The Truth Behind HS2 - Memoirs of a protest

February 21, 2019







For Beth,

‘The Truth Behind HS2’, is the title of a short documentary I was writing while living at the HS2 protest camp. The idea came when a camp supporter, ‘Dwight Rabbit’ wanted to create a film on the reality of HS2 and asked if I could provide the narrative. Although I left camp before the documentary was complete. I have used this work to reflect on my personal experiences during this time.

Dwight Rabbit is currently working on ‘The Seedling Project’. You can find out more about his current work at https://www.facebook.com/TheSeedlingProject.UK/


Whilst facing one of the hardest winters in 30 years we can no longer deny climate change. Species extinction is happening at a phenomenal rate and environmental disaster is approaching. We can’t escape the constant reminder that we are consuming too much and polluting each and every corner of our natural world. It appears humanity has taken a nose-dive and hope no longer lies in this elected government, so who do we turn to?


My name is Black Cat and I’ll be taking you through my journey… waking up to the modern-day tragedy of apathy and finding the courage to stand up, because to give up is the end.


In October 2017, I said farewell to my friends and family to explore community living here in the UK. While ‘on the road’, I heard of a protest camp against the development of a new high-speed train line (HS2). Despite not knowing anything about protest camps or HS2, I decided to go along for a few weeks before flying south for the winter. But what initially began as a two week stop over, ended up becoming a longer-term undertaking, as I joined an exciting movement for social justice, environmental and political change.


On the 14th of November 2017. On what felt like the coldest autumn day since I had started my travels, I set off for the Colne Valley protest. I had camped in cold weather before, but this was a bitter bone shaking cold and I wondered if I would last out the week.


                       


When I arrived at camp, flags and banners were a-blaze. Messages of ‘Save our Nature Reserves’ and ‘Wildlife Crimes’, were hung high in the trees. It certainly looked like the environmental protest I had imagined, and I fully expected to find the ‘hippy eco warrior’ clinging to a tree. But when I came to meet the protesters for the first time, I was in for a surprise. Here was a group of unextraordinary, pleasant looking folk drinking tea around the camp fire, and I couldn’t help but think, there was more going on here than first meets the eye.


                                         


The drifting hippies were actually local people from all walks of life. One camp member and full-time resident had been campaigning against HS2 environmental damage for several years, while her passenger boat business was likely to suffer too. Other protesters resided in the local mariner, where construction works would also be wreaking havoc. The stereotypes I had in my mind were quickly fading. The reality was, this was a gathering of the concerned community, who were coming together to protect a land and life they loved, because HS2 threatened to take all of it.


                                         


Before arriving at the protest camp, I was certain I wouldn’t be involved in any direct action. Afterall, I was only looking for somewhere to camp for a few weeks, and the image of the angry protester shouting and shaking their fist, was enough to put me off! I had decided to stay well away from that and had in mind a more romantic image of spending my time playing protest songs on the guitar.


But that idea soon faded when I was introduced to ‘the office’! because inside a large multifunctional tent, there was an exciting world of ‘behind the scenes’ protesting going on. There was paperwork and emails, legislations to read, charities to contact, petitions to work on, social media to update, and suddenly, this was starting to look like, ‘my kind of protest!’


As the days passed, I got to know more and more about the enormity of what was happening, and the list was quite extensive. Loss of habitat, endangerment of protected species, the effects on air pollution and water quality and all this was happening inside of a nature reserve! I could see that the need to save Colne Valley was of high importance, but the democratic means I was working on had all been engaged for years to no real avail. Sadly, the reality we all know is that money talks, and in applying this principle, the Colne Valley action camp had other ways of catching HS2’s attention.


I would watch in admiration as my fellow protestors would bravely set about climbing diggers and blocking entrance gates. Direct action was certainly making its impact, but although I had come to know the magnitude of what they were standing for and while I believed in them every-one bit. I remained firmly stuck to my resolve – “direct action is not for me".

                                         


Then one day, a few weeks after my arrival, Jonathon Bartley, the coleader of the Green Party came to visit and with him came the BBC.


