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December 2nd, 2015

Climb Higher: Why Dads Need Direct Action

Fathers For Justice Protestor On The Balcony At Buckingham PalaceIt takes balls to breach national security.

Big, brass, bloody balls.

It’s easy to talk the talk, but not to walk the walk. That’s why the brave men and women who have risked life, limb and liberty in the pursuit of equality over these last 15 years, deserve the utmost credit and respect.

Fathers4Justice was forged in the fires of direct action. We quickly established a high profile, iconic, superhero themed campaign, off the back of front-page grabbing spectacles that breached national security with alarming ease.

However, we also realised that as a campaign, we needed to evolve and that dialogue was as important as direct action. You need to use the carrot, along with the stick.

That process has seen F4J become a political force for change, winning the support of 104 MPs from all parties in the last Parliament, as well as support from political polar opposites, UKIP and George Galloway.

Contrary to deliberately misleading press reports – see my Guardian interview this year http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/20/fathers4justice-founder-matt-oconnor-i-thought-i-could-change-the-world-in-three-years – that doesn’t mean we are not committed to direct action. Dialogue and protest are not mutually exclusive methodologies. To quote the Suffragettes, it’s about deeds not words.

Sunday’s protest is exactly the sort of event we excelled at and is long, long overdue. One protest at a high profile location with a couple of brave souls and a ladder, is worth a 1,000 small, local protests. We need more of these to help pile political pressure on.

However, confusion reigned when, not for the first time, the media said they had been informed this was a “Fathers4Justice” protest, undermining a lot of politically sensitive, behind the scenes work we are engaged in. Hence our need to put a statement out distancing F4J from the protest – we do not need to give politicians another excuse not to speak to Fathers4Justice.

In fact we have been fighting to protect our reputation through the courts these last few years, and have secured apologies from Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and David Cameron after they levelled false allegations about F4J: https://www.fathers-4-justice.org/2015/04/prime-minister-david-cameron-apologises-to-fathers4justice-founder-matt-oconnor/

As I have found out to my cost, reputational damage is something of an occupational hazard. As an old RAF bomber pilot once said, you know you are getting close to the target when you start getting flack, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

Other groups shouldn’t feel the need to piggyback our name and reputation. With social media and high profile action like this, they should have the confidence to create their own branded campaigns, using their own personalities and beliefs, as I did, instead of driving traffic and interest – good and bad – to F4J.

Our other concern was that in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris, this wasn’t a good time for a protest at a sensitive location, though many would argue – and I accept this – there is never a good time to stage a demo and the familiar ‘terrorist’ argument refrain is an old one.

I certainly bear the scars of my Newsnight interview with Kirsty Wark, post our Batman at the Palace demo in 2004, where I was savagely mauled over the terrorist argument, before I pointed out that it was unlikely Osama Bin Laden had a penchant for a caped crusade in fancy dress.

The reality moving forward is that the only strategy for change, is a twin-track strategy. One that embraces dialogue and direct action.

These remain dark, difficult days for our movement, and I know many criticisms are laid at my door. To the critics, all I can say is that I remain as true to the campaign now, as I did back in 2001 when I started F4J, motivated by my love and concern for my three boys.

We won’t always get it right, and we will make mistakes, but I stand by the campaign we created and its legacy. The path may be long, but our campaign has endured some challenging situations, and prevailed.

Today, we are engaged in a profoundly damaging battle against powerful political forces who want to see this movement destroyed. They continue to target me, my family – even my children – and have sown the seeds of division by planting covert informants and agitators to stoke confrontation between groups and individuals. To those that doubt the lengths to which the state will go to, Google the Leo Blair kidnap plot story about F4J.

My door however, remains open to everyone who wants to collaborate in a respectful way. If you have an idea, a suggestion or want to discuss an issue, you can reach me at matt@fathers-4-justice.org

The only response to those that oppose us, is to resist division, respect each other, and resolve to take whatever action you can to end the cancer the fatherlessness and family breakdown.

We are not all going to agree which path we should take on the journey to equality, but we should recognise and respect our differences.

We all need to climb higher, just as Bobby Smith and Martin Matthews did last Sunday.

Matt O’Connor, founder Fathers4Justice

Pic: Batman, Buckingham Palace, 13th September, 2004. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

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