The People's March for Climate Change, London. Dave Evans/Demotix. All rights reserved.My demo experience goes back to the late sixties and early seventies when it was practically a routine weekend activity, and my participation has been shamefully sparse of late. God knows there are as many, if not more, issues and state iniquities to protest about since those days. But the climate change demo organised this weekend in London, as one of reportedly 2,000 events worldwide, did draw me out onto the streets – for the first time since the Poll Tax protests I think!
For me it is the single most important issue amongst the multitude, for without effective action on this, the wars, famines and environmental destruction endemic in the world can only multiply – that’s if there is any world left to destroy if the worst predictions of its effects are allowed to come to pass.
Having tried and failed to persuade a couple of friends to go with me, and being unable to draw any other members of my family away from a heavy workload, teenage sleep, one son professing a phobia of crowds, I took myself off to the Temple alone where I joined thousands already there waiting to set off. I couldn’t see the front of the demo but inserted myself into the line.
We stood for a long time, so I had plenty of time to observe my co-protestors. There were of course the Green party, anti-fracking groups, Hare Krishnas, Greenpeace, CND, the Avaaz contingent ( equipped with their posters) Socialist Workers party and the anarchists, masked and looking rather outdated, whose black flags seem now to be strategically tempered with some green. I also watched young families with babies and children, every sort and kind of youth, and many people, some obvious Guardian readers yes, but others whom I suspected had never been moved to demonstrate before: people you might predict would more usually frequent teashops in Windsor or cafes in Romford; grandparents bringing their grandchildren, people, I suspect, like me who came without masks, face paint, themed clothes, whistles or tambourines, but who simply wanted to be there with a faint hope of making it an event of such a size that it could not be ignored by the politicians who so wretchedly represent us on this, as on so many issues.
The crowd was good humoured and there was a pleasant hum of human conversation: I eavesdropped on informed discussion on the practicalities of veganism, the iniquities of supermarket packaging, the dangers to the planet of industrialised agriculture and a great deal about fracking. Finally, sometime after 1.30, we all started to shuffle forwards. Now the crowd spread out a little and I could see neither start nor finish – only those immediately around me. I had expected there to be some rallying call at the start, or some orchestrating of the crowd’s willingness to shout, but nothing materialised. A feeling of anti-climax began to creep upon me: this felt more like a walk in the sunshine than a demonstration on the most important issue facing mankind on which we had come to demand action.
I remembered demos in the past that had swept everyone into a chorus of unanimity and collective strength. Here I felt none of this. The feeling intensified as we moved into Parliament Square. I marched ahead with those in front of me and found myself in the crowd on the far side of the square, outside St Margaret’s. There people milled around and drums and singing drowned out all behind us. We waited for the speeches…. but none materialised. There were no announcements, no rallying of the crowd to hear them. I only learned afterwards that these had taken place in Parliament Square, but I had heard nothing of this. Neither, I suspect, had many of the thousands of people around me in that part of Westminster. So whilst I am of course glad that I took part, it was a curiously alienating experience for this demonstrator at least.
Much more shocking however has been the appalling BBC coverage: the London March, which attracted a crowd a mile long received barely a mention in the Radio 4 news and in the BBC TV 10.00 pm news was not even trailed in the headlines. A couple of shots of it and a few words came just before the sport, after at least three separate reports on aspects of the Scottish Referendum. Is not this event at least more important than a church service of national reconciliation held in Edinburgh, of which shots were shown twice in two different reports?
Given TV’s general obsequiousness to celebrities you might have thought they would at least use it as an opportunity to interview Emma Thompson or Peter Gabriel, both of whom were there , or show a clip of Emma’s speech? The huge demonstration in New York was dismissed with a shot of Ban Ki-Moon leading the march. Blink or sneeze and you’d missed it. You can be sure it would have been covered if there had been violence! I find it hard to believe that any other demo of this size on any other subject would have been given so little attention. One might almost suspect the heavy hand of Whitehall… We will wait to see how the Climate Change Summit itself is handled but the BBC’s failure to properly cover this massive worldwide protest is extraordinary and should be challenged.