All photography by Amelia Gregory unless otherwise stated.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly embedded in the process of Climate Camp, so I am well aware that the run up to this year’s Climate Camp has been more fraught with difficulties than ever – but as a spectacularly open grassroots non-heirarchical direct action organisation we would be the first to acknowledge this fact. We argued long and hard about whether RBS was an appropriate target for this year’s activities, and we picked our spot without really checking in with Scottish activists who were not present at the meeting, thereby alienating some of our allies… so it’s a testament to the movement we’ve created that I left the Edinburgh camp feeling that Climate Camp, whatever nebulous thing that might be, is stronger than ever. We may not have grown in numbers but there has been a definite increase in the quality of active participation and we are slowly becoming more diverse too – there was a notable improvement in our age, class and racial make up this year, though we still have a long way to go.
And we were successful – we didn’t for one moment imagine that we would make the same kind of splash in the national media as we have in other more southern based years (journalists are notoriously bad at travelling for any kind of story: witness the lack of press surrounding our extremely successful Ratcliffe on Soar action in October 2009) but we certainly made big news in the Scottish press, we did loads of outreach and best of all WE GOT IN THE WAY. We shut shit down and generally made a nuisance of ourselves that served to highlight climate and community wrecking investments in tar sands, open cast coal and biofuels. We’ve cost RBS and the companies it funds a certain amount of money and reputation, and we’ve got people talking.
Setting up site.
So, back to the beginning. I was part of the initial Land Grab on Wednesday evening…. which meant taking two days to get up to Scotland and not at any point giving away our whereabouts. On arrival at our destination we scrambled through fields in search of the huge seven tonne truck that transports our big marquee poles, already parked in the middle of the manicured lands that belong to the RBS HQ. From there I walked into the adjoining field and marvelled at our audacity, for we’ve never been this close to our target before. There it was, the HQ lit up like a giant christmas tree well into the night, rumoured to be so large that it supports its very own supermarket. It seemed almost impossible that with only a hundred people we might take this second field too, but take it we did because soon people were trundling around with wheelbarrows full of tat (an all encompassing word to describe all the stuff we need to run a camp). From the top of the man made mound we could see right into the glass walled HQ, where bored workers were no doubt entertained by us for a few days before RBS decreed they should work from home.
By the time I got up the next morning the site was already humming with activity and new campers who had joined us over the course of the night when they heard about our location via text and twitter. This year’s site, as well as being the cheekiest we have ever taken was also the most beautiful, and abundant with wildlife: mice, frogs and lots and lots of slugs. It’s long layout did however put paid to the permaculture plans we have adhered to in previous years, and necessitated a long walk from one end to the other.
My role at Climate Camp has settled into a bit of a routine – taking photos, video and twittering. It leaves precious little time for physical work around site and I’m usually to be found in the media tent or rushing around on an action. We had incredibly bad reception on this site, and I soon became friendly with the Comms tent which was sited on the top of the hill and had a better 3G signal. For those of you who don’t know what I’m wittering on about, Comms refers to our defence and communications system which works by collating information from people on all the gates around site. It’s a 24 hour a day job and this year it was skill shared in a most impressive way for the first time.
Some of the media team.
I think we’d all been fearful that this camp would be much less well attended than previous ones, but by Friday I estimate that there were almost 1000 people on site, and it felt as though they were all there for a purpose. At Blackheath last year we really focused on outreach and both that and our location ensured rather a lot of sightseeing which unfortunately meant that direct action took a major back seat to workshops. This time the workshops timetable was slimmer, and from early on there was a notable amount of small affinity groups planning direct action in the tall grass. This I think is a good development. And take direct action we did – every day. Here are some of the best actions I took part in:
1. Taking the land, obviously.
The biggest direct action of them all – it’s hard not to be nervous with an action like this on which the rest of Climate Camp depends. We stopped in at some charity shops for entertaining cut price CDs on our way northwards, and as we drove towards our swooping point we played the Star Wars theme tune at top volume. Despite our huge truck and noisy scrambling it took the police at least half an hour to arrive, by which time we were able to hold the space and had started erecting tents by torchlight. It did, however, mean that the advertised swoop the next day was a bit of a damp squib, and some of the participants must have felt a bit left out of all the excitement.
Erecting the first marquees on site by torchlight.
2. Raising a Ruckus
On Friday we held a merry little dance parade around the RBS offices, culminating in an incursion into a conveniently open entrance where we jumped up and down in the doorway whilst security looked bemused and staff gazed down from the floors above. At the same time, unbeknownst to us, a lone activist had infiltrated the offices as a banker and stuck herself to a reception desk, where she berated RBS for agreeing to fund Vedanta’s mining activities on the sacred lands of the Dongria Kondh tribe in India. We later learnt that she had changed her name to Dongria Kondh by deed poll the week before, declaring that she would only change it back if RBS retracted funding. Fortunately it was announced this week that India has blocked the mining operation. Though I quite like Dongria Kondh as a name….
