Drifting like balloons

Balloon release on Non-Stop Picket, 16 June 1989 (Source: Deirdre Healy)

One of the unexpected joys of working on a project like this is when a theme you’ve been mulling over starts coming at you from multiple directions.  About a year ago, just after I’d heard that the Leverhulme Trust had awarded me funding for the Non-Stop Against Apartheid research, but before the project had officially started, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Deirdre Healy for an afternoon in Dublin.  We chatted about the research I had planned, shared memories of the Non-Stop Picket and I went away with a small cache of her photos from those days that Deirdre was trusting enough to lend to me.  Amongst the photos I borrowed were the two shown above.  They are from the Soweto Day rally on the Non-Stop Picket in June 1989 (we think).  Later that evening, my partner and I sat in our Dublin hotel room as I looked over the pile of photos.  Seeing these two images he exclaimed, “That’s your whole project, isn’t it?”  and we chatted about the participants in the Non-Stop Picket as a tightly bound knot of people who became dispersed as the Picket ended.  That image has bounced around my head periodically ever since. So, I was excited to read Kellan and Simon’s comments on last Friday’s blog post, where they picked up the same theme.

And, yes, in many ways, this image does sum up what this project is about. As well as thinking about how the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group practiced solidarity with those fighting apartheid through the Non-Stop Picket, I am particularly interested in the peculiar community that was formed through the shared practice of picketing the South African Embassy.  Those who sustained the Picket for nearly four years (April 1986 – February 1990) were mostly (but not exclusively) young, but they came from a very diverse set of social backgrounds, both in the UK and a large number of other countries around the world.  For many people, intense friendships were formed through the Picket; but it is also clear that this was far from being a universal experience – some people always felt outsiders on the Picket, but kept going there anyway.

More than two decades after the Picket ended, there are few people who were regular picketers who are not at least in their forties (and we’re in contact with at least one picketer who is now in his 80s).  They are, once again, dispersed across the globe.  One of the questions this research asks is: how did that intense experience of being on the Non-Stop Picket in the late 1980s impact on and shape the subsequent lives of former picketers?  Where did those balloons end up?

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
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