The Mighty Mighty Climate Camp

Your riot cops are no match for our RHINO SIEGE ENGINE

I’ve just returned from 5 days of occupying the land of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a piece of direct action that yesterday successfully achieved its objective of shutting down RBS’ headquarters. On Monday when we looked across at the building we could see there was nobody working there apart from cops and security guards.

Context

A quick recap: for the past few days hundreds of activists affiliated with Climate Camp have targetted the Royal Bank of Scotland. Having previously taken direct action against projects like Kingsnorth coal fired power station and the (now cancelled) third runway at Heathrow, they’ve moved on to a target that’s slightly less obvious.

But for people concerned about climate change, RBS is in fact at the heart of the problem. As a financial institution, they are the biggest UK investors in fossil fuels, styling themselves “the oil and gas bank.” In an economy that is now kept firmly in the stranglehold of financial capitalism, banks and other investors must be held responsible for their leadership role in a socio-economic system that is destroying the ecological basis for civilisation.

This system is now in the early stages of falling apart at the seams, due to the interrelated crises of the environment, the economy and social collapse. In the UK, RBS is at the heart of this process.

The current economic crisis was caused by the fact that the dominant financial institutions, like RBS, had used debt and self-delusion to try and keep the economy going. This bubble lasted for a while, until the myths that underpinned it began to unravel. The UK government then gave RBS and other massive banks huge injections of our money. RBS is now 84% owned by the British state. However, they refused to take any control over the banks in return for this money, leaving RBS under the command of its previous owners.

The people that run RBS have one priority: finding ways to invest their money (which you and I gave them) that will generate them more profits and then more money to invest. That’s what they exist to do as an institution. One of the main ways they can do that is to put our money into energy projects. As the world’s supplies of fossil fuels dwindle, the ones that remain will become more profitable to extract, at least for a while.

So RBS has poured our money into projects and companies like the Alberta Tar Sands, ConocoPhilips who are destroying the Amazon rainforest, and E.ON, the energy corporation looking to cover Europe with new coal fired power stations. They do this not because they’re evil, but because they are designed as an institution to do a specific job, and they’re doing that job.

As it is currently structured, it would be impossible to make RBS act otherwise, which is why we should demand that instead of being controlled by private capitalists the wealth of RBS is used collectively and socially to solve problems in the world, instead of being used to create huge problems that will make the world a less habitable place for humanity in the coming decades.

This is all the more appalling when you remember that the working class is about to face one of the greatest austerity blitzkriegs of all time, after the government chose to facilitate RBS and its chums taking the money that should have been spent on public services, jobs and wages for the people who actually keep our society running – public sector workers. In this context, it’s clearly time for radical action against an institution which is poisoning our society.

Camping it up

The camp itself took place in an incredible location. If you’ve ever got the Glasgow/Edinburgh bus you’ve passed by where the RBS HQ is at Gogarburn, just near Edinburgh airport. You’ll have seen the bridge over the motorway with their logo hanging from it, and the massive office complex. What you can’t see from the road is that it is set in an unbelievably large area of land. At the back of the building is a small river, and then a big expanse of grass and woodland, which obviously must cost them quite a bit to maintain, and it’s not clear what they use it for. This was the site that climate campers were able to claim last week, and where I arrived on Thursday.

I originally went along with the intention of checking it out for the day and then going home to return later in the week, but what greeted me on arrival was too exciting to leave. Everywhere I looked there was practical work underway, with people constructing kitchens, marquees, toilet facilities and a whole infrastructure for a temporary community. To see the ingenuity at work was inspirational. The welcome pack made clear that what was going on here was an attempt to build a mini free society, a space that would prefigure how we would like the rest of our lives to be, without hierarchy and command structures, and with tasks shared equally and through voluntary participation.

To see what the climate campers are able to pull off as a left activist is pretty humbling. There’s pretty much no one in the organised UK socialist movement who could currently pull off getting about 800 people together on a site, making sure they were fed, watered (climate camp was able to plumb in its own water system that ran separate drinking and washing water pipes throughout the massive site) and provided with toilet facilities. Over the initial setting up days, the main contribution I made was as part of security teams, making sure the police couldn’t make an incursion into the territory we had claimed from RBS by guarding the points of entry, and then later helping co-ordinate these different defensive positions by working in the radio tent where we monitored communication from those on the gates.

This was a great thing to be part of – climate camp had a whole system in place to try and give early warning of police activity and be able to mobilise people to counter it. This may not have been necessary in Edinburgh, where Lothian and Borders had decided to take a hands off approach, concentrating their forces as a defensive line around RBS’ actual buildings, and effectively tolerating our presence on the wider grounds. However, this hasn’t always been the case. Talking to people about the repression meted out by the police at previous camps, where riot cops invaded their site night after night to physically attack people was a stark reminder of the militarisation and politicisation of the policing of protests in the UK over the last decades, as the government has used the climate of fear around terrorism to clamp down on any form of dissent.

Two Liams ready to take down monopoly finance capitalism

The point about all these infrastructural achievements is that they were achieved in a way different to how hierarchical capitalism would have met our needs. Nobody was forced to work with the threat of poverty, work got done because as people came together as a community based on solidarity towards a common objective; they recognised the need to collectively accomplish tasks. Although obviously some of the raw materials had to be purchased on the capitalist market (although less than you’d think with some of the scavenging skills that campers have), the building of the camp and its structures was done without money by people working in solidarity. Food wasn’t charged for, and the camp itself was free. Although the organisers clearly needed to raise money, this was done by encouraging those who could afford it to donate, rather than applying flat prices to everything that would have hit poorer participants hardest, in an attempt to facilitate the participation of all.

This was why I decided I wanted to stay on the Thursday, because around me was a real living, breathing attempt to build a new society, albeit for a few days, in a small, restricted space. Nevertheless, being part of that even for a short time was invaluable experience for those SSY members who were able to be there about how to run a huge event in a decentralised, non-hierarchical, anti-capitalist way.

