Reassessing the ‘Munter’ factor

Monday, 27th August 2007 at 16:30 UTC 1 comment

I guess one of the most difficult things for people to put up with when they experience something like Climate Camp for the first time, apart from the decision making processes and the compost toilets, is the bunch of people who hang around site and drink all day and generally come across as weird and, dare I admit it, a bit useless. I was challenged a bit by some stuff which came up during the camp and want to spend a few minutes thinking this one through. Here goes…

They’ve been at every camp I’ve been to, and they really can be quite off-putting. Either they simply sit/wonder around doing nothing much at all, or their attempts to engage you in conversation are weird, sometimes unnerving and generally make you want to run away fast. Or maybe thats just my personal experience, but hey.

No other political grouping really has this problem. Sure, they all have people who put other people off (the Labour party had Blair, I guess!) but why do ‘down and outs’ and the like hang around Direct Action movements, and is this necessarily a bad thing? What does this actually say about us?

To cut a long story short, I think that, while they are really annoying and often seem to get in the way, those involved in such movements should really take heart. This is not a movement for those who are totally sorted, intellectually brilliant, or whatever. To be a movement which attracts the powerless, even if their main encounter with powerlessness is in the face of alcohol or drugs, must be, at the end of the day, a sign that something is right with the movement in question.

If one really believes that the solution lies in consensus, surely they must learn to live with all people, including those who society teaches to be undesirable as friends. I found that some of the people I met asked me questions, often with a certain degree of aggression, to which I had no answers, as someone from a completely different background who saw things completely differently. Others said things in meetings which made me cringe (one guy announced during take-down that he wanted to keep the camp going permanently, which I thought was a recipe for disaster, given how many had already left at that stage).

Another issue would be image. They just don’t look good. But at the end of the day, if people want their movement to be aesthetically pleasing, then what does that say about their desire for transparency or substance? Surely the fact that we don’t mind too much what our movement looks like, but instead focus on the road ahead towards a better world, has to count for something good?

And so, no matter how angry they made me, no matter how uneasy I felt when near them, and no matter what the do for the image of a movement, I guess I must begin to change my attitude towards them, to love them as part of the movement, even if thats a very difficult thing to do. It feels like a huge challenge, and one that I may well fail to succeed with, but I should still try.


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Community, Environment, Participation.

Climate Camp: the future Purity, Integrity and Determination

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Dan  |  Tuesday, 28th August 2007 at 9:17 UTC

    Hi Graham – I was at the camp too and also sometimes felt uneasy about these people.

    I have to admit that I saw this group as free-riders rather than valuable parts of the community. The camp had free food, free accomodation and the police were on a close rein.

    The reason I was inspired by the camp is that it had a scrupulous adherence to its means of achieving change – it used a non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision making process throughout its activities. This meant that the group could not exclude any undesirable element.

    While this did allow free-riders, I think it also demonstrated that people generally are less likely to act as free-riders if you don’t treat them with suspicion. The munters were a pain, but a) there was actually a surprisingly high proportion of principled activists and b) once put on the spot in a meeting, even the lairiest usually realised that everyone was listening and they had nothing to say. Given time, I’m sure that even the munters would begin to contribute.

    Finally, it’s worth remembering that throughout history all radical movements have been accompanied by a healthy whack of wierdos!


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