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Reclaim the Power: 13 actions, 0 arrests - repression and the climate movement

anonymous | 20.08.2014 11:46 | Climate Chaos | Policing | Repression

This year's Reclaim the Power action camp took place near Blackpool in solidarity with locals (Operation Mothers and Grandmothers - OMG) occupying a proposed fracking site. A brief report of the actions and some initial thoughts on the climate movement and its relationship to state repression.

The numbers of people on site this year were not massive, but they did punch above their weight in terms of affinity group actions. On the main day of action there were 13 actions and protests, using a variety of styles and tactics - but no arrests. Police presence at the camp itself was also remarkably low. More analysis on this is below.

Here are some very short summaries, but much more detailed reports are currently at:
..and photos are at:

1. DEFRA occupied/blockaded
2. iGAS blockaded
3. Crawberry Hill fracking site blockaded
4. Construction of Swansea University Bay Campus blockaded
- funded by fossil fuel industry to do pro-industry research
5. Cuadrilla and Chamber of Commerce offices occupied
- Cuadrilla already shut for the day, CoC occupied for their pro-fracking lobbying
6. Demo outside Cuadrilla offices
- giant monster, parody executive, spontaneous blockades of remaining entrances, and multiple autonomous banner drops
7. Radioactive balls guerrilla art installation
8. Banner drop at Salford and Blackpool College
9. Local councilllors' homes visited
10. Total Environment Technology graffitied and locks glued
11. HSBC die-in
- provide banking services to Cuadrilla and biggest UK funder of fossil fuel industry
12. Protest at PPS (Cuadrilla PR company)
- offices already shut down for the day
13. Fraxtons street theatre / parody insurance company

It's interesting to speculate about the lack of arrests at the actions, and the lack of police harrassment at the camp. It matches up, to a certain extent, with other recent climate-related camps, but contrasts somewhat to the kind of violence dished out by the cops at (for example) Heathrow and Kingsnorth climate camps.

While not wanting to downplay the very real repression that some climate activists do face - witness the morning visit to a local campaigner by bailiffs and cops on the day of action chasing up an old motoring fine - those of us with a foot in other movements may sense that the climate movement is currently being treated with kid gloves.

The reasons for this could include:
-the involvement of an extensive network of grassroots local anti-fracking groups, meaning that the movement extends beyond the activist ghetto and is harder to demonise.
-the fracking industry's aversion to publicity; avoiding arrests keeps the story quiet.
-the relatively high proportion* of individuals involved who appear to be from a white "middle-class" background, and the way in which this allows the movement to pass as "respectable", coupled with a relatively open attitude to the mainstream media.

[* It's very important to note that there really are people from a variety of backgrounds involved - I wouldn't want to make those of us who don't fit the 'white middle class' stereotype less visible - but it does need to be acknowledged that there is a noticable difference compared to eg the animal rights or no borders movements]

A small insight: the Chamber of Commerce were quoted in the local press as saying that when they urged the police to act against those occupying their offices, the cops said they "didn't want to escalate things". Of course this was in the context of a large supporting demo outside, so it may refer to a tactic of waiting for the crowd to dissipate, rather than any wider strategy.

So what are the implications of this relatively low level of repression?

Firstly it provides a massive opportunity for the climate movement to push further, spread and flourish, and escalate tactics where necessary.

Of course, it can have the opposite effect, at least on militancy; in local campaigns where arrests are uncommon, there can be a tendency for some to call for us to limit our own tactics in order to keep things that way. In effect, arrest becomes something of a taboo until it has been properly broken.

It's great to raise awareness of just how much you can get away with (sometimes) without getting nicked. It's also understandable that campaigns organising among people for whom arrest is something unfamiliar and scary would want to acheive as much as possible without escalating that far.

But we do need to be careful about holding back those who might want to go further, otherwise we risk creating an unspoken pact of social peace with the authorities, which limits the movement's ability to bring about radical social change or to engage with those who are at the front lines of state repression.

All these questions raise the implicit tensions between more radical strands of the movement, and more reformist ones. At the moment these strands are woven well together in a tapestry of solidarity, and the reformist strands are becoming gradually radicalised as a result, but there are factors pulling in the other direction (eg the filming of plenary session without consent, and the excluding effect this had on those less comfortable with being filmed).

A mass movement that is largely unfamiliar with the full force of the state and is based on a strategy of respectability risks crumbling when it reaches the limits of that strategy - for instance as happened after Copenhagen.

We need to have respectful dialogue - and concrete solidarity! - between those with more and less experience of repression. We also need sections of the climate movement willing to push things beyond the pale of respectability when it makes sense to do so**. The climate movement has learnt a lot since Climate Camp, but the same pitfalls remain.

[A postscript: Of course, the Chamber of Commerce have all sorts of contacts in high places, so by the next day the local media were demanding the arrest of those who had managed to sneak out of the occupation un-noticed; and the police were confirming that they would launch an investigation - demonstrating, perhaps, that if you do enough to upset those with power you will inevitably face some attempted repression.]

[** To some extent this already exists; witness eg the night action at the security compound which reportedly destroyed a CCTV tower overlooking the camp - and note also that this was neither celebrated in the mainstream camp process nor press released by the media team]

Thoughtful open-minded comments welcome...



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