Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Year in the Death of FREEDOM

(part 2 of, “Pensioner Attacked at Anarchist HQ”)

by Christopher Draper

WHEN Simon Saunders and Andrew Meinke dragged 75-year-old Brian Bamford from FREEDOM HQ in June 2016 it marked a new low point in their illegitimate occupation of the Whitechapel building. Lower even than that notorious day in October 2014 when Meinke closed down FREEDOM newspaper after 128 years publication with the inappropriate boast, “KROPOTKIN MIGHT HAVE STARTED IT BUT WE FUCKING FINISHED IT!”

 In part 1 of this article I examined the background to the former event, here I consider the activities of Meinke’s self-appointed “freedom collective” (FC) and the response of FREEDOM’s Board of Trustees (FFP) over the last year. 

In June 2015 a twofold task faced FFP:

                     To assess whether FC fulfilled FFP’s legal obligation to publish FREEDOM journal

                     If not, FFP must sell the building to finance the resumed publication of FREEDOM under an editorial team appointed by FFP 


In the old days, to avoid legal difficulties, rail companies intent on closing down branch lines resorted to running “ghost trains” to support their dubious claim to continuity. It is an idea adopted by FC who pretend that offering a FREEDOM website with a post every 2 weeks (30 posts June 2015 – June 2016) and printing an occasional free-sheet (2 free-sheets June 2015 – June 2016) fulfils FFP’s legal obligations.  
In June 2015 the newly re-established FFP Board began to assess the performance of FC.   At that stage the “editors” were Adam Lawrence Barr and Ella Harrison, with Adam effectively running the show. He’s a student, like most recent FC editors with little knowledge or experience of anarchism but a compensatory enthusiasm for crude class analysis and violent profanities.  Of course, inexperience alone needn’t disqualify anyone from editing anarchist free-sheets but FREEDOM had (prior to the arrival of adolescent “class-warriors” ) a unique responsibility to maintain a high standard of intellectual and political discourse and analysis.  
Barr’s track record wasn’t propitious for he’d just been arrested for walking around with a banner bearing the insightful slogan; “Cameron, Clegg, Corbyn, Farage – All Fucking Wankers!”   A July 2015 re-tweet also appeared a little intemperate, “David Cameron is a fucking fascist cunt pass it on”!  
Adam’s 2015 Bookfair “FREEDOM” free-sheet would have shamed Albert Meltzer for the naivety of its politics and presentation but at least it had the merit of convincing sceptical members of FFP that they had a serious problem on their hands. Typically, the final words of the poster-style back page read; “CAN WE RIOT YET” but it’s unclear if the absence of a question mark exemplified a rhetorical flourish or incompetence.  
Mr Barr’s editorship of the website ploughed a similarly shallow furrow with its admiration for the trashing of a Shoreditch breakfast bar in September 2015 headlined, 'FUCKPARADE – What the Fuck is to be Done?'  Adam Barr assured readers that if the assault, 'offended the sensibilities of the mainstream liberal left as much as the reactionary hipster wankers the protest was ostensibly about, in a time of turbulent politics that can only be a good thing.' 

'Big Tent' or Straitjacket?

To be fair to Mr Barr, he is young and the relentless degradation of FREEDOM fosters a crude, intolerant, intimidatory climate that encourages aggressive rhetoric and inhibits sensitive expression of individual opinion. He wouldn’t last long if he acted otherwise. In autumn 2015 after interviewing a representative of the “Catholic Worker Movement” Adam felt the crack of class-warrior Nick Heath’s rhetorical whip:  “Oh dear, is FREEDOM reverting to its old big tent synthesis politics again? People like Catholic worker shouldn’t be given the time of day.”  Barr defended the interview but felt obliged to reassure Heath:  'And no. we’re not returning to big tent whatever.'  Despite the spat it’s significant that both Barr and Heath reject the former, 'big-tent' FREEDOM approach.   A free-sheet Barr issued to impress the June 2016 FFP AGM shows just how narrowed down and unworldly FC’s political vision has becomes.  Barr’s free-sheet didn’t mention the forthcoming EU Referendum but found room to print an impenetrable verse that reassured readers, “I fucking vaped with God”.  FFP remained unimpressed.

