I won't list the reasons I'm against fracking in the UK. You only have to look up much of the data coming out of the US to see its not a good idea, dangerous to water table in particular, and the delicate chemical balance beneath the Earth. There are several good studies available, and clear information from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to name but two (if you're one of the people who thinks they are dangerously militant, ignore this source and find others), our own newspapers, as well as American environmental charities pursuing independent research. Go seek, the internet is out there! Instead of investing in renewables, as we should have started doing ages ago, people waffle on about what an eyesore wind farms will be (which is very odd, as some of the things fracking has done to the earth are also very ugly, and a damn sight more permanent and do no future good, at all). So, anyway, mine is not to tub thump all the info that other people have written up far more clearly elsewhere.
Mine is simply to tell you that I got very anxious once I had decided to go and be brave and attend a demo (y'know, I might have to talk to people and suchlike), but I felt I really should stand up for Earth, seeing as I like her so much. And I being a grown up now, and all. Responsibility. That saying about 'all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to sit back and do nothing'...or women who like to think they try to be good to hide in their book rooms afraid of a bit of social communication (or kettling), when they really should be out Being Principled. So I took my shaky self off to Be Principled, reasoning it would be like exercise and I'd feel better afterward. This turned out to be true.
Approaching a woman with a child in a pushchair I asked if we were all segmented into different organisations (Greenpeace, 38 Degrees, Friends of the Earth, The Green Party, The Warriors Call [which is pagans united against fracking] - those were just some I saw, there were a few more), but she said nope, it appeared we were all wherever. Everyone about smiled at me, and the child offered me a half chewed crisp. The mother had come in from Bromley to protest, feeling this was so important. She had to be back later to pick her other child up from school, so like me, couldn't stay long. There were quite a few mothers with children, some babies in slings too. The women were a brilliant English mix up of tye dyed hippies and middle class women talking to their decorators on the phone while holding a placard. (I know that and am not being mocking, as one woman did have an argument with her decorator in my ear as she held up her placard, she had one of those very peircing voices.) And between those extremes of people you'd expect were the rest of us - myself and the mum from Bromley, who just really felt this was something she had to make time to come and be seen to be there about, as the damage done could be so permanent and catastrophic. Her little son had his own home-made placard, which was clearly a toy for him, and he was enjoying waving it, and wiping his crispy hands over it. It said: "No, Dave, No Fracking!" A nice toddler level of disagreement, I felt.
I wandered about a bit more, and a Friends of the Earth woman offered me a placard to hold as I hadn't brought my own. 'The F Word is a Dirty Word', it said. I liked that, and even though it wasn't on a stick (so I couldn't jab it about with emphasis), it was witty, so I held it contentedly, and promised to put it back in the box where I got it from at the end, so she could take them on to other demos. A woman from the Green Party was speaking in the centre for a while, then a woman from Greenpeace. I chatted to Bob from Grimsby, a pensioner, who had been travelling round the country visting climate change and fracking protests wherever he was able. His wife had died last year, and she had been a secondary school science teacher, much concerned about the issues of climate change and our energy options. He wanted to feel like he was still intercting with her, so had started going on demos about these causes she had explained to him. He said what gave his life some meaning now, was trying to keep the Earth solid and whole for his grandchildren. He was a quiet man and didn't want his photo taken for this post, so you can't see him, he melted away into the crowd after we spoke; but he had a another home made placard: "This isn't right, and you can't take it back" it read. Not catchy. But true.
I stayed on the edge of the demo, as I always remember the time I went to the Notting Hill Carnival and nearly got trampled when a crowd turned round and I was suddenly in the centre. So I didn't hear many of the speeches at all, I just heard people near the speakers cheer, and chant. I wasn't at the epicentre, but on the outskirts. I just stood and watched and chatted to people.
One woman, Patricia, had decided, quite rightly, that the demo was facing the wrong way. They were facing inward, listening to the speakers, which meant their placards and banners were also facing inward; whereas Parliament was across the road. She was facing out toward the road and holding her sign up high. A policeman explained to us that the windows we were facing were mostly of some of the offices of the Lords; but we figured this was still useful as this troublesome Trespass Bill is still going to have to go through the Lords at some point, and they often kick back crap that has been wrongly and too quickly put through the Commons...then again, as Patricia and I worried, a lot of the Lords have investments and monies tied up in Cuadrilla and these other fracking companies. We weren't feeling optimistic, but we agreed that you Must Try - even if only so you can say to yourself that you did. It was good that we were facing outward as drivers going past in taxis and buses and cars were seeing us. We got a surprising number of encouraging beebs and cheering and some supportive fist waving from passing cars. "No fracking!" yelled an enthusiastic bus driver, and his passengers waved too. It also meant that passing workers and tourists on the other side of the road who were wondering what the big crowd was about could see too. Lots of freelance photographers stopped and took pictures. So did lots of Japanese and American tourists. Clare from New York said it was good we were fighting as fracking was ruining parts of her country. She shook my hand. I felt a bit tearful.
