Heathrow conference

IssueSeptember 2008
Feature by Gabriel Carlyle

On 26 July, over a hundred environmental activists and local residents met in a small church on the edge of Heathrow to discuss future action against the proposed third runway.

Predictably, the Evening Standard, reported that “hardcore activists” were preparing “a new wave of non-violent ‘attacks’ on the airport which could culminate in an invasion of Heathrow’s runways”, while the Hounslow Chronicle claimed that a “new breed of ‘grey haired, middle-aged’ protesters are gearing up to cause chaos at Heathrow – after being trained at militant camps.”

What really happened was much more interesting.

The government has come under intense pressure not to allow the new runway – which would have a disastrous impact on Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions (see PN 2489) – and both media-savvy activism and grassroots local organising have played key roles in galvanising opposition.

The latter now extends across the political spectrum and deep into the mainstream, and it is widely believed that a credible threat of mass nonviolent direct action to occupy and defend Sipson (the village that will be flattened if a third runway is built) could be decisive.

Hence, the most exciting proposal to come out of the 26 July conference: the creation of a “Pledge to Defend Sipson” (and thereby all our futures).

Crucially this would be a nationwide enterprise, rather than confined to local residents – a detail apparently lost on the press – and would be focussed on preventing the demolition of Sipson, rather than “causing chaos.”

It will also only go ahead with the agreement of the local community – though if the energy and enthusiasm I witnessed at the conference are anything to go by – this won’t be an obstacle.