Climate Camp 2009. Location: Blackheath. Target: Global Capitalism. The site for this year’s Climate Camp was chosen because there have been proposals for part of Blackheath to be adapted into a horse-racing track for the 2012 Olympics.
This would mean permanent loss of common land and destruction of one of London’s few green spaces. At the top of Lewisham Hill, Blackheath has a view of the City of London, always on the horizon, supposedly as a reminder to campers that the enemy, big business, is never far away.
Climate Camp has always been an anti-capitalist, largely anarchist, movement and the choice of this location was part of an attempt to move away from liberal, NGO-centred approaches to stopping climate change, and to reiterate the sentiment that as long as capitalism is buying and selling us and our land in the endless pursuit of profit, climate change cannot be effectively stopped.
There is no fault in that sentiment per se. Capitalism is indeed the enemy and, if climate change is to be stopped, if it can be stopped, it will be stopped by radical social change, by workers banding together and refusing to go on working in industries that are killing the planet, and developing new sustainable industries — that is a worker-led transition to a zero-carbon economy.
What this year’s Climate Camp was missing was any real way into the local community, any connection to grass-roots struggle. The day of action, as lively and colourful as ever, was focussed around six climate change targets with centres in the city. All that activists were really able to achieve through their actions were a series of dynamic publicity stunts.
Anything that makes the general public more aware of the impact that our capitalist economy has on the environment is important, indeed necessary. But this kind of stunt is necessarily a flash in the pan. To give it the name “direct action” is even a misuse of a term that originally meant providing a direct solution to a problem; standing naked in the window of E.On Spin company Edelman PR, for example, is a good way to attract attention, but it does not actually solve anything.
Even within the camp this year, activists were beginning to grumble that there was “too much of a festival atmosphere”. There was a tendency to ascribe this to the absence of police — without the siege mentality that they brought out last year, it was harder to keep up an aggressive energy. Just being able to run the camp in the open felt like a victory — and never mind the politics of climate change. In fact, the unfocussed atmosphere of the camp owed more to the fact that there was no real target here, no opportunity for a sustainable, ongoing struggle embedded in the local community.
At Heathrow and at Kingsnorth, both sites of previous camps, there were real battles to be fought, against airport expansion and against the development of a new generation of coal-fired power stations. If Climate Camp is to become more than a festival of skill-sharing for activists and a media awareness week, it needs this kind of grounding in reality. More than that, Climate Camp needs to focus itself around practical means to change; linking up with local struggles for a brief time only leaves local activists feeling abandoned when a new target emerges. Careful groundwork must be done within communities to make certain that the fight for a green economy really takes hold, and is led by the community.
It must not become the case that the general public think that Climate Camp activists will save the world for them. Rather, we must see the dissemination of ecological politics, mass democratic organising and imaginative action into local communities and the labour movement, so that long after the fair has left town, a real fight, to defeat climate change and to take back the power from capitalism, is left behind it gathering strength. This way, a spirit of solidarity will be engendered, at home and internationally. Climate Camp has got the heart, it has got the energy; with a real effort to engage systematically with local communities, we will find the means to win real social change on an ecological agenda.
Bob Sutton comments:
I’ve read the above article and had many conversations with people post climate camp and at Vestas on this topic. I think the answer as to “where next for the climate camp?” boils down the answer; root your fight to change the world in a politics of solidarity.
I felt the Workers’ Climate Action workshops and the contribution to discussions made by WCA activists at the camp were successful in raising such a politics, fighting class politics, and have been very important in shaping the ongoing debate as to where things are going.
However I am also writing as member of Workers’ Liberty. How a tendency like the AWL relates to wider networks like WCA is a question that remains very much to be resolved. There is some apprehension within the climate change movement of WCA and that it is being used as a front. Amongst some, this can be attributed to what is essentially animosity towards working-class politics, indeed any politics, and a defensiveness of some fairly effete forms of activism. However there are many who are keen that [something like] WCA grow and develop who remain wary of getting involved, often informed by a history of being burned by unilateralist sectarian behaviour on the part of Trotskyist groups.
It is undeniably true that over this summer period many of the people who have been most active and visible in WCA, at Vestas and at the camp, have been AWL members. However at times we have been taken up for using WCA as a flag of convenience.
The WCA Conference is an opportunity to build on the work already done in developing a cohesive network and set of ideas to fight class struggle ecology. AWL members should participate in this on the understanding that we have a lot to learn from as well as a lot to contribute to this network.