By Jonathan Robertson, 16 October 2017

On a large piece of paper in the Pearce Institute is written a Henry Thoreau quote: “I am as desirous of being a good neighbour as I am of being a bad subject”. As part of the Unbrexable conference, Isabel, James and Nicky from CAMINA* took inspiration from this to run a workshop exploring ‘solidarity and resistance in the age of Brexit’: What does it mean to be a good neighbour? And what does it mean to be a “bad subject”?

Participants were invited to respond to a series of photographs – a man in a balaclava filling in a pothole, protestors blocking a detention centre, people helping at a food bank – projected onto the wall. How high a level of neighbourliness did they depict and how high a level of civil disobedience did they portray? Is there a time to stop being neighbourly? Does civil disobedience have to be dangerous? Can an act be both neighbourly and civilly disobedient, as Thoreau aimed for? When people are faced with the multiple challenges of Brexit Britain, whether they see it on the streets or on the news, what are the pathways towards solidarity and resistance. And what are the blocks? “There are many people who dare not participate in a strike or other political actions”, educator Augusto Boal once wrote. “Why? Because they have cops in their heads. They have internalised their oppressions”.

The remainder of the session was an opportunity for the participants to be part of an activity created by Boal called ‘Cops in their heads’. The design of this activity was based on a European context where oppression is more internalised and less outwardly apparent than in Boal’s native Brazil. James and Nicky acted out a scenario set in the office of a refugee support organisation. Nicky’s character wanted to attend a rally at a detention centre, which her boss permitted her to do as long as she completed her work-tasks around it. In the end though Nicky’s character found excuses not to attend. After running through the scenario once, we focused in on Nicky’s character and the voices within her head which ‘talked her out of going’. The participants were invited to act out the voices in Nicky’s head — “it could be dangerous”, “I should really prioritise my paid work and my health”, “what difference would I make anyway”…


The final stage of the activity gave space for the other participants to approach and enter into dialogue with the participants who acted out the voices in Nicky’s head. This was a chance to both challenge and reflect on the blocks and self-limiting beliefs that, as Boal says, prevent people from participating in strikes or other political actions. At a time when fresh causes for civil disobedience emerge daily, the ‘Cops in their heads’ activity gives the chance for all of us to really dive into and pick apart the blocks and internalised oppressions that prevent us from acting.

* Critical and Alternative Methods & Ideas Network for Action (CAMINA) is a project which hopes to support and connect critical education activity and those practising critical education, across Scotland and Spain. See http://caminaproject.weebly.com/.