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Activism

The biggest wins by activists in 2022, from food banks to museums

This year has seen some incredible victories for activists

Listen to a certain kind of person, and they’ll tell you action never works. The world is set in its ways, the powerful always win, and protest is pointless.

That’s not the case. As the year winds to a close, 2022 has seen activists score victories on legislation, corporations, and inflation.

The Big Issue has put together a list of the biggest wins by activists in 2022.

Pay rises for striking workers

Widespread strikes have marked 2022, with rail, postal, and medical workers all walking out. The soaring cost of living has seen employees across the UK seeking to avoid a real-terms pay cut – and while many are raging on, some strikes have seen results.

Employees at the National Coal Mining Museum for England won a pay increase of up to 10.5 per cent, while BT staff who went on strike will see pay increase by up to 16 per cent. Bin workers in the Wirrall secured a 15 per cent rise, with a further increase of up to 9 per cent in April 2023.

Saving food banks with…tripe

Rising prices have put all aspects of society under threat – but also provided opportunities for ingenious David versus Goliath fundraising schemes. When a food bank received a £33,000 energy bill and was facing closure by Christmas, a group of hobby writers rode to the rescue.

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Calling themselves the Tripe Marketing Board, the group discovered that their book had been discounted to 99p by Amazon, but they were still receiving full royalties. They set their friends, family, and social media followers to work, buying as many copies as Amazon would allow and sending £2 per copy of the royalties to the food bank.

In total, the Tripe Marketing Board raised over £16,000 for food banks. Thanks Bezos.

British museums and galleries removing the Sackler name

A long-running campaign pressuring cultural institutions to remove the name of the Sackler family bore more fruit in 2022. Activists, led by artist Nan Goldin, unhappy with museums and galleries keeping the name of the family accused of fuelling the US opioid crisis, had staged protests and die-ins at institutions taking the family’s money.

This year, the V&A, Tate, and British Museum all gave into pressure and announced they would be dropping the family’s name.

However, The Big Issue reported in November that UK institutions are still taking millions in cash from the family.

Dolce and Gabbana banning the use of fur

The use of fur in high fashion has long been a target for animal rights campaigners, and few fashion brands are more recognisable than Dolce and Gabbana.

The Italian fashion house followed the lead of Chanel, Burberry, and others by announcing in February that it would stop using fur and start making garments with “eco-fur”. It followed protests outside D&G stores by Peta, and the statement announcing the move was made jointly with Human Society International.

‘Uncle on hunger strike’ gets a climate briefing for MPs

Inspired by Boris Johnson describing a ‘road to Damascus’ moment after being briefed on climate change, Angus Rose decided to go on hunger strike until it was agreed all MPs be given the same briefing.

His stand outside the gates of parliament lasted 37 days, and succeeded. Sir Patrick Vallance eventually delivered the briefing to MPs after intervention from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change. It took place in July, during the Tory leadership contest, but no leadership candidates saw fit to attend.

A statue of a Black footballing pioneer

Jack Leslie was a name that had slowly faded from history. But in the 1920s, Leslie’s performances for Plymouth Argyle earned him a call up to the England national team. He would have been the country’s first Black footballer – until he was mysteriously dropped. Fans – and Leslie himself – said it was down to  racism, and Leslie never got the recognition he deserved.

Nearly 100 years later, Argyle fans set out to right a wrong. The Jack Leslie Campaign raised over £140,000 to make a statue of Leslie a reality. It was unveiled in October, with Leslie’s three granddaughters pulling the rope.

Insulate Britain

With a £6bn fund, Jeremy Hunt announced the government was going to do something campaigners had been imprisoned calling for: insulate Britain.
The multi-billion insulation programme announced in November was claimed as a victory by Insulate Britain, the protest group that blocked roads throughout the autumn and winter of 2021 with a simple demand. Their disruption won ire from the press and politicians, and they even announced in February 2022 that they had “failed”. But months later, they appear vindicated.

BP’s museum sponsorships

Visitors to the British Museum’s “World of Stonehenge” exhibition in February were met with one particularly distinctive exhibit: a billboard showing oil drilling at Stonehenge, with the slogan: “The future meets the past. Are you ready for BP at Stonehenge?”

Sponsored by BP, the exhibition had been targeted by a group called BP or not to BP. The museum had come under pressure from activists to end its ties with the petroleum giant. The British Museum has stood firm so far, but others have given in.

The group protested during COP26 in Glasgow, with a “balletic action” demanding an end to partnerships between the oil industry and the arts.

As a result, in Februrary the National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Ballet cut ties with BP.

Kill the Bill

With the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill widely seen as cracking down on the right to protest, those opposed to the bill did just that.

