Over the past few years I’ve met and encouraged many people facing their first ever arrest. I’m not a drug dealer or a member of a pickpocket gang. The people choosing to break the law and possibly ruin their clean records have included students, professionals and retirees, but the one thing they have in common is their concern for the future of humanity and life on this planet. They are young people wondering how they will survive in a changed climate and elders fearful for their grandchildren.
We are the growing number of generally law-abiding citizens who realise that if we allow our governments and corporations to continue to operate in the way that they are, we’re all screwed.
Our path to destruction needs to be diverted pretty much immediately if the current generation is to have any hope at all of enjoying a peaceful old age. Voting or signing petitions will not be enough to achieve the rapid change of direction that is necessary. The only way to stop our leaders dragging us to our annihilation is to put our bodies on the line and resist.
Each time I see someone take the initial decision to deliberately risk arrest for the sake of our collective existence, I’m reminded of my first time. When we good girls and boys overcome our deeply ingrained instinct to do whatever a police officer says, it is always a moment of triumph. It’s one of the most empowering choices an ordinary human can make. The scales fall from our eyes and we understand that the future belongs to all of us. The idiots can only control us if we let them.
I think I’d been waiting for that moment all my life, although I didn’t know it before then. It was about twenty years ago, when a company was trying to build a shale oil plant in my state of Queensland. It would have been the most carbon intensive way of producing electricity possible and would have needed huge subsidies from the state and federal governments to be even remotely viable. In summary, it was totally insane.
So nearly fifty of us descended on the plant, locking on to all the entrances and climbing the conveyor belt to close down operations. I was attached to a gate with a bicycle D-lock around my neck, blocking access near the top of the conveyor, while others suspended themselves from the machinery so it could not be used.
We had planned to stay there for up to five days, but by the end of the first day specially trained police had arrived from Brisbane and had broken their way through those on the perimeter gates. They tried to persuade me to unlock myself but since I refused they were forced to cut the lock with an angle grinder. It might seem counterintuitive, but as the sparks flew around my neck and face I think I felt more calm and in control than I ever had before. Events were unfolding exactly as I had decided they should.
After a couple more years of similar actions and mounting public pressure we won the campaign and the company gave up their plans. A different company is now trying to resurrect the crazy scheme, so we may have to begin the fight again.
We never have to accept our elected leaders spending our money on unjustified wars or fossil fuel developments which will condemn our planet to endless natural disasters and an unliveable climate. The people do have the power. Ultimately, they have to listen to us and when they see we value life over our own short-term comfort and security, they will know we have nothing to lose.
When the police tell someone that they will be arrested unless they move on, unlock themselves from the conveyor belt or come down from the tripod, they are accustomed to people obeying. When you tell them that you understand but that the campaign is more important than your personal freedom, you are the one in charge. When you show them that you are not afraid, and that you actually desire the issue to be taken to court because you know you are on the right side of justice, you become the one in control of the situation.
Those in power are scared. In many countries, people are rising up to protect their land and water, and authorities are responding with draconian laws designed to intimidate us into submission. In Australia they are trying to limit our freedom of association and punishing people for exposing our government’s shameful secrets. In the USA police are shooting and killing innocent people. Their tactics are not going to work because the stakes are too high.
When we peacefully resist against efforts to destroy our natural environment, to divide us with hatred and to silence our protest we will win in the end because we are right. When we stand together, without fear, in the defence of life, we must prevail. The first time you stand against the law for justice will probably not be the last.