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climate change camp, heathrow

From:     blp
Category: Art
Date:     19 August 2007
Time:     03:19 PM

Review:

I  saw one woman I recognised from the London art world and another in a Falmouth College of Art
sweatshirt. I didn't see anyone from the radical magazine Mute, who's contributors often cross over
with the London art world and, from what I can gather, are sort of Marxists in leather with a New
Wave fixation. Why the disinterest? Is the issue of global warming just too...ho ho...uncool? Or are
these scenes just full of climate change deniers? Or is there some idea that protests are just for
people who don't have anything really fulfilling in their lives like going to private views or
playing in a punky synth band or writing about, er, radical politics? 

Oh well. I went because I was depressed about a situation where we basically seem to be sitting
around in a wooden house in which a fire has started, apparently powerless to stop it. I mean,
day-to-day, I have an absolute sense of pointlessness and futility about the idea of working for a
nice life and so on when we can't sort this out and 60% of the habitable world is likely to be
flooded as a result. I'm not that happy that the campaigners have gone ahead with their plans for
civil disobedience because it makes them look bad in the media and makes it easy for people to write
things to News 24 along the lines of 'If these soap-dodging hippies worked for a living 48 weeks of
the year, they'd understand the need to go somewhere sunny from time to time. We need to expand
airports and find a greener way of flying, not just ban everything.' (N.B. There is no likelihood of
a green alternative to aviation fuel being found in anything like enough time to prevent serious
damage to the biosphere. See George Monbiot's 'Heat'. ) The protest was almost entirely non-violent
and avowedly completely so, but quick clips of protesters dodging around police at BAA headquarters
play right into the most nasty-minded elements of the media and there are more than enough of those. 

I showed up on Saturday evening and was given a quick induction in the rules of debate in the
entirely nonhierarchical, leaderless environment onsite: a series of hand-signals, indicating, for
instance, I agree (hands wiggling in the air - sign language for applause). Then, almost
immediately, I found myself in a debate in the London section of the camp (the place was divided
into UK geographical areas) about the form of the action that was to take place the next day. I also
got a plate of vegan food for the suggested donation of 2: cabbage, cous cous, potatoes and
lentils, all cooked beautifully. The atmosphere was quite hippyish, but actual possessors of
dreadlocks and facial piercings were in a minority. Lots of the people just looked like normal sort
of Stoke Newington types. 

I didn't much enjoy my night there. I didn't know anyone and didn't like the way the discussions of
the direct action were going since they were both intensely confused and clearly directed at the bad
PR of trying to break through police lines. There was one moment in a debate when a woman suggested
we surprise everyone by doing nothing untoward the next day, just stay onsite, let the police
surround us, talk to the media and then invite everyone in for a party at the end. Lots of hand
waving and laughter, but, unsurprisingly, the idea died almost instantly. After that I caught the
end of a set by Rob Newman in the main tent, which was good. He does a perfect John Lydon
impersonation. 

The next day I got up early for another debate at 8, then another, very very  confused, at 9 in the
London tent, then absconded to the kids tent and decided to join their protest since it was being
planned in conjunction with  the locals and seemed highly unlikely to result in violence. More
confusing debate was had. Someone requested volunteers to dress up as a polar bear and I volunteered
along with another guy. This developed into us forming an 'Affinity Group',  which meant a small
group who would try to stay together and look out for each other during the protest, along with the
guy's girlfriend and an activist couple from Cheltenham, so suddenly I had people to talk to, which
was an improvement. We then proceeded to go on an almost entirely peaceful march to villages lying
in the path of the planned third Heathrow runway. The only incident was caused by the police's
refusal to allow a local man into the protest at the village of Harmondsworth. A very mild fracas
occurred. It rapidly emerged that the locals actually wanted the march to go through their village,
but the police were preventing it. The rinky dink, a cycle powered mobile sound system, was wheeled
up to the police line and a man sang a surprisingly powerful folk song he'd written about what it
might feel like to be a policeman pressed into the service of a manifest injustice. Meanwhile, local
MP John McDonnell and Monbiot were negotiating for us to be allowed in and we were. After hearing a
few speeches there, I went back and left. 

I wore the polar bear suit for a little while and was photographed a lot, so look out for polar bear
costumes in the papers. 

What I'll remember is the meetings full of people gesturing in large, semi-darkened tents. I didn't
enjoy them at the time, but I've never had any other experience like it. 

I left my new sleeping bag on the tube, which is annoying. 


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