That evening we made the 6o’clock news, and oh what fun it was to see us all on the telly. But what really caught my attention was when I heard Jonathon Bartley’s interview for the first time. “When local people have been side-lined, when it seems councils have been bought off with government money, absolutely is right that local people should take direct action”! My heart lifted, and I finally felt relief. Hearing this level of validation being pledged from a reputable political party, who were saying, ‘yes, we fully support this protest’, became the reassurance that I needed.


                                     


Jonathon Bartley’s words became a turning point for me, and I embraced direct action as if a switch had turned. Before I knew it, I was scaling fences and occupying entrance gates, and we were pretty successful at it. But rather than engage us in talks, HS2 decided to retaliate with one last barrier governments and multinationals like to hide behind, ‘criminalisation’. Because the law is designed to work for them not us.


All my life I had been, like most others, a fearful law-abiding citizen. But since I believed it was right to protesting HS2 on moral and ethical grounds, I was fully prepared to stand for my actions. Now the unfortunate thing is, with the police force firmly at the beck and call of the ‘powers that be’, the actions of a protester will easily fall onto the wrong side of the law and I was deeply saddened at the level of policing I saw. Wrongful arrests, threats, deceitful and coercive tactics, were all a betrayal of the justice system that I had once believed in. This manipulation and miss-use of the law, to protect an otherwise unlawful project broke my faith in the justice system, and in the words of Jonathon Bartley, summoned with every being in my body, ‘it absolutely was right to protest’.


                                                


We spent a lot of time connecting with the local community, which greatly helped us build new relationships and networks. We always said, ‘if we were going to save Colne Valley, we needed everyone to come together’! I also had my own personal quest. In my early days, I had arrived at camp full of misconception of what a protest might be and who I would find there. When I later discovered that the media image was a far stretched fantasy, I wanted to end this disservice and help to change the way protesting is seen. I hoped that by going into the community, people would get to know who we really were. People just like you (and me)!


While most people were in support of stopping HS2, there were others who held a different view. Some were hostile and angry towards us, some were indifferent, some had long given up and though it was time we went home too.


The anger often came from passing cars, they really liked to tell us (shout at us) to ‘get a job’. Whilst this was always a surprise to hear, because of course, my understanding was, that we were doing a job. Unfortunately, prejudice becomes common place when jobless is a ‘dirty word’, and at the side of the road, we were an easy target. In all fairness most people driving past may not have had any idea what was happening on camp. To many, we must have looked bonkers, thinking we were stopping HS2 by sitting around a camp fire and drinking a rather fine amount of tea! But it wasn’t all work and no play.


The indifference people felt was above all the hardest thing to accept. How was it possible when living with HS2 on your doorstep? Be it the ludicrous costs, or the removal of ancient woodland, surely there was something for everyone to dislike. But as the story goes, the communities here had been chasing HS2 through parliament petition after petition for +7 years, finally in 2017, the project was granted royal assent, leaving this extraordinary effort to amount to nothing. It seemed that the resignation of feeling for many was to either accept what was happening or to ignore it. I resonated with a different emotion. I had arrived here knowing I would be part of this community only for a finite time. I knew HS2 wasn’t changing my way of life and I didn’t have to forever live with the consequences. But every day I did meet the people whose homes and livelihoods would be destroyed. Every day I was moved by their plight and I was fully determined to help.


                                        


One particularly wintery December weekend, while holding onto a pink fluffy hot water bottle for warmth, I was arrested and taken away on suspicion of blocking the highway. Eight hours, a vegan chili and three cups of tea later, I was released without charge, although given the plummeting temperatures, I wouldn’t have said no to spending the weekend in the nick! But there was worse to come. One morning out of nowhere, a team of law enforcement agents arrived on camp with thick bundles of legal papers. HS2 were seeking an injunction, and seven named defendants, (I being number five) were being taken to the high court!


It was a terribly stressful time for us. HS2 were after damages, court costs, and a camp eviction while we couldn’t even cover the costs for a solicitor between us. We spent weeks tangled up in a mountain of paperwork trying our best to decipher the legal jargon in the evidence we were given. The injustice of the situation was hard for anyone to believe. This multi-billion-pound project with access to public money had forced seven protesters to the high court. HS2 were able to enlist top international solicitors, Evershed and Sutherland to take the case with months of compiled paperwork, whilst us defendants had little financial option, but to represent ourselves in court. Talk about the upper hand! We would have loved to take the government and HS2 to court but of course for us the funding does not exist. The good news was that on the day, Mr Justice Barling the high court judge appeared to recognise the importance of our efforts and saw fit to safe guard the camp against eviction whilst negotiating costs back to HS2, but all the same the injunction was granted.


