Defendants from direct action environmental group Plane Stupid may face prison terms. Jamie Kelsey-Fry reports.
‘All I can say is that other people in history have spent time in prison for taking a principled stance on issues and we will spend time in prison and we will continue campaigning when we come out.’ So said Melanie Strickland Monday as she left Willesden Magistrates Court in west London after her and 12 other defendants from direct action environmental group Plane Stupid had been told that they were to expect a prison term when they return to be sentenced on 24 February for aggravated trespass and entering the security restricted area of London Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) north runway to protest against plans for a third runway.
One colleague in the court’s public gallery reported that she found it sickening how long the judge spent detailing the costs of the action to LHR and the Aviation Authority ‘as if the plight of those dying now from climate change can be costed.’ The judge ‘then proceeded to point out that none of the defendants knew anybody who had died from climate change or who were threatened by climate change.’ It is an extraordinary statement to make, as if not knowing a victim of a mass crime makes it untenable that you should speak out against that crime and that, even though people are dying, the loss of profits to a huge corporation is somehow a factor to be taken into consideration.
I count Melanie as a good friend who I met in that melting pot of hope and civil disobedience that was the Occupy London camp outside the London Stock Exchange in 2011. She is quietly spoken, impeccably polite and holds down a good job at a well-known health charity. She is a young woman who has made the choice to put her body in front of her convictions and whose actions are performed with dignity, humility and carefully thought out principles. It would be easy to see her as being heroic but she isn’t. Taking direct action to fight for a sustainable future for younger generations is acting as a dignified human being should. Extremist behavior is not taking action.
People like Melanie are the best hope that the young of the world have for inheriting a future that is not utterly destroyed by catastrophic climate change and perpetual wars over the last resources. Occupy taught us about the corporate capture of politics, that governments are dictated to by those who have funded them or who lobby them or who promise them lucrative jobs in the future. That will always mean business stays ‘as usual’.
The staggering wealth of the fossil fuel corporations means that they have every door in government open to them. Many in government slip with ease from the houses of parliament into the boardrooms of such companies and vice versa through systems of secondment, rotating workers through positions while opening access to favours of power and privilege. Accountancy firms write tax legislation and energy providers write energy legislation.
Even though climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, he who pays the piper still calls the tune and dealing with climate change, leaving all fossil fuels in the ground and making the transition to infinite free renewable energy just isn’t on the playlist. It seems however, that sending people to prison for challenging the status quo is.
We do not have the ability to lobby government in the same way that these huge corporations can, members of Plane Stupid don’t have the $355,000 needed to get ‘premier league’ time with David Cameron. The people of Lancashire who are set to have several fracking operations commence in their communities do not have the kind of money to donate to the party as the $27 million that major hedge funders in Britain were able to stump up to bolster the Conservative’s election campaign. Disabled People Against Cuts do not have the kind of preferential access to Chancellor George Osborne as his best man Peter Davies does, whose hedge fund made $51 million from the selling off of the Royal Mail.
What we do have is Melanie Strickland and the Heathrow 13, and all those who are dignified human beings already taking action, groups like Disabled People Against Cuts, Reclaim the Power and UK Uncut. These people are the peoples’ lobby, they act for us and our children and the people in the majority world who are already on the front line of climate change, they act not in their private interests but in the interest of the greater good.
The US historian and activist Howard Zinn famously said ‘Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves and the grand thieves are running the country.’ That is our problem and now is the time to deal with that problem and you are the person to deal with it.
You can start by coming to Willesden Magistrates Court on 24 February to show solidarity or send messages of support to Plane Stupid.