Monday, 23 September 2013

24 hours, two seaside towns... one dress (and a near, near death experience!)

It started with a dress...

19 September 2013 - 18:15 – 00:09
Worlds Collide
Presenting the award at the Be Inspired Business Awards (BIBAs)  is an honour I have enjoyed for each of the past three years; the company I work with (Orbit Internet), is a Sponsor and so we get to both judge a category and take a table for 10 (though this year stretched to an enjoyable 13) for what is the closest thing to the Oscars you can imagine. Blackpool Tower in all its genuinely stunning, Victorian glory – its ballroom bedecked in gold and light, dark and bright beauteous spaces, welcoming the hard working, talented, creative and enduring people who power the businesses of Lancashire.

Categories that honour Best New Business, Small Business of the Year, Importer of the Year, Exporter of the Year, Most Creative, e-Business of the Year (our category), Lancastrian of the Year and more; it’s a wonderful occasion. These awards surprised and delighted me when I first became involved; I was concerned that it might be a lot of ‘who you know’ rather than how genuinely worthy you were – I was (happily) completely wrong. From nomination to final is an arduous journey and those who make it, deserve the acknowledgement.

I walked on stage to deliver the award to the winning e-Business and was greeted by a very amicable Eamonn Holmes. All sorts of lovely stuff preceded and followed this, including Matt Cardle singing ‘When we Collide’. This turned out to be virtually prophetic as I rounded the bar area to find myself smack bang in the middle of a gathering of people who work for and with shale gas company Cuadrilla and their notorious PR agency PPS. My work life and activist life rarely have overlap – and this was very surreal. (I am active with Residents Action on Fylde Fracking and am very, very opposed to the shale gas industry’s attempts to impact our region or anywhere).

“What are you doing here?” is what one of the PR guys asked in a none-too-friendly tone, tinged with discomfort. “I’m a judge.” I said. At this point I noticed the look on all 10 (or so) faces – maybe they were thinking I’d infiltrated and was planning to lock-on to someone or something in some glamorous act of protest? It had crossed my mind when I saw the table plans a few weeks ago and realised we’d be on opposing balconies  – but there was never going to be any risk I’d do anything at this event. I love the process of this, from the judging to the big night,  where people I respect are celebrating surviving or thriving another year in a tough economy - this is THEIR night and rightly so. Looking out at it all - I thought how this gorgeous setting was in fact a huge part of the engine room of Lancashire.

I was angered though to find this awful company attempting to infiltrate and impact on our world; I know they lie (ASA confirms this with a ruling that means no-one can sue me for saying that), I know they do not stick to the rules of planning and I know they hire others to try to sway the community to their way of thinking; not by disclosing honestly, what the impact of their industry will be on Lancashire (and the rest of the country as air and water respect no county boundaries) but by using propaganda techniques and bribery (although they call it sponsorship or community contributions).

As I watched in awe at the brilliance of this room and the many people I respect who were in it – I glanced across to the opposite balcony and hoped that this was the last time I would have to see them trying to ‘do business’ here. 

20 September 2013 - 00:16 – 00:17
That Isadora Duncan Moment
We’d left promptly as my (too rarely told how much I admire her) sister Julie, insisted I get off the dance floor and into a cab as we had too little time for sleep before the 6:18 train from Blackpool. I reluctantly dragged myself from the fun I was having, got into the cab and we set off. We’d gone perhaps a couple of metres when two things happened seemingly simultaneously – my ribs contracted and a man threw himself at my passenger window. The cab stopped and I breathed to re-inflate my ribs that had been crushed by the contracting bodice of my dress - this the result of the ribbon being caught in the wheel of the cab. Every one of the loops on one side (where the ribbon threaded} was torn but that was thankfully the worst of the outcomes.

20 September 2013 - 00:18-00:30
My waist hurts, I’m a bit chilly (dress barely on) but relieved I have a wrap for dignity and I’m thinking about this thing called ‘activism’ that seems like it has to be a whispered subject when I go about my actual job (writing and helping businesses to more effectively use social media). Sure I bring it up with people I work closely with or see regularly and the media coverage of the anti-fracking movement ensures that most people know I have this ‘other life’ where I sometimes sleep in a tent and hold a banner ...but it is still a definitely separate thing.

