Occupy Revival

I wrote this for the Occupy London website.

At an Occupy Assembly on March 1st 2014, two years after the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp was evicted from the City of London, Occupy activists reclaimed the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Joined by peace and environmental campaigners, anti-fracking protectors, union reps, individuals concerned about local and global injustices – and curious passers’-by – the occupiers held a General Assembly, heralded by the familiar Occupy cry: ‘Mic Check!’

At least a hundred people gathered on the steps to listen to updates from the Occupy London working groups which have continued to meet and work, largely out of the media spotlight, since the OLSX camp was evicted. Speakers from the Energy, Equity and Environment group, Economics group, Occupy Faith and Strategy group gave updates, followed by a rousing call to support the protectors on the frontline against fracking, in Barton Moss (Salford) and beyond.

Consensus was reached – with unanimous wavy ‘jazz’ hands – for Occupy London to offer full support to peaceful anti-fracking campaigns and camps everywhere. There was also formal agreement to set up a new Occupy London Democracy Action group, with a remit to explore working towards ‘a vote that counts’, with a mass action focused on Parliament to be planned for the autumn.

Peace pilgrim Earthian spoke briefly about his time in the OLSX camp, his peace mission to the Middle East in 2012-2013, and the continuation of his journey in 2014. More information on Earthian’s mission and the reasons behind it can be found at earthianblog and  on the New Internationalist website (The One Man Peace Mission; Around the World, One Border at a Time).

Occupy supporters Michael Gold (radicalsoapbox.com) and Peter Dombi (ourbrokensystem.com) offered to begin developing a new website for Occupy London, and were given consent to do so.

Part way through the assembly, as cramp began to set in from sitting on steps still cold despite the spring sunshine, a chance to move around, stretch legs and get interactive was announced. The assembly split into four groups, each discussing a different topic: Democracy; World Issues; Alternatives to Austerity; and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Such was the enthusiasm for the task that the co-ordinating facilitators found it difficult to gather everyone together once more to share what had been discussed.

One person from each group was eventually persuaded to feed back to the assembly. In the short time available the groups had only time to scratch the surface of their chosen topics; yet enthusiasm for talking about the big issues, about politics and the failings of current systems, was palpable.

One participant, formerly of the OLSX camp, said:

“There needs to be more of this kind of thing – of genuine participation and listening, sharing of stories and experience, pooling of wisdom and skills and resources. Ordinary people have so much more knowledge and power than we allow ourselves to believe – or are allowed to believe, perhaps. We need to get out on the streets, first just to talk to each other, then to demand something better. Those who hold the power don’t represent us and that has to change.”

As the assembly drew to a close – timed so as to avoid conflict with Evensong at St Paul’s – Peter Deane, an Occupy supporter who is also involved involved with a Luddites 200 group, asked the gathering to give formal support to a May event organised by Scientists for Global Responsibility, Corporate Watch and Luddites 200. The event – Breaking the Frame – aims to bring together radical thinkers and activists to look at the politics of technology and related issues. Having been assured that the message is not anti-technology but about returning technology to the people, and that Occupy working groups are amongst those invited to contribute, consent was given to support and publicise this event.

Watched over by cathedral staff – concerned, perhaps, that the assembly intended to stay the night – an open platform was provided for announcements. Those gathered were introduce to grassroots’ group Syria Peace and Justice; a firefighters’ initiative We Save People Not Banks; and Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). Thanks were given to Occupy London for support given to CAAT, thanks were given to the facilitators of the assembly for their co-ordination of the event, and details of future events were shouted out. A call to occupy payday loan stores on May Day received a warm response, as did an announcement by peace campaigner Simon that he and friend Maria intend to sail to Syria in an open dinghy to raise awareness of the situation in Syria.

The final speaker of the day focused on the rights of squatters and homeless people. Having outlined the absurdity of ascribing criminality to those who “commit” rough sleeping, this passionate activist wrapped up the assembly with a cry of “Whose streets?!” to which many responded enthusiastically “Our streets!”.

The assembly then dispersed, but conversations begun on the steps of St Paul’s continued in squares, cafes, pubs and squats, late into the night.

Livestream of the assembly is available: bambuser.com/channel/OccupyLondon

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Why is taxpayers’ money being used to fund flooding?

(published in New Internationalist online, 20.2.14: newint.org/blog/2014/02/20/floods-natural-defence/)

Money’s no object” when it comes to mopping up floods, Cameron proclaimed. It seems that money’s no object when it comes to creating floods, either – especially when it’s public money, falling into the pockets of rich landowners.

Natural England (the government’s environmental advisory body) uses taxpayers’ money to pay large landowners to manage estates in an environmentally sensitive manner. Unfortunately, “environmental stewardship” has, in some cases, meant burning and draining of protected sphagnum-rich bogs, to create heather moorlands ideal for rearing and shooting grouse. This despite ample evidence that burning and draining harms water quality and wildlife, while increasing flood risk.

Recent research has confirmed that healthy blanket bog sucks up water, whereas dry, burnt bog is far less absorbent and increases run-off – meaning that more water rushes downhill into rivers and road drains. Blanket bog is precious for a number of reasons – it’s a globally rare habitat which acts as a biodiverse carbon sink – but right now, flooding is the big story.

In 2012, the funky northern town of Hebden Bridge flooded. This NI blog considered Natural England and millionaire estate owners to be potential culprits. A Brownfield Briefing referred to a “smoking gun” – allegedly being held by the shooting industry. George Monbiot has, in the last week, pointed to land (mis)management being responsible for this winter’s floods in Somerset. It’s becoming apparent that the way we interfere with soil and vegetation affects how much water ends up in our lanes and lounges – it’s not all about weird weather, nor is the uber-demon of climate change solely responsible.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) complained to the European Commission about unlawful land management practices, undertaken in the name of environmental stewardship. Natural England, implicated in this mismanagement, conducted its own Upland Review – and conceded that bog burning was not the best idea; but under pressure from stakeholders operating from a position of power and privilege, NE has struggled to implement best practice in the uplands.

