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The direct action group Reclaim the Streets (RTS) has developed widespread recognition over the last few years. From road blockades to street parties, from strikes on oil corporations to organising alongside striking workers, its actions and ideas are attracting more and more people and international attention. Yet the apparent sudden emergence of this group, its penetration of popular alternative culture and its underlying philosophy have rarely been discussed.
Direct Action and Action Theatre
In 1973 Jacques Camatte indicated:'It is now becoming generally accepted that demonstrations, marches, spectacles and shows don't lead anywhere. Waving banners, putting up posters, handing out leaflets, attacking the police are all activities which perpetuate a certain ritual - a ritual wherein the police are always cast in the role of invincible subjugators. The methods of struggle therefore must be put through a thorough analysis because they present an obstacle to the creation of new modes of action. And for this to be effective, there has to be a refusal of the old terrain of struggle - both in the workplace and in the streets.'.
Alcoholic Elephants & Rioting Polar Bears
1. Officers of North Yorkshire Police have been defeated by an unexpected enemy - half a million starlings with a penchant for carpet bombing. The birds have roosted at Newby Wiske Hall, the forces headquarters near Northallerton, alarming resident peacocks and prompting a petition from villagers. They whirl around raining droppings for an hour or so before they roost. Bird muck on your car has become an unofficial indicator of which officer works late, said police spokesman Tony Lidgate. The sound of the droppings is like rain, said villager Dennis Pullan, who covers his cottage window with sheets at 6pm.
- Guardian, 23/3/94
From the outside, the direct action movement appears to be stronger than ever. Mainstream groups, like Friends of the Earth, are finally endorsing our actions and protest is a regular media feature. From the inside the picture is quite different: it is likely that without some serious thought about where we are going and what we are trying to achieve, we will soon become part of environmental history.
Two basic problems need to be addressed; firstly to define the major changes to society that we seek and secondly, do we want to build a mass movement or are we content to remain a small band of young, noisy, white, middle class, unemployed, physically able "extremists?"
"In order to underline the problem [of destruction of SSSIs], FoE has launched a campaign centring on a 'Magnificent Seven' group of threatened sites. But some of these may already be doomed. In September, for example, British Coal [now 'Celtic Energy'] began open-cast mining at Selar Farm in West Glamorgan, a traditionally managed area of meadows, which are rich in wildflowers and rare butterflies such as the marsh fritillary. The mining will "totally obliterate" the SSSI."
- From BBC Wildlife November 1994.
This is an article of limited scope - it is not intended as any kind of a history or analysis of Newbury. It's aim is rather to give a sense of the day to day realities of living in that situation. As such it is bound to miss out a lot of what happened at other times and places within the campaign.
The campaign to prevent clearance of the 9 mile route of the Newbury bypass saw the biggest direct action campaign to date against a road scheme, and so could be seen as the most successful so far. However despite all the hype, and expectations bestowed upon it, (often not from activists themselves, but the media), it failed to stop the site being cleared (it is of course debatable if this was ever possible or expected). The campaign has also showed limitations in the road protest movement- both tactical and strategic that need to be addressed if we are to build on the many successes that the campaign achieved.
The following article is from Contract Journal of 17/10/96. It's interesting to see how worried roadbuilders have become about protesters with computers...
Contractors are investing heavily to protect sensitive and confidential information from militant environmentalists hacking into company IT systems, it emerged this week. Balfour Beatty, Costain, Mowlem and Alfred McAlpine all recognise the threat from a small group of hardline anti-roads activists, some of whom possess advanced computer skills. The firms have taken steps to make illegal entry as difficult as possible.
The political ecology of wolves, beavers, sheep and deer
'The green touchpaper has been lit, and the regeneration of the Great Wood is beginning. It is the most heady concept in conservation - the end of the beginning. The siege is over, the first determined sorties can begin. They are no longer fighting to Save the Trees: the new target is to have the wood stretch out and spread once again. If this project continues to work, we can no longer see conservation as a resistance movement. It is now about re - conquest." ('Forest on the March', Simon Barnes, Guardian 25/9/93.)
