Memories of Anna, by a friend and comrade from the Empty Cages Collective

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the death of Anna Campbell – an anarchist, abolitionist and internationalist from England that died in the invasion of Afrin.

From: https://kurdishsolidaritynetwork.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/memories-of-anna-by-a-friend-and-comrade-from-the-empty-cages-collective/

I came across Anna for the first time in 2013 at a Stop G8 meeting. The G8 had come and gone and I travelled to the Cowley Club in Brighton to ask this group if they were up for organising against the NATO Summit which was in Newport, South Wales the following year.

I remember when we were discussing outreach work in preparation of the summit, Anna and her partner T, spoke about the squat they had opened to the public in Lewes. She told us about how this squat was welcoming to all and offered tea and cake. At that time most squats I had been to had a bit of an exclusive and macho anarchist energy. Their project seemed to radiate radical anarcha-feminist energy and was something different.

One thing that struck me was how rad she seemed, and her partner come to that. I hadn’t seen many openly gay people before, holding each other in public. I also remember thinking that even their sandwiches were rad. They had marmite sandwiches for lunch. Vegan, cheap and no-frills it was definitley an anti-bougie sandwich! Not that Anna was a puritanical, self-denying type, maybe it was me thinking how the hell could a marmite sandwich fill you up for lunch? Nonetheless even her sandwiches made me think “whoa, now there’s a revolutionary”. This was some of the first anarchist meetings I had gone to outside my city, and meeting these radical people from diferent places was amazing and I was wide eyed.

I didn’t see her much after that until I ran into her hunt saboteuring some years later. She took me under her wing and tried to show me how it all worked with the citronella spray to put the fox’s scent off the hounds. Sometimes I would bump into her at the anarchist social centre in Bristol and she was always friendly and kind. I wasn’t living in that area and knew only a few people, I always felt included by her.

Soon I got to know her better when she joined the Empty Cages Collective. We were organising, doing stalls and taking action together all over the UK. Anna started dating my friend Nicole, who was also a member of the collective. It was a tight group and we did an insane amount of work trying to catalyse the prison abolition movement in the so called “UK”.

An action that has stayed in my memory was when an IPP’s Mother, Janet (not her real name) had an awesome idea for an action. Anna came to meet me and her in Cardiff to discuss. Janet had the ingenious idea of organising to meet with the Justice Minister Liz Truss at her surgery in East Anglia. Liz Truss had refused to meet with Janet as an IPP campaigner, so Janet said; “Why not go to her constituency to ask her what was she doing to free the IPP prisoners?”

IPP is an indeterminate sentence in the UK for relatively minor crimes. Although it has been abolished, thousands are still trapped in prison with a sentence that has no release date. The system is overwhelmed and the hoops the prisoners have to jump through in terms of doing the courses and psychotherapy to meet the release requirements are impossible. What’s more is that they are on a 99 year license and can be arbitrarily recalled to prison at the whims of their probation officer. This sentence has lead to many suicides, instances of self harm, it has ripped families apart and condemned thousands for crimes as minor as stealing a mobile phone. Click here to find out more: https://smashipp.org.uk/what-is-ipp/

Janet went online and arranged a meeting with Liz Truss, saying that she lived in her constituency in Swaffham, and when she got the confirmation e-mail about the meeting, we were overjoyed. This politician had been indifferent to the horrifically high self harm and suicide rates of IPP Prisoners – now she would have to face the Mother of a man condemned to this sentence.

When it was the day of the action we had already arranged for a group of protestors from the local area to gather outside Liz Truss’s surgery to coincide with our meeting. Anna picked us up in Cardiff and we all jumped in the car and made the long journey to the very depths of Tory middle England.

On the long journey, in classic Janet style a few uncomfortable subjects came up. Janet has no political ideology driving her activism but her love for her son. Her passion, fighting for her son is something I have always deeply respected but she would sometimes says reactionary things.

Although none of us were students, this is what she would call us. She seemed to like to wind us up us from time to time with sexist and racist statements knowing full well that we couldn’t stand to hear such rubbish.

Janet would say that rape only happens by strangers jumping out of bushes, not from a man that would go back home with you from a nightclub. She would also make sweeping statements about people of colour. We always tried to call her out on this in the most tactful and effective ways possible, but she was strong minded and I always felt like it wan’t getting through to her.

I reacted with anger and I couldn’t be bothered to be kind when she said things like this, but I know this was only going to make her heels dig in further. I had had enough of this crap from my own family, and hearing this language triggered me into an argumentative state that I had grown up with surrounding nonsense like this.