Sometimes the contrasts catch me by surprise as I never really think of work and activism in the same breath... but tonight I sensed the overlap and the reason it should; it isn’t just the rigs, threats, harms and pollutants I want to keep out – I don’t want these bad-business people doing business here. I don’t think they suit Lancashire (or anywhere that decent people exist).   The communities I move in, in business and activism are amongst the most important parts of my life and I genuinely enjoy, respect and care for the people I am fortunate enough to spend time with... they should not have Cuadrilla, iGas or any of the others in their lives.

20 September 2013 - 00:30-05:00
Although room a bit spinny as I am useless at drinking - yet gave it a bit of a go this evening.

20 September 2013 - 05:00-05:55
Dress & Pack Dress (+ needle & thread)
Jeans and a sweater on, gorgeous gown in a bag and repair materials packed we head off to the train

20 September 2013 - 05:55-11:03
Trains From B to B
Blackpool to Brighton passed with a lot of sewing to get each loop threaded back into the bodice so I could again wear the dress for what promised to be a fun  act of protest called ‘Frocking not Fracking’. Friends of the Earth had arranged an action to coincide with Women’s Day at the Labour Party Conference and wanted it to focus on Women Vote NO to Fracking.... there are a lot of powerful female voices in this movement and it was a great idea to pull some together. In the final 15 minutes of the journey a quick change in the loo led to perplexed expressions in the train carriage – populated mainly by Bolton football supporters.

20 September 2013 - 11:03-18:15
Honk To Support!
Music, singing, gorgeous others and a real sense of fun made the day an absolute pleasure. We women gathered outside the Hilton where most of the Labour Party meetings for Women’s Day were happening – one of our signs asked passing drivers to ‘Honk for Support!’ and so very many did. A policeman tried to say we should move back away from the edge of the pavement (where drivers were honking support) – but most of us are ‘veterans’ of the Balcombe CommunityProtection Camp in West Sussex, where for over 7 weeks, protectors have slept at the roadsides in tents and got up each weekday to slow the onslaught of trucks (swathed in police) and delay this industry as best we can... till enough people are informed and sanity prevails – so we really had no intention of doing what we were told on this gentle day, without a fine legal reason. 

The Hilton itself was rather kind as we went in to sit for coffee – unlike most protests, we were beautifully over-dressed and they couldn’t seem to find a reason to ask us to leave and told us we were the nicest protesters they had met. Many excellent conversations with Councillors and others were had, thanks to the keen eye of Helen of Friends of the Earth – she can spot a key person miles off and is so well-informed.  Plans were made, networks hugely expanded and resources shared.

Finale... Day done, dress off, jeans on and a ludicrously long journey home to discover the joy of remaining horizontal for a full 12 hours.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Remembering the start of something...

Remembering the signs that made the sense that led to this:

When I went to the London Stock Exchange on 15th October 2011 - I did so because I'd reached a personal 'enough-is-enough' moment. I'd seen the government bail out the greedy, gambling, irresponsible banking sector again and in the next breath... speak of austerity and cuts for 'we, the people'. They talked of 'trickle down' and that's just ridiculous - why give money to the very sector that created the problem and then HOPE they will trickle it back into society? Then they said... "it's ok, they will probably lend it back to businesses and people" ...grrrrrrrrr! Why wouldn't they build in an INSISTANCE that they at least ensure the money makes its way back out of the vault? They didn't build in a clause or requirement or anything. So... along with my sister Julie Daniels and a tent we went to join Occupy the London Stock Exchange.

It was clear that 'our' government wasn't actually ours at all - that somewhere along the way we had not only let the corporate lobbyists in... but we had grown so used to this, we weren't noticing that something needed to be done about it. Those lobbyists are still there and we didn't get them out - this is clearly evidenced in the fight we are having to ensure dangerous, extreme energy extractiontechniques like FRACKING - are not done in our country. Key lobbyists and those PERSONALLY invested in the industry itself... walk the corridors of our houses of commons and lords: John Browne, Baron Browne of Madingley (Lord Browne), Baroness Hogg, Lord Howell (Chancellor George Osborne's father-in-law), #Balcombe MP Francis Maude and others. They have hijacked democracy.