Patricia and I agreed about a lot of political things, we worried at much that we see being run by money and short term greed, rather than ethics or compassion or fairness these days. We chatted about vegetarianism and animal treatment, testing, factory farming etc. She was an earnest and humourous woman. One of those people that you could see by her face had no 'side' as my grandmother would have said. She was honest, and caring. I liked her a lot, and wished I had taken her email address, I think we could have been friends. She let me take her pic for this post, so here she is:
Patricia - a really nice person
I stopped one of the photographers with a truly enormous camera and asked him who the pics were for (imagining fame here!). He said they were just for himself and he put them up on flickr, as he was another one who was interested in the protests against austerity and climate change, and followed them to get images, so people could see that there WAS dissent and were voices raised against so many of these things that just slide through, making us feel powerless. I lamented the lack of a celebrity here, to bring out the TV big guns. I joked that we needed Russell Brand to soundbite us, or Billy Bragg to come and sing for us. He nodded at the last suggestion saying that some of the most powerful protests he had attanded were the ones where appropriate songs had been played, that the people could get emotionally attached to. He'd been to a climate change protest last year, asking for more investment in renewables, and when the crowd surged into Trafalgar Square, someone had started singing 'London Calling', and he said it had felt so right, so appropriate. He said he'd get his pics up later...so who knows, I may yet be famous...
(Hilariously, now I am home again, it turns out that as I was standing at the edge of the demo bemoaning the lack of useful celebrities, had I actually gone to the scary centre, I would have seen Caroline Lucas, Head of the Green Party, Vivienne Westwood, and Bianca Jagger. And there I was missing them all!)
A policeman came to tell Patricia and I we had to step back, he was worried we were standing too close to the road and the traffic, in case the crowd would surge and we might get pushed forward. "Oh," I said, coming over all very polite, as I usually do when surprised, "Am I in the way?"
"No, no!" He answered with the nicest smile, "Just don't want you to forget how close you are to the edge here, come back a little bit." So we stepped back and he stood with us, in the middle, so he didn't get in the way of the placards and the drivers and passers by could still see them. He said he was happy to be posted to to the demo and unofficially was not at all thinking we were wrong. We chatted back and forth and he was outrageously pleasant and kind. I asked him if I could take his pic too for the blog, and he didn't mind at all; in fact he was thinking of setting up his own blog, so we talked about that for a little bit. He had a quick chat on his walkie talkie thing with someone called 'Dangerous Dave'; I joked we had Dangerous Dave up there in Parliament thankyou very much, but his one was a work matter and great nickname. He really was the World's Nicest Policeman. He was as good as on the demo with us, just facing the wrong way round! So, here is Grant, the Nice Policeman:
Grant - World's Nicest Policeman
The weirdest thing about the whole demo was how earnest but low-key it was. It was woefully unattended in the sense that Grant the Policeman reckoned only about 300 were there (and I'm sure the joint organisers had hoped for more, but it was...you know...cold and wintery, and Monday, and term time). I chatted to so many people and they were all just ordinary people, worried by The Way Things Are Going, and how little say we seem to have as time goes on. Things we should have been consulted or referend-ered about but we weren't (like the selling off of the Post Office - who gave the government ANY mandate for that, that was mentioned nowhere); the way things like TTIP are not even being reported properly by mainstream media. (Indeed, if you do a search right now, at 7.30p.m. today, the 26th, for today's protest at Parliament Square, the only media - i.e.non facebook, non Twitter, mention you'll get is Russia Today online. This is increasingly the case - things that the government don't want discussing don't get reported either - or they do, but cursorily. Which leaves secondary sources from the edge to pick them up - Russia Today, or Al Jazeera UK- not places where you'd expect reporting free from bias either, but they sometimes report things missed completely elsewhere in the mainstream. The world is getting odder.)
Anyway - in an homage to Alan Moore, No Protest Is Over Till A V Mask is Seen. So here you go, cool, poised and relevant:
Protests also need Big Weird Looking Puppet Type Things, that must represent the Evil Companies, and in this case, someone holding them underneath with a T-shirt that says: 'Touring the UK: Mr Frackhead' (which sadly you can't see in this pic as the man under the ...puppet thing is hidden by the man in the grey hoody in front); but it was a good joke:
I think Friends of the Earth were repsonsible for this odd thing, but not sure
I don't know if the governement will listen to the supposedly 74% of us that are deeply uneasy and against fracking. I have every suspicion that they are just going to go ahead anyway, singing the song that this will lower domestic energy bills and free us from foreign dependency. And, oh yes, that it's safe. I bet none of the rich politicians will allow fracking under their homes, their large estates. Its that short termism again. Money in each other's pockets and the rest of us can live with the results of their greed. I don't have much hope that we'll win this fracking battle. But then again, I am aware my thoughts are coloured by anxiety and often downers. So I hope I am wrong. I hope they will listen. I hope more of us will stand up and be counted about the things that are being taken away from us while we sit at home watching Strictly or shopping online. And I will continue to turn out to demos like this where I can, about all the things that matter to me - because I Have To Try. If I don't, I'm sodding well complicit; and we can't have that, I have enough angst as it is! So if you come out next time, you might see me (one of the odd ones), or you might see all the others: the ordinary people, who just care enough to take the time to come out - you'll be reminded how many of us there are, and of what we could do if we remembered that, and kept protesting TOGETHER.
Looking slightly less scared, but not much!
UPDATE: This is what happened with the debate in Parliament today, see this breakdown: