Who asked them?

Friday, 31st August 2007 at 11:39 UTC 1 comment

Its not that I want to drag the Climate Camp reflections on forever and its not that I want to make a habit of sectarian bitching, but I’m afraid your all going to have to bare with me as I take a little time to analyse the least wanted piece of media coverage the Climate Camp has received so far: The Socialist Worker article – “the camp organisers’ emphasis on specialised forms of direct action for which people had to be trained in advance must have helped keep the numbers down.”

I suppose the fact that this article is pitting Climate Camp against Poly Toynbee does mean that Socialist Worker are forced to side with the Camp at least some of the time. In writing his piece, Alex Callinicos must accept that the camp has brought people together, gained press coverage and furthered some kind of cause to which the SWP would probably like to pin its colours (it nearly did, but thats another story).

They quote Joss Garman, media spokesperson for Plane Stupid (as though Joss speaks for the camp, huh, insert snide vanguard comment). Joss correctly points out that few were truly empowered by the mass marches through London. But Socialist Worker (or Callinicos writing therein, I suppose) only see successful movement building in terms of the numbers it attracts, so the 2000 campers are a tiny number of people in the eyes of those infatuated with 100k+ marches.

Anyhow, lets deal with the bits in the article which need some kind of response, starting with the quote in my opening paragraph. The SWP irresponsibly fail to prepare their activists for any kind protest scenario, including normal route marches that run totally smoothly. Where other organisations kindly supply marchers with lists of “what you should bring”, the SWP is so uninterested in people’s welfare that they don’t even remind people to carry bottled water.

Despite the fact that route marchers can become the targets of s44 Stop and Searches, no SWP affiliated group has ever (to my fairly extensive knowledge) taught anyone their legal rights in this situation. You’d have thought maybe a few column inches in their paper might have been given over to reminding people that they needn’t even provide their name, Date of Birth or address. In this day and age of state intrusion, some kind of legal training ought to be the norm of life for a group supposedly promoting a radical outlook.

These are not specialised forms of Direct Action, either. None of the methods used could not be taught inside an hour. The fact the camp bothered to teach people, and then provide debriefing space afterwards, is a sure sign that some of us actually give a shit about the people around us in our movement, and not just ensuring that we have enough people to sell the paper. To let people out into areas of intense police activity without imparting some measure of knowledge is just reckless, and shows how shallow and inhumane an SWP revolution might be.

And no, they didn’t have to be trained in advance of the camp. They had to be trained in advance of the actions, but that was what the entire camp was for. Oh, I forgot, only theoretical indoctrination shall occur at meetings or conferences. Damn.

“Nothing has done more to turn people away from political involvement than the British political system’s utter failure to hold to account those responsible for the criminal and disastrous adventure in Iraq” – I’m sorry, my experience is that this perceived failure of the democratic system (or rather, this success of the electoral-dictatorship system) has been a huge turn-on for people when given the opportunity to take part in truly empowering action.

“But in both scale and method it looked more like a return to the anti-road campaigns of the 1990s than a new step forward.” Thanks Callinicos, first, you’re reading the newspapers and not experiencing the reality, and secondly, those anti-road protests were successful in the long run. The step forward is that people from all walks of life, not just seasoned hippies, are trying their hand at Direct Action. And the Stop the War movement has achieved what? Marches are not goals in themselves (and neither are camps, but we did disrupt some companies and give them really bad press, and the camp is only the beginning of something much bigger…). Just cos you didn’t control the anti-roads campaigns doesn’t mean they were a bad thing.

“The gap between the scale of the problem and potential solutions is vast and paralysing. The idea that collective political action is essential to addressing climate change doesn’t yet seem relevant to many people. This will change as people develop greater confidence in their ability to change the world.”

Yay, something I agree with. Oh wait…

“Here numbers are important. Mass marches, dismissed by Garman as “boring and disempowering”, can give a sense of collective power.”

No, no, no. They don’t give people a sense of collective power. They give people a of repetition. They allow those of us with lots of friends in the movement to meet up with our friends. Its this idea that collective action is somehow validated by the number of people taking part. Sure, its nice to be part of something big, but the numbers are not what make movement involvement fulfilling. Its the sense of belonging, and more importantly, the sense of community, which no SWP branch has ever managed to create. Indeed, Community is anathema to these people.

If you want to be part of something that you can brag about the size of in a truly shallow way, the SWP certainly has the answer. But for those who want to be taken care of while doing something actually effective and empowering, the camp has thankfully proven that there are more empowering, more exciting and more sustainable. That isn’t to say that the odd route march isn’t important: indeed, Saturday December 8th will be a wonderful day in itself, but only because it is part of a movement with diverse tactics.

I hope that wasn’t too bad of a rant, and that it maybe had some use other than me venting rage. Have a good weekend, and watch out for more Climate Camp stuff coming soon (actual stuff, not just blog posts!).


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

Purity, Integrity and Determination Latin: Inclusion or Exclusion?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jon Searles  |  Monday, 3rd September 2007 at 11:23 UTC

    Great article, Graham, but one thing…

    ““Nothing has done more to turn people away from political involvement than the British political system’s utter failure to hold to account those responsible for the criminal and disastrous adventure in Iraq” – I’m sorry, my experience is that this perceived failure of the democratic system (or rather, this success of the electoral-dictatorship system) has been a huge turn-on for people when given the opportunity to take part in truly empowering action.”

    This is complicated. I think you’re both right. Most British people I talk to feel more powerless than ever before. The people who aren’t in “the movement” now are very hard to convince into joining unless they’re very young and/or inexperienced, and some are turned off from marching and so on permanently because of what happened in 2003. But….people in “the movement,” who stayed in for the long haul, whatever that means, are more diverse, rational, and determined than ever before. That close knit community who existed prior to 2003 are now larger and stronger, overwhelmingly, than before. The challenge is more to bridge the gap with the general public in a political environment of mass hopelessness. The Labour Party still aren’t gone, and almost everyone I know has wanted them out since 1998! They’ve never garnered more than 40-some-odd percent of the vote, and more often have hovered at 35 percent, this in a political system where the voter turnout is about 60 percent, meaning the Labour Party’s popular support is miniscule, yet they’re still not gone!!! That is, I think, more what the SWP are talking about, but unfortunately, I think they’re right that it’s part of the reason why they’re not as influential as they used to be. People don’t believe that they can be influential, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially since the other factions of the environmental and anti-war movements are also disillusioned with the SWP, further weakening them and the entire movement.


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