The difficult politics of direct action

Blog post, 19/12/2018

I have decided to stop taking part in the Slow Crossing actions that have been taking place in Bere Lane, directed at HGVs coming through the town on the A361. I am not trying to persuade anyone else to stop, though I am still not clear what the main objective is and how the campaign sees it as being achieved. My real reasons are more complicated.

About 15 years ago I decided to give up political activism for two reasons:
1. Because both electoral politics and pressure-group campaigning tends to polarise people into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
2. Because political campaigning requires huge amounts of effort and organisation, often with only an outside chance that this will actually achieve what is wanted.
I decided instead to put my energy into things that I knew would make the world a better place, even if only in a tiny way. This decision has been vindicated on a number of occasions.

When it came to the present road campaign, both for the sake of supporting friends and because I am acutely aware of the injustice and oppression created by the vastly excessive traffic that rolls past our front doors, I nevertheless entered wholeheartedly into it – and I believe made a difference by raising awareness of the issue and helping to stimulate a community-wide discussion about the real implications of the suggested bypass. Having done that, it seemed only right that I should put my hand up and join the campaign to have HGVs re-routed away from Glastonbury.

However, the slow crossing actions seem to have invoked precisely my two reasons for withdrawing from political activism 15 years ago. Arguments on Facebook and elsewhere, and the apparent effect of having otherwise sympathetic local councillors distancing themselves from our campaign, show the harmful effects of polarisation; at the same time the County Council is close to bankruptcy and even if they had the political will to re-route traffic away from Glastonbury, they couldn’t afford to do so (sadly, whichever route was chosen, it would involve far more than just erecting new sign posts – as the Green Party would have us believe).

I remain convinced that there is a solution to this dilemma, but that it may be one that no-one has yet thought of, and that it will require the whole town pulling together to bring it about. So I want to put my focus on building bridges, and if possible finding people with imagination to work with in that direction.

My latest article for the Glastonbury Oracle explores the subject in a bit more depth.