How did you get involved in climate activism?
I guess in terms of climate stuff, I met [name removed], I didn’t have a clue, when Heathrow Climate Camp was going on, I was flying off to [location removed]. I was flying off to the Sea Shepherd, I didn’t have a clue about aviation or stuff, didn’t have a clue about all those circles, someone did a workshop at [location removed] when I was at uni there, and I don’t know who organised it, I just thought this looks interesting, went along, had a little chat with [name removed] after, and then I emailed pestered him like never before. He was like, who is this guy, and when I was on the Sea Shepherd, it didn’t really tick all the boxes for me, it was very simple because what I tried to say was you know actually the biggest threat to whales isn’t whaling, it’s climate change, they were like no no, this is what it is, very authoritarian, very patriarchal, I couldn’t be bothered with it, for me it didn’t embody a healthy process.
So I carried on pestering, and when I finally got back to the UK went to a Plane Stupid meeting, found out about climate and all that. I think in terms of direct action, your questions, what was your inroad, it’s whether you’re mentally equipped with the desire and support for civil disobedience and your experiences. And I was involved with the squat party scene in [location removed] for 10 years, and a lot of that wasn’t politically explicitly we support direct action, it wasn’t. Everyone was too fucked off their face to say this is why we take direct action. But it was direct action and we were living it. I think I got a lot of ‘conscientization’ out of that, because you’re cracking squats, you’re having a laugh, you’re creating community and taking corporate space for public good, you’re getting to new states of consciousness with the people who are nearest and dearest to you. All of it is very politically charged whether it’s spoken about or not explicitly on the mic by some crusties, but it was a very political time in my life, not that I realised it at the time, so that was all for 8-10 years, and that led on to Reclaim The Streets as well.
When I was [age removed] I went to J18 1999. I bunked off school, went there was like ”what is this about?” which was great. None of my squat party mates, apart from one guy, are involved in anything I do now. It’s interesting, their take on the political nature of it has been absorbed or not in a different way, maybe they just took too many drugs. Where do we get our support and our in-builtness of civil disobedience? Are we born civilly disobedient? Are we born counter cultural? Therefore are we more or less willing to support climate or direct action movements because we’ve got it in our blood? I was saying I feel like through the experiences they go through, will therefore have much more of a tendency to support things that challenge the status quo, which challenge domination. Everything from Climate Camp and Teclaim The Streets does, challenges dominant culture, whether it’s a polluter or whatever, it’s dominator culture, I think increasingly so in my life. Whether you’re proactive or not is a different thing.
My parents weren’t Lefties at all; I wasn’t dragged on demos at all. In fact they were Thatcher supporters. You were always aware that there was shit out there, but my mum and dad could never pro-actively challenge it, they definitely couldn’t get nicked, because they’d only just achieved their immigrant status. The point is, it’s very important for people to look into their history, and become motivated and empowered about why they support movements for resistance. A modern day one that I grabbed on to was climate and everything, and I applied my own experiences to that. It’s interesting if you think about Plane Stupid for example. There are a lot of amazing people; it’s actually quite a small group, a lot of different amazing talents and interests. There are some people who are very much more motivated by hardcore climate science, whereas I’m not coming from that angle, I just see Plane Stupid as illustrative of wider issues of social injustice. So people are coming at it from different angles, and actually they are complementary.
I was involved in a lot of environmental stuff beforehand, but not climate stuff. I did a lot of stuff with Friends of the Earth, uni related stuff, all kinds of shenanigans, the crossover with environment, youth and homelessness really. So whether that’s the physical environment, the loss of public space or recycling. We were in a different period in 2004, I went to the G8 but I didn’t really know about climate, I was coming from a physical environment, urban space, squat parties, homelessness, recycling, much more physical area like that, and then climate change in that specific potent time was very illustrative of wider issues. People brought their issues to the table. It’s important for people to dig where they stand.
What are you doing now?
It’s interesting, because the model of organising from back then has been used in a lot of ways now. There is one campaign that I’m involved in, where they’ve just taken the model, I’ve looked back at old Plane Stupid powerpoints, and we’ve just taken the model and applied it to a very different issue. And it’s perfect, you know stakeholders, targets, audience, everything. I think a lot of people have moved on to things looking at the systemic violence that is going on, rather than just aviation. Because things have changed so rapidly since 2009 in terms of structural injustice, systemic violence, seeing things so gridlocked and such omnipresent oppression, I think people are talking now between the climate movement and anti-racist movements, homeless movements, because they’re not seeing it as some isolated things, but everything’s together because we’re seeing who is the enemy, who are the allies, who are the targets much clearer now. Whereas there weren’t these conversations going on in 2009 and the question are you upset about the glory days being over? Well yes it was fucking great I’ve taken a lot of exciting-ness, power and everything from meeting a lot of different groups who are actually allies, but they are actually working on very different issues but they are like we rate what you do, we saw what you did in the papers, we didn’t come to any of your camps or any of your actions, we’re very busy with our own shit, but we need to talk more, because people are seeing the systemic violence that is going on, people are seeing the war that is going on.
