An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 143-146.
by Barbara Bryant
E & FN Spon 1996
This book has a relevance far beyond the specifics of the Twyford Down campaign. Barbara Bryant's experiences during the campaign, and the conclusions that she draws from those experiences, reflect in microcosm many of the questions still facing the green movement in 1997. As Peter Kunzlik puts it in his "Lawyer's Assessment", it is the story of a "struggle within the law to stop the desecration of [a] local landscape and about the frustrations... encountered along the way." (p.226) He believes that "Twyford Down has come to epitomise the failure of the system to protect the environment or to allow its citizens an effective legal role in challenging its despoilation" (p.225). Understanding the law - who makes it, whose interests does it serve, what does that tell us about our society, and thus what strategies for social change should we adopt - is the crucial question here. On the evidence of this book, Bryant flunks the test.
There is no doubt that her feelings are genuine. She says that her opposition to the DoT grew out of "an instinctive love of the countryside, rather than any technical background" (p.71). Of work starting on the Down, she says: "That really hurt, when they first stripped off the topsoil. But I've got used to it now. You've got to - otherwise you'd go mad." ("The unmaking of the English landscape", The Times 30/5/92, p.16.) That level of connection to a place is very healthy, something to be cherished, nurtured and acted upon. That love drew her to take extraordinary action in its defence, pushing her personal allegiances to the limit. And yet, it is a question of how that love is expressed - unlike David Croker, and some of the other members of the Twyford Down Association (TDA), she proved unable to take that last step, and transcend the constraints (or rather the priviledges) of her background.
Twyford generally, and the experience of those who took the legal route to opposing it in particular, is THE textbook example of how the 'usual channels' simply don't work - the state will always move the goalposts if you come close to beating it at its own game.(1) Bryant and her colleagues were pillars of the Winchester establishment (one of the wealthiest, most Barbour (strait) jacketed in the country.) Bryant talks of her "well-known monetarist, free market approach to most issues" (p.122), and describes their admiration for Thatcher's 'achievements'. Their message to the 1990 Party Conference was: "We are Conservatives - we want Twyford Down to be a winner for our Government" (p.146). ( Later they put forward a proposal for a toll tunnel through the Down - the " immaculate 'Tory' solution ... [utilising] market forces to work for the environment" (p.179). ) Personally, and through the Winchester/Winchester College old boy network, they had contacts going up to the highest levels - their supporters were able to send "very erudite letters, from impressive [?!] addresses - to the DoT and to ministers, often on first-name terms" (p.142). This instant access to the elite, of which they made great use, relies upon the disproportionate influence of the upper classes - their 'cultural capital'. (This in itself is a perversion of the 'democracy' Bryant professes such devotion to - what chance of the residents of say Pollock being able to draw upon such networks of influence?)
And yet they still got stitched up at every stage of the game - by Winchester College, their erstwhile allies (largely responsible for the choice of the route through the Down - eg. see p.28/9), in Public Inquiries, at the High Court and finally in Europe. (There is now strong evidence - not explicitly referred to in the book - that one of the main conditions for British acceptance of the Maastricht Agreement was for the European Commission to drop the Twyford case.) If somewhere as "well-connected" (p.61) as Winchester can get shafted, then surely nowhere is safe.
Rather than opting for mass action - mobilising the great unwashed - Bryant clung to a faith in the 'charmed circle' of the elite. She at least has the honesty to acknowledge her own mistakes in this regard - until the High Court hearing she simply had no idea of the existence of other anti-road groups (eg. Oxleas Wood, the M11 - p.149). Likewise, due to their exclusive focus on the Winchester clique, "It was not until the Tactical Voting campaign [of 1992 - and they began fighting the M3 in 1985!] that we realised how much support we had in Southampton" (p.200). I guess it's a case of "live by the establishment, die by the establishment".
Given all of the above, it is hard to explain why Bryant still fails to question all that she had held most dear, and to see through the big lie. The way in which she remains a prisoner of her background, despite the punishment inflicted on her and her beloved Down by a vindictive state, is more than just inexplicable, it is tragic.
Even now she laments the "widespread disaffection with constitutional campaigning" (p.viii) post-Twyford, and throughout the book one gets a strong sense of her need to restore 'democracy's' tarnished image. She warns that "Conservationists in Britain are in danger of falling into an over-adversarial mode. Surely it is not a battle which is the objective, but the securing of environmentally sensitive solutions. [Yes, and ...?] The view that victory is a bourgeois concept, and that glorious defeat is better than victory must not take hold of the conservation and environment-protection groups" (p.viii/ix).
