I wasn’t really planning to be involved with the Camp for Climate Action this year, but when the Big Green Gathering was cancelled I changed my mind and decided to go along to Climate Camp Cymru. I arrived by train in Methyr Tydfil on the Thursday and cycled up the steep hill to the camp which had already been established near Ffos-y-Fran, a huge opencast mine on Merthyr Common. There was a police car opposite each of the two entrances to the camp but they were friendly local cops who were not searching anyone or otherwise making any attempt to discourage visitors. The camp was fairly well established with about 100 people on site. I took on organising the tat tent which is where I also slept (I don’t generally take a tent to these things). By the weekend numbers had increased to about 260 and the camp was running very smoothly. I will end my report there and just refer you to a fuller account on the Bicycology blog.
When I got back from Wales I spent a few days sorting stuff out and then it was time to think about the London Climate Camp. Again I wasn’t planning any major involvement but I did want to join the regular monthly London Critical Mass and I suspected it would end up at the camp so I took a sleeping bag and bought a one way ticket to London on the Friday, expecting to stay perhaps one or two nights. I knew by then that the camp had been successfully established on Blackheath and some people rode down from there with a soundsystem with the intention of leading the Mass back to the camp. That is exactly what happened and just as it was getting dark a cheer went up as about 200 cyclists pulled in to camp after struggling up Blackheath Hill.
There were already a lot of people on site and I made my way to the Bicycology tent to dump my stuff and meet the rest of the crew. I am not sure how many people were on the site over the weekend but it must have been a couple of thousand. I didn’t go to many workshops or meetings but spent a lot of time networking and running the Pedals soundsystem. I also taught some bike maintenance, fixed a few bikes, explained pedal generators to a very bright young kid who was keen to build one himself, helped strip down an old blender to make a pedal powered smoothie maker etc. I also took Pedals on the kids parade round the camp with Jess Gold who lead a few songs she had taught them. After a couple of circuits the parade left the camp and made its way to Greenwich Park for a picnic.
As with the Welsh Camp there seemed to be almost no police interference, which was a welcome change from the ridiculously violent and oppressive policing seen at Kingsnorth and Climate Camp in the City. It is shame Ian Tomlinson had to die to make the police back off and reluctantly grant our fundamental rights to gather and protest. In fact a police car did pull up when we started tying banners to the bandstand in Greenwich Park on the kids picnic but they called in to ask permission to intervene and were denied. Basically they were under orders to let us do whatever we wanted.
The only negative thing I experienced during the camp was a run-in with Tranquility on Tuesday night. We set Pedals up in the London tent for a gig with a band called Sandweaver. We had been messed around all day with conflicting demands and we delayed the gig to accommodate a quiet acoustic band which had been rescheduled in the main marquee at short notice. So it was after eleven when Sandweaver finally got to play their set and when they finished we wanted to put on a few tunes. We knew power-down was supposed to be at midnight but it was the last night of the camp, and there was still amplified music coming from the main marquee, and we had been delayed for ages through no fault of our own, so we thought we could get away with playing for another half hour or so. About twenty past twelve a masked woman barged up to the soundsystem and demanded that it be turned off – not at the end of the track but immediately. I reached for my torch so I could look at the mixer and for some unknown reason she tried to grab it out of my hand, something which might actually be classed as assault. We shut the system down at the end of the track and it was only five minutes after the sound went off in the main marquee so I don’t know why she was so bent out of shape. I was told she was from Tranquility, which is supposed to resolve conflict – Hostility more like it.
Apart from that everything was good. I stayed on Wednesday to help take down marquees etc and then did a 2am to 6am gate shift. On Thursday morning I helped dismantle the water system and then decided to cycle home to Hatfield. I went through the Greenwich foot tunnel and joined the tow path on the Lea Navigation. Somehow I got lost a couple of times and it ended up taking me about five hours to get home, sustained by nothing but foraged wild plums. I was actually coming down with a cold as well so when I finally arrived home it was all I could do to drag myself upstairs and collapse into bed.