In this series of interviews our volunteer interviewer and writer Louise Turner has been speaking with leading voices in climate activism, discussing why climate justice is a feminist issue.
Tina Rothery Photograph: Campaign against Climate Change
For this second part in the blog series, Louise Turner, Wen volunteer interviewed Tina Rothery to find out more about her and The Nanas, who are currently planning the movement’s year ahead. As well as getting her views on this year’s Wen Forum topic, Why is Climate Justice is a Feminist Issue.
Tina was a concerned grandma. She fell off the “sheer drop” into activism via The Nanas, a group she co-founded and describes as a “welcome mat into activism”. An accessible environmental movement for women of all ages, The Nana’s staged more than 1000 days of protest at Preston New Road, Lancashire, opposing hydraulic fracking giant, Cuadrilla. They used creative ‘Nana’ tools and techniques (fifteen minute silence, nationwide public meetings and bearing witness whilst knitting) in their campaign against fracking which was halted indefinitely in the UK in November 2019.
Tell us more about The Nanas … how did it all begin?
We formed as a collective of women who’d been protesting against fracking since 2011.
A lot of the women there didn’t feel part of any environmental movement or group – they’d come because they were residents in an area that was under threat.
At the same time the media were defining us as environmental warriors or tree huggers – as if it was something we ordinarily did! For many of the women that got involved it might have been the first ever thing they’ve ever done as activism.
I was sick of being labelled. It was alienating and didn’t tell the truth – which was that I was just a really concerned grandmother. I wasn’t anything else. That was what drove me. So when we formed, we became a group called The Nanas.
Photograph: Facebook Preston New Road Rolling Roadside Protest
That’s amazing, and what did you do?
There were about 26 of us to start. We took a field and occupied it to highlight where the fracking rig would go if they got the go ahead.
The community started to come and visit and we stayed for about three weeks. It ended up in court and it was a really big and scary thing. Apart from about three or four of us, those women had never done anything before in their lives that could be defined as activism.
So it really was quite life changing for all of us. None of us could believe we did what we did.
“It really was quite life changing… None of us could believe we did what we did”
From there it kind of grew. There wasn’t a lot happening in the media on fracking, except positive stuff. At least we were the counter. Something the media could look at.
We started going to different areas under threat of fracking and presenting public meetings, supporting local groups, visiting camps that were set up, bringing tea, and information, and cake, and warm solidarity, and a different approach that made activism more positive and more accessible to people of all types.
“[we brought] a different approach that made activism more positive and more accessible to people of all types”
How did becoming ‘The Nanas shape the type of activism you went on to do?
I think we added different ways.
I remember going down to parliament and lots of different activists were there from different campaigns. There were angry signs and angry faces.
We all turned up from Frack Free Lancashire and we were all in yellow and bright and smiling and waving with signs that said, “Honk Support!”. And people did because people just wanted to engage.
It’s a bit like pied piper-ing people in. Because, you know that once you walk through that door, marked, “activism”, it’s a sheer drop.
Once you know what’s gone wrong and how that implicates all of the other matters in life. You know? It’s the system of government.
They’ve allowed lobbyists. They’ve allowed profiteering. And they’ve put our children’s health at risk. And I think that once you get women engaged and it’s a direct threat to their children. Then that’s something that they can’t step back from. Certainly no one I know has walked away.
You seem unstoppable. Does anything get in your way?
I mean we’ve gone to up chemotherapy wards to hold our meetings because one of the Nanas was having chemo. She was key to that action so we took our meeting to the chemo ward.
These women are also going through caring for elderly parents, or their own illnesses but they’re still putting that where it needs to be so they can carry on doing this.
You’re incredibly inspiring. What’s next for The Nanas, Tina?
We had a meeting the other day and we’ve just started to define how we want to be spending this year, what we want to put our knowledge to, what use and so on.
We were talking about different ways of being as activists. The Nanas side is what we do when we go and do public meetings and engage.
Photograph: Facebook Nanashire
What had happened at the side of the road, during the last three years of Preston New Road’s anti-fracking campaign was that there was a great deal of violence and a demand for us – so we stayed local. We did a lot less public meetings. There were Nanas everyday on that roadside.