                                        


What people find interesting is that I am a (retired) Engineer. I worked for many years on controversial oil and gas construction-based jobs and even spent 10 months on a job site in my own overalls and high-vis jacket! Because of this background, it’s been easy for me to relate to the HS2 workforce, after all, it’s only been 3 years since I was on the other side of the fence, working for the other guy! I’ve tried to approach protesting with compassion because I remember how I felt when I was in the system. I thought my job and my comforts were the accomplishment of life. Ultimately, what will stop HS2 will be an inner change in people’s mindsets, then their jobs will naturally follow. It’s not something you can force anyone else to do, however much anger you want to take out on someone, or guilt you try and make someone feel. Change is a very personal journey; some people may find their way there now and for others it may take a lifetime.


Being part of this protest, has been one of the most enriching and treasured experiences of my life. Here, I met a group of people with exceptional courage, inspiration and selflessness, whom I will always be in gratitude.

In my six months at camp, I have learnt that protesting as an essential activity. Just the expression of protest, is as every bit as important as the outcome. Every right we have has been won, and by protesting we continue to set those limits. It is our greatest power. The simple fact that the camp is here, is a very positive statement. This powerful image continues to give the message, yes there is a spirit alive in England, and by providing people with ‘something’ to become part of, opens the way for others to unite. If as a result, we managed to inspire just one person and set them off on their own journey to the truth, then to me that’s a job well done.


What I realise now is that, when you try at anything there is no such thing as losing because you will always win; in ways that you never would have imagined. I overcame my fears and developed the mental strength to live out the winter in a tent at the side of the road. In the company of environmentalists, I received an education into environmental law and ecology and thanks to the Hillingdon Green Party, I had a truly incredible experience running for local Council. But above all I started writing. Writing to share the truth because the people are listening and the time when we want to live in harmony will come.


Everyday people would tell me ‘but you know you’re not going to stop it don’t you?’ and every time I would react with the same surprise. Where does so much indifference and lack of self-belief come from? We need to start telling our children, yes, they CAN. BE. DO. ACHIEVE anything in life. Of course we can stop it, not me alone, but us together. Look at what a small group of people here managed to achieve. Yes, it’s going to be difficult to stop HS2 but even HS2 are starting to realise that its’ possible, because they know we think we can stop them, and if we think we can stop them.. well then, that’s when change starts to happen. It all begins with a positive thought…


Final Word


                                      


Sarah Green is a full-time resident and environmental campaigner residing at the Colne Valley wildlife protection camp. She is being taken to Uxbridge Magistrates Court on the 1st of April, charged with aggravated trespass. If she is found guilty, the injunction at Harvil road can be invoked with serious consequences. Sarah has been tirelessly campaigning for many years, for the protection of Colne Valley. With great risk and love she selflessly continues to put her life on hold, and on the line.

If you are able to support Sarah, a crowd fund page has been set up to help her raise money for the costs of the court proceedings.

https://l.messenger.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.crowdjustice.com%2Fcase%2Fprotect-londons-drinking-water%2F%3Futm_source%3Dbacker_social%26utm_campaign%3Dprotect-londons-drinking-water%26utm_reference%3D2efb11e1bbfdce45fda45f7f351cd835%26utm_medium%3DFacebook%26utm_content%3Dpost_pledge_page_flat_v1&h=AT0q-tpTWGXiUdwPSGOvOrtwoA4jW9naHzZk4aTZpJZfYbPF7F9OjKlI6T3-4GT_HNsXQ6W-Vc6NbLKBBcR_L9lKYhD3xVvrAgpbWCqlZrmHbfaaq5T4lRLXWrQlDYIU68zrIpZdtrZuR3pjtHw


Unfortunately, what is happening here at Colne Valley not only impacts London, it is a global issue which affects us all, no matter where we are from in the world. Please share this article so that we can reach out and make change happen.

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