Industrial tourism - more distance, less difference
"Journeys, those magic caskets full of dreamlike promises, will never again yield up their treasures untarnished...the first thing we see as we travel around the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind" - Claude Levi-Strauss (1974)
It cannot be denied that tourism and travel issues are at the heart of a huge amount of environmental destruction, and that increased travel and communications have caused a drastic reduction in cultural diversity . However, it must be noted that the human species possesses strong nomadic tendencies, and for this reason it has dispersed itself across the entire planet . Indeed, such tendencies have at one time or another been essential to survival; it is therefore perhaps improper to condemn "travel" or "tourism" outright; rather we must examine what these two words have come to mean, whilst also trying to define what we mean by "sustainable travel" (bearing in mind that such phrases are very much abused by those who stand to gain from the current socio-economic model)
Road raging in the South West
This interview was done in a park in Brighton, after bribing the East Devon EF! activist with a can of lager.
Living the Struggle
For a long time, up to the eviction of Fairmile, there was a huge amount of disillusionment, both at Fairmile and around the country in the movement at large. A lot of us thought that in many ways the eviction was going to be a flop. This was down to two reasons. Firstly what happened at the Allercombe and Trollheim evictions and secondly internal politics at Fairmile.
Why labelling of genetically modified food is pointless
Genetic Engineering is one of the most terrifying technological developments of the 20th century. We are now tampering with nature on the very smallest, molecular level, and we have no clear idea of what the consequences might be. The subject is not an easy one for the uninitiated to get to grips with, and the jargon associated with it seems almost designed to alienate people. However, it is vital that we make the effort to understand the full risks involved in this technology, in order to realise the urgent need for direct action to stop it.
Crop Circle Chaos and vegetable vandalism
Since the first in the field planting in 1990 of genetically modified organisms, Germany has seen many actions against the 'freisetzung', or open air planting of gmo's. There are so far over 40 sites where gmo's have been planted in the open air, and crops include potatoes, maize, petunias and a species of tree. Groups from all around the country - mainly 'normal people' from 'normal backgrounds' have taken action against the multinationals.
Mutant Potatoes all out in first UK field action
In what was Britain's first action on a GM-Test site, the Super Heroes Against Genetix First XI donned their outfits yet again in their ongoing tour against the combined Pro-Genetix team. The game was played out on a potato test field site just outside Cambridge on Sunday (8th June 1997). Due to the nature of a somewhat muddy and sticky-wicket - potatoes replaced the traditional red ball. Fielders had a difficult time of it - most of the batting resulted in the 'balls' being smashed to pieces or else being lost amongst upturned soil.The entire crop of the test site was destroyed.
Monsanto poisons the world for profit
Nutrasweet (aspartame) is an artificial sweetener added to over 9,000 products worldwide. It is manufactured by Monsanto (now famous for its mutant soya) and contains a product of genetic engineering. Originally classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a neurotoxin (nerve agent), this chemical was developed as a chemical warfare weapon.
Monsanto, like all corporations, need to be able to patent something before they market it. Sugar is no good as anyone can produce it. Aspartame happened to taste sweet, and was already patented.
A story of machine smashing and spies
'Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood, His feats I but little admire, I will sing the achievements of General Ludd, Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire'
This article started off as a review but soon turned into some sort of synopsis arising from the reading of two books, both written by radical ecologists.
The spread of syphilitic suburbia
Lyminge Forest is a large area of mixed woodland located in East Kent on the North Downs. It is home to a vast array of wildlife, including several rare and internationally threatened species. Final approval was recently given for plans by the Rank Organisation to build a holiday town, sorry, "Oasis Village" for 4000 tourists in the West Wood area of the forest. It will consist of 850 chalets, apartments and log cabins, a "tropical waterworld", artificial rubber-lined lake, golf course, shops, and, of course, parking for 3600 cars. Kent already experiences a chronic water shortage and further strain will be placed on resources, to the tune of 1 million litres per day; one percent of total consumption in the entire borough of Shepway. Local rivers are currently running at less than one third of normal flow rates. In a forest which currently sees open public access, footpaths and bridleways will be closed and a barbed wire perimeter fence erected to prevent entry.
The dynamics of Reclaim the Valleys!
Once upon a time, before the industrial revolution, humanity was thinly scattered across the South Wales Valleys. Then British Capital needed a workforce to extract/refine the mineral resources geological chance placed under this rocky spur of land. The country was raped; the population multiplied by enclosure and immigration.
