Disabled activists were among protesters who took part in this week’s high-profile anti-“fracking” direct action on the edge of a Sussex village.
About a dozen members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) took part in the protest, which saw activists chained together at the entrance to the site, run by the energy firm Cuadrilla in Balcombe.
The company is drilling for oil on the site, but there are fears that it will soon begin the potentially dangerous procedure of fracking, in search of hard-to-reach gas deposits.
The protest happened as DPAC gears up for its Reclaiming Our Futures week of campaigning, beginning on Thursday (29 August), which will include a major direct action protest of its own, a march on parliament, an online campaigning “blitz”, and a debate on the future of the social model of disability.
Monday’s action saw 29 people arrested, including Green MP Caroline Lucas, although none of the DPAC activists are thought to have been detained by police.
Sussex police said later that they had moved in to clear the protesters because they were blocking an emergency access route to the drilling site.
Protesters along the roadside had been joined by hundreds more from the nearby camp that had been set up last week.
Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s steering group and one of those who took part in the direct action, said it was important for disabled people to engage in the fracking protests.
He said disabled people would become more isolated as support and services were “whittled away” as a result of government cuts, and being able to afford to keep warm and clean and cook were “vitally important” in staying healthy.
But he said that rising energy prices meant that “keeping warm and clean and cooking” were “starting to become choices” that not all disabled people could afford.
He called for an energy policy that was not profit-driven and written by the big corporations, but was “in public hands and controlled by the people”.
Fracking is a process by which a mixture of water, chemicals and sand is injected at high pressure into shale to create fractures in the rock which potentially release gas or oil.
But there are significant environmental concerns about the process, including the risk of contamination of local water supplies, and even small earthquakes.
Greene said this week’s protest in Balcombe showed that the grassroots “broad left” movement had been faster than the Labour party, the unions and other campaigns to ensure their protests were accessible to disabled people.
He said access was now so good that “the only thing we have to worry about” is participating in the protest itself.
Greene, a wheelchair-user himself, said: “It is really powerful when you don’t have to keep making the case for access over and over again.”
He said the improvements had come partly because of the respect felt by groups such as Occupy, No Dash for Gas and the Climate Collective for those disabled activists who had taken part in their protests, but also because of DPAC’s increasingly close links with such groups, particularly UK Uncut, who he said had “a real desire” to make their protests inclusive.
Organisers of last week’s protest camp at Balcombe ensured there was an accessible tent where wheelchair-users could sleep, and accessible toilets, while all of the workshops were accessible to disabled people, and there were BSL-interpreters for Deaf protesters.
Greene said: “It has been a gradual process, but it wouldn’t have happened without the UK Uncut links. They have been absolutely fabulous.
“They have opened the door and it has been down to us to make the most of that.”
DPAC’s Reclaiming Our Futures week will build up to the launch of the new Reclaiming Our Futures disabled people’s manifesto, which has been produced by DPAC, Inclusion London, the Alliance for Inclusive Education and Equal Lives (formerly Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People).
Reclaiming Our Futures has the backing of other user-led networks and campaign groups, including the WOW petition, the European Network on Independent Living, Black Triangle, and the Mental Health Resistance Network, as well as the Unite disabled workers’ committee, the TUC, and a number of mainstream anti-cuts groups, including Occupy London and UK Uncut.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com