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REBEL ART: knit graffiti.guerrilla gardening

substance. P o litic s.Cu ltu re .Id e a s


the battle for heathrow


the digital revolution


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March 2009


the urban guerrillas issue


Urban Guerrillas


substance nce. P o litic s.Cu ltu re .Id e a s Politics.Culture.Ideas

8.The battle for Heathrow

16.Drop stitches, not bombs

Plane Stupid head a legion of ordinary people fighting the plans for a third runway

Knitted graffiti is sweeping the globe... but just who is behind it?

11.Substance hero

18.Fighting for the free word

Nick Bishop meets Oonagh Skrine, a 22-year-old activist and champion of refugee rights

Around the world, governments control the media through violence and intimidation

12.Guerrilla gardening

20.The war of the roads

We brighten up the concrete jungle – one potted plant at a time

14.The digital revolution

Internet activism has come of age. Find out how to change the world from your sofa

Forget hoodies and gangs - we investigate the real turf war on our streets...

22.Substance observes

Huw Davies wonders: whatever happened to the Green Party?

31.Amy’s eco challenge

Just how easy is it to cut your carbon footprint? foo Amy tries some rationing

Arts section 24.Fashion: People Tree vs. The High Street 26.Music: Sparky Deathcap, Diplo, Lily Allen

28.Film: Frost/Nixon, Defiance, Tropic Thunder DVD 29.Literature: Sebastian Barry, Kurt Vonnegut 30.Art: George Richardson, Root Ginger preview

Regular substance 4.Incoming 6.Submatter 32.Creative space



Wars don’t just happen when governments declare them. All over the world, ordinary people are embroiled in their own battles. Some fight to kick cigarettes, stick to a diet or to wake up in the morning without reaching for the pills. Others fight against injustice and corruption, and in the name of human rights. Some are simply fighting just to stay alive. In this issue we celebrate these people’s battles – whether they’re fighting to defend the environment, tell the truth or just to decorate the city. We all have our inner guerrilla. Let yours speak.


Substance. x


Editor// Jessica Bateman Deputy Editors// Cari Thomas, Sarah Shearman Features Editor// Ed Vanstone Deputy Features Editor// Amy Lewis Arts Editor// Sofie Jenkinson News Editor// Eleni Cashell Writers// Alex Davies, Emyr Price, Nick Bishop Design// Sarah Shearman, Cari Thomas, Oliver Smith, Sofie Jenkinson Production Editor// Jordan Farley Sub-Editors// Huw Davies, Andy Rennison Online// Rhian Jones, Joseph Smith


THE BATTLE FOR It’s not just Plane Stupid fighting the runway plans. Andy Rennison meets the ordinary people driven to action


he environment, having been a political hot potato for several years, has struggled to stay on front pages over the last few months as the economic meltdown has gathered pace. But last month saw one eco-issue wrestle its way back into the headlines. The announcement on January 15 that Heathrow’s third runway is to get the goahead may have given the media spotlight back to green lobbies, but for nearby residents such as Jen Bland, this is one issue that never went away. “That third runway will never be built,” she promises me, “because we have nothing to lose. We have nothing to lose.”

Jen is one of the many campaigners who have taken up the fight against Heathrow’s plans, and joins an emerging class of regular, unaffiliated citizens standing sideby-side with the usual eco-groups. As passenger numbers have neared the airport’s capacity and rival European hubs have expanded, Heathrow’s owners BAA have gradually stepped up proposals to get their new tarmac. Businesses and Downing Street now feel that the economic gains make a third runway a necessary evil. Yet opponents argue that despite the Government setting several green-minded restrictions and conditions on it, the new runway will still dramatically increase pollution, not only damaging the environment

but making it impossible for Britain to meet its own emission targets. Members of action group Plane Stupid are among the most vocal critics of the proposals, gaining particular notoriety for their direct action against airports. They successfully breached security at Stansted last December and joined a flashmob protest at Heathrow’s Terminal Five shortly after last month’s announcement. Plane Stupid spokesperson Wiz Baines, 25, started campaigning during university, and has since participated in several bouts of activism while keeping up a full-time job. “The Government needs a total overhaul in how it tackles climate change,” she says in light of the runway announcement. “It’s