It was such a violent scene a lot of the time. We didn’t want people to think that you had to deal with that sort of thing because you really can be an activist by just sitting with some knitting at the side of a road and bearing witness.
“you really can be an activist by just sitting with some knitting at the side of a road and bearing witness”
What tactics do you and The Nanas use?
Fifteen minute silence –
So everyday on a Wednesday at Preston New Road, we said, “right we’re going to have a fifteen minute silence. Just to shut the road up”.
It’s a bit like you would do if your kids were fighting. You’d say, “right – everybody time out, shut up for ten minutes and we’ll come back to it”.
And it was exactly like that. So we did have fifteen minutes silence that first day.
We also have another thing we do. One of our amazing women puts together men’s shirts, sheets and put together Suffragette outfits. So we have one hundred suffragette outfits and one hundred women who put those on and will go to parliament or use them to make a stand.
It’s doing activism differently and finding all these creative, eye-catching ways to do it.
Photograph: @libraryofcongress on Unsplash
Women in white –
On a Wednesday at Preston New Road all these women in white turned up and we started to sing. We started to dance and we shared food and hundreds of days later we were the last action at the side of that road.
It was every Wednesday without fail from 9.30 – 12.30.
We met. We gathered. We held that space so they didn’t get any trucks through while we were there. Women felt safe to come to that.
They wouldn’t come at any other time of the week [women] but they would come on Wednesdays. And that continues, we still meet on Wednesdays. We meet at the community centre to plan. So the Women in White is a tool of The Nanas.
Public meetings – [The Nanas have been travelling up and down the country for the last three years holding public meetings and sharing information on the health risks of fracking]
Really we shouldn’t be travelling to save towns. Every town should be saving itself. I think the more women you have engaged in paying attention, the more you will have a local awareness of threats coming to your family and your community.
Photograph – Facebook Nanashire
What was your first action?
My first involvement with any activism was Occupy and that was 2011 just before the fracking thing blew up.
At first I wasn’t sure where to go, who to talk to, how to be. I felt inadequate as an activist. I felt like everyone else knew what they were doing and I had no idea.
Whereas, all of a sudden when we put ourselves together as Nana’s and realised the strength of the women in the movement, we realised that the women brought something that we needed to have in the movement, in any activism, to give that balance and diversity.
For me it was always a softer step in, it was a welcome mat to activism.
Why do you think so many women became active at the Preston New Road anti-fracking site?
I think the increase of female involvement, particularly in the anti-fracking movement – I would say it’s 70% female across the world – could be down to the impacts on our biology.
The processes, methane and damage to water can all impact fertility and the ability to carry a baby to full term. It can lead to birth abnormalities and breathing difficulties in children. So I think that’s how it ended up being quite heavily weighted female in the beginning.
They were the canary in the coal mine.
I remember a story that after a Utah midwife of a fracking town revealed that there were more baby graves than there had ever been, they were silenced and gagging orders brought out.
Then, there was a racing horse breeder nearby who had 17 foals born with misaligned jaws. Suddenly, it was front page news when they realised it was connected to the location of the nearby fracking site.
I thought, “wow, isn’t that amazing? He didn’t get silenced – because foals are worth money and babies aren’t”. And that was really tragic.
Is there a recognition of feminism in mainstream environmental activism?
In my experience – I’ve been at this nearly a decade – 80% of the time I’m not aware of being male or female. Doesn’t make any difference.
Compared to my business life that I had before, I have more chance of being treated equally in this world, than I did in my old commercial world. I feel more empowered as an activist as a woman than I ever felt as a working woman. And that’s a good thing.
But that’s 80% of the time and then there’s this chunk of misogyny and domination and a refusal to accept that knitting could ever match violence or machismo.
You know, we all do lock on’s, I did my first one as well – but you can’t stay locked onto a truck forever. You can do it every once in a while to make a point but there has to be other ways of being and doing.
And there is a resistance in some in male activism that doesn’t want to see that change – and some women in activism, too – that don’t see that this softer side has a role to play. Whereas I just think it’s cunning.