Leeds University’s hydrological research (2012) suggested that deliberate burning of peat blocks the soil’s pores, impeding infiltration of water into the soil. South West Water, working to restore peat bog on Exmoor, discovered that the amount of storm water running off the moorland has reduced by a third compared with pre-restoration run-off. That, researchers from the University of Exeter explained, is the equivalent of104 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water removed from the river system flowing down to major population centres.” In February 2014, Professor Richard Brazier said: “This enhanced water storage could, when replicated [...] provide a significant buffer against downstream flooding.” With swathes of the south under water, and the country demanding something be done about flooding, this is exciting stuff.

Now, Natural England has put out adraft guidance document relating to the restoration of peatlands. This document concludes that burning of blanket bog has negative impacts and should be phased out. Hallelujah!

But wait… the Hebden Bridge flood victims are not yet mollified.

We think of Natural England as an ally, not an enemy, and we hope they’re going to help create a safer environment for those of us living in valleys and near flood plains,” said Ban The Burn supporter Penny Eastwood.

Having said that, we think this draft is a bit toothless. It doesn’t convey the URGENCY of restoring our uplands. It doesn’t speak to people with flooded homes, devastated businesses and hiked-up insurance to pay for. We need this bog degradation to be banned, and we need taxpayers’ money to be spent on protecting the public, rather than being squandered on environmentally hazardous practices.”

Are Natural England’s hands tied? Their draft refers to partners with whom they’ll need to work out a process to reduce bog-degrading activities. The language is woolly, the stance not exactly robust. Home owners and taxpayers would like to know exactly when and how payments to ‘stewards’ who harm vital uplands will cease. If our government’s advisory body is stuck between the rock of vested interests and the hard facts of environmental and climate realities, there may yet be work for tenacious grassroots groups to do.

I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc

Being at the Barton Moss Protection Camp is like being at sea. There are tides, surges, waves and ripples. Calm periods and storms. There’s always the risk of losing a friend overboard. On Monday I was one of those lost to sea, lost to the GMP.

GMP = Greater Manchester Police. It was actually a Tactical Aid Unit (TAU) officer who arrested me – I now know that the TAU have blue tucked-in trousers rather than the straight black slacks of the local police uniform, and they’re much meaner.

——*——

Solidarity Sunday is all calm waters. Several hundred people mass in a muddy carpark, some tumbling out of coaches after long journeys, from Sussex and Somerset and Scotland, to cheers from the earlier arrivals. Another, smaller, group meets at a local pub. We all walk towards the rally at the end of Barton Moss lane, in high spirits despite rain. The lack of police is notable. There’s no one here to facilitate our protest. At first we take over two lanes of the four-lane dual carriageway, the A57. Then we spill into three lanes. Then we realise there’s nothing to stop us blocking the road entirely – no cops, no road cones – and we stroll into the fourth lane. Some of the cars we’re holding up are filled with beaming people giving us thumbs up and honking their solidarity. Others, grim faced, rev and try to push through our ranks. I’ve never been on a march or procession where pedestrians take over a major road without any police presence. One woman is hit, but not seriously hurt, by a van.

At the rally there are welcomes to the protectors from far-off towns and camps. Messages from supporters in Greece, in Afghanistan. Then songs. Then we head along the lane to camp. Someone’s brought along a gigantic pan of spicy soup. An abundance of other food has been donated. This and the cardboard signs – “I am a local”, “I’m a local and I don’t want fracking” – give the lie to media attempts to divide local residents from those who’ve travelled to protect the Moss.

Most of the day trippers melt away home as afternoon turns to early dusk, but some of us stay on. There’s a party atmosphere around the campfire; drums compete with songs and for a few moments I’m dancing in the road. Later I join a meditation for global peace, in a red and yellow geodesic dome warmed by a smoky woodstove. As we shake ourselves and stretch after a half hour’s silence, a shout goes up and it’s the evening iGas shift change and protectors move into the road to slow the convoy of workers as they leave the fracking site. Now there are police.

There’s singing and chanting – “I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc” – and dancing in the narrow lane, in the flickering light of campfire flames. It’s pretty tribal. There’s us, the colourful rowdy tribe, and the iGas workers, stony and grey in their cars, cut off from us, thinking what? Resigned to the slow crawl down the lane? Angry? Regretting taking this job? Hating us? I’d like to ask them but the police are separating us from them. The police are asking us to move, and we’re moving, but haphazardly, not with the purposeful slow march of mornings. There’s more of us than there are of them, unusually. A woman, small, with long brown hair, is dancing near me. She dances towards the cars, and then away, back towards me. But she’s not moving fast enough and she’s grabbed by a policeman and then she’s being dragged and then – uproar. I can’t see what’s happening but there’s shouting and anguished sounds and then she’s in the back of a police van and the tribe is outraged. They hurt her, people are saying. The police smashed her face and she’s bleeding, they say.

There’s a calmness even in the eye of the storm, even as the joy and exuberance of the evening turns bitter. A woman suggests we move out of the road and let the workers past, and we do. Then we escort the police van up the lane and some people are yelling at the police and others are walking a silent vigil. I return to the geo dome and make a nest of sleeping bags in a nook beside a shrine to the camp’s recently destroyed trees and treehouse (destroyed at police bequest, for reasons not quite clear). I keep all of my clothes on, including my hat. I’m sharing the space with four others – one sleeping on an old sofa, one on a camp-bed, one upright on a dining chair and one in a coffin (a real coffin).

In the morning there’s time for tea and biscuits munched as I walk up the lane to the junction with the A57. It’s a drier day and there are perhaps twenty of us waiting for the lorry convoy. All in good humour. The police arrive, and then the trucks. There’s a short stand-off; a local man attempts to establish with some kind of superior officer (red lapels) what exactly is construed as a “reasonable pace”. It seems we’re to be allowed to walk “at a reasonable pace” but no definition of reasonable is forthcoming. The local man demonstrates the pace at which he intends to walk and it looks to me as though Red-Lapels concurs that such a pace would be both reasonable and legal.