Obviously, living and working conditions were hellish. Responding to this, traditions of resistance through solidarity grew to defend beleaguered communities.
A Personal Account
IMAGE: Across the valley from the Battlestar proudly stood Zion Tree
This interview was gently extracted from a war torn activist three days after the eviction of the last tree at Flywood camp at Manchester Airport. There were still tunnel systems being occupied, and other tree houses have gone up since. This follows one persons experience of one of the most successfully defended tree houses. From the begging to the end of the Battle Star Galactica.
Good evening from Captain Battlestar, who is totally nameless and will put on a silly accent throughout this interview.
Bears, Blockades & Burning Bridges
One of your humble editors asked me to write an article on what's happening in regards to wilderness and resistance in British Columbia. I was slacking off a bit on the deadline, which seems to be what one does when writing for DoD. But I guess it drove said editor to desperation, because the next thing I knew I was in a Welsh jail charged with Criminal Damage (Without Lawful Excuse!) of earth moving equipment, and Attempting to Pervert the Course of Justice (if destroying the land by opencast mining serves the course of public justice, then I'm proud to be a pervert). The editor then told me in no uncertain terms that I wouldn't be getting out until I gave him an article, and that if people don't turn in stories on time he'd make damn sure they all ended up in the nick where they'd have plenty of time to finish overdue articles.
Free State in the Forest
The heart of the Willamette National Forest, the bread basket of the Pacific Northwest timber industry, is the Cascade Range. The land here is steep, cut through by swift rivers and streams. The salmon are a thing of the past since the dam down at Lowell, but the osprey, bear and anglers compete for the fat trout; mountain lion, coyote and black-tail deer roam the meadows, and the great Roosevelt elk that the Europeans nearly wiped out earlier this century are flourishing. The howl of the wolf has disappeared from the southern Cascades, but some hold that they've seen tracks and to the north across the Columbia the wolves have come as far south as the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. The steeper slopes that had, until recently, discouraged logging, are covered with Douglas fir and hemlock, thicker across than a tall man stands, and the wet drainages hold the giant Red cedar. But these are pale things compared to the immense trees that grew on the lower, more level ground, some 7 or 8 meters through. The ground is covered in thick rhododendron and salal, or in clearings by huckleberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, blackberry, vine maple and alder.
Radiation and radicalism in the Czech republic
Since the catastrophe at Chernobyl in 1986, the Western nuclear industry has had many problems in continuing its work. Due to public opposition and financial problems no more new nuclear power plants (NPP) have been built in Western Europe (with France as a glowing exception) nor have new NPP's been ordered in the United States. Thus the nuclear industry lost its market. Unsurprisingly they started to search for a new market, which they think they have found in eastern Europe.
Crazy happines-giving ideas in Poland
We would like to start our short report from Poland with a piece of happy news - for a year now an ecological movement has existed in our country, with an ideology which is very close to the activities and philosophy of Earth First! We even identify with Earth First!, we use the same symbols and concepts of activity.
Battles in the Basque Country
Daniel Unziti Condemned to Three Years in Prison
As you know (see the Earth First Action Update May 1996 and Undercurrents #6), in April '96, activists sabotaged the construction of the Itoiz dam in the Basque Country to brilliant effect.
While revisiting the Philippines last year I was travelling and viewing the panoramic scene from a bus on my way from Pagadian City to Ozamis City, in the southern island of Mindanao. I pondered what I had seen and heard over the last two months. The outrageous beauty, magnified now by the quickly declining sun, created myriads of reflections on the waters of the rice fields, leaving the beholder in awe.
From Autonomen to Zeitgeist
So you know Germany is full of old fascists getting drunk at football games, and that the Chancellor's name is Kohl, and that he is the large fat guy whose favourite dish is sow's stomach. But maybe you aren't privileged with any insights into the radical ecology movement in the land of the huge Black Forest, the hilly countryside along the Rhine river and of the "progressing" industry.
"Gorleben" (in early March 1997) was a huge thing that you may have seen on TV - 10,000 anti-nuclear protestors up against 30,000 riot police. If you take these 10,000 protestors and deduct about 9,500, you're left with a handful of energetic activists that are involved with radical ecology.