HEATHROW stirring a lot of people into action.” And it is this action that is proving most interesting. Though the traditional forms of protest practised by groups such as Plane Stupid and Greenpeace are present and correct, the third runway is provoking a surge of ordinary people taking a stand – as Wiz is more than aware. “They [the Government] have got no idea what’s coming,” she warns. “There are people now preparing to take direct action. A wide spectrum is getting involved, residents from Sipson included.” The village of Sipson received much of the press coverage surrounding the announcement, as its entire community faces demolition under the runway plans. Living in nearby Richmond, Jen explains how she and many residents set to be affected feel they are left with no alternative. “After years and years and so many people against it, I think direct action is the only option,” she says. “I am a law-abiding

citizen and have been all my life. I don’t want to be involved in direct action. But there is no other way.” Prominent environmentalists are sensing this hardening of the public’s resolve. They include John Stewart, chairman of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN), who was last year voted Britain’s most effective green activist by The Independent.

“If you plough ahead without consultation then you will get these problems” He suggests that there are two main reasons behind the rise in ordinary people willing to get involved in direct action. “One is that the more conventional campaigning

hasn’t really got them anywhere,” he argues, “and two is that people have been in contact with organisations like Plane Stupid.” And it seems such people have been welcomed with open arms. Wiz reveals how, far from simply informing people where and when the next protest is happening, her group has sought to mobilise these wouldbe eco-warriors. “There has been a lot of training arranged for local residents,” she tells me, “as a lot of these residents, including 60- and even 70year-olds, have expressed interest in nonviolent direct action – getting info on what’s involved in being arrested, and how to chain yourself to things.” This is a radical step to take, but it appears to be striking a chord with the citizens under threat. Far from being unique, the third runway is one of several issues where the general public is rallying like never before. The same month that Heathrow’s third runway was given the green light saw




another campaign against the Government suffer a blow, as a court ruled against a judicial review of Westminster’s plans to build a dozen new eco-towns. The application for a review was made by the Better Accessible Responsible Development (BARD) campaign – a collection of residents who have staged several protests in those areas set to be affected. BARD spokesperson Melanie Riley pointed to a recurring sentiment to explain the increase in everyday people taking action. “There’s a sense of Whitehall closing ranks,” she suggests, “and this wouldn’t be true if local people felt more involved. If you plough ahead without consultation then you will get these problems.” It seems that rather than being born of some militant tree-hugging agenda, the 21st-century activist simply feels frustrated with and ignored by the Government. The fight goes on for the likes of Jen, Plane Stupid and BARD, but what do their futures have in store? One citizen-turned-activist whose battle has ended is mother-of-five Rachel Evans, who hit the headlines two years ago when she fought proposals to build a gas pipeline near her home in Trebanos, south Wales. Even now, she echoes the disgruntled mood of today’s campaigners. “Frankly, we got pissed off with being ignored,” she says. “There was no consultation, like we had no right to know what was happening in our own backyard. If we had proper representation for the community, it could have been a quite different atmosphere.” Despite eventually losing her battle against the National Grid’s scheme, Rachel has words of encouragement for the ordinary campaigners of today. “I think it is very empowering,” she argues. “I was speaking up for an area I have lived in for many years and I feel like I had a responsibility to the community.” So does this wave of activism suggest the Government is irreversibly divorced from its public? Hazel Blears is the current Secretary of State for Communities and

COUNTDOWN TO TAKE-OFF December 16, 2003

Then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling releases a white paper on the future of air transport, including the key proposal of a third runway at Heathrow.

August 14-21, 2007

Annual environmental event Climate Camp is held just a few hundred metres from Heathrow. More than 2,000 people attend.

November 22, 2007

The Government begins a three-month public consultation over the plans for the new runway and a sixth terminal.

