An article from Do or Die Issue 5. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 87-94.
Warmest greetings! We are a group who organise and commit ourselves to the defence of the environment. Most of our members did some volunteering and support actions with some environmental groups. Our dissatisfaction to the compromising postures of most environment groups, compelled us to engage in direct and radical actions. We named our group of mountaineers, climbers, divers, nature lovers, artisans, conservationists and others as 'Volunteers for Earth Defence'.
Co-operation among like groups of similar actions, lightens the tasks. Hence, we humbly request your generous support - by way of exchanging experiences, information's, correspondences and if possible, various action skills and techniques. We would equally appreciate our inclusion on your mailing list. You can course future correspondence through the undersigned.
We realise the burden on your group, just heeding our various requests. Thus, we fully commit ourselves to whatever would be required of us by our future co-operation.
Whatever response you would extend us would be deeply appreciated and may we strengthen our linkages and solidarity in defending the Earth and its future.
Thank you and sincerely yours,
Alexander A. Orlino,
l89 San Antonio Ext, SFDM 1105,
Quezon City, Phillippines
The following was written by someone who played a very special and important role in the campaign at Twyford Down which saw the emergence of the travelling environmental protester. She was one of the original Dongas Tribe and we have a lot to thank her for. Many people who are new to this 'scene' may not have met her as she has had to keep her head down (she has a few warrants out for arrest due to her active role at Twyford Down). However she is very much out there, still doing the good work, still fighting for this amazing planet and still has the incredible magic that made her such a special person at Twyford. Please listen to her words as she speaks for a few of us who were there at the beginning who feel that the incredible energy that gave birth to this 'movement' has somehow been lost and forgotten. We only get one shot at this and time is short so let's do this well...
Two years ago in the rain and mud, the Dongas Tribe were defending Twyford Down. Apart from visits from local EF!ers and campaigners, the direct action anti-road campaign nationally numbered 25 people and a goat. We were calling out for people and publicity... it was hard enough to get local papers to cover the story. And when the land was raped on 'Yellow Wednesday' we told the shites in nylon armour and their sinister employers that they would reap their Karma for destroying such a sacred site. Two years on and the "whirligig of time has bought in its revenge" - the anti-road movement is huge, the government is being forced to listen - there are protests all over Britain.
There are hundreds of people who have given all of their time, love and energy to stop the machine of 'progress'... who have sat in trees for months enduring weather and forcible eviction - the incredible Mad Max barricades at the Mll, hours of hard work and dedication; people who have cooked meals for hungry hundreds, been arrested, assaulted and imprisoned; spent their giros on nails for tree platforms and D-locks... the list is endless. Not to mention all the PR with the local communities, education and communication on both sides, the establishing of an understanding and a common cause. I'd like to pay tribute to the amazing colourful many faceted chaotic fractal of people who have come together to keep the earth green; it's an ever-expanding movement with many directions, a plant growing from a strong seed. And we'd all like to see it flourish. Which is why I feel I should write about the DOWNSIDE to it all.
Why do people join protest camps? There are many reasons. It's probable that like the Dongas, many people see the earth as sacred, a living body of which we are part, and see themselves as guardians of the earth. There are many reasons why people protest - political, ethical, moral - some of the motivations, however; are misdirected and often dangerous.
These days security guards are hired from day one. It's a potentially heavy situation and some people arrive prepared for a tussle - expecting, almost willing, a confrontational scene. I think it's true to say that quite a lot of people like to show how badly hurt they got, how grim it was, etc. Sometimes getting hurt is unavoidable. But glorifying it is dangerous. A successful action is where NO ONE IS HURT, when security has been talked to, and lastly if work has been stopped. People guilt-trip themselves into believing that if they don't get dragged off by their hair at least three machines a day, then they are not doing anything. If possible, it's better to save your energy and wait for more numbers, than to do an action hopelessly outnumbered - there's plenty of other things that need doing. The washing up for instance. Designing a new leaflet.
It boils down to what you are in it for. The glory? Newcomers to campaigns have sat around for DAYS waiting to be told what's going on, while newspaper reporters are frowned on. The poor sod who actually bothers to clean the porridge pot never gets their picture in The Guardian....
