Climate Camp: an early reflection

Thursday, 23rd August 2007 at 17:08 UTC 2 comments

I’m sure the next two months will see a huge number of reflections on Climate Camp, but here’s some stuff I feel I should commit to hard-drive now, with the camp only just gone from the pages of the papers. Please forgive any harsh criticisms, and believe me when I say that, despite any of the following sounding negative, these have been some of the best days of my life.

I guess I have to start by commenting on the site itself. Given the location was set as Heathrow, the camp couldn’t have been anywhere better, although the lack of hard boundaries has caused enormous problems with policing. The layout was brilliantly thought out, allowing plenty of space for everything except the Yorkshire neighbourhood, though this was maybe a slight oversight. The use of marquee space (6 workshops with curtains between that became one big meeting space) worked fine, and the toilets were better than last year.

Food was brilliant as ever, with no kitchen causing complaints. Anarchist Teapot might have been the best, but everyone else was pretty close behind. I was stunned to discover that British Activists are actually capable of feeding people mid-action, having failed to do so during the whichever evening site raid, when people started suggesting that people went back to the Central Kitchen for food at a point when it would blatantly have been better to bring the food across on a wheelbarrow.

This brings me nicely to cop issues, for which I’ll deal with the camp itself, and not the actions at this point. The police liaison team did do a wonderful job, however its hard to see how much of an impact such discussions had. On the one hand they managed to keep the police on site to a low level, however nothing they agreed with the cops was actually stuck to. The most senior officer anywhere nearby even decided to take a few personal pictures while on site. There had attempts to photograph people using the toilet, or with all their personal belongings on show, and quite a number of attempts to photograph couples kissing and cuddling.

The psychological screws were being turned and turned throughout the camp and no matter how hard people tried, it was almost impossible to maintain the sense of autonomy of the space, and its likely that most of the more random folks who turned up left without really considering the issues properly. This will make it harder, though not impossible, to ensure that police are kept outside of future camps. Also, there were problems with the police using a crane for CCTV surveillance, which may be nearly impossible to deal with in the long run. Amusingly, though not in terms of the future of policing, there was a scare involving the sighting of a toy helicopter; it was ascertained that there was no camera on board, but it was a stark reminder that remote control drones are about to become a staple of modern policing.

It will probably be incredibly difficult to work out the actual extent of the psychological damage done during the camp. The medical team did a brilliant job of treating and recording injuries, but the well-being tent appears to have been problematic; every report I’ve heard about it has been negative, which is a turn for the worse and comes at a time when movements in Britain need to be working hard to counter the massive psychological offensive being waged by the state. It was clear that a message was being broadcast to us 24/7: “use the illusory freedom we afford you for anything that strengthens us but challenge us and even that will be taken it away”.

The problem, and I shall come back to this again, was that the task of ensuring ongoing connections between people at the camp were sadly lacking, and those newbies not already in contact with more settled activists are unlikely to come to the follow-up meetings. It was clear to anyone with eyes and ears that many were completely as completely turned off by the experience as encouraged to stick at it.

On several occasions police officers were heard talking in terms of a division between those who simply wanted to stop the building of the third runway and those who wanted what one officer referred to as “a dangerous form of socialism which will never work”. The message was clear: protesting about single issues is fine, but taking action based on system-level critiques will not be tolerated. A police officer was even heard describing a hard core of people as being psychologically similar to al-Qaeda. There had clearly been some very convincing police briefing on the psychology of activists, which was obviously designed to ensure violence.

The mass-breakout at around 2pm was an impressive proof that they are not at all interested in intelligence led policing”, indeed, there was no intelligence being shown of any kind whatsoever, clear proof that the photographing and terrorist-branding of those taking part in the camp had nothing to do with learning about us and everything to do with intimidation and the pursuit of compliance.  It was perhaps a little concerning that people were so unsurprised by the physical violence meted out against those seeking a better world.

The videos that I saw clearly showed police officers smashing their batons at people for trying to climb a fence, crossing a field or other similarly non-violent actions. The look on the face of the mounted-policeman as his horse trampled a protester with sheets of paper still attached to her hands said it all: sheer utter hatred of anyone who believes perfection lies in anything other than total control.

Anyhow, other things which should be mentioned… Workshops were good, though leaving the “where now” sessions till after the actions was perhaps the biggest obvious mistake. The big meetings were well facilitated and productive, it seemed. The marking out of the third runway was not inspiring direct action, and though it served a positive purpose, its involvement in the camp was a little dubious.