BUT... the amazing coming together of individuals from all walks of life and all sorts of places, for all sorts of reasons... that became a worldwide Occupy Movement - was a fertile space and time; many of us, freshly informed and empowered - went on to discover symptoms of this 'DISease' of our democracy, this corruption of our government - all over the place. We joined other groups or made our own and became merged with campaigns tackling poverty, disability rights, employment, environmental and community threats, saving the NHS, exposing insane economics and for my sister and I, RAFF - Residents Action on Fylde Fracking.

It's not our UK Occupy anniversary until next month but it was Occupy Wall Street that placed a seed of an idea in me 2 years ago - the idea that I didn't have to accept anything so intolerable as watching communities be put at risk for some investor's profit or the ceaseless hacking away at the quality of our education and health care systems or the vile disregard for the dignity of our elders when they most need and deserve it or the slashing of our rights to object to any of this.

I DON'T accept these things and I am making time... for my outrage as it has a purpose and I owe it to the next generations. I am in the best company, alongside the finest individuals I have the fortune to meet - activists are people who give a damn and that makes them gorgeous.

The 50 Best Signs From #OccupyWallStreet

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Radio interview ▶ Fracking Special 29July2013 by Dave Hampton

▶ Fracking Special 29July2013 by Dave Hampton

There are media demands that go alongside activism and most of them sadly, are truly unpleasant - this however was a relaxed and enjoyable interview with Dave Hampton of Marlow FM.

From his link:
[A chance to listen again to the Watt Next "Fracking Special" back in July. You heard it here first on Marlow FM. Great show, though I say it myself, and great content 39 mins in with Tina Louise-uk


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Letter to Alison...

A letter was posted on the Balcombe Parish site today that this is in response to:

Dear Alison,
I write as a resident of Blackpool (up here in the 'desolate/unloved' North) - we have been trying very hard for around 2 years to get Cuadrilla to stop drilling here; they have drilled 4 wells, with one failing due to the earthquakes and another now out of use due to equipment that is stuck inside. The one that caused the earthquakes is inadequately sealed and we are struggling to get a transparent picture of the plans around how they will deal with potential ongoing risks from it.

This image is of the proposal for well sites where I live:

Cuadrilla have been into our places of education and business, in order to 'sponsor' things and win over and divide the community - who are largely ill-informed as the public meetings are not broadly publicised or attended... most people just don't have the time or knowledge to even look at what this is all about - complicated subject indeed.

That you are experiencing what it is like to have Cuadrilla doing business in your community is such a sad thing. I have been down to visit the camp over the past three weekends to see such wonderful villagers and concerned residents from across the UK, coming together to question the haste with which this business is undertaken; to question the history of accidents and harm that this industry is known for; to question the honesty and transparency of Cuadrilla who were only this year in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority over exaggerations of safety claims in their literature.

You said in your post Alison that you were not aware of an invitation to people from outside of Balcombe to join in opposition to Cuadrilla’s drilling there and I understand how worrying this must be ...BUT I think it very important to note that the harm to air and water that could come when Cuadrilla are working, is something that will impact the residents everywhere - air and water have no respect for borders so it is to be expected that others from nearby and further afield will indeed be there.

I attended a meeting last Friday evening in Balcombe where a full room of village residents were indeed in favour of getting help to be heard – many had voted NO to Cuadrilla’s plans to drill, had signed petitions, objected to planning, written to MPs and Councillors – all to no avail.

You say that you have been balancing opinions and ‘tolerating extreme views’ and I don’t really understand what you mean? Is opposition to drilling an ‘extreme view’ or simply how they are expressing that view (genuine question)? 

What Cuadrilla are doing to our air, water, agriculture and communities is criminal (even if the paperwork paints it differently); concerned citizens asking for a potential harm to stop BUT not being listened to in our democracy, is criminal; standing up to this criminality is not easy and because the industry is brutal and powerful, we have very little we can use. Currently, my weapons are truth and determination – but these have got me nowhere; at what point do I look at the law that wraps our law enforcement around corporate vehicles and tries to silence objection and wonder, what IS legal?

When that drill leaves Balcombe, it's coming back here to the North - where no-one seems to hear us when we scream for help; we would be hugging every person that came to stand in opposition with us.

