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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Once again, civil liberties and climate change are crossing paths in the news. This morning, the Guardian released footage showing two activists being brutally manhandled by police at last year’s climate camp at E.on’s coal-fired power station in Kingsnorth, Kent. The film shows two female protestors, Emily Apple and Val Swain, asking unmarked police officers why they aren’t wearing their numbers. When the pair start taking details and photos of these anonymous coppers, they find themselves wrestled to the floor, trodden on and even throttled. Apple and Swain, both single mothers with young children, were then arrested and held behind bars for four days, despite having made a perfectly legal request for police to identify themselves. Reports suggested the women were targeted because they are active members of Fit Watch, a group which attempts to monitor the activities of the Met’s Forward Intelligence Team (F.I.T.), a police unit whose sole job at demonstrations is to gather photographs and video of activists to contribute to a vast database which can later be used to drum up charges of conspiracy against arrestees.

Numberless: a police officer with something to hide

Numberless: a police officer with something to hide

The police don’t like protestors to hide their identities. If you turn up at demonstration wearing a hoodie and have a hankerchief tied over your face, you can be sure they’ll make you reveal yourself. Some activists have given up trying to hide their identities from the ubiquitous eyes of the FIT, and actively court the coppers’ lens.  But when protestors ask police to reveal themselves, it’s a very different matter. Although it is illegal for police to go unnumbered, empty shoulders are an increasingly common sight at high-stakes demonstrations.

But intimidation, secrecy and even violence on the part of the police is rarely enough to deter the most stalwart of activists, as the following story shows. A good friend of mine locked herself onto a biofuel refinery during the week of the Kingsnorth camp. The police ripped her violently from her chains as quickly as they could, leaving her hands and wrists bleeding and her neck sore. She was promptly served an injunction and told not to go anywhere near a powerstation or the camp. I’d been shocked by the photos of what happened, but nothing surprised me more than finding her behind the counter at one of the camp’s kitchens, serving up soup with a smile only hours later. It takes extraordinary courage, passion and, dare I say it, love to keep on going like this.

But keep on going we must. That’s why it’s so fitting that, in the same day as the news of Apple and Swain’s Kingsnorth ordeal makes headlines, yet more activists are back at the plant, causing trouble for E.on. Greenpeace protestors have boarded a ship bringing coal to Kingsnorth and are preventing it from unloading its cargo.

Civil disobedience has achieved some extraordinary things in our history, and with climate change the stakes have never been higher. You can pledge to take direct action against climate change by signing up at beyondtalk.net or at Greenpeace’s Big If page. And if scaling chimneys or boarding boats isn’t your cup of tea, there’s still a fantastic way to show that you’re not going to let coal power wreck our climate by joining the “Mili-Band”, a huge human chain around Kingsnorth, with a village fete afterwards. It’s being organised by nef‘s friends and colleagues at the World Development Movement, Christian Aid, Oxfam, the RSPB, the Women’s Institute and a host of other groups. Book your place in the Mili-Band today!

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Sisyphus, you may remember, was the mythical king whose punishment in the afterlife was to push a massive boulder up a hill. But before Sisyphus could get the boulder to the top, the damn thing would always roll back down to the bottom, forcing him to start again.

Being any sort of environmentalist is always a Sisyphean task.  Every time you think that humanity might be approaching some sort of watershed, some great awakening to the dire ecological reality that our species has created, the big stone of progress rolls back down the mountain. In my darker hours, I start to wonder what we all did to make the gods so angry.

A few months ago, we were celebrating the acquittal of the six Greenpeace activists who scaled a chimney at Kingsnorth power station and painted “Gordon” on the side, to protest the Government’s collusion with E.ON in its suicidal plan to unleash a new wave of coal-fired energy plants. The damage done to the power station, concluded the jury, seemed trivial when compared with the damage which will be done by climate change. The protestors had a ‘lawful excuse’ for their actions, and were found not guilty.

It was a verdict which smelt of change and new beginnings. The great social change theorist Bill Moyer spoke of a stage in the development of all social movements called ‘Take Off”. At this stage, the general public hear, for the first time, the activists’ side of the story. Suddenly the powerholders are no longer the sole narrators. This is exactly what happened during the Kingsnorth trial: a jury is, after all, intended to be representative of the broader public.

But perhaps the take off was a false one. Read the rest of this entry »

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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.