After you got a short survey about what's happening in good old Germany at the moment, you're now able to read the lines I wrote in the dark and damp cellar of the DO or DIE Headquarters; not allowed to leave until the article was ready. I put all my lousy English together and turned back time to the beginning of autumn last year.
In September of 1996 a handful of powerful activists started to initiate an as yet unknown kind of resistance, the squatting of trees to save them from the stupidity of politics personified in chainsaws. The trees of the "Bettelmanns Holz" forest are a part of the 'Thüringer Wald', one of the biggest still existing forests in Germany, and were expected to give way for the most expensive and destructive motorway in our history. The motorway from Erfurt to Coburg with 160 bridges and tunnels, 8,000,000 m3 of removed ground and thousands of killed trees should cost about 16,000,000,000 DM minimum. In the time when work was supposed to begin the first platforms were set up and people not only started a new form of resistance but also chose to live a real free life close to nature.
Nine percent of the radioactive cargo doing its chicken run to the disposal plant in Gorleben comes from Sellafield in Cumbria. For this reason, six eco-louts from Brighton decided to represent the nuclear waste from our own power stations.
Gorleben is a small town about 50 miles southeast of Hamburg. It had been a relatively peaceful and politically inactive place until recent years. Over 20 years ago plans were released for a nuclear waste disposal plant on the outskirts of the town. The plant was to be used as a giant European dumping ground. As plans became public knowledge, local residents began a campaign against the plan and swiftly gained support from Germany's enormous environmental movement. The resistance grew steadily until the point where the plant was opened, around three years ago. Local peace and anti-nuclear campaigners initiated a campaign of civil disobedience and direct action which involved people from all around Germany and much of Europe.
Word up from the anti-nuke Massive
Nine percent of the radioactive cargo doing its chicken run to the disposal plant in Gorleben comes from Sellafield in Cumbria. For this reason, six eco-louts from Brighton decided to represent the nuclear waste from our own power stations.
Earth First! in Holland
Groen Front is the Dutch Earth First! We started with our first action somewere in May of last year (1996), at Schiphol airport, against a TV-program for flying holidays. On a critical moment we walked with banners onto the set (it was an almost live program). After a few times one of us got arrested. Eventually they managed to save their program (too bad).
Revolutionalry tourism: a good excuse to get stoned
Around 30 British activists took a busmans holiday to the land of canals and bicycles to see how our Dutch cousins deal with a "public order situation". We arrived by coach the day before, suffering a mild dose of culture shock as we were led from the art-deco station, through meandering cobbled streets with canals and Bauhaus bridges, to a secret location that was to house us for the event.
The squat (an old brewery warehouse sat on the oldest canal in Amsterdam), was home to a group of Dutch anarchists with a sorted itinerary and enough floor space to sleep an army!
A movement faced by Finnish society
A brief history of Finnish nature conservation.
In Britain you have a long history of civil disobedience whereas in Finland our first enviromental movements were established only in the late sixties. Our radical eco- movements dried up right at the beginning. The first (and in my opinion the last) really huge action was at Koijarvi, in which right from the beginning the media gave a negative image of the movement.
In the coastal ranges of northern California, the tallest of all living beings - the ancient redwoods - are crashing toward extinction. Myriad creatures depend on the forest's dense canopies, clear streams and rich soils for their continued survival.
Ancient forests provide some of the last refuges for endangered species, and set the stage for raging battles over property rights, biodiversity and the enforcement of environmental laws designed to protect endangered species and their habitat. Activists and earth warriors have defended the remnant forests with non-violent civil disobedience and direct action in the woods.
Ecodefense! is an international, non-governmental, non-profit, environmental organization founded in 1990 in Kaliningrad (former Koenigsberg) Russia. We stand on principles of deep ecology and biocentrism, combined with social responsibility and justice. We work to inform and involve more ordinary citizens in environmental and social activity through the organizing of educational events, environmental campaigns, non-violent direct actions and the spreading of environmental information. We are working to stop violations of human rights, and insists that the rights to a healthy environment and information are fundamental rights that must be available for every single person.
Ecodefense! urges: We have no right to any compromises in the defense of our Mother-Earth, at least because this is only Earth we can live on!
