Campaigning On The Edge Of Society


Do you feel like breaking the law today? If you don’t then I apologise profusely because, depending on where you live, you may have already broken it – just by looking at the picture at the top of this article. It’s not a very good picture because the water looks like snow, but if you want to look a bit more, I won’t tell. Go on, have a look at the trees in the middle of the lake and surrounding it; at the ivy climbing upwards; at the still water on a cold February day; at the security fence halfway up on the right-hand side.

You’re not allowed to look at this. Liberating, isn’t it?

On the day this photograph was taken an activist called The Ant nearly died. His life was only saved because a quick thinking police officer managed to manually stem the copious blood that was pumping from his left arm. The reason the blood was pumping from The Ant’s left arm was because he had tried to escape from a police cell. The reason he had tried to escape from a police cell is that he needed to get back to the protest camp at Radley Lakes, Oxfordshire, where trees were being felled in rapid succession. The reason he was in the police cell is because he had tried to stop the trees from being felled.

The reason you may have broken the law is because the photo was taken from a position where journalists and the public are no longer permitted to film, and thus you are not permitted to see any such photos taken during the course of the injunction period.

The Radley Lakes protest has been well documented. There is a web site, and there are reams of newspaper articles – local, national and international – discussing the various machinations of the legal system that have allowed RWE to fill an important wildlife habitat (isn’t every habitat important?) with toxic fly ash: the remnants of burning coal to produce electricity. In the course of this toxic lake occupation, RWE have been at pains to ensure that any trees that could contain nesting birds have been removed prior to the nesting season.

This is wrong on so many levels, yet the vast majority of RWE’s actions have been perfectly reasonable in the eyes of the law. You don’t believe me? Here is an extract from the charge sheet related to The Ant’s arrest and subsequent injury:

“Other security officers have [sic] been alerted and have [sic] turned up to detain the defendant. The defendant was seen sprinting towards one of the contractors using the chainsaw. Fortunately the security men stopped the defendant before he could get to the contractor.”

Read that again: “Fortunately the security men stopped the defendant…” Fortunately for who? Had “the defendant” reached the chainsaw operator, what would have happened? Would he have thrown himself on the chainsaw? Would the operator have turned around with the chainsaw blades whizzing and decapitated The Ant? Would the chainsaw operator have stopped felling the tree?

Read what you will into the charge sheet; to me the implication is clear: “Fortunately the defendant was not able to stop the felling of trees.”

In case you think I’m being paranoid, here is a direct quotation from the 3rd charge laid on The Ant, entitled “Obstruct / disrupt person engaged in a lawful activity”:

“On 14/02/2007 at Radley, in the County of Oxfordshire, having trespassed on land in the open air, namely Sandels Thrupp Lane in Radley, and in relation to a lawful activity, namely Cutting Down Trees, which persons were engaged in on that land, did an act, namely Climbing over Fence & running towards chain saws, which you intended to have the effect of disrupting that activity.”

Do you feel like breaking the law now?

Pulling Punches

Last week I received a newsletter through the post from Greenpeace UK. It explained in detail the campaigns that are currently taking place and the successes that Greenpeace UK has achieved. I’ve been a member of Greenpeace for many years, and working with my local group gave me my first taste of activism – but it was only a taste. The Greenpeace newsletter reported on the reduction in cod that Birds Eye had made to their fish finger recipe, and how campaigners had removed incandescent light bulbs from Woolworths stores around the country. The word ‘modest’ springs to mind.

WWF in the USA, recently announced with great fanfare this year that one of their major campaigns had led to the establishment of a sustainable tuna fishery…consisting of 21 boats. The world tuna fleet totals between 2000 and 3000 vessels, that’s less than 1% of the total fleet – way to go! For another campaign they are asking ‘activists’ to make polite phone calls to a senator between the hours of 9am and 5pm, so that he kicks off a hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention. The Government must be quaking in their boots.

