Protest stunts like Greenpeace's fracking operation keep politics alive

Greenpeace will soon put away its ‘fracking’ equipment – but its point will be made

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The Independent Online

The villagers of Knutsford in Cheshire yesterday experienced at first-hand how national energy policy might affect their future.

Greenpeace activists had set up a fracking rig on the village green and renamed the Conservative local party office FRACK AND GO – a newly registered spoof company.

Knutsford – located in the heart of George Osborne’s constituency – is our very own extreme energy frontier. Osborne has spoken about his desire to exploit “the newly discovered gas reserves” that lie under our green and pleasant land, and Knutsford is just one such place. Hence Greenpeace’s stunt – one of the best I’ve come across in many years as a campaigner on environmental issues.

Greenpeace’s banners and fake surveying equipment will soon be packed away but the conversation that their actions have sparked – over beers in the Knutsford local – may lead to the creation of a resistance movement. At the very least, the council can expect letters from residents wondering why they hadn’t been made aware of the negative impact of fracking.

Stunts demonstrate political opposition and provide the public with a talking point, and, on occasions such as these – whether I’m lifting my hand to knock on Philip Hammond’s front door, or lugging discarded Christmas trees to the Department for Environment, Forestry and Rural Affairs, with no media watching and just five committed compadres – I think about a small group of women from Iowa who lost their sons early in the Vietnam war.

They called a protest outside the White House, and just six women turned up. But what they could not know was that childcare pioneer Benjamin Spock would be watching. He was inspired to do his bit – using his many platforms to speak out against the war.

Some stunts will electrify the world. Pictures of Plane Stupid occupying Parliament’s roof were on the front page of every newspaper for weeks. The protest led to the Conservative Party pledging not to expand Heathrow Airport. When Lush Cosmetics dramatised the cruelty of animal testing in their Regent Street shop window, the film they made was viewed by more than half a million people, and the EU’s Cosmetics Directive policy was finally implemented.

Stunts and protests are the visual expressions of any political movement. They exist in the moment – as testament to the fact of resistance. They are about communities of people who care trying to show other people why they should care – and no one can put a limit on the ripple effect of their action.

Tamsin Omond is an author and environmental activist