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Balcombe march fills democratic deficit

Report by Corinna Lotz & photos by Peter Arkell [see interviews below]

Caroline Lucas at Balcombe
Caroline Lucas MP faces police in Balcombe on Sunday

Caroline Lucas:

"When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action."

See arrest videos by:

Yesterday’s arrest of Green MP Caroline Lucas at the Balcombe anti-fracking protest was a shot across the bows by the police to warn off green campaigners.

At least 24 others, some from the Occupy movement, were also arrested.

Lucas’ presence on Sunday’s march boosted the already high morale amongst over 2,000 people who gathered in the country road which runs outside the Cuadrilla gas drilling operation.

Many came specially for the procession which brought together anti-fracking campaigners and local people from Balcombe and around Sussex. Amongst them were hundreds of families and small children.

The camp set up by locals outside the rig entrance was joined on Friday by No Dash For Gas – Reclaim the Power campers, who came to support the locals for the weekend.

See interviews below photos.

Balcomber Anti-Frack
Balcombe residents on the march

Balcombe Anti-Frack

Balcombe Anti-Frack

Balcombe Anti-Frack
The Green MP for Brighton Caroline Lucas (right) on the march

Balcombe Anti-Frack Balcombe Anti-Frack

Balcombe Anti-Frack

Balcombe Anti-Frack
Reading out the riot act to completely peaceful demonstrators

Balcombe Anti-Frack

There were dozens of police cars and vans, backed up by at least one helicopter during Sunday. Officers guarded the gate of the No Dash for Gas campsite, although it was opened and closed by members of Reclaim the Power.

The heaviest police presence was outside the Cuadrilla gates. During the march itself, police repeatedly threw cordons across the narrow road, effectively kettling those inside. At one point Lucas, surrounded by media, was in discussion with police officers as people needed to move outside the kettle.

A World to Win supporters attended the protest and interviewed some of those on the Sunday demonstration:

Balcombe Anti-FrackEliot Bovill
Legal observer

I’ve been at the local Balcombe camp since last Wednesday. The police were gung-ho in the early days at the beginning of the protest when 30 people were arrested. They were released without charge and no conditions and even allowed to return to the camp. Things had calmed down a lot. There was an unspoken agreement with the police as long as the protesters kept moving they would keep an arms distance. But yesterday a truck came down about 6.30am with police and Cuadrilla sent in an extra truck. Police numbers were doubled outside the main gate of the Site. They were storming down the road – people were moving but they were pushing a lot. I was doing legal observing and taking down police officer’s numbers and reporting incidents... They were pushing and children were being knocked over.

Nana FrackNinety-one-year old “Nana Frack”

see also:

Anti-frack support grows at Balcombe

photo report by Peter Arkell [with photos of Vivienne Westwood]

Wheelchair bound Nana came on the protest “to save the water”. Helping to push her chair were two members of Solent Fracking Awareness. Her granddaughter said:

“We don’t think there should be fracking anywhere on the planet. The birds have stopped their dawn chorus since they’ve started drilling. It pollutes the water, there is no going back once the water is polluted. There are eight fracking sites on our area."

Balcombe Anti-FrackLisa Blundell

See Matt Worsdale's Frack presentation made at Cloud Cuckoo Land Festival 2013

– it shows how fracking is carried out and its consequencies.

I came up here from Lewes because I believe strongly that I would not want the Sussex Downs damaged in the way it will be through this sheer vandalism. I found the quantity of potential drilling sites is deeply shocking. I think I speak for the greater part of the community around here. People don’t want the countryside damaged in that way. It is a very spiritual place for me, this Sussex Downs – let’s keep it that way!

Balcomber Anti-FrackEmma Hughes
Member of No Dash For Gas / Reclaim the Power media team

I was inspired by the No Dash for Gas 21 action at West Burton power station. It is disturbing that gas is being presented as a transition fuel – by governments and corporations – when it’s 75% carbon – when many experts are saying that we need to keep 80% fossil fuels in the ground. We just can’t afford to burn these fossil fuels.

The government wants to build a whole new generation of gas-fired-power stations. To feed them they need to use extreme energy techniques like fracking which come with a sluice of environmental problems. They are going to feed power stations here from gas wells in Azerbaijan. This will push up energy prices and will also mean repression in countries like Azerbaijan, where they are building a huge new gas pipeline. Profits will go directly to dictators there. If you take the full picture – including energy poverty and climate change... it’s just disastrous.

Britain is signing agreements with governments in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Greece and Albania. It will create a huge militarised zone which will particularly affect Kurdish minorities in that area. Quadrilla are relying on the Bell Pottinger PR company, which has a history of doing PR for the Burma regime.

There is a revolving door between oil corporations and governments – the links between MPs and corporations like Shell. Freedom of Information requests have found BP saying that Vince Cable is their man in government. We need to break that link.

Democracy is absolutely crucial. An initial survey showed that 90% of residents were opposed to drilling in Balcombe. We have been talking to many people in the community who said they did not want Cuadrilla there and it’s really Cuadrilla who are undemocratic. People should have democratic control and be allowed to control their energy. That’s why we need to change the system. In Germany for example, growing numbers of communities are beginning to control their energy supplies – as in Wales. There are alternative ways of organising energy. At the moment it is being done by corporations. But it should be people have that power.

I’m sure that police agents are still being used in the green activist movement. But we have to be careful about witch-hunting people – we don’t want to be suspicious of every person who fits the Mark Kennedy profile. People should think about what they want to do themselves. If people want to embrace direct action, that’s their decision.

Balcombe Anti-Frack
Lunchtime at the Reclaim the Power camp

This camp will close on Wednesday but the anti-fracking campaign will continue. In fact, we are supplementing what the local campaigns are doing. The Balcombe camp has been going for 20 days. Now is the time to fight fracking because otherwise it will go on for 30 years. In the context of the cuts now, people are in crisis and really hurting. I think the climate movement is stronger because it has linked up with the anti-austerity movement.

For me the Spanish Indignados movement is the most inspiring example in practice of how peoples’ assemblies, co-operatives around media, energy and food production can have big assemblies and discussions and build on these in varied practical ways to bring people together. The Real Democracy movement is still organising in very real ways. It is a combination of having a strategic aim, where you are pushing the state now, and trying to break the state, win concessions from the state and find practical alternatives now and findings to ways of linking up so that it can have a transformative effect.

20 August 2013

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