Bad motivation affects the energy of the camp as a whole, especially on actions (as does bad communication, many people do their first action totally unprepared) - if people are going on site expecting a fight, or wanting to earn brownie points by being arrested, then it normally happens. It's called SYMPATHETIC MAGIC and the opposite can also apply. Believing in your own psychic/physical protection, knowing that you are trying to protect the Earthspirit and that it in turn is protecting you, ensures that you radiate safety and love. A group of people with this feeling is incredibly strong. Wearing facepaints, playing drums, singing songs, isn't a side issue. It's essential. Music can defuse potentially violent situations. Singing empowers you and makes security perceive you as less as a threat. Police and workers respond differently to happy, smiling, singing people than to bolshy, mouthy, self-righteous ranters. Sometimes, anyway. It's worth trying. I've been on several actions this year where work has been stopped for a few minutes, but in a terrible atmosphere, with insults hurled at security and very little in the way of colour, energy, let alone music, from protesters.
People were totally miserable and tired. Two things - firstly, people get put off and they don't come back. Secondly - back to guilt tripping. If you are physically and mentally exhausted, you are not doing yourself or the group any favours by going on an action. ENERGY in campaigns is a precious resource, often abused. If you go on a site with no energy, you drain it from those around you. You can't run as fast, you lose your temper quicker; you're more likely to get hurt. You become a liability and what is worse you affect how other people behave too. Don't guilt trip yourself; none of us are indispensable, a day chilling out and cooking a meal would benefit everyone more (sometimes you just have to keep going - tree squatting etc. These are different situations. Most of the time people make a conscious decision to go on actions). It is worrying to see so many people with the attitude that anyone not going on site is 'lunching out'. Sometimes they are (see below). Often they're getting wood, water, putting up communal dwellings, taking rubbish off site - jobs that are just as vital to the campaign.
...Back to energy levels. If your base is full of stoned people, littered with food wrappings and brew cans something is wrong. If people don't care about their personal environment, why are they trying to save the earth? It's hard but piss takers have to he asked to get it together or LEAVE. It drains energy - you've got to clean up after them and they've eaten all the food. It creates a bad impression for visitors. These people are blagging into festivals, calling themselves road protesters (and Dongas) and giving us all a bad name - even amongst the hippies!
Something else is putting people off. PROTESTERS' EGOS. Someone's been on a camp for a month and suddenly they know it all - hey, they've been arrested four times and been bitten by a security guard - they're too important to talk to shy newcomers or to wash their bloody plate up. It's the holier-than-thou attitude of the 'Summer Campaigner', who assumes that every 'straight' person knows bugger all and is doing bugger all about the situation. I heard a horror story that a Newbury woman who had been campaigning for years was sneered at because she lived in a house with her two kids and not in a bender!! The fact that she had been coping with campaigning work as well as being a single mother is, I suppose, not relevant. Well where were these wonderful 'tribal' bender-dwellers last winter? Fair enough if you can't hack it, but don't ponce around being 'ethnic' if it is not genuine. Certainly not at other people's expense. A lot of people who have spent years either researching local issues or living alternative lifestyles have been alienated BY US. Get humble! LISTEN to other people, don't assume you know it all - you don't. Our role is not to muscle in, take over and assume that you're somehow better than everyone else.
So there you have it - THE EGO WARRIOR.. On every campaign there are these people strutting around, showing off, snubbing others, grabbing the glory. Most of them do nothing to help with the running of the campaign, and they are a real danger on site with their macho-aggressive attitudes (it comes from taking the word warrior too literally. Battles are to be avoided wherever possible - violence comes from thoughts as well as deeds). People who aren't instantly put off tend to start behaving similarly. Luckily the majority of campaigners, bonded to Mother Earth, simply get on with it. It's up to all of us, however, to start thinking about WHY we are doing it. If you have felt the wild wet spirit of Nature call you'll do anything to protect it... start by protecting YOURSELF, as part of Nature, and the group. Help keep energy levels high in whatever way you choose. If you think there's a problem, TALK about it.
Our attitude to the campaign, ourselves and each other must surely be based on the idea that we are all one, bound to the laws of nature, moving in harmony. The Earth is our focus. At their worst, campaigns merely reflect all that is wrong with society - at their best, they contain the hope and seed for the future of the planet.
May the Dance Go On!
The recent victory that the anti-roads movement in the UK has had in changing public opinion and government policy towards road-building is a great success for the tactics of direct action, but we must be very careful not to become complacent and rest on our laurels, as there is still much to fight for. After all the press hype about the government "slashing" the roads programme, it appears that so far only £4 billion has been cut from the planned roads budget, leaving £19 billion still to be spent on more destructive road schemes. This means that many places are still under threat and we need to continue our efforts, perhaps using slightly different tactics.
We seem to be placing too much emphasis on defensive action which to all intents and purposes is playing the authorities' own games. I want to make it clear that I don't intend to criticise the defensive actions seen at anti-road campaigns - most recently at Claremont Road and up at the M65. I have nothing but respect and admiration for everyone who risked themselves on the roofs of Claremont, but defensive actions are not enough. The fact that there has never been more than 500 people at any direct action road protest in this country, means that the state currently has the resources to trash us. We have not turned them back from an eviction yet, and without many more people getting involved in direct action, we won't be able to. What we need to do is to take the battle to their territory, so we can call the shots more easily, instead of continually reacting to their moves. This is why I believe actions such as the Bailey Bridge at Twyford and Operation Road Block at the M11, are far more damaging and worrying for them to deal with and are thus the ways in which we will win. It may seem clichéd, but it is true to say that the best form of defence is attack.
A fluffy rabbit
I care greatly about land distribution, believing it to be one of the most, if not the most, important issue facing us. It enables us to begin setting our own agenda, instead of merely opposing that of the state, it helps us to address many of the underlying problems that prompted the CJA in the first place, and most importantly, it raises the question of establishing our own autonomous spaces, where we can cultivate, celebrate and create free of the dead hand of the state. We have already experienced the first glimmerings of this spirit in places such as Claremont Road and the various squatted centres around the country. Now, in a logical progression, we can begin to think bigger, and apply the possibilities that our activities have highlighted to the land, and cities, as a whole.
It is for this reason - seemingly squandered opportunities - that I found the 'Reclaim The Land' in Surrey so disappointing. Instead of giving our imaginations free rein, we seemed to police ourselves, settling - as ever - for second best. First, the venue was changed at the last minute, from the symbolically important St. George's Hill (once the site of the Diggers' land occupation, now the home of a golf course and some of England's most disgustingly wealthy), to the old airfield at Wisley, several miles away. To my mind -unlike St. George's Hill - this rather unimpressive site challenged, and signified, nothing. Secondly, some of the statements of the organisers indicated that this was a campaign determined to emasculate itself from the very start. The land is a priceless recourse, monopolised by a few to the detriment of the many, and that privilege is not something they will give up easily. Yet the organisers were using the language of the elite - St. George's Hill had been rejected as a venue because the likelihood of 'criminal damage' on our part was apparently too high; never mind the (perfectly legal) 'criminal damage' inflicted on the land by the golf course, with its neatly clipped lawns and chemical saturated turf. Furthermore, it seemed that 'The Land is Ours' was not in the business of taking anybody's 'private property' away from them. Aside from the issue of whether the land actually belongs to anybody, such 'private property' was won by the sword and a system of extortion and enclosure in the first place. In the present day, exclusion from the 'private property' of the big landowners is a major part of what keeps us down. All of this is what the original Diggers were fighting against - But no, today's campaigners will settle for such weak goals as opening up Public Access (NOT occupation) to the land, reforming (admittedly idiotic) planning guidelines, and so on. This is not likely to have the landowning elite quaking in their boots.
Finally, too much people on the march to St. George's Hill that eventually took place (against the wishes of the organisers) foolishly followed the directions of the police. This meant that we took a roundabout, albeit beautiful, route through the woods that suited the police down to the ground. Instead, we could have taken the direct route across the A3's pedestrian crossing - which would have presented a golden opportunity for a reclamation of land EN ROUTE to St. George's Hill - a mass trespass a la Twyford Down summer of last year. Do we really want to be told where to go and what to do by the police? (In the meeting beforehand, one person even asked the police what they thought about our plans for a march. The officer replied, as if he had to remind us, that "That is a matter for you to decide - it's YOUR march.")
