21 April 2014
A song has been going round in my head today, after greeting the dawn at the Bentley Blockade (https://northernriversguardians.org/).
This is a blockade to prevent Metgasco from drilling for unconventional gas in farmland near Bentley, NSW.
It’s Holly Near’s “Change of Heart”:
Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage
They may not know I’m watching, I may not let them know that
Something changes in me that will last me for a life time
To fill me when I’m empty, and rock me when I’m low
Something changes in me anytime there’s someone singing
All the songs I’ve never forgotten, let our voices sing them strong
Something changes in me anytime there’s someone standing
For the right to
be completely all the good things that we are
change of heart
Anytime there’s someone counting
All the lives that won’t be thrown away”¦
Gathered in the glorious misty dawn around a campfire outside the Bentley property targeted for unconventional gas drilling, several hundred of us bent forward to hear the wise ones offer guidance about Non-Violent Direction Action (NVDA). Our hosts are the Northern Rivers Guardians.
“Look into their eyes,” begged veteran activist and therapist, Ruth Rosenhek.
“We are here for peace, not violence.”
And then the role plays and practice began.
My mind flew away. No longer a mere 40 kms from home, I was transported across the Pacific to another time and place where environmental devastation was planned in the guise of “clean energy”. That time it was nuclear power.
As I leaned back in my chair, I remembered how my heart broke open the first time I encountered NVDA. It was early August, 1978. With Australian activist, Peter Hayes, I’d driven from Berkeley down the central California coast to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor in San Luis Obispo. For two days Peter facilitated and I observed the Abalone Alliance NVDA training. Like a dance.
The police, we were told, would receive the same training.
Those who agreed to climb the fence and enter the reactor property received special attention, guidance and counselling. They role-played the experience of going over the fence: playing themselves, the police, and the reactor personnel. They simulated getting arrested, going to jail. They spoke softly about how it would feel – how to handle yourself. Importantly, how to be peaceful when threatened.
Observing the training, I learned a lot about NVDA and the Abalone Alliance, established the previous year and operating until 1985. It was a nonviolent civil disobedience group formed to shut down the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PGE) (known fondly Pigs, Goats and Elephants) Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Amazingly, it was sited on an earthquake fault. They modelled their affinity group-based organisational structure after the Clamshell Alliance, then protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in coastal New Hampshire.
The group’s name, “Abalone Alliance”, honoured tens of thousands of wild California Red Abalone killed in 1974 in Diablo Cove when the Plant’s plumbing had its first hot flush.
This was their second blockade. The really big
one, with over 20,000 participants, was
the following year. But I was elsewhere that August — running a feminist summer school in Colorado.
They were busy, activist times.
For me, at 35, the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor blockade was a life-changing experience. Over 5,000 people gathered on the sun-drenched beach on a weekend summer day. It was California in the seventies but there was an air of anticipation and anxiety among the otherwise festive participants.
I remembered the instruction: “Look into others’ eyes”.
I photographed these two women as they prepared to go over the fence. They’d been trained to look into others’ eyes but when they did so – with each other –and when they embraced – I felt my heartstrings tug.
I was photographing courage.
My heroine in those days – and still today – is American feminist and activist singer-songwriter, Holly Near. About the time we were assembling on the beach, she was writing “Change of Heart”:
Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage”¦
My dawn visit today to the Bentley Blockade did not change
my heart. Not exactly.
It reminded my heart.
It reminded me what courage feels like.
It feels like the Bentley Blockade against unconventional gas mining.
It looks like my neighbours.
And it tastes like hope.
Postscript: As we prepare for another
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