“The camp was such a treat! I went full of qualms about terrifying activists, and have come back much encouraged by the thought that there are lots of intelligent young people actually bending their brains to find ways of mobilizing public opinion to thwart the allegiance of government power and corporate profit that is set to trash the planet. I was pleased to see a photo of yesterday’s protests in today’s Oxford Mail*, so their aim of upping the profile of fracking across the country seems to be working.
It was reassuring to find how well organized the whole set-up was – efficient water supply, compost toilets and field kitchens that fed 750 people on Sunday night. Good humour, shared decision making, inclusive (it was supported by the Disability Alliance, and there was a special tent where disabled people could sleep), the whole thing run by volunteers. Even the weather was good! And unlike at Kingsnorth, it was policed well – i.e., they kept an eye on the camp, but respected its safe spaces policy and stayed outside the gates.
I went to a workshop run by UK Uncut on dealing with the press, and was struck by its cool professionalism. They described not just the best shape and content of a press release, but how to ensure that it is acted on. As a person who’s written quite a few press releases in my time, I found there was much to learn from the appliance of science – I now know that by mid-morning a news team is planning the next day’s paper and deciding which stories to follow up, and how to angle my phone call to make it more likely that my piece of news will get the attention that I’m hoping for.
Looking at the media coverage over the few days of the camp was an education in itself. By Tuesday, for instance, it was clear that even the unfriendly right-wing broadsheets had accepted that the Government had a PR job to do. And that the Daily Mail’s Friday headline POLICE CAVE IN TO MOB RULE, had annoyed the Sussex police force even more than the so-called ‘mob’, as could be seen from their defence of their policy in the local Argus. That Caroline Lucas chanced to be a local MP was unlucky for the frackers – her arrest at the Monday protest meant that the message received the widest possible coverage. All in all, despite the inevitable change of focus that followed from its last-minute relocation to Sussex, the camp was a striking success. There can be no question that its presence at Balcombe brought fracking to the attention of the public in a way that would not have happened without it.
There was a lot of talk about ’empowerment’, and I am experiencing a strange effect that may not have been envisaged. For just a little while, I’m at peace with the world. I think it must be because my psyche includes a low-level background fear about the future of the planet, and frustration because I don’t know how to stop it being wrecked. I’m temporarily reassured that there are people of enough good will and intelligence that want to change things to give me hope!”
Ag Mackieth, West Oxford