The Sierra Club (the largest environmental organisation in the USA) have, on the other hand, accounced their victory in stopping FEMA selling temporary mobile homes that may have high levels of formaldehyde in them. Oh, wait a minute, Fema are going to “reconsider” whether to carry on selling these trailers, but in the meantime they are still selling the trailers. But all is not lost; while their leaders make axis-shifting speeches, supporters are being encouraged to fly around the world so they can see wild places, and have a great adventure. I fancy Memorable Madagascar, for only $3945, and I get to fly twice more when I get there – count me in, carbon fans!

All of these campaigns and activities, I assume, are carried out with the best of intentions, and not just to make the participants feel good about themselves. The only thing is, they will not make a blind bit of difference in the long run.

It becomes increasingly clear – the more you look at them – that most of the campaigns fought by large environmental groups not only sit squarely in the comfort zone of that group’s supporters and leaders, but also conveniently sit in the comfort zones of the very companies and governments the campaigns are targeted at. Not only that, but the law as it stands is almost always fully respected – do these organisations never get angry?

I love this planet. I had better do, because it’s the only one that we have got. I get angry, very angry, at the acts of violence carried out to our planet by those who should – and do – know better. Derrick Jensen wrote, “Love does not imply pacifism”. I could not have put it better myself.

Real Activism

Earth First! was founded for precisely the reasons above. Their web site reads: “Earth First! was named in 1979 in response to a lethargic, compromising, and increasingly corporate environmental community. Earth First! takes a decidedly different tack towards environmental issues. We believe in using all the tools in the tool box, ranging from grassroots organizing and involvement in the legal process to civil disobedience and monkeywrenching.”

Civil disobedience? Monkeywrenching? Surely that implies breaking the law! Too right, it does. Breaking the law is utterly necessary where the law fails to protect the environment, or crushes those people who wish to make changes for the better. The long, exhausting and almost always illegal fight against apartheid in South Africa prior to 1990 should be a clarion call to environmental campaigners:

The youth took to the streets, with the Heyta! Ta! Heyta! Ta Ta! of the toyi-toyi resounding in the townships. The targets of these protests were often the local community councils, which were seen as puppets of the apartheid state.

Resistance spread rapidly, and by 1985, many townships in South Africa had become ‘ungovernable’. At this point, trade unions and particularly COSATU, with the aid of the church, spearheaded resistance.


As protests continued to spread, the power of the police was increased by the Botha government, and eventually a violent deadlock was reached. Few people, I’m sure, would have wished to be a black activist in South Africa in the late 1980’s, but at the same time who could possibly deny that law-breaking activism was essential.

You see, the apartheid laws in South Africa had been created specifically so that anyone opposing apartheid would be in breach of them. The laws in most nations of the world are created in order to protect the interests of financial, commercial and land-owning bodies. These laws, which most environmental campaigns happily observe, are there to protect the systems that are destroying the planet.

If a logging company wishes to destroy an ancient forest in Canada and they have been granted a permit to do so, it is a crime to stop them doing so. It is a crime to save the habitat that will be lost forever.

If a bauxite mining company in Jamaica wishes to dump toxic waste into pristine lakes and the government has given permission for this to happen, it is a crime to stop the company’s mining operations. It is a crime to protect local people’s drinking water.

If a coal fired power station in the UK is emitting 4% of the entire country’s carbon dioxide and the government considers it a part of the Critical National Infrastructure, then it is a crime to shut down the operations of this power station. It is a crime – akin to terrorism – to try and prevent the planet from dying.

Do you understand?

* * *

In our modern, comfortable society, we see The Ant as abnormal; getting so angry about what is happening, and fighting in a manner which puts him perilously close to death. But the mad people aren’t the fighters; the mad people are the sheep who meekly accept the culture of consumption and the laws that keep them there.

Asked if he would, with hindsight, go through the prison cell trauma again if he knew what would happen, The Ant said: “Hindsight is a lovely thing to have when things go badly wrong. Us hardcore non-violent campaigners can only do what is in our heart. That’s one of the big problems with humans, they think with their ‘head’ not their ‘heart’. I would try and save life again, risking my own life, because all life is worth saving.”

Originally published at

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