Thursday, 2 April 2009

The eviction of the Climate Camp

Simon Keyes writes

City folk returned to their desks this morning to find almost every physical trace of yesterday’s Climate Camp erased. Even the chalk slogans on the road had been scrubbed off. Our banner “We’re all in this together” looks a little forlorn and it’s probably a planning irregularity now. I am tempted to leave it for a day or two to prompt people to reflect on what happened yesterday

I observed the protest throughout the day. I saw very little trouble. Early on the Police won the approval of the crowd for the efficient way they isolated and dispersed an incongruous group of young men in black masks. Hundreds of cameras recorded the Police’s every move and I didn’t envy them being so exposed doing such tricky work.

For the rest of the day, the protest seemed to me to be unfailingly good-humoured. The music and dancing, the creativity of the slogans, and the bold splashes of colour brought smiles to onlookers’ faces. I could see office workers at their windows clearly enjoying the spectacle. The speed with which make-shift kitchens and even a latrine appeared was impressive. For several hours the protesters managed to create a friendly, festival atmosphere. Opposite St Ethelburga’s the main attraction seemed to be a group of people meditating. My over-riding impression was that the organisers had thought hard about how to get their point across in an effective and nonviolent way. I understand a lot of consensus decision-making was going on.

But late last night it was a different story. I emerged from St Ethelburga’s at 10.15 to find the police presence massively increased. Most were now dressed in black combat gear with helmets, riot shields and batons. Many had balaclava face coverings. A fleet of armoured cars blocked the junction outside Gibson Hall, blue lights flashing, and there seemed to be horses behind them. A helicopter hovered low, shining a powerful searchlight, its noise adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere of menace. It was obvious someone had decided not to allow the Camp to remain for its stated 24 hour period.

The protesters were quieter than earlier and seemed intent on ignoring the police. I saw no disorder or drunkenness and there were still moments when dancing and singing broke out. Earlier I had watched whilst three young women dancing on a police van were removed. There was laughter and applause but no hostile reaction. I listened to a storyteller entertaining a group sitting on the road.

A Guardian journalist standing next to me told me the police were waiting for the media to leave and would then evict the camp. He said the demonstrators had been confined in a “kettle” (to allow the temperature to rise) and no-one had been allowed to leave for several hours. After watching for a few a few minutes, I was grabbed by the elbow and brusquely led away by an excitable young police woman “This is a sterile area and you must not be here”. I pointed to our banner. You will be hurt, she said. I could see no violence “There will be” she replied.

I can see that people climbed over our gate last night, which isn’t easy given the spikes and paint we installed on police advice. I asked the police about this and was told that this may have happened when people were trying “to get out of the way”. Of what?

Perhaps there’s a clue in the reported 88 police arrests, mostly after 7.00pm I understand. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that considerable force was used against the protestors in the unreported early hours of this morning.

Naturally there are contested histories. A police officer tells me a number of “undesirable interlopers” joined the protestors around 9.00pm and this led to an “edict” around 11.00 to remove the camp. A protester who was present says the police closed in at 7.00pm using riot shields and thereafter refused to allow people to leave (and presumably enter) the camp.

Throughout the day orange-jacketed “legal observers” kept notes on what happened, and it will be helpful for them to publish details of what they saw. There are some media reports such as Sky’s Catherine Jacobs.

London's Mayor, Boris Johnston said on Tuesday "I would urge those planning to demonstrate to honour the great, democratic tradition of peaceful, constructive protest, without the need to resort to violent or illegal activity.”

I imagine that the Climate Camp protestors feel they took this responsibility seriously, so why did it end like this?

13 comments:

  1. I never believed police in the UK would attack a group of people manifestly not rioting until I witnessed it at Climate Camp at Kingsnorth last summer. You can see the attack on Climate Camp G20 on youtube here
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJRi7YR1bU
    I don't understand why they do it.
    I've lived in a post-communist country where people told me the police exist to protect the state, not the people. I didn't think that was true here.