We’ve barely set off before there’s two arrests. It happens quickly, there’s a yell, a surge, a sudden wave of fear and anger and pushing and stumbling and then we’re calm and walking again – slowly, but at a reasonable pace – just two members of the tribe down. Our original police escort is joined by additional cops, and now – but not then – I understand that these are TAU. Tucked-in trousers, flat hats and tough-guy attitude. They push us, harry us, try to hurry us. We’re moving faster than last time I did this walk. I’m calmer than last time though, no longer surprised by the pushing and goading and unwelcome touching from the police. I’m answering them “I am still moving forwards… yes, I am still walking… please don’t push me… take your hands off my back… I can’t walk any faster there’s someone in front of me… you said – one of you said – we can walk at a reasonable pace and that’s what I’m doing…”. I’m asked by an officer to “walk through” the person in front of me. I laugh at the absurdity of this order. Then that thing happens when you know they’ve set their sights… and I’m grabbed from behind and neatly pulled backwards through the police line and I forget to yell or let anyone know that I’ve gone.

I’m accused, arrested, for walking too slowly. They call it “obstruction”. I don’t struggle and yet I’m handcuffed, then searched, locked in a tiny cell in a police van, driven to a police station, searched again. My photograph, fingerprints, palm prints, DNA are taken. I consent – if I don’t consent, they’ll take prints and mouth swab by force, I’m told. Too late I wonder whether I should’ve refused. If I’m found innocent, will these be destroyed? I ask the operative. He says I can apply to have the DNA destroyed, although hardly anyone does because most people don’t ask and aren’t informed that they have this right. He’s not sure about the prints. I’m still innocent (“until proven guilty”, right?) and yet everything from this stage on is a petty battle, from being allowed to keep my boots and coat to getting lunch and, more seriously, gaining access to the solicitor I’ve requested. I’m only allowed to keep the boots because they’ve run out of plimsolls in my size. Turns out they want the boots because the cleaners are getting sick of the mud we countryside protectors bring in. The cells are cold. It’s worth hanging on to as much clothing as you can, or asking for replacements if they take yours away. My cardigan is confiscated, in case I try to hang myself by its woolly cord. Likewise, bootlaces. They try to take my nose ring but at that I balk, and win.

My cell’s surprisingly large, and clean. It’s bigger, in fact, than many of the places I’ve lived in. That makes me smile. I’ve managed to keep my notebook, pen and book. With these, a copy of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice) collected at the custody desk, and a thin mattress to use as a yoga mat, I know I can entertain myself for at least 24 hours. There’s a loo but no toilet roll. Water for washing but not for drinking. PACE tells me I can request a drink every two hours. Once I’ve got a cup I’ve also got a vessel for washing. This is fine.

Some people kick their cell doors and shout and scream, others sing. I feel as though I’m in a film. I read PACE. Later there’s an attempt to fob me off with a duty solicitor. I’ve got my bust card and I know not to acquiesce. Through a port-hole in my ceiling I watch the sky darken. Time passes quickly. I keep asking to talk to the solicitor I’ve requested. Eventually a cheerful woman in normal clothes, no uniform, lets me out of the cell and tells me I’m going home. I think, for a moment, that she means I’m being released without charge, but when I get to the front desk the custody sergeant who checked me in rustles my charge sheet and the cheerful woman reads it out.

Aren’t I supposed to have talked to my solicitor before I get charged?”

Consternation.

Yes, I am. A number is called, a phone thrust across the desk. I speak to the solicitor in public, in the reception area of the police station. I know this isn’t right, this should be a private conversation. We try, the solicitor and I, to get me released on unconditional bail but the sergeant’s not having it. I’m given a map of the areas around Barton Moss where I’m not supposed to go. I refuse to accept the map, the conditions, the bail. I’m innocent, why should my freedom of movement be curtailed? I ask for my Custody Record. The sergeant says I have to apply for that. PACE says otherwise. I get my Record and it’s peppered with errors. I leave my bail map on the station floor.

I have no idea where I am, how I’m going to get back to camp, where my belongings are, whether I’ll be arrested again when I get there. I’m shown to the exit by the cheerful plain-clothes woman. I press a button, step outside into a cold dark rainy Manchester night, and I’m greeted with hugs, cheers, tea, soup, donuts. The Barton Moss Protectors are here on arrestee support duty. The warmth I’m enveloped in brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know most of these people but they’re family now and I don’t need to worry about where I’m going, how I’ll get there or what will happen to me when I do. Everything is taken care of and I’m safe.

The next day, back in the real world, messages of support from family and friends flood in. Both of my sisters – beautiful, kind, non-political women – say they back me absolutely: “Fracking is evil,” says one, and the other writes “My eyes are now wide open. Stand united and keep on fighting this worthy cause, and Thankyou from all of us who can’t be there to support you.”

News reaches my mum at work: “Everyone in the office very impressed with your arrest”, she reports.

Ordinary people don’t want pollution, poisoned water that we have no disposal plan for, chemical-laced earth, toxic gases seeping into homes, earthquakes and climate change. The UK public is not impressed by rhetoric from politicians who have only their own interests at heart, and no compunction about lying to the electorate they’re meant to serve. No one – except the corporate boss set to make a killing by killing our land – thinks that bribing councils is a just or wise move.

Are we really winning this fight against fracking, and swinging public opinion our way, because we “wear exciting clothes”, as Owen Paterson claimed today in the Telegraph? Or might it be because we’re right… and it’s really fracking obvious that we’re right?

