sure what the reaction in the room would be. Not just from Priti, but from others in attendance who wouldn't be so concerned with how their actions could be scrutinised. But all that was very much overshadowed by the feeling that regardless of the reaction, this was a message we really needed to amplify.

By now, GND Rising is known for directly challenging MPs. Do you think doing this – and posting videos of your action on social media – is an effective way to protest?

HH: With the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill cracking down on our right to peaceful protest on the streets, this is a peaceful tactic that allows us to speak truth to power whilst remaining true to our principles of non-violence.

CB: Sharing the videos of these protests on social media is definitely a really important part of the strategy. The original video on Twitter currently has almost 5 million views and with everyone from Greta Thunberg to Love Islander influencers sharing this content, our message has reached a much wider audience – including people who previously might not be aware of why this government’s policies are so dangerous.

CR: It encourages young people to take their agency back, and speak with the honesty and integrity that politicians will not. It’s something anyone can get involved in, from filming to organising to challenging. It’s an accessible and open activist space, which is rare in today’s climate. 

FQ: Most cabinet ministers won't change their personal viewpoints overnight, but we can put pressure onto those politicians, who have an enormous amount of power and influence, through the use of social media. The videos are so key to that narrative, showing what we as young people are thinking and feeling, and how those powerful individuals receive and respond to that passion for change.

What advice would you give to other activists who want to disrupt other Tory events or directly challenge Tory politicians?

HH: Get stuck in! Green New Deal Rising is the most remarkable and welcoming movement. It’s a way to make your voice heard and directly challenge climate-delaying politicians with racist and oppressive policies.

JD: Join a movement of people that share your values. At GNDR we’re building a movement that recognises that climate justice and migrant justice are part of the same struggle, as are race, class, disability and gender and sexual identity. There is so much to do, whether that’s research, coordination, actions, policy, event planning or even graphic design, and it’s both a fun and inspiring way to get involved. Just get in touch or join one of our welcome calls.

CR: I think having confidence that you are doing the right thing is so important. These challenges are not easy but GNDR is so supportive throughout, it is such a lovely and empowering experience.

FQ: Having fun whilst taking action helps regenerate you after the intensity of standing up to an MP, which can be pretty terrifying. Give yourself time to breathe and relax before and after the challenge if you need it – pretty much all of us do – and remember that you're on the right side of history.