Political discussion began in earnest on the Friday evening with a session that I caught some of, talking about the history of climate camp, how it got to where it is and where it’s going. It was listening in to this that I came to realise that this was quite possibly the biggest gathering of anti-capitalists to take place in Scotland since the G8 protests. The political level of what I heard was great. People clearly understood that climate change is caused by the need of the capitalist system to constantly expand, and that the current economic model is a cancer destroying the global ecological system necessary to ensure human survival. People were talking about the need to establish a new society, founded on ecological sustainability and human solidarity and love. Although maybe not everyone there would describe it as ecosocialism, to me it showed the growing strength of ecosocialist ideas throughout the world as a real alternative to the apocalyptic future we are sleepwalking into under capitalism.

One of the most interesting discussions I got along to at the weekend was about jobs, workers and the role of the working class in a just transition to a sustainable society. Speaking at the workshop were local trade unionists in the form of representatives from the Edinburgh Trades Union Council, the local UNISON branch and the Scottish Hazards campaign, which deals with the right of workers to health and safety at work. There was also a comrade involved with Workers’ Climate Action, an alliance of socialists and trade unionists trying to build an ecological movement based firmly in the workplace and on the power of the organised working class.

Workers’ Climate Action has done some really impressive work, especially around the Vestas dispute on the Isle of Wight. Vestas was a wind turbine factory that its owners decided to close despite the fact they were making huge profits, at the cost of 600 jobs to the community. Thanks to the intervention of WCA and the RMT union, workers were able to carry out an inspirational occupation of the factory, challenging the closure. Although Vestas did eventually withdraw, former workers are now in the process of relaunching the factory, with the formerly unorganised workforce all now members of the RMT.

They also have worked in solidarity with the striking BA cabin crew, and internationally with striking Colombian oil workers. It seems to me that their focus on linking the struggles of workers in industries important to the debate on climate change with the struggle for an ecologically just and sustainable society is the key way to take forward the anti climate change movement, and I hope very much that SSY can have a serious discussion in the next wee while about getting involved and using its resources for similar work in Scotland.

The discussion, involving local trades unionists, was able to talk concretely about the links between the unprecedented cuts being promised by the ConDem government, the bank bailout to RBS and co., and the use of our money to destroy the ecosphere rather than on the priorities outlined by trade unionists – full employment of working class people to tackle the climate emergency.

Outside of formal discussion, perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of climate camp is the ability to network and chat with hundreds of fascinating people from around the UK and the wider world. Night after night I found myself involved in deep chats about class, ecology, racism and how to build a better society. Although there were lots of people coming at things from quite a different perspective from me as a socialist, I frequently felt like I was gaining something important by engaging with them, and that we were learning from each other.

Walking around the camp and chatting to folk gave you a sense of just how much of a broad, direct action based ecology movement there is all over the place, that the socialist left has allowed itself to be ignorant of. Local groups proudly displayed their banners on their tents, and sitting in the toilet you read stickers and posters for campaigns like the occupation of Bilston glen near Dalkeith against a new road bypass, or West Midlands Climate Action digging into tunnels for a long term occupation against a new coal mine, or the local campaigners organising a weekend of education and action for those willing to come help them try and prevent the construction of a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley in Somerset.

On Sunday and Monday I was able to take part in direct action, which had mixed results (more on that later), but ultimately did achieve its objective of shutting down the bank HQ yesterday. By far the most exhilarating piece of action was on Sunday afternoon. A portable soundsystem provided music for what originally looked like a nice friendly dance around the camp, which kept the cops off guard, until a group of activists pushed down to the bridge over the water separating us from the RBS HQ, the principle frontline between our camp and the police held territory.

Taken completely by surprise, the cops were unable to hold back our numbers at the bridge, and we quickly broke through their lines. After days of staring across the river at the mirage of the manicured lawns and offices on the other side I was finally there, giving the police the run around. They struggled for a long time to regroup, although they eventually did, forcing us back to the bridge. However, after that the bridge, which had been held by the police up to our side, became neutral territory, with fencing erected that prevented us from crossing but also stopped the cops idly walking along to try and gather intelligence in conversation with whoever was on guard duty.

In the process of action as well I saw a lot of inspirational stuff, like several successful de-arrests, when the cops tried to snatch someone from our ranks we were powerful enough to get them off and rescue our comrades before they were able to arrest them. Being part of the frontline holding back cops at the bridge while we discussed the way forward was an excellent chance to see the consensus decision making process in action under pressure, and holding the line was something I remain proud to have participated in.

Siege engine FTW!

Yesterday I was part of something I never expected to be able to write up here: I helped push a siege engine into police lines. For days I had walked past what looked like a guard tower at the camp before on Saturday night I wandered up to it in search of the good tunes I heard from those building it. In conversation with these folk, I came to realise that what they were building was actually a mobile tower with wheels and an internal space as well. On the front was a paper mache rhino head. When I first got to go up the tower late at night and look across at the enemy we were going to target was incredible. From the first moment I arrived at the site I had been struck by its similarity to some kind of medieval battlefield, and now here I was on a piece of equipment that wouldn’t have looked out of place laying siege to some 13th century Duke’s castle. Although its eventual deployment wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d been hoping for, that people were able to pull off the construction of such a thing is itself pretty amazing. One of the things I’ve taken away from climate camp for future actions is the need to study a bit more closely olden days wars, and how to build things that can be deployed as a way of coping with the militarised cops.

A couple of criticisms

I hope that all of the above has emphasised how enthusiastic I was about climate camp and how glad I was that I went. However, it is absolutely necessary to raise some criticisms of what I saw there. These are meant with full respect to the people that pulled off such an amazing event, and are intended to be useful for strengthening similar events in the future rather than idle sniping or having a go. They’re also offered with humility, given that I am a latecomer to a movement which has been taking place for several years now.

Eat silly string, riot cops!

