Saturday, December 13, 2008

Flight of fancy, or a far-sighted protest?

One issue picked up by the media and now, looking like a handle for BAA to grab on to is class. Some members of plane stupid are from privaliged backgrounds, and that interests journalists for some reason. I`m not sure that this would be the worst thing in the world in normal times but in a receesion it really isnt what you want. It's easy to drive a wedge between those supposedly with the luxury of protest and those who need cheap air fairs and a strong economy.


From the Guardian (link)

Plane Stupid's activists train in protest techniques, such as padlocking themselves to things, so as she sat on the ground near Stansted's runway, Rosie Slay was not overly concerned for her safety, despite the bicycle D-lock attaching her to a fence by the throat. Safety is always a big consideration during the group's actions, she says.

The police had arrived shortly after the protesters, and were removing them one by one from their makeshift barricade, cutting some loose with bolt cutters. It still took more than two hours, to the demonstrators' delight, though Slay didn't delay the officers for as long as she had hoped - the police found the key to her lock on the grass.

Five days after the daring 3am action that shut down one of London's airports, cancelled 52 flights, disrupted thousands of passengers, amassed huge international publicity and prevented the equivalent damage, by Greenpeace's estimate, of 2,162 tonnes of CO2, the young activists of Plane Stupid have been reflecting on what they consider as the enormous success of their intervention.

"We were really, really happy as we were getting arrested," says Slay, 20, a student originally from Hackney, east London. "We had people on the phones talking to the media and as we got more and more information about the amount of coverage, we were really elated."

Coverage of Monday's protest, and the curiously polite radicals who staged it, has focused on their backgrounds as "toffee-nosed youngsters", a collection of supposedly spoiled rich kids with more time than insight.

Still essentially a student movement, there is no question that like most university campuses, Plane Stupid is more white and more middle class than the national demographic.

But the most striking common characteristic of those who took part in the protest is their unwavering conviction, which is compelling.

Josh Moos, who like Slay is a student at Sussex University, is at 21 almost an elder statesman of the group, having been involved with the campaign since shortly after it was set up three years ago. He used to be "an armchair environmentalist", he says, but "I realised from further reading that climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. All further issues are of course important but they all become subjugated to the issue of climate change."

His unofficial role during the runway occupation was to reassure the newer campaigners. The group also provides training in techniques for resisting arrest, media skills and advice on how to deal with your parents.

In total, 54 people were arrested on the taxiway at Stansted, along with a further three as they attempted to leave. Dan Glass, one of the group's leading figures in Scotland, came south to participate with 14 other "affiliates" in Monday's action, but only two chose to get arrested on the runway. The rest preferred to keep their noses clean in anticipation of potential future protests at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports.

Last summer Glass, 25, hit the headlines after supergluing himself to Gordon Brown. He rejects the middle class tag, particularly when applied to those living in the poor Glasgow suburbs campaigning against the expansion of the city's airport: "Fifteen percent of the population never even fly, and many of them live in Clydebank, where they are really affected by Glasgow airport. In Scotland the demographic of people involved includes a lot of people who are really economically marginalised," he says.

While some have characterised the action as that of "militant environmentalists", the group argues that what is seen today as dangerously radical will one day be accepted. "We are definitely on the radical end of the spectrum and that is where we wish to be," says Moos. "Visionaries are initially seen as radical before the mainstream catches up with them and accepts their policies."

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