Don't TAZ Me, Bro
There are two encampments currently on the heath a mile or two south of the Thames, from which the Peasants' Revolt descended upon London in the 14th century. The first you come across, if you walk from an easterly direction, as I did, up Maze Hill past shirtless ice cream eating and stickers on lamposts advertising 'Canary Wharf Massage Beauties', is the Funfair (pic via). I have always liked funfairs, for being an exemplary combination of the futuristic and antiquated, for temporarily making Leigh Park in Eastleigh an exciting place, for being gloriously artificial - the only place, other than the seaside, where you can legally purchase Candyfloss without it being impounded. In the relentlessly hot, treeless and shadowless heath it looked a bit much today, but nonetheless two salient things about it were clear. First, the gigantic machines of cheap jouissance that towered in the heath's vast expanse, swinging screaming youth back and forth while bright lights flashed on and off; and second, the enormous carpark attached. The heath is very very big, but even then the amount of cars parked upon it on this bank holiday seemed huge, a maze of dust and turned-over grass keeping on it vehicles of varying degrees of flashness. The other, and more talked-about encampment, is the latest manifestation of the Camp for Climate Action, ensconced on the Lewisham end of the heath, so that the fair is barely visible.
The decision to park the camp in a reasonably central London location seems to be a sort of 'coming out' of the Camp, an attempt to connect with Londoners, to reach out beyond the converted, as much as it is a base for operations at City Airport and elsewhere - though one wonders how much more effective it might have been in a really dense area, like Victoria or Brockwell Park, where their presence would have led to major interactions - quite possibly uncomfortable - with the local area, something lost in the vast expanse of Blackheath. The camp is fenced off, with only one entrance. In something like the Kingsnorth or Heathrow actions this makes perfect sense, to protect the Picket from the Police, but here it seems an overreaction, a deterrent to the curious - though one should not of course underestimate the Met's propensity for random brutality. I visited the camp on Saturday with the I.T Girl, where we wandered for a bit, talked to friends who were there and greatly admired the 'CAPITALISM IS CRISIS' banner - cf her Flickr set - but today I went there on my own, with notebook in tow, to get a less convivial view of the whole affair. First of all - I do not, whatever tone I might take here, dismiss the Climate Camp. Far from being a consensual protest with which we can all agree, a mere shouting of 'global warming is bad!', every seminar and talk I saw here was clear, whatever the internal differences (and there are several), that what is needed is a total abandonment of all fossil (and nuclear) fuels, along with a total abandonment of the concept of economic growth. Most of them are quite honest about the fact that to do so would necessitate an economic system we could no longer call 'capitalism'.
Tactically too, they are a great deal cleverer than contemporaries - the contrast between the spectacularised nonsense of the 'G20 Meltdown' and the Climate Camp's organised, serious intervention in Bishopsgate was very telling on April 1. While there's a certain amount of protest-logic there, with all of its flaws, there has also been serious attempts at making links with organised labour - the involvement of many people here in the Vestas Wind Turbine Factory occupation (which appears to have its own tent) suggests that the seemingly unbridgeable gap I moaned about between the Visteon occupation and the City protests on April 1 is beginnning to close. So much is good here, and I have no intention of patronising it, although the inclusion of 'tall buildings' as the first of their ten reasons why they are camped here is not going to endear them to me. Still, of the talks I saw, some, as I expected, were very sensible indeed, while some had a hint of creepy Malthusianism - such is the Green movement and it was ever thus. What they all shared was the contention that this, this thousand-or-so people in a field just up the heath a bit from another more mechanised thousand-or-so people in a field, was, to use a phrase I would usually rather not, the change we want to see in the world. So to a large extent you can judge the camp on its own terms as what it clearly wants to be, particularly here where it is not notably picketing anything - a rather strictly delimited Temporary Autonomous Zone.
I tend to think that the, er, TAZ as a model of politics is every bit as flawed as the turn-up-protest-and-go-home, though rather more admirable. An old friend of mine who was camping announced the following on an internet site: 'Ever wondered what a functioning leaderless society would be like? Come down to the climate camp and find out, it's great!' I suspect lots of people there share this view. So, my opinions on this leaderless society. Well lots of this would be fairly cliched - it's a very earnest society, though friendly, overwhelmingly middle class, and with a liking for rural imagery and, at worst, sitting round in a circle with an acoustic guitar (though there were proper sound systems also). Another cliche in discussion of Climate Camp is to discuss the toilet arrangements in depth, but the aegis of the Socialist Lavatory League decrees that I do so. There are several kinds, boxes for one sort or another, with the additional option of peeing directly into a hay bale, all of which of course smell fairly unpleasant. These hay bales, however, mostly seem to be ornamental, are there to give the illusion of rurality to this little stretch of Zone 3.
So the speakers sit on them, although it would no doubt have been far easier just to get a stack of plastic chairs. This fetish for the pre-industrial recurs too in the rhetoric of some speakers - David Fleming made the extraordinary claim that communities created their own institutions before 'the late 18th century' (and we all know what happened then), as if the Church was somehow a more egalitarian institution than, say, the trade unions. There is a frequent argument that 'technofixes' are irrelevant compared to the urgent need for 'lifestyle changes' (presumably solar panels and wind turbines are not technology). How to convince people that these fundamental changes in (awful word) lifestyle are necessary? A speaker who helped put together the 'Green New Deal' paper with Caroline Lucas et al argues that their approach 'appeals to those who wouldn't necessarily go to climate camp', talking in terms of job creation or community control, rather than the joys of veganism or compost toilets - let alone the talk of 'final battles' we hear from some - yet their interest in technology and the outside world is not shared by all here. Either way, too much hangs on whether you want a new society to look like Climate Camp - and, for all its virtues, I don't. A bridge from the funfair to the camp must be built, but it seems as difficult as ever.