A Victory for People Power! By Asad Rehman
Asad Rehman is Head of International Climate at Friends of the Earth (EWNI) and a Board member of Friends of the Earth International. Asad is from Burnley, Lancashire.
This morning countless people will have woken up exhausted and elated from yesterdays amazing victory against Cuadrilla and fracking.
The scale of the victory should not be underestimated. The local communities of Lancashire were not just up against an individual dirty energy company – they were up against an industry that was backed at the highest levels of government. David Cameron made it very clear he was ‘all for shale’, and George Osborne has lavished the fracking industry with tax breaks. They are fracking’s biggest ideological cheerleaders. This trait clearly runs in the Chancellor’s family as his father-in-law, Lord Howell, infamously called for “the desolate North” to be fracked. The new Environment Secretary Amber Rudd claims fracking would be good for jobs. Big business bosses, including Rupert Murdoch, have commercial interests tied up with fracking. Murdoch has lined up his media outlets to falsely claim fracking is the solution to rising energy bills.
This motley crew tried to bully and bribe local people in an attempt to bulldoze through fracking in Lancashire. They tried bribing local authorities with promises of business rates. They offered local people bungs to accept fracking. Caudrilla even took a leaf from the tobacco industry’s playbook and began to sponsor village halls and sports clubs, hoping that a fun day would be enough to greenwash their environment wrecking plans. A PR agency tied to Cuadrilla even tried to astroturf a pro-Shale campaign group – managing to sign up a massive 10 people – less than those who think Elvis is still alive and working in a chip shop in Accrington.
The decision by Lancashire County Council – who had already delayed the decision from last week – was an incredible victory in the face of huge odds. And whilst we are rightly celebrating, it’s important that we celebrate the right thing. This was not a victory for online petitions, banner drops or brand campaigners – welcome as all those things are; this is a victory for People Power!
Good old-fashioned community organising has defeated powerful vested interests. For four years, village by village, town by town; local people who initially were concerned with the threat of fracking to their health, their families and their homes, were forced to organise themselves and their local communities; as politicians and the industry tried to ride roughshod over their communities. The more these concerned residents organised, the more they made the connections with green jobs, with climate change and the planetary emergency we face.
For four years, incredible people such as Tina Louise Rothery, Ebony Ava Johnson, Geza Tarjanyi ‘frackman’, Bob Dennett, Pat Davies, Barbara Richardson, Gail and John Hodson and Dot Kelk stopped millions of gallons of toxic chemicals from poisoning their communities and wrecking our environment. They are ordinary people who have gone on to become extra ordinary campaigners that have won a victory, not just for their local community, but for us all.
Those who have been involved in movement building and have worked in solidarity with impacted communities know that real transformation comes from the ground up. When local people take ownership of the struggle, they are the catalyst for immense change – both at a personal and political level. Lancashire has a long and proud tradition of such radical organising, stretching back to radical Chartists and the Suffragettes; and in more recent times, the miners’ strike. Frack Free Lancashire can proudly claim they come from the same heritage as those pioneers before them who understood people power was the key to social change.
This campaign, like those social movements before it, is led by women, as is so often the case with community resistance. The heartbeat of this resistance are women who are providing leadership; building and sustaining a campaign through four years of hard work. Their model of organising echoes that of the ‘Lock the Gate’ anti-fracking campaigners in Australia – building new local anti-fracking groups across Lancashire to say “Not here! Not anywhere!”. This campaign doesn’t just aim to defend their own patch of the country, they repeatedly offer solidarity to other local communities around the UK and reach out to share their experiences with communities all across the world.
So lets take time to celebrate this victory but then return to the job of organising. For this government will keep trying to push through fracking. The government can overturn the decision of the local council and could issue even more fracking licenses before the end of the year. They could try and drive through fracking – in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Northern Ireland, Hampshire – all places where local people are resisting and hoping for a better outcome. The Sun’s editorial today, calling on the government to override local democracy is a harbinger of what we can expect.
But lets also remember that this victory inspires people all around the world. Messages of support have come flooding in from communities and campaigns from across the world. Groups fighting against tar sands in Canada, the Keystone XL pipeline in the USA, the Eskom power station in South Africa, and anti-fracking campaigners in Australia. This victory is part of an incredible movement of people who are calling for dirty energy to be kept in the ground.
If you want hope in the fight against climate change – look no further than in the faces of the jubilant folk of Lancashire. This is where there is hope for us to fight and win. People Power.
Asad Rehman – Friends of the Earth