Delta reports on the reality of Shell's role in Nigeria
News of a further clampdown in Ogoni should come as no surprise to observers and activists used to the cynical disregard for environmental and human rights by transnationals and the governments they support. Despite the deaths of 2000 Ogonis killed by the Shell-backed Nigerian military regime, and the internationally-condemned executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his 8 colleagues, it is business as usual as far as those in power are concerned. Another 19 Ogonis are being held in prison on the same false charges that led to the execution of Saro-Wiwa, and the conditions in Ogoni have worsened. Without any pretence of interest in democracy, Shell is now planning to resume its corporate piracy of oil in Ogoni against the wishes of the people, and the Abacha regime is plotting to succeed itself in a stillborn transition to democracy.
Today Chiapas - tomorrow the world!
While some of the momentum has been lost from the Zapatista uprising of January 1994, the shock waves are still reverberating through Mexico. Despite the government's best attempts at side lining the Zapatistas[EZLN], the spirit and the people carry on with their struggle.
The news from Australia is that activists are back blockading in the forest . We have a base camp set up in an idyllic warm temperate rainforest area of East Gippsland, where a resident sooty owl calls and a pristine river flows. There are tree ferns 35 feet high, older than science can guess, but as slender as saplings. The light through their latticed umbrellas makes enchanting dapples on the leaf litter. Nearby under the vines, lilly-pillies drop their edible fruit. Along the river there are ancient granite boulders like the cracked eggs of a huge serpent. Like many such areas it is unprotected from the loggers.
Faced with the growing success of direct action the British state is replying with raids, conspiracy charges and surveillance. Is this a taste of things to come?
"In the last five years, the Metropolitan Police has had to deal with 510 separate policing operations classified as being concerned with environmental groups - and the trend is upwards." - The Police Review, 21 March 1997.
Twyford Down: Roads, Campaigning and Environmental Law
by Barbara Bryant
E & FN Spon 1996
This book has a relevance far beyond the specifics of the Twyford Down campaign. Barbara Bryant's experiences during the campaign, and the conclusions that she draws from those experiences, reflect in microcosm many of the questions still facing the green movement in 1997. As Peter Kunzlik puts it in his "Lawyer's Assessment", it is the story of a "struggle within the law to stop the desecration of [a] local landscape and about the frustrations... encountered along the way." (p.226) He believes that "Twyford Down has come to epitomise the failure of the system to protect the environment or to allow its citizens an effective legal role in challenging its despoilation" (p.225). Understanding the law - who makes it, whose interests does it serve, what does that tell us about our society, and thus what strategies for social change should we adopt - is the crucial question here. On the evidence of this book, Bryant flunks the test.
There is no doubt that her feelings are genuine. She says that her opposition to the DoT grew out of "an instinctive love of the countryside, rather than any technical background" (p.71). Of work starting on the Down, she says: "That really hurt, when they first stripped off the topsoil. But I've got used to it now. You've got to - otherwise you'd go mad." ("The unmaking of the English landscape", The Times 30/5/92, p.16.) That level of connection to a place is very healthy, something to be cherished, nurtured and acted upon. That love drew her to take extraordinary action in its defence, pushing her personal allegiances to the limit. And yet, it is a question of how that love is expressed - unlike David Croker, and some of the other members of the Twyford Down Association (TDA), she proved unable to take that last step, and transcend the constraints (or rather the priviledges) of her background.
Do or Die editors dig their own graves
I have been involved with Earth First! for several years and before that was a peace and animal rights activist. So, it is not without some consternation that I now find myself seriously doubting EF! This is not through any loss of faith in direct action, but through serious disillusionment with those who are most active in EF! - the "leaders". I know you will deny it, but there are those of you who set the agenda and write the Action Update, Do or Die or Direct Action Direct.
This leadership is drifting into the realms of Monty Python - The Life of Brian - The Peoples' Front of Judea - the bunch of black clad saddoes who huddled together spitting at the efforts of all other freedom fighters, whilst wasting time on their own internal politics and competitive political correctness. [See the outrageously sectarian piece on conservationists in this issue for further evidence of this syndrome.] They plan futile actions that if (after all the in-fighting) they ever come off are totally pointless.