Earlier this week, I had the honour to be one of a group that blockaded the entrance to Cuadrilla’s test drilling site at Balcombe along with Green MP Caroline Lucas, who was subsequently arrested. The blockade was one of many non-violent direct actions that took place on Monday in response to Cuadrilla’s plans to carry out exploratory drilling in the area, and the failure of local government to respect the wishes of a community strongly opposed to fracking.
But the protest in Balcombe is about more than just fracking. Balcombe has come to represent the frontline in our fight against climate change in the UK. The current government’s single-minded, self-interested, sociopathic focus on pursuing a dash for gas will cause it to break its legally binding climate change targets. Balcombe is a line we have drawn in the sand. It is about rebellion. Protestors from all across the country are saying no; responding to a situation that demands action from us all.
So on Monday I blockaded a road to prevent trucks from being able to access Cuadrilla’s test site – and hundreds of other protestors took action along the road, around the site and across the country to show Cuadrilla, and the government, what democracy really looks like. We sat, arms linked together, chanting, singing, under the baking sun, surrounding 4 others who were locked to a wheelchair in the centre of the group.
Although the police had managed to separate us from the rest of the protestors, I could see a further blockade of people between our group and the main gate, and on the road behind me demonstrators sang and danced in the face of the police line. They kept our spirits up and delayed the police from being able to remove us. Just after 1pm the police charged them down in an attempt to clear the road and further divide us, but they stayed, kettled on the verge, singing in support.
When the police removed us, five hours after our blockade had begun, using pressure points to break our chain and arresting some for obstruction, the job had been done. No trucks entered the site on Monday – and, in response to the Reclaim the Power protest camp coming to Balcombe, drilling was suspended for 5 days. Cuadrilla and the government have been sent a clear message of defiance: we are not going to simply sit back and accept this. They know they have a fight on their hands.
I left Balcombe feeling more hopeful than I have done in a long while – a feeling I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing. I felt like the movement was growing and re-galvanising, charging up with energy that had been lost. Inadvertently, by pursuing fracking, the government have kicked a hornet’s nest. The ‘battle for Balcombe’ has put climate change back on the agenda. It’s uniting people of different issues and putting protests back on the front page.
A government is answerable to its citizens, and in our country, while our government continues to pursue fossil fuels with wilful negligence; there will be need for protest, resistance and civil disobedience. They have been forewarned. Balcombe is just the beginning.