The first thing to say is something that was widely discussed and acknowledged at the camp: the participation is very middle class. This is a chicken and egg problem, because if other people don’t come to take part then on one level you can’t apportion too much blame to those that do. But it is discouraging and disheartening to working class people to feel like they are in a space that is not their own, and will drive people away, as it in fact did for some people that visited the Edinburgh camp while we were there. People who aren’t working class will find it hard to understand the subtle psychological processes at work here, but that is part of their unearned privilege that they gained by the accident of being born into a luckier family. We know when we’re in a space full of people posher than us, people who were born with access to greater amounts of social and cultural capital which they absorbed through their upbringing and education and which they deploy effortlessly through the way they speak and act (without even thinking about it) to their own advantage.

People can’t help where they come from, and they shouldn’t end up handwringing and beating themselves up about who they are. I’m not for a minute saying people from these kinds of backgrounds shouldn’t be welcome at climate camp. But real, concrete thought needs to be put into how to encourage the participation of working class people, so that those of us who come are able to connect with more people who look and sound like us. Within the event itself that means paying a lot more attention to people who are new to it, or activism in general, and making sure they’re properly integrated. It also means being respectful, and trying to be aware of your own class privilege as part of combatting it – at least one Scottish activist who came along felt talked down to and patronised at a workshop, and stuff like that will prevent the movement from growing.

A focus on working class activism is essential not just to ensure that the camp itself is a safe and welcoming space for everyone who wants to participate, but is key to an understanding how to properly take forward the movement trying to save civilisation from climate change. The working class are not just another interest group that we should tick off on our list of making sure everybody is happy. They’re the majority of people on planet Earth, and the ones with the power to shut down the economy and transform society if organised and prepared. Climate camp has declared itself as explicitly anti-capitalist, but it hasn’t yet fully understood that the people that have the power to end capitalism and build a better society are, by definition, the working class. The Vestas dispute and the work done by Workers’ Climate Action points to the way climate activists could put the working class at the heart of their strategy.

Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?

The other reason this is a chicken and egg problem is that those members of the working class who do have, on some level, a duty to engage with the camp are not doing so. As far as I’m aware, myself, Liam T and Liam M were the only members of the organised socialist left in Scotland to be there consistently there throughout the camp. We were joined on an off by a few different SSY members, and a couple of older SSP members on the Monday day of action. There were comrades from groups down south, and the Socialist Workers’ Party did make an intervention, but it was largely to send their big speakers on the issue along on Saturday for the workshops in order to try and convince people to come along to their latest front projects and demos – they weren’t there consistently from the start like SSY was.

No real significant effort was made by the Scottish socialist movement at large to organise and be there. There are of course barriers to participation, like cash, getting time off work etc., and this is NOT a slagging of individuals with perfectly reasonable individual reasons why they couldn’t be there. Yet again it is an illustration of the fact that the left has lost a lot of its orientation to broader movements that, in Scotland, we were strong on in the earlier part of this decade. Just compare the climate camp to the SSP’s participation in the G8 protests five years ago. If the camp had took place back then there would easily have been a delegation of 20-30 working class activists from the SSP, who would have transformed a lot of the political content of the event. This is a symptom of our weakness compared to a few years ago, when we would have discussed the event in advance and made sure the preparations were in place to allow members to fully participate. The fact that this stuff isn’t happening now means that SSP members are missing out on a lot of the best stuff that’s going on in the wider activist left, like climate camp or the Scottish Anti Fascist Alliance.

The camp was organised by geographical neighbourhoods, and for those of us in the somewhat amorphous ‘Scotland and Newcastle’ region, it was clear there weren’t that many Scottish folk there. I think there are probably organisational reasons for this which I’ll come to in a minute, but a little bit of sensitivity that the majority English participants were in a different country wouldn’t have gone amiss. A big Union Jack tent near the Scottish neighbourhood was pretty grating, but even more annoying was more than once having to say why we weren’t comfortable with a Union Jack being put on the siege engine. We did do this loudly and vocally, and thankfully some folk got the point and confiscated it. Putting the flag of British imperialism in our faces, with everything that connoted for us in Scotland, especially those of us who are of Irish descent, shows a basic lack of a grip of history and sensitivity to where you are, and did discourage Scottish people from participating.

There’s been chat from some quarters that this may be the last climate camp event on this scale for a while, with the group maybe turning to smaller local events as part of an attempt to keep their tactics fresh and stop things getting stale. But another reason may well be what I recognised as classic signs of a movement that hasn’t managed to grow and renew itself – I felt like I had arrived rather late in the life cycle of the climate camp.

This also relates to a problem with the desire to rigorously deny any kind of hierarchy at the camp. There was a hierarchy of sorts. There was a group of organisers who were pretty much the only ones who knew everything that was going on at one time. A lot of these people are clearly exhausted after years of doing the same work again and again, whilst their numbers slowly dwindle. I have a lot of sympathy for them, as I’ve been in a similar position myself more than once. The problem with voluntarism is that when people don’t volunteer easily the same people end up shouldering a disproportionate burden. This understandably leads to disillusionment and frustration, which it’s all too easy to displace on to the wrong targets – those left around you who are trying to help.

These problems were for me reinforced by some of the planning processes involved for direct action. As I said, we achieved our goal of shutting down the bank. But for me personally, I was also attending to get experience in taking part in collective, mass direct action. But when we went to plan for what we would do at an initial session, we were told the plan was that people would form affinity groups, which would then autonomously develop their own plans and then feed back to a wider spokescouncil. This is immediately a difficult thing for anyone who’s new and doesn’t know other people yet, or who has just come along as an individual. There were sessions that were trying to group people together who didn’t have a group, but this kind of defeats the purpose of having affinity groups because the whole point is supposed to be that it is a tight knit group of people who know and trust each other.

We and others argued in the planning session that an overall goal should be set for direct action – are we trying to blockade the building? Enter the building and occupy it? We were basically told by those running the workshop that there wasn’t time to do this, and that the process had already been decided and couldn’t be changed. To argue that these people in this context weren’t acting as leaders clearly isn’t true. Although we did a “temperature check”, where people stood on opposite sides of the room based on whether they wanted to blockade, occupy or somewhere in between, a concrete decision was never taken, and this weakened the action we did take.

