Friday, 24 August 2007

On empowerment and superglue

So now the action is over, the media furore has calmed down and the camp has been packed away - was it all worth it? George Monbiot called it “the most democratic and best organised protest I've witnessed” and it certainly was very well organised – so much for the old myth that the idea of anarchist organisation is oxymoronic. Yet although there was undoubtedly a strong anarchist tendency at the camp, and one which brought with it some of the camp’s defining features such as consensus-based decision making, the climate camp’s political make-up was both wider and more rooted in the politics of today than this.

For Plane Stupid’s Joss Garman, the camp represented both a resurgence of environmental activism of the kind which stopped Thatcher’s road-building programme, and an attempt to find ways of overcoming the fundamental sense of disempowerment which has affected the anti-war generation. Whilst still small in absolute terms (about 1500 at its highest point, though maybe more over the whole week) the camp may yet prove to be an inspiration for the future.

One disagreement I do have with George Monbiot is when he says that “the media strategy was hopeless.” Its true that “sympathetic journalists were excluded, while unsympathetic journalists went undercover and stayed in the camp for as long as they wanted” but given the media interest, to have had an open door policy would have has the camp crawling with journalists, at least at times of high interest. Lessons do need to be learned, and whilst some of the spokespeople were very good, others needed some more media training – but overall I thought the media were managed pretty well given the circumstances.

The direct action that happened during the week was also central to the camp. Activists targeted the Department for Transport, two private airports, a barge carrying an Airbus wing, BP and of course BAA, which was the camp’s mass direct action. The DfT and BP actions both embraced what is fast becoming the tool of choice of today’s direct action protester – superglue. Supergluing oneself to the entrance of a target building is, it seems, both easy and effective, though it does leave you open to charges of criminal damage…

In perhaps the most entertaining of actions, Leeds activists occupied the offices of Brigdepoint Capital, the private equity firm which owns Leeds-Bradford airport, wearing flat caps and giving out Yorkshire puddings to staff as they detailed their opposition to expansion plans. One of their banners read ‘Yorkshire’s floodin’, yer daft pudding.’

If I’d been involved in the planning of the camp, I’m sure I would have argued for doing some things differently, but overall I’d say being there was both inspiring and empowering, and that’s never a bad thing when you’re involved in the difficult task of trying to change the world.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Media scrum

In order to ensure that the climate camp wasn't constantly crawling with journalists, and in an attempt to prevent misrepresentation (some hope!), journalists were only allowed into the camp at certain times. This picture, which shows one of the media team laying down the rules before the journalists go in, is a good illustration of just how many of them there were...

Friday, 17 August 2007

Friday, and the camp has grown

I'm typing this post from the Indymedia tent, which has computers and internet facilities for people reporting from the camp - all using open source software and powered by solar panels and a wind turbine of course. There's a big meeting going on in the main marquee about the action which will take place on Sunday and Monday so I'm taking the time to catch up on blogging duties!

I've just finished leading a workshop on the climate change bill which is due to go through Parliament in the next session. I and James from People and Planet stepped in to run this at the last minute when the original organisers couldn't make it. More than fifty people turned up, which shows that despite the focus here on direct action, those at the camp are both diverse, and recognise the need for a diversity of tactics in fighting climate change.

In general the workshops I've been in have been much bigger today than on Wednesday when I did my first workshop, simply because of the numbers of new people that have arrived since. Some of the media made a point of saying on Tuesday that numbers were below the 1,500 expected, but I don't think anyone expected that number to turn up for the whole week. As more and more people arrive the closer we get to the weekend, I'm confident we'll reach 1,500, although since there's no register of campers, its hard to tell.

Anyway, WDM's boarding card-style action postcard has gone down well here too - it has been particularly useful for a group doing street theatre; people who arrived this morning were handed the postcard by the group who were dressed as air hostesses (Brighton WDM did something similar last month).