3. A Lady Gaga tribute: the Dirty Oil dance action
Conscious of Climate Camp’s decision to descend on Scotland without much forethought about how we could support local struggles I volunteered to attend the solidarity demo against a new coal mine at Cousland, but then I was reminded that I had also promised to document my Green Kite Midnight friends’ musical action. Lady Gaga won out in the end. Standing inside a small candy striped marquee we learnt new lyrics to Poker Face, featuring the immortal lines:
It’s getting hot, the planet’s nearly shot
We’ll make them stop, we’re putting up a block
Tar sands is dirty oil
Can’t use my, can’t use my taxes no
To invest in dirty oil
Rehearsing dance moves and getting ready to leave.
By midday we were ready to take our act to the streets of Edinburgh. With black bin bag bows in hair and fluorescent waistcoats we marched with resolve towards the biggest branch of RBS on St Andrews Square…. to find it already closed. Closed by the threat of song and dance. Score! We then set off on a tour through the town centre, jumping an RBS fringe stage for a special ten minute non-sponsored rendition. You can watch this here. We taught some onlookers the dance moves, bumped into the Greenwash Guerillas en route and handed out loads of leaflets.
Crowds watch us at the Fringe
and the Greenwash Guerillas…
4. Sunday site incursion
I knew there were plans afoot but I wasn’t quite prepared for the huge mass of people dancing towards me in white paper boiler suits. And then they carried on dancing their way over the bridge to RBS, pushing the police back with ease and racing around the corner towards an unguarded part of the RBS HQ. When I got there it became apparent that they had completely taken the police by surprise and several windows had been smashed as the morass propelled forward. For a short moment chaos reigned as the police tried and failed to contain the seething crowd (who needs Black Bloc when you’ve got White Bloc, as one twitterer noted) and they were successfully able to de-arrest several people.
Unfortunately this short point of panic enabled the police to gain the upper hand, and if the intention had been to get in and hold the building we had lost the head start. After two arrests there was a brief stand off with police at the bridge and the action petered out, the white garbed frontline on the bridge replaced by a large white fluffy bunny. I kid thee not.
At our evening plenary a dampener was put on the situation almost immediately. Unfortunately the action had been badly timed to coincide with a speech from our visiting tar sands activists, who had felt seriously disrespected by the disruption to their workshop. They were also uncomfortable with the apparent violence of smashing windows, as were a few others. Through skilful facilitation we were able to talk through these issues, with many good points being made that Climate Camp comprises a diverse range of people who use different tactics, and whilst we would never ever condone physical violence against people, corporate property is another matter altogether. All successful direct action campaigns have attacked physical infrastructure, from the Suffragettes to the 1990s road protest movement. Causing infrastructure damage hits a company where it hurts: their pockets.
An early site-wide meeting.
We’ve always been very careful with our language, although the media often insists on referring to us as “peaceful” or NVDA (Non Violent Direct Action). In another twist seasoned activists have levelled many criticisms at us over the past few years with regards to us being too media friendly. For many this action proved that we really are capable of doing more than the media stunts and banner drops of recent times. It was also acknowledged that whilst we could sympathise with the feelings of First Nations activists it could not dictate the way that Climate Camp works, and indeed whilst we should work hard at international bonds we should not deify indigenous peoples above our local communities. We finished the meeting with a euphoric group hug that seemed to express: Yes! We are powerful together! We can break through police lines and inflict serious physical damage to a building! With a bit more intent we could have got into the HQ and dug in for the duration: of that I have no doubt.
Serving dinner at the South Coast neighbourhood.
5. The RBS Trojan Pig leaking molasses outside Cairn Energy offices
At just past 9am I dropped my half drunk tea and ran full tilt out of the cafe where I had been sitting on Lothian Road. Ahead of me a group of people in black ceremoniously carried a large pink pig – eyes painted with the RBS logo – up the impressive granite steps of the offices for Cairn Energy, who received £117 million in loans from RBS last year, some of which helped them to start drilling for oil off the coast of Greenland. Two activists sprayed molasses against the side of the building in decorative swirls as more molasses seeped out of the pig and down the steps. A security guard briefly looked on, but never moved the large pink carcass which was reported later that day as forlornly pushed aside on the steps. Ironically it is only because of climate change and melting ice that Cairn Energy are able to drill in the polar regions as new oil reserves are revealed. By coincidence a Greenpeace ship reached the drill rig on our day of action, where it was met by a Danish warship. It is hoped that lots of activists will join Crude Awakening, a day of mass action against oil supported by Climate Camp on Saturday October 16th in London.