But why not choose a different tack if experience demonstrates (as Bryant's surely must) that "constitutional campaigning" is largely useless? She appears to be suffering from 'cognitive dissonance' - in this debate, SHE is the idealist (ignoring the facts and clinging to some rosy notion of hallowed 'democracy') and us the pragmatists.
Likewise, can she not see the connection between the capitalism she so ardently supports and the destruction of 'special places', not just in Winchester's backyard but all over the world.
She was always instinctively averse to direct action, and uncomfortable with these grubby, pungent 'tribespeople' who were - both literally and metaphorically - muddying the controlled environment of her natural habitat, the committee room. Democracy is, to an extent, about keeping any issue at one remove, abstracted, defused - let's not get physical. Heaven forbid that the British stiff upper lip should tremble, the mandarin mask crack, and we should admit to some emotion. ("the campaign which [we] ... mounted was deliberately rational and measured because we wanted to avoid a repetition of the highly emotional 1970s campaign" (p.26) - why, when this highly disruptive campaign actually succeeded?!)
Unlike David Croker and Chris Gillham, I don't recall ever having seen her at the Dongas camp - she always kept her polite distance. She was one of the main figures behind the stance of the last Twyford Down Association meeting, in the summer of 1992. Here, they shrank from throwing their weight behind the direct action campaign, apparently because, in the words of the TDA President, "to become involved in anything illegal ...erodes the edges of democratic society." (p.215.) Doubtless they were exhausted after their long fight, but they resolved instead to go out with a whimper, not a bang: with the TDA relegating itself to laughing-stock quibbling with the DoT over whether the 'inevitable' new road should have a tarmac or a blacktop surface. (See her account of how the DoT even betrayed them over this one - p.49 and p.209.) Thus they consigned themselves to the ludicrousness of all lobbyists - fiddling while Rome burns.
Let's write our own history...
"We must record our history before it is forgotten, or someone else writes it for us!" Friends of Twyford Down invite submissions for their book. It is intended not to be the views of any one person, nor an academic analysis, but the story of the people who were there in their own words. They want personal memories, poems, songs, photos and drawings. Send any material to the address below - photocopies of written material, and copies or negatives of any photos (black and white preferred). They can also arrange interviews with those who wish to contribute, but don't want to write anything down.
Contact: Friends of Twyford Down, PO Box 162, Winchester, Hants SO22 5ZD. (Donations very welcome!)
None of this would matter, if it wasn't for the fact that, as a consequence of her own "glorious defeat", Barbara now has (pernicious) influence - peddling her wrinkled nose distaste for direct action to new 'learner-driver' anti-roads groups, such as the A27 Action Group, Lewes. Now, Barbara's view of events may be enshrined as the definitive historical text, with direct action largely written out of the main picture and into a much less troublesome footnote. This makes the upcoming 'Friends of Twyford Down' book (see below) all the more important, if only to redress the balance away from Bryant's saga of the Great and the Good.
In one sense, reading this book was an education. Much as I may pour scorn on their approach, I have to acknowledge the courage of their actions, as far as they went - for example, if you are a member of Thatcher's 'property-owning democracy',then the prospect of losing your house over court costs is probably at least as terrifying as a beating from a security guard. Without the herculaean efforts of Bryant and co., it is unlikely that the Twyford campaign would ever have reached the pitch that it did. They laid solid foundations ( at the very least, in making it "An Issue" in the public consciousness), and to mangle metaphors, we picked up the baton that they fumbled. Therefore, given that other campaigns largely flowed from Twyford, I'd like to bestow a most unwelcome title upon Babs: she is the "Mother of all Anti-Roads Battles". (Swampy's your foster son Babs!)
One last thought: Babs' husband - Dudley - is a chartered surveyor." Before coming to Hampshire he had worked in London and been involved for many years in public inquiry and compulsory purchase work in London's East End." (p.19). M11, anyone?
(1) Although this isn't meant to imply a total rejection of 'legal' or 'constitutional' routes - just handle with (extreme) caution!
by George McKay
The title is offensive. I thought of all the people present at the Battle of the Beanfield, the Molesworth eviction, Yellow Wednesday, the 1990 poll tax demo in Trafalgar Square, the Newbury evictions and the countless other landmarks of our "cultures of resistance". Most of these events were not inspired by "senseless" people. Some were far from beautiful.