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sunday Stroll in Salford (Barton Moss)

I thought we’d be lucky to get 50 people out to demonstrate about an environmental issue on a cold January day in Salford. About a thousand turn up. “They’re… normal people” I overhear someone mutter. Old, young, Salford families, Greens, union members, members of co-operatives, local residents, anti-fracking groups from other areas, environmentalists, grannies, kids, cyclists, musicians, health workers. A reasonable cross section of the 99%.

Plenty of creativity and humour has gone into the placards and banners we wave, as we walk a mile or so from the rendezvous point to Barton Moss. One lane of the A57 had been closed for us and we stream along it in festive mood, a procession more than a march, buoyed up by a strong sense of solidarity and community. Roughly 80% of passing cars beep in support of our Frack Off and Not for Shale messages – despite having been held up in a traffic jam on our account. One placard – “I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc” – rings very true for me. This and “Welcome to the desolate North… Now Frack Off!” are perfect rejoinders to nonsense peddled by pro-fracking politicians.

At a rally just up the lane from the Protectors’ Camp, we hear from members and supporters of the camp, including:

  • Local union reps, who say that profiteering by a minority at the expense of the majority is what we’re fighting here at Barton Moss – it’s bigger than environmental issues and its bigger than Salford, and we all need to work together;
  • A Campaign Against Climate Change speaker, pointing to the need to create climate-friendly jobs which will set up communities for a viable, sustainable future;
  • Vanessa Vine of Balcombe – a Sussex village which faced down the frackers in 2013 – who reminds us of the global nature of this struggle, and the brutality being faced by protesters and protectors in Canada and Romania;
  • Ewa Jasiewicz, of No Dash for Gas and Fuel Poverty Action, pointing out that investment in renewables now is the only way out of the fuel poverty trap of the moment, where the Big 6 energy companies are in a position to charge extortionate rates, filling their own pockets while risking the lives of the poor and turning a blind eye to climate change.

The crowds amble into Barton Moss Road as the rally comes to a close. Hundreds of us, strolling slowly on a Sunday afternoon along the lane where, on weekday mornings, police harrass and arrest protectors for walking at a similar pace ahead of the fracking trucks. There’s almost no visible policing today. Today, the police don’t feel the need to outnumber us 10:1 and shove us along the road “for our own safety”. Is it because they don’t want to show the ugly side of policing – the side which is about protecting corporate profits rather than people – to so many of their neighbours and peers, who are genuinely here to protect? If only a tenth this many people could turn up every day…

Past the camp we go, to the gates of the fracking site. There’s music, and dancing, and meetings between like-minded people. Someone’s cooked up a hearty soup and there’s a campfire to warm cold knees beside. This is what solidarity looks like. And we need more of this kind of thing!

A perfect summing-up from Carmen, of Occupy Manchester:

“Today one thousand people agreed that there is no social license for fracking – not locally or nationally or globally. We stand united for a frack-free planet [and for] investment in renewable energy, for all future generations and the planet Earth.”

Barton Moss Protection Camp, Barton Moss Road, Just off A57 next to Airport, Eccles M30 7RL

Barton Moss Protection Camp: Facebook 

Twitter: @BartonMoss

Frack Free Greater Manchester: website

Northern Gas Gala

Frack Off: website (great for background info)

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Barton Moss

BARTON MOSS ANTI-FRACKING PROTECTORS’ CAMP & THE ORANGE BUS BLOCKADE
Salford in the early hours of a December day, trapped in a sliver of damp earth between motorway and access lane. Barton Moss Protectors’ Camp. Pre-dawn, chilly, dawdling, waiting for the fracking trucks to arrive, waiting to slow-walk up the lane – the only peaceful protest the law is prepared to allow us these days.

Waiting, reading signs on the noticeboard outside the camp’s info point. Few awake as yet.

A woman runs towards us. “The big orange bus is up there! They need support up there!” She points towards the fracking site entrance.

We jog up the road.

There is, indeed, a big orange bus. It’s huge, very orange, and parked across the site’s entrance. It’s covered in ‘Frack Off’ and ‘Not for Shale’ signs. Just where the wind turbine blade was dropped off a couple of days earlier. So many large and generous gifts for the frackers, IGas.

Someone has set up camp on the roof of the bus. Someone else is locked on underneath. At least three people are inside, also locked on. A sign on the door says “Do not open this door, I am locked on, you will break my leg”.

A surge of excitement and solidarity floods through us. We wave and grin, gesture, thumbs up.Over the next few hours more and more cops turn up, until they outnumber us about 3:1. Local journalists arrive. The Salford Star guy is one of us, warming himself by our brazier. I make it my job to forage for twigs, to keep the fire going. Our legal observer and welfare crew keep an eye on those locked on, passing them warm things and food, while the baseball-capped ‘Protestor Removal Unit’ cops suss out the situation.

With two friends I temporarily resist the police instruction to leave the vicinity of the bus. We question their need to create a “sterile area”, their constant claims of “we just want to keep everyone safe”. Yeah RIGHT. That’s why you shoved a disabled guy into a ditch, breaking his leg in the process, just a few days ago, right here. We hold up proceedings for a wee while, then move away, not feeling that now is the time to push it and get arrested.

Eventually the power tools come out. Locks are broken, windows are smashed, ladders are hoisted and the bus-bound protectors are removed. Three are arrested. The two who were outside the bus look cold, shaky and exhausted. We whoop, holler, cheer our heroes. A breakdown truck manouveures into position, ready to tow the big orange bus away. A big orange sacrifice, gifted by Brighton.

A shout goes up “Down the lane! The trucks are coming in!” We dash back to the camp, get into a huddle and begin the slow walk in front of the fracking trucks. Police form their own huddle behind us and goad us, push us, poke us in the kidneys, get their hands on us and try to steer us, harry us, patronise us and shout in our earholes. They threaten to arrest anyone who complains too vociferously. A few years ago I’d have been shocked but it’s the kind of behaviour I expect from cops now. The baby-blue liaison cops are still going around with fixed grins, plaintively trying to explain that they’re the good guys; they’re not getting much traction. We shout out the numbers of the pushiest and our legal observers earnestly write down our complaints, walking backwards, keeping an eye on us as we stumble up the lane. They make me feel safer than I would if they weren’t there.

