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Rax Interview with The Space Hijackers

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It's aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.

This is how the curriculum describes the subject:
Citizenship equips students with the knowledge and skills needed for effective and democratic participation. It helps students to become informed, critical, active citizens who have the confidence and conviction to work collaboratively, take action and try to make a difference in their communities and the wider world.

We believe that Citizenship Studies is a unique subject; a subject which, when taught well, raises standards not only in exam results across all subjects but in the well-being of the student and in the sense of community in the whole school.

And a unique subject requires a unique textbook. The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation in graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens.

Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews. The Space Hijackers are a group of creative activists who challenge the way that public space is often taken over for corporate use without any provision for the ordinary citizen to enjoy space how they would like to. They have hit the headlines on several occasions for their highly imaginative and media friendly actions which have always had humour at their heart. The Rax team caught up with them in March 2010.

Space hijackers

What issues do you think are most important for young people to address today?

The world is rapidly changing; public space is being sold off by government to private developers in the name of regeneration at an amazing rate. Any actual public space is being replaced with corporately owned space with rules over your conduct on it. No protesting is allowed, no socializing, basically unless you’re shopping or working, you're not welcome. Advances in technology are snapped up and put to use monitoring our every move to ensure we play by the company rules, increasing our paranoia and destroying our trust in each other. At the same time these corporations and especially banks are benefiting from huge public payouts with no strings attached, and the debt being passed on to future generations. The corporate world is raping the planets resources, the public's pockets and your liberties. Capitalism is seen as the only solution, but that is not the case. Quite simply we're accelerating towards a brick wall. The government and corporations are gambling on our futures and young people are going to have to pick up the pieces.

What kinds of issues does your organisation focus on?

As a group we focus on the places we live in, our projects’ themes come from events or situations that we find ourselves in. We try to actively take part in our city, and change the world in which we live. Living in London, the majority of our projects recently have focused around consumerism, corporate greed, public space, surveillance and the government’s repression of dissent.

What kind of campaigning techniques do you use and could you tell us why you have decided to use these strategies?

The Space Hijackers was born out of a frustration with police sanctioned A-B marches, which are wholeheartedly ignored by the powers that be, and seen as a way of letting a frustrated public let off a little steam. Through our actions we aim to engage with the people who an issue actually affects, whilst using humour and spoof as a way of breaking down social barriers. We've turned up en-masse in Harrods in "EVERYTHING IN STORE HALF PRICE TODAY" T-shirts, we've slipped secret messages into the loo roll in parliament for MP's to find, we've even rolled up to riots in a tank dressed up as some kind of Mad Max style Authoritarian Security Force (that one got us in a bit of trouble).

Could you tell us about some of your campaign actions, what happened and what results did you achieve?

Our actions have ranged from very subtle little changes to huge great media spectacles. Every two years the UK government helps sponsor DSEi, the world’s largest arms fair in the Docklands in London. Generally they try to keep the whole thing under cover and hide the fact that the world’s dictators are coming to London for a jolly with rocket manufacturers. In 2007 we decided to try and burst their bubble and get the whole thing all over the papers, so we announced we would be auctioning off a Tank to protesters outside the fair, for them to cause chaos with. What followed was an insane week of us being chased around by Police, holding press conferences, hiding decoy vehicles in gangster lock ups and eventually rolling up to the front doors of the fair in a huge UN tank. The action got all over the papers with the headline "ANTI-ARMS PROTESTERS MAKE FOOLS OF THE POLICE", and suddenly there was a lot more coverage of the semi-secret fair.

Other more subtle actions have involved replacing public benches, after the councils removed them hoping to move on homeless people, and even turning up in private/public squares with huge lists of rules for people to obey.

How important is humour to your campaigning actions and what kind of place does it have in modern campaigning strategies?

Humour plays a massive part in what we do. Not only does it help us bridge the gap between us and the people we want to talk to, but it also makes the police look very stupid if they try to get aggressive with us. It’s more enjoyable to campaign with a smile than with a snarl, and it’s great fun parodying large companies and getting to say out loud all the things they really think behind the greenwash and marketing.

How important is 21st-century technology to your campaigning?

Very. All of our actions are planned through online bulletin boards that we host, we've used twitter to relay news to the press whilst being escorted around by police in a tank. Photoshop and HTML skills have enabled us to successfully spoof and ridicule the large companies we’ve campaigned against. Our Circle Line Parties were huge purely because of our email lists and social networking. Finally we've now started working on all manner of CCTV hacking and digital advertising override systems.

What would be your top tips to young people wanting to form their own campaign for change?

Certainly don't take yourselves too seriously, no one wants to be lectured to by some know it all. Enjoy yourselves, activists tend to end up with some sort of catholic-style guilty trip over trying to out-good each other. As the famous Anarchist Emma Goldman said "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution".

Learn more/get involved: www.spacehijackers.co.uk

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