Whilst the activity at the camp has focussed around workshops for the last three days, there's been direct action taking place elsewhere. On Thursday activists blocked the entrances to two private airports, saying that the use of private jets was an insult to those of us trying to reduce our carbon footprints. Then today nine people superglued themselves to the Department for Transport, remaining there for two hours until they were removed. Whilst some in government are making noises about reducing carbon emissions, the DfT doesn't seem to have got the message, and is planning for a doubling of aviation by 2020 and a trebling by 2050. Its also putting massive resources into motorway widening projects, which past experience has shown simply leads to increases in traffic using those roads. Its this mismatch between government noise and action on climate change which is one of the key messages the climate camp is trying to get across.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

My first day at the camp

So the climate camp started earlier than expected with 150 advance campers starting the setting up process on Saturday night to ensure the police didn't try and stop it happening. The scheduled workshops started as planned today though, and I was first up at 10.30 with WDM's workshop on 'Climate change and global justice'. I wanted to cover not just general issues of injustice in responsibility for climate change, which is at the heart of our campaign, but also cater to what I expected to be a fairly knowledgeable audience with the links between climate change and corporate globalisation.

These can be seen most clearly in three of the 'solutions' to climate change currently being pushed by corporations - expansion of biofuels, carbon offsetting and carbon trading. This wider discussion went down well, with someone from Biofuelwatch contributing to the discussion.

The workshop took place in one of the tents in the centre of the camp, where various activities from discussions on aviation and climate change to practical bicycle workshops were and are happening. Around these are the 'barrios'. In order to organise the camp efficiently and ensure campers are fed and looked after, each area of the country has its own barrio. A large tent with cooking facilities fronts up an area behind where people from that barrio are camping. Everyone takes turns to cook collectively and barrio meetings take place every morning.

It all seems to work very well, and I had an excellent lunch in the London barrio. It was here that I got talking to a member of the media team who told me that they've been overwhelmed with media requests for interviews. So as the journalists don't make a nuisance of themselves, they're allowed into the camp only at certain times, and always accompanied my the media team. Of course they can do interviews outside the camp, and on Sipson Lane where the camp is, there appears to be more media vehicles than there are police. Some are more sympathetic than others, but London's notorious Evening Standard (owned by the Daily Mail group) appears to have resorted to simply making things up.

Its at times like these that Indymedia comes into its own, and true to form they've got a whole section devoted to coverage of the climate camp. You could do far worse if you want to follow events during the next few days. Of course, the other option is to come on down! Workshops and entertainment is planned through to Saturday and there's even a bar in the evenings. If camping isn't your thing, why not come down for the day? Check out the timetable of events on the Climate Camp website.

Images from the Climate Camp

(click to see a larger version of the image) Climate Camp: no airport expansion banner over bikes and marquees. Activists attended workshops run by the World Development Movement today.

World Development Movement workshops at the Climate Camp

Climate change and global justice
Wednesday, 10.30am, Small is Beautiful

Climate change has been caused by the emissions of the rich world, but will affect the developing world most. Come and discuss fighting climate change as a global justice issue, the links between climate change and corporate globalisation, and whether carbon offsetting and biofuel use are really a route to development for poor countries.

Dying on a jet plane: Climate change, aviation and development
Wednesday, 12noon, Main marquee
Saturday, 2pm, Small is Beautiful

Aviation is the fastest growing source of the UK’s carbon emissions and already contributes nearly 13 per cent of the climate damage we cause. Yet it is effectively subsidised by a
government which is committed to massive aviation expansion. Come and explore how to counter the industry’'s myths about itself, and what we can do to curb the growth in flying.

The World Development Movement campaigns for justice for the world’'s poor. Find out more at

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

That injunction

So Heathrow owners BAA gave the Camp for Climate Action loads of free publicity by trying to get an injunction to stop it, but did they actually achieve anything? Not really. Despite early reports in the press notching up a BAA victory, they got very little of what they wanted.

The final injunction covered none of the groups in Airportwatch (of which WDM is one) which together have around 5 million members. Only direct action group Plane Stupid is named in an injunction which is civil and not criminal, gives the police no new powers of arrest, and covers only a very limited geographical area which doesn't include the Camp itself.

So there's nothing to stop you coming down and joining WDM's workshop at 10.30 on Wednesday morning! We're going to be talking about climate change as a global justice issue, highlighting the inequalities in emissions between rich and poor countries, and also looking at some of the 'solutions' to climate change, such as widespread use of biofuels, which as well as being dubious as solutions will also impact very badly on the world's poor. See you there.