There aren’t enough of us. Too soon we’re at the gate, and funnelled off to stand impotent on the verge. Truck after truck after truck goes by.  A crane, cabins, a catering unit. Someone says the rig is in now. Trucks from North Yorkshire, trucks from Lincolnshire. We glare at the drivers, screaming with our eyes – “get out of your cab and come join us, you’re people like us!”. They drive into the fracking site. I feel as though I’m watching evil at work. Saruman wrecking Isengard. Two women are weeping. An 82 year old comforts them. Tears prick my eyes too. How can people be doing this? Why aren’t more people with us, trying to stop it? This isn’t just Isengard. It isn’t a story.

This is our future. Join us.

northerngasgala.org.uk/
frack-off.org.uk/

Tagged , , , ,

Not in the public interest

I’m partway through writing something about GM (or ‘GM creep’ as I’m calling it) and food security; and I might want to say something about extreme energy. But first, this landed in my inbox this evening – written by Lindis Percy, a grandmother activist, and forwarded to me by my mum; I have an urge to share it.

“This is interesting friends… well it is to me! I was due to answer to bail again at Harrogate police station today but heard yesterday from the custody officer at the police station that ‘no further action’ was going to be taken as it was ‘not in the public interest’ to continue. During the snowy weather in the afternoon of 21 January this year – the day Barack Obama was publicly ‘sworn in’ in Washington for his second term – I was the lone protester at NSA Menwith Hill. I had an upside down US flag with the words ‘NOW THEN….SECOND AND ONLY CHANCE OBAMA’. Nothing was happening at the base… except for 24 hour gathering of intelligence/surveillance/intelligence-led warfare – use of US military Drones – and the crucial connection to US Missile Defense (two space-based infra-red radomes constructed in 1999 etc etc – see Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases [CAAB] website to read about the legal action we took in the High Court in 1999).I had been quietly talking to a Ministry of Defence police officer and the MOD guarding service (‘security’) at the entrance to the base, about why I was there. A car arrived to go into the base, the barrier went up and the driver was waved through – no showing of ID.  I asked the MOD security guard how did he know this person was not up to no good when he entered the base? He replied ‘because I can tell by his face’. I looked him straight in the eyes and asked him if he could tell by my face what I was going to do? Later I felt moved to walk in. No one told me to stop. I quietly walked up the main ‘street’ and stood with the flag in front of a car coming out of the base. The car turned round and went back. I walked about 200 yds into the base before an MOD police van arrived.

I was arrested under section 128 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005, by James Sheehan (PC Ministry of Defence Police) and taken to Harrogate police station. I was not charged, as the decision to charge under this odious section is up to the Attorney General – Dominic Green had six months to decide whether to prosecute or not. Pre-charge bail conditions were imposed. We went to the court the following week to argue that the ‘pre-charge’ bail conditions imposed were impossible and they were changed to enable me to protest at the Tuesday pm weekly demonstration at the gates of NSA Menwith Hill.  I have been on bail for four months until yesterday.

 

So friends… as walking into NSA Menwith Hill is apparently acceptable and it is ‘not in the public interest’ to bring a charge under the SOCPA legislation – perhaps think what you might consider doing? If it’s not ‘in the public interest’ to bring a case against me, wouldn’t that apply to anyone else too?  I think it is very much ‘in the public interest’ to go in and see what they are doing and take a walk in the Yorkshire Dales.”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Wicked witch and teen psyche

I wasn’t one of the people who’d been planning for years to dance on Thatcher’s grave and yet when the news hit, visceral glee was what I felt. After checking it was true – “What, really? Really this time?” – I grinned and skipped and hugged my partner tight and chortled deep in my belly for the next two days, every time I remembered she was dead (which was a lot, what with Twitter).

Of course Maggie’s legacy is still wrapped around us like a bloody, stinking animal skin. Of course getting drunk and singing Ding Dong the Witch is Dead doesn’t help us sort out the current mess. An old lady dying is pretty irrelevant (not a tragedy; she was 87 and had been ill for a long time, of course she was going to die and her time was nigh) but the sense of community that emerged in Brixton, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Bradford and many small towns in the North, in Wales and throughout Scotland on Monday was not irrelevant. People with shared histories and similar mindsets found each other in the streets and pubs of Britain in a spontaneous uprising of anger mixed with joy and it wasn’t sick, it was beautiful. And poignant, and sad.

We remembered the poll tax and the miners, the milk-snatching, 80′s dole queues, the battles of Orgreave and the Beanfield [1], the Falklands, the sell-off of what had been public assets. For many now in their forties and fifties, this is what politicised us. This is why we never believe the police are on our side, why our fury with the Labour party – who were supposed to be on our side – burns so fiercely. This is why Glaswegians ceilidhed in the square, activists in Leeds handed out “Thatcher’s dead cake” (and bedroom tax leaflets), anarchist social centres in Bradford and Brighton threw open their doors and invited allcomers to “grieve responsibly!”. This is why things kicked off in Brixton and Bristol. We all know which areas will ignite, come the revolution.

I was shocked that some ‘on the left’ wanted us to pipe down and behave with decorum. You what??!! Ah, you weren’t there in the eighties. You’re young, or you led a sheltered or privileged life. Or perhaps you’re a Buddhist – ok, I agree, it’s not very Buddhist, this visceral glee. But I don’t care! Even before I realised we have to counter the mainstream media and politicians’ guff if we don’t want to see this vital part of our history blatantly erased and rewritten – even before that, I didn’t care that what I feel isn’t respectful, or dignified.

