There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed anything was possible.
Fracking was one of those things that opened peoples eyes to the reality of what was actually happening in the world around them. Once the awareness was raised, the first options that a community would choose were invariably “I’ll write to my councilor/MP” followed by “We’ll start a petition”.
What would happen then is that petitions would be ignored, and the councilors or MPs would either say outright that they wanted fracking, or that they sympathised but couldn’t do anything, it was someone else’s decision. After that a whole list of other futile strategies would follow including getting a celebrity to post a tweet, or to pay a visit, and if there was an election within the coming year, minority political parties would suddenly appear, with great regularity, so once a person got into that bubble it would seem as if everyone in the world was in that party – they’d even help out with supplying leaflets for you to give out on stalls or in town centres.
This is all part of the process. One by one, the options would be ticked off and people would realise that the world doesn’t actually work in the way that they had always thought it did. That ‘the system’ works to benefit those at the top, and for most people, there are very few ways of actually changing anything on any significant scale.
As one person told me, after they had gone through that barrier …. “They’ve all got careers or positions in mind and they cant afford to make enemies higher up. That’s why there are umpteen meetings and initiatives about dog fouling or parking on grass verges, but when it comes to a gas company setting up a processing plant next door to your child’s school, they all pass the buck…”
And that’s the point where communities would come together and start taking notice of concepts like consensus decision making, and listening to ideas and experiences of people they would never have mixed with before. This is the point where ordinary people would decide to make their own decisions and for a while, it seemed as if anything was possible.
So What is Happening Now?
By and large, the frack free movement seems to be being controlled. Why has this happened?
Our normal lives consist of work and leisure time. Anything outside of that is taken care of by other people who are paid for it. Car breaks down – someone else fixes it. Bin is full – someone else takes it away. Want organic veg? Someone else will grow it and sell it to you. Over and over again, these choices are reinforced. Go to work, pay others for services, and on your days off, you can watch TV, pay to be part of the entertainment industry, or get drunk.
Making your own decisions and acting them out yourself is an alien concept. It takes time, and it takes effort, and it takes countless meetings and having to listen to the views of people that you wouldn’t otherwise get on with. It means making changes in your lifestyle.
What is the norm today? Not making decisions, not making choices, not acting them out yourself. It’s about finding the person that provides that service for you. And this is where the Frack-Free movement has ended up, or if it hasn’t, it is in danger of ending up.
This diagram is how I see it:
The area of the question mark inside the triangle is the big unknown. This is where people came together and came up with their own solutions. Anything could potentially happen. This is where we could see real, long term change. However, the movement at the moment seems to be heading into several directions at the moment, at the points. And this could be a problem. Each of us only has a certain amount of time and energy that we can give, or are prepared to give. Each of the four areas in the diagram above take time and energy, so from our collective pool of time and energy, concentrating on one area removes energy from another. The way I see things, one easy way that ‘the powers that be’ can hamper real, long lasting change from taking place is to encourage or direct time and energy to be invested in areas that are more acceptable to them.
I saw this meme the other day, its a good quote.
One of the great strengths we had as a movement was that of sharing information. The industry has a finite number of people working directly for it, and they could produce their spin as part of their (well paid) jobs during their working hours. What we had was an ever growing number of thousands and thousands who immersed themselves in the subject and who would share their findings . There were no days off, there was no clocking-out. You could think about this whilst cooking your dinner, read an article on the train. Seen something whilst walking to dog? photograph it and share it.
And this for me is the problem with NGO’s. Yes they can have access to much needed resources that can benefit a community group BUT campaigning comes as a job, it has set days and hours, and cannot replace the 24/7 passion and commitment of communities and families worried about their children’s health.
And of course there is the issue of salaries. Before anything else can happen, they have to raise enough funds to pay their employees salaries. That has to be their number one task, with campaigning coming second.
And to this effect they have to brand everything. When they infiltrate a community campaign, there’s no denying that they can move the campaign up a notch or two, but will only ever be within the constraints that they are allowed to act within, and it becomes ‘their’ campaign, and this in turn feeds back into our conditioned way of thinking, that we pay someone else to do jobs for us. Want to stop fracking? Just subscribe to our mailing list and send us a donation. Simple as that. No need to get out of your armchair.
This used to be a last-ditch resort when all else had failed. Now it seems to be becoming the expected/accepted norm.
There a small number of heroes who put their name/identity to everything and are becoming household names within the frack-free movement. Sometimes out of ego, sometimes out of necessity, but this is something to be wary of. Again there is the drawback of a movement being reduced to following the ideas of a few individuals, stopping fracking by following them, and losing the diversity and potential of people thinking and acting for themselves within their communities.
Demos become a day out and a photo opportunity before returning to your normal life; people ‘masking up’ to avoid identification and then posting their selfies on facebook.
Any savvy parent knows the trick of giving your child a few choices, all of which are what they want their child to do, and letting them make their choice. The parent gets what they want, and the child thinks they have made their own decision.
Consider this – we recently had one campaigner who won their court case and escaped being sent to prison. Sure, on a personal level not many people actually want to go to prison, but on a wider scale, have we simply been given a small victory to keep us placated? Time and time again we come up against barriers where we cannot win. And this makes people angry and frustrated. We are up against big industry here and government policy.
