The Climate Camp is back, and thoroughly established on Blackheath, scene of a number of very drunken evenings of burly cheer back when I was a Kent schoolboy rugby player. They’re slowly getting their message across in spite of all the distractions. They’re a broad, consensus-based coalition which carries no universal ideological burden. The only point of cohesion is that they are all dedicated to true debate, to collective action and to direct, rather than representative/corruptible political self-determination. They are able to be all of these things because they live in a society where the cost of entry into the communications market is so low that normal people can play too. And they’re winning the spin war, so far. Being factual, organised and in the right really helps with that. Mr. Cameron, take note.
The political establishment tried the usual method for dealing with them: hit them, hit them hard, bloody them and send them packing. Unfortunately for the political establishment, we can now not only prove it when the police get it wrong, we can get the word out so fast they can’t keep their lies straight.
The Black Heath is where Wat Tyler gathered the Peasants Revolt. Ever wondered why it’s not called a revolution? Revolts are what happen when people take their troubles to the street. Revolutions are what happen when the needs of those few who’re brave enough to speak up turn out to be shared by the mass of their fellows. And we all live in the same biosphere; the Climate Campers are saying now what the papers will be saying in 20 years.
The forces of order are not going down without a fight, however. Hat-tipped to PSUK and IndyMedia for video evidence that the Metropolitan Police still don’t know the law. The most disturbing things in the video, for me, are:
- 0:11 “Turn the film off, mate… What’s going on?” leading directly to the assault on the cameraman and the blanking of the camera lens with a policeman’s hand. 0:29 “I’m just here to film” “Well, you don’t film us, ok?”
- 0:31 “You’re officer 169, which borough are you from?” “Does it matter?” Yes of course it bloody matters.
On the other hand, the amount of work done beforehand to make sure the Police, Parliament and the general public all knew who was spoiling for a fight in April has had its effect. The police are showing up to do at least approximately what they should have done last time, and projecting a stance of injured innocence about the whole thing. But this video makes it clear that at street level, the public know the law better than their blue serge servants.
The slavering hacks of Wapping have been in evidence almost as much as the actual protesters; nothing like the papparazzi out for your blood to make the ACPO-conscious police commanders get careful. Getting your name on an operation to violently assault pregnant women with batons may be good for your standing among the ACPO themselves, but will attract the kind of press they can’t afford to have attached to one of their members. Goodbye to that comfortable quango post when you retire.
Signal and Noise
All of this hoo-ha does have downsides, though. The mainstream media coverage of this event has been similar to the pre-match coverage of West Ham vs. Millwall. It’s all been about the Police versus the Trustafarian Horde, and has almost entirely overshadowed what the Climate Campers are actually there for. But people are starting to notice: or at least, Liz Stephens has.
There was a palpable sense of expectation – would this be another G20? Would there be carnage, kettling and photogenic ‘clashes’ between the police and activists? At one stage an activist walked up to two policemen and took a photo of them at close range with her camera phone. The mob of photographers clamoured to the scene hoping for a good baton-to-the-head shot. The policeman smiled and then checked his mobile phone for Twitter updates for the umpteenth time. There was an audible mew of anticlimax.
We expected anarchy. What we got was a bunch of idealistic, eloquent, mostly young people with a penchant for handicrafts and an impressive understanding of global economics.
The real story is that a couple of thousand people meet up for a few days once a year to organise debate on the problems and solutions of climate change – and everyone who doesn’t wish them violence is welcome to participate. They take time off work (yes, every protester I spoke to was either gainfully employed or studying – these are taxpayers, voters, citizens) to attend, many of them spending their spare time in the other 51 weeks of the year to plan the event. The truth may not be ‘sexy’ but Climate Camp has succeeded in putting the issue of climate change squarely on the front pages by courting the media focus on the G20 policing controversy and turning it to their advantage.
We’re better than them at getting the word out. We’re right. And we’re getting more numerous every month. The cohorts that march behind mine are overwhelmingly conscious of the environmental responsibilities implied by being a species of engineers and farmers. They are courageous about protest, and committed to their values. And they’re younger than us; these people will be earning and saving and showing up to make decisions when we are retired or dead, and hoping they can earn enough to support us in our senescence.
This is how you make a revolution; one generation at a time. As long as the cohort a decade younger than me are more aware, more involved, more independent of the Great Machine than my generation were, then we have hope. I have heard us called traitors, because we reject the sacrifice of free will and human dignity on the altar of capital accumulation: and yet it is we who prosper, which treason never does.