So what is a “professional protester”?
A guest post by local businesswoman, Kate Styles, reproduced from her blog with her kind permission
So what is a “professional protester”?
I see this term a lot, especially in the letters pages when the publication has covered an anti fracking demonstration. Very regularly, we see phrases such as “professional protesters bussed in”, or “protesters from outside the area”, or just ” professional protester” It is used by people who write in support of shale gas,in a sneering , jeering, dismissive way…. These same individuals who also fail to see that their inclusion in the supply chain and seeking to profit from shale actually means that they could be considered to be professional proponents of fracking…..
There are many implications inherent in this phrase. Firstly, that there is no “local” support, and that people have to be brought into the area. Secondly, that if you don’t live locally you have no right to have a voice ( this one makes me smile, as one of the correspondents who likes to use this term when backing fracking in Lancashire and Yorkshire is from Somerset). Thirdly, that protesters are either supported by the state or are paid for attendance. And, finally it raises the question of what exactly is a professional protester?
What qualifies anyone to be a professional? There are no degrees in protesting; there is no Union, no association or membership body, no accredited courses, no vocational qualifications. Do you get to be a professional due to the number of protests you attend, the number of causes you support or is it the duration of the action, or the length of time you have been an activist?
So, I looked at some of the passionate and committed anti fracking protesters it has been my pleasure to meet and thought I would try to answer the question.
One of the ladies who has been a supporter for very many years suffers from chronic pain and a multitude of medical conditions. She does not drive and is on a fixed income. She attends the vast majority of protests ( when transport is available and funds allow), and yet I know that in order to do this, she will often spend the next few days in bed and quite ill as a consequence of having made the effort to protest as a means of informing others about the dangers of fracking.
What about the single mother who works part time and has school age children and needs to make elaborate child-minding plans if she wishes to protest? She enlists help to get her kiddies off to school in the morning and collected and fed after school. After a day at work and usual homework, teatime, bedtime routine, the night before an event sees her making packed lunches for everyone, laying out uniform and whatever she will require before an early night for an early start to a protest miles from home because she cares about the future of her children and what fracking will mean to their health.
And then there is the man who books a precious day from his holiday entitlement because he sees fracking as an enormous risk to our environment. He fills his car with petrol on the way home from work ready for his long journey the next day. Up bright and early he and his wife take the scenic route, stopping for a coffee on the way . They spend the day standing in the rain in support of a community threatened by fracking because they know that solidarity is important in getting the message across. After a long drive home, it is off to bed to be ready for work in the morning.
The protectors who set up camps in fields in order to be close to proposed fracking sites. Living in tents and temporary structures in the freezing cold of a British winter, without the comforts of home we take for granted. Creating a hub for other activists and visitors and being prepared to participate in non violent direct action on a daily basis after which they don’t have the luxury of a long hot soak, or a home cooked meal, or a night spent in front of the fire in a cosy armchair.
Are these people “professional protesters”?
Each and every one of the protesters I know makes sacrifices to join protest. It may be time, or money, or both. It may be missing the kids bedtime, it may be spending time recuperating, it may be borrowing the money for a bus fare. It may be lugging equipment for a tea tent, it may be baking and buying provisions. It may be early starts and long journeys, it may be living without basic comforts.
The next time you hear people talking of “professional protesters”, maybe think about these simple facts. Protest is the voice of the disenfranchised. Protest is not a path lightly trodden. Protest is unpaid and uncompromising in the demands it makes of individuals. Protest happens when all other avenues have been explored and exhausted.
People protest because they care – they care about family and community and our environment and the consequences fracking has to cause harm to all of these. They protest because Climate Change is real and fracking has no place in our required transition to alternative renewable fuel sources. They protest because they have researched and read and understand the issues around fracking. They protest because it raises public awareness and draws media attention and because protest can influence change.