Climate Camp with local people (1)
Climate Camp with local people (2)
Climate Camp with local people (3)
Climate Camp with local people (4)
They spoke with a common thread. Climate Camp was not about bringing violence nor aggression, Climate Camp was a community for whom the penny had dropped - they realised that the future of mankind depended on the decisions made by this generation.
You couldn't rely on government - nor the corporations they supported (loud cheers) and who profited from these activities. Climate Camp, said Leo Murray, had four objectives:
1) To confront the corporate profiteers
2) To compel the government to cancel the third runway and reduce capacity
3) To raise awareness that flying is the single most destructive thing you can do, and
4) To demonstrate that less is more, and that solutions lie in our own communities rather than in far off places in the world.
Unlikely whoops of joy greeted Penny, introduced as an activist who'd only recently superglued herself to the doors of lastminute.com
But the audience listened intently as Penny explained the principles of consensus that defined the camp, and how the camp set out to be an inclusive, safe and effective event. They were only too aware, she said of the recent events in Glasgow and the tensions this might bring to a gathering such as this next to Heathrow, but assured them that liasons had been set up between themselves, councils and police.
Slightly darker notes sounded as news emerged that the Forward Intelligence Teams had already been busy stirring it up on Sunday, as they harassed not only Departure Lounge - an art project working in Harmondsworth's old Tithe Barn - but villagers emerging from the adjoining 14th century church. Their justification? They knew there were some trouble makers about...
"I'm disgusted, seeing this, that I live in Britain" commented one person. " They should be ashamed of themselves".
All local police leave is cancelled for the duration it appears, the Met have defined this an "essential op. at Scotland Yard" and, much to the disgust of several in the audience, police are to be drafted in from all over London.
But never have I seen such co-operation between such unlikely communities.
"We don't want to feel like we're invading" say Climate Camp.
"But we're going home happy to see Climate Camp is here to help us" came the response.
Even the local MP, John McDonnell had a thing to say.
"As the local MP", he said, "I'm formally welcoming Climate Camp to my constituency.
"To be frank, they're going to put our campaign on the map in a way that some of us have tried - but not been able to."
Sure, there are those who will try and portray this as a negative and destructive affair, but the reality tonight was there to see. Disparate forces are finally uniting to create a movement that is going to be unstoppable.
The writing is on the wall for BAA, DfT, and climate criminals everywhere.
The sickly stench of kerosene fades into the background, replaced by the sweet smell of wet summer grass. Elm trees drip with fresh rain, sky larks float above the fields, their twittering competing with the low grumble of planes taking off in the distance. This is an inconsistent landscape, jewel like Middlesex villages surrounded on all sides by motorways, medieval barns a stones throw away from plastic clad multinational hotels, majestic walnut trees sitting under skies criss-crossed with hundreds of chalky vapour trails. I’m at the end of the Piccadilly line, and yet I feel in I’m in a film set depicting rural England. I don’t breath in the summer smells too deeply though, the air here is said to be some of the most polluted in Europe.
The village has been here for 855 years, if BAA get their way, the bulldozers will move in, 1000 surrounding homes, pubs, schools and churches will be torn down to make way for a new runway. A mammoth black strip of tarmac for launching giant pieces of metal into the sky. Another stupid project of economic progress that will further heat the planet and push us nearer to the catastrophe of runaway climate change.
The Airport has been expanding like a deceptive cancer for the past thirty years. Each time it gets community resistance and a long public enquiry. Each time the airport says it will stop expanding, promising local people that this is the last time. Each time it breaks its promises. In 1978 when Terminal 4 was planned, it promised to cap flights to 275,000 per year and add no more terminals. Last year there were 472,000 flights and the much fought over Terminal 5 is still awaiting completion. A third runway will bring a 6th terminal, a total of 655,000 flights and 28 million more cars. Promises mean nothing in Sipson.