The Kill the Bill movement took to the streets in 2022, continuing the widespread resistance which had made headlines in 2021.

kill the bill protests
Protesters at a Kill the Bill march in April 2021. Image: Extinction Rebellion

A large London rally, accompanied by several smaller – but no less passionate – protests outside parliament seemed to have an effect. When the House of Lords voted on changes to the bill in January, the government was defeated 14 times in one night, with peers throwing out anti-protest measures in the bill.

Some measures could still become law, but pressure from the Kill the Bill movement has put the issue firmly in the spotlight.

Jack Monroe’s inflation campaign

When soaring prices and rising gas bills dominated headlines earlier this month, Jack Monroe sprang into action. The poverty campaigner and thrifty recipe writer turned her efforts towards highlighting how inflation affects those struggling to afford the basics.

She said official inflation statistics didn’t capture just how much prices had risen for some items. For example, the price of the cheapest rice in one supermarket had risen from 45p to £1 for a kilogram – a rise far outstripping the official 5.4 per cent rate of inflation.

The Office for National Statistics has now said it would change the way inflation is calculated – committing to publish a range of cost-of-living metrics.

“We are committed to ensuring that our statistics are relevant and continue to meet user needs. As part of this we are restarting publication of inflation broken down according to how much income you earn,” an ONS spokesperson said.

And Monroe is also in talks with a range of supermarket giants over the cost of items in their stores. Watch this space.

Making British Sign Language an official language

Until this year, British Sign Language was not an official language – meaning it wasn’t consistently available in public services.

But in January, the government announced it would be backing a bill from Labour MP Rosie Cooper. When the bill comes into effect, people will have a legal right to a BSL interpreter when calling 999 and at doctors’ surgeries.

It came off the back of pressure from campaigners including Rose Ayling-Ellis, the actor and Strictly Come Dancing winner.

“There are so many traumas in our history but also such a rich history. If it becomes an official language, which we’ve been fighting for all these years, it will be so emotional for us,” Ayling-Ellis told The Big Issue in January, fresh off the back of her Strictly win.

“Because of the massive interest in BSL recently, a lot of people don’t realise how much of a fight the deaf community have had.”

Scrapping the Vagrancy Act

For nearly 200 years, it has been a crime to sleep rough or beg in England or Wales – thanks to the Vagrancy Act.

But thanks campaigners at Crisis, and pressure inside parliament from Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, the act will be consigned to history.

Through an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, the government signalled the end for the law, which campaigners call “offensive and outdated.”

#StopTheBreastPests

Ater a stranger photographed designer Julia Cooper breastfeeding her baby, she was determined to make change.

Despite the intrusion, she was shocked to be told his actions were perfectly legal.

Her subsequent campaign made it all the way to parliament, winning the support of Labour MP Stella Creasy. 

In January the government agreed to make it illegal to photograph or film breastfeeding without consent.

Kwajo Tweneboa winning justice for social housing tenants

The most useful way to think about Kwajo Tweneboa is as a social housing vigilante. Rogue housing providers fear him like Gotham’s petty criminals fear Batman.

The videos Tweneboa posts from flats and houses – of mould, damp, and Victorian conditions – shock his 35,000 twitter followers. They also shame landlords into action – with cases often resolved only after Tweneboa’s intervention.

In 2022, his activism has seen increasing results: a £10,000 cash injection from one of the dragons from Dragons’ Den one day, meetings with housing secretary Michael Gove the next. 

Boots dropping its markup on the morning after pill

The criticism aimed at retailers joining in with Black Friday sales is usually fairly predictable – it’s rampant consumerism, it’s contributing to our ecological and social downfall. But one discount at Boots in November raised eyebrows for a different reason – the morning-after pill.

By offering the pill at a 50 per cent discount, the pharmacist brought everyone’s attention to the fact it was being marked up. It emerged Boots was charging nearly £30 for emergency contraception.

And so journalist Rose Stokes, Labour MP Diana Johnson, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service launched a campaign to lower the price of the morning after pill.

It worked – in February, Boots cut the price of the morning after pill to £10.

Reclaim These Streets winning a High Court case against the Met Police

In the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder in March 2021, the activist group Reclaim These Streets began organising a vigil to take place on Clapham Common.

But in discussions with the Met, the group were told they faced prosecution and individual fines of up to £10,000 if the vigil went ahead, with police citing Covid-19 restrictions at the time.

The group withdrew from organising the vigil, which went ahead anyway, but decided to take the Met to court – alleging their human rights had been breached by the force’s actions.

They won. In March, a judge found the Met were “legally mistaken” to tell Reclaim These Streets they could not organise this vigil, and had failed to consider whether the group had a “reasonable excuse” for holding it.

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