Jackie Walker

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Person.png Jackie Walker  Rdf-icon.png
(political activist, writer)
Jackie Walker.jpg
Expelled from the Labour Party in March 2019
Born10 April 1954
Alma materGoldsmiths, University of London

Jacqueline Walker (born 10 April 1954) is a British political activist and writer. She has been an anti-racism trainer and charity worker. She is the author of her family memoir "Pilgrim State" and co-author and performer of the one-woman show "The Lynching".

Jackie Walker has held the roles of Vice-Chair of South Thanet Constituency Labour Party and Vice-Chair of Momentum, and is suspended from the Labour Party on allegations of anti-Semitism.[1]

On 27 March 2019, Michael Segalov tweeted:

"It has been reported that Jackie Walker was expelled from the Labour Party over comments she made on social media over a long period, not just her widely reported remarks in 2016. Having looked at Jackie Walker’s social media recently, this makes sense.[2]

Disciplinary hearing

On 26 March 2019, Jackie Walker was forced to withdraw from a Labour Party disciplinary hearing when the panel due to pronounce on her case refused to allow her to make a short opening statement in her defence. This was essential given the party's refusal last week to deal with urgent questions from her lawyers about alarming last minute additions to the charges against her.[3]

Jackie Walker (a black Jewish Woman) was suspended from the Labour Party 2½ years ago for asking a Labour Party antisemitism trainer, at an antisemitism training event, for a definition of antisemitism. Since then she has been the subject of the most appalling and unrelenting racist abuse and threats, including a bomb threat.

Today Jackie Walker attended her long delayed Labour Party disciplinary hearing. She was accompanied by her defence witnesses and legal team; she had submitted over 400 pages of evidence in her defence but had been given no opportunity to respond to extra charges sent to her last week, along with a major revision to the basis on which allegations of antisemitism would be assessed. At the beginning of the hearing, the Chair advised Jackie Walker that this was to be an informal hearing and that she could address him by his first name. The Chair then invited procedural questions. Jackie asked to be allowed to make a brief opening address to the Chair and Panel. The team of Labour Party lawyers objected. The Chair adjourned the meeting to consider Jackie’s request to speak, and then ruled that she must remain silent. Jackie Walker had no alternative other than to withdraw from the hearing, as the panel's decision demonstrated that she had no chance of a fair hearing in a process that has lacked equity and natural justice from the start.

Jackie Walker said:

“After almost three years of racist abuse and serious threats; of almost three years of being demonised, and now being ambushed by a batch of last minute changes, I was astounded that the Labour Party refused to allow me a few short moments to personally address the disciplinary panel to speak in my own defence. What is so dangerous about my voice that it is not allowed to be heard?
"All I have ever asked for is for equal treatment, due process and natural justice; it seems that this is too much to ask of the Labour Party.”[4]

WitchHunt

WitchHunt – how antisemitism is weaponised to attack Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-zionist left

WitchHunt is a 2019 documentary film by Jon Pullman which deals with the way accusations of antisemitism have been used inside the Labour Party to attack Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-zionist left in particular.[5]

The ongoing case of Jackie Walker, a longstanding anti-racist militant who is black and Jewish, who is appealing against the draconian disciplinary action against her, is taken up in some detail.

Ken Loach (I,DanielBlake):

“The case of Jackie Walker is important. This film asks whether her lengthy suspension from the Labour Party and attempts to expel her are fair, or an injustice which should be challenged. She is not the only one in this position. See the film and make up your own mind.”

"The Lynching"

In her one-woman show, Jackie Walker tells the story the media didn’t want you to hear. Until recently, Jackie was a well known Labour activist, anti-racist and vice Chair of Momentum, campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn. Then her world exploded. She was accused of anti-Semitism, suspended from the Labour Party, abused, demonised in the papers, on TV and across social media. In her solo show "The Lynching", the audience becomes the jury as Jackie’s mother comes to life, defending Jackie with an extraordinary narrative tale of love, loss, racism and courage that keeps its audience spell bound. Jackie says:

"This is a story of fake news, my fight for free speech and an attempt to smash the most radical political movement we have ever seen."[6]

"Pilgrim State"

When Jacqueline Walker was 11, she saw her mother die after years of poverty, racism and mental illness. But behind her struggle was a tragic story about one woman's battle with the social services and how they treated her 'problem family'.

