Last week I was one of thousands of activists from across Europe that descended on the continents largest coal mine in Rheinland, Germany, to close it down. After a ten day encampment of workshops, action training and planning it was time for the “Ende Gelaende”day of mass action, 15 August 2015. Scores of stunts, blockades and marches were launched to break into the mine. One of these would go on scale one of the infamous Bagga diggers – among the most destructive machines humanity has created – each consuming the equivalent energy of a small municipal town. What we saw inside the the mine, a landscape biblical in scale and lunar in lifelessness, gave us a chilling glimpse of smash and grab capitalism’s front line and an experience of defiance, solidarity and rebellion that has burned itself indelibly onto our collective emotional memory.
The Klima Camp encampment was situated on land soon to be chewed up by the mines. Seven thousand are facing displacement. If it can get though the Hambacher encampment’s network of tree houses (heroically connected by zip wires), the mine will also take down the Hambacher Forest, killing countless trees and animals in the process. The particular site for the Klima Camp was donated by a farmer who is being forced to sell at a price he has no hand in fixing. Like all farmers in the area he has suffered years of degredation as the water table was pulled
from his feet in order to drain the water from the mine.
The region is being disembowelled for lignite or “brown coal”, one of the dirtiest fuels in existence. So dirty in fact that twenty per cent of the energy taken
from the mine is used in making the mine run (a considerable amount if you consider that the mine is running the entire German arms industry and half of Holland).
The camp is comprised of a growing body of people who are tired of waiting for politicians to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. Despite Angela Merkel’s pronouncements on the “German Energy Revolution” her ruling “green capitalist” Green Party is doing nothing to keep the coal in the ground. Three of Europe’ most polluting mines are in the Rheineland. Klima Camp’s aim is to get in the way, turn the world’s eyes to the dirty face of coal and to send a clear message that enough is enough. If fossil fuels are not left in the ground, runaway climate change could push us past the two degre rise in pre industrial global temperature. The knock on effects will be a biospheric collapse that threatens humanity itself.
Klima Camp, originally inspired by UKs Cliamte Camp (now evolved into Reclaim The Power), is planned, executed and enjoyed entirely by its attendees. Imagine a entire festival complete with a bakery, shop, Info Point, Welcome Tent, several large marquees, a main stage for bands, food, toilet, chillout,
media, medic and camping areas. One where everything is given on a donation basis, including entrance, and you get to be part of a world changing global movement in the process. Reading Festival eat your heart out.
The running of the festival is done horizontally in neighbourhood assemblies (based on where you are camped) that feed decisions into a central coordinating group. Everyone is in charge and everyone chips in – a living breathing anarchist utopia.
The Programme – yes there is a programme, and printed in several different languages – has a full schedule of workshops, talks, debates, panel discussions and gigs. The main marquee has a team of translators and radio headsets available in four different languages. German activists are on it like ping pong.
For those wanting a break from learning about the global struggles for climate justice, there are interactive forum theatre events and training in ceative activism. The camp produced its own Clown Army troupe of radical street theaticians, and a samba band. Someone even put on a radical spoken word workshop. Wierdos.
The Night Before we Closed the Mine
It is midnight, the night before the day of mass action. The camp is a hive of hushed urgency. Footsteps hury along dark grass paths, sidestepping giant forty
foot banners. Speakers are being loaded from the stage onto a lorry with open sides, ready to detonate music in the middle of a crowd of innocent civillians. Workshop tents are filled with water, supplies and samba instruments. Action teams (aka Affinity groups) huddle around torches fingering maps, face masks and electronics. Arms and legs have the legal team phone number marker-penned onto them in case of arrest.
The words ‘occupation’, ‘opperation’ and ‘campaign’ dont feel out of place here. While the experience for most will be relatively fluffy and risk free, many are taking a risk to their physical integrity and are willing to get arrested in standing up to the most powerful entities that have ever existed – aka the fossil fuel industry, aka the forces of darkness, aka planet smashing incarnations of death metal.
