Meet the plane stoppers
global warming is forming over milky tea and homemade cakes. A group of 50 middle-aged
housewives and retired professional women have assembled in a wooden hall in Hounslow
decorated with bunches of flowers and photographs of local events.
subversive. Bold plans are being hatched.
how to storm the offices of BAA, Britain’s airports operator. In between tea breaks
they also rehearse breaking through Heathrow airport’s perimeter fence and chaining
themselves to one another in the middle of imaginary runways.
its policy on airport expansion. "I’m not the type to do this sort of thing,"
said Bland. "But the government’s consultation on Heathrow’s third runway made
me furious because it was so obviously corrupt. What are we meant to do when our
democracy is not working?"
making the window panes tremble.
at a speed that has put politicians and business on the back foot.
hours after they cut their way through perimeter fencing at 3am. Police made more
than 50 arrests.
tagged the "middle-class militants" and "designer demonstrators". Indeed, among
the revolutionaries gathered in Hounslow was the director of an IT firm and an
interior designer. But the obsession with class obscures the fact that the changing
demographic of protests has brought with it unprecedented organisation, funding
and strategic thinking.
the Stansted invasion. Many of its activists do come from a middle-class background
and have university educations. Among them are Tamsin Omond, 23, granddaughter
of a baronet, who shares an east London flat with another activist, Beth Stratford,
26, a Cambridge graduate. There is Olivia Chessell, a 20-year-old whose grandfather
was a cabinet minister in the Wilson government, and Leo Murray, a grandson of
Anthony Greenwood, the Labour peer.
parents. "Our parents’ generation haven’t done what’s necessary," said Lily Kember,
an anthropology student at Edinburgh University who juggles her activism with
essay deadlines. "Now it’s up to us to act. It’s our future and we’re not going
to fail our children in the same way."
Joss Garman, 23, one of the founders of the group in 2005, is the grandson of
a pilot and Will Rose, 29, is a son of the coal industry.
"Ashington used to be the pride of the industry. It was a booming example of the
economics of coal so it was very hard to get used to the idea that coal is bad.
My dad was on the picket lines under Thatcher, trying to keep the pits open. Now
I’m trying to shut coal power plants down."
as generational or too narrowly class-based, what is its key feature? The truth
is probably more prosaic: it is organisation – specifically the type of structure
that would impress a group of management consultants.
antiroads movement," said Garman.
"cells". Members say it is modelled on the "rhizome concept", a nonhierarchical
model designed to share information and ideas developed by Gilles Deleuze and
Félix Guattari, the philosophers, in the 1970s. The name Plane Stupid acts as
a "virtual" umbrella network which can be used by any climate change activist
wanting to take direct action against the growth of air transport and expansion
of airports. It is a far cry from Swampy and Co and their ad hoc antiroads protests
of the 1990s.
list," said Mel Evans, a campaigner. "We are organised through affinity groups.
There are nodes which are all connected but there is no central hub. You could
compare us with how potatoes grow underground."
action is yielding tangible results has been key to the broadening appeal of the
movement. "Direct action is the only thing which seems to have any traction over
the political process," said Garman.
new cause. "A lot of the seasoned activists from Newbury, Twyford Down and Manchester
have been coming to us and giving advice on how to stop the works," said Graham
Thompson, 35, a Durham University graduate who set up Plane Stupid with Garman
and now works part-time for Greenpeace.
fears last week that they had gone too far at Stansted. Many reports, as well
as focusing on the background of the protesters, also picked out the understandable
anger of travellers whose flights were delayed.
people seem to be supportive," said Garman. "They seem to understand where we’re
coming from. They are asking themselves why a fairly normal bunch of kids feel
they have to go to these lengths."
Mark Constantine, the multi-millionaire head of Lush, the global cosmetics chain,
as well as individuals sympathetic to the green movement. Customers buying Lush’s
£9.74 Charity Pot – a tub of sweet-scented cocoa butter hand-and-body lotion –
may be taken aback to discover that proceeds from their purchase are being used
to support actions such as the invasion of Stansted. Rather embarrassingly, Lush
was last week revealed to have branches at airports in Japan and America; until
a few years ago it had one at Heathrow, too.
noble. "This is a fight in the tradition of civil disobedience," he said. "Last
weekend around 10,000 people marched through London to highlight climate change,
to little media coverage. But what just 50 people did on the runway at Stansted
brought international attention. It’s no surprise that people are choosing to
stand up and act."
activists and giving them office space.
– cause has gained support has taken the industry aback.
the party of business, could oppose the expansion of Britain’s leading hub airport,
proposing instead what they heralded as a "seriously green" alternative: a high-speed
rail network replacing the need for short-haul flights by linking Heathrow to
European and UK destinations.
have yet to win over the nation. A poll conducted for The Sunday Times this weekend
found that just 8% of the public support the methods used by Plane Stupid protesters,
although 40% said they did support their motives. Attitudes towards airport expansion
are more divided: 50% support expansion while 30% are opposed and 20% have not
made up their minds.
direct action against all 12 of Britain’s airports that are earmarked for expansion.
Part of its strategy is to drive up costs for airport operators in the same way
that the antiroads movement ramped up the cost of security operations for road-builders.
to expansion next month, protesters have vowed to bring chaos, blocking transport
links, invading the runway and storming BAA’s offices. If work on a third runway
were to start, then the activists would be licking their lips. As Rose said: "A
construction site is a playground for direct action."
Stupid activists might find many more people willing to watch over them with an
indulgent eye while they play in it.
Stansted on Monday 8th. Links to a few below: