Camping It Up

I’ve been spending rather more time over the weekend over at the Climate Camp than I had intended to – I only went over for a gawp and a few photos, but somehow I got talking to people and ended up going back for workshops and discussions.

I was initially surprised at the size of it – much smaller-looking than I’d imagined – about 400 people actually camping, I guess, but welcoming (and I do mean welcoming) thousands – of both locals and fellow activists each day.

As we arrived (there’s only one entrance – the Blackheath Village side) and came through a corral of straw bales, there were people there specifically to welcome visitors – and no on-the ground police at all, though a camera on a cherry-picker at the TA centre was fixed very firmly on proceedings. The police are being very very ginger at the moment, after the G20 chaos; I’ll be surprised if there’s trouble this time.

As we went to the whats-on tent, a guy asked if we wanted an impromptu tour, and took us round, explaining whatever we asked about – from their position on violence (strictly non-violent direct action here…) to how the loos work.

There are various tents – from the legal guys, who are there to advise people on their rights over things like Stop & Search, through the “Tranquility Tent” (where people go to get a bit of peace and quiet and a cup of tea) to a small ‘cinema’.

Everything’s ecologically powered. Wind turbines and solar panels are racked up on one side, and they cook on colourful, if mildly alarming (though apparently very efficient) home made rocket stoves created out of cooking oil drums, fuelled by found firewood.

A few weeks before the camp, volunteers went around the streets reclaiming dumped furniture and other wooden items. Any furniture that’s still usable is being used in the tents, the really dead stuff is broken up for firewood.

I know some people have been a bit worried about ‘holes’ in the heath, but the climate campers have promised to leave it ‘better than they find it’ and I believe them. Every day, teams go out to clear up the litter on the whole of the heath, not just the bit they’re using (quite a task with the fair going on across the other side). They have dug a small shallow pit for the fire, but the sods are carefully stacked up to be replaced and there are no holes for the loos.

Talking of the loos, I guess I can’t really put off explaining them any more. They’re specially ecologically sound compost-bogs, (read “extremely basic”) and involve peeing on straw bales (the girls get a little more privacy doing this than the guys…) which get regularly changed. They’ll be composted for a year or so, then used in agriculture. The Number Twos are collected in giant wheelie bins and will be used by farmers in the great old tradition of ‘night soil’ (we’re assured that it’s only used on non-food crops – a relief, really…) One thing I’ll say for them is that they smell a LOT better than most festival bogs.

It all seems to work rather well – which mildly surprises me – my experiences of co-operative living/working in the past have generally revealed that it just doesn’t work – a few people do all the work and everyone else slacks around, but good luck to them if they can make it happen. They certainly seem organised – even with their own TV Station:

The workshops are really varied – everything from making your own compost loo (ick) wind turbine or rocket stove, through to how to deal with a Stop & Search situation.

The discussions, which involve some rather odd hand movements – they’re explained in the programme, but are intended to allow everyone to speak with a minimum of interruptions – are worth going to even if you don’t agree with everything that’s being said. Actually, they’re worth going to especially if you don’t agree with everything that’s being said.

I caught the tail-end of a particularly large one in the main tent, that had a panel of anarchists being given a particularly robust time by most of the crowd. It could have been chaos, but it was both civilised and utterly fascinating. Part of the nature of things like this is that it attracts people with views from moderate to militant, and finding a way not to inadvertently divide and be conquered is important.

I don’t buy everything that’s being said at Climte Camp – but I do feel I understand the movement more now, and to anyone who’s reading this who’s actually there just now – thank you for the welcome you’ve given to local people like me who didn’t know much about it, but understand a little more now.

If I can squeeze the time out tomorrow I’ll come and help with the clean-up – they’ve scheduled an entire day to putting the place back to better-than-before. There are few events that do that…

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