A message to the organisers: "Be realistic - Demand the 'impossible'". Don't compromise now before you've even started!
P.S. This letter was submitted for inclusion in the SchNEWS, it was not printed. In fact a piece almost entirely consisting of the view that it was a success was. It is interesting to note that the SchNEWS can print an article slagging off (correctly) the SWP for their Windsor debacle, it is after all safe to criticise them, everyone hates the SWP. But when someone criticises an action that is seen to be part of OUR movement then it's a different story. Since the original writing of this letter some of the planning regulation demands of 'This Land is Their Land' have been accepted by Oxfordshire County Council. Rather than a sign of strength, this is a sign of weakness. If one's demands are so menial that they can actually be accepted without much difficulty, by the institutions that your actions oppose, it's a pretty good indication of the uselessness of your demands. Lest we forget what and who we are fighting against, let's recall the following verses of Rosselson's song of the Diggers, 'The World Turned Upside Down', sung at so many EF! campfires!
"The sin of property we do disdain,
No one has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain,
By theft and murder, they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command."
Dear Whoever You Are,
Direct action campaigns focus on single issues - road campaigns, live exports, homelessness etc. This often prevents us from expressing our opinion on the totality. The present system keeps people's opinions in the realm of expertise in a particular field, resulting in the fragmentation and specialisation of our lives - i.e. we cannot see the woods for the trees.
Surely however we cannot campaign successfully on single issues without addressing the social problems which cause them. In order to improve our quality of life we have to fight the present system in its entirety - and demonstrate viable alternatives. At present all direct action is doing is tinkering with the mechanics of the machine.
We must recognise that in order to create a new way of life unpolluted by the present we must eliminate the current system completely. DA is in grave danger of becoming incorporated in the system and can in fact be interpreted and shown to the masses as a way of enriching democracy. The government permits a certain amount of deviation to demonstrate 'tolerance' and to keep the public assured that outside influences really do have a part to play in the process. In becoming a legitimate tactic in the game of influencing party policy, direct action gives power to the likes of FoE and Greenpeace, allowing them to put themselves forward as moderates, but riding on the wave of popular discontent. They, and other NGOs like them perpetuate the status quo by giving the impression of change without its actually achieving anything.
DA is the result of empowerment of the individual. It implies self-control, self-belief and a person's self-determination. It is a way of life in itself. The other results of DA - publicity, empowering capabilities and results of the action itself are by-products of the act - albeit something useful.
We must not fall into the trap of judging our successes by the responses of the system and not by the net results of the actions themselves. If we do, DA becomes a part of the system and not the alternative. The more we get our fluffy middle class faces accepted by the media, especially right wing newspapers, the more we are agreeing to marginalise our 'darker' side. This is the price of appeasing them. If the struggle is about a whole way of life, the idea should be to change or confront public opinion - not court it.
To have any hope of attaining any sort of sustainable future, DA must completely bypass the political system - it should not take place as a tactic, a pawn in the power game, but as an end in itself. It should never become a tacit and 'acceptable in moderation' part of the system. DA is about acting in the now. It should become a part of everyday life - not a result of everyday life.
We must stop our campaigns being sold back to us as a commodity in the same way that revolutionary ideas are presented to us in the form of books, T-shirts and records, with the net benefit going straight back into the capitalist ideal we are trying so hard to fight.
Campaigns concentrate too much on the future and constantly compromise themselves by setting 'realistic' single issue targets. We are attempting to tackle the symptoms one by one - unless we look at the root cause and tackle that we will be fighting them for eternity. Or is it the subconscious stopping us? Don't wish for what you really don't want or you might just get it? The new transport policies we are fighting so hard to get implemented may well become that which we have to fight against to get what we really want. Surely the problem is that nobody does what they really know is necessary because they are made to feel disempowered, to feel that their demands are not realistic. To tackle a single issue looks great on a leaflet - how do you change the system on a side of A5? Most people know that fundamental change is needed, but shy away from the size of the battle that looms if the future is to become a reality. To tackle one issue is an easier (and within reason necessary) option, but to ignore the realities of the struggle as a whole is dangerous, and leaves us no closer to a sustainable future.
