Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Democracy not found in Balcombe

(despite digging deep to find some trace of it)

Today was the day that the press release came out announcing that an event originally scheduled to take place at West Burton Power Station – would now be held in Balcombe, West Sussex. The event is ‘Reclaim The Power’ and it will now join ‘The Great Gas Gala’ in this welcoming, beautiful village in West Sussex; the current frontline of the stand against a relatively new form of ‘unconventional’ energy extraction, fracking for shale gas. The opposition to 'unconventionals' is based on overwhelming reports of harm by this industy from America, Australia and more.

Now on day 13, The Great Gas Gala has brought together villagers as well as concerned UK residents from across the country, to camp at the roadside entrance to a drilling site where exploration for gas and oil is being undertaken by Cuadrilla Resources (Chairman Lord John Brown). More than 30 arrests, insane amounts of police brutality and so, so many attempts at halting, slowing or even slightly delaying the trucks that deliver the equipment, have broken hearts and strengthened resolve.
The numbers on the roadsides vary from 100-350 depending on the time and day and although these wonderful, dedicated souls are enduring beautifully...

... it can’t go on, they need help

In a democracy, we would have the ear of those in office and the village vote of 80% AGAINST the drilling, would count for something; that it doesn’t... matters, maybe as much as the insistence by those in office that we accept this dirty, risky business on our land.

I have been in Balcombe over the past two weekends and feel no need to justify the reason the camp exists or explain the respect these people deserve – surely, this is obvious? Some of the mainstream media don’tsee it this way but the mainstream media is out of step with reality on too many things for this to have been unexpected. 'Activism' is not a lifestyle choice – it is an obligation by those who see a wrong and act to correct it.

A phone call had alerted me to an upcoming meeting where the possibility of moving the Reclaim the Power event to Balcombe was being discussed. It was made clear that the event would not come to Balcombe uninvited and people involved wanted to talk to villagers and ask their views; as I was going to the site and had met some of the warm, friendly (feisty!) villagers, I was asked to arrange a get-together with some of them. 

I was so very torn

The people I know from Reclaim the Power are exemplary - I trust those I know implicitly and am certain of their right, just and appropriate intent - but I still did not really know how I would feel if I were a villager of Balcombe, if I was presented with this. A night of long pondering followed until I got it down to two simple and unavoidable choices I thought the villagers faced:

-accept that Cuadrilla WILL drill because they clearly have the power to wrap our laws and law-enforcement around their machinery in order to ensure they are not stopped

~ OR ~

-accept the powerful offer of help from a dedicated, well-organised group of determined people that comes with unknowns...  a large number of people, living together in tents, performing acts of civil disobedience and having to confront the law, does not come without incidents. BUT ...a large number of people, living together in tents, performing acts of civil disobedience and confronting Cuadrilla - is probably the ONLY thing that stands a chance right now.

On Saturday, as 120 villagers walked into the camp, singingnew words to Jerusalem, smiling broadly and adorned with children – there was no more beautiful sight; it followed though on the heels of countless vile incidents of police brutality in defence of Cuadrilla vehicles in the preceding days. This contrast of idyllic village life and ugly confrontation is a stark and raw vision of light and dark, right and wrong, good and bad.

A showdown is imminent, inevitable and so horrid that I want to get under the duvet, pretend it all away and not come out till it somehow just stops being a fact. It’s the heaviest feeling knowing that IF we don’t stop Cuadrilla in Balcombe that not only do we put our air, water and health at serious risk – but that any ideas about living in a democracy, are just fantasy. The power of those with financial interests in this industry, over our government - is evidenced beyond doubt and obvious with every policy decision made by those in office.

IF we tolerate this – then we accept we have no voice

I watched a cluster of smiling women from different walks of life, discuss feelings about relocating Reclaim the Power to Balcombe’s Great Gas Gala and thereby infusing it with many hundreds more people; video and notes from this meeting of  villagers and visitors from Reclaim the Power went to a meeting of those involved in the event and today’s press release is the outcome.

Reclaiming the power
...means more than sane energy decisions 

Change is already happening in Balcombe, not just this stand the villagers are making or the camp that is growing but the realisation of another reality that comes with each arrest, each ignored vote, each rejected petition, each un-heeded planning objection, each ignorant political response, each ill-informed Councillor, each revelation of powerful lobbyists in OUR government, each divisive headline in the press and each and every moment... that what we KNOW to be true, is hidden from view. 

IF the drill at Balcombe is not stopped, it will do its job on West Sussex then return to Lancashire for more of the same – I live in Blackpool, where the drill is due next - so I know what I would choose, if I were a Balcombe villager.

*Calling the cavalry.