Public Eye

In October 2015 Lord Gnome investigated the antics of the FC rabble who were subsequently satirised in the pages of PRIVATE EYE.  Presciently the EYE concluded:  
'Regular visitors to Whitechapel art Gallery can anticipate some lively impromptu performance-art next door in Angel Alley in the coming months. And, naturally, a lot of swearing.'  
FC’s twitter feed spotted the piece:  'Accusing us of being oiks. Which we probably are, in fairness'.  One of FC’s tenants publicly supported the occupation but in doing so let the cat out of the bag, for as Barry Woodling pointed out in a subsequent EYE, FFP retain the building solely to publish FREEDOM journal and the self-confessed 'oiks' aren’t at liberty to act as rentiers.  FC knows this and so insistently claim (Andy Meinke, NV 16.6.2016) 'The Freedom Collective does not rent out any of the property'.   This is a barefaced lie as every single occupant of that building (and every single member of FFP) knows!  
Despite FC’s fondness for secrecy and anonymity I know far more about what goes on at FREEDOM than Mr Meinke imagines so he should be more circumspect in telling lies.  His own 'Budget Proposals 2015/16' for example, state 'Rents are £2100 per room' and suggest that would be an appropriate amount payable by the tenant who contacted the EYE.  In theory FC rake in over £8000 p.a. renting out a building that doesn’t even belong to them but they’re as inefficient in collecting the rent as they are at publishing  ...
End of the Road
The party’s almost over.  Even FC are reluctantly coming to realise their position is untenable.  The building has no fire certificate let alone disabled access and no prospect of obtaining or paying for insurance.  If a further fire resulted in injury to a tenant or consequent damage to the adjacent Whitechapel Gallery it would be difficult for anyone involved to deny criminal negligence.  The moral if not legal liability of individual members of FFP would also be difficult to defend.  
Despite this, FC are loathe to vacate the building for it is their powerbase. As long as they remain in occupation they enjoy a central London location for their self proclaimed 'Anarcho-Hangout'.  Their rentier business provides 'Bookshop Manager' Meinke with pocket money and the ability to distribute largesse to tenants by way of cheap accommodation.  This in turn generates spurious support from grateful clients.  FC exploit the cachet of the FREEDOM brand and address to legitimate and aggrandise themselves and altogether indulge in political empire building yet still they’re worried.
Friends and Enemies

Back in June 2015, FFP were a disparate bunch unconvinced that there was any need for urgent action but the behaviour of FC over the year has persuaded most members of the accuracy of the analysis we offered in, 'Who Killed FREEDOM?'  The performance of FFP itself has not however proved entirely praiseworthy.  

The Board met roughly bi-monthly throughout the year but after attending infrequently Martin Peacock resigned prior to the AGM.  Tragically, Board Member Sonia Markham passed away during the year and this deeply affected her long-time partner and FFP colleague, Ernest Rodker who consequently missed the AGM. 
A survey of the FREEDOM building commissioned by FFP revealed that it required at least £50K to bring it up to an acceptable standard. As FREEDOM owns no substantial assets apart from the property itself, in February FFP resolved to sell. Accordingly a letter advising all users of the building (FC and its tenants) that they should prepare themselves for just such an eventuality was drawn up by solicitor Richard Parry and issued by the Board.

At this stage the Board had not yet decided exactly how the capital raised by a sale would be disbursed. Realising his empire was under threat, Meinke and his FC associates invited FFP to a 'Social', ostensibly to repair their somewhat frayed relationship.  However, at the same time Meinke posted a call-out for FC, tenants and hangers-on to assemble to defend their 'Anarcho-Hangout' from avaricious FFP parasites intent on their eviction.  Guileless Board Members who turned up for the 8th March 2016 'Social' were met by a mob baying for blood and demanding that the informal letter from FFP be immediately withdrawn.  Board Member, David Goodway informed us that 'they feared if they didn’t comply they would be lynched'.  So FFP gave in and the letter was withdrawn.  Furthermore, an architectural partnership interested in purchasing the property, (another Parry initiative), dropped out after FC denied them access to the building.
Privately FFP confided that they feared we were right all along and they had initially credited FC with far more than they demonstrably deserved.  FFP were frankly embarrassed by FC’s efforts.  They concluded that the years record of, no books published, 2 poorly produced free-sheets, and an inadequate website failed to fulfil FREEDOM’s publishing obligation.  Nevertheless FFP itself was no beacon of good practice.  Although we maintained excellent 'unofficial' contacts with FFP after a couple of Board meetings it was apparent that Secretary Sorba didn’t intend to publicise their proceedings so I emailed Sorba, to request copies of FFP agendas and minutes.  After he failed to even acknowledge my request it seemed to have no more intention of performing FFP’s proper functions than formerly. 
                                                                 A Meeting of Minds