Day of Mass Action
At six in the morning the camp is awoken by a giant megaphone. Spontanious cheers and whistles ripple through a field of dome tents barnacled onto the
misty hillside. After breakfast everyone joins the different “fingers” to head to the mine. Some fingers number in the hundreds. Many of their participants have been rehearsing the act of breaking through police lines in the preceding days.
To protect anonimity and defend against pepper spray, many are wearing white suit as well as eye and face masks. The resulting picture is of a giant team of medics rushing to an emergency. And they are. The activist slogan of the coming COP 21 UN Climate talks in Paris this December is ‘We are not fighting for
nature, we are nature defending herself’. The Earth’s immune system kicking in, like an army of white blood cells rushing to the scene of a crime.
Marching towards the mine, tensions and spirits were high. Songs included a personal favourite, “There’s a hole in my planet, oh scheiße, oh scheiße. There’s a hole in my planet oh scheiße a hole.”
In the face of pepper and battons the International Finger break through police lines four times to make it into the mine. As much as it is sad to see public forces use chemical weaponry on a non-violent trespass, it is beautiful to see how almost the entire
two hundred made it through unheart and smiling into the mine. For many it is their first action. One activist, with a backpocket of geological knowledge, observed from the lines in the sand that we had made it down about a million years into the past. We were at the feet a real life Mordor carving its was into our future.
In the following advance through the mine, protesters fanned out to prevent police vehicles passing to create another blockade. The thin white line of protesters holding hands in the middle of this deathscape, pursued by heavily armoured vehicles and helicopters, was Ghandian. It was inevitably not long before all were kettled, beaten down or fled the mine.
By then it was too late. The mines operations had been stopped and the pictures splashed all over the press in Germany and beyond. The following twelve hours of mass detentions where, though unnecessary and for some painful and uncomfortable, were for most filled with songs, chants, games and growing friendships. Kettles of protesters from all over the world – hands cable tied behind their backs – feeding each other with food and cigarettes provided priceless metaphors of solidarity. There was a game of frisbee (apparently this is still possible
with hands cable tied behind your back) and Worthers Originals, pulled open by opposing sets of teeth, then caught by a third person (who also had their hands tied). It was like a team building exercise on a corporate training residential (except with riot cops instead of middle management).
While the mine continues to produce coal, the battle in this war of stories has been won by the Camp. The definition of what climate action means is changed, the goal posts thrown over the cliff. One of the deadest expanses on earth has been filled with creativity, resistance and a riotous love. What will grow out of it? Come to Paris this December to find out.
It is with great sadness this week I leave my post as a Spoken Word, Beatbox, Improvisation Teacher at Curwen Primary School, Newham, East London. To my knowledge I am the only person who has had that job title. It has been an incredible experiment in creative education, working two days a week as a fixture of the teaching staff on a year long placement. I taught four different year groups in literacy, music, performance, after school and lunchtime clubs and was blown away by the imaginations I was harvesting. The following poem is a composite poem made entirely of lines taken from the poems written by kids aged between 6 and 11.
Curwen’s Mega Poem
When I Grow Up
I don’t want to be a killer,
I want to be a painkiller.
I will have the power
To make trees dance.
I will control rain.
I’ll take a cloud and fly to Saturn,
Rob a bank with a gang of lions,
I’ll be Like Nelson Mandela and Pele
In one body.
You see, I don’t want to be the goal scorer,
I want to be the goal.
When I grow up all the girls
Will ask me to merry them.
You see I am amazing
I put the king in Barking, the zing in amaing,
The art in smart and the pow in powerful!
Im so cool that when I go outside
It starts to snow,
So talented every singer went to jail,
So rich my name is Rich Richy Richard
When I go outside the clouds hide
And the sun gives me firepower.
The red carpet rolls out underneath me.
Flowers jump out of the soil saying “Im free!”
And ask for my autograph.
My autograph is on the wall like a poster
And if anyone tears it they pay one pound.
I’m so hot all the dragons retired
And the sun melts.
When I go outside and sing the police feint
And the bins dance with me.
I’m a volcano that’s going to erupt flowers.
I’m so happy my head jumps around the grass!!
Because I am Happiness:
I am the bubbles in coca cola,
I am the tick on the register,
I am laughter spreading its wings.
