Casting the net wider

Monday, 31st March 2008 at 6:00 UTC Leave a comment

Yes friends, Climate Camp is still on my mind. Well, actually, I’ve done more on this camp in the last few weeks than I did on any previous camp of this sort more than a month before it began. Things are a mix of brilliant (you should definitely come be part of the utterly amazing thing that will be Camp ’08) and very problematic. But I still feel enthusiastic, and definitely know that we have it all to play for.

Lets go back to the Drax camp. It had 600 people at its height, but on some of the middle days it dropped hugely. About 100 people turned up especially for the day of action, making it largely a fairly claustrophobic affair in some ways. It was very successful for what it was. But obviously, looking back on it, it was tiny, cliquey and far removed from the experience at Heathrow a year later.

I want to have the same feeling about Heathrow once Kingsnorth is over. Will I? I can’t say, because much of it will depend on the ability of all of us to keep a clear vision, and an open mind, and to move out further from our activist-community comfort-zones when seeking greater participation.

At Drax, we had a watershed, where hundreds of activists and “demonstrating public” types (i.e. the ones who will go on a demo if they feel an issue is important enough, but never organise them) realised we were worth the effort. I believe that Heathrow was another Watershed, a bigger one, where a new pool of people, far bigger than in the “will protest” and “might protest” zones, feel they want to grab a part of this.

My feeling is that this camp is going to be as big as *we* decide its going to be. OK, there are limits to this, but those limits are not our concern; there will always being mitigating factors that interfere, but we must give it all our best shot. The limits we face are, as they often are, self imposed. If we want to fill the camp with activists, we’ll get a few hundred. If we want to fill the camp with the kind of people who go on the odd demo here and there, we might get 1500. If we want to grab the general populace, we can double last year’s turnout again. My worry is that there are still too many people talking about reaching activist groups. We must move our vision vastly wider.

I had a thought about a kind of ‘side discussion’ type thing for a gathering: a collective attempt to write 100 ‘types’ of people we want to see at this camp. I guess it might be a good use of flipchart paper on a wall somewhere. I’ll write “Activists”, and then we’ll all try and think up 99 other types people think we should be going for. Not a definitive list, but a wake up call to anyone who’s still listing sub-types of activists to invite along.

I’ve done a bit of this thinking already. Some of it will involve investing time and effort in individual projects, like a disabled access neighbourhood, a children’s area in the camp, talks on dozens of campuses and to youth groups of all kinds. If we want pensioners to come along, how do we get hold of them? If we want to stop the monochrome feel of the movement, how do we reach people in other areas of their community?

Such thinking is becoming more difficult. I think we’re all a bit scared. But I think some of us are actually quite excited. I’m getting worried by the sheer numbers of people who are telling me they’re hoping to come along. Some really aren’t the people I would expect at a camp like Climate Camp. And yet, the fact that they ‘want in’ is saying something exciting; it speaks of possibility, and how we might be able to create a camp with a bigger and deeper lasting impact than the one at Heathrow.

But ultimately, its a call to all of us to cast the net wider, approach those we expect to say ‘no’, and be prepared for a turnout twice what we saw at Heathrow last year. Last year may have required a step-up in the work of telling people about the camp, but this year, with people more receptive than ever, will require an even greater step-change in the pace of message spreading.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Participation, Politics.

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