When I crossed the river on Sunday it was exciting, but once there I wasn’t at all clear what I was trying to do there, in a chaotic situation trying to outmaneuver police lines. Windows of the building got broken – I wasn’t near by and didn’t see what happened. But later I heard that the intention had been to smash windows in order to enter the building. With proper planning this would have been a totally achievable aim at this point. We had at least 100 people on our side, and the police were in disarray. If we’d known what we were trying to do we could have all piled in and made a serious attempt at taking the building. The possibility of digging in for a longer term occupation would have cost RBS a lot more than a planned one-day shutdown, and possibly would have given us a position to force concessions from them in negotiations.

This didn’t need a detailed battle plan being unveiled to everyone (which obviously would quickly be learned by the cops), but simple clarity on common aims which is needed for mass action to succeed. From our experience confronting the Scottish Defence League, we have been successful because the people involved have had a clear, understandable objective: find the SDL, surround them and prevent them from being able to march, occupying the space.

American feminist Jo Freeman, author of the influential essay ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness,’ has argued that pretending there is no hierarchy itself is highly pernicious because it allows the hidden leadership to excercise greater control than if leadership was recognised and democratically dealt with. I don’t think anyone wanted this outcome at climate camp, but the fact is because things were not always done in a collective way, it could be pretty alienating for new people like me. There was a large number of people milling about who didn’t know what was going on, waiting for stuff to happen. Those who did have strong affinity groups and experience didn’t plan for a mass action at the site, because they didn’t have a common objective to plan towards, but in the end peeled off to do small actions in town, against the offices of energy companies or the RBS sponsored Fringe festival.

The one and only

I’ll post more about these as I learn more about them, but on the day info was very patchy, so I’m going to find about more on the internet first. This isn’t a criticism of the folk who did stuff in town – good on you, great work. But the point is that there wasn’t ever a collective plan for what the mass of folk should be doing on Monday, and a lot of us spent a lot of time standing around in miserable rain wondering what was going on.

Mass, collective, organised direct action is possible. I know because I’ve been part of it before. It’s very difficult, and mistakes are easy to make, especially when you’re within an easily heard (on a directional mic) distance from a huge police presence. But alongside the denial of the existence of a leadership group comes an incongruous vanguardism from some participants – thinking that they are the enlightened activists ahead of the rest of society, trying to wake them up and drag them forward with what they do.

I am not someone that thinks that direct action per se is elitist, I am very much in favour of it. But there needs to be proper democracy, communication, and sensitivity to varying levels of experience and understanding among participants for it to work. A true commitment to mass action at the weekend could have achieved far more than we did. Direct action should also never be fetishised as a means of struggle, and seen as part of a wider engagement in the everyday lived reality of ordinary people under capitalism, outside of the utopian bubble of the camp. The world where people have to go to work and earn money, pay their rent and buy food. That’s where we need to organise to build the strength we need to make direct action allied to it successful. In alliance with this kind of work, mass action can absolutely achieve dramatic results.

Again, I would like to stress that these are not gripes, but part of a genuine attempt on mine (and SSY’s) part to engage constructively with something that was a successful and inspirational event, in order to strengthen it for the future. Having been part of climate camp has given me a lot of hope that we have the power to organise and defeat a system that is marching us off the edge of a cliff. The best way to take it forward in my humble opinion is to focus more on community and workplace organising, and build up the links between people in struggle in those spaces with the ecological struggle. In the specific case of what we were doing this weekend, I think we could learn from the many people outside (including chatty cops!) who said we should also be talking prominently about the role of RBS in ruining the economy and destroying people’s livelihoods, as well as their naked profiteering from their customers through things like bank charges. We in Scotland need to have a discussion about what we are going to do about this massive national institution of our country putting our national name on the destruction of communities and ecosystems across the globe.

There’s to be a follow up meeting to the camp next month, on the topic of linking of climate and workers’ struggles. I don’t know much about who’s organising it, but I hope it should be an opportunity to take forward organising beyond just the days of the camp. I very much hope we can get representatives of Edinburgh workers in struggle against job losses and wage cuts there again, as we did at the camp. Hope to see you there. The details are:

September 13th, Digger’s Pub, Angle Park Terrace, Edinburgh. More details will be posted as I get them.

27 Comments

  1. TheWorstWitch says:

    My number one climate camp cringe: ‘ceilidh’ being spelled wrong on the blackboard advertising one evening’s entertainment… followed by the band apologising “in case any of you are Scottish” for the dances being completely made up and random. The English people danced and wooped it up while we looked on in bemusement!

    I’m really glad I went to climate camp. I had a great time, and I feel like I contributed to something worthwhile – and I think it was a great learning experience for those SSY comrades who were able to attend.

    And the food was AWESOME.

  2. rooftopjaxx says:

    Glad you enjoyed it all, and went home so enthused to write this up so well.

    Just one minor quibble – wouldn’t it be truer to describe WCA as an alliance of socialists, anarchists, greens and other trades unionists? (aka the red-green-black coalition)

  3. insightful interview, thanks.

  4. Liam T says:

    climate camp was grrreat – I really enjoyed it and I’m glad a few of us made it along.
    the fact that we were occupying RBS land for almost a week was pretty amazing in itself, never mind all the other awesome stuff that was going on! obviously I’d have a few criticisms as well, which I think you’ve gone into really well in this article jack.
    it’s very easy to get all doom and gloom about the state of ‘the left’ in Scotland/Britain but in reality there’s huge, grassroots movements like this going on that the traditional left is barely even aware of, let alone involved with..

  5. Squeak says:

    “My number one climate camp cringe: ‘ceilidh’ being spelled wrong on the blackboard advertising one evening’s entertainment… followed by the band apologising “in case any of you are Scottish” for the dances being completely made up and random. The English people danced and wooped it up while we looked on in bemusement!”

    Oh lordy.