November 28, 2007

Plane Stupid protesters interrupt a House of Commons parliamentary inquiry into the future of BAA.

February 25, 2008

Four Greenpeace campaigners with a banner reading ‘CLIMATE EMERGENCY – NO THIRD RUNWAY’ climb onto a plane at Heathrow shortly after it lands.

February 27, 2008

Five Plane Stupid activists claiming an unfair consultation process over the proposals ascend the roof of Parliament.

May 31, 2008

Anyone looking down from the sky sees a giant ‘NO’ made up of

3,000 protesters on a field near Sipson, a village threatened by the potential third runway.

January 13, 2009

Greenpeace purchases a plot of land in Sipson in a bid to delay any expansion of Heathrow. Elsewhere, Terminal One is the site of a 250strong polite protest in the style of an Edwardian-era picnic.

January 15, 2009

The Government gives the final go-ahead for the third runway. Labour MP John McDonnell is suspended from the Commons for five days after picking up the mace (an ornamental club symbolising Parliament’s royal authority) in protest against the lack of consultation over Heathrow’s plans.

January 17, 2009

Hundreds of activists stage a flashmob protest in Terminal Five, spending an hour in red t-shirts chanting, “No third runway”. announcing, “empowerment isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.” Signs of good intentions, perhaps. But

I am a law-abiding citizen and have been all my life. I don’t want to be involved in direct action but there is no other way Local Government, responsible for engaging the public with its politicians. Following the publication of a white paper last July entitled Communities in Control, Real Power, Real People, Ms Blears spoke of reconnecting with the British public,

. 11 OONAGH SKRINE Substance Hero

what would Ms Blears say to citizens such as those mentioned here, who feel so disenfranchised? Somewhat ironically, despite innumerable attempts to question her and her department, Ms Blears proved unavailable for comment.

With election turnouts in decline for decades, the Government is no doubt eager to quell the disillusionment of voters like Jen. But she is one of many who feel that democracy has abandoned them. “I think it is a lost cause,” she sighs. “I don’t think anyone trusts the Government anymore.” It seems that the era of the traditional long-haired pressure group is over, as more and more regular citizens take up arms – fighting not for a manifesto or some new world order, but for their communities, for their families and for themselves. Whatever the broad future, the sight of a Sipson pensioner chained to a JCB is now a real possibility.

A tireless campaigner for refugee rights, Oonagh tells Nick Bishop the truth about asylum in Britain


ost people would find juggling two jobs in the urban jungle of Bristol difficult. Fewer still would have the drive and passion to dedicate their remaining free time to helping others. Oonagh Skrine is one such marvel. When she’s not working, Oonagh volunteers to help asylum seekers in Bristol and runs a local history project for underprivileged young people. She has also spent several months working with deprived communities in France. It was this that inspired her to help refugees. Her flatmate, from Sierra Leone, was wrongly refused asylum. Constantly worrying whether he would be deported, he was left anxious and destitute until the correct decision was reached. “You could just see the effect of having nothing to do while he waited – how depressed it made him,” said Oonagh. “It just wasn’t right.” The shock of living in a new country made Oonagh realise just how difficult it must be for people traumatised by persecution, conflict and environmental disaster. “I was receiving support, the EU was looking after me and I still found it really difficult,” she admits. “So when you think of asylum seekers coming from a horrendous situation – it’s just unimaginable what they are going through.” Oonagh is convinced more should be done to help asylum seekers and refugees. “When people fleeing for their lives try to come to Britain, we turn them away. So you

don’t have to go abroad to find human rights problems,” she says. At Bristol University Oonagh became president of Student Action for Refugees (STAR), organising refugee awareness campaigns and helping local refugee children learn English. She is now a key player at Bristol Refugee Rights, working to ensure asylum seekers get the right advice so their claims can be made properly. She also helps them settle into life in the UK. As Oonagh is quick to point out, being an ‘asylum seeker’ does not guarantee safety. Asylum seekers are people merely seeking to be protected, looking for a country to give them refugee status. Huge numbers have their applications turned down, only to then be accepted on appeal. Oonagh believes the sheer number of original refusals suggests flaws in the process. “It’s hostile and closed towards the people it should be trying to help,” she adds. Oonagh believes Britain turns away many in need of sanctuary. “There is a culture of disbelieving asylum seekers wherever possible,” she says. “The Government is

