Meet Marina, the Domestic Extremist

In a week dominated by a sense of disappointment in our young people, I've just seen something that offers hope: young people breaking the law for good reason

In a week dominated by a sense of disappointment in our young people, I've just seen something that offers hope: young people breaking the law for good reason.

Just Do It: A Tale of Modern Day Outlaws is a documentary that follows the fortunes of a group of environmental activists. Their motivation is summed up by Lily: after reading the science behind climate change claims, she says, it's "not something I can know and then not do anything about. I want to do something."

Doing something involves (mostly) peaceful protest in the face of what is often brutal violence. They chain themselves to stepladders in front of the RBS building (RBS stands accused of helping finance companies that contribute to climate change), blocking the entrance. They attempt to get inside Heathrow airport to highlight the absurdity of building a third runway while the UK government claims to be making an effort to reduce carbon emissions (the project has since been scrapped). They go to Copenhagen to protest at the climate talks. They use devious decoy tactics to smuggle fish and chips into the workers staging a sit-in at the mothballed Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight.

I watched with a sense of admiration at the discomfort and risk that many of these activists are willing to endure. They are sensible, intelligent and above all highly responsible. They have developed an innovative way of measuring consensus: they show approval of a statement by silent hand-waving rather than noise-making, in order to maintain the low-key nature of their planning meetings. Nobody is coerced into illegal action, and many of the group choose to join "affinity groups" that simply offer support to those who do choose to get themselves arrested.

The film was made by award-winning director Emily James. Though clearly on the side of the activists, James is generally sympathetic to the police who must remove the activists from their protest sites - she conveys the sense that the police have been handed an unpleasant task that they, on the whole, would prefer not to perform. We see one senior officer wishing the activists a "successful camp". Inside the RBS building, the senior officer charged with arresting the climate camp tresspassers does so with compassion and palpable empathy.

The mindless, angry and self-centred rampaging that we have seen this week shames us. That we have quietly abdicated responsibility for our future well-being to elected leaders who we know do not have our personal interests at heart should also shame us. The activists in Just Do It show a third way: a dignified, appropriate, human reaction to reasonable concerns.

The star of the film is undoubtedly the rationally bonkers Marina, a Mary Poppins-like figure classified by Special Branch as a "domestic extremist". She makes endless cups of tea at the protest sites. "Taking tea is what the British do whenever they are in a difficult circumstance," she says. The police officers given the task of evicting or removing her from sites often drink a cup with her first: her tactic bonds the offenders and law-enforcers in their shared humanity. Marina's eviction from in front of the Vestas factory is particularly poignant. The day before, the female police officer had hugged Marina in front of the camera. Now she is forced to arrest her. Later, Marina says, she and the officer cried during the arrest interview.

James does not shy away from the key question. "Does all of this do any good?" she asks Marina. There follows a long, pregnant pause. It's clear she doesn't feel she has achieved much. "You can't do nothing," Marina says eventually. "That doesn't do any good."

I have to say, I'd wave my hands at that.

Screenings info here


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