I agree that Don’t Hate, Donate is a very positive thing, but believe it’s essential that the ‘gloaters’ are not silenced. Between the beers and the cheers we are sharing oral histories. Our blogs and tweets are rooted in memories and experiences that need telling and retelling. They give context to the present. If one teenager, on seeing youtube footage of the Thatcher’s Dead parties, is inspired to dig a little deeper into this country’s history and politics rather than believing the nauseating mainstream eulogies – that’s justification enough.

Just a couple of days earlier, my partner and a friend were merrily slagging off Thatcher when they were challenged by a young activist. She said Thatcher-bashing was generally sexist and that right-to-buy [2] had positive aspects. The two men were left spitting and spluttering. They were in their teens and early twenties in the Thatcher era and grew up in the north of England. The next morning I was harangued for going to bed early; why wasn’t I there to defend Thatcher-bashing from a feminist perspective?

When I saw the banner proclaiming “The Bitch is Dead” hanging from the Brixton Ritz, I better understood the young activist’s stance. “Thatcher’s Dead. Lol” was much more palatable. I also saw a banner – perhaps the same one – with the B covered over and replaced with a W. Good on whoever did that, I thought… but then some people were also upset by the use of “Witch”. I wasn’t. “Ding Dong” and “The witch is dead” resonate just fine with this witch [3]. Then, to help me out of my floundering-in-feminist-angst, came the blog from Emma Pooka of AWOL (Angry Women of Liverpool). It says everything I was feeling and more. HT @RileyDylan, who described it as “brilliant”. It is brilliant. Please read it: A Feminist’s Guide to Celebrating Thatcher’s Demise.

I can’t say I experienced the full impact of Thatcher’s reign, was just 21 when she  resigned, but the images of miners huddled around braziers and the demonisation and destruction of the Travellers’ way of life jumped out of the TV screen and lodged deep in my fourteen year old psyche. I went to school around the corner from where one of the Specials lived, graffitied The Beat on my pencil case and pogoed to The Jam’s Town Called Malice [4]. Then I fell in love with Morrissey [5]. I was grown up in time to resist the poll tax and experience jubilation when we beat it. I’d moved into an old Bedford ambulance by then. I think we drank a lot of cider the day Thatcher resigned (can’t quite remember) and when she died I drank cider in the bath.

Notes:

[1] Coppers morphed from bobbies on the beat to politicised instruments of the State against its citizens under Thatcher:

The Battle of Orgreave, 1984 – Police eventually paid half a million pounds to miners beaten and arrested at the Battle of Orgreave.

Battle of the Beanfield, 1985 – Police found guilty of wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage. Travellers awarded £24k in damages… but the judge refused to award them legal costs, so the amount actually received was minimal. Few individual officers were disciplined as most were not wearing identifying numbers.

In both cases it took six years of court battles before a verdict was reached – not until after Thatcher had resigned was some kind of paltry justice done.

In the lists of Thatcher’s evil deeds, I haven’t yet seen anyone mentioning the Travellers (except me; I keep banging on about them). Don’t forget the Travellers.

[2] The Right to Buy was seen by many on the left to be A Good Thing. I can think of lots of reasons why it wasn’t. Primarily, because the money raised was not ploughed back into social housing for those who couldn’t afford, or didn’t want, this ‘right’ to be an ‘owner’ of bricks, mortar and land. More on this.

[3] A good explanation of why a cheeky, childish song is radically relevant, according to blogger Adam Jung. (Though I’d prefer not to put money in the coffers of Amazon or iTunes.)

[4] 13 anti-Thatcher songs  ;  UK artists against Thatcher

[5] Morrissey’s take on Thatcher’s death

A few days later, I found this Workingman’s Blues blog on the Thatcher ‘death parties’ and the power of Carnival. Well worth a read.

And this one, Fight for the Right to Party on the Red Pepper mag website.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A jigsaw with too many pieces

I haven’t written this month. Not because there’s nothing to say; more because there’s too much to say and too much to do.

Should I write about my trip to Cambodia? The torturous internal workings of Occupy in London? The disaster that is UK energy policy? New nuclear? Land issues? Asda boycott? The GM lobby? The wise ramblings of a young guy called Jonathan who lived in the OLSX camp at St Paul’s? Earthian‘s solo peace mission and his indomitable spirit? Cyprus and Greece? The brilliant stuff that’s going on in my sometimes-hometown of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire?

I’m trying to rebalance a life that was consumed by Occupy. Going off to live at St Paul’s and throwing my all into the Occupied Times for a year fragmented the life I had before October 2011. Now I’m looking at those ragged but valuable fragments alongside the new bits and bobs I’ve picked up and I’m trying to work out how to fit it all together. There are more jigsaw pieces than there used to be and I can’t work out what picture I’m trying to make.

I want to write but perhaps that’s a cop out and I should be doing more? What to do? I’m drawn to working locally and getting my hands dirty. I’d like to play with soil and plant seeds – theoretically. Perhaps I would’ve done some gardening in actuality if there hadn’t been two feet of snow on my tiny garden this last fortnight. I also want to be up a tree preventing pointless road schemes with the Combe Haven Defenders, I want to be at Camp Frack 2 in Lancashire and the Extreme Energy Gathering in Manchester. I’d like to see how the Diggers are getting on at Runnymede and visit the Forest of Dean and Reclaim the Fields. I want to get involved in StopG8 and the Carnival against Capitalism but what about what’s happening on my doorstep?

Developers are seeking planning permission for a supermarket and hotel on a piece of wasteland on the edge of town, in an area called Mytholm. No store or hotel has stepped forward and said they want to use the site but the developers, who bought the land some time ago, want to gain these permissions in order to increase its value. There’s a lot of local opposition to the planning application (and some support). Rather than just saying no, some of those in opposition have come up with an alternative. They’ve formed a group called Incredible Edible Mytholm (part of the Incredible Edible Network that started just up the road in Todmorden and now has branches internationally) and they’ve dreamed up Growing Futures, a permaculture project involving food growing and selling, education, ecotourism and sustainability research. It’s already been dubbed a “mini Eden Project” but there will be a lot of hoops to jump through before the idea can translate into a funded, grounded, viable endeavour.

