In the heart of the northern powerhouse, on a rain soaked Saturday, framed in front of a two-thousand strong crowd stands a nana. Her bright pink top and 1920s-style bruised blue tabard glowing in the November cold. She grips the mic with force and lifts one hand to the audience. “We are not domestic extremists” she cries. “We are the nanas of Lancashire and we are telling Cuadrilla to frack-off”.
It’s November 12th, Piccadilly gardens, Manchester and I’m here to march against the proposed plan to frack in Lancashire. As a virgin to the protesting world, surrounded by hardened and weathered veterans, I feel slightly out of place. Clutching a square, yellow frack-free Lancashire badge, I take in the crowd; a combination of middle aged parents with kids clasping banners, Hippy-esque groups and devoted elders (clearly well-seasoned in the art of protest). As if peering into my head the bearded and red rose adorned man next to me asks, “Where are the rest of you lot, don’t they know that we are here for the future generations?”. The man might have a point, the effects of climate change are definitely here already but the worst is yet to come and my generation will be the ones to bear its heavy brunt. I sheepishly tell him I’m not too sure really. He makes some kind of mumbled response and I move deeper into the crowd to escape my generational shame.
Looking back at the eager faces I notice the usual groups; the local Labour and Greenparty candidates, big NGOs like Greenpeace and of course the Socialist Workers Party; groups that will take up any cause big or small, up and down the country. However, one particular collective pulls my gaze most, the Nanas of Lancashire. They move easily throughout the crowd, stopping to talk to old friends, shaking people’s hands and rallying the crowd before the march, dressed in their decorated tabards, like revolutionary dinner ladies from a B-Side Tarantino film. I’m torn from my contemplation by the surge of frack-free Scarborough’s late arrival, carrying their banner front and centre, chanting with the passion of the proudest football fan. I let myself be swept along in the energy.
The protesters head from the gardens into the street and onwards through the roads of central Manchester. The march itself has a light feel, an incongruously placed samba band leads the way behind a banner to dwarf all other banners held by Bianca Jagger, among others. I spot Bez chatting to the green part mayoral candidate for Manchester and behind them Gandalf is demanding the shire remains frack-free; it was certainly shaping up to be a hell of an afterparty. A green flare is lit, buses, cars, taxis open their windows and leaflets are handed out, people watch on, Manchester stops and takes in the scene. Bez gets amongst the drummers and cracks out the maracas, maybe a little forced but lovely all the same. The great line of humans snakes into Castlefield to rest in front of a stage manned by an ex-Hacienda dj and swarmed by cameras.
A compere takes to the stage and announces the arrival of Andy Burnam, he is here to lend his support and voice. The crowd cheers and claps in all the right places but his repeated assertion, that if he is voted mayor he will support this campaign, seems poorly shoe-horned and the energy dissipates. Then emerging from the back of the stage our saviour, a nana, appears and takes the microphone. She launches into an impassioned speech, explaining how the Lancashire county council voted to oppose the proposed fracking and was struck down by the interference of Westminster. The crowd roars in support and boos at the mention of Sajid Javid. She speaks of how she lives five-hundred metres from the proposed site of fracking and how she fears for her grandchildren and their future children. The fears she says are all too real, as proved by the earthquakes caused by the first trials of fracking in the UK (during April and May of 2011). Caudrilla itself, in an independent report said that “Most likely, the repeated seismicity was induced by direct injection of fluid into the fault zone.” However, we are reminded that this is not the only cause for concern with fracking; it can pollute water sources and of course adds to the mounting C02 emissions in our atmosphere, fuelling the continued consumption of fossil fuels rather than search for renewable alternatives.
The speech continues and I realise the spark of the nanas is that they are just normal people. They aren’t some great NGO, staunch anarchist or local MP, they are mothers, sisters, daughters, and most importantly grandmothers. They didn’t ask to get into this. They are local people who felt the cold, hard, indifferent fist of the gas and oil industry reign down upon them, egged on by Westminster. She pleads with audience, “when is democracy, democracy?”. This isn’t mere nimbyism; this is a stand by ordinary people pushed too far. They are telling the government, if it isn’t good enough for Lancashire, it isn’t good enough for anywhere. Her words warn of how this issue won’t just affect the shires or even the just the UK; the echoes of the government’s hijacking of democracy will reverberate across the world and will damage it for all people. The nanas of Lancashire walk in the footsteps of a proud and British tradition of protest and rebellion (the tolpuddle martyrs and the luddites) but they don’t just stand with those of the past – they are linked by a kinship with other communities ignored for too long by their own leaders, like those at standing rock, fighting their own battle against the heavy hand of the government.
The nana finishes her speech, cheerfully waves and leaves the stage. I’m left standing, silent. Inside me my rebellious spirit is burning, quietly lit by the unlikeliest of kindling: the Nanas Of Lancashire.
Frack Free Lancashire
What is fracking?
More information of the government’s intervention
words by Jonny Denfhy
Photographs by Holly Atkinson