Valerie Brown was swept from Ghana to England as a little girl in the ‘60s by Amy Garvey, the activist and wife of Marcus Garvey. Decades later, as a mother and grandmother, Valerie launched herself into climate activism joining Heathrow Pause, then running as London’s first mayoral candidate for deliberative democracy through legally binding citizens’ assemblies.
From living in a London slum to rubbing shoulders with the Rolling Stones, Valerie has experienced a wide spectrum of social groups. The result? The ability to understand and relate to people of all walks of life. She has a warmth, openness and empathy that reflects the diversity of her experience, and her love and deep respect for people.
Soon after Extinction Rebellion emerged in 2018, Valerie joined to help attract more Black people to the movement. In a meeting, she encountered the movement’s co-founder, Roger Hallam, who proposed an idea for protesting Heathrow’s expansion. Together they planned to fly a drone over the airport, in opposition to the proposed third runway. By joining the action herself, she hoped to encourage more Black people and women to engage with the climate movement.
In an interview about the action, Valerie stated: “We either stop emitting carbon in the air or we’re going to die. We have to accept that we’ve got to make huge sacrifices. But who cares when you have some control over your future. Surely that’s the most important thing? Not going on a little holiday.”
Throughout the legal fallout of the drone action, Roger and Valerie remained friends. It was Roger who originally suggested that she should run for Mayor of London to fight for citizens’ assemblies. “I didn’t want to do it,” Valerie says. “I still don’t want to do it. It’s not something I want to do any more than I wanted to fly a drone at Heathrow and possibly get a prison sentence. I just feel very strongly that I don’t want to die and leave my children and others’ children on a dying planet in a chaotic mess.”
So Beyond Politics emerged, an anti-political party and direct action group organising for social and environmental justice through citizens’ assemblies. After a series of controversial actions, which Valerie participated in, Beyond Politics became focused on building support for the 2021 mayoral campaign in London’s 32 boroughs. Valerie stood with just one policy: to hand power to the people in order to design policies in their interests. She gained 17,000 votes despite lacking the funds of her established competitors and thanks to just a handful of people talking to passersby on the street in a period of a few weeks.
Since the election, she has continued campaigning for citizens’ assemblies. She believes this could be the most effective route to tackle climate change.