The activist who stopped the Oxford-Cambridge boat race explains his motives to Steve Rushton ahead of his deportation appeal case.
You are ‘undesirable, have unacceptable associations and could be considered a threat to national security’, the Home Office informed protester Trenton Oldfield in its message ordering him to leave Britain. His deportation appeal is to be heard on 12 December.
Thanks to government intervention, Trenton Oldfield was sentenced to six months in jail for his 25-minute interruption to the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in April 2012. The protest targeted the government’s austerity cuts and human rights attacks, more broadly criticizing the élitism and inequalities that originate from British colonialism.
‘Oxford and Cambridge are the pinnacle and a symbol of the élite,’ Trenton says. ‘I put a little pin in this, which is why I was treated so severely.’
Trenton and his wife Deepa Naik are involved in social justice campaigns to supporting indigenous peoples’ rights. The couple point to this, along with the guerrilla element of his individual protest, in understanding the prison sentence and potential deportation.
After the swim, swathes of the press described his ideas as ‘idiotic’ or ‘nonsensical’; one even suggested it had as much sense ‘as a chicken’s entrails’. In parallel, media comments frequently asserted that Trenton was hypocritical due to his privileged background. Both responses enabled numerous articles to ignore the issues of élitism and colonial legacy.
‘These attacks were a surprise in their scale, but they indicate how many journalists studied at Oxford and Cambridge,’ reflects Trenton.
Responding to claims of hypocrisy, he says: ‘I’ve never understood how just because I’m a product of colonial Australia, this means I cannot dissent from it.’
Deepa points out, ‘Whatever his background, they would have criticized something, like they do to other protesters. So in their logic, who is the appropriate person to protest?’
One aspect that most of the mainstream media neglected was Trenton’s calls for redress for the crimes of imperialism.
‘The whole system we all live off is off the back of genocide, from the blankets with small pox to the tar sands in Northern Turtle Island; blood resources such as in the Congo; corruption, colonialism and slavery.
‘This wealth is what we’ve created our economy and democracy on, and injustices continue,’ Deepa adds. ‘There is a collective amnesia of our foundations.’
It was the aristocracy that benefited most from colonialism. Still today, using this wealth, they predominantly send their children to exclusive private schools, from which they go on to fill Oxford and Cambridge. Graduates from these élite universities dominate the British Parliament. In the present government, two-thirds of the Cabinet studied at one or other of these privileged universities, including the seven most senior Cabinet members. This shows how the colonial legacy perpetuates class structures that undermine our democracy.
The government’s negative stereotyping of various groups has created a far more divided society. For instance, the rhetoric that demonizes disabled people can be linked to increased hate crime, along with severe cuts to vital state support. Also, the government has reintroduced the idea of the ‘undeserving poor’.
The couple suggest these divide-and-rule tactics come from imperialism, especially measures that fuel racism, such as the recent Home Office ‘Go home’ vans and the tightening up of the rules on student visas.
Any élites fearing Trenton may want to start a bloody revolution can rest easy on their estates, for now. Reflecting on his jail time, he considers this futile: he does not want vengeance, but for the injustice to stop.
Trenton proposes two ideas that are as peaceful as the swim. One is a comprehensive intellectual project, to understand and mitigate against people with sociopathic and narcissistic personality disorders. He believes these disorders account for many problems across humanity, especially driving élite greed. Secondly, he suggests a continual process in which society should be viewed through the lens of equality, to recognize and redress white, male and class privilege.