I come from a town called Happy
Where everyone calls your name
Like God throwing down money.
In my head there is a toilet laughing,
A chocolate cupcake calling my name,
Pies are screaming for me to eat them,
And there’s an apple tart that can sing.
During maths test I think about
Numbers street dancing.
And when I go to sleep
I dream of going to Art Land.
But what I hate about heads
Is the way they carry around bad things
In my head there is a potion
That has gone wrong.
I am Anger!!
You die as I work out my plan
I kill your happiness
I drink your love and rip out your smile!
I am a bag full of pain.
I am the brown leaves
That fall in your heart.
Growing up is like sad people
Climbing up a ladder.
You see love is a twinkler
Love is stars singing soft songs .
I love you, Mum
You are my song that keeps me awake
From little monsters.
You are always there, even in the dark.
You are my camel if I get tired,
You are my shadow that never leaves my side,
You are my zip that keeps me together,
Protecting and warming my heart.
You are the thing that makes my heart golden.
If you were pants I would wear you forever.
If you were a guitar
I would play you like a mad genius.
If you were un-credible
I would turn you into credible.
If your heart were a tomatoe
I would get my five a day.
I love you more than a rainforest
Wants to dribble down with tears.
I love you more than an Everything Burger.
When I grow up I’ll have so many happy memories
I will store them under a king sized bed.
In my head there is a never ending story
And dreams waiting to come true.
I was born with a rare disease
Arriving at Finsbury Park station I came across a group of men people in high vis vests. Their vests read ‘Business and Community Warden’. I’ve
learned to be suspicious of people who claim to be ‘public officers’ or ‘wardens’ so I went up to one to ask what they do. My mistrust quickly
melted to sympathy. The man I was speaking to walked with a heavy head, sagging eyes and a narked expression. His colleagues also looked seriously bored and disaffected.
He told me he is on a six month, 30 hour per week Workfare placement. The work is a compulsory condition for receiving his Job Seekers Allowance – a meagre £240 a month to live off. Of this he has to pay his own travel (£88 a month) to get to and from his unpaid work. That leaves him a grand total of £152 a month (or £38 a week) for food, bills, and any other services or contingencies needed to maintain his home and his health. I don’t imagine his weekends are particularly lively.
The frown on his face crept over my own as he told me that he they do not provide food so many days he can’t afford to eat at work. One day he was ill with a virus and needed to miss a day. He was told that “that wasn’t good enough” so he worked through his illness. If he misses a day of work he loses 1 month pay. If he misses 3 days he loses months of pay.
I was left wondering how much time he and his fellow unemployed colleagues were able to look for work while they stood motionlessly and reluctantly outside the station waiting for members of the public to ask them directions. They told me that they “have a list of things to do” including patrolling local supermarkets (they have been dealing with shoplifters for both Sainsburys and Tesco) but mostly they have to just stand there. Why do these supermarkets (who have already dodged so much tax) get free forced labour from some of the borough’s most vulnerable involuntarily unemployed? Was it not these same corporations who lobbied so hard against the minimum wage and are now cutting costs on their own security? If they are benefiting from this labour then why don’t they, and not the tax payer, pay the Job Seekers Allowance ?
“How do I complain?” I asked the Warden.
“Phone the number on my vest and speak to Courtney Bailey, he’s the boss”
When I phoned I got through to The Finsbury Park Business Forum. This is an odd place to be directing a complaint about a body of public wardens, regularly briefed by the MET to carry out low level police patrol and ‘counter terrorism’ duties as a kind of forced volunteer unit of para- police. The Business forum’s website says that one of their duties is to ‘lower the perception of crime’ at the station. In helping the police clear the area of ASBOs this can be seen as the civilianisation of social cleansing. Poor people forced to police poor people on behalf of business.
Courtney Bailey met my complaint by quickly becoming loud, aggressive and insulting. When I pressed him on the scheme he accused me of being “wrong in the head”, “full of it” and “one of those anarchists” (he was at least right about that last point).
“Name me one person who is has no choice to work for us?!” he shouted.
“I’m not going to name them because you might report them to the Job Centre and they could lose their benefits” I replied.
He hung up.