    In peace and friendship

    Susan

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  2. I was at the camp yesterday and at Kingsnorth last August - both were exactly as you described. Not just peaceful but creative, participatory, empowering and incredibly inspiring. I was extremely disappointed and actually a little upset that St Ethelburga's along with other local churches was closed all day. Such an amazing opportunity for engaging with the most promising social movement in the country was missed. It's an opportuntity which you are unlikely to get again. Many of us believe that Christian theology and practice should be firmly aligned with such life-affirming, hopeful expressions of love and non-violent resistance. Sadly, the message conveyed is that churches prefer to shut themselves away and are not there for activists and for the groups which represent the only viable future for our country.

    Matt

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  3. I'm also thinking it's a big shame that St Eths was shut - you're hardly Starbucks or the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the sort of violence that does tend to happen at these events is usually targeted and discriminating. I'm not sure a 'we're all in this together' banner entirely works, when you're standing bravely *behind* a big oak door. Mind you, before I get too smug, I stayed away all together - afraid of getting kettled for hours when I had a big pile of work to do. Finally it occurs to me that an open St Eths might've made it more difficult for the police to act as thuggishly as it seems they did. Might St Eths make a different plan if there's a march again? Did you feel leant on by the police to be closed that day?

    Cheers,
    Kate

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  4. Me again: you can see some later footage of Bishopsgate here: http://london.indymedia.org.uk/videos/1016

    (third of three)

    Kate

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  5. Thanks for the comments.

    We thought carefully about whether we should be open or closed, and our decision was not about security.

    St Ethelburga's particular mission is to bring people together across divisions. Any alignment that puts at risk our credibility with all parties in a conflict would be counter-productive. In this case I hope that our relationships with the police and the City may be helpful in creating further dialogue on this crucial issue.

    For the record, we were not put under any pressure to close by the police.

    There's more about our approach to this in my 23 March blog if anyone's interested.

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  6. You say that the decision to close was not to do with security but a desire to protect your “credibility”, but why would being open have aligned St Ethelburga’s either with the protestors, the police, or any other sundry passers-by who might have stopped in for a cup of fresh mint tea?

    It seems to me that closing for security reasons would have been a perfectly responsible thing to do – if a slightly boring one. But you say that’s * not * why you closed. Hmm.

    But, anyway, now that you have preserved your “credibility” what plans does St Ethelburga’s have to bring the different “sides” together?

    And in bringing them together what Christian commitments will shape your desired outcome.

    You talk about your “values” in your blog entry of 23 March, but apart from one reference, or half reference, to the bible (“readings from Ramana Maharshi or the Book of Genesis”) it is void of any distinct call upon theology, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, the doctrine of reconciliation, indeed anything that would identify your concerns as recognisably Christian – unlike, e.g., Matt above.

    Or is St Ethelburga’s not a Christian foundation?

    Not quite what you stand for, I suppose.

    Nice blog, though.

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  7. These were extraordinary scene to see from a distance. I noted that from the camera shot shown on You Tube that there seemed to be no fight being offered by the Climate change Campers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJRi7YR1bU
    Thank you Susan for this.
    But still like a Roman legion the police linked shields and pushed them back...one or two young officers were clearly loosing it and using their shields as weapons to hit the protesters who mostly had their hands held aloft. When a young officer is so clearly showing such signs of not coping with the situation they should be withdrawn from the line and replaced by someone with a cool head. Instead nothing was done to prevent these assaults.

    Clearly a decision had been taken to break the protest up into smaller groups and finally to evict them once the press cameras could no longer record what was happening.

    I do not understand all the issues that the protesters were there to represent; but some of them spring from the natural fear we all have for the future of our planet and the wanting something better than those policies that seem to be based upon destructive forces. Mostly as you say Simon it looked very good natured and well planned...but the order had come to clear the streets...so that was what took place.

    In thinking about the role of St Ethelburga's a forum for the Climate Change Protesters and the Police to come to some understanding does seem like any idea worth thinking about. In that way in a safe environment some ground rules could be laid down on such matters as agreed time limits, the level of behaviour that will be tolerated and the level at which police intervention becomes needed. Most of all the whole debate about the difference between peaceful and non violent protest and those who dedicate themselves to disruption and civil disobedience; and how the different groups should be managed. Is there such a forum that could arrange such things as spokespeople to negotiate on behalf of groups.

    For one thing I am sure the scenes that were shown on this clip were for so many reasons the unacceptable face of political rationale and also the totally unacceptable level of police behaviour.