The process of going forward will be hugely hindered by the number of neighbourhoods who have failed to ensure that their participants (and those who failed to understand the need to participate) are connected in to some kind of communication tool (read: email list) and know when and where to meet up for a debrief. Oxford seemed to feel that an evening in a pub was an acceptable debrief: this is probably not possible, first because that means everyone from Reading and other places who joined in with them traveling to Oxford for an evening meeting, and then secondly because that leaves only a couple of hours of meet up, reflect and most importantly decide on actions.

Big credit goes to two groups. First, London neighbourhood, with glossy fliers for their post-camp meeting, which takes place on September 8th. Second, to Rising Tide, who may actually have saved our vegan equivalent to bacon, by calling a DOA (Day of Action) against Royal Bank of Scotland in mid-October. This is perfect timing, especially for university groups, and a perfect level of targeting, being something which exists nationally, but not to such an extent that 20 dispersed actions won’t be noticed.

And now, for two totally glowing points to round up this great tome (part one of at least two, I fear): The Media Tent and the bizarre moment I answered a phone call from three over-excited teenagers. The media story was almost a dream, featuring moments of nightmarish experience and moments of sheer excitement. Reports appeared that were down-right wrong, but over two thirds of what I’ve seen has been at the least good enough to live with.

There’s been images that directly speak of police brutality against peaceful protest. There’s been reports that carry the message better than some members of the camp media team. There’s been the Daily Mail coming out in support of the camp. Forget front page of the Independent, how about first 3 pages of said paper? Or front page of El Pais, the leading Spanish national. Or being in the LA Times? Or simply making news in 35 countries? My feeling is that there will have to be some serious thinking about how this quality of press work is transferred forwards into whatever initiatives come next, but for the moment, we’re doing just fine.

And then there was the moment I’ll probably never forget, when, stood in the media tent waiting to note down the actions as they happened, when the phone rang. I picked it up and announced “camp for climate action media tent”. “We’re on top of the HBA building” screamed the excited voice at the other end of the phone.

It was a weird sort of privilege to receive the first news that three teenage girls were atop a building with a banner. At 14, 15 and 16 they’d never done anything like it before, and were absolutely ecstatic, no other word for it. They might only have climbed a couple of floors up, but they on top of the world, and its really hard to explain what it was like hearing them practically jumping around celebrating.

I was reminded of how I came to be close to my closest friends, and I’m hopeful they’ll pop up on IndyMedia again sometime. At a point when the only actions happening were heavily policed marches, this was exactly what we needed, and I wasn’t the only one bouncing around the tent afterwards. And after 8 hours, they negotiated their way down and made their way back to the site, their parents noticeably proud of their actions.

I’ve heard many past-events mentioned this week. Without them, we would not be here now. But at the same time, comparison is inevitable. Twyford Down. Newbury. The J18 Carnival Against Capital. Mayday 2000. I heard a seasoned activist tell me they felt that the camp had replaced these as the biggest thing they’d been part of. I really can’t help but agree that we have just witnessed an amazing event, surpassing every spectacle in recent years and yet capable of bringing about a lasting movement against Climate Change. Watch out world: here we come!


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Environment, Free Space, Free Speech, Human Rights, Media, News, Participation, Politics.

Confronting Western Greed Climate Camp: the future

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jonathan  |  Friday, 24th August 2007 at 10:11 UTC

    “Oxford seemed to feel that an evening in a pub was an acceptable debrief: this is probably not possible, first because that means everyone from Reading and other places who joined in with them traveling to Oxford for an evening meeting”

    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at here. meetings have to happen somewhere, and given the neighbourhood was oxford that seems to be logical; and aside from weekends, evenings are the most popular time to have meetings.

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 24th August 2007 at 16:38 UTC

    OK, wasn’t too clear there. Basically, evening meetings are great as *local* events, but terrible as *regional* events, unless your region is a single city, which I know the Oxford one wasn’t: there were plenty of people from near, but not inside the city, and definitely a few of those live more than 30mins train ride away, while still not having a better neighbourhood to team with.
    Personally I’m loathe to travel to another city for an evening meeting and have been since I realised I had to limit my spending and running around to preserve myself as an activist. Maybe others feel differently.


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