Kerry- Anne Mendoza, in her fantastic new book: ‘Austerity: The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy’ points out:
‘Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights clearly states: ‘No-one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.’ If the government threatens to withdraw a person’s sole lifeline unless they supply their labour, then it can clearly be argues that this labour has been obtained forcibly. The labour is also clearly compulsory.’
She goes on to point out that benefits such as the JSA are a safety net that help citizens ‘live in dignity’ and are a ‘foundation stone of social democracy’. Why are we now submitting people to compulsory work in order to get it?
I don’t envision Courtney Bailey has much affinity with his unpaid workforce. As well as being the Chair of Finsbury Park Business Forum he is also the chair of an energy company and the executive director of four other companies. On their website I learn that, in collaboration with Job Centre Plus, the Business Forum are providing ‘opportunities for people to gain work experience, educational and police training’. On digging a little deeper I found that the ‘training’ consisted of a one day visit from the Duncan Greenhalgh of the Metropolitan Police in ‘SELF
CONFIDENCE’ (their italics).
The Forum describes the Wardens as ‘volunteers’.
‘This is truly a community coming together as one team for a safer neighbourhoods in Islington…Our aim is to promote community solidarity and encourage neighbourhoods to identify and solve problems and be a trusted friend for Business and the Community.’
The newsletter thanks VIPs in the police, local businesses and stakeholders. Not a word of thanks goes to the Wardens themselves, who will be working without pay outside Finsbury Park station for the next six months. The scheme is soon set to be rolled out to Drayton Park, Arsenal, Highbury & Islington, Holloway Road, Angel, Camden, Kings Cross – tube and train stations.
Last weekend I went to visit a community of families who, until a month ago, never considered themselves activists. They are now political squatters, staging an occupation of the soon to be demolished estate of Sweets Way in Barnett, North London. The tenants, many of whom were previously homeless, have lived there for 6 years. Some are being forced to move out of London to Wolverhampton if they want to be re-housed.
If you dont live in Barnett, if you are not in need of housing and if you are not a squatter you may think this has nothing to do with you. Think again.
Barnet has become a ‘test borough’ for the sell-off of the functions of local government to a corporation called Capita. Unless resisted, what is happening here in Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency, will be rolled out across the country.
When they privatised Barnett’s planning department (yes you did read that correctly), developers started “rubbing their hands” says Mark, an activist at Sweets Way who works in a local nursery due for demolition. “They have started selling off public facilities for private development, including schools, community centres, libraries and care for the elderly and disabled.
The company redeveloping the estate, Annington (part owned by tax exile Guy Hands worth an estimated £250 million) looks set to make a killing on the London property market. Only 20% of the new properties are being leased as ‘affordable rent’ (80% of market rates).
Yesterday Barnet County Court judge decided to rule against our protest and social centre occupation on the Sweets Way estate. They grant Annington possession over the 160 or so homes of the Sweets Way estate, they even gave them an injunction against future protests taking place anywhere on the site! This is worrying for all involved in housing justice work and political protest. A statement from the community reads:
Upon our return from court, we found that the social centre at 60 Sweets Way had been emptied of all the things that made
it beautiful. Meanwhile a new property – a five bedroom at 76 Oakleigh Road North, owned by Annington as well, but just beyond the injunction and possession zones – had been occupied and filled with all the makings of a new social centre!
As somebody who spent two years living in squats, occupations and social centres, I have to admit that we never achieved the same level of popular support that the families of Sweets Way, and their sister project the E15 Mums in Newham have enjoyed.
As with E15, the occupation was made in alliance with squatters. Some of the squatters have been occupying places in Barnett for a number of years. Many will remember the famous Friern Barnett Library which was saved from closure by an unlikely alliance of squatters from Occupy London and conservative voters. Then there was the encampment on the front yard of local MP Mike Freer MP who helped spearhead the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings. Later there was Our Bohemia, in which the closed Bohemia pub was reopened by squatters and turned into a thriving community hub. I had the pleasure of playing there two years ago.
These sort of alliances of direct action are now popping up all over London, many under the banner of the Radical Housing Network. The spirit of resistance taking place in Barnett deserves all our support. They are the test case we can roll out across the country.
