I took the Big Lemon bus (which runs on waste cooking oil!) up to London yesterday morning, forcing myself out of bed about half a day earlier than I would usually arise. When we got to Hyde Park, Caroline Lucas, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the fire and rescue union and a couple of others took turns giving motivational speeches from the top of a fire engine before we set off towards Parliament. As usual, there was a plethora of witty and creative signs and people in animal costumes and other fancy dress. I was trying rather unsuccessfully to take photos with a temperamental tablet which kept on refusing to capture photos on the first try, and then gave up the ghost entirely half way through the march. Coupled with my petite stature, this meant I got quite a few photos of people’s hats and the grey soggy-newspaper-esque sky, rather than the tens of thousands of passionate activists streaming around me. Oh well, I tried. I never claimed to be a photographer.
Just as I was musing that it was by far the quietest march I’d been to, a fantastic rag-taggle band suddenly burst into play, with massive drums, tiny drums and maracas, and a man conducting them while walking backwards. When they finished their first set we all started to cheer, clap, scream, shout, woop, whistle, dance, and just generally freak the hell out. They quickly started up again and we marched on with springs in our steps; stamping, clapping and shaking our signs to the beat of the drums. That was by far my favourite part of the day, and at one moment I even almost welled up from the energy and emotion – like I often do at these kind of things. I just love the collective vitality of a massive group of strangers all showing how much they care about something. To me, this is what democracy looks like. Living, loud, messy democracy. And I was thrilled to see many people had brought their babies and kids along, reminding me of all the protests I tagged along to as a small child with my parents.
But when I wasn’t next to the band, I kept noticing the lack of chanting. All the marches I’ve attended have been filled with very vocal demands. What do we want? CLIMATE ACTION! When do we want it? NOW! You know, that kind of thing. Apart from the band, most of the march seemed surprisingly quiet and serene. Or perhaps tired. It’s probably just my imagination, but I did feel at times like we were going through the motions. I felt a sense of fatigue. Stubborn, defiant fatigue. I’ve never experienced an atmosphere quite like it. I did momentarily consider the possibility that a lot of the people were literally tired – there was a Don’t Bomb Syria protest march in the same place just the day before. But perhaps it’s more that the climate movement has been saying the same damn thing for years – decades even. Shouting for that long on deaf ears gets tiring – but we will continue to shout until we are heard.
Thankfully the speakers had plenty of energy. The march snaked it’s way through London Town to finish outside the houses of Parliament with a rally. Several people climbed the makeshift stage to address the crowd, which admittedly made up for its lack of chanting with deafening cheers of approval after almost every sentence. There were two rabble-rousing climate-themed spoken word performances by rappers. There were three little girls imploring the world leaders to finally “DO SOMETHING” after all the climate summits (which they diligently listed) where nothing happened. There was an outspoken climate activist from the Philippines that called for global solidarity in the fight for climate justice, assuring us that the global South is mobilising fast as they are already feeling the climate bite. There were a group of Indigenous Swedish women from above the Arctic circle who sang a beautifully haunting song. We couldn’t understand the words but we understood the meaning, and many in the crowd even sang along. Charlotte Church and her choir also sang. There were probably a couple of others that I don’t remember. Soon night was falling and I was hurrying back to the coach.
Here’s a couple of other photos from the day.
There were well over 50,000 people at the London march, making it the biggest climate march in UK history. There were 2,300 solidarity marches around the world, in almost all the major cities and many smaller cities and towns, mobilising at least 785,000 people in 175 countries. This means it was also the biggest climate action in world history! Even in Paris, where marches were officially banned due to security concerns in light of the recent attacks, activists got creative and left 20,000 pairs of shoes in place of themselves.
All this came on the eve of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) climate talks, where a global deal is finally expected to be hashed out. Apparently the delegates watched footage of the global march on large screens as they entered the conference. The crunch summit kicked off today, and will last until 11th December, with 150 heads of state working on what must be the most critical and difficult political decision in history. I’ll be following the Guardian live blog on the action, and writing up my commentary on here later in the week.
If I had any wine (or any money for wine) I’d raise a glass to global solidarity, citizen activism and our beautiful living planet.