  6. Harry Giles says:

    Thanks for these notes — really useful to have coverage and critique like this. Also glad to have socialist organisers not too put off coming to a camp more often anarchist-aligned — and not being oppositional about it! Would be nice to continue this kind of dialogue, finding ways we can work on the class issues &c.

  7. Squeak says:

    We’re up for it of course; I’m gutted I missed the camp but I was still fuckin ill from our own wee camp. Which imo just shows how fun it was.

  8. Jack says:

    Just wanted to say I’m really glad other folk involved with the camp have picked up on this and liked it, I really appreciate all the comments. I’m very hopeful that we can use the links we made at Climate Camp to try and help make a contribution towards building a movement radical and strong enough to do what’s necessary in terms of ending the crisis we find ourselves in.

    I’m really glad as well that people appreciated my critique in the spirit it was meant in. Overwhelmingly my experience of the camp was positive.

    Locally in Glasgow we’ve been trying to build links with more anarchist influenced people, to do joint work on community organising as well as radical ecological stuff as well. Here in Scotland I think the work done by the Scottish Anti Fascist Alliance in stopping the Scottish Defence League has helped provide a model of how people from different backgrounds can work together as well. Imho we in the socialist movement need to broaden our idea of who we think of as “the left”, and also what we think of as “left unity.” We don’t necessarily have to all be in one organisation to be able to discuss things openly and honestly with each other and work together in action towards common goals. The need for a radical, class focused ecological movement with mass influence in society and prepared to take direct action etc. has never been greater, and I want to play whatever role I can in helping to build it.

    If people want to contact me at all about continuing this dialogue, I can be reached at jack [at] ssy.org.uk, or obviously keep commenting here.

    Just one other quick thing, I heard that the person leading the ceilidh has said on twitter (don’t have a twitter so can’t respond on there) that she hoped she didn’t cause any offence, and I wanted to reassure her we weren’t offended in any way, just thought it was quite funny is all. You have to remember that we learn Scottish country dancing in school here, and it happens at weddings etc. as well, so there are a few stock dances that everyone knows and that you always think will be on at a ceilidh. Like I say though, funny, not in any way offensive!

  9. Yanni says:

    Thanks Jack. A very well written and insightful report, and reflecting a lot of the concerns and experiences
    of the handful of Scottish attendees at the Camp.

    I too experienced incidences of insensivity and highly patronising (and arrogant and condescending) behaviour from a number of English attendees at the Camp.

    Despite the supposed intent of the Camp to be a place free from discriminatory attitudes and behaviour, sadly it was in evidence far more frequently than it should have been. Of course, the vast majority of English people at the Camp were friendly, warm and welcoming towards the Scots. This was the general experience. But as is usual, a few bad apples let the side down. The displays of slightly antagonistic anti-Scottishness, coupled with an inability of some of the attendees to leave aloof, high handed, colonialistic and class superiority attitudes at the border, is undoubtedly highly off putting to many.

    If Climate Camp is unable to cultivate a welcoming climate towards the Scots, it is little wonder that so few Scots were there. I wonder if some of the English campers, whipped up into a frenzy against the economic and climatic malpractices of The Royal Bank of Scotland, were somehow confused and thought that insensitive and condescending behaviour towards any Scots they encountered there, was somehow permissible?

    It is very disrespectful to the country that you are visiting and the Scots at the Camp.

    I even heard Climate Camp TV’s own journalists call 2 campers from Edinburgh “real live Scottish specimens”.

    While she perhaps didn’t intend any offence, or indeed maybe didn’t even offend the interviewees, that kind of patronising description of Scots at the Camp simply isn’t acceptable.

  10. Sarah says:

    I want to prefix this by saying that my large comment is going to be pretty much all negative, but that’s because I think I have a couple of things to say on that. I want everyone to know that I agree with Jack’s article and agree with the things that were impressive and great about the camp and that I have been vehemently defending it to people who’ve mentioned it to me, despite actually not enjoying it while I was there. Anyway, here goes:

    Without meaning to come across as confrontational, I actually do find the described ceilidh incident kind of offensive. I’m sure if you were there it was kind of funny and bemusing and I accept in practise it probably wasn’t all that bad but the idea of English people coming to Scotland and jumping about going ‘look I’m a local, watch me do my funny dance’ when there’s been very little effort to appeal to Scottish people or get them along in the first place, stinks of cultural imperialism to me. Like the union jack tent which a number of you saw me be a bit horrified by, but which I accepted was just someone being stupid and thoughless, I was a bit concerned while at the camp that it seemed as though there was no acceptance that the majority of people there had travelled to another country, and that this might involve thinking about things in a different way. I’m glad that they eventually took down the union jack on the battering ram that you mention in the article, but I think it’s symptomatic of not just the climate camp, but of the English left in general, to refuse to accept that Scotland is not their territory and I for one as a Scottish leftie want to work with the English left, not for the English left. I know it’s not the fault of the priviliged per se that they are taught to think like that – like they have as much claim over Scotland as they do over London or Brighton or wherever they have their meetings usually, when they don’t (and btw I’m not against people from other countries protesting in Scotland about climate change – I just think of it like us going to Copenhagen, I’d hope that the Scottish people that went over there didn’t patronise Danish people or act as if it was an extension of Scotland) – but it is a duty of people who aim to think beyond the boundaries of capitalist society to actively do something about their privilige, as we’d ask men or white people to be anti-sexist and anti-racist.

    I think what the organisers of the camp (and subsequent staunch defenders like the one that was linked to in the other post) forgot was that they came to Edinburgh at the worst possible time. Edinburgers have had to come to accept that during the month of August, their city is no longer theirs – it belongs to English and American tourists. And they don’t like it. So coming at the time when there’s already been a descendence of middle class English folk aided by the patronising Guardian articles about ‘things to do in Edinburgh’ like it’s a fucking theme park, plus the patronising attitudes towards the average Scot and people who don’t spend their life doing this sort of thing was never going to make it an easy time for the camp to convince people that what they were doing was just and right, rather than just another invasion of Edinburgh by posh English folk. Edinburgh gets a lot of pelters from weegies who say it’s just full of English people anyway but I actually really really hate it when yous do that, because I come from Edinburgh and I know it isn’t, and Edinburgers feel every bit as marginalised by the festival and accompanying swarm of tourists as weegies would feel if it was them. It’s a question that as critically thinking campers you have to ask yourselves – why on earth WOULD someone from Edinburgh want to come to our protest? As it is, at present? Being lied to by the papers is actually considerably more comforting than being patronised by climate campers.

