Direct Action: Know your rights

Direct Action: Know your rights
85-year-old Green anti-fracking activist, Anne Power, recently suffered injuries at the hands of the police while protesting at Preston New Road in Blackpool. She tells us how to stay safe while taking direct action

First of all, how did you get into environmental campaigning?

In terms of my anti-fracking activism through the Green Party first of all. I had a bit of background and heard there was a meeting in Eccles about fracking and I knew protests had been happening in Sussex. I didn’t really know what fracking was at the time; I just knew that if the Green Party were against it, I’d be against it. So I went to the meeting in November 2013, and that was the end of my life! 

What sort of tactics have you employed recently and in the past in your anti-fracking activism and which have been most effective?

I’ve assisted in lock-ons, I’ve done background work, but the main thing that is visible that I’ve done is being able to block the road with my car, defying the police, when I thought it was something unreasonable they were asking. I’ve been able to use my car to travel between sites and support people resident in the camps, helping with food, drink, bed linen, firewood and offering people showers and a meal or a night’s sleep when it was all happening near me. Blockading entry to the fracking sites to suppliers with my car has been particularly effective. I’ve been able to blockade the gate with my car and leave it, holding up the work by at least an hour and a half.  

What precautions can you take to stay safe while protesting? 

You have to look after yourself, as you would in any other situation; you have to be sensible and be conscious of what you can and cannot risk. Pay attention to your needs for food, drink, the loo, a rest and warmth. Watch your own safety and watch the safety of people around you. Try not to let your anger tip you over the edge into doing something you wouldn’t normally do. And get to know how far you can trust the police - do not assume they are there to help or know anything about your cause. A few weeks ago at Preston New Road I was dragged across the road and suffered injuries at the hands of the police, and I’ve seen many others suffer the same treatment. You cannot trust the police in this case; be a little bit wary. 

What understanding of the law do feel it’s important for activists to have before participating in direct action?

I think you need a lot more understanding than I had at the time! I think you need to know what your rights are. You have a right not to be handled by the police, unless you’re committing some crime or another. I don’t like being grabbed, as happened at Preston New Road. I was very secure in myself at the time that it happened so they didn’t frighten me at all, but I would have been frightened three or four years ago. 

I think a lot of people that come down arrive in trepidation; they’ve never done anything like this before and they’re not sure what’s going to happen. It’s very good that they know they have rights, they’re not breaking the law, they’re not intending to break the law, and therefore the police have nothing that they should be doing to hurt them. 

Are there days where you question what you’re doing? 

Well, yes, I do remember having days here at Blackpool, where I’ve been sat outside the gates all day in cold wintry weather, watching the police escort vehicles in without us being able to do anything, and I’ve wondered what we were doing and what we were achieving. It’s immensely frustrating. But the good days certainly outweigh the bad. 

What final advice would you give to people who want to start challenging environmental injustice in this way?

Believe in yourself, and believe you have a right to challenge injustice. Don’t jump in heart first. It’s a heady atmosphere and you can get carried away. There are many brilliant and thoroughly dedicated people and there are others with great needs to be liked, to be wanted, to be best. And there are some who are really working for the enemy. Above all, stay safe - if people can feel safe that they have every right to protest, then be glad that you have the chance and get on and do it!