The Meadows Festival is a great chance for Ace to promote the groups that meet there and sell stuff to plump up scarce funds. But what it can be is a way to talk to people, or rather people talk to us about what’s been happening to them and what they think about Ace’s ideas. We spread out all our books, magazines, pamphlets and leaflets and a big banner across our red marquee.
We set up on B12, a pitch far removed from our more central location last year. But surprisingly, it didn’t matter. We had plenty of people come over, talk, buy things.. the whole place was heaving from about 10.30 to the end. The intense heat and sunshine (albeit filtered by a light cloud cover) drove people out of their houses, away from the streets and onto any green parks nearby.
IWW, our Ace infoshop (AK Press & other radical publishers), Chiapas and our free leaflets dominated the space. This year we tried to sell the second hand books that’d been donated – always another source of badly needed funds. Thank heavens for the red marquee which provided blessed shade and good shelter from the two bits of rain. Not heavy but enough to soak things through.
What felt important – and is a welcome achievement each time we hold a stall anywhere – were the number of people who took our leaflets. Not just from Ecap (sanctions/benefit access, housing and WCAs) but who were interested in Sisters Uncut, Action for Trans Health, the IWW (its own stall proved quite busy), Scottish Radical Library, Oficina Precaria, Chiapas, Anarchist Federation (Afed) and Anti-fascists (Antifa) – people asked about all those groups, leaving contact details and taking leaflets.
And that raising of awareness, connecting us to one another is a great way to set us up for a summer of action.
A woman approached us, a heavily pregnant young nurse asking if we had any books or info on the Windrush scandal. We said no, and that all we knew was what we’d been following as it unravelled. Ecap & Oficina Precaria has done quite a bit of research lately into migrant rights and are proud of that work alongside our other campaigns – but we had no idea Windrush was affecting people up here as much as down south.
She explained that her widowed Canadian mother (now of pension age) had worked 33 years in Scotland only to find herself, on return from a trip to Canada, questioned as to whether she had the right to reside in the UK and asked to prove herself. I listened with shock as she explained her mother was denied access to all medical services while the Home Office pushed her to provide evidence she’d never needed in all the decades she’d lived, worked and contributed here in the UK. She had a heart attack, one which was preventable had she had access to a GP and hospital services. She survived this traumatic episode but has, of course, been denied a pension. She’s homeless couch-surfing on her daughter’s sofa with no income of her own and no way to get one. She’s endured this for years – ending with the recent heart attack that almost claimed her life.
What was even more worrying was that Home Office workers had been masquerading as NHS, demanding information from them. Now the issue is extremely complicated and hard to know exactly what they were up to – I found it difficult to follow at the stall. But what was clear was that the Home Office had been acting in a very deceptive way towards this woman and her family.
But there does seem to be a ray of hope. She’s preparing to get her irises scanned in preparation for an ID card which will begin a process (far from finished) of proving her right to be here and right to citizenship.
“I don’t want this to be forgotten or swept under the carpet” the nurse told us. And she’s right. We handed her contact info for ‘migrant solidarity’ and Oficina Precaria, both of whom help immigrants and who operate out of Ace. But what the rest of us can offer is solidarity and we’ll be looking out for more experiences like this and practical ways in which we can help.
Ace is currently open 3 hours a week during drop-ins and a further 4 hours a month on second and last Thursdays. We had people comment many times that ‘I’m interested in what Ace is all about, but whenever I pass its closed’. It sucks that we don’t have enough people who are free to open Ace more often, which we’d love to do. If you’d be interested in volunteering to open Ace, meet and greet anyone who comes in and just generally help to keep the physical space accessible, please do get in touch. We all enjoy doing it but when things get busy it’s the one thing we struggle to achieve.