automatically suspicious of asylum seekers. They’ll presume the worst and be as unhelpful as possible at every stage.” The UK shelters just three percent of the world’s refugees. Most people seeking asylum go to a neighbouring country rather than travel as far as Europe, let alone the UK. Many more are ‘internally displaced’ within their own nation, in that they have left their homes and cannot return, but cannot cross the border. In Sudan alone, there are three million people in refugee camps and many more left uprooted and defenceless by the conflict. Oonagh believes that if more people had the chance to meet asylum seekers attitudes would be more tolerant, and that through understanding the full horrors faced by those fleeing countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Iran, we might have a more just asylum system. “Ultimately, asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable people in the country,” Oonagh says. “And they are approaching us for protection. That’s something we should always be honoured and happy to give.”


Guerr illa Gardening battle strategy:

GUERRILLA GARDENING Cari Thomas and the substance troops swap spray cans for seeds when brightening up the streets


t was early light when we set out. The town was sleeping; the cold relentless and numbing. We pulled our jackets around us and headed down the road. No one was to be seen, but we wanted that. To be caught would mean failure. Weeks of planning weighed on our shoulders. Our mission was not going to be easy. I checked the equipment: seeds, trowels, chemicals, bulbs. The ground was hard with

in which areas of unloved urban land are tended to by the public. It is often carried out as a political gesture in order to highlight the Government’s ownership and misuse of land. Activist collective ‘Reclaim the Streets’ organised a notable gathering of guerrilla gardeners outside London’s Parliament Square on May Day in 2000. Thousands came together planting vegetables and flowers, dancing around maypoles and restyling

To be caught would mean failure. Weeks of planning weighed on our shoulders. Our mission was not going to be easy frost. We all looked at each other thinking the same thing… would the daffodils grow? This is guerrilla gardening: a movement that started in the 1970s and has been gaining momentum ever since. In a nutshell it is a non-violent, eco-friendly form of activism

Churchill’s hair into a turf mohican. Other guerrilla gardeners are motivated by purely environmental reasons. They want to invest in the land – to use urban spaces to grow flower gardens or crops. They venture out at night enlisting the help of

local community members; by morning the urban desert is transformed – brightened by flowers, scented by herbs, a utopian vision fertile with possibility. Richard Reynolds, the man behind and author of On Guerrilla Gardening, encourages local people to form such groups. “My online community page is the best place to do this,” he says. “It’s a matter of registering your interest... or at best just getting out there solo and encouraging others to follow!” This was our revolution – a chance to take back the derelict side-streets in Cardiff’s run-down, student-infested, beer-bottled Cathays. We created a small garden of hardy crops to delight passers-by forevermore. A local resident, Lila Elliot, 23, emerged to comment on our hard work. “I love it,” she says. “I don’t have a garden so every time I walk past, it will make me smile.” Mission accomplished.

1. Set co-ordinates: Find an unloved patch of land

somewhere near your home. 2. Enlist troops: Set a date, then begin enrolling supporters. If you are struggling, click onto and spread the word across the community forums. 3. Take up arms: Choose your plants wisely – think hardy, colourful and seasonal. Then try to find a cheap source. detail suitable plants. They suggest sprinkling mustard seeds everywhere – a plant that helps to fertilise the soil. 4. Chemical warfare: Resort, if necessary, to arming yourself with chemicals. Many guerrilla gardeners use compost to nourish the soil, but those without space employ the help of red worms to decompose their food into rich compost. 5. Seed bombs: For hard-to-reach areas mould seeds and soil together to make seed bombs, then aim well. 6. Never leave a plant behind: Don’t give up on your patch of land – return to water and weed.



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