No Dash for Gas spent months planning an action camp called ‘Reclaim the Power’ at the new West Burton gas power station near Nottingham, the power station we occupied for a week last autumn.
Then, just two weeks before the event, we made a momentous decision to change the venue and indeed the focus of our camp.
We realised that now is a crucial time for climate and fuel poverty campaigners to show solidarity with the people of Balcombe in West Sussex, and others around the country who are threatened with fracking in their community.
So, after a week of meeting with the villagers of Balcombe and the people at the existing action camp, we decided to move lock, stock and marquee from West Burton over to the fracking site in West Sussex.
I’ve had reservations about this tactic of camping over the past few years. Are we confusing our need, as humans, to connect with others and find like-minded people with our desire as campaigners, to tip society into changes that move us towards life-sustaining systems?
That was a niggling feeling I had before the camp, especially as our tireless infrastructure team wrangled with transport plans and plumbing systems. I now understand there is a clear strategic reason to hold action camps.
I was so excited to see 700 people in a field near Balcombe over the weekend, plotting actions and learning about energy systems, because I realised that as campaigners we have a need to see and hear our movement.
There was a camp-wide meeting where local campaigners spoke about their desperation as the normal channels of change have failed them. They also spoke of their sense of empowerment and possibility, having all these people from around the country standing in solidarity with them.
I looked around and felt so incredibly supported in this work. To know that I was in the company of people who felt so passionately about our energy system and climate change was grounding. I’m part of a movement of people of all shapes and colours.
There will be some people in this movement who I’ll never meet. We are focusing our energy on different projects. But to feel and hear the beating hearts and the intelligent minds of just some of them gives me a huge feeling of possibility. It’s as if there is a root system just under the surface that’s always there, helping to sustain life.
It’s at times like these I realise that I’m connected to that root system, and I can see there are many others also connected to it, drawing strength from it, and making the whole root system stronger.
On the Sunday, we joined a 3,000-strong march to the fracking site. Coach-loads came in from towns around the country. People from communities resisting fracking in Lancashire, Wales and Sussex spoke, then we all joined hands and formed a human chain around the drilling site. (Thank you women of Greenham Common for this tactic!) More people were there than anyone had hoped, and for me this was the single most important indicator that this movement is bigger than any of us have yet realised.
When the Tory heartland and anarchism-inspired campaigners are forming alliances and blockading trucks together, you know we’re onto something big.
Of course, a movement that outright rejects the status quo will be met by massive resistance by the state. The day after the march, 200 people from the Reclaim the Power camp joined the ongoing camp at the drilling site. DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) and friends blockaded the entrance to the compound for four hours. It was peaceful. There was singing. Tea was passed round. I was elated!
Then the atmosphere changed as the police tried to ‘kettle’ (enclose) the protesters. After a couple of failed attempts, they brought in the notoriously aggressive Metropolitan Police.
I managed to find my way out of the kettle just as it surrounded the whole group, and climbed on top of the toilets to observe the police. I was furious that they were being incredibly provocative, charging the crowd and giving the media the photos the police are so keen to create.
I’m sure it’s part of their strategy to drive a wedge between the local campaigners and visiting supporters from elsewhere in the country. They even created an empty zone that they were ejecting protesters from, but allowing the media to stay in, as this would be the best place to watch people being dragged away.
The two feelings that I’m left with from this week are empowerment at what we can achieve together, and fury at the state response to people who care deeply about sustainable energy, and sustainable life, on this planet.