“Screw all the hippies”- An event report from the Big Six Energy Bash.

By Henry Davis

In February 2011, Climate Camp produced a statement which contained the following: “As a movement, to be relevant, we need to move with the times. Therefore the Camp for Climate Action has decided, after much discussion and reflection, to change.”

This meant no more national Climate Camps, with the intention being to “allow new tactics, organising methods and processes to emerge in this time of whirlwind change. With the skills, networks and trust we have built we will launch new radical experiments.” So, we were told, new tactics and radical new experiments would be on the way – sounds like a good idea.

Out of this came the Climate Justice Collective

(CJC) and top of the list of their stated aims for 2012 is to “help to join together campaigns on different energy issues” which, again, sounds like a very worthwhile thing to be doing.

Thursday (3rd May) saw their first big action in the form of the Big Six Energy Bash. The date and location were chosen to coincide with the UK Energy Summit where “representatives of corporate energy and politics will be meeting” to discuss how to “keep on profiteering from fuel poverty, climate change and trashing the planet.

The plan for the day seemed a little unclear in the run up, though an article published the day before the action said that “differently themed blocs” would “converge to create a celebratory space encompassing spectacle, direct action, theatre, music, workshops and much more, evoking the spirit of popular resistance”.

This ‘Rules of the Game’ sheet also explains that the aim was to “get our message out by any means necessary” with points being awarded for putting stickers or chalk near, on, or inside the hotel where the summit was being held, or getting in and disrupting the conference.

Despite an impressive list of ‘supporters’ turnout was pretty low, particularly for an event in central London which had been a couple of months in the planning. CJC claimed on twitter that there were “at least 300” people there, though I guesstimated the figure to be around half that. Perhaps they had included the police and journalists in that figure. The day was meant to combine “party and protest”, though this amounted to a familiar blend of portable sound systems with microphones, fancy dress and banners.

In a nutshell; everyone converged outside the conference, there were several unsuccessful attempts to rush various doors, a few people were arrested and injured, lots of people got ‘kettled’ for a couple of hours, and then were released one-by-one in an orderly fashion. By the afternoon the CJC proudly proclaimed “we did it!” I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what it was that we were meant to have done.

The intentions were certainly admirable: experimenting with new tactics, linking up different energy campaigns, and being “part of the ongoing renaissance of large-scale climate action in the UK”. All of this is meant to help “end the stranglehold that the Big Six energy companies have on energy in this country” with the hope that “ordinary people” will “take action against corporate control and create an affordable, sustainable, community-controlled energy system.” Big talk, though the reality on the day fell short.

With ambitious aims such at these, you can’t expect to succeed unless there are lots of people also struggling for those same things. Any action that alienates or isolates ‘us’ from ordinary folk must therefore be seen as counter-productive. Of course it is always difficult to judge the impact of one-off spectacular actions such as these, but at times I felt embarrassed to be part of the crowd, with the sense of being part of roving freak show.

Passers-by did not, as far as I could tell, seem to be very inspired, engaged or persuaded of anything. One school boy’s comment of “screw all the hippies” seemed to sum up what I imagine many others were probably thinking.

A few lines about the reasons for the protest in the media coverage it received, is in no way enough to conclude that the day was a success.

Whilst sat in the kettle, I read an interview with Paul Mason in the latest edition of the Occupied Times. He wonders about how “to avoid failure? Social history tells us it’s numbers and relevance”. To boost our numbers into the thousands rather than the hundreds, we need to find ways of acting that resonate with ordinary people outside of the activist scene. For this we will need to break out of old habits and be brave enough to really try new things, and to learn from our mistakes so that we can succeed the next time, or at least fail better. I saw no evidence at the Big Six Energy Bash that this vital process of critical reflection has been happening.

As Noam Chomsky notes “you cannot check or look in a textbook to find the answers. It depends on careful evaluation of the situation that exists, the state of public understanding, the likely consequences of what we do, and so on.” [Emphasis added] Fuel poverty and the obscene profits of energy companies are issues that could inspire large numbers of people to get engaged in effective collective action that has the potential to make real improvements in people’s lives. More of the same alienating direct action by ‘activists’ is, however, not the way to work towards this goal.

I hope I have been too critical and that there were some positive outcomes from the day that I am not aware of. I suppose only time will tell. CJC and others are trying to do something very important, and I hope they, or rather we, succeed. But what I saw at the Bash doesn’t fill me with hope.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
This entry was posted in Energy, Event reports and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to “Screw all the hippies”- An event report from the Big Six Energy Bash.

  1. This is an issue I have tried to get across to certain members of the Manchester Green Party. The ordinary person considers the Green Party as ‘tree-huggers’ and do not take them seriously. As someone from a working-class background who did not go to university, I find those with university degrees, seem to think their idea of culture is every ones. So they engage in arty-farty activities that they think appeals to every one. I far as I am concerned, and most of those I socialise with, the art & farts is the domain of the affluent and has no bearing on reality or my life, it does not appeal to me what so ever.

  2. Louise says:

    You make a valid point, Patrick. So how do you think Green/green environmental and climate change activists and activists concerned about fuel poverty and social justice could get their points across? What could they do in order to broaden the appeal of their campaigns and encourage participation by people who are adversely affected by these issues?