The campaign against a Third Runway is now well underway. Watch this space for more.
It is very likely that this blog, as well as Facebook posts, emails and text messages of mine, will have been read by the police. In the two years I lived in protest camps social centres and political squats in London it is almost inconceivable that I did not work with, live with and befriend an undercover officer. At Occupy London (as we terrorised the nation with our public assemblies, workshops and polythene tents) it was widely understood that the place was heavily infiltrated by police, private spies and agent provocateurs. The police will have a file on me, small fry though I am, as well as most of my friends involved in non violent campaigns relating to housing, environmentalism, Occupy and squatting.
The recent book ‘Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police’, by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis is a chilling account of how hundreds of millions of public funds is being used to fund the routine abuse of peaceful activists, sexually and otherwise. Of the ten undercover police operatives outed so far, nine have had sex with their targets. One is known to have had a child who never got to know his real father. Eleven women are now sueing the Met for psychological trauma.
Public enquiries (that have not been made public) have been met with ‘official obstruction’ the book informs us. In 2012 when the spy Mark Kennedy was famously exposed. He was shown to have withheld evidence from court that would have supported the defendants (ironically subverting the course of justice). Kennedy has now moved to private sector spying. Corporate espionage is big business and private spies outnumber those of the police. Like the police’s National Public Order Inteligence Unit (NPOIU) the sector is ‘completely unregulated’. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of activists have had at some point a friend who is a spy. Given that activism in this country can only number in the hundreds of thousands we should all be outraged.
It is documented to be routine for the swelling undercover apparatus to monitor and subvert organisations and individuals looking into police misconduct. This includes the family of murdered black teen Steven Lawrence and the police watchdog the Newham Monitoring Project.
The stunts I have been involved in at demonstrations, the time I have spent behind megaphones and microphones and my outspoken advocacy of direct action though my work as “public figure” will be of interest to the police. I have been warned by fellow campaigners involved in legal work about the frequency with which my face has appeared in photographs at court cases relating to demonstrations.
I have never acted violently toward another person through my activism. Yet according to the police, myself and my fellow activists are “domestic extremists”. As such we can be infiltrated by paid spies who file detailed reports on our lives, and thousands of others. The days when this was limited to ‘violent extremists’ is long gone. All you need to qualify to be profiled it seems is to speak out against corporate misdoings.
Something needs to be done. If civil society cannot organise safely and effectively then we have no civil society. If we have no civil society then we risk sliding into a corporate security state. Do we need to wait?
But there are reasons to be positive. This situation is symptomatic of state that is scared of the reaction and instability caused by a regime of bank
bailouts and public cuts, where inequality and social deprivation is reaching record highs. The UK has the second highest concentration of land ownership in the world (second only to Argentina). Current political incentives to extend the squatting ban to commercial properties is in part fuelled by an agenda of political cleansing that attacks autonomous spaces of organisation and self education. It is the same paranoia behind police press appeals for members of the public to report any known anarchists. In 2011 the Occupy Movement, which spread across the world, received huge public approval. I have personally witnessed the extent of the apparatus of police repression used to infiltrate and forcibly remove the camps, including the recent snatch squads and fences used to stop pro democracy demonstrators peaceful protests at Parliament Square. The movement against cuts and fracking is seeing massive grass roots mobilisation across the country. It is now widely understood my most people that Government rules only for the rich. In the words of
Victor Hugo, ‘no army can stop an idea who’s time has come’. If our public servants are treating us like this, is there any reason why we should not all take part in mass movement of non-violent civil disobedience. Now there’s an idea.
From the show ‘Pete the Temp vs Climate Change’
For other videos from the show and elsewhere see the ‘WATCH’ Section of this site.
“Did you hear the water’s been cut off?”
“Newham Council say it wasn’t them, but they were photographed out there with their van. They have broken the water mains”
This was the news I was met with when I arrived yesterday to visit the E15 Mums in a squatted social centre in the Carpenters Estate, Newham. Sprawling onto the streets is a hive of activities: kids painting, a free shop, free food and banners that read ‘social housing not social cleansing’. People are chatting, planning meetings, attending workshops, playing guitars and discussing community issues. Why would the local council try to sabotage a property occupied by a community of vulnerable single mothers?