It we don't fight against the totality of the system by understanding a campaign in the context of the wider struggle, capitalism will just rear its ugly head elsewhere. So we should live what we preach, and rather than work with the state, we should use politicians, the media etc. in a way that will expose the state for what it is - a mask behind which the multinationals hide.
- Anon & Anon, London.
Some thoughts from your cranky neighbourhood typist, occasioned by the article on the subject of bio-diversity in this issue of Do or Die:
1) The author quotes Michael Soule and Bruce Wilcox as stating that we are seeing, effectively, the cessation of evolution - particularly in the case of large vertebrates. Apparently this is because the only remaining 'forum' for evolutionary processes to operate in - National Parks, or other large areas where land is set aside for conservation purposes - are too small to allow those processes to operate properly. Therefore, the argument goes, we are not just experiencing death on a colossal scale, but there are no new 'births' to replace the haemorrhaging species. Now I think this is a fine article, it's good to see some seriously ecologically informed debate make an appearance in DoD, and I'm sure most of the author's conclusions are (tragically) sound, BUT: I recently heard of scientific research that could partly contradict Soule and Wilcox's gloomy prognosis - apparently, biologists working in the Kruger National Park in South Africa are of the belief that a new, distinct type of cheetah is evolving there - they've tentatively christened it the 'King Cheetah'.
Now I know there are dangers in complacency, but conversely I think 'eco-pessimism' is dangerous also - it is incredibly disempowering. I'm thinking of the school of thought typified by 'we've damaged the world irreparably, so what's the point? Just sit back and take what you can get from the end of the world party.' That is why I offer the tale of the King Cheetah up to you - I would be interested in hearing a response. Personally, I'd like it very much to be true - it's a sign of hope, especially when conditions seem to be so adverse to it happening And I'd rather fight for hope, and the possibility of a 'new spring', any day - rather than against a torrent of death.
2) Also, I worry that EF!, and the environmental direct action movement in general in this country, is becoming way too closely tied up with the anti-roads issue. Yeah sure, it's important, we've made a big impact and have begun to change the agenda beyond our wildest dreams, BUT; it's getting way too safe - in a way our outrage is getting reincorporated back into the bounds of 'acceptable' concern. As the author of the bio-diversity article alludes to, EF! is all about taking on the difficult jobs and that's what road campaigning used to be. (Obviously I'm talking in ideological, rather than physical terms here - all due respect to those presently running the gauntlet of homicidal security, police and digger drivers.) Part of the theory behind the original formation of EF! in the US was to completely change the terms of the debate, to come out with such an 'outrageous' stance that it made the hitherto ostracised conventional green groups seem positively respectable - and worth talking to on the part of the policy makers. Now I'm not so keen on that 'Trojan Horse' role - there's far more to us than that - but we must keep on trying to push the envelope further outwards. In a sense, it is not our job to be loved, to seek acceptance and endorsement of our views by our 'betters' - be it patronising MPs or the Professional Environmentalist whizz kids who stand at the top of the green movement. Rather, our role is to be reviled. A great saying runs: "Mankind marches to annihilation under the banner of realism" - we must resist the weasel words of 'realism' at all costs - after all, it was a 'realistic' attitude - as Andrew Lees admitted in The Guardian - that led FoE to abandon Twyford Down, and that leads people into passivity and defeatism on nearly every occasion. Some pride in our achievements is warranted here - we have given many people in the UK - and especially within the environmental movement - a concrete illustration that direct action works and produces results. That is an antidote to the prevailing attitude of powerlessness and hopelessness that keeps the people down and the planet under attack. To cut a long rant short, we've got to keep up the pressure on roads, but at the same time we must begin to think about 'life after roads'.
Yours, Cynical (A Disappointed Romantic), SDEF!