Social Change and Lifestyle Change – The Camp for Climate Action 2007
We hope the Camp will be many things for many people. An opportunity to explore what the problems are, and the changes and challenges we face; to show us examples of how some people are already answering those challenges; to gain the skills we need as we prepare for a future that burns less energy; to join forces with Heathrow residents fighting the third runway; and to take direct action to turn things round, and create lasting communities of resistance.”
This was the summary of intent as stated in the programme booklet for this year’s Camp for Climate Action that took place on a squatted site near Heathrow Airport from the 14th-21st August. With an intense preparation and set up, then a full on week of discussion and action, and no doubt a fair bit of aftermath to come, as well as the multitude of experiences had and opinions formed about what happened, we couldn’t do any justice to it in such a short report and so soon after. But we’ve come away feeling partly excited and empowered, but also in no small part depressed and annoyed so thought it was important to record our thoughts of the event..
Following on from the Climate Camp 2006 near Drax power station in Yorkshire, which to some felt like a failure on many levels. Preparations for this year’s Camp unexpectedly received a huge boost after the ‘target area’ was announced as Heathrow airport. Its planned expansion would see an entire village wiped out and is facing strong local resistance. The British Airport Authority (BAA) attempted to gain a ridiculous injunction against anyone who could possibly protest trying to ban them from anywhere near them which included members of the National Trust or the RSPB! This failed and the camp went ahead, however with a lot more media coverage than it could have hoped for.
So, what happened?
The site was occupied in an incredibly complicated operation involving various meet-ups and over 100 people on the evening of Saturday 11th. Two massive tripods were set up to defend it, and people immediately set about erecting marquees, establishing a boundary, and keeping the police off when they arrived. 1,800 officers including the Met had been deployed to police the camp and of course weren’t terribly happy. Over the next few days they did all they could to harass the camp and its visitors, from blocking vehicle access so that everything from shit filled bins to marquees had to be manually carried on and off site, to hundreds of stops and searches, random bits of violence and provocation, erecting giant floodlights around the camp, to petty fines (80 quid for peeing in a hedge!) and arrests (for possessing a young person’s railcard and not being all that young!), as well as insisting on a constant police presence of four patrolling officers on the camp.
Numbers swelled nevertheless, with an ‘official’ opening on Tuesday the 14th. That evening, a large group of police entered the site but were soon surrounded and successfully forced off by an even larger group of campgoers in a great show of collective power. If this hadn’t have happened, imagine how many more times police would have felt free to come onto the camp?
The camp set up included masses of infrastructure, with compost loos, legal support, meditation, well-being, welcome tent, indymedia space and many other tents. The camp was also divided into neighbourhoods, e.g. South Coast or Scotland, each with their own kitchen, work rotas and meetings.
Tuesday to Friday was filled with a busy workshop programme, as well as larger ‘plenaries’, neighbourhood meetings and site wide meetings. There were also meetings to decide on, and plan, the ‘mass direct action’ scheduled for Sunday. A bar and some bands in the massive main marquee entertained, while the site got rained on and turned muddy and horrible, and drunk idiots shouted and shat their pants, the worst of whom got chucked off the camp.
Smaller and larger actions happened throughout. On Wednesday, people had a protest in support of locals against the proposed third runway (but mostly got penned in by cops). Thursday saw groups of people locking on and blockading at two private airports at Biggin Hill and Farnborough, and on Friday there were blockades of the Department of Transport offices and an occupation of XL airways, a private charter company who have been involved in deportations. The doors of six London travel agencies were also chained shut and plastered with signs saying ‘Closed, gone to the Climate Camp’. On Friday and Saturday, some campers went to support a picket of warehouse staff for a Japanese freight company at Heathrow, Nippon Express, who are on strike against proposed changes in their contracts that would seriously effect their pay and holiday time.
On Saturday the Carmel Agrexco depot in Hayes was occupied, an Israeli state owned company involved in trade of products from illegal settlements in Palestine, targeted here also for their use of air freighting. six people were arrested for burglary, or theft, and released from custody clad in paper suits and plimsolls, with their clothes kept for identification purposes! Meanwhile, children and their parents gathered at Heathrow’s World Freight Centre to blockade its access road to protest food miles.
Sunday was the much anticipated ‘day of mass action’, that in the end neither involved bomb hoaxes nor disruption of the actual airport in any way, as the press was making out beforehand. Various blocks of people left site – a local residents and kids march, groups of people off to mark out the proposed runway site, and others intent on reaching BAA through fields and police lines, whilst the Clowns (protestors who dress up as, yes, clowns and then do strange irritating voices and silly actions) took the bus! A blockade was eventually established in the BAA offices car park and held for 24 hours until the next day with rotating attendance, succeeding in stopping work at the building on Monday. Meanwhile the BA World Cargo terminal shed was blockaded by eight people in lock on tubes.
Monday also saw lots of decentralised actions all over the country – with blockades at Sizewell nuclear power station, BP head offices in London, and Bridgepoint Capital (who own Leeds airport) in London. People dressed up as ‘red herrings’ demonstrated at carbon offset companies in Oxford and London to highlight the farce of this new profiteering industry. The site of a 4th runway was marked out by more Clowns in the garden of Lord Soley, campaign director for Future Heathrow, an alliance supporting the airport’s expansion. Elsewhere, the Brecon pipeline construction in Wales was sabotaged during the night as part of the actions around climate change. 11 machines were trashed and the pipeline itself damaged. The camp started tatting down, but there still were small demonstrations on Tuesday at Harmondsworth detention centre (down the road from Heathrow) to highlight the connection between climate change and migration, as well as Stanstead airport.
