Waving goodbye to climate change?
An estimated 40,000 people (all of whom had been asked to wear blue clothing and paint their hands blue) gathered at noon in Grosvenor Square, London last Saturday (5 December), for what had been billed as the largest climate change protest ever on British soil.
The Wave, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition's big pre-Copenhagen climate summit march, was a colour-coded affair, with flair.
Blue wigs (of varying degrees of ridiculousness), blue face-paint (helpfully provided by volunteers at the entrance to the Square), blue t-shirts, banners, posters and body-suits all added to the effect which, if not the 'human wave' intended by the organisers, at least gave the demonstration a unified and intentional feel.
The event had been branded, by some members of the coalition, as 'a family-friendly demonstration' rather than a 'protest', probably in order to comfort and reassure those nervous of anti-globalisation violence or police 'kettling' and beatings. But they needn't have worried. Generally speaking, this protest was more about dancing than throwing bricks through Starbucks’ windows, and the extent of demonstrators' contact with the police seemed to be limited to marchers asking directions and police helpfully pointing them to the nearest toilet/coffee shop/tube station.
As at Make Poverty History in 2005, political agitators of various shades of red; anarchists; a few hippies and hoards of nice, polite, middle-class people who love Jesus got along just splendidly as they all worked (and walked) for a common cause.
On paper, it could all seem terribly strange and unlikely. But in reality, the placards handed out by the usual suspects of Christian Aid, Tearfund and Cafod comingled easily with those of the Socialist Worker and Green Parties.
Messages like 'Power to the poor' (Christian Aid), 'Climate justice now' (Tearfund) and 'Our climate in our hands' (Cafod) were carried by groups of people also carrying more political messages like 'Capitalism means crisis and climate chaos' (Socialist Worker) and 'Carbon cuts, not welfare cuts' (Green Party).
Home-made signs and banners were also in evidence, from the cute: 'Cuddles not carbon' (on a heart-shaped green placard), to the simply profound: 'People over profits' and the frankly sarcastic: 'Carbon trader = eco crusader'.
The 'carbon trading' placards (which I like to think of as An Inconvenient Spoof) were carried by a group of students, dressed in pin-stripe, all sporting stick-on moustaches (yes, including the women) handing out deeply ironic pamphlets entitled 'carbon trading: the final solution'.
The same protestors also megaphoned slogans like: “Trust me, I'm a banker!” and: “We took care of your mortgages, we can take care of pollution!” at the crowd.
And that satirical attack on the wisdom of 'carbon trading' was not alone in the weirdness stakes.
People in full polar bear costume, a splendid tiger, someone in a cow suit, with a sign carrying the questionable message 'you can't eat meat and be an environmentalist', people with blue hair, blue faces, blue beards and blue moustaches marched alongside very ordinary-looking people of every age and economic background.
Dedicated protesters from the Climate Camp made anarchism look perfectly orchestrated as they drummed their way along the route of the march, providing festive spirit and recycled, organic beats of fantastic energy and complexity for fellow marchers.
Other music providers carried battery-powered sound-systems in wheelbarrows, playing Paul Simon, or pedal-powered amplifiers belting out trance and folk music.
Children sporting labels saying 'I'm praying for the planet' had the message of socialist revolution patiently explained to them by an activist newspaper-vendor and trade union banners fluttered above cassocked Franciscans in woolly jumpers.
Everywhere, people who would ordinarily not talk to each other were united for a few hours in a common cause. It felt a bit like one imagines heaven, only with more rain and blistered feet. The question to be answered over the next week will be whether this demonstration (of so much more than political will to save the planet) achieves anything.
This piece first appeared in the Baptist Times, 10 November 2009. All pictures by Alex Baker / Baptist Times.