Inside the London Climate Camp (Borrowed Post)

Post copied from my friend Ruth Cape’s blog 

Climate Camp in the City – A view from inside

Weaving through the concrete maze of London city, the sun beamed down and glanced off our watches as we approached the crisp, glassy sheen of the European Climate Exchange offices. Six of us hung back on a corner and waited for the ‘swoop’. The odd badly ‘dressed down’ business man walked briskly by and the street was quiet and warm. The clock hand ticked to 12.30. We began to move off and the air rushed with excitement. Suddenly swarms of people emerged from the woodwork. Within seconds the street was awash with colour, energy and purpose which turned the corner and flowed into Bishopsgate. A moment of questioning glances. Calls of ‘tents!’. Bright, canvass molehills sprung up among the crowd. One collective effort and the camp was established.
Within half an hour the place was transformed. A positive space created from and emanating an intense and positive energy. Hope, peace, solidarity. Banners popped up, chalk decorated the pavement, messages shouted from tents: “Another world is possible” “Be the change you want to see” “Live simply so others can simply live” “Social change not climate change”. A buzz whipped through the crowd to the beat of the samba drums. People danced, sang and shared their care for each other and the world. Workers watched from above, peering from behind dark windows. Down below multi-coloured windmills whirled, poets recited, friends were met and made and the message was strong. Money cannot make the world go round. Climate change is happening; it’s devastating consequences will affect us all and are already affecting so many. Priorities need to be changed and real action needs to be taken.

I remember watching as a couple of policemen crossed to the other side of the street  – they picked their way between tents, rugs and people and their apparent respect towards the space and what was within it felt like a significant gesture. Sadly this wasn’t to be the lasting image of our guardians of law and order.

The sun began to lower and as the air became cooler, a fresh chill of uncertainty crackled through the camp. Police lines thickened and demonstrators held up their hands in a gesture of peace and non-violence. Soon it was clear that access both in and out of the camp was blocked. Suddenly our freedom and control was snatched away and as soon as it became a ‘them and us’ conflict, heightened emotions began to surface. Two completely incompatible sets of people were suddenly pitched against each other and with group mentality, on both sides, it’s near impossible to see the individual spirit of any person on the ‘other’ side.  They work top-down and solid; one command fits all with no questions asked. We work by consensus; all opinions are taken into account and a decision is reached collectively. These systems cannot coexist so when it becomes a struggle of one against the other, it is not a fair fight. The former will always hold the advantage of being quick and impenetrable. 

The charged up policemen (and women) prioritised asserting their own power over guarding the calm and non-confrontational atmosphere of the camp. They exuded the desperate feeling of a need to ‘save face’; to appear to be ‘keeping things under control’ when in fact there is no doubt that under their intimidation and pressure, fear and panic were planted and exacerbated. The atmosphere very tangibly changed.  I witnessed people who I know to be calm, rational and honest being hit with batons, thrown against walls, dragged, laughed at and utterly demeaned. When attempting to find out the details of a policeman who had acted completely inappropriately, a demonstrator was chased with a baton. Where is the humanity in all of this? Where is the respect for fellow humans? How can people end up with such power and arrogance that they can degrade and abuse others and not be held accountable? As the police begun to cut away and wheel off inobstructive bicycles, they seemed to be thriving on committing crimes that no citizen out with ‘the force’ could get away with. It worries me that these people who did not act responsibly or honourably are supposed to be the upholders of justice, safety and, essentially, peace. 

Dusk deepened into night and though the camp strove on – with the help of a ceilidh – confidence waned and, with police now allowing people to leave, numbers dwindled. The walls of police on either side moved in and riot police wavered on the edges. With demonstrators feeling smothered by confusion and apprehension, it is hard to keep the original objectives in mind. It felt ironic that we are trying to fight for something which affects us all – even those making it difficult for us to be heard. We are calling to the world’s leaders to take sufficient and responsible action on climate change. They are accountable to us; this message which is about bringing peace and safety to the world and the world’s people should not be silenced.

Though there were strong feelings that we should stay, it became clear that the camp was not going to make it through the night. However reluctant to go on their terms, I packed up my tent and made the decision to leave. As we walked out, the line of police jeered sarcastic comments with the artificial smugness that comes with winning a game by cheating and force. I could not look at them but was determined to keep my head held high. They had no right to turn it in to a walk of shame. As peaceful demonstrators we know that there is no pride or value in goading the police. But they goad us. Who should be ashamed?

As the bitter icing on the cake of frustration and disillusionment towards the system that rules us, I met a girl wandering the streets in search of somewhere to safely spend the night after being turned away at the train station. Protesters, apparently, were not allowed on the train and – identifiable by a splash of face paint and a flower in her hair – she was refused her passage home. I cannot understand how leaving a young woman alone at 3am in the centre of London with nowhere to go can be justified.

Despite the unnecessary overreaction and disappointing aggression shown by the police, the action – overall – was a positive one. We remained peaceful and the aim remains strong. And what have I taken away from the experience? It is so important to stand up for what you believe in. We should all be fighting for what we think is right for the world and stay positive and strong in the face of injustice. Question. Don’t be complacent. Don’t just accept that the way things happen now is the way they should or always will happen. 

Have a vision. Stay hopeful. Get active.


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