• Roads and Resistance

    I don’t know about you but for me it’s been a year like no other. Intense and with considerable challenges at times, but deeply rewarding at others and with a huge sense of momentum. Various things have been going on, some of them coming to a head, others ticking over, others more languid though still demanding time. I can’t hope to write about them all here in one short post so will start with what is perhaps now the most pressing; that strangely familiar and hoary old chestnut of roads.

    I wrote about this in some dismay last November when the Chancellor gave the go ahead to around 45 road schemes in his Autumn review. It was almost audaciously bad on his part for approving schemes that were in the lowest ‘development pool’ i.e. those considered the least pressing or economic to build. But none of this has gone unnoticed, or unchecked and now disquiet is on the brink of emerging into something more constructive and possibly even historic.

    I saw Becca Lush of Roadblock and Road Alert give a talk together with Sian Berry from the Campaign for Better Transport at this year’s Green Gathering and since then, somehow, things have been developing a momentum of their own. A gathering is due to take place on St. Cath’s Hill in memory of the twenty years it’s been since the iconic protest there that helped to galvanise so much in the effort to protect an ancient ridgeway that gave the Dongas Tribe their name.

    And then it emerged a rally has been called to help protest the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road – approved in the spring to widespread disbelief. A group has been set up and a camp is set to follow and though the duration of the latter is yet to be determined it presents an unparalleled chance to help bring this issue back to the fore of public consciousness. Lest we forget; road transport now accounts for way in excess of twenty percent of our national carbon emissions and offers a real opportunity to scale these back if we can deal with these issues head on, to say nothing of effects of new road schemes on local landscapes, ecosystems and communities.

    Things took a further twist for me with an invite from storyteller Tom Hirons to talk at this year’s Uncivilisation Festival. It was interesting timing, to put it mildly, as the road protests of the nineties offered part of the theme of the weekend. The festival is, of course, an offshoot or perhaps realisation in the material world of the Dark Mountain Project that was set up by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine some three years ago now, by coincidence at the exact same time the Beyond Car Culture forum was created. I’d encourage anyone to have a look at the Dark Mountain site and go from there, but for now it may be enough to say it was set up to help provide some kind of meaningful narrative or cultural space in which we can articulate and hopefully help deal with the crises which with humanity and the ecosphere is faced.

    The key question here, and one that was voiced repeatedly throughout the weekend is whether we have passed the point of no return, whether acts of resistance are futile or whether there remains some hope or at least the possibility of helping to prevent the worst. For me, I feel, the road protests of the nineties held something truly unique and it seems more than a little serendipitous that they came up as such a strong theme in this year and for that event. As to whether resistance to the latest crop of roads will take the same form remains to be seen but there is certainly an opportunity there for those willing to take it – in a sense it is like pushing at an open door; the pattern has been enacted before and all it may take is a sufficiently committed group, or network of groups to get things rolling.

    I don’t know for certain how much time we have to help steer off climatic tipping points. I don’t know if a re-run of the nineties is the best thing that can possibly be achieved. But I’m certain that the passion that was so evident then can still serve us if we choose to make a home for it. When governments are full of neoliberal ire, when the future is threatened by what at best amounts to institutional myopia, when the earth seems to cry out in a chorus that cannot be suppressed we have at least an example that shows that things can be another way, that inspiration can take root and help us make a clear voiced call that things can still be different, that we have it our hands to set some kind of better visioned course.

    That is surely the lesson of the anti-road campaigns. That it can be applied without any kind of animosity remains a fervent wish, even as it’s clear that things don’t always change without some kind of struggle; of argument or of intent if nothing more material. The stage is set again and players are rehearsing their old lines. But if history is anything to go by, this ought to prove unique; because laws have changed as have tactics and experience on both sides. But I do not doubt that the creativity and intelligence of a new generation of campaigners can breathe something totally fresh and wholly necessary into dealing with a problem that can no longer be ignored. Nothing is certain of course until it actually happens but we stand at the threshold of a highly timely opportunity and that can lend an undeniable momentum. That such action has become so called for could be seen as a sad state of play – but the experience of Twyford, Solsbury, Stanworth, Newbury and the rest holds a very different currency; that these things can transform far more that might be supposed by looking at what seems a single issue.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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