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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

A Crude Awakening shuts down Coryton Oil Refinery

Our addiction to oil is a major cause of climate change and creates all sorts of climate injustice. That's why it's important that we draw attention to the problem. Here's a personal account of the Crude Awakening action on Saturday 16th October, from someone who took part.

Written by Sophia Coles-Riley

Crude Awakening photo by Amelia Gregory
Gathering at Waterloo Station. Photo by Amelia Gregory.

It’s the day of the Crude Awakening. I walk into Waterloo station on Saturday morning and spot a few familiar faces. We wander around trying to look nonchalant, giving each other secret smiles. Some people manage to look more discreet and ‘normal’ than others; standing in a group to one side of me is a fabulous gaggle of drag queen laundry ladies, all answering to the name of Dot. (A few weeks ago police turned up at a few activists’ houses and were spotted searching them for clothes that matched those worn by people at the Climate Swoop at Ratcliffe on Soar coal fired power station last year. The Space Hijackers‘ Laundry ladies were on hand to give people “an instant restyling that the police fashion hounds were not able to keep up with”.) Suddenly, a little after 10am we give up on the nonchalance and things start to happen. A large collection of ‘oil’ spattered white jackets appear as if from nowhere, legal observers handed out ‘bust cards’ with useful numbers and info about your legal rights, and people started passing around little blue and yellow flags.

Beep beep. All around me I can see people reaching for their mobiles. Before the weekend we had all signed up for a text messaging service that would be sending out updates throughout the day.

text message crude awakening

We set off in a stream of people down the escalators into the tube. I can imagine it might be a bit of a shock for Saturday shoppers to suddenly come across hundreds of oddly dressed people! On the tube I get chatting to this ace older woman who wants to know all about us and is full of questions, thanks, and words of encouragement.

Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
On the train. Photo by sinisterpictures.

Our train is mysteriously delayed so we all pile out at the next stop and start walking through the streets of London. Apparently people overhear some cops running through the list of possible targets, trying to work out where we are going. Safe to say, they don’t work it out in time.

Crude Awakening photo by Amelia Gregory
Crude Awakening photo by Amelia Gregory
Police accompany activists as they reach Fenchurch Street. Photo by Amelia Gregory

When we get to Fenchurch Street station the shout goes out to head for Platform 4. We get onto the waiting train with still no idea where we are going. As the train heads out of the station an A4 flyer which is being passed around the train is thrust into my hand. We’re on route to Coryton, the UK’s busiest oil refinery (responsible for 22% of the UK’s forecourt demand)!

Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
Photo by sinisterpictures.

Hell yeah! I’d guessed that we were maybe going to target an oil company head office but we are actually going to go and put ourselves literally in the path of the flow of oil. Peak oil may be fast approaching but not fast enough that what’s left won’t royally screw up the climate if we burn it. Business, governments and other vested interests have shown time and time again that they don’t want to do anything about it. That means it’s down to us, together.

Kristian Buus crude awakening hedge
Photo by Kristian Buus.

The train is a hive of activity. People discuss the target as they go through the goody bags that have been handed out. Everyone tries on a carabiner wrist straps (a crucial part of arm tube lock-ons that we use to blockade spaces, and which make it easier for us to be removed from somewhere we have ‘locked on’ to).

Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
Photo by sinisterpictures.

Even while we are on the train 12 women blockade the only entrance to Coryton refinery by attaching themselves to the underside of vehicles but they won’t be able to hold the road for long without us. The three different themed blocs (Dirty Money bloc, Building bloc and Body bloc) hasten to join them.

Kristian Buus Crude Awakening police
Kristian Buus Crude Awakening dance
Photos by Kristian Buus.

Stanford-le-Hope is outside of the Oyster card zone so none of us have a valid ticket once we pass Grays. In what is to become a theme for the day there are too many of us working together for any obstacle to be insurmountable. We simply walk through the barriers out of the station and make our way to the refinery in our three different blocs, stopping briefly to pick up some kit stashed under a hedge on the way.

Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
Photo by sinisterpictures.

Basically all the seriously under prepared police can do is follow us and watch us do precisely what we want. They have a go at seizing one of the tripods from my bloc and I heard rumours of attempted arrests (and prompt de-arrests) on the other blocs.

Kristian Buus crude awakening locals
Locals join the protest. Photo by Kristian Buus.

Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
Photo by sinisterpictures.

Travelling cross country we make it to our target location on the Coryton Oil Refinery entrance road, just up from the Shell Haven turning (two oil targets in one, woop woop!). There is a truly beautiful moment as, count ‘em, 12 tripods go up in moments and the road is ours. Now, you may not know this already but the ‘traditional’ metal tripods you see on protests are a bit of a pain-they’re blimmin’ heavy and take 4 or 5 people to erect. Bamboo tripods, as trialled in this video released before the action, can be carried, erected and climbed by just one person in a pinch.

Crude Awakening day of the dead stilt Jody Boehnert
Crude Awakening day of the dead stilt Jody Boehnert
Day of the Dead stilt bloc, photos by Jody Boehnert.

Through the day our blockade gradually grows as we are joined by other blocs, including the beautiful ‘Day of the Dead’ stilt walkers. We grow so strong that the police, after marching at the barricade in a little phalanx, are quickly forced to retreat and let us get on with it. But we do lift a small section of the blockade briefly though in order to let the workers out at the end of their shift. As we’ve said many times before, we have no quarrel with the ordinary workers of polluting industries; we’re on the same side.

Kristian Buus Crude Awakening scene
Photo by Kristian Buus.

Locals tell us that oil tankers normally drive up and down this stretch of road every few minutes so all the time we are there we are preventing thousands of gallons of dirty oil from reaching the capital – 375,000 gallons in total. What’s even better is the fact that this isn’t just us taking action. Crude Awakening is part of a global week of action called for by the Climate Justice Action Network (CJA). We are just one of many protests taking place on the same day by people from 22 different countries… from the Philippines to Argentina.

Kristian Buus Crude Awakening tripods
Photo by Kristian Buus.

Crude Awakening sinisterpictures
Photo by sinisterpictures.

It truly is an amazing day. 500 of us working together to stop the flow of oil with no one able to stop us. Oh, and the police have to hold the train station barriers open to let us on to the train home – the cherry on the cake of an empowering day.

YouTube Preview Image
Film by You and I Films.

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