You need look no further than the anti Iraq war demos, the biggest in the history of the Earth, to know that size really doesn't matter if there is no substance. People are genuinely concerned about these issues, which are not as separate as you might imagine. After all tuition fees are an attack on the poor, and the issue of climate change is one which first world countries are less affected by than the poor ones we use to get our resources from, at least for now. The global distribution of wealth and power (pretty much the same thing) is the common problem.
Give power to farmers losing their crops and livestock to a drought in Kenya and they would probably use it to stop our dirty industries from changing their annual climate cycle.... sadly they don't have this power. Well we are a democracy aren't we? .... So doesn’t that mean the power to change the world is in our hands? What therefore is the alternative to asking Tony and his cronies for permission to go for a walk around London?
The best recent example that i have been involved with was the camp for climate action which took place in Yorkshire at the end of august this year. It was a low impact settlement using renewable energy, in a squatted field near the largest carbon dioxide emitter in Europe, Drax coal fired power station. Here around 600 of us lived and learned and played together, with dozens of workshops about environmental issues, practical issues, like how to recycle, compost, generate your own renewable energy, grow your own vegetables etc. etc. and also on techniques for non-violent direct action as a means of peaceful protest. The culmination was in a mass direct action on Drax power station itself involving a kid’s road block, a samba band and lots of colourful vibrant energy.
It was much the same really as the marches in London, but simply not having had permission. Some of the people tried to get into the plant and over 30 succeeded, they came close to shutting it down too, but were not able to hold their positions long enough (i.e. their chains were cut). A nuclear power station near Hartlepool was also blockaded by a dozen or so people shutting down the plant for almost 12 hours, because one of the reasons for our government's rhetoric on climate change is that they want to promote nuclear power.... and weapons, which they need to protect corporate interests in the neo-colonies.
The media response was incredible, with the climate camp first item on every news channel and front page even in the tabloids, and with only 600 hundred people involved, not 10 or 20 thousand (as with the London parades). Even more wonderful was the fact that most of the coverage was positive, even on sky news! There simply wasn't any violence from protesters (that’s sort of the point you see!) and hardly any police brutality. In fact I personally chatted too many of the officers on duty there and found the majority to be concerned citizens like me. Some even promised to come to a few workshops after they got off shift, one offered to give a workshop on organic vegetable growing.
I will never forget hearing the words of the first policeman to find out where we were on the morning after we took the field (they'd been patrolling the area all night trying to stop us), he said, "Well i suppose we are staring into the abyss with this climate change business!" We later had a great talk about how unfair it is that the police are not allowed a union (wonder why?). Another policeman was very positive and offered lots of helpful advice. I was admitting how high a mountain we had to climb to change the world to his colleague and he stepped in and said, "Well Churchill did it in the Second World War, he transformed our industries practically overnight, and introduced dig for victory programs..... What we need is for the government to stand up to the oil companies for a change!"
The landowner of the field we squatted was obviously taken aback at first but soon warmed to us and even brought his kids along to enjoy the atmosphere of communal living and skill sharing. He gave us an extra field to use, and lots of handy advice about the lay of the land. He couldn't believe how different protesters are to how they are portrayed in the mainstream media. We treated his land with great respect and teams of people stayed behind to clean up afterwards. We even gave him financial compensation of hundreds of pounds in donations for any losses he might have incurred from not having that particular field to graze his sheep in, taking into account the recovery time needed for pasture to return.
I did not break a single law for the whole time I was there (there were only about 40 arrests altogether, and very few charges, most of which were spurious), although the government did use part of the new terror legislation to allow the police to stop and search everyone leaving or entering the site and anyone driving or walking around the adjacent areas, including locals. I got 11 stop and search receipts, I think the record was over 20, it became something of a farce. I think the police knew that, but they had they're orders. It really is a shame that those who are supposed to be (and in most cases who want to be) in the service of the public, are used against us, and in the case of the armed forces, against people like us in foreign countries.
This empowering experience has inspired the formation of plane stupid, a group devoted to non-violent direct action against the airline industry. Check out indymedia.org.uk for details of their day of action against short haul flights in several cities across the country which took place last week, and for details of their 'Climate Camp 2' last month on the runway of east midlands airport, which shut down the airport for several hours.
Other pre-existing groups such as rising tide and Greenpeace have joined in with this new wave of climate protesting. Ten Greenpeace activists occupied Didcot Power Station near Oxford last week, demanding an end to fossil fuel use. With very little resources, and with very few people it is possible to cause major disruption to large, dirty, industrial activities such as power stations and airports, sending a clear message to businesses and policy makers, and there's no need for expensive pop-stars or celebrities.
There's nothing wrong with going to the blue peter school of activism, so long as you eventually graduate. I don't think anyone reading this article is really against protest in the form of resistance, perhaps even illegal resistance, at least not in all circumstances. Do you think it was wrong for the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King to directly resist the rules of their states? Do you think their governments would have bent under the pressure if they'd organised their actions ahead of time with the police? I'm hoping your answer to both of these questions was a resounding no.
Polarising protesters into good and bad on the basis of the rules imposed upon them by the very government they are protesting against is ridiculous. This black and white mentality has infected much of our society, but is increasingly coming unstuck as it encounters empowered, enlightened thought, and of course.... action!