    I’m putting this in very simple terms like posh and English when I know the actual makeup of the camp was a lot more nuanced and a bit more balanced than that, because that was, pushing all that aside, the basic makeup of the camp and that’s as far as it’s going to be perceived by the Scottish working class people who weren’t involved.

    I’m actually in disagreement with the folk on the other post who think that all the problems with the climate camp were with not trying hard enough to be perceived differently in the press. As members of the SSP know, sometimes you just have to forget about what the press say about you when you know what you’re doing is right. In terms of local perception though, I think the best way to affect that would have been by being a more welcoming environment inside the camp. I appreciate first hand how difficult it can be to get people who you know should be interested in an event you’re putting on to actually accept it and come. But my first hand perceptions of the camp on the day that I spent there just aren’t going to go away for me. I think it’s great that other members of SSY went there and maybe had a few complaints but generally found it a positive experience. I didn’t, and I don’t really like being treated like that’s some sort of failure on my account for not getting into the spirit of things or something. I came, I tried, and I totally accept all the criticisms of the Scottish left for NOT coming and not getting involved, but I did come, and had I enjoyed it I would have stayed. I was actually really excited and enthused for the camp.. until I got to the welcome tent and got patronised to fuck, kind of setting the tone for the day with me. I guess the thing is, it was all very subtle, so if you didn’t pick up on it or chose to ignore it, the camp was great fun and really interesting, but if you did get a whack of it it was hard to not notice the privilige and the attitudes everywhere. I did agree with the aims of the camp and I even agreed with the methods, though for me the whole ‘flash mob Lady Gaga dancing’ thing is just cringeworthy and awful – I was probably the only person to really not like that Bad Hotel video. I would have come on the Monday because I think that was clearly the best part of it that I could have been involved in but I really don’t want to be arrested protesting (and I think people should respect that). The trouble with the Sunday activity being kept secret from the police meant it was also kept secret from people outside the camp that would have come too – a catch 22 I guess, but one that can only be resolved by having a more welcoming atmosphere for people who are in the position to travel in at short notice – people from Edinburgh.

    Anyway, I don’t have a solution. ‘Be more welcoming’ is easier said than done I guess, but I’m not sure anyone really understood the depth of how uncomfortable I felt the entire time that I spent at the camp. Maybe it is that it just wasn’t for me and had there been more participation from the left that wouldn’t have clanged so much, but on a personal level it just felt like I was coming up against a brick wall of pretend-non-hierarchy and a sea of loud shouty posh accents (only loud outside workshops, inside I could barely hear anyone speak) and defensive attitudes towards criticisms and anti-capitalist analysis with a skew-whiff view of class. I really appreciate everything the climate campers did against RBS while in Edinburgh, but I didn’t enjoy it and I know why I didn’t enjoy it, so that’s why I didn’t get more involved and I hope that some people who were at the camp for longer can take that as me explaining why I didn’t enjoy it rather than full on attacking them and the things that they achieved because that’s not my purpose.

    And now I see that Yanni has posted basically the same points as I was making but in a much more succinct way!

  11. Plase feel free to comment on my response to Climate Camp, aka a load of unemployed people sitting around and creating a nuisance. http://krisseunarine.blog.co.uk/2010/08/26/climate-camp-9248675/

    In particular, how do you feel about BP promoting your climate change agenda? Do you enjoy sharing views with big oil?

  12. Lydia says:

    @Sarah: I also despise the Bad Hotel video. The left is a joke in the media as it is. We need not humiliate ourselves further. :P

  13. TheWorstWitch says:

    Something I forgot to mention in my comment above: Jack mentioned in the article “several successful de-arrests” – it was more than several! I think there were at least a dozen, if not 20 or more. I participated in de-arresting four or five people and it was one of the most exhilarating pieces of activism I’ve ever done.

    Being able to de-arrest people really shows the power of numbers at political events like these – the tactics used on the Sunday are tactics we need to learn from and repeat.

  14. Liam T says:

    can we unban fianananalba plz, i’d be interested to hear him expand on his one-word “wankstains” analysis of climate camp on the GB boards

  15. Sarah says:

    he called us stalinist wankstains in the spam. I don’t mind folk filtering through funny/harmless posts of his but he stays banned until he learns not to be a fuckwit

  16. Squeak says:

    Yeah he also compared the RIRA to the Easter Rising.

  17. Liam T says:

    Climate Camp mentioned this article on their web round-up: http://climatecamp.org.uk/blog/2010/08/27/good-bad-and-simply-ridiculous-post-camp-commentary-around-the-web/
    & there’s another Scottish critique of the camp here which I found interesting: http://www.indymediascotland.org/node/20970

  18. Tara says:

    Interesting article, though I don’t agree about the ‘middle class’ criticism. We’re all working class; we all work, we just don’t starve any more because we have debt to save us from that now. I met plenty of traditionally ‘working class’ (as per your use of the term) people at the camp: they simply just didn’t stand out, as they were dressed as well as anyone else there. If Climate Camp started trying to recruit people of other classes/colours (NB I am a person of ‘colour’), I wouldn’t attend it again! IMO, society has already gone wrong with it’s approach to minorities and recruiting them for the sake of numbers/saving face- let’s not bring that into Camp life too! We need to focus on what unites us instead of what divides us- the former is just too easy to do. Although there was plenty of discussion of the ‘middle class’ issue at the Edinburgh Camp, I felt that it largely came about from the media-bashing of Camp* and after talking to people about it they were less concerned with the media-spwaned issue.
    *I say this is memory of The Daily Mail’s article about Climate Camp last year, re us all being ‘middle class’ because we had ‘expensive tents’:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1209592/What-want-A-nice-Cath-Kidston-tent-The-remarkably-middle-class-Climate-Camp.html

    Direct response from me:
    a) I have a good tent because the rubbish ones are wasteful as they break easily,
    b) actually it wasn’t that expensive as I got it in a really good sale, and
    c) we live in a capitalist system, where I have to earn money in order to survive. That’s YOUR preferred system, not mine (hence my being at Camp), and you have no valid reason for criticising me for purchasing a tent that I use to get away from the stresses of capitalist life.

