The Evergreen Affinity Group based in Bristol XR & co-ordinated the Action in Weston-super-Mare (WSM).
Members of Extinction Rebellion came from XR Bristol, XR WSM, XR Chew, XR Nailsea, XR Taunton, XR Bath & other local groups. They are all volunteers.
They chose Weston-super-Mare as it is the largest town council in North Somerset and has 11 councillors on the planning committee considering whether the airport should expand or not, and is therefore a place of considerable influence in this vitally important decision.
The anti-airport groups felt they needed to go and talk to the locals about this and to do this in a typically “Extinction Rebellion” way – by bringing peaceful, non-violent creative spectacle of colour, sound and art.
Part of the rationale for the protest was to do outreach into an area with a different demographic. Central Weston is in the lowest 5% of neighbourhoods for deprivation in England.
The Jamboree action took place in the busiest part of the High Street shopping area where thousands of local people passed through.
The Jamboree had a hub consisting of a number of gazebos decorated with banners, flags and other XR branding. There were three large boards containing factual information about the airport’s plans, a table of flyers, pre-addressed postcards for objections and posters galore. A small team staffed this table.
Ninety-six postcards of objection were completed on the spot & many more were taken away to be completed later. Approximately three thousand leaflets giving ‘Reasons to say No to airport expansion’ * were given out.
Beside the hub was a group offering block-printing on tee-shirts and other types of clothing.
Banners were put on the walls. Musicians from Bayou Tapestry played short sets throughout the four hours the Jamboree was there.
A group of campaigners called The Landing Crew took part in the protest, as the silent witnesses of the Jamboree, drawing people in by their colourful clothing & their coordinated slow movements….
The Samba Band, by contrast, led the protest in a noisy & colourful march around the central area of Weston and along the seafront. The procession was supported throughout by the XR stewards who were mindful to WSM residents and passers-by.
Throughout the action a small team of people who had co-designed a questionnaire with the assistance of a doctor in sociology & methodology, spoke to people as they passed-by to ascertain what they knew of the expansion plans & to listen to their opinions.
People seemed surprised to be approached, but in the main many people were willing to engage and give their opinions.
Some of the highlights from the questionnaire are below:
33% did not know the airport was expanding & only 36% knew North Somerset council were the decision makers.
Shockingly this indicates that nearly two thirds of the WSM residents don’t know that it is their own local councillors (11 out of the 27) who are going to be making that decision.
They in other words have not realised that they have the power to support or object to the expansion if they so wish to.
An important part of the role of the protest was to make them aware of this. They spoke of their powerlessness over political matters that directly impact on their lives. It seemed like they had long given up trusting.
Campaigners believe this lies at the heart of the failure of our political system as it is organised today. Here is a really important issue which is going to have repercussions on not just our immediate future but on generations to come.
Despite this, the political system has not reached out and engaged full-heartedly with people in WSM because I believe it doesn’t have the infrastructure or the will to do so. More and better engagement is needed; one of the best ways we can do this is through Citizen’s Assemblies.
The rest of the survey results indicate strongly that the people of WSM who answered this survey would object to an extra two million passengers using the airport and the thousands of extra planes if they knew they had a voice:
90% of responders were exasperated by road congestion & agreed with the statement ‘there will be an extra 10,000 car journeys to and from the airport clogging up the roads even more’.
People on the whole felt exasperated with the airport’s claims of being a ‘carbon neutral airport’. One person said ‘they must think we are fools’.
As indicated by only 2.5% of people agreeing with the statement that ‘The Airport has no responsibility for climate warming and greenhouse gases released by the planes’.
Whilst 87.5% agreed with the statement: ‘The planes are absolutely the airport’s responsibility. Greenhouse gas emissions mean that ice is melting, sea levels are rising and we are worried about Weston super Mare flooding’.
When it came to health matters & aviation:
77.5% agreed with this statement ‘We believe the local doctors who have said in a recent letter that aviation emissions cause premature deaths and increased risk of heart and lung disease’.
People were also extremely annoyed about noise caused by the planes with 80% agreeing with the statement: ‘We say an extra 23,000 flights a year and more flights between 11.00pm and 6.00 am
in the summer months will cause sleep disturbance and increase heart disease to local people’.
Respondents had lived in Weston-super-mare on average for 24 years.
Campaigners were heartened that this piece of outreach could produce results about the material planning considerations that reflect the many objections received by North Somerset Council.
It seems people wherever they live in North Somerset are concerned about road congestion, noise levels and the health of their families.
When communities speak they amplify the callousness of these planning applications.
Bristol Airport is part of a huge multi billion pound investment fund, the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund (OTPP) which attempts to manipulate every aspect of our political system in order to increase their profit.
Desmog* revealed recently British political parties and individual politicians have received more than £9 million worth of donations from the aviation industry. With the former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox
receiving the most. This of course is highly worrying as he is an MP in North Somerset where the airport expansion is being considered.
What environmental groups want, and what society needs, if for our towns and cities to have many local people who are involved & engaged with all decision making processes which places them, the natural world and social justice at the heart of all that we do.
The local XR groups believed the day in Weston-super-Mare was a useful piece of outreach which could be replicated outside the traditional XR heartlands. We now need Citizen Assemblies set up in every town & city council throughout the land.