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“A Vaguely Useful Thing?”- An Event Report from the Big Six Energy Bash

Shift Magazine | 11.05.2012 18:46 | Analysis | Ecology

HENRY DAVIS takes a look at the recent Big Six Energy Bash and see’s whether it stands up to the aims the Climate Justice Collective set themselves.

“A Vaguely Useful Thing?”- An Event Report from the Big Six Energy Bash

Written by Henry Davis. Published May 2012

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, or the news that “they [protesters] and grassroots organisations would be invited to next year’s event”, 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 its 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, in ways that make them recognise that these issues are relevant to them and their every day lives. 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 these vital processes of critical reflection and innovation have 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.

A friend of mine, who is mates with some of the core organisers for CJC revealed that there were other aims for the day that hadn’t been publicised. These included providing a ‘way in’ to climate action for some of the new people they have met recently, for example those involved in Occupy London. It was also meant to be one of a diversity of tactics that the CJC would be employing as part of a several year plan. Finally, it was meant to be bring people back together to do “something” on climate, who haven’t done so for a long time. Whilst these all sound worthwhile, perhaps the desire to just do “something” combined with an apparent reluctance to move beyond a politics based on a series of events, makes proper strategic thinking and planning less likely.

At one point on the day, I heard a man dressed as Robin Hood say “If we go this way and make some noise, they’ll hear us inside, which seems like a… vaguely useful thing to do?” At the time this struck me as rather poignant; an uncertainty about what to do next, and an unwillingness to move outside our collective comfort zone, could well be part of the reason we keep going back to the same old tactics.

I hope I have been too critical, and 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.

Henry Davis has been involved in climate change campaigning for 4 years and lives in Manchester.

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Display the following 3 comments

  1. OK, but... — Fellow activist
  2. yes and no — treesit
  3. Shift Magazine — and criticism from the sidelines