Thursday, 29 October 2009


Olive Morris: Forgotten activist hero
Morning Star
Wednesday 28 October 2009
By Lizzie Cocker

This picture from 1973 shows Olive confronting a rather overwhelmed
property agent Mr Defries, in defence of a squatted building, more info here

In an age when xenophobia and Islamophobia are being stoked
by illegal wars and immigration myths, the need to wrench
hidden realities from history in order to see today's
truths has never been more urgent.

And thanks to the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC)
founded by artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre in 2007, a
bit of this history became available to the public last
week at the Lambeth Archives in Brixton, south London.

Olive Morris, despite her awe-inspiring short life, remains
virtually unknown. And she is one of the greatest unsung
heroes I have ever come across.

My encounter with Morris began when a friend switched on my
radar for forgotten female protagonists. He mentioned a
local project he was doing on four practically unheard-of
women activists who left in their wake cultural, social and
political improvements which are enjoyed not just in London
but in some instances internationally.

Three of these women were black.

With my radar on standby, I stumbled across a website which
asked me if I "remember Olive Morris?" above a picture of a
young black woman smiling with her shades on behind a

No, I thought. I had never heard of Olive Morris.

And as I investigated further it became apparent that my
ignorance was widespread.

Morris died aged just 27 in the 1970s. But she had such an
unshakeable impact on those who knew her that many of the
people with memories, documents, photographs and letters
relating to this young woman responded to ROC's calls to
make her story a matter of public record.

As a tireless campaigner for black women, a socialist and
an internationalist, Morris dedicated herself to fighting
injustice wherever she saw it.

One of the most vivid examples was in 1969 when police
arrested a Nigerian diplomat in Brixton as he stepped out
of his Mercedes.

The police were so stunned to see a black man with such a
flashy car that their reflex was to treat him as a criminal
who had stolen it.

Crowds gathered round gaping as the police began to beat

A 17-year-old Olive struggled through the spectators and
physically tried to stop the attack.

She was flung down and subjected to black police boots
kicking her in her breasts. She was stripped naked and told
as the blows kept on coming: "This is the right colour for
your body."

One Nigerian student wrote in tribute to her upon her
death: "It is reasonable to expect that Olive Morris's
heroism will be immortalised alongside such black
luminaries like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and many others
who were proud to be black."

But despite this ROC found while putting the jigsaw of her
life story together that this woman remained only in the
memories of those whose lives had crossed hers.

So vivid were the memories that these pieces of the jigsaw
have now found an eternal home in the archives.

As I hungrily sifted through them trying to complete my own
puzzle, it was Morris's typewritten words that climbed out
of the papers desperate to deliver the answers for problems
we continue to face today.

A graduate in social sciences from Manchester University,
Morris wrote numerous essays on Marxism, race and class. As
a Brixton Black Panther, part and parcel of her membership
was to attend lessons in Leninism and Marxism.

This education and her own activism influenced her
relationship with progressive movements and she ultimately
became frustrated with the British left, which she
described as having "more in common with the ruling class
and royalty than with fellow workers.

"Today increasingly the British working class is faced with
a choice either to defend the 'national interest' or throw
their lot in with the oppressed people of the Third World.

"The most immediate way in which this can be done is for
them to support the struggle of the Third World people in
this country," she argued.

Morris sympathised with Trinidadian activist Claudia Jones
who was poorly treated by the Communist Party, which failed
to acknowledge her far-reaching capabilities and consigned
her to an administrative role, and Grunwick striker Jayaben
Desai who was virtually abandoned by trade unions.

She became disillusioned by institutions for the working
class, which instinctively she would have had the most
natural allegiance with.

"We have used the great British tradition of trade unionism
to try and further our cause for equality and justice, but
on countless occasions we have found that the movement does
one thing for white workers and another for black workers,"
said Morris.

"White workers have time and time again refused to give our
unions recognition, they have crossed our picket lines for
racist reasons, they have organised against our
organisation in the trade unions.

"Take for instance STC (Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd)
where white trade unionists and union officials - with
exception of a few - put skin colour before the overall
interest of the proletariat and often resorted to physical
violence against their black fellow workers."

Morris was exasperated by what she saw as an inherent
self-interest that blocked mainly white apparently
progressive groups from seeing where the real battles
needed to be fought. She lambasted the Anti Nazi League
"trendies" for busying themselves with "shouting their
empty phrase of 'black and white unite and fight'."

Empty, she said, "because there was no sound basis on which
such unity could be built."

