Let’s start with a little background info…
In South Wales near the town of Merthyr Tydfil, Miller Argent – a mining company – plan to create a second open-cast coal mine at Nant Llesg, right next to their existing one, Ffos-yy-fran. We needed to fight against the construction of this proposed new coal mine, but this was part of the greater fight against the dirty fossil fuel industry. And so, the “End Coal Now” action camp was set up by Reclaim the Power to support the amazing work already done by the United Valleys Action Group against Miller Argent. This was to be the first action of the 2016 Break Free movement: two weeks of actions across the world to end coal.
So far, 5 million tonnes of coal have been extracted from Ffosy-fran, with the end total on course to be 11 million tonnes. But this is not enough for Miller Argent, who want to create another open-cast coal mine in Nant Llesg, right next door to Ffos-y-fran, with the aim to excavate 6 million additional tonnes. The company supplies coal to a coal-fired power station in South Wales called Aberthaw Power Station. Miller Argent are still pushing for the expansion even though Aberthaw are going to be reducing their consumption of coal as they are pushed to turn to biomass as part of the governments renewable energy obligation (even though we know biofuels don’t really count as true renewable energy!). So why are Miller Argent looking for more coal when they will have nowhere to sell most of it to? Its only concern is growth regardless of the devastation it will cause to the environment and landscape. We know that 80% of known fossil fuels needed to stay in the ground to keep global average temperature rises below the catastrophic 2oC increase. How can this be possible when we continue to extract and burn more of the dirtiest fossil fuels?
The adventure begins…
So on the 30th of March a contingent from People & Planet Sheffield set off to South Wales, with a few more P&Pers to meet us on the Monday. For most of us this was our first proper action camp, for others it was their first mass direct action! When we arrived we were greeted by the skeleton of what was soon to become home to almost 400 people for few days. But as we were all members of the crew, it was going to be a joint effort to set it up and make it magnificent. First we ate lunch provided for us by Veggies who catered for us the whole week; a vegan non-profit catering company from Nottingham that support many animals rights and environmental campaigns, and who’s food is INCREDIBLE (the best vegan cakes EVER too!). And then it was all hands on deck as everyone got to work putting up our wind turbine, making the compost toilets, gathering firewood and putting up marquees. Within a few hours, the empty field surrounded by slag heaps from the neighbouring mine, was up and running and buzzing with life as more and more people began to arrive and get involved. That evening was our first meeting of many to follow. There were one or two a day, all following the structure of consensus decision making.
From then on the weekend was filled with workshops and performances from groups including Biofuels Watch, The Coal Action Network, Grow Heathrow and Plane Stupid just to name a few. Solidarity Sunday involved coach loads of members of the camp going to the little community hall in the village of Fochriw to meet the locals. This meant we could listen to their experiences of the mine, learn about the history of the area and where they see the future to lead with the possibility of a transition to more green jobs. In how the coach had to make two journeys, and another minibus travelling down later to join, just displays how important and enthusiastic people were in working in solidarity with the local community. Solidarity Sunday didn’t stop there, as later in the evening at camp we were joined by speakers from across the globe to tell us about their own struggles with the fossil fuel industry. Monday consisted of mainly working with our affinity groups to ensure that we were ready to carry out our ‘secret missions’ for the next day. We all also had the necessary direct action training and legal briefing as a precautionary measure so that we were prepared for anything that could happen!
TUESDAY: DAY OF ACTION.
7:30am, we’re off! The 3 blocs split off heading in different directions to enter the coal mine. Dressed head to toe in red boiler suits, being led by a big puppet red dragon, our narrative was clear: the burning of coal as a fossil fuel is a red line for the climate that should not be crossed the planet is to remain liveable and just. We enter the coal mine chanting and singing. Security monitor us but did not attempt to stop us. The activists in arm tubes lying in the track of where the diggers access the mine are met with great praise for being so valiant and having been there since before dawn. Then the first two of the groups meet. We hang banners from the dumper trucks, we climb on top of them, we play games and we dance.
Then when the third bloc is in location, we move further in to the dark pitt of the black coal mine to meet them and bring it to life; full of colour, music, singing and power. Now at the bottom of the mine, the celebration is in full swing. The coal mine that is usually in operation from 6am till 10pm has been halted of all work due to our presence. We showed the patrolling security that we had claimed this space and that we were stronger than them. How did we show them this? Obviously by playing volley ball with the giant inflatable cubes over a banner that was hung between two giant diggers and playing football and other games while dancing around to music (including the occasional bit of Dolly Parton). Over 300 people were having fun, ecstatic that we had successfully closed down the mine. Even when it started to rain, it didn’t dampen our moods as we all tucked underneath a digger and had a little rave. Squashed and making sure we didn’t bang our heads, we had a “rave under the machine”.
Then came the real visual moment when we made our message clear and all 300+ of us formed a huge red line across the coal mine with our bodies and banners. The incredible drone footage shows the colossal scale of the mine but also the mass strength of us as people standing out against the black scar in the earth and standing up, united against the fossil fuel industry.
From then half the people headed back to camp while the other half stayed around. The police decided to send in around 50 officers, yet luckily no one was arrested. Negotiations were made and everyone left peacefully at around 7 o’clock. The day had been a success: the mine stopped operation for a whole day. There was no way they could start work again now! On returning to the site everyone was greeted with a crowd of people congratulating them and LOTS of hugs were given. So… what else was there to do but to celebrate our victory with a hilarious debrief fuelled by a shared electric energy from everyone on camp (and a bit of alcohol from the bar). The party continued with everyone dancing and jumping around to the sound of anarchic ska-punk band Bolshy!
What did this week teach me?
Living for 5 days in a community where everyone is treated equally, built on the foundations of love and respect, displayed to me that an alternative way to live was possible. It is possible to live in a way that doesn’t encourage individualism through the destructive construct of capitalism. Camps like this, along with the amazing people within them, are a great example of what is possible. It’s also a vibrant hub for education and learning: people want to share their knowledge and feelings and it’s so inclusive! The workshops are interactive but even when you just met some random person over the bonfire at night, you learn so much from their experiences and hear so many inspirational stories. Importantly, this week demonstrated how an individual or a small group of people can be the spark to ignite something huge! UVAG was set up by a few people who wanted to unite South Wales against Miller Argent and their mines and look where it is now! Hundreds of people have joined their fight and if it wasn’t for those few initial people, none of this would have been possible. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE AT UVAG. This mass direct action is an example of how the power is within the hands of the people; we have the power to intimidate and stop these greedy corporations that exploit us, frontline communities, the global south, and the planet. We cannot rely upon our governments to serve us in a way that respects the environment, as we have already seen from their feeble attempt to uphold their promises from the Paris agreements. If they aren’t willing to lead us to a more sustainable future, then WE will lead the way and make THEM follow US. We need to join together to fight for our people and our planet.
UNTIL WE WIN!