Anna however was amazing – she questioned Janet’s belief system firmly, taking no bullshit in a way that wouldn’t make her defensive. I watched Anna guide Janet with compassion through the maze of ideologies that constructed her reactionary opinions. I wished I could engage in dialogue like this with people just like Anna could, with patience and clarity. I found myself woefully inadequate at talking to people about these fundamental basics of politics, especially around people that I felt were similar to my own family.

Anna’s tenderness ran through everything she did. She explained to my friend’s children about what being transgender is – without fear or embarrassment.

In 2018, Anna was killed by a Turkish airstrike in Afrin.

I’m so glad to have spent time with her organising with Empty Cages before she went to Rojava. I miss her and I feel like the anarchist movement has lost an incredible person that contributed so much in so many ways. Anna was a prison abolitionist and was a long term pen pal of German anti fascist and anarchist Thomas Meyer Falk and of John Bowden in the UK. She was reliable and took what she did seriously. Solidarity was a way of life for her.

Anna knew that for a different world we had to organise outside our activist circles and sometimes with people like Janet, that could be difficult to deal with. She also knew that IPP and the Tory prison expansion project would really maximise the state’s capability to cage us – and that this meant greater capacity for repression towards not only the oppressed in our societies, but those that want to struggle back.

Anna went to fight with the YPJ and died for the revolution and to defend the democratic feminist society in northern Syria. The women’s movement are experimenting with different forms of justice – the discourse of prison abolition is to be found in this place Anna died defending.

When we arrived for the meeting, Anna waited outside with the small group that were going to be demonstrating. Me and Janet went in, and after a wait we were sat across the table to the justice minister at the time – Liz Truss. This woman had the power to change everything on IPPs – this woman that had no life experience of prison or the justice system, it was impossible to know what qualified her for such a position. Janet made her case, Liz Truss was woefully unable to answer any of her questions or respond in any meaningful way. The demonstration outside was noisy and we had made our point. IPP’s are not forgotten and we will not let those in power forget about them either.

Photo of the demo outside Liz Truss’ surgery. Anna’s eyes are blurred out, but she is holding the megaphone on the right.

The action was a success, Anna took us all home. Other members of the collective and I were traumatised from how prison and the class dynamics of prison had affected our lives. Looking back I feel that Anna tried to hold space for us. Sometimes because this organising was tied to our emotions so deeply it felt like a relief to have a comrade like Anna that was able to carry some of the burden with us. She was compassionate and although she’d had struggles in her life, her loving family and community meant, I felt, that her cup was always full and she would always give her energy to others and try to support us.

Things were not always perfect, but with Anna it was possible to talk things through. She couldn’t understand some of our life experiences directly because she hasn’t been through them herself. But her kindness, dedication and bravery are some of the main things I remember about her, and although she wasn’t always able to directly relate, she gave space with compassion.

During times of my life where I’m paralysed with fear I think about how brave she was to go to Afrin and to stand up for what she knew was right. She’s given me strength in dark situations, especially with the British state’s attempt at repressing me and my friends with terrorism charges. I remember being in the cell and feeling friends like Anna (and my friend Ellie who has also passed) was with me. It was Nicole, Anna’s former partner and member of the Empty Cages Collective that greeted me outside the police station when I came out and it made me remember how held I felt when we were all together and active in that collective.

I remember being on a stall with her at the London Anarchist Bookfair and we played anarchist bingo, looking at the odd subcultures within our political movement. The anarchist academics with their turtlenecks, Syndicalists with flat caps, Antifa looking on brand. I remember when we went to an expensive shop together and Anna stole a bunch of stuff so that we could use it in a raffle fundraiser for our campaigns. She really was an Anarchist down to the core and rejected the liberal personality and shaming. She rejected her privilege so that she could fight for a better world. Needless to say I feel very proud to have been her friend.

Anna did hardcore direct action, fearlessly putting herself in the front line, like in Dover when she went to fight the fascist scum demonstrating there. Her picture was in the news after she was hit in the head with a brick at that demonstration. She would also do the labour of looking after comrades’ children, our friends that were single mothers but wanted to be in the struggle. Anna gave that gift to our friend, the gift of taking care of her child so that she could go to demonstrations and actions. She wasn’t doing work for status or power, she was guided by her principles of Anarchism and would tell me about inspiring women revolutionaries she knew about – not knowing one day she would follow in their footsteps, as one of these people herself.

Anna was killed three years ago today. Tonight at 6pm there will be an online event hosted by SOAS: ‘In memory of Anna Campbell: An introduction to the women’s revolution’ – https://www.instagram.com/p/CMNjInkBIGv/