This year’s Climate Change Demo was a breath of fresh air compared to last year’s.
Despite the fact the weather was as bad as it seems to be every year, it was the largest such demo that I can remember. The organisers claimed 40,000, which seemed fairly close to the mark. It was also fun, lively and young.
It marched from Grovesnor Square (site of the US Embassy in London) to Parliament which it snaked around crossing Lambeth Bridge, going along the embankment by St. Thomas’s Hospital and then onto Westminister Bridge where it stopped. The idea was to create a ring of people around the Palace of Westminister. Not an easy task given that on one side of it is the river Thames.
Fortunately this ambitious plan came off such was the turn out (with last years turn out they wouldn’t have managed it). In fact they more than managed it as when the head of the march reached Big Ben there were still people coming through Trafalgar Square.
The demo was not only a vast quantitive improvement on last year (when it numbered less than ten thousand) it was also a qualitatively better.
Last year every third person seemed to be handing out leaflets entreating you help stop climate change by going veggie, or vegan or through meditation.
My particular favourite was the leaflets from Supreme Master TV calling for mass mediation to reverse climate change.
It turns out that these were from a real satellite TV station that is the mouthpiece for Supreme Master Ching Hai a vietnamese woman who created the Quan Yi method of meditation and a cult to go along with it, a rather religiously syncretic affair that Vietnam seems to have a tendency to produce. She also seems to give herself the usual airs and graces of an alternative religion leader, one time appearing in “queenly” robes and being carried in a sedan chair by eight bearers to the cheers of “your royal majesty”. Apparently she did this “under orders from God,”.
This may have been amusing, but was of course on the more whacked-out fringe of the demo and didd not reflect its totality.
However there was a distinct moralism and leaning towards personal solutions, “you can change the world by changing yourself” kinda stuff.
This year was a big a step forward from that. There were more placards and banners connecting with the economic system and the need for social change. There was also more of a feeling of it connecting with the economic crisis and the fact that the crisis opens opportunities fro real systemic change, rather than just tinkering.
I also got the feeling that more people were thinking about things that can appeal to ordinary people, rathe than just telling them to change their life styles.
I particularly liked people from the Campaign for Better Public Transport (formerly Transport 2000) handing out leaflets for cheaper train fares. One may say that we would prefer free train fares but at least it offered a real alternative. There were placards demanding an end to all domestic flights, Not a bad demand in itself, but unless people are told how they might get around the country otherwise, they are never going to go for it.
If there was a downside it was the absence of the left. It was there but in small numbers. It might be because that they do not think that the climate change demo is something worth putting much resources into (in some ways understandable if thinking about last year’s guilt-fest). But then there haven’t been a whole lot of big demos recently and this is likely to be the last to well after the Xmas break.
It could also be because the left seems to be increasingly demoralised and disorientated by the the turn in events. The new post credit crunch world is not one which it has really got to grips with yet.
A pity as though moving in the right direction the climate change movement is still one that is politically weak and can go up and down quite rapidly. It is also one that can get side-tracked and drift into a politics of personal change rather than political action and one that could be easily co-opted (one only needs to look at the career of the German Greens to see this).
Though there is a growing awareness of climate change, and sympathy for the movement’s aims is widespread it still hasn’t found a way of connecting with the concerns of ordinary people. Today’s demo was a step forward but was still, though young, quite middle class. It was one of the the biggest mobilisations of the movement for a while, but was still quite small in real terms and puny in comparison with the anti-war movement at its height.
With the worst pain of the recession likely yet to come climate change may yet slip down the agenda again and the movement could slip back into a mere prop for lobbying those in power (who may make gestures towards it, but deliver nothing). Lets hope a pole of attraction appears in the working class that pull the climate change movement towards it, and give the movement the social muscle it needs to start bringing about some real change.
To watch footage from the BBC click here.