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We Spoke to a Heathrow Drone Protester Before Her Arrest

This morning, a protest group failed to fly drones near Heathrow Airport. Last night, Linda Davidsen was one of several people preemptively arrested.

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna
13 September 2019, 7:16am

Photo: Anthony Nettle / Alamy Stock Photo

This year has seen an unprecedented wave of climate activism. From the Fridays for Futures protests to the Extinction Rebellion movement, we've never been more aware of the climate crisis our planet is experiencing. And yet, still, not enough is being done.

Take, for example, April of this year. In the same week the government declared the country to be in a climate emergency, it approved a third runway for Heathrow, a move that will allow for 700 extra flights a day and cause a severe environmental impact. Not only will it cause disruption to the surrounding community, but it flies (no pun intended; this is a crisis!!) in the face of the government's zero-emissions strategy, which aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

That's why Heathrow Pause, an activist organisation, had planned to fly toy drones within a five-kilometre radius of the airport this morning – but outside flight paths – in a symbolic protest. On Thursday afternoon and evening, the police arrested several people associated with the protest, including planned drone pilot Linda Davidsen. In addition, the Met Police reportedly arrested two men early on Friday morning within the parameter of the airport, after a livestream appeared on Twitter of two men failing to fly a drone at low height and citing "signal jamming" as the reason the drone couldn't take flight. The police have now placed a dispersal oder at Heathrow until 4.30AM on Sunday. We spoke to Linda, a few days before the protest, to find out about the personal and political reasons and implications of this action. At the time of writing,

VICE: Hi Linda. What do you have planned for this action?
Linda Davidsen: The plan, starting on Friday morning, is to fly toy drones at head height in the restricted zone around Heathrow Airport. The action has been designed to be 100 percent safe, otherwise we would not be involved in it at all. The reason that we are upfront with all our actions and telling the authorities is that we were hoping to use this loophole in their rules to force them to make that decision to close the airport, even though there's completely no threat whatsoever.

What are you trying to achieve with airport protests overall?
Really, two things. To raise awareness of the climate catastrophe that we are facing, so that people understand how urgent it is, and that we can no longer ignore it. Then the biggest thing is that we must not see the expansion of Heathrow Airport, which is specifically why we are targeting Heathrow. You cannot make that [climate emergency] declaration and, in the same week, go ahead with the biggest infrastructure project in Europe that's going to produce as much emissions as the whole country of Cyprus. It's absolute lunacy.

How useful is an act of disruption in getting people's attention?
We've looked at the experts who have studied social change over the past 150 years. One particular American scientist, Erica Chenoweth, studied hundreds of different cases and found the way to achieve social change is by non-violent action – which this clearly is; it's 100 percent safe – by causing disruption, being completely responsible – which is why we've informed the authorities and given them six weeks' notice – and by there being an element of sacrifice.

We, as pilots, are making a huge personal sacrifice. We're prepared to go to prison to highlight this issue for people to take notice and actually say, '"here is really something going on that we have to take seriously." The government are not listening to us, they're not responding, and they're failing to protect us despite the claims that we make.

Are you worried about going to prison?
Absolutely. Absolutely terrified. I'm a mother, I'm approaching my 50th year on this planet, I have held a professional career, a position of trust, I have never been in trouble with the police in my life, it goes against everything I believe. The thought of even being arrested is terrifying. The thought of being locked up in prison and unable to see my children is absolutely terrifying, but because of the knowledge that I've acquired over the last six months and the reality of the climate emergency that I didn't actually know before, I feel absolutely terrified for the future, I feel terrified for my children and I feel I cannot just carry on acting as normal. I must do something. So my conscious does now allow me not to act.

Do you feel guilty that you might be stopping people from, say, visiting their dying relatives?
Yes, absolutely. I have been thinking about this for about the last four months, and in no way do I want to cause anyone any pain or disruption. I've been in that position myself. I took a flight to Spain to visit my father on his deathbed, one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I would not want to put anyone through that pain of missing that flight.

We have given notice about this in the hope that people would have time to make alternative arrangements, and the fact is that we cannot ignore this crisis. We cannot ignore people who are already dying around the world, every single day. There, unfortunately, has to be an element of people being disrupted, because that's the only way we can get attention from the government and from the public. It's an unfortunate consequence, but people really have to wake up and look at the bigger picture.

@RubyJLL

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.