A tent village arrived and settled within earshot of the explosions in the mountain of the Tua river valley (north of Portugal), where a rolling community of over 100 people came together from near and far, in Portugal and beyond, to join their voices in a shared shout to “Stop this dam now!”
After years of protests and marches, petitions and environmental reports, a group of people took on the challenge set by the International Action for Rivers Day and turned it into more than a day of action. It was a week in protest against the massive EDP/Iberdrola dam project that will drown one of the very last pristine river valleys in Portugal, and in support of truly sustainable strategies for energy provision, such as reducing demand, improving energy efficiency and investing in renewable technology.
Completely organized by volunteers and supported by many small contributions, such as a loan of a solar panel, battery and inverter, a 9 seat van or the abundance of local homegrown produce from family farms to delight our vegetarian kitchen the camp was a practical experiment in sustainable community living, where we collectively organized to provide for our needs and develop our aims, in a non-hierarchical collective way, welcoming input from everyone at every stage.
We put out a program of events as a framework to stimulate participation from far and wide and to ensure content for movement building and awareness raising, although it was a big challenge to get experts to travel to a remote location and we didn’t always find the resources to achieve what we had set out to do. Films screenings and musical evenings proved a favorite with the local population, whereas Forum discussions on the topics of Rivers, Heritage and Energy were an important element in the ongoing conversations amongst ourselves that frame what we are trying to achieve and why.
A lot of the time was spent trying to organize ourselves for the action days in amongst constant visits from police and undercover police “to ensure our safety” and also in meeting local people, hearing their stories, sharing their plight. Action highlights included crossing the river and parading through the premises a 10m banner saying “Not one more damn – act now” on Wednesday, mostly to the workers and the police’s surprise and amusement, then on Saturday a indignation march to the gate with music, theatre and a sit-in by the gate with an attempt to block the entrance of work vehicles aborted by police guards with dogs, although a group managed to get in and spray paint “AcTua” on a boulder inside the site. While another group formed the glorious entourage that went to greet the President who was on a trip to the region, to offer him a last chance to try the best oranges in the world soon to drowned by the dam he is an advocate of. Another symbolic action was the ceremony to the taken oak, trees which in spite of law protection are cut down in the thousands to make way for dam projects. An oak tree was planted with an inscription plate that reads “Grow Resist Actua” in the field right next to the site where the big wall of cement is being created, ironically next to the EDP sign “No build zone: ecology under protection”. With their permission, we just might try.
The arguments to stop this project are strong and manifold; it has disabled an ancient train line that once held more real promise of development for the region and has obvious tourist and local amenity value; it will sacrifice the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site which was awarded to the human and natural landscapes of the region; it will affect loss of quality in agricultural soils and world class vineyards; it will compromise water quality and affect irreversible ecosystem loss; it will absorb so much money from the state budget in the concession deal that 3 generations in the future will still be paying for this through an unacceptable increase in the price of electricity. In short, the long distance work of many people, the future heritage of the young, the environment that is an asset for all, is being forfeited in order to make way for short-term gain and maximum profit. This is not a public interest project, the country doesn’t need the electricity; this is a business deal between fat cat industrialists with the bad habit of turning common goods and natural resources into commodities to trade and profit.
While we can’t say that we were able to make advances in the goal of stopping the project, a strong message of creative resistance was broadcast from the camp, new friendships were born and strengthened, and seeds of indignation at the overriding power of capital to rob us of our most beautiful wild places were planted. We will continue to nurture them into a fertile resilient movement, learning from this experience because we must if we are to stand together again against the other dams in the national dam project, in speaking truth to power and rooting ourselves in an alternative vision of a possible future.