This week the 13 people who blocked Heathrow’s northern runway last July were found guilty of aggravated trespass and being airside without permission and the judge told them all to expect to receive prison sentences. Amongst those facing up to three months in prison are Buzz Tour’s Mel and Kara.
As their trial began last week, a solidarity demonstration of over 60 people including Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, was held outside Willesden court. With banners, giant inflatable cobble stones and solidarity songs we created “the best atmosphere at a court demo I’ve ever seen” according to one participant. The 30 seat public gallery at the court could not hold all those who wanted to observe. And as the guilty verdict was given on Monday people again gathered to show their support. But why am I telling you all this? Why does solidarity matter?
Building up your capabilities and overcoming your fears to take action is sometimes just the beginning. To know that your work is supported and that people will stand by you will make everything that comes next easier. After their arrest, the 13 have travelled back and forth to court, prepared their defence, been through the court system and been cross examined. If they are imprisoned they will become the UK’s first climate prisoners. But there will be many more over the coming years. With climate changing emissions still rising, direct action from the public (for example Groundswell) is also on the up, with increased numbers of people risking prison sentences.
If imprisoned for more than a few weeks you may be unable to maintain payments on your accommodation or fulfil your obligations to your job. As a result many people lose their home and job when they go to prison. Amongst the Heathrow 13 are a lawyer, a environmental scientist and an atmospheric physicist, who all risked their jobs to defend our future and life on this planet. Whether you send an email of support, write a letter to your newspaper, attend court, bake cake, donate money or offer work to those who lose jobs, the support of the environment movement is essential and deserved by those who take risks for the sake of us all.
The defence case was based on the premise that the 13 were defending life with their actions. The judge however refused to allow them to call expert witnesses on climate change, saying that she accepted the threat of climate change but that she did not accept that their actions were to save lives, and were instead symbolic.
As she gave her guilty verdict, the judge called the 13 “principled people”. History is made by principled people taking action. All it will take for a collapse of the ecosystems of this planet is for good people to do nothing. We live in an unprecedented generation of information and choice, where we can no longer avoid responsibility. Although the system we live within makes denial easy and action hard, we can take inspiration from those who do act, and we can give them our full support and solidarity when they do.