Sipson Community centre sits in parkland, its a kind of cross between a hut and a suburban bungalow. I’ve come to the Public meeting that the Climate Camp for Action has set up so that we can meet local residents, inform them about our plans and discuss any concerns they might have. Even though we have developed wonderfully rich relationships over the past months with the small “hard core” of residents organising against the Third Runway, this is the first time we have held an open public meeting. The Local MP, who sees this struggle as the most important environmental battle in Europe, is onside. Last week he sent a letter to everyone of his constituents welcoming the climate camp to his constituency and inviting people to the public meeting. Those of us organising the meeting have been apprehensive about it. What happens if no one turns up? What happens if the police Forward Intelligence Team come with their cameras to intimidate the locals? What happens if we are run out of town by Hippy hating vigilantes?
The wooden clad room is packed. We run out of chairs and people are sitting on tables. About 80 residents have turned up, most of them over 50. On the panel is Geraldine, the fiery mother of three who fronts the local NoTrag ( No third Runway Action Group), four smartly dressed climate campers and John Stewart chairing, from airportwatch.
The presentations are passionate and clear. They speak about the fact that corporations and governments will do nothing except look after their profits. They talk about the importance of collective action and solidarity. They explain the fact that no one in the room would have the right to vote if it was not for direct action. And they describe the way the camp works, with its neighbourhood kitchens. Its horizontal decision making and educational workshops.
When climate camper Penny is introduced as the woman who glued herself to the doors of an airport (and lastminute.com) the room erupts in cheers. She details the police liason roles and tries to allay local fears about large numbers of non local police descending on the area. Little do the local people realise exactly how many thousands of them will turn up.
Last weekends “Departure Lounge” event, a three day workshop looking at creative art activism responces to the climate camp, held in the nearby village of Harmondsworth, had attracted the Met Forward Intelligence Team. The stood next to the church on a Sunday morning intimidation the church goers as they left the service. People were furious about it. “ I spent one and a half hours talking to them” says a sharply dressed local with a French accent “can you believe it they were parked on a double yellow line, and on the pavement. They wanted me to give them information but of course I wouldn’t… what is this country coming to, how dare they come here.” She then tells us a story that brings goose bumps to my skin. It’s about her husband who during the war had been in the secret operations executive, which waged sabotage acts behind enemy lines against the Nazis and supported the French Resistance. “He will never be moved from his house, no one will be able to do it.” The passion in her voice makes us believe every word.
John Mcdonell, stands up. He is the local MP, famous for being the Labour MP who has voted more times against Blair than any other. “I am formally welcoming Climate Camp to my constituency.” He says, a roar of approval fills the room. “I support direct action and it works!” he continues “I’m about to go off to a committee meeting of Borough Hall tonight. That Hall was saved because when the council wanted to sell it off we turned up with our sleeping bags and occupied it. Now it’s a children’s centre!” All the climate campers are looking at each other wide eyed. Unable to believe the scene. We couldn’t have scripted it better if we tried.
“The media will try to divide us” he goes on “ they will try to draw a line between the locals and the climate camp…. We must never allow them to do this. We used to have an old saying, although now if you say it in the Labour Party you get expelled, The people united will never be defeated.” Laughter and more cheers.
Questions and statements of support flow in from the audience, including the inevitable one “Where exactly will the camp be?” The panel assure everyone that even they don’t know, as it has to be kept a secret. “ Oh .. how exciting” giggles a tiny fragile elderly woman sitting next to me.
“I know where it will be” shouts a younger man in shorts from the back.” You can all camp in my back garden.” When the laughter dies down he speak with a calmer, melancholic tone “I'd rolled over and given up. I've said to my wife, what will happen will happen…They will build the runway…But tonight you lot have changed my bloody mind!"
Not only has the climate camp amplified this local struggle to a wider global issue of climate change, but it seems that our acts of solidarity are overturning the dull weigh of inevitability that local people carry around here. A desperate cynicism which is understandable, after so many years of empty words and betrayal by the authorities.
Alf, a burly Portuguese man with a solid silver beard, jumps up. His child is buried in the cemetery that was originally planned to be dug up for the runway, local pressure got a concession from BAA to save the cemetery and accompanying medieval church and barn. Now the runway is due to end a few hundred yards away. You can see the anger emanating from him like an aura. “I’m sorry I have to leave now, I’m sad that that the whole the village has not turned up, but I’m leaving happy that the climate camp is coming to help.”