    Re your comment that ‘People who aren’t working class will find it hard to understand the subtle psychological processes at work here’ – I strongly disagree.. As someone from a working class family I find this comment offensive. Who are you to decide why ‘we’ choose to do or not to do a thing? Especially when it’s you who is making the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘you’ in the first place?!

    Finally, I recommend reading this piece about the media response to Climate Camp this year:
    http://www.indymediascotland.org/node/21015

    Peace
    T

  19. Jack says:

    I’m sorry it offended you Tara, but it doesn’t change the fact that working class activists walked away from climate camp because they didn’t feel it was a space for them, see comments above.

    I’m a supporter of climate camp, I want to see it stronger. For it to be strong it needs to recognise and deal with these things, not pretend they’re not happening. It’s nothing to do with taking our cues from the Daily Mail. I haven’t read any of the right wing press coverage before I came along,

    I’m curious to ask why you wouldn’t come if Climate Camp made more of an effort to appeal to a diverser base of people?

  20. Jack says:

    Btw, also I agree that, objectively, we’re all working class. In my book, people either work for a wage or they live off exploiting others labour, that’s the most important division in capitalist society. However, that also doesn’t change that some people are privileged enough to grow up with differing amounts of social and cultural capital that give them systematic unearned advantages. People who don’t have this are generally more acutely aware of this than those that do, that’s part and parcel of unearned privilege.

  21. Tara says:

    Hi Jack,

    I know plenty of ‘middle class’ people who walked away from Camp for various different reasons too, are you going to pigeonhole them as well?

    In my own experience, I met people at the Edinburgh Camp who claimed to be left out due to their ‘working class roots’/accents etc.. I heard them out and I shared their voice to the debate, as I wanted them to enjoy Camp life, but I also knew that they were unfair accusations- none of them had visited the welcome tent on the way in, or were confident to join in with discussions, so they were angry and basically wanted to be celebrated without offering anything, and noticed while remaining quite during debates and actions. As soon as the debate was over several fellow campers came along to speak to them- there was no bad feeling among them, no ‘we won’t talk to you because we have degrees’ as they’d claimed (I have a degree, in fact, but they obviously didn’t suspect that as I don’t look like your average middle class person)- people just hadn’t had a chance to speak to them, and were very apologetic overall. After hearing these, the 3 ‘WC’ complainents cheered up immensely: all they wanted was a bit of attention, really. We don’t need to take their unfounded criticisms so seriously just because Marx wrote a paper on it all those years ago..

    Also, these people had only just arrived at camp and obviously had strong preconceptions of how things should be, which took away from their ability to see how things actually were. We all go through this when we join Camp (I know I did), but chose to adapt to what I saw: I offered my help to a kitchen when I arrived for the first time, and ended up speaking to people that way, while cutting vegetables together. None of their ‘working class’ (self-defined) newbies I met were open to that, and then they became angry and made out that they had been ignored due to class snobbery, which no one would deny of course as they were all too busy carrying the ‘privileged middle class’ label themselves (which you insist on reinforcing here).

    I could have said the same thing about my non-white skin too, if I had mooched around not speaking to anyone for days, but I chose to be proactive instead, because what matters to me most is preventing climate change- in fact the people who will be most affected by the changes that brings IS us working class folk with mouths to feed and few (if any) investments or protection from potentially impending increased natural disasters..

    Camp is about getting involved yourself, being as much a part of it as you like, and perhaps that’s not for everyone, but then we aren’t used to being proactive in everyday society: we have become lazy in that regard, in fact. Climate Camp is still new, it responds to doing things differently, and it certainly tries to welcome people and to adapt to people’s criticisms (of which there are too many baseless ones, IMO), whether or not those criticisms are true. What we really need is more media explaining how things work at Camp and also that people can come in and contribue or change things as they see fit, which would help everyone (provided these elusive ‘working class’ people you speak of read such articles), instead of constant criticism eg from your own article, while offering no solutions.

    I don’t agree with your statement that:
    ‘People who don’t have this are generally more acutely aware of this than those that do, that’s part and parcel of unearned privilege.’

    Where’s your evidence for this? Studies? Citations?? You need to be more careful about how your represent (stereotype) the people you claim to represent. Perhaps they wouldn’t thank you for it.

    Finally, my comments about The Daily Mail were not meant to suggest that YOU were basing your thoughts on the newspaper, but that feedback from people in the Camp does tend to echo such views. Isn’t it funny that the criticisms in the DM article I shared echo exactly what some people were saying at Camp? Divide and conquer is not a new strategy, and one the mainstream media is well aware of.. Let’s focus on making things better without singling problems out as if they are intentional or unfixable.. Let’s accept that the 5th Climate Camp in this country had problems like anything else but was overall a brilliant feat.. Let’s focus on what brings us together instead of always this criticism that separates us.. After all, society is rife with problems but seems to get a lot less comment on them – so let’s leave the labels behind and work together here.. We all want to create a better, fairer world after all, yes?

  22. Jack says:

    Tara, I really think you’re being unfair here. The vast majority of my article praised climate camp for what it was, an amazing achievement which I was glad to be part of. I am asolutely focused on being part of the climate camp movement and making it better. One way i can do that is to raise legitimate concerns in a comradely way. I think characterising what I wrote as constant criticism is really unfair.