The ANL, she continued, has "become one big carnival
jamboree of political confusion for the middle class.

"It doesn't raise the political questions. It buries them
in the name of 'broadness'."

Morris highlighted that the National Front, which the ANL
directed all its enthusiasm into fighting, was merely a
symptom and not a cause of the racist ideologies and
practices which prevailed in every sector of society.

As the black groups Morris worked with organised to fight
oppression on all levels - running supplementary schools,
clubs and recreational facilities, clubbing together to buy
houses, striking, organising pickets and circulating
petitions - she urged people truly dedicated to fighting
racism to confront the issues which affect black people's
lives on a daily basis in schools, the police, local
government and even trade unions.

"Not a single problem associated with racialism,
unemployment, police violence and homelessness can be
settled by 'rocking' against the fascists, the police or
the army," she said.

"The fight against racism and fascism is completely bound
up with the fight to overthrow capitalism, the system that
breeds both."

The symptomatic BNP and other far-right organisations are
rearing their ugly heads above the fertile ground laid by a
political framework which has perpetuated the
criminalisation, social immobility and isolation of black
and ethnic minorities.

But black history has a lesson for the left.

As long as support is only forthcoming when racism is so
visible that it can no longer be ignored rather than being
part of the daily battles against all discrimination that
permeates society, the struggle to create equal conditions
for everyone will keep taking one step forward and 10 steps

To get a glimpse into the rest of Olive's life visit or visit the
at the Lambeth Archives in the Minet Library,
52 Knatchbull
Road, London SE5 9QY

Olive Elaine Morris

Born in 1952 in Jamaica and moved with her family to
Britain aged nine

Died of cancer in 1979

Travelled to China, north Africa, Ireland and Spain

A council building in Lambeth bears her name

Groups she cofounded or worked with:

The Black Panther Movement (later the Black Workers Group),

Brixton Black Women's Group

The Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent

Manchester Black Womens Co-operative

National Co-ordinating Committee of Overseas Students

Black Womens Mutual Aid Group

Brixton Law Centre

The squatter movement

Monday, 26 October 2009



Girls accept gun running and rape as
price of joining violent male gangs

The Times

Police are finding weapons being carried by young girls for
gang members Adam Fresco, Crime Correspondent

Teenage girls wanting to join violent male gangs are being
forced into having sex and ferrying guns, knives and drugs,
police and charities have found.

The girls, some as young as 13, want to join gangs to raise
their own profile or to seek protection. Often they are
swayed by the status given to the senior members of the

When they first join they are told they must have sex with
one member of the gang — and then find several of the gang
waiting for them.

What has shocked welfare workers is that the girls accept
the situation as normal and do not appreciate that they are
being violated. The girls are also being asked to store and
transport guns, knives and drugs for the male members of
the gang and police have evidence that girls are taking
guns direct to killers and then disposing of the weapons
once someone has been shot.

The problem has been growing over the past couple of years,
with charities getting ever more girls coming to them with
tales of gang rapes, and yet reluctant to press charges.

Teresa Pointing, chief executive of In-volve, a charity
helping young people drawn into violent situations, said:
“These girls have no rights within these gangs, which are
primitive in the way they operate.”

“The girls think they are going to be protected by the gang
if they have sex with one person but then they find there
are more boys there.”

The problem is growing at such a rate that the Home Office
and the Metropolitan Police helped to fund a conference of
different agencies earlier this month to discuss the issue.
There is another meeting planned this week between the
Metropolitan Police, the Home Office and the Greater London
Authority to discuss how to deal with the matter.

But workers on the front line accuse the Government of not
giving them enough funding.

So far this year, more girls have been caught carrying guns
than in the whole of last year, with weapons including
MAC10 machine-pistols. The weapons are capable of firing
1,000 rounds a minute and are known as “room-clearers”. In
a recent raid by police targeting violent youth crime, 25
females aged between 14 and 39 were arrested in connection
with assaults, drug offences and carrying weapons.

Superintendent David Chinchen, who deals with youth
violence, said: “Young women are being dragged into the
fringes of male criminality and gangs. We are seeing more
elements of violence from girls within gangs.” He also said
that officers had seen signs of girls becoming involved in
sexual violence. Plans are under way to increase home
visits to the parents of girls who officials believe are
becoming involved in gangs and serious violence.

Dr Pointing added: “These girls are very much second-class
citizens within the gangs but they see it as normal. That’s
the bit that is most disturbing.”