"Pilgrim State", published in 2008, is Walker's attempt to tell the world that her mother was not 'failing' but rather 'failed'.[7] The book, which is part memoir, part novelisation of Dorothy Brown's life and the 11 years of Jackie's childhood up until Mrs Brown's death, seems to me (Louise Carpenter, The Observer) to be the distillation of all that was - perhaps still is - bad about the care system in Britain. Official documentation from the time, which Walker has since gathered together and used as evidence, proves that whenever social services swooped in, they looked to find blame in Mrs Brown, a poor, vulnerable but essentially devoted mother, rather than recognising that her problems were born from the immensely difficult, isolating and threatening circumstances she had found herself in since arriving from Jamaica. The evidence of mother love leaps from every official report, and yet it seems to have counted for nothing. In one assessment of Mrs Brown, a psychiatrist writes:

"Mrs Brown... said that the family have been the victims of continual racial attacks since moving to Deptford and that is why the windows have remained boarded up. This has made her afraid to go out and she also worries about the welfare of the children when they are outside."

In another report on Walker as a child, after she has been temporarily taken away from her mother and placed in a home, it states: :"Jacqueline's relationship with her mother seems very close, and she says she misses her family very much."

I tell Walker that it makes for distressing reading. She nods:

"When I read them, I was so angry. My mother loved us so much. She was doing her best. Why weren't they supporting her more? She needed help. I firmly believe that, most of the time, children are best kept with their mothers providing those mothers are given adequate support."

Unlike many memoirs born out of our current culture of blame, "Pilgrim State" was not written in revenge or with bitterness. Instead, Walker wanted to celebrate her mother's strength, record on paper the 11 years she had with her so that her own children could move beyond the tragic details and see their grandmother for the phenomenally strong and nurturing woman Walker remembers: "She lifted our lives with prose, or verse, old-time hymns, jazz, or swing," Walker writes. "She was never one to discriminate."

"My mother was the most amazing woman," Walker tells me. "The miracle of all of this is that, despite everything, she loved us as well as she did. Although she obviously suffered from depression, who wouldn't given what she had to deal with? But she was also so full of joy, too. Not a day goes by when I do not miss her."

And yet, despite the conscious lack of revenge, in its completion, Walker has experienced the ultimate vindication. "Pilgrim State" has now been placed on the reading list of the social worker training course at Brunel University. With a combination of "Pilgrim State" and Walker's lectures, which she gives twice a week, future generations of social workers will be taught how to distinguish the need for practical support over a heavy-handed approach.

"I was indignant about the total injustice of it all," Walker says, "That's why I agreed to work on the course. I'm now on their committee for social work training, as are other people like me who have been through the system. In my case, I can back it up with documentation from the book."

She points to one document, a probation officer's report to the South East London Juvenile Court on 2 August 1963, which says:

"The rooms had the look of a junk shop, stacked, in some places, from floor to ceiling with old clothing and miscellaneous objects... the children were deemed to be in need of care or protection. They were taken to a place of safety."

"What you have to understand," she explains, "is that my siblings and I were happy even in that chaotic environment. Often care workers came in and the situation looked so awful and grimy but they forget that, to the children, it was normal. I am not saying they should not have taken us into care at various points - my mother was becoming physically ill too, with breathing problems - but they should have helped more."

Walker decided in 2004 to write the book, when she turned 50, the age her mother had been when she died. It was a seminal moment. Her own, cherished daughter, Eleanor, who features in the book in a series of conversations with Jackie, had finally left home to go to Cambridge University (a second vindication, as Walker saw it, of her mother's desperation to build a better future). All her life, Eleanor had witnessed Walker's intense night terrors, which Walker attributed in some way to having witnessed Mrs Brown's early death: :"It all came to a head for her at 50," Eleanor tells me when we meet in Cambridge. "It was good for mum to face up to things and write them down. I knew bits already but as it came out I was quite shocked."

"I still get the nightmares at times," Walker admits, "but not nearly so much."

"Pilgrim State" is named after the New York state mental asylum to which Walker's mother was committed in 1949 by her philandering husband. The general view now is that Dorothy Brown's husband, Clifford Nathaniel Brown, drugged her and committed her in order to rid himself of the responsibility. What followed was nothing short of barbaric.