Never mind the town on my doorstep, the building I work in is undergoing major change at the moment. Hebden Bridge Hostel (where I work) used to be a concert hall adjoining the Birchcliffe Baptist Chapel. The Chapel became the secular Birchcliffe Centre in the 70′s and passed into the care of Pennine Heritage Trust. Part of it has been converted into a rabbit warren of tiny offices, studios, a Zen meditation space, a web designers’ lair and so on. There’s also a ‘zombie tunnel’ which runs from the old baptismal font to the basement, near the caretaker’s cupboard. After being dunked in the font, the newly baptised could preserve their modesty by sneaking down the tunnel to the basement changing rooms, rather than having to do a wet T-shirt walk through the congregation. There are no zombies in the tunnel, but it forms part of my in-case-of-zombie-apocalypse escape plan; I’m hoping it doesn’t get bricked up during the major refurbishments now underway in the listed parts of the building, which are being transformed into some kind of educational resource, historical archive and event venue. The most exciting thing about the revamp, from my perspective, is the overhaul of the archaic heating system which, in a leviathan contortion of belching pipes, links the hostel with the Birchcliffe Centre, leaking heat and spewing carbon in a very embarrassing fashion at every turn.

Experts have been consulted and funding bodies approached. I’m not privy to the meetings of the Pennine Heritage trustees but I’ve heard whispers about biomass boilers and solar panels. I’m not yet sure if they’re talking solar thermal or PV. I’m not impressed that if they go for the biomass boiler I’ll have to give up my shed, woodstore, rhubarb patch and lemon balm thicket. Most of all, I’m horrified by the thought that, in trying to go for an eco option, the trustees might be about to sign a contract with a company that ships in biomass from sterile commercial plantations that are displacing food production and/or biodiverse woodland. If anyone has solid information that could help me steer this energy transition in the right direction, please let me know (quickly).

Today I was going to join Treesponsibility on the hills above Todmorden but I didn’t because I was writing this. I probably should’ve gone. Treesponsibility doesn’t just plant trees; it’s an education and resilience project with involvement in The Source which, like Ban the Burn, aims to reduce flooding in the Calder Valley through restoration of the uplands. There’s so much good stuff going on around here. It’s inspiring and a bit overwhelming. Blackbark, for example, is a sustainable woodland management co-operative that produces wood for fuel on a very local scale. Pennine Community Power has a community wind turbine on the moors. People are also looking at micro-hydro. The industrial revolution was born around here and waterwheels were used to power mills and factories; it seems stupid not to use the local geography – steep valleys, where it rains a lot – as our ancestors did. Gibson Mill, which was converted into a visitor centre, cafe and venue in 2005,  is run entirely on renewable energy and is not connected to the mains grid.  Bridge Mill, the oldest building in town, houses about eight small businesses and is already partly converted to renewables (restored water mill, water-source heat pump and solar thermal), with an Archimedes-screw water turbine being added this year.

I like this Red Pepper piece: Power-to-Transform

I’m going to stop now.

I might’ve nearly completed a corner of the jigsaw of my life.

____

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Evict-iversary

It’s a year since we were evicted simultaneously from the OLSX camp outside St Paul’s and from the School of Ideas. We were ragged and emotional and exhausted then, and jubilant, and disoriented. We tried to list what we’d achieved while occupying and did our best to sound confident about future incarnations and plans, but there was genuine grief alongside some genuine relief that Occupy #1 was over. (Here’s Inka’s eviction film for a reminder of that night: http://vimeo.com/38035802)

Last week I saw my dad for the first time in two years. He gave a slight smile as he asked whether I thought Occupy had made a difference and I launched into an attempt to persuade him that it had. He cut me off to tell me that yes, it had made a difference. My dad’s no radical and yet he felt we’d said some things that needed saying and that we’d said them loud enough to be listened to… and that we’d been taken seriously and real things had changed as a result. Wow. I was so surprised to hear him say these things that I let him digress onto another subject without elaborating on exactly what he thought had changed as a result of those cold months of community in the churchyard.

Sometimes it seems that we’re chasing our tails, bogged down in internal squabbles, unable to drum up enough support for our actions to make an impact. Ten years ago millions marched against the Iraq war but Bush and Blair launched the bombs anyway; so even numbers, even mass global popular support, doesn’t necessarily win the day. But… ten or so years before that we won the poll tax battle and now… there are relatively small but significant battles being won again.

Here’s a video showing what happened with that squatted library – Friern Barnet. The ‘polite revolution’ – a collaboration between Occupy and the local community – eventually came good. However, Occupiers at Battersea Adventure Playground had less success. After camping in the snow they were summarily evicted; and very soon the quirky, much-loved playground had been destroyed.

Looking at the bigger picture, Shell has backed away from its Arctic oil drilling venture for now, Cumbria has rejected the idea that nuclear waste should be stored in stunning, geologically unstable Lake District countryside, and the fight against extreme and polluting energy – dash for gas, fracking, tarsands – and against free-for-all genetically-modified farming continues. Increasingly, it becomes apparent that corporations lie and spin, politicians are in their pockets and ‘science’ is twisted to suit the moneymen. Spinwatch blogs on the Mark Lynas affair illustrate this pretty well and EDF Energy’s cynical attempt to quash dissent via means of bankrupting ‘No Dash For Gas’ climate activists shows how low they’re prepared to go.

The usual “ok, that’s what you’re against but what are you for?” question can increasingly often be answered (it seems to me) with some combination of the words ‘community’, ‘co-operation’, ‘mutual aid’, ‘solidarity’, ‘self-organistion’, ‘real food/farming’, ‘local’, ‘permaculture’, ‘organic’ and ‘return of the commons’.