A book claiming to chronicle and analyse our "cultures" should be one of two things: a pure academic analysis, or a personal account of one person's adventures in subculture land. Unfortunately, "Senseless Acts of Beauty" is neither.
Dense, laboured text suggests the analytical approach, rather an inappropriate way to chronicle people and ideologies who shun analysis and constantly re-invent themselves ahead of the state and academia. However, the scope of the book is a bit limited for it to fully attain this goal - there is scant mention of labour struggles, the Miners Strike or Greenham Common, all of which have had a profound effect on our politics and thinking. McKay's approach is rather too biased towards his own enjoyment for objective academia; many people have mentioned to me the extensive tracts on Crass and then said, "but I've never heard any Crass". There is hardly any mention of acts like Roy Harper or Hawkwind, stalwarts of free festivals in the 1980s, or of the current upsurge of fine musicians like Heathens All, Theo & Shannon or the Space Goats, who are not (and are often anti-) commercial, but are vital to our gatherings.
If the book is a journal of George McKay's own experience, then it is sad that the text and layout are so boring. There is little attempt to reflect how full ofjoy, fun and creativity "cultures of resistance" are. Reclaiming art is part of the resistance and to have all our creativity squeezed into such drab presentation seems rather tragic. For a more interesting read, try "A Time to Travel, an introduction to Britain's newer travellers" (Earle et al, Enabler Publications).
Ultimately, I am glad that someone has tried to write a book bringing together different strands of protesting and partying. We have only ourselves to blame if this is the only written history we ever get. The incentive now should be to impart our beliefs and history in our words and not just to ourselves, but to the mainstream, who live, largely, ignorant of the strength of our existence. If "Senseless Acts of Beauty" inspires one 16 year old to go out and lock on, set up a sound system or live in a bus, then it has done a good job. It is just a shame that it has been done by an academic, in a verbose, uncreative style and not by ourselves.
by Andrew Rowell
There is a disturbing sea change away from environmentalism spreading across America and the globe. Green Backlash is a report commissioned by Greenpeace (though not under its editorial control), to inform and alert activists to this rather nasty turn of events. This book is not a fund-raising effort, or a watered-down account for mass consumption but a thoroughly researched and highly detailed book, written to be used as a tool against the backlash. READ IT.
It describes the anti-environmental movement in the States from its roots, to the advanced stage it has reached now. The book investigates the hugely sophisticated techniques of the P.R. companies, with profiles on Burson-Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton and others, which between them have represented every earth-raping multinational and corrupt dictatorship in the world, (see 'Going Green' in DoD 5). It explains the appearance of corporate front groups with eco-friendly sounding names (e.g. Mothers Against Pollution, Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain, the National Wetlands Coalition,etc) and how they have managed to confuse and influence Americans about environmentalists and the issues they campaign on. It also describes the way in which bogus anti-environmental scientists have convinced the mainstream media that there aint no ozone hole and climate change is good for you.
The scariest development of all, and one that hasn't even started to touch this country, is a real grassroots movement of active anti-greens called Wise Use. Wise Use was initially dismissed by U.S. activists as a corporate con job, but has grown into a separate and independent entity, with most local groups getting little or no direct corporate funding or instructions from high-up.
The second half of the book covers the rest of the world's anti-green activity. It's well written and informative but there is not much that will surprise you, or that you couldn't and out from other sources. Good stuff if you're interested but in terms of what you need to know for practical use, the first seven chapters will cover it.
Don't make the mistake of skipping straight to the chapter about road-protests to see if your mates are in it. There is very little in it you won't know already. The only reason to read it is to give more credibility to the rest of the book, because Rowell's account is accurate and well-informed.
We can't afford to ignore the issues raised here. The environmental movement is in danger of being reduced to a passing fashion and we can either change or die - GET THIS BOOK! At £12.99 it isn't cheap, but you could try ordering it from the library.
by Graham Oakley
You might call this a 'fable of deindustrialisation' - a childrens' book that provides a refreshing antidote to David Bellamy's 'The Roadside' (see Do or Die no.5). In time-honoured fairy tale fashion, the story concerns Henry, an innocent young shepherd, who must find the mysterious substance known as 'Petrol' if he is to win the hand of the fair Princess Isolde. Her father the King believes that petrol will "bring his beautiful heirlooms [ie.cars] to life, and they [will] carry him about among the people who would all be terrified and really think he was somebody, and not just a harmless old twit."
