How can the Climate Camp progress?

Submitted by Matthew on 19 November, 2009 - 2:17

An activist with the Camp for Climate Action (Climate Camp) spoke to Solidarity about some shortcomings in its current politics.

For me I would note two weaknesses of the Camp’s ability to be successful, i.e., to challenge the power structures and fantastical economics that have lead the world towards ecological collapse.

Firstly, its model. The Camp has created a physical space where thousands of people’s feelings about climate change (resistance and renewal) can be manifested. The space also brings together people of different politics to debate and educate each other around climate justice, bringing in further thousands via savvy relationships with media.

To say that this is the only form of activism the Camp produces is far too reductive. I believe the Camp has clearly energised and created a space from which local campaigns (such as the activist house in Heathrow or Tipping Point shop near Kingsnorth) can begin the longer task of creating democratic, localised change.

However, I feel we must recognise that the Camp’s model produces slightly static manifestations that will become less and less enticing (to media and potential activists) as time goes on. To some extent the camps direct a large amount of activist resources towards these temporary spaces (though the experiences and learning become longer lasting for many participants). Therefore, in the case of the recent workers’ struggle at Vestas in the Isle of Wight, the Camp had no mechanism and little time to react as a movement to this struggle.

This problem is also seen in the Camp’s preference for “outreach” over solidarity, i.e., drawing people to the Camp and not the Camp to people. This is something which I also believe entrenches the movement as predominantly white and middle class.

The response to Vestas and lack of active solidarity is also partly due to the second arising weakness I want to note. I believe that Climate Camp lacks any meaningful discourse around production and class. What do we need to produce as a society in this ecopocalyptical context, who will do that and how will that happen?

What do we really mean by just transition? Is it just to impose that such-and-such a place should shut without building up a dialogue with the people working there? Will future capitalism renew exploitation of labour as cheap, destructive fuel is used less and are we creating space for that to happen? These are questions Workers’ Climate Action (WCA) has also been taking on. Must our tactics of class struggle alter now we understand that much of industry is environmentally destructive?

In terms of what next for Climate Camp I think it is partly a case of giving space for and seeing how the movement will evolve post-COP15 [the upcoming UN climate talks in Copenhagen]. Whether that mobilisation will inject new energy into this movement, new chances for global solidarity and new meanings to local campaigns.

So for me our response to COP15 is about delegitimising the process. It’s about spoiling the grand opening of a new era of capitalism – green capitalism. It’s about explaining, as Einstein once said, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting new results. More Kyoto? More markets for capital? More centralised planning? Really?

It could very well be another Seattle moment where social movements create a scar upon capitalism’s already wounded face.

However, what’s equally important is that we use this opportunity to form and renew links with other global social movements, most importantly movements in the South. They have a great need and a great chance to step forward in any international campaigns using the summit as a starting block.

Yet again it’s important that we don’t fragment our energies across the globe and as global social movements we think carefully about what happened post Seattle (what failed?). Ultimately, I hope the mobilisations give people a new sense of global identity, energy and commitment to localised campaigns.

Finally, then, on Workers’ Climate Action. WCA has probably given itself one of the most exciting and daunting tasks. On the one hand it tries to bring the necessity of engagement with the workplace to the climate movement and on the other it is trying to bring the scale of climate issues to the workers’ movement. I can only speak in some detail from one side.

I feel that in order to engage creative, energetic activists in meaningful class struggle, workers’ movements need to be more visionary (and yet firmly un-patronising). We are living in a sea of images. Capitalism is brilliant at selling us dreams; driving a newer 4x4 over rocky ranges, sailing on the ocean with expensive perfume, even world peace with John Lennon Converse trainers. However, what these images lack is authenticity.

Class struggle may not always be fun. It may often be cold and grimy and boring but at the same time it has to be visionary, beautiful and inspiring. We all need things to believe in.

I recently watched some films about occupied factories in Argentina. Seeing hundreds of empowered women and men take collective control of their lives inspired me to continue thinking more of the actions by Vestas workers. How could it have been different? How could it have been bigger?

I feel we need more of that from the workers’ movements. We need much less stuffy unions and in-house politics. We need more visions of collective control achieved through organisation in the workplace and community. More enthralling accounts of subverting power relations. We need to work with new, relevant forms of communication. We need to develop a language around dreams to match a strategy based in possibility. Essentially, we need to hear the songs and calls from the barricades of our future.

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