The day I became a gecko and hugged a bunny who became a squirrel (a Sheffield tale)
Today I spent about a half hour hugging a masked stranger over a wall, while four burly security guards attempted to pull me off. Later, he was chased through the streets, injured, and arrested for climbing a tree. Anywhere else, this would sound like madness. And frankly even in Sheffield it sounds like madness. But here, it’s an everyday sort of madness as the battle over the trees rages on. Here’s a typical day in the life these days.
Today was the day that Amey, Acorn, and the Sheffield city council — supported by dozens of police and private security — attempted to resume felling the city’s healthy roadside trees. We knew this was coming, so when I heard that barriers had arrived on nearby Thornsett Road I made my way over. I was one of the earlier arrivals, so positioned myself against a wall under a threatened tree. We know that the injunction the council has been given against protestors only requires tree protectors to leave a safety zone that has been fully erected. As long as I’m leaning against a wall between barriers that have not been joined together, I’m not violating the injunction. That’s called being a gecko, because geckos stick to walls.
I am, admittedly, violating a minor law, Section 303 of the Highway Code, by obstructing highway works. However, this is such a minor crime that the only punishment is a fine of up to 5 pounds per day. More people join me. Although I have no cash, together we can cover it. An “evidence gatherer” informs me that I’m violating the injuction. I tell her I’m not. A security guard tells me the same. I tell him I’m not. Eventually, a police officer with a luxuriant moustache tells me I’m violating Section 303. I agree, and offer to pay the 5 pound fine. We all have a good laugh as he tells me he’s not allowed to take cash on the street.
Then things turn a bit more serious. Which was to be expected given the dozens of burly men in high viz, all the police, and the tall fencing filling this normally quiet residential street. We are asked to leave twice, and we politely decline. We’re told that if they ask a third time and we decline, the police will give them permission to use “reasonable force” to remove us. Since reasonable force should be proportionate to the crime committed, one would expect very little force for a crime with a maximum penalty of five pounds per day. That’s what one would expect, anyway.
A masked stranger behind the wall offers to hold on to me to make it harder to drag me off. Usually one doesn’t accept offers of this sort from masked strangers. But this being Sheffield, I knew this guy was a bunny — one of the heroes of the campaign. Bunnies are people who hop over completed barriers when all else has failed, breaking the injunction and covering their faces in the hopes of evading prosecution. I hugged that bunny, and he hugged me. And though the security pulled and pulled — four of them — they eventually gave up.
The action continued. Despite what was now a large collection of geckoes, the arborists began handsawing branches that did not overhang us. This was a slow process, and we reflected on how very long it would take to fell all the healthy mature trees by this method with dozens of security and police in attendance. We reflected on what a stunningly poor use of resources this was for a cash-strapped council.
And then the bunny turned into a squirrel. A squirrel saves trees by climbing them. He climbed up a tree on a private property (whose residents supported our tree-saving efforts), but one which hung out over the barriered zone. He was, however, well above it — so he definitely had not entered the zone. I was alternately deeply moved, impressed, and scared for this brave, kind stranger I had just been hanging onto. As all began to appreciate what was happening, the felling stopped. The barriers came down. He had saved the day.
Eventually, this heroic man came down too. And was chased through the the streets, tackled, and handcuffed. I hear he has been arrested and that he was injured. Arrested for climbing a tree on private property.
Just another day in Sheffield.
Tomorrow we’ll all be out again. And there will be more geckoes, more bunnies, more squirrels, and more outraged citizens of Sheffield protesting the mindless destruction of our trees