In anticipation of their 22nd June 2016 AGM Richard Parry of FFP produced a concise report looking back over the previous year.  The key conclusions of this report are as follows:

                     FFP own the building, FC merely occupy it

                     The remit of FFP  “to facilitate anarchist publishing is very barely being continued”

                     Legal advice indicates that FFP’s legal obligations are unalterable

                     FFP cannot finance essential repairs and therefore a sale is under active consideration

                     The Board’s “attempt to move forward was shut down by the buildings users and their allies in a meeting billed as a Social” 
Despite our initial scepticism, Richard Parry has acquitted himself admirably.  As his report demonstrates, he accurately assessed the Board’s responsibilities, the occupants’ failure to fulfil the publication obligation, the unsustainable nature of the occupation and FC’s use of intimidation to retain their position.   Parry’s resolute approach to fulfilling his duty as a “Friend” made him so unpopular with the occupants that they’ve now elbowed him off the Board.  They achieved this by charging him with 'conflict of interest'.  Parry was accused of compromising his role as legal representative of a group both involved in the Pitchford Inquiry and liable to eviction from FREEDOM HQ.  A squalid, self-serving manoeuvre but no more than one has been led to expect from the shameless occupants of Angel Alley.  

Putting Up not Shutting Up 

Parry’s report fulfilled FFP’s primary task.  The Board now officially recognise that they are morally and legally obliged to act but unfortunately backed down when confronted by the mob.  Realising the Board needed help to stiffen its resolve, especially after Parry’s departure, an ad hoc group of Northern anarchists offered our services.  Labelling ourselves OFIN ('Our Friends in the North') we published the following programme of action and slate of four names to be nominated as candidates for Board Membership at the forthcoming AGM. 

1.  Within 12 months, selling the 84b Whitechapel High Street property to liquidate FREEDOM assets

2. The creation and maintenance of a new, professionally designed, sophisticated FREEDOM website within 6 months of liquidation 

3.  A Webmaster-Editor to be formally appointed on a bi-annual basis by a newly created FFP Publications Sub-Group (PSG) with an annual budget of 15K (1% of liquidation capital), to include a modest stipend
4.   A three-person PSG to be appointed from within, and responsible to, FFP (by secret ballot if excess volunteers)
5.  Furthermore, to challenge London-centricity OFIN proposes convening all future FFP meetings in Birmingham
6.    All future FFP agendas and minutes to be published online

'If appointed, all OFIN candidates commit to working cooperatively and constructively with existing FFP members to revive the fortunes of FREEDOM.  On this basis we ask you to endorse the following: 

Brian Bamford - Rochdale

Christopher Draper - Llandudno
Martin Gilbert - Ulverston

Barry Woodling – Salford'

With a combined total of over 200 years of anarchist activism and a proven record of involvement with FREEDOM we were willing and able, if elected, to grab the FC bull by the horns and reclaim the FREEDOM heritage.  We each appended brief CV’s to our application documents.  

