Since my brush with the Commons Five last year, I have followed the movements of similar young campaigners, reading about the many protests and projects they get involved with.
Climate Camp hit the headlines last week, when hundreds of environmental activists “swooped” on Blackheath from meeting points across Central London. The site was chosen for its legacy; notably it was the location for the Peasants Revolt of 1381. The heath also provides a poignant view over The City, where buildings making crucial climate decisions, such as Canary Wharf and The Gherkin, can be seen.
On Saturday, I jumped at the chance to go and have a look at Climate Camp (officially, Camp for Climate Action) for myself. I wanted to know what was going on there, and didn’t have a clue what to expect. Would groups of environmental protesters be gathered round shouting, holding up boards with angry messages on? Would it be a huge sit-in, with campaigners lazing around in the sun, discussing what they each do to help the planet? After the drama of the “swooping” and the secret location of the camp, press coverage had become very sparse, with only the Guardian giving updates of activity down at Blackheath. The questions rolling in my head certainly needed to be answered.
Approaching the Camp, I was unsure as to whether visitors were even allowed on site. Campers had decorated the perimeter fence with bold slogans, bright coloured climate warnings and messages to multimillion pound companies. Over the entrance, a banner read “Capitalism is Crisis” and campers gathered on hay bales, welcoming visitors. As Climate Rush campaigner Tamsin Omond wrote in the Standard, “The idea is that you join in.”
We were directed to a site map, and given a guide to the camp – which included an itinerary of every single event planned for the week. The first, and lasting, impression we all got from the camp was the huge amount of things there were to do there. There were workshops giving campers a chance to share stories, swap tips about reducing carbon footprints, debate issues such as the Copenhagen summit, learn about how to stage a protest, and get multimedia training in how to set up a camera on a tripod. As well as all that, there was evening entertainment, huge communal meals, yoga classes and morning camp meetings. The camp also catered well for children, offering activities such as bread-making, arts and games.
The whole camp worked on a voluntary rota, with a jobs board at the front of the site and people putting themselves forward every day for different roles, included serving dinner and cleaning the toilets.
As we wandered round the bright coloured tents, I felt as if we had stumbled upon a self-sufficient community. Everything within the camp was built all together and there was a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere about the place. Not quite the violent Climate Camp the Daily Mail predicted, eh?
I saw Leila Deen, the campaigner who threw green custard in Lord Mandleson’s face earlier this year, enjoying herself around the camp. We were offered fruit smoothies – which had been made by cycle-powered blenders, and invited to sit in on some of the workshops. I chose ‘How to Communicate Climate Science’ which was a brilliant back to basics chat by two young guys, explaining the basics behind climate change. Some of the workshops were a bit more heated, but the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere meant you could chop and change between tipis.
There didn’t seem to be much police presence, apart from two officers who did quiet a lap around the perimeter of the camp in the late afternoon. The police had set up a cherry picker with CCTV to watch over the camp. One commentator on Twitter, denny, said: “Wondering how @CO11MetPolice reconcile the phrase ‘neighbourhood style policing’ with spotlights and CCTV on a cherry picker. #ClimateCamp”
For me, Climate Camp was hugely inspiring. Not only has the camp proved that you don’t need to make a huge song and dance to get people talking about an issue, (although a few protesters have been up to some antics today around London) but it also proves that people can get along living in a simple, low-carbon lifestyle. The main focus of the camp was educational, and it wasn’t organised to cause mayhem and disruption.
As we left the camp before sunset on Saturday night, I looked back at the large-scale police CCTV watching the camp prepare their dinner, and couldn’t help but feel like the campaigners were sticking two fingers up back.