If we are constantly banging our heads on a brick wall, sooner or later people will stop engaging with the wall or will find ways of bypassing it. Given small victories we continue to think there is hope. On a personal level, this can be the difference between liberty and imprisonment, but the bigger scale, while we are busy celebrating victory, the industry just carries on, we have only so far won victories that do not hamper the roll-out of drills.
Another symptom of this is the growing belief that having (the same limited number of) people living in tents a mile or so away from the drilling site is going to stop the industry. People are promoting this as the only way of stopping the land being fracked.
Again, with limited numbers we are limiting our options. Again, we have the problem of community resistance becoming a day out at a camp rather than engaging fully ourselves, changing our own lives. Someone else will do the work for us. Going to the supermarket to buy bread, milk, sausages and eggs becomes a revolutionary act. Making cups of coffee and doing someone else’s washing up for them because they live in a caravan and are saving us, whilst proclaiming on social media that you are a domestic extremist, gets us nowhere in the long run.
Countless times I have been to camps and seen the same group of men sitting round smoking or talking about what how they will change the world , whilst women come in for the day bringing basic food items (because they want to be involved), cooking them food (because they need feeding) and doing the washing up (because it needs doing) and then going home to do the same again for their families, and holding down job to pay the bills (and extra shipping bills).
Another issue is the slow walking of lorries. Yes this is a last ditch attempt at PROTEST. This shouldn’t be seen, ever, as the main way that the industry will be stopped. This is not protecting the land. If lorries are going in and out, the site is active. It is being violated. Whether the violators arrive at 9am, or 2pm makes little difference in terms of protection. Protection is stopping it happening in the first place, not bumping up transport costs,
Yes there is a lot that needs changing in the world, and fracking is just one of those issues. Another contentious issue is voting. Again, we live in a global system and we are given choices, all of which are more-or less acceptable within that system. The individual parties change regularly, but when it comes to ecocide, this just carries on the same, no matter who claims to be in charge. Changing our lightbulbs hasn’t stopped climate change. Changing the fuel in our cars, or cycling or getting the bus wont stop climate change.
None of us as individuals are that important. While the world we live in runs on the system that we have now – live in one place, work in another, shop for food somewhere else, which has been grown on the other side of the world, and we clothe ourselves in fabrics that are grown in one country, processed in another, manufactured in yet another and then shipped here, our individual choices are little more than making ourselves feel good. This is what we aren’t really ‘getting’ – we are used to seeing industry as reacting to our wants, our consumer demands. If we want a product, then our desire is catered for, and if we don’t want it, then production is diminished. This is a myth…. we aren’t that important.
Look at supermarkets, for instance. Take Xmas dinner as an example. A family makes a decision say, in December, that they want to have beef instead of turkey for their Xmas dinner. Hey, guess what, the supermarket has enough beef to supply your wants. Each year there is a different trend in what meat people have, sometimes turkey, sometimes beef, sometimes pork as the majority purchase. And we think that we make the decision what to buy… All this meat comes from living animals that have to be bred, and raised. The supermarket decides how much of each they will buy a year in advance, and secure their supplies…
Likewise, so much of our lives is controlled by the oil and gas industry. This has not developed in response to our customer demands. Our lives have been developed in response to the oil and gas industries demands instead. Oil production doesn’t increase because we’ve decided of our own volition to buy more cars, our entire way of living has developed to tie us in to depending on the oil and gas industry. Why do you think it is cheaper to buy food that is grown on the opposite side of the world and transported here, than it is to buy locally grown produce? Why do you think it is often cheaper to fly half way round the world than it is to get public transport to the airport? Why do you think our jobs are in places that we need to have cars to get to, in order to pay for those cars?
There may be a couple of parties that say they will stop fracking if they get in power. That’s a long way off, and its an IF. Getting to that goal takes a lot of spin, and time and sweat and tears and effort. All for an IF.
Whilst a lot of worthwhile things could come about, or be saved in the long run – it’s the tapping of energy and time from a grassroots movement that does the short term harm. Whilst we put all our energy into changing the face of the person at the top, the industry just rolls on.
And there is the issue that we don’t get to vote on everything that touches our lives. When the elections come we have to vote for a package of promises, and we have to weigh up what we are willing to compromise on. We as a frack free movement will have different local and personal circumstances, will have different areas that touch our lives, different areas that we feel we can afford to be compromised on. We wont all vote for the same party, if at all.
And I cannot remember, in my lifetime, when I have ever felt able to vote a party IN – it is becoming increasingly as if our votes are taken up voting a party OUT.
Whats the Answer?
This piece is meant to provoke thought. “Many fleas move big dog” and these are just some examples of how the diversity and endless possibilities of people across the country coming together and making their own decisions can be channeled into something rather less inventive. Are we collectively making changes, or are we simply changing the way we do the same old things we’ve always done? Are we putting a lot of our time and energy into making noise but sure that in the long run, nothing really changes? Are we sure that we aren’t just being channeled into one course, rather than thinking for ourselves?
I haven’t got the answer. There is no ‘THE’ answer, and that’s the point. There are a multitude of possible answers, but that really does involve getting involved and not necessarily simply taking the easiest option and following what everyone else is doing. Each of us only has so much time/energy and options; a bit of thinking about which of the 4 areas of the triangle are actually available to you, and which would be the most effective use of your time, can be rewarding in the long run.