An installation of slate signs by Tom Hirons commemorates protest sites against UK government’s road building programme in the 90s. The commemorative plaques mark the 20-year anniversary of the start of the road protest movement at Twyford Down. It was one of a number of activities focusing on the road protests movement at Dark Mountain’s Uncivlisation 2012 festival this weekend.
While many individual sites mentioned on these plaques where lost to roads, the protests did seriously damage the prospects for Thatcher’s road building programme, which was significantly reduced as a result of the forest occupations. The protests were, as described in the Uncivilisation 2012 programme; ‘a high-water mark in the history of the UK environmental movement’. Many of the people who were defending these forests, valleys and meadows were nothing short of heroic in their defense of the land. Living up in the trees and buried in the tunnels, winter and summer alike, these forest occupations worked to stop some of the proposed roads.
The inclusion of the protests in the programme was a welcome addition to the previously fiercely apolitical Dark Mountain. It was transformative for the festival and thus for me this was by far the best of the three Uncivilisations. If Dark Mountain could start to see itself as a space from which activism could grow – rather than a refuge for ex-environmentalists to retreat, I believe there would be great potential for this movement (although they tend to even distance themselves from the idea that they are a movement). The focus on culture, stories and personal relationship with Nature is immensely satisfying. I agree with the Dark Mountain philosophy that we learn by story telling. We make meaning by telling stories. We are not a statistical race. Stories inspire and motivate us to act (or not to act).
Yet stories can only truly help once they do actually help us act. Acting is not someone we can ask others to do without a willingness to do ourselves. The despair that we all feel in response to the ecological crisis can only ultimately be addressed by a commitment to act. When Dark Mountain distances itself from this role, as if this is somehow not appropriate or someone else’s job, this withdraw can only, in my view, honestly, be understood as complicity with cultures of denial. Saying this, if I did not have faith that those who run Dark Mountain are attempting to get somewhere worthwhile, I would not still be going.
It is just not possible to talk about something as politically loaded as ecology without taking a position. In an ecocidal culture, ignoring the political dimension is a capitulation to the status quo. Dark Mountain is political whether it likes it or not. We are either explicit in our resistance – or complicit in ignoring the impact of our failure to act (I will develop this theme in another blog soon).
One of the reasons I was at the Dark Mountain festival was to connect with people interested in resisting the false green economy (see earlier blogs). Unfortunately, the false green economy initiated by the UN is so complex it is extraordinarily hard to understand. The big battles in an era of ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘atmospheric parts-per-million carbon dioxide equivalent’ are so abstract it is hard to understand how we can possibly stop the on-going destruction of natural spaces and systems. What kind of effective action can we take in the face of these abstract threats?
During a session on the Twyford Down, I rashly volunteered to map UK sites of resistance that have been saved by direct action, occupation, camps or milder types of campaigns such petitions etc. I will definitely need a little help if this is going to happen. I would like to start by asking people to put details of natural sites that have been saved by campaigns in the comment section below (or email me). Please include name, type/characteristics of the site and postal code. If I get enough responses I will make a map which will demonstrate just how effective we can be when we decide we want to stop the destruction of something we love.
The depoliticisation of inherently political issues this weekend was evident for me in many ways – but I can quickly describe three of the most serious. A friend is proposing to use the word ‘biosphere capital’ to refer to what she should call ‘biocapacity’. It might seem like a simple linguistic error. Yet when the processes of neo-liberalism capitalism are the dominant threat to nature, those of us attempting to stop the destruction of the natural world must not be start to define nature as a kind of ‘capital’. This kind of language sets up the conditions for the sale of natural spaces.
A second example was evident when the issue of appropriation came up in a conversation a group of us had with a story teller. I tried and failed to flag up the danger to environmental movements of the appropriation of our language, our traditions and energies by capitalism. He told a story suggesting these things are resolved by St. Peter at Heaven’s Gate. This seemed a particulary unsatisfactory way of (not) stopping the erosion of our communities the appropriation, depoliticisation and neutralisation of our strategies.
A third and most serious example was at the final session with Dark Mountain director Douglad Hine and the Martin Palmer. Palmer is currently working with the Club or Rome and is looking for artists and story tellers to help build awareness of the ecological threat. This project sounds to me like it could easily become Hopenhagen Part Two (see my essay on Hopenhagen). The danger here is that the Club of Rome, in league with the World Bank and the UN will use the best creative talent the environmental movement has to offer to market the intensification of exploitation of the natural world – which is what their False Green Economy project is all about.
To sum up, back to the road protests. I visited and stayed a couple nights at Newbury in 1995 as curious spectator who was not quite prepared to jump onboard. Bearing witness was the most I could manage at this early stage of my life as an activist. I am compelled to say that I believe that many young people today are every bit as courageous as the road protestors – and in some ways far more clever and sophisticated in their strategies of resistance.