"I regard it as torture," Walker says bluntly. "'There was nothing wrong with her."

Mrs Brown was trussed up in a straitjacket, isolated, and given electroconvulsive treatment. When the child she was carrying was born and named Teddy (Jacqueline's brother), he was taken away from her immediately and put into care, along with her elder daughter, whose name in the book has been changed to Pearl. Mrs Brown's body could not catch up with the loss. As her breasts leaked milk and her paper nightie flapped open, she was forced to take part in various mental-health tribunals, called to decide her future. Walker and her brothers obtained verbatim transcripts of these sessions, and they are used to open the book.

Reading the court transcripts makes the heart lurch. Mrs Brown's vulnerability mixed with her primal love and need to be with her confiscated babies leap from the page:

"Sir, I am missing my babies very much," Mrs Brown, with her hair matted and unbrushed, tells an official: "I have a five-month-old baby and a child...and that is the most important thing; to know what to fight for in a case."

As Walker says, "If she wasn't mad before she went in, who could go through all that and not be damaged by the time they came out?"

Mrs Brown was headed for great achievement before her life went so spectacularly off-track. She had won a scholarship to leave Kingston, Jamaica, to study medicine in the US, virtually unheard of for a young black woman. Her pregnancy and then her subsequent abandonment of her studies, and her husband's cruel lack of interest in her and Pearl, left her lonely and isolated. She had gone from being a trailblazer to a burden, dependent on a man who no longer loved her.

She was released after three months in "Pilgrim State", put through the parole system and then discharged in 1951. By 1954, after a spell working in the desegregation movement, she had embarked on an affair with a rich Jewish man, which had resulted in the birth of Jackie. Two years later, in 1956, Mrs Brown was deported back to Jamaica, along with Teddy and Jackie. Pearl remained with her foster family. It was the second huge loss from which Mrs Brown could never recover, and the heartache, Walker is sure, was responsible for her premature death:

"I remember my father vaguely," Walker adds. "He paid for my mother to give birth to me in hospital in Manhattan. But I've never tried to find him."

The two reasons given for Mrs Brown's deportation were that she had suffered a mental disturbance and "failed to show good moral character", although much later the family discovered the existence of CIA files, never made public, possibly relating to her political campaigning. Still, in a letter to the US Attorney's Office Mrs Brown sent in June 1956, she begged to be readmitted, once again thinking only of her children:

"My American-born children will also suffer increasingly if I don't get back to America as jobs are scarce here... give me another chance at making a livelihood for myself and the children."

They turned her down and sent the family back to Jamaica. There followed three gruelling years as Mrs Brown worked in a series of menial jobs:

"I could have got work cleaning or washing clothes, but the colour of my skin, too dark so they tell me, meant I was incapable of waiting on tables or serving the better class of shops of the town," the fictional voice of Mrs Brown tells us.

She was trying to support the children and to save enough to emigrate one day. Often she would have to leave the children with relatives for months on end as she travelled around looking for more work:

"[Jackie's] screams stay with me, just the scream; separating her from me."

But Mrs Brown, by now pregnant with her fourth child, won her battle. The family were granted papers to emigrate to Britain. They arrived in London in 1959. Jackie Walker says she has never forgotten the racism her family encountered on arriving in Brixton. 'Room to Rent/No coloureds' read the signs. 'Bleeding wogs!' people called from their windows. 'Can't you lot read?' one woman shouted. As Walker writes:

"Oh yes, [my mother] could read - every damn word of their ignorant, misspelt, mealy-mouthed signs."

I tell her I find it hard to square with the Brixton of today.

"Yes, but this was when black families were just arriving," she explains. "What made my situation so different was that in those early years people rarely brought their children with them. They came themselves and then sent for them a few years later when they were established. You ask black people of my generation and few of them were in London that early."

As a result she was the only black child in her primary school. 'You smell, wog!' she remembers a pretty white girl screaming at her: 'Don't you ever dare talk to me again.'

"You never forget that kind of thing," Walker says. Her mother, schooled in the politics of Malcolm X, drummed it into the children that they were to take pride in their colour. It rubbed off:

"I think what I have inherited from my mother is a will to live, a will to be myself. My mother had arrived in London, intelligent, well-educated, and with a history in the desegregation movement. She was being treated as none of these things because she had no money and because she was black. When she told people she'd been to university, they thought she was delusional. It is funny, except it is also tragic."