    • Patrick, Louise is absolutely spot on. It would be very valuable indeed if you could share some does and don’ts, some suggestions. As you know, the smugness and sameness of the movement (and I speak as a white middle-class male with two – count ’em, 2! – degrees) drives me wild with despair. Please, I want us all to start to think about this issue!!

    • Hi Louise, that is the £6,000,000 question which I have been trying to find an answer to. Unfortunately, the academics who write and talk about activism, do not write for the masses but for other academics. The ordinary person on the street has the same concerns about the environment and climate but feel left out of the debate. I have heard Green Party members dismiss those who live in social housing, as being ignorant and therefore not worth engaging with. White-middle class elitism, from the very people who espouse, ‘equality and fairness’. And I can assure you, people know when they are being spoken down too and respond appropriately. When people feel they are able to take some responsibility for what actions are required, that they are actively being engaged with, not in a patronising way, maybe they will become more involved.

  3. I wasn’t there so can’t comment on the action, but I agree with the idea that it’s no use acting as if it’s the 1960s. We need to act like adults and make common cause with all kinds of people. Hippy shit is no use and anyway the hippie funeral was in 1967, RIP.

    In the end it’s all about who has power, how to use it for social and environmental justice, and how people can collectively take back the economic, social and political power that’s been stripped away from us by the neoliberals since Thatcher/Reagan kicked it all off. No amount of dancing in the street is going to win us that – although dancing in the street has its time and place. One MIllion Climate Jobs Caravan’s coming to Manchester this month – maybe that’s a more productive campaign.

    • Hi Jenny,
      do you know the extraordinary Frank Turner song “Love, Ire and Song”?

      Relevant lyric goes –

      Well it was bad enough the feeling, and the first time it hit
      When you realised your parents had let the world all go to shit
      And that the values and ideals for which many had fought and died
      Had been killed off in the committees and left to die by the wayside
      But it was worse when we turned to the kids on the left
      And got let down again by some poor excuse for protest
      Yeah by idiot fucking hippies in 50 different factions
      Who are locked inside some kind of 60’s battle re-enactment
      And I hung-up my banner in disgust and I head for the door

      Here’s a link to the youtube.

      We will be writing about the One Million Climate Jobs Caravan over the coming month.

      Marc Hudson

  4. leavergirl says:

    How about learning to use language that works for most everyone? “Climate justice” reeks of self-righteous leftism. Hey… isn’t it time to take inclusion seriously and radically?

    • Welcome Leavergirl. Given that the people being screwed already by climate change are brown and black and “yellow” (as opposed to us ‘white’ people – who mostly are pink, best I can see) and didn’t cause this problem, I reckon ‘justice’ fits the bill. If the movement weren’t so self-righteously leftie (which, by and large, it is) the label wouldn’t be an issue…. What label would you prefer?

  5. leavergirl says:

    Well, “global warming” and “climate change” are hated already… did we really need to slap it on worse? If you want people to hear you, choose inclusive wordage. People against Freaky Weather, or something. 😉

    You can wax eloquent about who is getting screwed more, but if people don’t hear you, what’s the point?

    • Well, if people don’t want to hear (because it’s a grim message, and because the actions they would have to take would be inconvenient) then it’s not going to matter that much what we call it. And the idea of trying to campaign against the ‘weather’ – nah.
      There are groups talking about “global weirding” etc.
      The other problem, of course, is that if indeed people do get past the language and actually go and attend an “activist” meeting they will either be bored, ignored or floored. Whereas if you get the cultures of groups and meetings right, you’ll keep more of those people. Certainly a slow way to build a mass movement, I’ll agree, and I am keen to hear ideas about quicker ways.

      • I agree with you that it is a slow process, engaging with one small group after another, to give them the confidence to to decide themselves, what course of action they need to do. The WWF and other NGO’s have been doing this with small, local communities in the Global South. And you would be surprised at how involve and knowledgeable these local communities have become. I do it in my small way, in local pubs, engaging with people about the subject, not in high-brow fashion but in general discussion. And the main point I try and make is, is it not better the pennies you could save are in your pocket not in the energy companies bank account.
        Here in Manchester we are handicapped because the council has successfully broken up communities and even cause some community groups to cease to exist. So, it is even harder to engage with communities who have become disfranchised and totally disillusioned by the political system in place. There are small groups of so-called activists who wave banners, blow whistles, scream and shout reminds me of two things:
        Empty vessels make the most noise;
        Just shouting louder does not make your message any clearer to someone who does not speak your language.
        This were some environmental and economic activist have wasted time and effort, and time is running out.

      • leavergirl says:

        McFly, I don’t have a sense that you are hearing me. If you use language that is hostile to the way a person understands the world, if you use language that they *experience* as hostile to the way they understand the world, then how can they hear you? Just like you tell the academics to speak the language of their readers, for crying out loud, so I am telling you to learn to speak the language of the common humans who are being affected by the Weirding.

        And don’t expect them to “attend an activist meeting.” DO SOMETHING and invite them to take part.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s