Climate activists need more shame stamina
Since becoming a climate activist I’ve spent three early mornings, styled as a Suffragette and holding a prop (loudspeaker, paper windmills and, today, a giant papier-mache viagra), on the doorsteps of a leading politician. First, more than three years ago, there was Ruth Kelly MP. She was fighting hard for a third runway at Heathrow so Plane Stupid London took aircraft noise, at the same level as it erupts over West London (52 decibels), and blasted it through her letter box. We went there at 5 in the morning – the same time as the first aircraft takes off from Heathrow.
Next up was Peter Mandleson, approximately one year ago as the row over Vestas wind turbine factory was bothering every climate activist in the UK and every employee at the Isle of Wight’s Vesta factory. We took wind turbines and placed them in his front yard before unfolding a banner and asking that he ‘put some wind in Vestas sails’. He’d bailed out the car industry (twice) and we hoped that he would do the same for green business.
Yesterday morning, at 6am, eight Climate Rush-ers stood outside Nick Clegg’s Putney home. All were dressed in our version of Edwardian fashion and all wore ‘DEEDS NOT WORDS’ red sashes. Two were struggling to carry a fairly delicate ‘Climate Viagra’. The Viagra had been made by up and coming artist Cordelia Cembrowicz whose designs have characterised the activism of our Suffragette inspired group. Painted on one side of the Viagra were the words: ‘GET HARD ON CLIMATE CHANGE’. The subtext of this slogan? We wanted to send Clegg off to the Lib Dem party conference with a very clear mandate: you have cowed and toed to the Conservative party line, but all is not lost. You can make your mark on this government by getting tough (or – ahem – ‘hard’ – geddit?) on climate change legislation.
Instead of an audience with Clegg, we were given some voice time with his wife. She explained (after a long pause) that he was in Scotland (really? Or was he just hiding in the loo?) and asked that we leave our gift and their doorstep. Polite to a fault we tied a ‘DEEDS NOT WORDS’ sash around the Climate Viagra and went on our merry way.
Just as we were entering the tube three police cars pulled up. Deborah Grayson was asked to get into their car and the rest of us were asked for our names and addresses. Stood in the middle of Putney just as rush hour was kicking off; dressed as a climate suffragette with a lot of police standing round was really embarrassing. Even more embarrassing than trying to explain to Miriam Clegg that you have a 5 foot viagra for her (apparently virile) husband. It’s at moments like these when you begin to question your motives for causing such a fuss because you look around and no-one else is dressed up Edwardian, wearing a sash and dropping Climate Viagra in the gardens of politicians.
It’s at moments like these that I try to imagine how England must have felt at the height of Suffragette activity. Apart from the Suffragette shop on every high street, the high turnout for marches, the numbers of women starving in jail and those selling ‘The Suffragette’ on every street corner I wonder how these women felt – stepping so far from their comfort zone and taking extraordinary action to provoke controversy and public debate. The climate movement is nowhere near as evolved as the Suffragettes at their height. We cannot command tens of thousands to risk imprisonment, nor can we persuade hundreds of thousands to take to the streets – however, if we are mitigate climate change, then this vision of a society demanding change, on every doorstep, from every street corner is precisely what we need to see happen.
So to the Nick Cleggs, Peter Mandlesons and Ruth Kellys of this world I’ve got to let you know that we are here to give you a hard time. To all of the people whose rush hour was made that little bit more memorable due to our police scene, know that this is just the beginning. What happens next is down to us all to decide. If we want to have an impact, on politicians and the media, then there’ll be times when we have to play the fool: when courting public controversy will be more important that escaping individual shame. This is your chance to get involved. Come join a movement that is organised, mobilised, determined to win and, yes, I suppose we’re happy to be ridiculed too.