Recently, I was featured in The Independent’s ‘Green Issue’. I was nominated in the ‘Campaigner’ section as a result of the work I’ve been doing with Transition Heathrow, opposing the proposed third runway development. (She won - Ed.)
I was honoured to be put forward, of course, but it did bring home to me one of the massive problems the environmental movement is currently contending with. The perpetual search for a “saviour” to prevent us hurtling head on towards catastrophic climate change is not only doomed to failure but is, I believe, downright dangerous.
Focusing on one person can make everyone else feel like their contribution doesn't count. That they might as well not bother, because someone else has it covered. Away from the limelight, countless others work and strive just as hard, but are overlooked in favour of the obsessive celebritising of an individual and their efforts. This damages our movement twice over. First, it disempowers all those other people and devalues the extraordinary efforts they make. And second, it wholeheartedly fails to recognise the collective actions required from all to overcome the systemic problems we’re facing.
This focus on individuals is nothing new. Whether by their own attention seeking or through the focus of the media-friendly human interest stories, history’s narratives have always favoured names. But the real stories of social change are stories of mass movements. Emelline Pankhurst did not achieve universal suffrage single-handedly, just as Nelson Mandela didn’t cause the breakdown of apartheid on his efforts alone. Likewise, for the five Plane Stupid activists atop the Houses of Parliament or the fifty on Stansted’s runway, there were many others who, though less visible, were essential to facilitating their actions.
Maybe it is the focus of the mainstream media on individuals that neglects the true story? Or perhaps it’s individuals, furthering themselves as a result of an earnest desire to promote the agenda of our cause? For a movement that espouses the ideas of direct democracy and uses consensus-decision making to ensure that everyone has an equal voice, however, this perpetual focus on individual “celebrities” is counter to the very ethos we hold so dear.
To have any hope of a better future for ourselves and coming generations, we need to be ploughing our energy into building a movement that includes everyone, and addresses all the urgent issues confronting us. Rather than relying on big name leaders, we all have a part to play: not just activists or environmentalists, but each and every one of us.
As the activist and author Rebecca Solnit argues in her book Hope in the Dark ‘Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope… Anything could happen, and whether we act or not has everything to do with it’. We need to be confronting economic inequality and challenging social injustice worldwide, and we need to be doing this collectively.
This need not seem like an insurmountable task. It starts on a local scale. On land the government wants to see under tarmac as a third runway for Heathrow airport, a small group of us have been living in a former market garden which had been left abandoned since cheap imports made local food production uneconomic. Rather than the site of one of the world’s most polluting industries expansion, we along with many local people want Sipson, Harlington and Hamondsworth to be a model of what a low impact and socially responsible future might look like.
In whatever ways we can, we should be coming together to raise consciousness and take action. Bringing together different disciplines and developing strategies that work in our communities is central to our empowering of each other on common ground between environmental justice, race, class and gender.
By striving toward a future that embraces the 'we' rather than the 'me', that celebrates community not celebrity, that really empowers people, we would be building a movement that is actually sustainable, that actually has a hope of confronting some of these issues, and that actually has a chance of winning.
Beginning our new project on the first day in March was always going to be tricky, but even Spring was on side. For Transition Heathrow's latest project we've gone back to the land, turning a neglected scrap in the heart of the third runway into a thriving market garden for the community.
After the successful site take on the Monday, in which about 20 people secured our new site, we spent an intense week in the sun clearing and cleaning up the mess left behind by previous tenants. The amount of rubbish was monumental, but by the weekend we felt ready to open the gates and welcomed in the community.
The support we've had from the local community, and particularly from those on whose doorsteps we've set up, has been staggering. We posted a wish list of stuff we needed and by the weekend had mostly fulfilled it. From food parcels to blankets, we've been supremely well looked after by our new neighbours.
Over the weekend an incredible mix of people came together and spent two days in the glorious sunshine restoring the greenhouses to their former glory. It's hard to describe just how positive the atmosphere was, especially when people were primarily clearing rubbish. We had kids painting tyres to grow potatoes in; mass raking to clear up the broken glass and bender building to establish a beautiful shelter for our front gate. By the end of the weekend we were all exhausted, but exhilarated, by the amount we'd managed to achieve in such a short space of time.
This project is definitely a good antidote for anyone feeling overwhelmed post-Copenhagen, or depressed after reading 1,000 comments on the Guardian dissing climate science. Making a tangible difference in a community that has been blighted for so many years by the overhanging threat of airport expansion is wonderfully empowering, and there's plenty for people to do to get their hands dirty.
As a good friend of ours said about the project, "people should stop talking about the resistance, and come here and live it instead."
For more information email email@example.com or if you want to come and join us for a day's work call the site phone on 07890751568.
We may not have had Blur, but the event of this summer was most definitely the Hayes Carnival. With colourful floats, brilliant music (all thanks to the wonderful Bicycology boys and their beautiful sound system) and entertainment for all the family, the Hayes Carnival was a thriving hub of community spirit.
With a float in the procession and a stall at the fair, Plane Stupid was on hand to provide a colourful reminder of the anti-expansion campaign facing BAA's ludicrous plans. We danced our way through the streets of Hayes with our carnival queen (local resident Linda) at our head, handing out 'No Third Runway' flags to the people on the streets, and even the odd lucky copper...
As with all the Adopt a Resident events so far, the reception we received was one of welcome and gratitude. The ladies of Hacan and NoTrag were out in force, but more than that we had a real chance to see how supportive the majority of those directly affected by the airport are for what we do... truly heartwarming stuff!
Tired from carnivalling, we wrapped up at our stall in a nearby park, spending the rest of the afternoon chatting to locals about Adopt a Resident, and indulging in that old family favourite 'Splat the Rat', but with a twist: the rat was a plane, and the weapon of choice none other than the parliamentary mace, all in honour of local MP John McDonnell.
We even managed to persuade him to pose for a cheeky photo, 'alternative' mace in hand...
Bank holiday Monday, the noise of airplanes passing overhead, Heathrow airport casting its long shadow and the roar of diggers in Sipson. Is it all over I hear you ask? Did BAA slip their nefarious plans for a third runway through despite the weight of public opposition? Fear not, for this bank holiday heralded not the destruction of the Heathrow villages, but the arrival of Guerilla Gardeners on BAA's doorstep.
In the aftermath of the Chelsea Flower Show, the left over plants have found themselves an illustrious new home. Armed with trowels and hoses, and with the expert guidance of Chelsea gardener Tom Hoblyn, we descended on Sipson, Harmondsworth and Harlington on Monday for a spot of illicit gardening, transplanting the horticultural stars of Chelsea into new homes under the shadow of the flightpath.
Together with residents from all three villages, activists from the Climate Rush, guerilla gardening experts and, of course, Plane Stupid spent a sweltering bank holiday beautifying the very villages BAA would like to decimate to build a third runway at Heathrow. The mood on the day was, despite the government giving the go-ahead to the plans, one of hope. We were working together, united in our opposition to the economically and scientifically unviable plans.
We were investing both time and energy into the future of the Heathrow villages, comfortable in the knowledge that the third runway will never be built. And if they try, we won't be gardening Sipson when we go back, but fortifying it. We'll swap strawberry plants and lilies for superglue and lock-ons, but the message will be the same, resident and activist alike: we don't want your runway, we don't want your runway, na na na na, na na na...