climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

Resistance in Rossport : Is it relevant to climate activists?

Posted by KM on February 2, 2009

Below is an extract taken from a pamphlet recently produced discussing resistance in Rossport, Ireland. With Shell currently resuming work on the offshore pipeline, it is a pertinent time to look at the relevance of this campaign to climate activists and to consider whether we should act in solidarity with this community in struggle:

“Criticisms are sometimes levelled at the campaign in Mayo for not being ‘radical’ or ‘ecological’ enough. The limited campaign aims are cited as evidence of this and, of course, a lot of people who go to Mayo find it a compromise to work with these goals – but not impossible. For many who come to support the struggle, it is clear that it is possible to act in solidarity with the community, while having alternate goals and placing the conflict in the wider context of capitalism and its pending ecological disaster.

If the gas development goes ahead it paves the way for further fossil fuel developments in the region. The refinery site is 400 acres; only 60 are being used for the current project. Large oil reserves also lie off the west coast of Ireland, and once the gas refinery is operational further developments will follow. In Erris, the politics are mixed; not everyone shares the same end goals, but the result of the collective effort (whether intentionally or not) has been the halting of a major fossil fuel development for nearly a decade. This is a dream of many climate activists; in Mayo it’s actually happening.

We make compromises all the time, in our lives and in our politics. There are always shades of grey; it’s just a question of which you choose. Supporting the struggle in Rossport involves working with people with a range of political ideas. It is a community led campaign, so unsurprisingly, for the most part, they are not ‘anarchists’, ‘anti capitalists’ or even coming from a strong ecological perspective. They are an ordinary rural community who have been forced to take extra-ordinary action to protect their land, health and way of life.

The primary campaign aims are that the gas is refined at sea and a greater proportion of the profits go to the Irish state. If you come from an eco-anarcho perspective these aims are clearly pretty limited. But really, what aims do you expect to be agreed upon by a random rural community? Demands that the gas stay in the ground, a transition to a low carbon society and an end to capitalism?

Although these are the set campaign aims, to a large extent the ‘politics’ of people in the community are fluid. Because of the events of the past eight years many have had to significantly rethink their ideas about the role of the state, the church, corporations, the Gardai, and the relationship between them. Think of how many people you know who have been radicalised at the end of a police baton; to greater and lesser degrees, this is the story of many people in the Rossport community. Perspectives have changed in response to state repression and people have become more open to alternative ideas about ways of living and organising.

In some ways, the structure of resistance parallels ways of organising used in the UK direct action scene. Shell to Sea works largely through consensus and direct action moved to the heart of the campaign as soon as it became a relevant tactic. The community use it when they consider it to be appropriate (which can be different to when outsiders might think it’s relevant), and these ideas of appropriateness have evolved over the course of the conflict. Sometimes it works to transfer tactics we’ve used in the UK, sometimes it doesn’t. Often tactics developed by the community, specific to their needs and abilities, work best. All of us are engaged in a learning process. While there are certainly things that the community can learn from people with years of experience of political activism, there is also much that we can learn from the sustained and successful resistance of this community that has cohesion, generations of shared history and a very real sense of place – things that most of us have little experience of. This long term connection to each other and to the land are almost certainly significantly responsible for sustaining the passion and determination that drives the resistance in Erris.

If there is any hope of (positive) radical social change it is dependent on people with different life experiences, and perspectives, being able to come together to share ideas, find common ground and collectively work out solutions of new ways to live; it will not happen in an activist ghetto. If ‘activists’ dismiss community-led campaigns purely because they are not ‘radical’ enough, valuable opportunities are lost; especially when the situation is as extreme as it is in Mayo. It is during periods of upheaval, times when life can no longer continue as usual, that long established world views are turned upside down and people become more receptive to different ideas. The realisation that government and religious institutions cannot be depended upon for support is often paralleled by an increased reliance on one another, and the benefits of concepts such as mutual aid, co-operation and solidarity are discovered experientially. These are moments to engage with disparate communities, to find the common ground and support struggles for self-determination. Ideas for real alternatives to our political and economic system are not broadcast by the corporate media; most people have little access to this information and often, until times like these, little impetus to search for it. The presence of outside supporters with ‘radical’ politics provides an easily accessible source of some alternative ideas, at a time when people are more willing to explore them. If ‘activists’ can also remain open to learning from the communities they engage with, the potential for navigating the difficult paths to real and radical social change increases. As diverse groups, and individuals, find ways to work together in struggle, it becomes more possible to imagine, and to create, a truly revolutionary social movement.”

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