Thursday, 27 August 2009

Climate Camp - Day One

At one point I thought it wasn't going to happen. I arrived at Stockwell tube station a few minutes before noon, to a low key police presence and around fifty odd campers waiting outside by the shrine to Jean Charles de Menezes. There were a few media folk there including somebody from Channel 4 News who we gently ribbed by suggesting he actually worked for the Met. The numbers swelled to about a hundred and after waiting nearly three quarters of an hour on the pavement outside we headed around the corner to a small park to chill in the sun and play games until further notice. We should have received the text revealing the location by now and hadn't, which was making a few people a bit itchy. We even wondered if the Met had somehow brought down the SMS service, wrecking the swoop and making us look like fools, something the Evening Standard seemed eager to see at least.

Finally, after a couple of hours waiting, we got the signal and set off for Blackheath via the Tube and DLR. Nice touch of the day: after piling onto the DLR and taking over an entire train, the lady 'driving' it made sure to announce which station we had to get off at and when, as well as keeping the doors open a little bit longer for us all to disembark. We thanked her with a hearty "hurray!". The rest of the passengers seemed completely oblivious to what was happening.

A slight detour in Greenwich later and we arrived at the final location, on Hare and Billet Road on Blackheath itself, site of numerous peasant revolts through the centuries and common land, which makes it hard for us to be kicked off. We were among the last swoop groups to arrive and scaffold tripods and banners had already been set up when we got there, as well as a few pitched tents. Hire trucks were spilling out their contents onto the heath ready to assemble some of the larger tents and metal fencing had been rigged around the perimeter. There were even sofas, wheelie bins and bathtubs scattered around. Surprisingly, I couldn't see a single cop, bar a solitary van parked some way in the distance. Well done the Met.

At four o'clock the first site-wide meeting was held. Everybody gathered in a circle to hear an introductory speech and the first bit of housekeeping, chiefly to organise some sitebuilding and establish the spokes from the different neighbourhoods. I scanned the crowd, a sea of white faces. Climate Camp gets a lot of stick for being full of trustafarians and hippies, which is what it looks like at first, but without speaking to everybody its hard to distinguish their economic background. The media piled in and I noticed a particular group of photojournalists hunched around their gigantic lenses and flashy laptops, filing images to who knows where. Somebody made a point, rather tiresomely, that anybody taking photographs or video of anything should ask for permission first. I can see their point, but at the same time it is in a public space and most people didn’t seem bothered about being caught on camera.

After the meeting, everybody split off into their neighbourhoods to sort out the camping areas. The London group seemed sorted, but then they always are. I also noticed the Whitechapel Anarchists Group who were just sat around their red and black flag listening to jungle and dubstep on a home made soundsystem.

People not involved in neighbourhoods, including myself, got stuck in with helping the central infrastructure which in my case meant erecting a huge marquee-style tent. This takes longer than you'd think and requires a lot of geometric aforethought and precise measuring. After a couple of hours we'd only got as far as hoisting the central pole/mast and getting ready the canvas cover. During that time I spoke to some protesters from Portugal, France and Spain, living in London and taking part in their first climate camp. Apparently people in these parts of Europe don’t care, so you'd never see anything like this over there, but they felt compelled to come to this camp because of their concerns about climate change and the pace at which our governments are working, or not.

I soon had to leave for the night but by then a number of smaller utility tents had been raised, including a couple of kitchens and the compost toilets, which the mainstream media absolutely adore. Positions, neighbourhoods, pathways etc had all been clearly marked and the majority of people there, no more than 1500 at a guess (if somebody could teach me how to measure crowds it'd be much appreciated) were involved in one way or another in setting up and establishing the camp. All without leadership. How's that for a DIY ethic?

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