8 January 1998 Edition
A year of green street protests
Robert Allen predicts a year of increased militancy on green issues
A year ago, the multinational company Monsanto were granted a licence to plant genetically engineered sugar beet on several farms in the 26 Counties. A group supported by the majority of Irish green and consumer organisations was formed to highlight the dangers to health and the environment from genetically engineered crops and to prevent, using legal means, the planting of genetically modified seeds. An injunction to stop Monsanto was sought but the seeds were planted anyway.
A few months later some people who are wise to the ways of the state and the lies of industry crept onto the farm in Carlow where Monsanto's genetically modified sugar beet seeds were planted and dug up the offending crops.
Throughout the past year non-violent direct action has replaced polite lobbying in virtually every area of green and social conflict. The reason is obvious. There is a place for report writing, lobbying, propaganda, protest and legal challenges but when it is played by the rules set down by the state it simply postpones the inevitable. Direct action, in stark contrast, challenges the omnipotence of the state and the power of industry. Tactics that have a direct effect on profits make industry sit up and take notice.
It seems clear that those who understand this and who refuse to compromise will become dominant in the green and social movements in 1998.
Throughout the past year non-violent direct action has replaced polite lobbying in virtually every area of green and social conflict
We're already beginning to see a change in attitude among groups who are realising that peaceful, non-violent direct action is more powerful than expert testimony and witness. In some instances these challenges will be illegal; the dismantling of telecommunication masts in the middle of the night. In others they will be disruptive; the march of thousands of horses to the Dail in the middle of the day.
The new eco-activists argue that the mainstream green and social organisations have failed the people they are supposed to represent and failed to protect the environment. It is no longer enough for groups to set themselves up with a self-appointed mandate to protect the environment and expect working people to pay their bills and wages.
So 1998 is likely to see a resurgence of the tactics that emerged in the last century to overthrow the ruling elites of a monarchy-ridden Europe. The focus this time will be social and environmental justice. Compromise will be a word no longer in common use among campaigners. People will co-operate and work together, focused on the issue.
Campaigns against the telecommunication masts that are sprouting up all over the country will intensify. Health and safety issues will become prominent, particularly in the workplace and among industrialised communities. Social empowerment and self-determination will galvanise communities into direct action on issues that affect their health, livelihoods and cultural well-being.
Although the attempts to forge green networks centralised from Dublin have continuously failed throughout the late 80s and the 90s, there are indications that the last few years of this decade will see enhanced communication and information sharing among empowered groups and individuals. While many people are understandably wary of computer and telecommunication technology, the green and social movements now active all over the globe would not be as effective without the internet and electronic mail communication. This has allowed campaigners to access information themselves at a cost that isn't prohibitive and freed them to devote their energies to direct action activity.
Ignorance has played a major part in the destruction of the environment and the disempowerment of communities. Politicians are corruptible but not all are corrupt. Profiteers, whether corporate or individual, are also corruptible and because money and power corrupts many have become consumed by their greed and avarice. The desire to accumulate wealth has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. More and more people are beginning to realise that this is what drives the corporations and the entrepreneurs but which also stops them in their tracks.
Robert `Pino' Harris may own most of Santry Woods, in north Dublin, but the regeneration of Ballymun will fail if the state and the local authority do not provide an area of land for recreational purposes. For more than a decade now the community has argued for this land to be brought into common ownership and revitalised to include a park, an organic farm, an eco-centre for handicraft work, a stables and a nature reserve. If Fingal County Council rezone the land for development it will be lost forever. The battle for Santry Woods has begun in earnest and will become a focal issue ultimately bringing the green and social movements closer together during 1998.
We are a long way from the individualist 80s; eco-activists are everywhere in the communalistic 90s.