Earth First! summer gathering - the resurgence

| 17th July 2015
Where is the Love? That'll be at the Earth First Gathering in the Peak District, 19th-24th August. And much more besides ... Photo: Vertigogen via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Where is the Love? That'll be at the Earth First Gathering in the Peak District, 19th-24th August. And much more besides ... Photo: Vertigogen via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Next month is the time for green activists to get together in the glorious Peak District, coordinate future actions on everything from fracking to road-building and climate change ... and of course, share the love, writes Indra donFrancesco, Yes, it's the Earth First! summer gathering, and there's never been stronger reasons to go.
If you agree with the above and you are not racist or otherwise a discriminatory fuckwit, if you believe action speaks louder than words, then Earth First! Camp is for you!

In 1994, I remember walking nervously into the field of my first Earth First! Gathering. But it was like coming home.

At last, here were people passionate about the planet with not only a plan how to physically stop the destruction but also put into practice the world we want to live in.

There were hundreds of people from all different backgrounds and ages, from politicised to just eco-curios, in a family friendly, low impact camping field for a week.

There were workshops on everything you wanted to know about campaigning : from gender politics, ecology, the latest legal and security issues to tree climbing and using direct action as a tool, team night-navigation and networking with organising space, all with political theory and historical references - and run by intelligent, compassionate and experienced activists.

I now am part of the Gatherings Collective, made up of people who, at the end of each Summer Gathering, volunteer to help put on the next gathering and build up a bank of skilled site crew and organisers - a skill in itself if you are setting up your own protest camps or gatherings.

And in 2015 we are taking to the Peak District

This year we're in the Peak District from 19th to 21st August. The nearest train station is Derby but the actual location is only given a couple weeks before to ward off the un-invited. The basic set-up will be same as ever: networking, skill-sharing and planning future actions at a not-for-profit, eco-living camp, organised non-hierarchically.

The camp invites groups that have arisen to fight particular campaigns as well as the local community and newcomers. Don't worry if you can't camp - there is a hostel near the site for £10 a night. As for transport, coaches being booked from many areas so check the web site, or you are welcome to help organise transport from your area and we can help with that.

Frustrated with constant police presence, the camps now don't include rampaging off afterwards, and the gatherings are not in squatted but rented fields, making the camp a safe space for everyone to learn and explore new skills and make connections.

The political arena has also changed: the concept of direct action has become acceptable in polite conversation, global warming is talked about seriously and it is widely recognised that governments and multinational corporations are totally screwing us and the planet.

Everyone in the camp is crew. Come expecting to get involved in the everyday running of the site. This is also a great way to get to know folk and maybe pick up a new skill like cooking for quantities or mediation.

If you come early enough, camp set up takes places on Tuesday and Wednesday morning so you can learn how to pitch a marquee or install field plumbing. The site crew rotas will be on the welcome gate as you arrive, so look at the programme, see what workshops you don't want to miss then put your name down for usually 2-hour slots.

If you agree with the above and you are not racist or otherwise a discriminatory fuckwit, if you believe action speaks louder than words, then Earth First! Camp is for you!

The site kitchens are run by experienced field caterers with crew volunteer choppers and washer-uppers. All food and the bar are vegan and as local as they can get and I think the lovely brew crew are keen to offer some fermentation workshops and to sell their cheap elderflower champagne this year.

Campaigning zeal is burning bright

We have enjoyed a general resurgence in the radical ecological movement for the first time since COP15 in Copenhagen, 2009 - when 'world leaders' failure to achieve any worthwhile agreement left environmentalists deeply frustrated - and this is a very exciting year for the EF! gathering.

No, it's not that we are expecting anything better from this December's COP21 in Paris. It's because we know that anything worthwhile is goiing to have to begin with ordinary people like us, determined to take the Earth's future into their own hands rather than rely on so-called leaders to do it for us.

We have been organising with Frack-Off, the successful and highly respected national anti-fracking campaign group, and the camp will be a skill sharing forum for the numerous communities resisting the threat of fracking around the country to organise tactically together.

