On Monday, I was arrested along with four friends for taking part in an action to block the road leading to the Balcombe drilling site.
In the cells at the police station a message was written on the wall; ‘If you give anonymous information regarding criminal activities you may be rewarded with cash’. Below, the plastic pillow on the bench had tiny white writing and a faded picture of a fire, with a single legible word: ‘resistance’.
For the past couple of months there have been dozens of successful attempts to disrupt Cuadrilla’s exploration for unconventional oil and gas deposits. These actions have ranged from a handful of people locking onto a vintage fire engine to public marches involving thousands, a mass action camp and a single-man blockade, where a local guy called Rob climbed on top of a truck, locked his ankle to a railing with a D-lock and held up the movement of trucks for 5 hours.
The blockade on Monday involved parking a white van across the road, while someone climbed onto the roof and another locked their arm inside a concrete-filled barrel. These two expected to be arrested under laws that protect Cuadrilla’s profit margin rather than people’s health or the stability the world’s climate. The rest of us, who were making sure our friends on the roof and in the van were safe, were shocked when we were grabbed, bundled up into police vans and held for over 10 hours. Maybe we were naïve.
The police have consistently relied on snatch arrest tactics to intimidate and gather information. On Monday, after being arrested three officers forcefully removed my clothes and conducted an invasive search. I was then left in the cell for 10 hours and finally released with a piece of paper saying they had ‘insufficient evidence to pursue a conviction’. They were, however, able to take my name and address from my drivers license, take my fingerprints and DNA and photograph me and sift through the contacts and messages on my phone. I shouldn’t have taken my phone and ID, but again, I naively assumed I wasn’t going to be arrested for simply supporting an action. They also snatched a camera from another friend, claiming that it had been used in committing an offence. When they returned the camera, footage of the first minutes of the blockade were missing.
This is by no means the worst the police have done at Balcombe.
The ongoing camp at Balcombe and the series of actions have slowed Cuadrilla down, dented their public image and pushed fracking into the public spotlight. In other words, we are a threat to their business model. The police, by their own estimates, have spent millions defending the company and enabling drilling. Their priorities are clear. The state and the companies they protect are throwing everything at making fracking happen. The only thing standing in the way is a concerned bunch of people who are willing to act.
Because we take effective direct action, we put ourselves at some risk. But this issue is too important to let intimidation tactics diminish the volume of our dissent.
When I walked out of the police station, a bunch of friends stood there waiting with food and smiles. My phone buzzed the next day with messages of support.
When all around us we are being told to cave in and accept the safety of submission or even ‘the cash for anonymous information’ we can still respond to that niggling impulse, urging us to be part of something: resistance.