The real point of Climate Camp


8:06 am - August 30th 2009

by Chris Naden    


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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”, political systems for 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’ve got camera-phones that do the internet. We’ve even got, loath as I am to provide it any accolades, Twitter. We can now not only prove it when the police commit criminal acts, we can get the word out so fast their spin teams can’t keep their lies straight. “A member of the public disguised as a police officer killed Mr. Tomlinson? Really, Inspector?”

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 we all will be saying in 20 years.

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.

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) […] 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.

Culpability Redux
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:

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.

Revolution
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.

Rational, evidentiary policies and a perception of ourselves as a responsible, rather than an imperial, species will keep spreading as education levels rise across society. And if that happens, then soon, none will dare call independent thought and grass-roots protest “treason”.

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About the author
Chris Naden is a real ale landlord, a Druid and a great fan of Spider Robinson. He is committed to making Britain better by persuasion, education and political action.
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Reader comments


”The mainstream media coverage of this event has been similar to the pre-match coverage of West Ham vs. Millwall.”

Didn’t the whole question of where the camp would be help feed this? And wasn’t this media speculation and comment sought and ramped up by way in which ”the swoop” was talked about and conducted?

I understand that the reaction of the police couldn’t be known. Maybe they would try to stifle the whole thing even if thay had known it was to be on Blackheath.

But the way it was carried out that first morning wasn’t something I would have felt inclined to go on. (Though I’m going to go over for a second time this afternoon).

Didn’t the whole question of where the camp would be help feed this?

No.

And wasn’t this media speculation and comment sought and ramped up by way in which ”the swoop” was talked about and conducted?

No.

I understand that the reaction of the police couldn’t be known. Maybe they would try to stifle the whole thing even if thay had known it was to be on Blackheath.

The reason for the method used by CC to set up camps is that police response has consistently in the past been violent, immediate, and in force. The idea is that if they can stop the camp setting up, they will; the underlying rationale of protest policing since 1984 has been to prevent protest, not secure it. CC came up with an effective way of circumventing this counter-democratic policy; tell them you’re going to protest but don’t tell them where. Basic tactics, really.

It’s about less of the innocent people being hit with sticks. It’s not about the media, at that stage. It’s about the media once activists are campaigning and debating and making beauty in public. Then it’s about attention. To begin with, it’s about not getting beaten up by paramilitary forces in the employ of the government.

This particular camp is unusual. After the well-documented and much discussed assault on a peaceful camp in April, the media has tried to make the only story associated with CC the one about “Will the police do them in again?” A useful story, and one we needed the media for. Last I looked the police hadn’t hospitalised anyone yet; that is entirely due to them knowing they’re being watched, and being watched by big-budget media as well as the potential victims.

But the risk, discussed in advance by those involved, has been that the media focusing on what they hope will be another disaster tends to occlude the message; noise interfering with signal. So those of us who’re commentating on the subject needed to correct the media mirror which had been set up, diverting all attention away from the aim of the protest. Liz Stephens handled the issue very well.

Climate Camp, at the moment, is building political and public capital. Get known; get recognised, become a household name. That’s how you get a seat at the table in a representative democracy They’re finally getting it, because (like MLK and Gandhi) the forces of order just couldn’t resist fucking up some peaceniks and then realised they’d done it live on TV. No way you come out well when your coppers are being compared to the police in China, by third party international commentators.

For the first time, we had better communications geeks on our side than they did on theirs. That’s not going to change any time soon, either. There’s more of us, and we’re younger, and thus better at using the multi-media environment and the camera phone revolution to our advantage.

“Ever wondered why it’s not called a revolution?”

I thought the difference between a revolt and a revolution was that a revolt is invariably crushed, whereas a revolution is a revolt that succeeds. At least to begin with.

Heresiarch @3:

Yes, that’s what I just said.

Revolts are what happen when the people brave enough to speak up don’t get popular support. Revolutions are what happen when they do. Revolts happen for a few days in one place. Revolutions happen for a couple of generations, all over the place.

And wasn’t this media speculation and comment sought and ramped up by way in which ”the swoop” was talked about and conducted?

The swoops were organised so that Climate Campers weren’t all in one place to be kettled, while it was announced where climate camp was going to be.

And it was announced like that so the police could not stop it from happening.

John Q, you appear to be investing the term “revolution” with a moral significance. But revolutions can be horrible as well as positive, regressive as well as progressive, and they usually turn sour. France, Russia, Iran…

Though the American revolution turned out all right, I suppose.

More seriously:

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”, political systems for self-determination.

