Back in May 2012 I watched a high-ranking officer from the City of London Police remove a final sticker from a lamppost. He then stood back to survey his good work outside the Grange Hotel near St Paul’s Cathedral. There was now no sign at all of the day-long siege of the hotel by 400 non-violent climate activists trying to disrupt the UK Energy Summit.
At one point there had been an attempt by protesters to push through into the hotel and two activists were arrested. The police drew batons and beat back those caught in the front line. The activists were kettled for a few hours while police tried to force them to give their details. I watched as some young people were detained for having chalked messages on the pavement.
There was little coverage of this action but, predictably, criticism along the lines of ‘Rent-a-mob trouble-makers with ill-thought-out arguments!’ ‘Give them a cold shower and take away their benefits!’Or ‘How dare these losers take it upon themselves to know what’s best for us?’
The action was directed against the Big Six energy companies who were meeting in the hotel. The same Big Six are now lambasted by both right-and left-wing figures as well as the press, for jacking up fuel prices while enjoying astronomic profits. There are suspicions of price fixing.
Back in 2012 the Climate Justice Collective had stated that the UK Energy Summit was a ‘classic one-per-cent stitch up [of] corporate élites, including the government, conspiring to keep the status quo of high energy prices, soaring profits, growing climate instability and disaster capitalism. This conference is the wrong people, asking the wrong questions and proposing the wrong solutions.’
In Britain we are taught to dismiss or ridicule protest and to accept feeble excuses when we see protest violently suppressed. The last thing we are encouraged to do is to see civil disobedience as an indication of issues that must be addressed.
Activists are frequently accused of not having ‘thought-through’ arguments. But if you decide to put your body in front of your convictions, risking your liberty and safety, chances are you have thought things through pretty carefully.
Those participating have had to balance the personal risk with the injustice they are trying to prevent. In the case of Edward Snowden and the Greenpeace 30, for example, the risk is steep indeed are the injustices they are challenging are of epic, history-changing proportions.
When people who have made that choice turn out to have been right, the mainstream media and the government remain silent or may even steal the rhetoric. Occupy were correct when they said that the criminal bankers and their regulators should be paying for the crisis the one per cent caused and that the government should ‘bang up the bankers’.
UK Uncut are correct about the importance of shutting down sophisticated tax loopholes to address economic crisis instead of hammering people with austerity. But it’s only recently that the government have started addressing this.
Just like that schoolyard taunt ‘It’s the truth that hurts’ it seems that the violence meted out on activists is relative to the level of discomfort that their truth telling causes. Climate Camp protesting against fossil fuel addictions faced $8.8 million worth of brutal and excessive policing at Kingsnorth in 2008.
Climate activists at Copenhangen for the Climate Conference were arrested in their hundreds, made to sit in the snow for five hours and then put into specially made cages. I watched as people were beaten and gassed, including a 74-year-old woman. But now, following the latest IPCC report, it’s quite possible that Copenhagen was our last chance to address the oncoming ravages of climate change.
Which is worse? Governments that pursue policies that wreck the lives and aspirations of the poorest or citizens who watch this happening and do nothing?
We will not get radical change by commenting on websites, ‘liking’ something on Facebook or, dare I say it, by voting for a mainstream political party funded by a corporate and political élite. Neither will mainstream media support any genuinely radical change, for they are owned by a similar élite.
Brutally put, it’s down to us to be human. I don’t think that protesters or activists are behaving in a peculiar or unusual way, they are simply acting as thinking human beings. It is those who do nothing who are not.
Join Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, the Greater London Pensioners’ Association and Disabled People Against Cuts for a creative protest against fuel poverty deaths on Tuesday November 26 at 11.30am to 'Bring Down the Big Six'.