Interview with UK anti-roads activist in the 1990s

Interview with anonymous activists by A Planeta
See also "Resisting with the forests from the treetops"

We wanted to change the world. To build another one based on mutual respect, justice, equality, community, direct democracy, creativity. A world where the environment and people were not treated as commodities.

In 1992, the conservative government announced a road through Twyford Down an area of outstanding natural beauty in the south of the United Kingdom. It was to form part of their national road programme of building motorways through forests, downs, areas of outstanding beauty and other protected sites of special scientific interest. Ancient woodlands that had formed part of the ecological and historical landscape of the UK for centuries were to be destroyed so trucks carrying goods could be transported by road, from one end of the UK to the other, in the name of capitalism.

Machinery occupation at Twyford Down    (

A year before activists across the county had brought down the right-wing government of Margaret Thatcher. The campaign against the unpopular Poll Tax brought activists and communities together across the UK. Non payment of the tax clogged the courts, riots broke out in cities across Britain and protests outside council offices caused the government to withdraw the tax and eventually it caused the prime minister to resign.

We went from knocking on doors with leaflets about non-payment of the Poll Tax to throwing ourselves in front of diggers at Twyford Down in a matter of months.

We were living near Twyford Down and were able to get vans and transport down there fairly easily. We had been involved in class-based struggle before and we were curious to know what environmental direct action looked like.

Twyford Down brought together different groups and different tactics from other direct-action campaigns, women’s groups from Greenham Common, travellers, Earth First! and a band of protesters who named themselves the Dongas. The dongas named themselves after the ancient trackways that lined the way along Twyford down. This area was the legendary historical seat of the Camelot court and King Arthur, so the activists drew inspiration from politics but also from local history and legends.

Detention of activist at Twyford Down.

We threw ourselves in front of diggers, blocked roads, motorways, tarmac lorries on the way to the site. Using nonviolent direct action, we delayed work costing the companies and government bad publicity, money, time and energy. Working on the premise that “The earth is not dying. It is being killed and those who are killing it have names and addresses”. (Utah Phillips) we brought the fight to the doorsteps of government ministers and heads of companies.

As groups and individuals, we were used to confronting power. Being involved in the anti-Poll Tax campaign, animal rights, unions, strikes and local campaigns, we brought the same tactics to the way that we campaigned at Twyford Down. There was a resonance in terms of direct action. The range of people and different ideas brought a sense of creativity to the campaign but fundamentally we were there to stop the road being built and open a space to talk about the end of capitalism.

For me as a woman involved in Earth First it was my first real experience outside of Women’s Groups of seeing direct democracy in action. Actions and tactics were discussed briefly, voices were included and respected. We had the benefit of learning from the Women at Greenham Common and from the energy of young people. We retained positive memories of community direct democracy, creativity and a coming together across city life and different struggles. 

We wanted to build another world, one not based on destruction and profit. 

Twyford Down  Protest (

Twyford was the first environmental protest but was the first in a long wave of protest. Protest soon moved into the cities and became Reclaim the Streets protests. These caught the imagination of young people and activists all over the UK and beyond. A common theme was occupying and using roads as a spaces for protests and development of alternative communities.

We were challenged by state violence. We were beaten up by security guards, arrested, imprisoned and subject to state surveillance. It taught us how difficult it was to build a movement but also a greater understanding of how a small group of people can make a real impact. 

Actions and activities were coordinated but different people involved in the coordination had very different political objectives. Or maybe they just had very different political understandings that remained dynamic and changing.  

Eventually these protests morphed into Global Days of Action against Capitalism. Taking inspiration from Paris 68 but also German and US protests these protests sought to encourage people to think, ‘Another world is possible’ and to undermine the world view that is destroying the world.

I think the whole Think Global, Act Local resonated with many involved. The environmental movement went on to develop quite a strong sense of anti-globalisation. Links were made with groups across the world fighting environmental destruction including indigenous peoples in such far away places as West Papua. A few years later we would find ourselves occupying head offices of companies based in the UK who were destroying vast areas of rainforest in far flung countries. We had made contacts with unions, indigenous peoples, community groups, activists in other countries with cumulated in a National Day of Action on June 18th, 1999 against capitalism involving tens of thousands of people across 46 countries.

We were both working in social care. The everyday troubles of the people that we were working with were often much harder than the difficulties that we faced politically. And we understood the ways the opportunity to express ourselves politically was a luxury. A luxury the many other people do not always have. 

Construction of the M3 in Twyford Down

There are points where your own personal life takes over and you do not have the capacity for political struggle. It is important to appreciate this and not feel insecure or despondent because you cannot engage in physical struggle. This is just the reality of living in a class society.  

I think at the time we genuinely thought that we might be able to induce some change. And we did achieve some changes. The government scrapped the roads programme. However, I think in many ways things have mainly got a lot worse since then. 

I think we have to be careful when we talk about political legacy. There is no doubt that the environmental campaigns of the nineties started a process of transformation in how people saw globalisation and the fact that it was responsible for killing the planet. With climate change, the destruction of the oceans, forests and atmosphere all of which has been done in the name of consumerism, we began to realise that a just transition to sustainable societies is not only necessary but essential.

Yet in many ways it is not helpful to think of political understanding developing in a linear way. Political understandings are link to social economic and environmental forces at any given time.  

Poll Taxp protest

We are inspired by people who are still doing that kind of struggle and continually inventing new ways of struggle. I think it is important to understand that there is not a single way of campaigning or struggling. The struggles are hugely diverse. In the UK now questions are being asked about inequality, unions are demanding higher wages, better conditions and activists are continuing to take direction action against the use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet. The working class is a rainbow and political struggle can take many very different forms. 

Looking back as an older person we admire how wonderfully naive we were. At the same time there was a particular wisdom in the movement. Being parents the sense of urgency means that the only realistic thing now is to demand the impossible. Right now, sitting as we all are, at the end of the period of capitalism, when barbarism seems to be taking hold everywhere, the mantra ‘If not now then when? If not you, then who?’ resonates once again.


One of our slogans at Twyford was ‘Romans go Home’. 
It was clear to everyone that roads were about expanding a system of exploitation. About defeating geographical constraints and building a globalised system of capitalism.  Although many saw this as semi-spiritual, a kind of pagan backlash against exactly the monotheistic leviathan described in your quote.
 We wanted an internationalised localism, where one person’s wealth wasn’t achieved at the cost of another’s poverty. We relished the diversity of life, nature, culture and language. And we had our own cultures of resistance and survival based on traveller culture, punk, rave, vegan, anarchist, pagan,  squatting and all the ‘scenes’. And we knew that the roads meant an end for us in so many ways.

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