• Twenty Years On

    This January marks the twenty year marker since thousands of people from all round the country converged on the Hampshire, Berkshire border for an often gruelling campaign against the Newbury Bypass in particular and new roads in Britain in general. It’s a familiar story by now, or at least ought to be; what can happen when people come together to protest, of how far both sides are prepared to go when a line has been drawn in the sand, of the hope and bitterness, of the inspiration and grinding attrition of states of muted and mutual conflict.

    It had gathered a sense of near inevitability by that point; the culmination of years of campaigning and of the desire to push through what was then one of the biggest road building programmes in the UK’s history. There is much you can say, looking back. Certainly the timeliness of doing so probably speaks for itself, with the latest resurgent road building programme; everything that was fought for stands in peril once again; the landscapes and the hope for a manouvre away from ongoing car culture and all its implications for the climate.

    That can be banged on about indefinitely and there’s clearly scope and a case for doing so while we are faced with such retrogressive policies. But, if that case ever seems predictable or reductionist, there’s a lot to be said for that time that was about more than simply a battle with the state. If we came to protest, we also came from an instinct simply to gather itself; to live on the land among like minded people and to find as we did a sense of a very real kinship. We came to escape urban life, to make the most of a chance just to live as a people, back in a place we could truly call home.

    It was one of the defining, and sometimes tragic, aspects of the time then that people who felt so keenly connected with nature answered their heart’s calling to put themselves right at the front, to fight against and witness what was being done to this country for the sake of apparently insatiable demands for burgeoning infrastructure. Evictions, ongoing actions and more traditional forms of protest all both inspired and took their toll and there are many I know who, while they’d never have had it be another way, left sufficiently scarred just to want to move on.

    At the same time, many felt moved to join ongoing movements; against genetic modification, against global free trade and all its repercussions, seeking to cut off the head of the beast rather than fight piece by piece the tentacles each new road represented. At times, along with many more, I’ve sought a return to those kind of days. And they certainly hold a currency of experience and example for anyone protesting now; against new roads or fracking or dubious nuclear deals.

    But, while it might sound naïve, there’s a sense too that these protests shouldn’t really be necessary at all. There’s a sense that people shouldn’t have to put their lives and health on the line due to the culpability of governments. That direct action is still a necessary stopgap when official policy seems out of kilter (at best) if not an example of the very worst a state can do (and in this sense the ongoing campaign against fracking couldn’t be more important), there’s also a feeling at times that there is potentially a wider game; that of the potential for mass behavioural change, for the catalysts of a newfound environmental consciousness that need not be necessarily allied to protest overall. Though when lobbyists and corporations still threaten so much, the role of protestors is clearly as needed as ever.

    But for my part at least, direct action is no longer an option. The stress of evictions, the minimal food and grinding months of attrition all conspired to mean that activism is a thing I cannot now repeat. And many more find that frontline campaigning can still be too emotionally and psychologically fraught. But while protest is currently crucial, we can remember too that wider stories can persist; of waking up, of how we lead our lives, of how we see to and relate to the world, of what it can feel like to live close to the earth, whether as part of creation or something more immediate; to see her as the relation she is, not some tableau of resources for the taking.

    Environmental responsibility starts with every one of us, removed from any sense of ‘us or them’. It can help spark campaigns but can also fuel another sense; what it means to live well and as lightly as we can. Remembering stories can light up our times, but history more often bears echoes of itself rather than perpetuating more exact repetition. People can learn from what happened at Newbury but I also do not doubt that they can be every bit as imaginative and pioneering as anyone involved in the nineties. Ideally there should be no need for division down partisan lines, just as surely as we all have to see our way beyond the machinations of the poorer aspects of the modern world.

    Inspiration can take root in many forms. Perhaps what’s needed more than ever is the currency of enabling greater benevolent change, of how a people can be when we hear the call of our hearts as well as that of the planet. In truth of course there’s never really been a separation – the lie that there has been has helped shape so much of our world. Remembering this unity is perhaps the most important, and still urgent, task that we face.

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    To support a new edition of Nine Miles have a look at my Indiegogo page and also the new facebook site.



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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