I’m leaning towards an anarchist, rather than socialist, approach… and yet there are things that I’d like to see organised by the state or government via the levy of fair taxes, and a decent National Health service is the first amongst these. It was good to hear a few days ago that the closure of the Accident & Emergency departments at Hammersmith, Charing Cross, Central Middlesex and Ealing Hospitals is to be halted, pending an independent review. As campaign group Save Our Hospitals points out, this temporary reprieve is just the beginning of a long battle.

I wonder whether we couldn’t sort out housing ourselves, without so much government input, if we weren’t strangled by bureaucracy. I’d like to see more co-ops, more co-housing and eco-housing projects that don’t have to get tied up for years jumping through inappropriate planning hoops. It should be made easier, not harder, to build low-impact dwellings on disused land, as the latter-day Diggers have done at Runnymede, and putting disused buildings to use as short-term housing stock or social centres should be seen as regeneration, not criminality. Self-Organised London instigated a whole programme of free educational and social events at Eileen House with the tagline “Reclaim Regeneration”; but within days a possession order was granted by a high court judge. The authorities would rather see neglected buildings filled with empty echoes than the buzz of community camaraderie.

Which brings me to the Occupy squat crew, who’re still going strong and building their own community – the relationships forged in tents have lasted through moves into, and evictions from, about a dozen disused buildings across London during the last eight months.

Meanwhile, Earthian’s journey seeking peace for the Middle East continues and I very much recommend his blog.

If you ever wonder what else ex-Occupiers are up to, the Occupy London fortnightly newsletter is worth a look; it contains a wealth of information and news on a wide range of subjects interesting to those of a radical or Occupy-friendly nature, and future editions can be emailed to you fortnightly if you sign up via the OL website (sign up box is in the right hand column).

For an even more massive range of news and opinions from around the world check the Occupy News Network which recently put out a shout for more material: “Local struggles to international ones, technology to revisiting the simple life, commentaries and first hand experience… all welcome. If there is a burning issue you wish to address, please bash it out and relieve the stress and we will look at publishing it.”

It’s four years since The Big Green Gathering was cancelled and bankrupted in an apparent attempt to stop grassroots organisers and climate activists enjoying themselves too much in the Mendip Hills. The smaller, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes Green Gathering will be held on a stunning site just outside Chepstow on the weekend of 1-4 August. Last year Occupy made a big impact in the Speakers’ Forum at the Gathering and there was a great atmosphere throughout the festival all weekend long, but participant numbers were on the low side. I’m hoping this year will be the one that really recaptures the Big Green Gathering spirit. I’m helping look after the Green Gathering twitter account; if you think you might be interested, please follow @Gathering_Green ;)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wandsworth Against Cuts & Occupy activists defend Battersea adventure playground

This is a collaborative story worked on with those occupying Battersea Park adventure playground. This playground isn’t just any old playground – watch this 10 min film to find out why. Hopefully the collaboration between locals and Occupy activists will work as well here as it has at Friern Barnet library… and will make Wandsworth council see sense and stop the demolition.

UPDATE 5.30pm Mon 7 Jan:

The defenders of Battersea adventure playground have been told that demolition will begin next Monday. Occupiers are remaining in situ; a small camp (maximum 15 residents) has been set up inside the playground, with supporters visiting during the day.

Within the last hour police appeared to be chaining up the entrances to the playground, stating that anyone who left would not be able to return. This would have cut off Occupiers from toilets and food supplies. Protesters reminded officers that this is a lawful protest and campaigners report that the police then “backed off.”

Police have, however, closed the neighbouring and active young children’s playground, stating that the banners – some of which the children themselves made – would frighten playground users.  The information table set up by Wandsworth Against Cuts is being cited as a hazard.

K, currently at the Occupy camp inside the playground, asks: “Is this Wandsworth council trying to quash popular support? I saw these tactics used in the Goldsmiths’ occupation a couple of years ago.  The university shut the library during an exam period, claiming that we made such a mess the place was unusable – essentially turning people against us.”

It seems that as yet local people are behind the occupation as they want to save the playground and have run out of other ways to convince Wandsworth council to rethink. According to one occupier at the site: “Parents have ignored the chains on the little kids’ play area, lifting their children over to let them play.”

Original Story

Members of the Occupy community and local anti-cuts activists occupied the Battersea Park Adventure Playground on Saturday 5 January, in protest at Wandsworth council’s decision to have a unique children’s facility demolished. The action was taken in support of local groups who have been working to save the playground for months. Bulldozers are due on the site on Monday 7 Jan.

Local resident Michael McCarthy said: “I think it’s terrible. I brought my daughter here today to see for myself what is happening. I think it’s great someone is fighting these cuts. Where are the kids going to go? There is nowhere else.”

Qualified staff at this popular and historic playground have provided a stimulating and safe environment for thousands of children for decades. The playground staff have helped teenagers from the local area, including the large Doddington, Ethelburga and Surrey Lane Estates, to grow up free from gang and drug related pressures. They have organised cultural, social and educational activities which have helped young people develop confidence and independence. The older kids have helped to build the playground, learning useful skills and enjoying a sense of achievement and ownership through doing so.

In recent months staff have been laid off and the playground has been closed, as unsupervised use is considered dangerous. The council’s plan is to extend the adjacent, conventional playground into the adventure play area and convert it to a static, unstaffed facility. This will only be suitable for younger children, supervised by parents. Campaigners report seeing council factsheets showing that the cost of staffing playgrounds in Wandsworth is only £2 per household per year. Those occupying the play area call on Wandsworth council to reverse the decisions to get rid of play staff and to destroy the adventure playground.

Norman MacLean of Wandsworth Against Cuts (WAC) said “Please support this occupation by visiting the playground, bringing food and other supplies and, if possible, by joining us in defending this vital community resource.”

Location: Battersea Park, SouthWest corner near junction of Albert Bridge Road and Prince of Wales Drive. SW11 4SF

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 387 other followers