ASSERTING OUR RIGHTS AND TAKING BACK CONTROL OF OUR LIVES
By Melanie Strickland
I came to Reclaim the Power to help build a democratic movement that can challenge the vested interests that are making decisions behind closed doors which affect us all, such as on energy policy. At a time when we desperately need to transition to renewables, for the sake of the planet, but also for the sake of decent, skilled jobs, the government has given the green light to forms of ‘extreme energy’ including fracking.* This is like driving a packed bus at speed into a brick wall.
Reclaim the Power was a hugely empowering experience. Many hundreds of people came and we bonded together, took part in a range of workshops and direct action training together, and took collective responsibility to manage the camp logistics. It was difficult at times, but I felt it was a glimpse of what life could be like if we self organise and strive to work through our problems together.
Monday’s day of direct action against Cuadrilla was inspiring. I had the honour to be arrested whilst defending the Balcombe community camp along with Caroline Lucas MP (Green) – who is one of my personal heroines. Other activist groups also shut down Cuadrilla’s offices in Lichfield, its PR company Bell Pottinger, and also targeted pro-fracker Lord Howell’s house. A wind turbine was also placed on the constituency office of another pro-fracker, local MP Francis Maude.
Through Reclaim the Power and the Balcombe community camp, we have shown that it is possible to mobilise people of differing backgrounds, and work together to address the wider issues. What is happening at Balcombe is not just about the fracking. It’s about lack of any meaningful democracy. This is what links all our struggles. And so it’s not enough to fight only against fracking in this community, we must fight to ban fracking everywhere and to fix the democracy problem.
Corporate minorities like notorious fracking company Cuadrilla and the government have no right to turn our communities into resource colonies. The legitimate role of government is to protect the people. Where the government turns on us by authorising corporate assaults in our communities, and taking steps to hasten climate castastrophe instead of averting it, all bets are off. The people – that’s us – must take matters into our own hands to secure a decent future for our children.
History shows us that fundamental change only happens when people act collectively and take direct action. With everything we know now about climate change and the human suffering which is a direct result of the activities of extraction companies – we cannot stand aside. Direct action in defence of what is right is a moral obligation.
Reclaim the power has inspired a new contingent of young and older activists as well as people up and down the country who were not in attendance but who are now starting to wake up to the fact that unless we want to get used to living on our knees, we need to work together to build genuine democracy.
We have to keep up the pressure on the existing unjust structures – they will not change unless forced to change by a popular movement. We must now keep building our networks, building trust, gaining more supporters and working with people from diverse backgrounds. The suffragettes, abolitionists, civil rights movements and many more did not win their battles overnight. It took time and struggle. They too were criticised, just as we are now by Daily Mail types. But we must have courage. We also need plans – our training showed us that a team with a plan is more likley to win than a team without a plan. That’s why I’m researching Community Bills of Rights against fracking which have been passed by communities in the US to keep the frackers out. Restructuring law starting at the local level is one major way we can start to unpick the system of law that subverts community majorities in favour of corporations.
“Fracking is stoppable – another world is possible!”
This was my favourite chant during the Reclaim the Power day of action on Monday.
*Fracking involves forcing carcinogenic chemicals, vast amounts of water and sand at high pressure into the ground to extract gas or oil. This causes much greenhouse gas pollution, pollutes the water, the soil and causes earthquates. Research in the US where fracking is common has shown a strong link between fracking and cancer, as well as other health problems.
photo credit: Katherine S.