Looking through the social services reports, the Catch 22 is clear. The social workers, well-meaning enough, say they want to help but fail to see that the root of the problem is racial prejudice and poverty:

"Mrs Brown feels 'everyone has it in for her'," reads one report written after her children were taken away, "and has found it difficult to discuss her plans fully as she seems to have a distrust of authority, perhaps based on a misconception of the role of the social services and the situation she is in."

She is referred to as being 'lonely and unable to make friends' and - surprise, surprise - scared of going out. What makes all this worse is that in removing the children from their mother, social services both deprived them of her protection and subjected them to yet more racial hatred.

'Here Darkie,' one care-home girl shouts to the young Jackie, 'I thought I was talking to you, or can't you speak English where you come from. I said what you in for?'

"I don't know. I answered," Walker recollects, "they took me from my mommy."

'Oh that's terrible ain't it...they took me from my mummy, m-u-m-m-y; that's how we talk in this country, Darkie!'

"It's all true," Walker tells me, "every word."

Despite the constant battling against an essentially racist system, Mrs Brown did not consider returning to Jamaica. If anything, it was America the family looked to. For Mrs Brown, that meant Pearl, a source of ongoing, malignant sadness. She had spent years looking for her. When she eventually found her, after a meeting that for a while looked hopeful, her daughter rejected her. Within a month, Mrs Brown was dead. Jackie, then 11, watched her fall:

"It seemed that she was on the floor, just like that," she writes, "her head by the hearth, her hair dusty with the ash from the fire that was landing in her mouth and on her tongue... I don't know where my mother is, because even if she's wrapped up in that nice red blanket, she isn't anything any more. There won't be any dreams tonight, only the darkness."

Following Mrs Brown's death, Jackie Walker spent most of her adolescence in care, in homes - which sound dreadful - and with a wonderful foster family.

"I think I was typical of children coming out of care," she explains. "I just wanted to build myself a secure home and have a family, although I've often wondered whether it is more that if you have a happy memory of your mother, you naturally want children."

She toyed with the idea of becoming an actress:

"I was in the National Youth Theatre, but thought that as a black person I'd get few roles."

Instead, she decided to train to be a teacher. In her first year, she married, had a baby, and returned to Goldsmiths College when her baby was six weeks old:

"I had to fight to get to the lectures!"

After the birth of her second child, her marriage collapsed. Two years later, she had Eleanor with her second husband, a teacher she had met at work. He is still her friend, she says, but their marriage ended when Eleanor was 11:

"I think if I have shown my damage anywhere, it has been in my choice of men," she tells me. "Eleanor's father is a good guy but my choice of partners is not the best."

Eleven years ago, she moved back to London from Dorset, back to Greenwich where she had lived with her mother. That must have been hard, I say, raising three children in the city on your own:

"No, sometimes I think it's easier," she says. "It's less complicated because you don't get into the dynamics of there being two of you. I have always loved having children, whether as babies or now, when they are grown-up."

She has three children, two sons in their late twenties, and Eleanor, whom she adores:

"We are very, very happy together," she says, beaming.

Maybe it is her mother's example, I tell her, combined with the joy in her own children, that has meant that, ultimately, she does not need or require a man.

"Perhaps," she says. "They have now found that if you look at a mother's blood, you can trace the foetal cells until that child is at least 28. We haven't begun to know the connection between mothers and their children."[8]

10 April 1954| 

Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Labour expulsion hearing set for anti-Zionist Jackie WalkerArticle5 February 2019Asa WinstanleyWitchHunt documentary: “We are determined to get it out whatever the threats,” Jackie Walker vows
Document:The witchfinders are now ready to burn CorbynBlog post28 February 2019Jonathan CookJeremy Corbyn’s allies are being picked off one by one, from grassroots activists like Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth to higher-placed supporters like Chris Williamson and Seumas Milne. Soon Corbyn will stand alone, exposed before the inquisition that has been prepared for him.
Document:We condemn the suspension of Jo Bird and the appointment of Lord FalconerArticle4 March 2019As Ken Loach said: “If it looks like a witch hunt and behaves like a witch hunt – it may well be just that. This is intolerable and must end now.”


References

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