We are also supported by the brave and energetic people at Reclaim the Power who have reached out to a new savvy generation of activists.

And as the Government undertakes an unprecedented attack on the environment - pushing ahead with fracking and nuclear power, determined to extract every last drop of oil and gas, doing all it can to undermine renewable energy and energy efficiency, working to weaken the EU's nature laws - we have more to do than ever.

And we know we can do it - because we have done it before.

23 years of dynamic campaigning since the first Gathering

Already by 1991 EF!ers had been active setting up the first anti-road protest camp, at Twyford Down. Peat-stripping machinery in Yorkshire had been 'decommissioned' and there had been shutdowns of timber yards and ports in support of indigenous resistance against wilderness destruction.

'Carmageddon' road blockades had reclaimed space from the onslaught of the roads programme and car culture, and there'd been countless smaller actions by day and night, from anti-nuke actions, to climate protest, and ecological defence.

The first British Earth First! gathering was on a beautiful squatted site near Brighton in February 1992. In early days there was usually a police presence outside the camp, expecting that on the Monday after the event we would all amble off en mass to blockade an open-cast mine or shut some unsuspecting arms dealer's office.

After all, our motto is 'No compromise in defence of Earth!'. And as we say, "the Earth is not dying, it's being killed and the killers have names and addresses!"

The police were disappointed on that occasion, but many actions, and victories, were to follow. At EF! gatherings, many of the major ecological direct action campaigns or one-offs have been dreamed up or developed. The anti-roads movement of the '90s stopped at least six projects that had already been initiated.

The Newbury Bypass campaign was the biggest protest, successfully stopping work starting anywhere on the route for three days, and with over 30 camps a huge 'eco-tax' was slapped on the project. The No M11 Campaign blended the defence of urban human communities into the equation, with squatted streets and innovative lock-on towers and washing machines taking weeks to evict.

And while this and  many other sites were 'lost', the movement as a whole resulted in over 300 road schemes being axed. The expectation of protest was officially factored in to the economic equation around whether to go ahead with road schemes.

Lessons from the past - the personal bonds matter

In our modern age of 'clicktivism' we must not forget that to work together as community we need to know each other and build the personal bonds that come out of joining in campaigns and sharing alternative ways of living.

That's something that came naturally in the 1990s when organising was done between people - and it worked, camps sprung up against quarries, airports, roads and other major infrastructure projects. And through all this, EF! individuals and groups played an important role as part of camps, providing support and going on the offensive.

Actions around the country had a huge range and ferocity - contractors, subsidiaries, small service providers and corporations intending to bid were occupied, sabotaged and generally hindered at every opportunity.

This was being done by people from all ages, backgrounds and dress senses. Some had been a part of a green student group or mildly political background, frustrated at the slowness of progress and speed of destruction and plunder of Earth's resources. And now, boosted by a new generation of campaigners and activists, it's happening again.

The general principles behind Earth First! are: "A non-hierarchical organisation and the use of direct action to confront, stop and eventually reverse the forces that are responsible for the destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants. EF! is not a cohesive group or campaign, but a convenient banner for people who share similar philosophies to work under."

If you agree with the above and you are not racist or otherwise a discriminatory fuckwit, if you believe action speaks louder than words, then Earth First! Camp is for you!



More information on directions, workshops, transport, hostel, safe space policy, dogs or how to get involved please check Earth First! Gathering. See also Earth First! UK.

Indra donFrancesco has been arrested over 18 times as an environmental activist in the UK over 23 years since visiting Twyford Down anti-roads protest in Winchester. She stayed with the 'roads protest' movement from camp to camp until after Newbury and the collapse of the roads programme, working on many campaigns since. She has always had a passion for putting on Earth First! gatherings to bring people together, and started a housing coop in Derbyshire. She is now involved once again in the new anti-'new roads' campaign with the 'Coombe Haven Defenders' in Hastings.


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