Amongst the sea of overwhelming support a small man wearing gold rimmed glasses that look too big for his face stands up brandishing the local Police Neighbourhood Watch newsletter, rather unimaginatively entitled “Watch Out”. “We must be aware that if we all go to the camp we leave our houses empty and vulnerable to burglars” he says looking worried, in his other hand he waves the local crime statistics which he proudly tells us are regularly sent to him updated by the Met. Penny, stands up and with a wry smile tell everyone that according to the Police report from last years camp, the local crime rate fell whilst it was taking place. More laughter follows with a tinge of relief.
We end the meeting by showing Reclaim Power, a 15 minute film about last years camp. The scenes of police pushing the children around and a few too many shots of dancing hippies makes me cringe. But as the credits roll to rocking reggae the nodding grey haired heads clap once again. After the meeting people stick around for ages to talk, swap phone numbers and stories.
It was stupid to worry about this meeting. We should have know that this years climate camp is the flowering of an extraordinary new radical social movement that bridges the local and the global, ecology and social justice and that Heathrow is the most perfect location to bring all these strands together. In this inconsistent landscape, the edge between rural and urban, concrete hell and rural heaven, we are seeing the most extraordinary coming together of different tribes. New relationships are being formed, relationships that will get the in the way of the third runway being built.
‘The State’ said the German anarchist Gustav Landauer, ‘is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.’ To me this sums up the basis of horizontal/anarchist/non-hierachical politics, which is not really about putting all our energy into attacking the abstract buildings of power and the state, trying to take control, but about making new relationships, working in common with people who share our needs and interests and developing other ways of living despite capitalism (and the state).
Like eco systems, the most powerful and creative moments are on the edges, where different species/movements come together. Its where all the evolutionary energy of an eco system is, think the edge of a forest where all the species mingle. Throughout the history of rebellion it is when unlikely alliances come together that radical new things emerge and victories are gained. This can be seen with Zapatismo, which was the merging of indigenous Mayan culture and post modernist maoism form the city. It was the case with the anti roads movements of the 90's when locals and "crusties" worked together some hanging from the trees and others making tea. When teamsters and turtle came together with direct activists, the WTO was shut down in Seattle. It happened when reclaim the streets, a bunch of eco, anarcho, situationist, ravers worked with the utterly different working class culture of the Liverpool dockers. Last month during the G8 blockades a whole load of new set of relationships were made which challenged everyone involved ( German autonome black bloc working with and agreeing on the same forms of action than Christian peace activists) and as a result one of Europe's biggest acts of civil disobedience in recent years took place.
On the other side of the Airport from Sipson is St Georges Hill, now an anodyne golf course surrounded by luxury villas inhabited by pop starts and bankers. But 358 years ago this hill was the site of an act of disobedience and pre-figurative politics that although brief, continues to reverberate across the world, inspiring revolutionaries, from Marx to Tolstoy, San Francisco Hippies to Reclaim the Streets. In 1649 a small group of landless commoners, radicalized by the English Civil War but frustrated by its less than radical outcome, decided to occupy the hill, which was common waste land, to plant vegetables and set up a utopian colony. Calling themselves Diggers, they issued a series of beautiful radical manifestos that called for the "earth to be a common treasury for all". Whilst camping on the hill Gerrard Winstanley, the Diggers visionary leader realised “ ..that words and writing were all nothing and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act thou dost nothing." A few miles north and many hundreds of years later the villagers of Sipson know that words mean nothing, they are sick of the Heathrow’s decades of lies and they are prepared to take action together with us.
As we leave the meeting, somewhat overwhelmed with excitement, we pass under the orange glow of the street lamps. Its been a three hour meeting and night has fallen. On nearly every lamp post, illuminated in the darkness hangs a white sign printed with bright red letters “NO THIRD RUNWAY”. Linda, whose house lies in the very centre of the runway plans, has spent days shinning up the lampposts one by one. “I wanted the signs to look really neat” she tells me, “all at the same level – but I’ve really done my back in.” She retired some years ago, but it seems she’s got her work cut out for her now…