Henry finally tracks down petrol to the last remaining city, where the emperor lives in luxury while his people riot. He is soon deposed when his petrol supply goes up in smoke, and his soldiers realise that "their future would be hard and that they would have to give up all their little luxuries" They therefore make a start "by giving up emperors, generals and ministers of state." (And this is a childrens' book!)
Unfortunately this is easier said than done - the emperor's former minstrel takes over, looking suspiciously like the old boss, except that punk is now the music of court. Henry takes the last remaining canister of petrol back to his country, whose people swiftly appreciate what a waste of time it is, abandon it, and all live happily ever after.
Graham Oakley is best known for his 'Church Mice' series, and the artwork here is of a similarly lavish and impressive standard, with lots of sly visual in-jokes thrown in. (A hint as to the demise of the previous civilisation is provided by a sign on a dilapidated Shell station - now serving as a cowshed - which reads: "One gallon only per customer - our price £152.20 per quarter gallon".) Images of dereliction, and of the recolonisation of technology by nature abound - a British Airways jet transformed into an earth-bound longhouse, pylons decked with vines, the harsh outlines of an Esso refinery softened by vegetation, and so on.
This is a wonderful book - which is perhaps why it is so hard to find. After all, we only want Bellamy's style of propaganda for our kids, don't we? Favourite quote: "He kept his eyes peeled for petrol, but all he saw was trees."
by Bel Mooney
' Kaz has a cozy life until she joins the protesters to save Twybury Hill. The decision isolates her from family and friends. But then she meets Ash, the boy whose life has been so shockingly different from hers. Joining the Rainbow changes their lives forever.'
Based largely on the Solsbury Hill campaign of 1994, the tale of this book is of a tree eviction seen through the eyes of a local 14 year old: Kaz (aka the author's daughter Kitty), who goes from Boyzone to Green man with the help of a raggle-taggle run away boy who defends her tree."We're the new Neolithic Tribe".
All the characters in her book are cheeky composites of real people from the Hill, using actual conversations and incidents plucked from the campaign. It is aimed at young teenage girls, though she does delve openly into the important issues of child abuse, police/state violence, middle class bigotry, nature and ignorance.
"Yeah, some git thinks sabotage will persuade people that this road is bad."
She unfortunately stereotypes the 'fluffies' and the 'spikies', reinforcing grown-up middle class views on sabotage and violence, forgetting childrens' books like the Famous Five who openly break things to catch the baddies. There is however a nice twist later when her 8 year old brother tries to blow up the security compound with his chemistry set.
I for one am grateful for this account, as we don't often experience this dimension. I was reminded with fondness of all the young local girls turning into hardcore digger-divers.
Another book to reach the fiction shelves, this time aimed at 50+ bored housewives. It portrays a road campaign in the style of a Mills & Boon novel. The main character, disenchanted with her dead marriage finds love in a treehouse. Murder, passion and harnesses. Brace yourselves for an influx of romance-seeking blue rinsed babes!
This book shares experiences of Nonviolent Direct Action against road building in Britain from Twyford Down in 1992 to Newbury 1996. This is not a coffee table history book, but a practical, illustrated guide for action. It covers a wide range of subjects including building a campaign from scratch, action tactics, publicity, camps, the law, training, evictions, and much more! The book is a total rewrite of "The Compleat Anti-Road Protester" which was produced in 1994. We hope that the ideas in "Road Raging" are applicable to other protest issues.
For a copy, send at least £3 payable to Road Alert! (This is cost price, including postage; If you can afford more, we can send free copies to really poor NVDA campaigns.) to:
PO Box 5544
Godhaven Press, 1997
132pp / £3 / ISBN 09529975 0 9
This book is not an attempt at a general history or analysis of Newbury. In Merrick's own words: " What I'm writing is one yeast cell's description of winemaking, a personal account of my time at Newbury in the first three months of 1996."
Some of Merrick's ideas I feel are quite reformist and unthought through, but whether or not I agree with everthing in it is beside the point. What's really good about the book is it gives you a real feeling of what it was like to be there. He really paints the picture well, getting you to understand just how surreal, joyful, depressing, life changing and plain weird campaigns (and campaigners) can be.
It's a great read and its extreamly difficult to put the book down til the end. When you finish you want to jump up and do something active. What more could you ask from a book than a few hours of cosy reading and a dose of inspiration to go and act.