That kind of thing probably sounds great after a few too many pints of your famous real ales, but what are you actually suggesting? That we replace the democratic process? It’s a big step from collective action – in a particular direction – than to establishing “direct” political systems. Movements like that, if they achieve success, invariably turn into dictatorships. The system we have is compromised and far from perfect, but its slowness when bringing about radical change is actually its greatest strength. We interfere with it at our peril. In fact, it’s when Parliament fails to act as a brake on action that we end up with ill-thought-through, dangerous and illiberal laws.

I’m guessing – though you’re in a much better position to know – that there’s a hard core of anarchists involved in the Climate Camp who really do want to radically change society, and a majority who care about the planet but would prefer to persuade rather than overturn the system. It’s because of the “trustafarian” dimension to which you refer that the police are holding back: they know the Climate Camp is not really a challenge to the social order. And as your movement grows, it becomes more mainstream; or rather, to put it the other way around, it is because of the mainstreaming of green issues that the Camp exists at all. It’s swimming ahead of the tide rather than against it. Its primary effect will be to give politicians cover, both because they can present themselves as less radical than those hippies, and also because the media-friendly antics of the happy campers themselves is something they will want to embrace.

By the next Camp, if not this one, David Cameron will be keen to show his face in your tent.

If you really were a threat to Them, you wouldn’t have been tolerated. You know that?

Damp squib is what all this has/is/will be , a temporary fantasyland for white well to do middle and upper class types.

Excellent post cheers

I went there today and sat in at a couple of sessions inside the tents and it was very enjoyable and interesting. One talk was about sustainable green development with facts and figures being discussed about how much energy and CO2 was used and put out in the construction of roads and buildings – the reuse of building materials like concrete after buildings were demolished and new ones put in their place. Whether intense urbanisation could be more green actually than spread out suburban or rural living etc.

Another one I caught a bit of was ”Muslims and the climate camp movement: values and hopes”.
Again, it was very interesting and lively, and I enjoyed being there enough to make me want to go over there again before it finishes.

On a slightly negative note though, it looks like the ”climate camp movement” is a hippy sect. I don’t mean that to be too derogatory. I like those people.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of hippydom. It has a lot of appeal and great charm.
And four young anarchists I chatted to today were the nicest people I’ve met for ages.

But the movement (if that’s what you call it) has a limited appeal and suffers from (in my opinion) being too earnest and pure … or even fundamentalist you could say.

The way it’s set it self up has also set up barriers between itself and the wider population. I completely disagree with it’s ”direct action” ethos, and think that activities like going into the City of London and preforming stunts around the stock exchange are silly.
The police violence at the G20 demonstration was completely out of order and it is right for them to be condemned for it. But I feel that the climate camp movement also courts the drama and media attention that results from its run-ins with the police, as without it there is no coverage.

So the camp has to be near central London so that people can go out every day and pull off these actions that it hopes will ”raise awareness” or whatever.
I say forget that stuff, and if you want to hold climate camps, there’s a hundred places you can hold them without coming into confrontation with the police.
I’m sure the guy who owns the site where the Glastonbury festival is held would be more than willing to host a climate camp on his land. No need to antagonise the police, just have the camps without the contentiousness.

That’s the main thing that puts me off the movement. The direct action thing.
I think it’s daft.

“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”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Love it.

You almost made it sound as though the solutions put forward by this random collection of socialists/greens/liberals/anti-capitalist loons (e.g. eliminate the nuclear and coal industry right now) are actually sensible and evidence-based.

Good one.

Shorter LPRAT: “La la la I can’t hear you!”

@9 Damon. Maybe you’d be more comfortable joining your local branch of Friends of the Earth, or perhaps of the Liberal Democrats. Climate Camp is not for everyone and if non-violent direct action is not your bag, then there’s a legion of other organisations working on climate change in the way that you propose.

What is daft about your post is you calling those who are working on direct action ‘daft’. Nobody is making you agree with it but direct action is the irreducible core of what Climate Camp is for. It’s as absurd as you asking Greenpeace to cease direct action in order to soothe your sensibilities.

I disagree with you as well Damon.

Although I am not into direct action anymore myself anymore these days I can see that a lot of these earnest fundamentalists feel they have to highlight the actions of Shell/BP etc and are teaching each other the rudiments and tactics of mass action blatantly and in great detail and the chief of Police up there says

“I hope Climate Camp is sucessful”.

. Everyone knows things have to change, and these actions are not focused on the Police, yet it is the Police who will inevitably have to get in the way, just not this time.