6. Shutting down Nicolson Street branch of RBS
The weather was not kind to us on our main day of action, and getting lost en route to my next destination didn’t help. By just after 10am I was soaked through to the skin. Across the entrance to Nicolson Street RBS three of my friends glued themselves together with green posters pinned to their fronts that said “Ask me why I won’t bank with RBS“. As customers arrived they engaged them in conversation and then let them duck under their arms. With musicians and a small gaggle of Lady Gaga impersonators I went inside to be greeted by an old man grumbling bad-temperedly at the counter. He then proceeded to watch several reprises of the Dirty Oil song and dance routine, by now familiar to all. Next up was a reinvigorated version of the Gloria Gaynor classic I Will Survive, and as we moved outside the police finally arrived. I went to upload some tweets and when I returned journalists and photographers were out in force and the branch had been closed. Later that day another bunch of activists dressed in bin bags and dripping in molasses closed down the same branch.
7. We’ve built a Rhino Siege Tower!
Yes really. At the top of the hill above RBS what looked like a watch tower had risen during the course of the camp, gaining painted corrugated metal sides and a roof. And perhaps best of all a huge paper mache Rhino head attached to it’s derriere. I got back from the mornings actions to find a huge gaggle of people surrounding the tower, all dressed in wonderful outfits, inspired by medieval battle, clowns, animals and pagan dress. And then we waited…. and waited… and joked about slow action being the new slow food movement. Finally, we were ready to roll. The siege tower was on wheels. And with people guiding it via a series of ropes and pulleys it began to inch it’s way around the wind break and down the hill as we all held our breath and prayed that it didn’t topple into the bank of photographers waiting below. This process took about four hours, by which time I’d long since stopped worrying that I would miss anything crucial every time I went to recharge my damn iphone again. Over at the bridge a series of mollassapaults were fired onto the HQ by black clad activists. And then as we finally crawled towards the gate the rain really set in. Dancing animals met lines of riot police and squirted silly string over their heads as the Siege Tower finally cleared a low hanging branch and the rhino headbutted a police van.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line of riot cops so bemused. What the hell were we doing? On the side of the tower There Is No Planet B had been painted over at some point during the long journey to say There Is No Plan. My camera decided to complain about the incessant rain. It packed up. I decided to call it a day, and soon so did many soggy others. The Guardian’s live blog had long since stopped reporting on our actions of the day since most of them were done in the morning – including a very brilliant banner drop off the roof of Forth Energy in Leith in protest of a new and huge biomass scheme that would require the mass importation of vast quantities of wood chip.
The mollassapault. Photography by Tim Morozzo.
And so, we didn’t give the mainstream media the huge action they might have liked. Instead we gave them lots of small and effective affinity group actions across Edinburgh and beyond, as planned. Topped off with the most surreal action of them all – a Rhino Siege Tower that effectively closed down the RBS HQ merely through creative farce and the power of suggestion. Sometimes my heart is so full of love for the thing that is Climate Camp that it feels fit to burst.
Other highlights of this years’ camp included a storming ceilidh (apologies to the Scottish for making this word our own) with my band Green Kite Midnight, spoken word from Harry Giles, visits from Fringe comedians Albie Philbin Bowman and Josie Long, and dancing long into the night after our day of action. Despite all the trials and tribulations of being so involved with Climate Camp I can’t wait to see what we come up with next. Even if we didn’t Break the Banks you’ve got to admit it was a damn good slogan, and we’ve successfully managed to highlight the investment of our money in fossil fuels to a far wider public. Now we just need to change the system that encourages wanton consumption of fossil fuels to the wide scale detriment of the only planet we have to live on. Who’s up for helping out?
You can watch lots more of the videos that I took on my Qik channel here.
Albie Philbin Bowman performs for us.
See some of Josie Long’s performance on this link.
Many other inspiring actions happened across the course of the camp, but these did not include the supposed oil spill on the A8 on Monday morning, as press released by the police. Our targets have always been corporations and the government not innocent people, but isn’t it somehow predictable that the press picked up on the “oil spill” so relentlessly – happy to reel it off as fact without adequate research or proof. More on how the press have related to this year’s Climate Camp in my next blog post here.
A beautiful painted compost loo.
Albie Philbin Bowman, Cairn Energy, Climate Camp, coal, comedy, Cousland, Crude Awakening, Direct Action, dirty oil, Dongria Kondh, edinburgh, Edinburgh Fringe, First Nations, Gloria Gaynor, Green Kite Midnight, Greenland, Greenpeace, Greenwash Guerillas, Guardian, Harry Giles, Josie Long, Lady Gaga, Nicolson Street, NVDA, Oily Gaga, police, Raising a Ruckus, Ratcliffe On Soar, RBS, RBS HQ, RBS Trojan Pig, Rhino Seige Tower, Riot police, Royal Bank of Scotland, Suffragettes, Tar Sands, Tim Morozzo, twitter, Vedanta
- Climate Camp – Heavy Handed Police Tactics
- The Great Climate Swoop 2009: A retrospective
- Blackheath Climate Camp 2009
- Hooray! The Climate Camp site has been secured
- Warm-up for Copenhagen!