When I’m not here in Southampton, I live near Stansted Airport. ‘Directly under the flightpath’ kind of near. As a child, this never bothered me, because nothing really bothers you as a child, except being ‘it’ and trying to stay up past 9pm.
However, I do remember one day noticing huge, yellow banners and posters that had sprung up around the town overnight, bearing slogans such as ‘Don’t Make Stansted Another Heathrow!’ and ‘Save Our Villages From Stansted!’
Of course now I realise that these posters were a manifestation of the reaction of local people to the proposed expansion of Stansted Airport, an undertaking which not only threatened the way of life of the surrounding villages, but promised physical destruction to some.
A few years later, I saw that new posters had appeared, this time with the motto ‘Never Again’. It seemed as though the planned expansion had been cancelled. I only began to wonder why that might have happened recently, after viewing a film called ‘Just Do It’, which was screened in the Nuffield Theatre this week.
‘Just Do It’ is a documentary film directed by Emily James, which follows groups of extremist, environmental protesters as they attempt to get their anti-capitalist messages across by any means necessary.
Methods include barricading the entrances of power-stations and national banks with step-ladders, to which they chain themselves with bike-locks, superglueing their hands together and camping out for months on end at factory sites in order to make their concerns known.
I was empathetic towards one of the featured activists, Lily, who, shocked at the proposed addition of a third runway to Heathrow and the impact it would have on the surrounding villages, moved from her London home to live in Sipson, one such threatened village, so as to be more closely involved with the protest movement. When asked how long she was planning to live in Sipson, Lily answers “As long as it takes really. In my head I’m allowing at least a year”.
The individuals in this documentary aren’t just passionate about the environment; they are ‘Direct Activists’, willing to sacrifice everything they have for a cause they believe in. Marina Pepper, a particularly fanatical activist who appears during most of the featured protests, mainly pouring cups of tea for the protesters and police alike, puts their passion into words: “I put my body in the way, and I don’t mind being arrested”. But does this attitude pay off? Both the expansion plans for Stansted and Heathrow have been scrapped for now, partly as a result of tireless campaigning, but is this always the case?
One of the most striking stories featured is that of a group of young activists, followed by cameras as they meticulously plan and execute a protest against Royal Bank of Scotland in response to their recent government bail-out and subsequent investments into the fossil fuels industry.
We are shown countless meetings of the group, as they practice a planned obstruction of the entrance to the bank, erecting stepladders and chaining themselves together.
One girl is even shown to be etching a telephone number onto her arm in permanent pen, when asked why she explains: “This is the legal support number, I’ll call it as soon as I get arrested”.
What makes this attitude all the more shocking, is that many of the group were arrested, having made seemingly no impact on RBS, save ‘staff intimidation’ and making life difficult for the police.
So many may ask ‘why bother?’ What is achieved by such reckless and self-detrimental actions? Does any of it actually do any good? Well, this very question is posed within the film to Marina, the activist who believes in the ultimate healing power of tea. She seems to consider the answer in silence for at least twenty seconds, which is hardly a promising response.
However, her final reply is illuminating: “Well, you can’t do nothing. If you realise there is a problem, but can’t do anything about it, that is depressing. But if you do something anyway, you are taking back control of your life”. It seems as though the message here is what’s important, the fact that so many individuals are willing to become outlaws to induce change portrays the passion of environmental concerns within the public.
Whether or not the concerns raised are taken notice of is an entirely different matter, but Marina enforces that ‘doing’ is essential. No matter how futile attempts may seem, we should all ‘just do it’. “And I’m not talking about ‘oo but I recycle!’” Marina mocks, “I’m talking about civilised disobedience”.
‘Just Do It’ is out now and available to buy on DVD here.
To find out more, visit http://justdoitfilm.com