No one is pure up there, to live in todays society with ideals I am sure people are aware that they have to compromise, but as energy and resources become more scarce it will only become more apparent that some of these happy people might have the right idea. They are teaching each other to push and I don’t agree that they are setting themselves up barriers with the wider population. From what I saw the guided tours of the climate camp which set off three or four times a day were full of people from a more mainstream lifestyle who were interested and accomodated.

Of course the majority are hippies and if you aren’t a hippy its probably easy to feel as if you are on the outside. When I hang out in “straight” society I feel like I am on the outside sometimes and feel like withdrawing, but when I challenge those feelings in myself and talk to people more often than not I find my judgements are shattered in a spectacular manner.

I think especially in London it is hard for us to see through each others uniforms but it is always worth giving it a go.

Heresiarch @6:

John Q, you appear to be investing the term “revolution” with a moral significance. But revolutions can be horrible as well as positive, regressive as well as progressive, and they usually turn sour. France, Russia, Iran…

Bizarrely, I don’t mean that by it at all. I used it as a functional term; actual, rather than cosmetic, socio-political change. One can refer to the slow introduction of quasi-universal suffrage as a revolution; and that is the sense I am using here. I happen to have made a bit of a study of the functions of revolution; how the printing press led to the Reformation led to the Puritans, the reaction against whom caused the Enligtenment. How female suffrage came about in Britain. That sort of thing.

I believe the mistake you made is that you read as a politician and article written by an historian. Revolution, to us, is a functional term and refers to political “revolutions” less often than it does to technological or mimetic ones. Or, just possibly, you were trying to build a scarecrow on my argument.

What are you really suggesting? That we replace the democratic process?

No. If you want to read my opinions on the inherent flaws in representative democracy, and the impact of modern communications technology on the viability of more egalitarian governance paradigms, have a look here and read around a bit.

Movements like that, if they achieve success, invariably turn into dictatorships.

Rubbish. Again, read my series on the Great Machine; such few attempts at consensus rule as have ever existed at any significant scale (such as Confederate Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries) tend to be conquered by dictators, not turn into them. The relevant (recent!) change is to do with how low cost-of-entry into the information marketplace combined with broader penetration of effective education affect the viability of high-engagement governance systems. If you want an historical analogue, which I will reference again below, think printing press -> Reformation -> Enlightenment ->representative democracy. We’d never have been able to implement the last without the first.

We interfere with it at our peril. In fact, it’s when Parliament fails to act as a brake on action that we end up with ill-thought-through, dangerous and illiberal laws.

Yes, that was what the Lords were for. Unelected, and therefore long-term thinkers rather than short term: independently wealthy, and thus very hard to buy, and inclined to be conservative. They were the check to balance the progressive, radical elected house who’re supposed to drive towards positive change. What happened to that, now? Oh yes. New Labour.

What you’re describing is also how witchcraft laws survived ’til 1951 and why it was legal to discriminate against gay people until remarkably recently. You need a better argument for representative democracy than “It’s reactionary as all hell and slows down progress”.

I’m guessing – though you’re in a much better position to know – that there’s a hard core of anarchists involved in the Climate Camp who really do want to radically change society, and a majority who care about the planet but would prefer to persuade rather than overturn the system.

This is a very bizarre sentence. “Hard core of anarchists”: you mean the ones from Whitechapel that got thrown out by the Campers for being violent twats and inviting confrontational responses from the police? Not really the core of CC; in fact, not wanted there.

Every activist at Climate Camp wants to radically change society. They want a society that isn’t robbing it’s grandchildren to support the Baby Boomer generation in the style to which they have become accustomed. They want to see the biospheric cost of doing business added to the financial cost of doing business, so that the profit motive steers corporations towards responsible business models. They want to see starving Somalis, or AIDS-afflicted Rwandans, ascribed as much global significance as white Americans with erectile dysfunction.

But to call this ‘anarchism’? Consensus rule is still rule: if they’re anarchists at all, they’re anarcho-syndicalists. Some of them are. None of my personal sources are, as it happens; they vary from consensus democrats to republicans.

It’s because of the “trustafarian” dimension to which you refer that the police are holding back: they know the Climate Camp is not really a challenge to the social order.

You do realise that the “trustafarian dimension” is fictional, yes? Part of the media mirror set up to divert attention from Climate Camp’s message towards the “spoiling for a fight” gossip-columns? It’s a slur created by the right wing spin machine, gleefully seized upon by the media and bearing no relationship to reality, as the Liz Stephens article pointed out (go read it; you clearly haven’t).

The reason the police are holding back is that in April they finally got caught on film at what they’ve been doing for 20 years. This time, they’d killed a man who was not considered a fair target. The entire way they choose their “fair targets” for violence and harassment came under international scrutiny because for the first time since the Battle of the Beanfield, the victims were better organised than the propaganda organs of the government. Again, follow the link above and read the Culpability series. Ideally also Feast of Fools.