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.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Some Balcombe moments...

~The best-ever chocolate brownies - made with beetroot!
~Villagers singing new words to Jerusalem whilst making the most fabulous entrance since Liberace created the genre.
~The little girl in the prettiest blue flamenco dress who seemed puzzled when I said so - she corrected me, saying that actually she was dressed as water.
...The police officer grinding the young man’s elbow into the gravel and dragging it so it ripped the skin away – even though he was being held down by so many, that he posed no risk.

~New friends, old friends, virtual-friends (made flesh) and fresh new smiles met.
~The emergence within just a few hours of a fully decorated lounge/family-room with carpets, sofas, a candelabra and idyllic families to populate it.
~The feasts of vibrant, fresh, local produce along with brilliant cooks that all seemed to appear as if by magic when hunger struck.  
...The panicked smile on the young girl’s face as she was held aloft by her arms, legs and hair by police officers treating her as if she was a weapon-carrying threat to all in the vicinity.

~The early morning "Good mornings" from smiling faces, en-route to and in the kitchen area; as we all avoided looking at the kettle for fear it actually would never boil.
~The late night talk and laughter as the day was digested into conversation with heaps of humour to season it.
~The easy, natural hugs that occur between strangers and friends with shared purpose and intent.
...The tears of frustration and screams of “SHAME ON YOU!” that came from me, without my control as we stalked the circles of police that wrapped round painful scenes too ugly to be viewed - too wrong to be tolerated.

~The schemes and plans that bubbled up through the hours as we 10 of us sat in traffic on the bus from the ‘Unloved, Desolate North’ to reach 'The Great Gas Gala of Balcombe'.
~The goodbye that was positively regal as we headed off to the sounds of whoops, well-wishes, whistles and chants and the sight of warm, smiling faces that just looked like reason to go on with all this.
~The superb certainty of a return to this place and awareness/relief/gratefulness that others with honour are doing what's necessary.
...The ache inside that is the true, deep and inescapable reality of the threat from this ugly business - and knowing, we MUST stop it.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Bigger than Balcombe...

Bigger than any of us...

As many turn their focus to Balcombe, West Sussex where energy company/drillers Cuadrilla are currently facing local opposition to their plans to 'frack' for oil or gas, it is clear that this is not going to go quietly away. The media are playing on the fact that it is not only the villagers of Balcombe that are trying to stop Cuadrilla - but that they are joined by protest groups and individuals from elsewhere in the country; the media portray this as a bad thing (I see it as a support and giving-a-damn thing).

It made me think about how it must be to be from Balcombe - what would I want if I was them?

As we have had Cuadrilla here in Lancashire for a while and they have ignored every form of legal objection, continued to flog propoganda in our press and schools, confused/misled/fantasised most of our Councillors/MPs into cheerleaders and paid NO attention to our pleas... we feel small, powerless and at risk; I think we would be rejoicing if others from ANYWHERE came and helped us protect our community from this dangerous industry with its appalling safety record and history of harm in its wake.

For the villagers of beautiful Balcombe, the choice ahead seems to be:
- accept that Cuadrilla aren't listening and have the power to wrap our law enforcement around their vehicles – ensuring that they WILL drill
- accept that when/if other groups and individuals come to help stop Cuadrilla – that there may be people, actions and interactions that are not only unfamiliar - but maybe so far away from ‘normal’ that it can be worrying.

AND... while I was thinking about all this it also became clearer that because the risk of harm is to our shared, vital resources: air, water and agriculture – that maybe it is impossible to define this community defence by geography.

The unconventional energy business (fracking shale, coal seam gas etc) has made it clear that more than 65% of our country is up for grabs – so this is actually OUR stand, not just Balcombe’s.

The villagers, understandably – wish none of this was their reality (we do too) but it is and this is a crucial time because every time they drill, they pass through our precious land and aquifers and the potential for harm begins (even before they begin ‘fracking’).

Last weekend I went to Balcombe and met some amazing people from the village and elsewhere - each with a shared purpose and huge determination - regardless of their differences in origin or status (ie: first time protester or active on issues over a long time period); returning tomorrow.

Mad Enough Yet?

Are we mad enough yet? Any of the headlines about the report by the IPCC on our damaged environment on this planet... could just have easi...