A few days ago, on the coach back to Exeter from London, there was a point southwest of Bristol at which the coach had almost emptied and green and yellowed plains, punctuated by lines and huddles of shrub and tree, opened out on the left hand side of the M5 motorway. At this point, my body and mind relaxed tangibly and at once. I breathed deeply and felt satisfied that I had braved out the last few days in London, called there by a non-violent direct action (NVDA) campaign run by Rising Up. (www.risingup.org.uk).
Nothing else at this moment in my life could have called me to London. I find Bristol city challenge enough after living a rural existence these past few years, very sensitive as I am to the built environment and the psychogeography of moving crowds, their unconscious desires, my identity existentially threatened by sheepiness and strong individuals alike.
But Bristol is a fine city, as far as cities go, being as they are intrinsically problematic, ecologically. A few weeks ago, anxious for new forms of society in my life, eager to make up for years of ‘social phobia’ and social trauma, I came across an activist group on Facebook (which does have its uses) -‘Rising Up’. I soon met some of these fine people in a house in Easton somewhere. We shared good food and discussed the other world that is possible. Or rather, we discussed how to challenge this world more effectively.
A couple of weeks and a meeting or two later and I am on a coach to London to engage in my first NVDA (not that I’ve been involved in a violent one). Namely, hunger striking for 24 hours, and potentially longer, outside the Labour HQ on Victoria Street to help put pressure on Labour MPs to vote against the third Heathrow runway proposals, due to finally go through parliament (after earlier government approval) in the coming few days. Why? Because a third Heathrow runway is a contribution to climate breakdown, habitat destruction, the global rich-poor divide and leaden guilt in the collective human soul.
There were a good fifteen or twenty of us sat in a row hunger striking on Saturday June 9th, including Rising Up activists, local Heathrow residents and members of the experimental ‘Grow Heathrow’ land-based project occupying where Heathrow wants to covet. We received some good press coverage, including from The Guardian, and independent media providers Undercurrents and Real Media. Far from being a socially anxious shivering wreck as nightmarish projections might have me believe I would be, I enjoyed the feeling of solidarity with my new comrades and the chance to actually influence government policy (along with all the other fine campaigners from other groups protesting the third runway, who weren’t present with us). I also enjoyed people-watching. Sitting on the pavement for a few hours was the ideal opportunity to view all manner of human being, and sleek motor-vehicles with Middle Eastern flags crawling down the street.
Playing our cards a little wild, hearing that John McDonnell the Shadow Chancellor might not meet us the next day if we hung around outside Labour HQ, we hot-footed it to the union Unite building a few blocks away, parked ourselves, chanted and felt our emotional momentum rising as we protested the ridiculousness of Unite (and anyone) supporting a grossly unsustainable project just because it ‘creates jobs’. Afterall, wars create jobs. In the middle of the day I slipped off down a side street to get some water. I found a cute refined gallery-cafe in the bricked terrace, exhibiting modern (or post-modern?) Afro-Carribean, or African (or I’m not sure) art. Large paintings entitled ‘Fragility #1’, ‘Fragility #4’ etc, of gorgeous black women in colourful wrap around dress, and all featuring little porcelain Captain Cooks in the background. Fearful of being in the city as I was, and not dressed proper, and fragile to get back to the frontline, I could not express my appreciation. Shame, but nevertheless I emerged with water from the gallery-cafe waitress, victorious.
Turning our backs on Captain Cook, the Texan-Oil mentality of Heathrow and the dusty roar of plastic progress, we arrived at what would be our dwelling, meeting place, tea-drinking place and spiritual commune over the next few days, believe it or not, an anarchist-Catholic chapel and boarding house in Haringey. To the Catholic Workers there we are ever grateful.
In the evening, feeling like it was some macho test to stay up and watch the film (but that was all in my head) and I’m glad I stayed awake to soak in the Freedom Riders, of segregation-era America. ‘If they did that, which they did, we can do this, we can do so much more than this.’ The omnipotence of non-violence. Wholly applicable. Wholy.
The first night sleeping in the chapel, on the hard floor, my dreams were manic and pained. I was threatened by dark elements of the public and also by mysterious Arabs, (like Qatar investing in Heathrow). My demons fast purged, chapel purged?
The next day Sunday my friend Patti arrived and took some sketches of moments of us being human. See them here, and top of post. The weather was changeable but our spirits remained high. It was the Queen’s birthday one of these days, I couldn’t care less which, but troop-carriers and red arrows flying overhead were like some grand and ominous sign, a reflection of the weight and fire in us activists, but the waste and pyre of this state we live in. McDonnell on the periphery, meeting us or one of us.
[Oil flowing through London’s streets. Exhausted cars and polyester sweaters. Buildings in flames. Children in flames, toddling along oblivious.]
Then some of us left, bravest warriors to return to oil-drenched lives, and brave of us left to sit in oil, to carry on with no food, no air-freighted oil inside us at least -our guts were rather dry for the fight, the non-violent fight of the days ahead -we fasted. Little had I realised that we would be working as we not-ate, notating comms to dispatch to MPs and to the leviathans of the Queenly British press, and the indie (hard) pressed outlets, and anyone we could fucking get hold of.
Over the next few days, the London Underground, the blunder-thunder-round, the not-so-merry climate-bound, carrying hunger-strike placards and sticks, balancing banners, convening in cafes and on street corners, Roger-and-Simon led by their greater experience, deciding where to double-strike next. On Wednesday in the lobby of the House of Commons, some of us laid down to die. We hadn’t had enough -not quite yet -actually not by a long stretch of red chalk. I filmed some of it, and tried again and again, thwarted by a bored security guard. At first Robin shouted, shouted the threat, any shout an understatement of threat, even in the Houses of Parliament, of the climate catastrophe that could well await us. He was led out, as usual, used to police escorts by now. Clare was gone, procuring red chalk paint etc for some mischief on the morrow’s morrow.
That evening, on the Wednesday, I broke my fast with some wonderful hummous in a Turkish restaurant down the road from our digs. Quite appropriately, the megalomaniac Turkish president Erdogan did not cross my mind. I do wonder how much carbon is embedded in the arms that Theresa May sells him at all our expenses, and at the expense of the Kurdish people of Eastern Turkey and Northern Syria whom he oppresses.
As I travelled back home the next day, the remaining hunger-strikers travelled to Scotland to do this.
So thanks to all my new activist friends -due to the structure and vision of Rising Up, I now realise that NVDA can make a difference, has made a difference and will continue to make a difference.
Please urge your MP to #VoteNoHeathrow. Please spread the message of #VoteNoHeathrow and visit our social media pages for exciting videos and updates of our very necessary actions in this age of doublethink, ecocide, and the willful genocide of our children and grandchildren by political elites.
(Thank you to Roger, Simon, Clare, Ian, Ian’s-lovely-partner-whose-name-I’ve-forgotten, Robin, Jenny, Richard, Stuart, Calum, Annie [Grow Heathrow], Sibi, Cam, Marcha, Gwen, Christian, Jeremy [Green Party], Amy, Randell, Zoe from Undercurrents, Rikki from Real Media, Luka, Indie, Willow, Frieda and anyone I’ve forgotten)