The response from FC was depressingly predictable:  'If we need a group called Annoying Dicks Who Want to Fuck Up Freedom Press we’ll let you know'  (Andy Meinke). 
A Propitious Time for Action  
The prospects for the AGM looked good.   By June 2016 the original nine members had reduced to just six and Ernest Rodker would be absent, leaving just five expected to attend the meeting and through a particular demand of FFP’s constitution both Stephen Sorba and Donald Rooum would have to temporarily stand down and could only return if formally agreed by the three remaining Board Members.   Of these, at least two could reasonably be expected to support our campaign.  Jayne Clementson’s is “old-school” anarchist, involved with FREEDOM since the days of Vero, Nicolas Walter and Colin Ward, she has an intimate and extremely negative opinion of Meinke’s rabble whilst David Goodway has consistently not only expressed a similar assessment but owes his own appointment to our determined campaigning.   He acknowledged this to me in an email of 5.7.2015, following the successful June 2015 reconstitution of the FFP Board:  'Once again hearty congratulations on all your hard work and intervention(s).  None of the positive developments on 24 June would have been achieved without them.'  
If at least two of the three had the courage to grasp the nettle they could vote off FC apologist Donald Rooum and the rather unreliable Stephen Sorba, and vote us (with our published programme of action) on.  Once Ernest Rodker returned we would have a Board of eight members determined to give proper effect to the conclusions of Parry’s report. If agreed, Sorba and Rooum might then be reinstated onto this strengthened Board.  Decent tenants would be treated decently, with sympathy and patience but FC would be obliged to leave forthwith.  The unique circumstances of the 22nd June 2016 AGM wouldn’t reoccur, it was now or never. 
Mr. Goodway, I Presume?
The four OFIN candidates had first to be proposed by an existing Board member and David Goodway was the obvious choice.  Our collated candidates' papers were posted to David Goodway on Manday 13th, June 2016, and he confirmed receipt on Wednesday 15th, June.  Curiously, he then prevaricated.  Brian Bamford assured Goodway, and several other FFP members he would attend the AGM to represent OFIN, yet even as he arrived at the FREEDOM HQ to address the FFP meeting he wasn't entirely sure whether our nominations had been formally registered by Secretary Sorba.  Before he had the chance to speak to Stephen Sorba he was confronted by Andy Meinke. 
FREEDOM or Tyranny? 
In consequence of what happened next the 75-year-old Brian Bamford was requested to provide a written report for the Metropolitan Police.  I have a copy of that report before me from which I quote at length: 
   'I paused not quite knowing which of the rooms the AGM was to be held in. Mr Meinke arrived at the top (of the stairs), where I stood, immediately after me. He had already been shouting after me: Well, look who’s here! and You can clear out! And he said: Pity I was a bit slow off the mark there!  
'I stood on the small landing at the top of these stairs and told them that I intended to attend the AGM company meeting of the Friends of Freedom Press. He glared at me and said No you’re not, you’re going out, and proceeded to push me around the landing presumably intending to get me down the stairs. At this point I took out my mobile phone to photograph Mr Meinke’s assault upon me. When he saw the camera he pushed me more violently and I fell towards a door of the old editorial office of Freedom newspaper…’ 
When Bamford sat down in the editorial office Meinke fetched an FC tenant named, 'Carolyn Wilson (who) then began to upbraid me and immediately grabbed my camera while Mr Meinke held me in position on the chair…'  Meinke then resumed his attempt to eject Bamford from the building but was interrupted by the arrival of Board Members….  'At some point David Goodway explained to Steve Sorba and the other Friends how he had witnessed Andy Meinke manhandling me and trying to force me to leave the premises.'  Andy Meinke was still objecting that the Friends are only the landlords and that he and the others had a right to run the building according to his own wishes.
   ‘Simon Saunders then arrived, reinforcing Meinke’s determined attempt to prevent Bamford from addressing the FFP AGM.  'In the end Andy Meinke agreed to give the Friends a concession of allowing me to address the AGM for 5 minutes…The meeting then began with the first item on the agenda being… the proposed nominations together with the OFIN program” however Secretary Sorba informed Bamford that the Board could not vote on OFIN nominations as Goodway had not submitted them! Secretary Sorba ”suggested these nominations be submitted at the next meeting of the Friends…he also asked that I wait outside and be prepared to re-attend when called on to do so…  I then left the room and as Jayne Clementson came to close the open door behind me we both noticed Carolyn Wilson sitting on the stairs outside the meeting fiddling with her mobile phone. Jayne made some joke about being careful of the “Collective” outside.  As I stood part way down the stairs she followed me and pushed me towards the door at the bottom of the stairs – this door was slightly ajar and Simon Saunders came to grab me and pull me off the stairs into the bookshop area and he was quickly joined by Andy Meinke.  At this point the two men proceeded to drag me across the bookshop floor towards the main entrance to the bookshop.  While this was happening Carolyn Wilson was inciting the men verbally…   They then deposited me in Angel Alley and when I rose to my feet Simon Saunders immediately shouldered me in the chest and I fell to the floor again. By this time there was a large number of people in Angel Alley around me: including Simon Saunders by the door, Andy Meinke and Carolyn Wilson who proceeded to snatch my briefcase from my hand as Simon and the others held onto me. Carolyn Wilson proceeded to open my briefcase and examine the contents . At this point, the man I later found out was called Jason Holdway intervened and asked Carolyn Wilson: Give him his case back. To which Carolyn Wilson retorted: No I’m not going to.'  