The Monitoring Group said it, they are my most inspiring movement in the UK, they are an anti-racist and civil rights group, they have a legal wing. They are a really radical grass roots groups who came out of the Southall race riots where Blair Peach was killed. They were the leading legal team behind Stephen Lawrence, Jean Charles De Menezes, all around the riots, insurgencies and stuff, they’re ace! When I first met them I wanted to question them on the whole violence/ non-violence stuff, they were like we don’t do any of that- we are for self-defence. They were behind the Bradford 12, the Bradford 6 all the police brutality trials, saying actually it’s our right to defend ourselves and our people if the police are fucking us over. That’s why we run on the principal of community defence. They were like we rate what you and Plane Stupid do, I was like oh my god these people are great, you know they are warhorses, they’ve been around way longer than we have and they say yeah we see environmental issues as a primary concern of our people, we are just too busy with the daily reality of stop and search, police brutality, deaths in police custody, racist attacks etc. We are not going to be sitting on that runway with you, but we see it as part of the same picture because it’s the same white supremacist, rich, elite Etonian fuckers in parliament who don’t have a clue what’s going on on the ground, who are making money off the polluting industries and oppressing marginalised communities. So the picture is forming and I take a lot of power from these conversations which are happening, which aren’t as sensational, they aren’t going to get you on the front page of the Guardian, but these conversations hold a lot of longitudinal power, they are the cement in the walls.
What would it take for you to get back involved?
It’s a really good question I’ve been thinking about it a lot, in a different way. I’ve been straddling those different worlds in terms of climate action and other stuff, you could say. While [name of organisation removed] was born out of Plane Stupid stuff and seeing the connections there, or whatever. It’s also very different in many ways and some people in [name of organisation removed] are militant about the environmental direct action movement, which gets on my nerves. Anyway I’m doing a lot around aviation specifically, it’s almost like I feel like I’m going back in time in my head, that could be a good thing, but you also need to keep yourself learning, keep yourself alive. I don’t want to feel like some 2008 record player, is he still talking about that. But actually, some places in Europe are 5 years behind, just as America was. The climate movement in the UK was great, it was pioneering on a global scale, so you’ve got to keep yourself alive but across boundaries get everyone up to the same level, so sometimes I do have to go back into that world. That’s not actions necessarily, related to actions, I think from not long ago, I’m not on bail for the first time in like 3 years. Ratcliffe is a fine example of taking a significant- 113- people and putting them on bail for two and a half years. 113 on it, up for it, gung-ho activists and putting them on bail for two and a half years.
The whole kind of excitement of those few years people were like of course I’ll do action or whatever. I don’t think you’d get 113 (you might get a few coppers), into a room in such a short amount of time to do something like that, because we’re in a different time. I would, you know we still need to fucking break the law, we still need to challenge it, we still need to open the goalposts, we still need to do sensational actions. I would definitely do that, but I think we have to put it into the current 2012 political context and it has to be manoeuvred around that. But there is definitely a space for having a creative action kind of thing, which really captures the imagination, like the Ratcliffe trail did. There are very practical reasons why people wouldn’t, because they are still baring the brunt of those years coming out of the Ratcliffe trial. And people still are, those 8 women who are suing the cops/ the state. It’s interesting. I would, but you have to keep yourself alive, not just feel like you’re doing the same old things.
In your opinion what should NVDA climate activists be doing?
I don’t class myself as an NVDA [non-violent direct action] activist. They are such loaded terms aren’t they? During the Plane Stupid days, I never really brought this up. Because for example the Monitoring Group, who are huge and I rate, they are not non-violent, they are for community defence. Of course they fight for peace, but sometimes your methods may turn differently. Also the question about non hierarchy is another question, but anyway, just for ease, what do I think those kinds of movements should be doing? Well there is the War Without Bullets, which is the kind of militant theory which everything in my head is moulded around in terms of where we are in 2012.
It’s kind of… articulated or put together by Kathy McCormac, she is quite famous in Glasgow, she was known as Kathy from the high rises in the 80s. Easter house was notorious, biggest housing estate in Europe, life expectancy of men was 53. She led the first solar housing, made the connection between local and global injustice, and saw it not just ho right your poor OK, it’s calculated injustices, calculated that you’re poor. And we still see in the newspapers, still see it today, the poor are blamed for being poor. Lazy scroungers get back to work, it’s looking at who, the psychological social implications of the war, seeing it not just as some kind of sporadic isolated incident, but actually who is causing the problems, and if it is a war, it may not be with bullets, but with commodity, it’s fought with briefcases and not guns. If it is a war like situation, we have to frame ourselves within that. Have to know who the enemies are, who our allies are, who you can rely on, where are the support centres, where are the social centres etc.