Altogether we’re glad we went and had this experience. But this movement for climate action has shown itself to occasionally suffer from dodgy internal politics, and is constantly in danger of losing its potential radical challenge. Climate change is one of the scariest things happening right now. The capitalist world won’t be able to ignore this crisis, but it doesn’t mean for a second that the world we may dream of is any closer. If we have any hope for radical social and lifestyle change we need to be very clear about where we’re coming from, and where we want to go.
- It was definitely better than last year’s camp. Though it would have been difficult to be worse!
- For once, people seemed to succeed in pushing fairly radical messages in the mainstream media. Kudos to the media team, who for the most part didn’t get too involved in accusations of disrupting people’s holidays, but spoke clearly about the unending growth of capitalism and its incompatibility with halting climate change as well as the need for direct action. Much of the press coverage was surprisingly positive.
- The programme booklet contained some decent information and analysis, down to the admission that this is a class struggle, since those worse effected by climate change will be the global poor, and that it’s not up to us to advocate the fact that climate change is happening or that we need to curb carbon emissions, but to advocate a different world. Last year’s programme booklet culminated in the advice to change your lightbulbs and do some composting.
- The location – right by Heathrow (though not ideal for camping – those planes are loud and constant!) and in the area of the third runway, with massive local support and a broad appeal both of which led to a good turnout of ‘normal’ people (i.e. not just students, campaigners and crusties), many must have been radicalised during the week through the actions and the police harassment.
- While numbers were nowhere near 2,000 or whatever people expected, considering the weather and the general state of confrontational politics in Britain the turnout was pretty good.
- A lot of the actions were inspiring – e.g the strike solidarity, the Biggin Hill blockade, and breaking through multiple police lines and fences on Sunday. My favourite was on early Sunday morning when three teenage girls scaled a structure opposite the BAA at the Heathrow exhibition centre for a banner drop reading ‘Make planes history’ – complete with circled A and on their own initiative. They managed to hold their blockade all day, and with help from the local security, didn’t even get arrested.
- TheI spy stop and search which the legal observers handed out. You got extra points for not giving your name, or getting a police officer to caution you in Welsh.
- Thousands of flyers and posters were printed that had some supposedly ironic stuff about the camp being a muddy field and the slogan ‘You are not fucked’ – what planet do the designers live on??? They were possibly the most off putting flyers ever.
- Despite the radical content of the programme booklet, the workshops seemed to mostly consist of talks by liberal campaign groups or ‘experts’, with very little in the way of opportunities for radical analysis or interesting skillsharing. An opportunity was also missed by scheduling Saturday for action preparation, without considering what day-trippers – surely most of which would come on the Saturday – would benefit from. Most of the trainings and action meetings would be alienating to any people not previously involved.
- The Independent may have called it “a surreal splicing of Glastonbury, science seminar and the civil rights movement”, but to me it was a splicing of liberal politics, superorganised-ness, hippie shit, lairy drunks, anarcho posturing, police state, and middle class meeting mania. Or something like that. It did feel at times like a crap festival. Mud, munters and a dominant tatty and colourful hippie aesthetic that just isn’t to my liking made me really long for a lone wooden cabin far far from it all.
- There were just too many media spectacle marches around or performances on the camp (my least favourite being three people dressed as monks doing ‘praise’ to BAA that just looked weird if you didn’t get the irony). On Sunday an orchestrated march around the site involved people holding up government reports with a banner proclaiming, ‘We are armed.. only with peer reviewed science’ which would have been really funny if it hadn’t actually been meant seriously.
- The processes for the action planning seemed to be a bit fucked, echoing last year’s mess (see LH #14). For one, the mass meetings – despite many democratic pretensions – were and by their very nature will always be dominated by a certain type of people who are generally educated, confident in the correctness of their ideas, middle class, and stubborn! Not to mention that five days was a long time to come up with a simple plan, which exhausted and frustrated many. And in the end it was meaningless, since some people in the London neighbourhood pulled out at the last minute, but having a big influence on others led to the entire plan being changed. Finding consensus can often just serve as a mask for either legitimising what a small co-ordinated group wants to do, or a power struggle between a few different groups or individuals. We need to be much more open and clear about this and look for ways around it – sometimes letting go of the holy cow of consensus in mass situations could be quite liberating.
- The action training, then forming marches to leave for the BAA felt a bit like being in kindergarten. Self important ‘organisers’ organised us to the point of ridiculousness. It’s degrading and the opposite of empowering to be handed your props and then shepharded into your place in line and then shouted at about how we all are feeling now and what we’re going to do in a minute. Ultimately we can and need to rely on our own judgement and common sense.
- The over the top policing definitely sucked, but it was also sad to see people engaging with and submitting to it, for example happily giving their details or joking with the cops while being blatantly harassed. Also, there was a constant police presence of four officers on site which was negotiated as a compromise on the Monday before it opened. It didn’t feel necessary, especially as more and more people arrived on site, and it should have been opened up for discussion and been challenged, but wasn’t.
- Big shields were constructed for the Sunday to help deal with the riot police, which were very useful, but the pictures chosen for them were of people ‘from the global south’ – which left a bad taste in my mouth as white middle class kids held them up in front of them to shield themselves from police truncheons.
- It seemed like a lot of people at the camp seemed to be placing faith in our movement – or this one week of climate camp – being able to stop climate change. We really need to be more realistic (which doesn’t mean being more compromising it means being more demanding)!
More information: www.climatecamp.org.uk