Last week the E15 Mums squatted some homes that had been left empty by the council for up to eight years. They live in a hostel which is being closed down to make way for one of the many luxury high rise developments springing up in the area as part of the ‘Olympic Legacy’ (aka giant corporate land grab). Excuse the emotive language, I’m beingunfair – there is some provision in the developments for existing residents in Newham (one of the poorest corners of Europe)… it’s not “social housing”, granted but it is “affordable housing” only 80% of market rate! Now you can’t say fairer than that… No you cant… now move to Birmingham, or Manchester.
The hostel residents are being relocated out of London one-by-one so they don’t get together and kick up a stink. Some have ended up on the streets. Many are there because they are fleeing domestic violence or are very young Mums. They don’t have family networks to support them. They are each other’s lifeline and their fragile community is being broken up. Or is it?
The Mums saw that their estate was being purposefully turned into a ghost town by the Council. They saw how thousands of perfectly good properties were being left empty (often with windows left open to accelerate weather damage) to justify demolition and sell off. So they went into a semi detached house and squatted it.
This is a brave move. It is a residential property, so they are now committing a criminal, rather than civil offence under new squatting legislation (one of the Tories’ latest acts of compassion). The E15 Mums desperation could land them in jail.
No wonder they had their water cut off! Not only are they single mums they are also now squatters! Why should they be afforded basic human rights like a temporary shelter or access to water? I guess I should hate these people, but try as I might, I just can’t.
One mother told me she had been moved into temporary private rented accommodation that costs £900 a month (for which she is being supported by Housing Benefit). She is trying to skill herself by doing an apprenticeship, but that only brings in £400 p/month.
“What can I do? If I’m on twelve month contract and I’m forced to move every twelve months that means I have to pullmy daughter out of school. Then she doesn’t get a proper education, and then she can’t get a job and the whole vicious cycle keeps repeating!”
Danny Dorling, in his landmark book about the Housing Crisis, ‘All that is Solid’ (2014) demonstrates how housing benefit is effectively the tax payer being used to subsidise the private sector by covering grossly inflated rent prices. Clever work private sector! There is no public housing left because you bought it all!
Dorling also describes squatting as ‘entrepreneurial’. Is that not what these mothers are? Are they not finding their own solution to the crisis in affordable housing by taking direct action to provide for themselves and their family? So why has the Newham Mayor, Robin Wales, attacked what they’re doing as “disgusting”, saying it’s not his fault if they can’t afford to live in Newham? Would that not mean the only qualification for you being able to live in an area is a financial one?
Surely not, that would mean that the rich from around the world could just buy up thousands of properties as marketinvestments and leave them empty, making hundreds of thousands homeless. He can’t mean that. He wouldn’t say that working class families who’s families are here, who’s children are being schooled here, who’s grandparents were sent to fight fascism (in disproportionate numbers from Newham) who’s grandparents were brought from the West Indies to rebuild the borough after the War, have no right to be here. The Mayor cant mean that. He is a labour man after all.
I work in a primary school around the corner as a part time spoken word educator. I’m quickly learning that I’m surrounded by spoken word experts. There are speakers of over one hundred languages in Curwen Primary School. Newham is one of the world’s most diverse boroughs in the world. Its cultural capital is immense. I know! Lets destroy its communities and bleach the area with more unaffordable gated communities for white, middle class, privately educated professionals! That’s what has made London the cultural capital of the world. That’s what we need more of!
Show your solidarity with the E15 Mums who have captured the nations imagination and shown that laws and developments to benefit private wealth become meaningless when we take direct action, working together in solidarity.
– Visit them, bring, clothes, food, bottled water
– Share their action online https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343?ref=br_tf @FocusE15 #E15SocialCentre
– Complain to and disgrace the Newham Mayor @NewhamMayor @NewhamLondon and Council
– Occupy a long term empty building and use it house people provide a space to about housing.
Having been shut out of dialogue with the Mayor some mothers went to embarrass him and were met with a violent reaction from him