Shaftesbury’s streets will be brought to a standstill for a short time on Saturday when local people form a slow procession of walkers and cyclists around the town to raise awareness of the threat of climate breakdown.
ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones spoke with Planet Shaftesbury’s Richard Foreman to find out what the group is planning and why.
On Saturday morning, traffic will be stopped in various locations around Shaftesbury. A group of locals, passionate about climate change, hope to raise awareness of Extinction Rebellion and their demand that the government takes action on climate breakdown.
“We are going to be gathering outside the Town Hall at 10 o’clock,” Richard explained. “We’ve based this on the Critical Mass movement – a cycling event which happens in London on a regular basis. It’s become associated with Extinction Rebellion.”
But Saturday’s Shaftesbury event won’t be restricted to bikes. “A lot of people who’d like to participate are walkers, like myself, and we’re very happy to invite people in wheelchairs, on scooters or skateboards,” Richard said.
The group has planned a route, which will spread the climate breakdown message across the town. “We will walk from the Town Hall, along Bell Street and Barton Hill. We will cross over to the Longmead Industrial Estate and go as far as Sweetmans Road and King Alfred Road. Then the plan is to go down Pound Lane to Mampitts Square, where we will stop in the open area outside the newly opened Spar shop. We will then come back along Mampitts Lane and Coppice Street into the town centre,” Richard said.
Richard says that the group has not yet finalised what they will do when they get back to the space outside the Town Hall at 11.30am. “We will have a few songs to sing and one or two people might want to say something about the climate breakdown issue. Basically the cycle ride and protest walk is the main event,” he said.
Richard says the action is a Shaftesbury follow-up to what Extinction Rebellion is doing in London at the moment. “The idea is to do something similar but more appropriate to Shaftesbury. We don’t intend to cause too much difficulty for anybody on the roads. We would like to make our presence felt. We will spread information about Planet Shaftesbury to anybody who observes us on the way,” he said.
Although there might be some disruption to motorists for a short period, Richard has spoken with representatives of the police and they seem to be happy. “It’s going to be a peaceful, non-violent type demonstration. We’re not going to hold anybody up for more than five or ten minutes, at the most. I don’t envisage any great difficulties and, of course, if there is an emergency vehicle trying to get through, we would make way for it,” said Richard.
There’s been action in London this week and members of Planet Shaftesbury have travelled to the capital to take part in protests. The importance of London is obvious. It’s the seat of power. So what is Planet Shaftesbury hoping to achieve in rural North Dorset?
“I would say general awareness,” said Richard. “Extinction Rebellion is about bringing about a change of consciousness about climate breakdown. It is very easy to carry on as normal, living your life, thinking that it is not affecting you. Even in a place like Shaftesbury, we are already noticing a change in weather patterns and declines in species. I know a number of people who live in the countryside who talk about how few swallows and martins they are seeing, compared with ten years ago. These things may not feel like they going to impact on us on a day-to-day basis but gradually they are. If we don’t do something to reverse the flow of this impending disaster, then it’s going to be too late essentially.”
Richard says the group want to convey a sense of urgency. “This is something which affects every single person on the planet and it is something which will affect the younger people even more so,” he said.
There is a connection with politics. Richard says the Planet Shaftesbury team would like residents to ask anyone canvassing for votes in the forthcoming Town or Dorset Council elections to discuss climate change. “We will be handing out flyers on the walk. We hope that the issues raised will cause people to ask questions and we hope to see and hear the candidates for the local elections talking about this issue,” he said.
On Monday, climate change protesters shattered glass at Shell’s London headquarters and covered the building with paint. Some national newspapers were quick to highlight this action. Planet Shaftesbury has a wide base of support and its inaugural meeting attracted over 100 people. While many of those residents support the legal right of British citizens to protest, some of them may be uncomfortable with acts of criminal damage being undertaken in the name of the cause.
I asked Richard whether yesterday’s press coverage caused concern. “Obviously, that element is not something that is in my control and possibly it was not within the control of the people who organise the Extinction Rebellion events,” said Richard. “It is an extreme situation that has not been acknowledged in general. That extremity does drive some people to want to push it a bit further than perhaps the rest of us do. In any movement like this, things are bound to happen. I have a certain amount of sympathy with the people who were pushing it to an extreme myself, but I acknowledge that not everybody is going to.”
Richard believes that people should view those actions ‘in context’ compared to the significant issue of climate breakdown. And he doesn’t expect heightened emotions to drive people so far during Saturday’s Shaftesbury event. “I think we will be looking to keep it as a moderated event and certainly myself and some of the other people who have set this up will try to make sure that it is run in that manner. As I say, it will be more appropriate to Shaftesbury than doing anything that involves criminal damage,” said Richard.
You can find out more about Planet Shaftesbury at PlanetShaftesbury.org.