So yes, there is a huge place for feminism because it’s a wise perspective from women who know what the hell they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
“There is a huge place for feminism because it’s a wise perspective from women who know what the hell they’re doing and why they’re doing it. ”
Why is climate justice a feminist issue?
Because there is no denying that it is women, and race is in this too, and those who suffer the most already that will suffer the most.
There are women in Africa who are walking further because of droughts to get water and that burden falls to them.
We need to fight on their behalf – if I know that a woman just like me, who is trying hard to keep her granddaughter safe, is having to go through so much more than I am, then what right have I got to have days off or walk away or think maybe this doesn’t count. Of course it does.
Industry’s going on as usual and no matter how you look at it, the disparity between women in industry and women in environment, it’s always women working in the fields with crops so they are naturally being impacted first.
How can we engage people more?
Maybe people respond better if we call for help to each other.
Rather than we demand that they notice that it’s us under the most stress. Maybe it’s how we say to them, “it’s the case studies, it’s the stories. It’s the women who are suffering that we see so often in the statistics”.
Whereas amongst the women who I first contacted as an activist across the world, we spoke in terms of family impact.
So I think it really is the way we tell the story. And we need to tell it in a more open way and just get on with it.
This is what’s happening. This is who it’s happening to, and we really need your help together. Sometimes it’s the fact that it doesn’t feel like women’s matters matter.
I can’t sleep at night knowing that my equivalent grandma in a worse place is going through listening to bombs, or knowing that her access to food in the morning isn’t there. I don’t think any of us should rest easy whilst others of us are suffering.
Photograph of Tina Rothery – Friends of The Earth
Tina, you’re part of The Green Party, what role do you feel politics has to play?
Sadly, it’s key to so much. I wish it wasn’t because it’s flawed, it’s broken, not just on a party basis but the system itself is not designed to help people.
It’s now become something to facilitate industry and profit and growth. While we’re on a planet that requires cooperation, and reduction and re-use and all the things that industry won’t want and therefore government won’t want.
I think you need to infiltrate politics with a disease of goodness. You know… infect it with loads of good people!
I’ve been working for Green MEP Gina Dowding and I consider her my political activism because there is no one else I would want in politics. I want exactly her and people like her, like Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett and Jenny Jones. People who actually prioritize the planet and understand why we have to do that.
But the people in parliament now don’t and it’s all lip service. Everyone is looking for a work-around and an off-set. I mean, really, you know? And they say that the reason the COP talks fail is this: they fail when it gets to, “who’s paying for this?”
You need to have COP26 and any future ones starting with- here’s the problem, how do we solve it?
If you had no roof on your house – you would still go and get a loan – you wouldn’t worry about how to pay it back.
You would have to still replace that.
We have to make the world safe. We have to engage with that whatever it costs because money means nothing when there’s no water and air.
“I think you need to infiltrate politics with a disease of goodness. You know… infect it with loads of good people!”
Left, Gina Dowding, right, Tina Rothery, of The Green Party. Photograph: Green Party – Tina Rothery Facebook
What would a climate just future look like to you, Tina?
It would look really gorgeous. It would be a very beautiful, cooperative place where it isn’t about who has the most anything. It’s about what we all get.
A really positive future where our kids are working in industries that are bringing good for future generations. So that they feel good when they get in at night. Where they’re not reaching someone’s sales target, you know?
And where education isn’t about being tested, it’s about accessing knowledge that you want to access. Where medical help isn’t even considered as a financial issue. Or, education. Because a well educated and healthy population is glorious.
I also believe wholeheartedly, after studying the processes and chemicals in fracking, in particular, that incidents of mental health would improve with greater air quality.
There’s a movie coming out that I think looks really positive and it’s called 2040. It’s about taking the solutions we currently have and would they solve the problems we have and put the world on target for a healthy future. According to the research in that, yes.
If we just clean up the pollution and the plastics and get on that path, what’s the worst that can happen?
We’re going to get better. Some guy might lose some money on fossil fuels. Oh well!
Let’s just get on with the good stuff.
Thanks for speaking with me, Tina. It’s been a real pleasure.
Louise Turner is an MSc Environmental Governance student at The University of Manchester and volunteer at Wen.