By Makhno, submitted on Mon, 28/01/2008 - 14:15
Plane Stupid is a well-known and very successful anti-aviation campaigning organisation which regularly catches headlines, and promotes direct action targeting the fastest growing cause of climate change: aviation. The group came together in 2005, when a group of activists disrupted an international aviation conference using rape alarms attached to helium balloons during the key note speech. A group has formed in Scotland, which in January breached the security of Edinburgh airport and blockaded a private jet company that fuels the conspicuous consumption of the very rich. The following is an interview conducted via email with Robbie Gillett, one of the founding members of Plane Stupid. Indymedia Scotland: What are your core aims and principles? What are your main demands for change? Our immediate aim is a moratorium on airport expansion, an end to short haul and domestic flights and a tax on aviation fuel. Realistically, in the longer term we need airports and aviation to be scaled back to sustainable levels. Unfortunately, this means an end to all unnecessary flights. What counts as unnecessary is a matter of further debate but for starters this includes domestic and short-haul. We are also aware that a tax on aviation fuel won't be coming any time soon, because it's locked into hundreds of bilateral trade agreements. But we have it as an aim in order to highlight the special treatment the aviation industry gets. Coupled with this, we also want to promote sustainable forms of transport (such as train and coach), and fully integrated transport systems. Indymedia Scotland: Looking back, how effective do you feel you have been? We've definitely been effective at raising the issue of aviation and its relationship to climate change. Using direct action as our main tactic, people are far more aware of the issue than they were 2 years ago. Obviously the Climate Camp last summer was a massive part of this. Some of us we were involved in that process as individuals but it was organised by a separate network. Hats off to them - they smashed it! It would be easy to feel disheartened by public and government behaviour being slow to react to the issue. But there's always a time lag between people becoming aware of an issue and change in behaviour. see http://www.thechangeagency.org/_dbase_upl/movement_action_plan.pdf for a graph of this. Also, the aviation industry is very well tied in with government and has been for 40 years or so. Along with Airport Watch, we're beginning to expose that unhealthy relationship, and show that their plans threaten any chance we have of avoiding runaway climate change. We're good at using the mainstream media as a campaigning tool and hope that other groups/parts of the movement will see the value in this approach. Indymedia Scotland: What is your organisational structure? I see that there are quite a number of active groups, do they plan together and are there national gatherings? Plane Stupid is a decentralised network of affinity groups. Decisions are taken by consensus and we aspire to be non-hierarchical. As with all groups, there is inevitably an informal hierarchy of involvement, knowledge and enthusiasm but we try not to encourage these. The network is held together by personal relationships. I'm sure you'll understand that it's not appropriate for me to divulge any more detail. You never know who's snooping. Indymedia Scotland: To a relative outsider such as myself, the structure of PS does not seem to be a decentralised network of affinity groups: for example, funding and policy decisions appear to be much more centralised. Is this true? and if so, are there any plans to change this? Plane Stupid actions are organised by those who take part in them. There is no organisational hierarchy concerning these. Its for that reason we're better described as a network of local affinity groups. Did you see the press release for the Scotland action last week? It was way more explicitly anti-capitalist than usual. That's not a policy change from a centralised committee, that was the people doing the action deciding for themselves what they wanted their message to be. The most active people periodically meet up to talk strategy, but this is not dictated to the autonomous regional groups but fed back as suggestions. However, most funding is centralised, yes. That said - each regional group (London, Manchester, Scotland, etc.) is free to do their own and spend as they see fit. Indymedia Scotland: How do you fund yourselves, and from what/where? Donations. Indymedia Scotland: Can you elaborate further on the funding situation for Plane Stupid? One rumour I have heard is that you have obtained corporate sponsorship, and have a contract with one or more sponsors. Is this true? Plane Stupid is funded entirely by donations - with no-one expecting anything in return aside from campaigning and direct action against aviation growth. There has been one donation from a corporation and that company was Lush - who are also notably funding the No M1 Widening Campaign, The Campaign for Better Transport and various other ecological and animal-related grass-roots groups and charities. All of the other major donations have come from individuals and foundations. These individuals understandably wish to remain anonymous. The foundations are well known - for example, the 'Artists Project Earth' which you can find via the links page on our website. Indymedia Scotland: How would you respond to concerns from anti-capitalists that you do not criticise market economics? I think the most successful movement/campaigns over the last 20 years have been single issue. The anti-roads movement were successful at scaling back the road building program by almost two thirds. Reclaim the Streets had support amongst the urban Guardian reading types about car culture dominating public space. The problem with explicitly anti-capitalist movements is that they are slightly intangible to grasp. The media doesn't know what to make of them, and usually jump at the first opportunity to smear them. The advantage of being single issue is that you can have clearly defined aims and proposed solutions that people can grasp, discuss and debate. Our approach does implicitly reject 'economic growth without limits', which is a key tenet of capitalism. We, (as in everyone, not Plane Stupid) don't know how to react to anti-capitalism. It has permeated our entire existence to the point that we don't know what we're attacking or what we support. We all need to eat and shelter, so we enter into the market economy in forms of wage slavery and consumerism. Campaigning wise, it's hard to know where you're going, (unless you sign up to some boring dogmatic narrative chasing that nebulous revolution). Rest assured, everyone in Plane Stupid is aware that the relentless pursuit of economic growth is causing climate change, as well as precarity, war, poverty, famine, etc.. But this doesn't much help in changing public opinion. People too easily pigeon hole anti-capitalist groups and ignore them. It doesn't matter that the 'anti-capitalist' analysis may be right, as a communicative approach, I don't think it works. We need a new approach. Indymedia Scotland: How are you all feeling about being so well known, with some of you being almost celebrities? We're totally fine with being so well known. We've successfully used direct action tactics to earn ourselves a platform and challenge big business interests. We're very keen to avoid being 'Swampified'. We're aware that the media love personalities to build up, celebritise, corrupt, smear and knock down. We 're not gonna let that happen, which is why whenever one of our lot is getting too high profile, they step back and let others come forward. Indymedia Scotland: What is the future of Plane Stupid? More of the same. The third runway at Heathrow is obviously an iconic symbol that we'll fight tooth and nail to stop. But we need everyone's help. Plane Stupid is just a hat that ordinary people wear when fighting the aviation industry. We're not special, we grew out of the environmental anti-capitalist movement, and will continue to be a part it. If you want to join or set up your own group, send us an email.