Digging their own Graves?

HS2 Rebellion and the 'mad risk' of tunnel activism

Sadiq Khan has little sympathy with the tactics of the HS2 protesters, who, having been pulled from the tops of the old trees in Euston Square Gardens, now try to hold fort among their roots.

'This is no way to protest,' the Mayor of London condemned on ITV News on Monday. 'By building these tunnels underneath the surface you are taking risks with your safety and the safety of others. I don't want anybody to be hurt during these protests so I would ask them to reconsider and to safely and peacefully leave these tunnels.'

The Mayor of London claims that protesting should not involve risking one's safety. But it is precisely in this that Non Violent Direct Action draws its power. The strategy's ancestor is Gandhi, and as he wrote to the Viceroy of India on 2 March 1930:

I know that in embarking on non-violence I shall be running what might fairly be termed a mad risk. But the victories of truth have never been won without risks, often of the gravest character.1

The HS2 Rebellion protesters are indeed risking their lives as a means of resisting a project which shall tear through many of England's last remaining ancient forests. Ploughing through countryside communities at an expense which could peel the flammable cladding off of towerblocks up and down the country, could more than bandage up the NHS, could cover the university tuition fees of a generation of students who have lost a year of schooling to the pandemic, could do so much good were it to be creatively deployed. But which is being spent, maddeningly, all just to reduce by half-an-hour the time of commute between the country's two wealthiest cities, London and Birmingham.

It may seem a 'mad risk' to not just do politics from behind a desk like the Mayor of London. Especially underground and under a pandemic. But in Euston Square Gardens, the protesters on the ground were swept away by guards in their numbers. The protesters locked on to the tops of trees were snagged off like unripe fruit by security in cranes, their coats and waterproofs confiscated in advance. The protesters behind barricaded tents had their tents removed on rain-drenched nights, only to be arrested by morning. And for months the protests in general struggled to get significant media traction using other (also incredibly brave) tactics. So the tactic of those clinging to the roots, the last ones standing (or rather, crawling and squatting), is by all objective counts the most effective in town. Show me another.

Sadiq Khan frets for their safety, but so do many of these protesters' supporters, myself included. The difference is that we hold that HS2's tunnel eviction squad have scandalously mishandled the eviction process – cutting off their air supply, demolishing flood-protections, preventing their having an hour's rest, digging a parallel tunnel and in numerous ways trying to rout them like so many foxes – and we call for the mishandled potentially-lethal eviction to be halted.

Despite having never been violent, London's Mayor tells them to leave 'peacefully'. What kind of peace does he mean? A peace where climate catastrophe happens without effective resistance? Where none put Earth's life before their own?

Gandhi once said, 'For the English, peace is the peace of the grave.' Paradoxically, it is the brave protesters underground, not our Mayor, who show another side to the story.2

Footnotes:

1

Mahatma Gandhi, Selected Political Writings, ed. Dennis Dalton (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1996), 77.

2

ibid., 99.