That narrative and style of conversation, puts a lot of people off. When you say we are living in a war like situation in the UK, we’ve found that more middle-class comfortable people say, don’t use language like that, that’s too much. But if you speak to people living on housing estates, getting stopped and searched every day, they are like yeah we are living in a war like situation, so it depends who you are talking to. So the question of what we should be doing now, there is definitely no easy answer, and I think we often have a tendency to paralyse ourselves into inaction until we’ve found that magic answer, there is no magic answer. You just have to have a balance between the yes and the no. The no being still continue to shut down power stations airports etc. But build alternatives at the same time: education projects, health projects etc. Because we are living in a near to post-apocalyptic era we’ve to to have balance between smashing shit up and building stuff out of the rubble (I nicked that off someone!). So 2012 is very different to 2009 in terms of climate science. Its very different, we really need to build strong resilient communities, quick, fast, I don’t know if that’s a juxtaposition… I would say doing Plane Stupid stuff, while they may get the blame, you’ve still got to build community, build connections, another massive factor why the climate movement was in 2009 it wouldn’t happen now, is because of, you’ve got to have a balance between the head heart and hand approach.
Yes we’ve still got to know the climate science, yes we’ve still got to do stuff, but emotionally we are more fractured than we were in 2009, because obviously one of the consequences of living in a war like situation is trauma. Because a) if you are living with local precarity, local inequality but global massive total mind-bogglingy incomprehensible lack of future in terms of climate change, you can’t comprehend it. People need to have those mental support systems and we’ve seen it in our personal lives, people have fallen off, people are getting left behind because of precarity and the unknown and the lack of support systems so I think what we need to do while we simultaneously while we build strong resilient community and do direct action, we need to build mass support systems of psychological welfare because people will understandably, people need to be psychologically equipped to go on. I’ve seen with the total unknown of climate change the local injustice, suicides are on the rise, depression is on the rise, particularly amongst I would say amongst two demographics: amongst marginalised groups of people who therefore have less support ,and that could be LGBT community is huge ones in suicides, you’ll see the majority of people in mental health institutions are people of colour and there is obviously a reason why, lack of support systems. But also I see very sensitive people are becoming more paralysed by what is going on. If you are sensitive and feel the pain of what is going on, which is acute now, you don’t need to read it in t newspaper, you can see it on the streets with the war that is going on.
People are sensitive to that so there is no easy answer, it’s having a balance between the yes and no, making sure they look at the long term as well, so have 5 year campaign strategies, that have a combination of direct action, fun lines you know, airport blockades but also other stuff because actually we fundamentally need to be in it for the long term so we need to create more sophisticated, community-orientated post-apocalyptic ways of doing that. And that can be good, because if we don’t say no, you don’t have to go and work for Greenpeace just because they have some institutional structure, we also have some institutional structure of what we want community to be on the ground, otherwise people will go and work for Greenpeace because its security.
Anything else you want to say?
Read on the So We Stand website the 10 messages for UK climate activism, written 2009 by a very critical thinker. I keep meeting a lot of people who think critical means cynical, but it’s obviously not. Just like how can we be more effective in the long run? What issues do we need to address in our activism, be it privilege, oppression, ability, sex, gender everything, to make ourselves stronger. Because when you have a very ambitious statement, one of the things of the Climate Camp manifesto was movement-building, that’s quite an ambitious thing to say, whereas Plane Stupid were always a bit more comfortable in that, we never claimed to be a movement, we never aimed to be popular, I mean clearly we weren’t: we were shutting down people’s holidays, we were just a group of people from similar-ish backgrounds. So there was never any of this chat about, let’s try and diversify people on the runway, nah let’s do it, we’ve got a sense of urgency.
People who claim to be movements have got to analyse that. So therefore I think if this research you’re doing (and this is a good pitch if you can have it), was very much like, where has the climate movement gone? Is there a place for it now? What’s happened? Then the audience for that is both people who were involved in it, but also people looking at the daily lived reality of the repercussions of climate injustice, whether that’s police exposure, whether that’s environmental racism whether that’s fuel poverty, they will be coming at if from a different angle. And I think they will be really interested because it’s inspiring to know that there are a whole group of people out there who are prepared to put there bodies on the line, and therefore there is a sense of reciprocity amongst movements, because obviously the state, the powers-that-be, like to marginalise us and say we’re a bunch of tree-hugging crystal-gazing hippies and therefore they compartmentalise us and put us in a box, but actually what scares the shit out of the state is when they see us talking to each other, they don’t know how to pigeon-hole us. They are like, hang on, aren’t you a climate activist, but you’re talking about fascism. And actually, well they are part of the same things, it scares the shit out of them. They are sitting in there MI5 meetings behind the scenes saying this is what they look like, spot them, when you go on a demo, but they don’t have a clue when we are seeing ahead of the game when we are one step ahead of them.