    David Gould
    South West Scotland

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  8. [having read post of 22 April]

    Your concern for balance is admirable, but I still think slightly mistaken. You address the right issues about the righteous anger of protestors, but I don't think that at climatecamp.org.uk you find much evidence of demonising, dehumanising language. The camp does I think provide new insights and the capacity to surprise, grow and develop. There's a healthy mixture of people involved, and while more diversity is always needed (and embraced constructively through the consensus decision-making structure), it will not be achieved as long as those who can offer the wisdom and experience of prayerful and reflective approaches stand off and watch.

    Climate change is no longer an issue that just needs detatched discussion and dialogue (although these are always necessary). The greatest prophets of prayerful non-violence (Jesus, Gandhi, Merton and the like) realised that deep inner meditation leads to taking action against injustice - not in a shallow or vengeful way, but with open, honest, loving resistence to systems and powers, not personalities. If Climate Camp is to retain and develop this witness, it needs the spaces and opportunities for prayer, meditation, and encounter that St Ethelburga's can bring - equally as much as the City workers and other regular clientele that you have.

    I also think that viewing it as a conflict between two or more 'sides' - which is certainly what the police want us to think, and probably what you could find some people in the crowds to say as well - isn't quite the intention behind the Climate Camp organisers. After all, with climate change, everyone loses - the movement is just as much about education and developing alternative sustainable ways of living as about preventing disastrous decisions being made.

    Best wishes,

    Matt

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  9. great eye witness reporting simon - i posted it on http://twitter.com/paullargan also have pics if you are collating..

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  10. Chris Gwyntopher3 April 2009 10:21

    It is sad you at St. Ethelburgas did not feel able to provide a place of peace, refreshment and reconciliation for all involved in the climate camp, campers, police, bank workers. Perhaps a discussion about non-violent ways of bringing about the urgently needed changes to prevent escalating climate change? I understand your desire to retain open communication and trust with all parties and points of view. Remaining closed however gives the impression of indentifying with or at least going along with the police as the comments above show. Did Jesus not show partiality to the poor and oppressed?

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  11. I've been thinking more about this and I'm still not convinced by St Eths position. I believe the Quakers, for instance, do a good line in privately bringing together warring sides who are officially not speaking to each other (or at least I've heard that said about the Northern Ireland conflict) - but it hasn't prevented them for also stating what they stand for. I think being an arbiter of peace doesn't always oblige you to say that you have no view.

    Still, I wonder if this isn't salvageable. It would be *so interesting* if St Eths ran an evening of dialogue between people who'd attended the climate camp and representatives of the police and of city workers - many of the quotes I've seen from city workers are that the protesters are 'misinformed', while many protestors think that city workers are greedy scum. They are of different faiths just as much as, say, Christians and Muslims - perhaps even more so. I can't think of any venue where thoughtful representatives of both sides have been brought together to chat, rather than to fire shots over each others' bows. Possible?

    Cheers,
    Kate

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  12. That sort of event sounds like a good idea, and is certainly the sort of thing St Eths would be capable of doing well. Care should be taken when choosing the exact topic though - the police would probably want a discussion about legitimate and illegitimate protest tactics and an opportunity to justify their response, whereas I think the Climate Camp would prefer an informed debate on the central target of Wednesday's campaign - carbon trading http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/carbon-trading.

    I think there were people in London on Wednesday who would demonise all City workers as 'greedy scum' - and the opportunity for them to learn that they are just fallible human beings like the rest of us would be welcome. But the Climate Camp doesn't have that sort of personal-insulting based attitude and I would hope doesn't want to be distracted into discussing 'whether policemen and women have feelings too' - perhaps there is a more beginners-level course for those who don't know the answer to that question!

    Best wishes,

    Matt

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  13. It seems to me as if there's at least two discussions to be had here - protestors & police about the tactics used, and Climate Camp & City workers about the economic / environmental issues.

    I really would very much appreciate St Ethelburga's facilitating something like this.

    My friends and I were baton-charged whilst sat down preparing a Communion service (http://www.prayer-i58.org.uk/node/35). The Easter story is taking on new meanings for me this year as I try to forgive the police who didn't seem to know what they were doing.

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