And as your movement grows, it becomes more mainstream; or rather, to put it the other way around, it is because of the mainstreaming of green issues that the Camp exists at all. It’s swimming ahead of the tide rather than against it. [ my emphasis ] Its primary effect will be to give politicians cover, both because they can present themselves as less radical than those hippies, and also because the media-friendly antics of the happy campers themselves is something they will want to embrace.

That’s what I was saying. Eventually, the rest of the country is going to catch up. I’m just glad some of us are already there.

Where I disagree is with the “give politicians cover” clause, because:

By the next Camp, if not this one, David Cameron will be keen to show his face in your tent.

And this is why I was talking about revolutions. What is the one thing the serious, as opposed to loony/Green Party, environmentalist movement has never had? A seat at the table with people who make decisions. A voice in the halls of power as well as in the streets and at the festivals.

Revolutions are generational. First you spend a generation shouting; that way people know you’re there. That was the 60s and 70s. Then you spend a generation fighting: that’s how you get real attention, a real support base, rather than just a few hippy chicks who liked your stand at Glastonbury. That was the 80s and 90s: people coming to recognise that the responsible and future-minded are not just going to go away because Thatcher figured out you could massacre them without most of the country caring.

Now we are coming to the third generation. These are the young people who grew up saturated with real information, via an uncensored medium which does not directly serve corporate interest, about what’s really happening outside the Home Counties bubble. Young people who saw the road protesters and knew that they were watching commitment in action: real passion in a post-80s, post-modern, post-hope world. Their generation is about getting to the table. Just as it was with the feminists of the 80s and 90s, who followed the generations between the wars and then after WWII, so it is with the environmental movement now.

The reason they look a bit middle class is that long-term political thinking is very hard without access to education and information. The middle class have had access to both for longer than the working and lower classes. This is known as the “trickle-down effect” by free-market fundamentalists.

The job for this generation is to consolidate (what you describe as “becoming main-stream”): to get people to accept that they’re not going away, and that they know what they’re doing. One way you do that is photos of your people being butchered on the evening news while holding their hands up and chanting “This is not a riot”. It worked for Gandhi. It worked for CC.

The movement learned a lot from the crushing, and subsequent media treatment, of the Gleneagles protest. They learned that the only way to win that fight is through letting the forces of reaction show their colours and getting it on video-tape. They’ve implemented that knowledge, honed it across several violent assaults by police in the last 8 years, and on Bishopsgate the government handed them the chance they needed.

So now the task is to build on that. They’re at the table with the Met, finally, after 5 years of trying to get a useful response. They’ll be at the table with the GLA fairly soon, given how many members are interested. Ask me again in 11 years.

If you really were a threat to Them, you wouldn’t have been tolerated. You know that?

I’m working the bar… of course I’m not a threat to Them. Or do you mean CC? (why do you think I’m there? I’m a commentator, not an activist at this time. I just like to have contacts on the ground before I commentate). Or do you mean the whole environmental/social conscience movement? Or just those bits of it that run by consensus? Or do you mean Pagans? I’m not sure which direction your prejudice runs in…

Also, think on this; one thing the Enlightenment, followed by the fall of the British Empire, Kent State U, and so on have proved very happily is that the way you win social order battles is to let the government fuck you up and then let people know they did it, and why. The British, more than anyone, love the underdog. The environmental lobby are a threat to the Establishment only if they try to stop the people speaking.

If CC are allowed to speak, they become just one more voice in the information bazaar, and will only gain the following their arguments deserve. Best way to kill off CC, if one genuinely thinks they’re wrong, is to leave them to prove it. It’s worked with the Green Party; even I used to think they were useful until their actual policies and counter-rational constitution became apparent.

LFAT thinks the CC aims are foolish. He might still be right. He might not. Their ideas will refine as they are permitted a real voice and full engagement with the political process. And that’s how debate and persuasion work. That’s an almost democractic society: but only if the police permit it.

[ NB: since I’m working a Bank Holiday bar shift and the pub is now open, I won’t have a chance to respond to other comments immediately. Sorry about that; I also still don’t have home internet. ]

Nice one John I hope you don’t mind if I post your comment


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    : The real point of Climate Camp http://bit.ly/UTHb8

  2. Liberal Conspiracy

    : The real point of Climate Camp http://bit.ly/UTHb8

  3. Helen L

    http://bit.ly/2gbVlv The real point of #climatecamp – some really interesting points in the comments.





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