    Again, I urge you to read Sarah’s comments above. People I know came to the welcome tent, were not made to feel welcome, then took part in workshops and felt patronised. It wouldn’t be fair of me to just dismiss that and tell them they’re wrong and should get on with it, a much more constructive approach is to think about why that is. if someone tells you that they felt patronised or made to feel unwelcome, it’s on you to think about why that was, same is if a man said something and a woman says she felt that was sexist, they should think about it, not tell her to get over it, not be so sensitive etc.

    This idea that people’s criticisms echo the media is really quite offensive, if you can’t understand the difference between the daily mail and working class people telling you they didn’t feel like it was their space then your level of understanding is pretty poor.

    What you’re displaying here is a textbook example of a defensive reaction to criticism, a much better approach would be to try and engage with people and ask why they would think such things instead of just blanket saying you are wrong.

    For the record I was at camp for 5 days and involved myself in lots of the work, primarily gates and comms, so I don’t think I can be accused of not taking part.

    What I have learned from years of organising events with young people and trying to make people into activists for the first time is that you have to work hard to make them feel welcome. If you fail at that the failure is yours, not theirs.

    I think it’s unfortunate we’ve been drawn into this discussion however, because as I say, overwhelmingly what I have to say about the camp is positive. I’ve been trying to defend it, but your comments aren’t making that any easier.

    Btw, if you want an academic book that discusses privilege (and hopefully help you understand why you’re having an unhelpful, defensive reaction to legitimate comments getting raised), I recommend The Gender Knot: Unravelling our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G Johnson: http://tiny.cc/a94a0

  23. Tara says:

    What a patronising reply.. You preach that people should welcome and consider criticism, while reacting defensively against mine? Is that because I’m not working class enough for you then? Well done.

  24. Jack says:

    Lol, I think we could go round in circles here feeling patronised and offended by each others responses (I know I do a bit). I think you’re the one that has reacted in a defensive way to one small aspect of my article. I also not you’ve still not addressed in any way the comments made by Sarah above. I have no idea how working class you are, I don’t know you so I won’t make any judgement on that. What I do know is that real working class people who I know who came along felt patronised and unwelcome, and that’s something we should reflect on and try and stop from happening in the future, rather than just telling people “You are wrong, if you got into the spirit of things you wouldn’t feel that way, you’re just taking your cues from the Daily Mail.” That last part is patronising and offensive.

    Sorry if you felt patronised by my suggesting a book, but you were the one that demanded studies and citations about social privilege, something that is a well established sociological concept within feminism and anti-racism,

    I’m really starting to resent that I’m getting drawn into a position of attacking climate camp, something which on the whole I really enjoyed and was positive about (as reflected in the content of my article!)

  25. Sarah says:

    http://sap.mit.edu/content/pdf/class_privilege_checklist.pdf – here’s a class privilege checklist. It should be a lot longer and could be tailored more to the middle class, but it’ll do for now.

    I suggest you pay particular attention to 1 and 11.

    Btw, it’s called ‘social’ class for a reason – it is not just related to the particular economic situation you find yourself in at any given moment, it’s so much deeper than that and has roots in so many aspects of people’s lives. It’s a classic example of class privilege that someone has come on here denying that it exists – only someone who has not experienced being at the other side of class privilege would feel that they had the right to do that.

    I as a white anti-racist socialist activist accept that I have white privileges which non-white people don’t and shape my ability to participate/enjoy/feel comfortable in situations. It’s not my fault I’m white and other people are not and I hate that I was born into a world where I have automatic privileges over other people based on my skin colour, but it IS my duty to accept that I do and to challenge them where I can and be open to listening to if a non-white person tells me that I have displayed white privilege, rather than being defensive and denying that it exists. Likewise, I expect my boyfriend, as a feminist socialist activist himself, to accept that he has male privilege and to take this into consideration in the way that he speaks to and acts around me and other women. No serious anti-capitalist activist can expect to ignore class privilege. You saying that there were people who came to the camp who were working class but it’s their fault for not speaking enough in workshops is a classic example of class privilege – it might be difficult to understand why (exactly as Jack puts it there are subtle psychological processes at work here, shaped by class experience and identity) it is MUCH HARDER for a working class person to come to a largely middle class camp and feel comfortable and involved than it is for a middle class person. It can be painful, but sorry, you just have to do it – much like how for feminist men it can be difficult to have to face the reality of the privilege that they have as men, but accepting it is the first step to repairing it and it’s the first step towards being a serious activist. Repeatedly throughout the life of a working class person they are taught by experience, attitudes, environments etc that their opinions are not as valid as people of a higher social class and to just shut up around them – such as how very few people from their school probably went on to university, very few of their friends probably read broadsheets etc, just two small examples. It’s the same as how women are taught that men are natural leaders so they should remain quiet around them. Just cause I myself am a woman who regularly tries to challenge this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel uncomfortable in a room with lots of loud dominant men talking.

    Also I suggest looking in to the term ‘cultural capital’ in regards to why it’s easier for middle class people to participate in climate camp than working class people http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_capital

    Even leaving this aside – how on earth can you possibly think that coming on to an article which is written in a very diplomatic, comradely, friendly way and being unnecessarily antagonistic and patronising and disregarding the article’s actual points is going to help anything at all? Here are some working class people who were at the camp telling you what they thought of it and you’re basically telling them their opinions are wrong and formed by the Daily Mail (which is really offensive btw)?? How is your ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ attitude ever going to help the environmental movement expand, even leaving aside the fact that those exact attitudes are prime examples of class privilege? Thankfully the other comments have been much more comradely and I have faith based on this that the wider environmental movement is more open to criticism (and compliments! which you don’t seem to have noticed) than you individually are.

  26. Lewis says:

    Awwwww, come on! The Céilidh has been a climate camp tradition since Drax – it occurs every year! The dances my be incorrect, but damn its a great laugh for all!

  27. James N says:

    Can you not understand how Scottish people might find it slightly grating that you pay homage to a traditional aspect of our culture by just jumping about like an idiot?

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