Immediate Aftermath 
Bamford, who has a heart condition, was left outside FREEDOM, bruised and with badly bleeding elbows.  When his assailants eventually returned his possessions all photographs of them assaulting him had been deleted from his mobile.  He afterwards received medical attention and was advised to refer the matter to the police.  Several Board Members subsequently contacted Brian Bamford to reassure themselves of his well-being but it is not yet clear if they will take decisive action or simply continue to collude with intolerable behaviour.  
Can they Sink any Lower? 
The outcome of these events is both shocking and bizarre.  Carolyn Wilson, who was previously unknown to either David Goodway or Jayne Clementson was appointed to join FFP as was Jason Holdway (Sorba and Rooum were also returned).  Despite Sorba’s invitation none of the members of OFIN are prepared to join an organisation that tolerates such intimidatory behaviour on their premises.  To refuse to act is to condone this mob rule.  
Whenever Meinke and Saunders objected to any aspect of our ongoing critique of their occupation of FREEDOM HQ we always hosted their remarks on the NV website, despite their frequent resort to crude language and anonymity.   FC, on the other hand, consistently refused to publish articles from us (even the 'Burnley Declaration'  signed by over 150 people) and Meinke banned Northern Voices' magazine from the Bookshop.  Saunders cynically labels all reasoned criticism as 'defamation' yet significantly fails to identify any specific inaccuracy.  As an academic teacher and commercially published author, as well as a lifelong anarchist, I always operate out in the open.  I don’t try to hide behind ridiculous aliases (“Rob Ray”, “Gawain the Cunt”, “Laura Dinosaur” to name but three 3 FC examples).  The practice of 'The Freedom Collective' stands in stark contrast. Who are the members?  Why do they conceal their identity?  They publish no accounts or minutes yet claim to 'represent the movement'.  Where is the accountability?
Much of my extended, and continuing, critique of Meinke and co rests on their own writings, of which Meinke’s arrogant and inappropriate crowing over his destruction of FREEDOM (above) is but one typical example.  Compare anything, in print or on the web, emanating from FC in recent years with, for instance, any edition of FREEDOM from the year 2000 (when I was a regular columnist) or any of the earlier FREEDOM books, articles or magazines produced by Colin Ward, Nicolas Walter or Vernon Richards.  You will be immediately struck by the distinct intellectual, ethical and political cleavage.  
Friends and Guardians of FREEDOM 
Sadly Mr Bamford received more support and sympathy from the Metropolitan Police than from either FC or FFP.  Last year when we nominated and campaigned hard for the accession of David Goodway we did so in the teeth of opposition from Richard Parry but ironically Parry then did more than any other Board Member to fight against the destruction of FREEDOM, whilst Goodway failed to even endorse our nomination papers.  Even Corbyn’s critics had the decency to manage that! 
When it came to the crunch Goodway retreated to the shadows, preferring to accommodate the baying mob than stand up for FREEDOM.  Last year he formally thanked me for launching his FFP career, this year he didn’t have the decency to apologise.  Unintimidated by recent violence or Saunder’s pitiful subsequent 'Fatwa' inciting acolytes to follow his example we will continue to shine the light of publicity onto this ongoing affront to FREEDOM.  We are much heartened by the encouragement of countless comrades around the country who commend our efforts, like John Couzin in Glasgow who posts on his 'ANNARKY' website:

'I still feel strongly that the demise of FREEDOM newspaper was a loss to the anarchist movement in the UK, 128 years of a chequered history down the tubes with the statement, KROPOTKIN MIGHT HAVE STARTED IT, BUT WE FUCKING FINISHED IT! Which to my mind seems an unfitting comment, which only adds insult to injury. It is good to know that there are those who are fighting hard to see the paper rise from this degrading epitaph.' 

We certainly are John and we invite you fair-minded reader to interrogate the evidence for yourself. For evil to triumph it is sufficient for good men (and women) to do nothing.


Herr Schaden Freude said...


Investigative Reporter said...

Andy Meinke has been sucking on the pap of Donald Rooum for over a decade!

David said...

Too depressing for words...

Is there any chance of progress? (Rhetorical question!)

Investigative Reporter said...

I note the 'Rhetorical question'! We fear that at the last AGM the cuckoos laid at least two more eggs in the nest of the Friends of Freedom Press. Unless something radical is done in the next year, it looks like Andy's mates in the Collective will take over completely & throw out those Friends who may be sympathetic to transforming Freedom

David said...

I'll be amazed if the £1-2m value of the building doesn't end up in Meinke's pockets.