Cops Cover Climate Campers!

11/03/2008 — 0 comment(s)

Climate Change is an issue that's affecting us all (whether we acknowledge it or not) and one about which we should all, rightly, be concerned.
Increasingly we are seeing the effects of climate change impacting peoples' lives all over the world and, unless something dramatic is done, this situation will only get worse. Nor is this something that we can afford to simply put on the back burner for future generations to deal with.

Ultimately it may prove that to alleviate the more serious effects of climate change the measures that have so far been introduced in terms of reducing carbon emissions, "saving energy" and seeking alternative energy sources etc are insufficient... too little, too late.
The measures that government and the corporate world are introducing, or have planned to introduce, are neither enough or go far enough (or even quickly enough), and in some cases may actually be counter-productive by creating worse problems than they're intended to solve (one classic example being the development of "biofuels"). There is also a very real concern that climate change issues are simply being used as another angle to generate yet more massive profits for "big business" (and by the political parties purely to gain popular support) with little genuine interest in what's really at stake.

In reality our current lifestyle, certainly in the "developed world", is likely to prove unsustainable and we shall all be forced into a far-reaching reappraisal.
Of course, this is not a "popular" message for politicians to have to convey, nor is there much prospect in it of endlessly increasing profits for the commercial world. A return to a simpler, more sustainable and less energy-intensive lifestyle would almost certainly impact the world economy in an unprecedented manner and therefore, for the "movers and shakers", is a message to be avoided at any cost.
So it may prove that the initiative for real change will have to come from the grassroots level, with the ordinary general public driving forward demands to tackle climate change as a matter of extreme urgency.

And indeed this is already happening with initiatives such as the Camp for Climate Action (aka Climate Camp).

Climate Camp is an event organised by ordinary people at an extreme grassroots level that has occurred for the past two years and provides a space (for about a week or so) where people can come together and experience sustainable living for themselves, learning more about the issues involved, skill-sharing, and participating in activities that help to increase awareness amongst the population at large of the issues surrounding climate change.

In 2006 the first Climate Camp was located near Drax in Yorkshire, the largest coal-fired power station in the UK. 2007, and Climate Camp was to be found near Heathrow, where there are plans afoot to ravage an entire swathe of countryside and displace local communities to expand the runways, opening the way for ever more pollution-producing flights.

And its just been announced (last Monday, 3rd March) that this year's Climate Camp will be at Kingsnorth in Kent, site of a proposed new coal-fired power station.

The Climate Camp itself (finding the space and creating the infrastructure of a large campsite to support hundreds of "Campers" for just over a week or so) is a tremendous undertaking in terms of planning, organisation, and actually "making it happen"... given that its an entirely volunteer effort with no corporate or institutional support. The entire event relies exclusively on ordinary people from vastly different backgrounds and viewpoints working together over a considerable period. The fact that it happens at all is little short of a miracle, and a huge testament to what is achievable when folk put their minds to it.

The first Camp saw 600+ people converging on a field in Yorkshire, the second witnessed well over double that number at a campsite established near Heathrow airport.

A significant amount of planning and prior preparation (and indeed the continual need to find "accords" and "compromises" that must inevitably occur when large numbers of people, each with their own particular viewpoint and way of doing things, come together to achieve a common objective within a non-hierarchical framework) obviously occur in the months leading up to the Camp itself.

Weekend-long meetings (or "gatherings" to use the terminology of the Campers) are hosted at different venues throughout the country, from as far afield as Scotland to the South of England, on a monthly cycle where everyone's welcome to attend and participate in the process of making the Camp happen. And of course all the relevant details of these gatherings (time, date, venue etc) are published beforehand.

The first one I managed to attend this year was at the SUMAC centre in Nottingham which, coincidentally, was the gathering at which the Kingsnorth location for the Camp proved to be the concensus.

However, for me something of a sour note crept into this most recent gathering in the shape of the presence of a police surveillance team!
I can't speak of the previous gatherings this year, but certainly I'd not noticed such a presence at any of the gatherings of the past two years (of which I attended quite a few), and I find this escalation of police monitoring of public assemblies to be quite disturbing in its implications.

In this post I've deliberately spent some time providing a context for these gatherings... they're the manifestation of the extreme concern felt by large numbers of ordinary people about an issue of fundamental importance to society as a whole. They're also a positive manifestaton of the preparedness of ordinary members of the public to acknowledge a personal responsibility to act when government fails to perform, and when the corporate world places profit above more pressing needs.
These gatherings are public; they are announced beforehand; they are peaceful, they are legal. They're well-structured and represent no threat to public order or safety.

Why then the monitoring thereof by police camera teams? And indeed does such monitoring even fall within the remit of the police force?

The first meeting of the weekend started at 1100 on the Saturday (1st March). I arrived (in company of a friend) a few minutes late and immediately observed three uniformed police officers (one of whom was equipped with a camera) loitering outside the front entrance of the SUMAC centre.
Whilst they made no attempt to prevent us entering the centre we were photographed as we approached (note... even before we'd actually entered the premises!).
Conferring with some of the people inside we learned that the police had been present before the announced start time of the first meeting, obviously with the intent of photographing everyone attending. (This raises the interesting question of how, and whether, they would differentiate between those attending the Climate Camp gathering and those visiting SUMAC for purely social purposes?)

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At some stage during the course of the day that particular team disappeared. However, when the gathering adjourned for lunch on the Saturday I observed another couple of police (one of whom was equipped with a camera) in an unmarked car parked outside the rear entrance to the centre, again photographing the comings and goings therefrom.
When approached and challenged they denied they were acting in a "covert" manner... clearly forgetting the fact that they were in an unmarked car!


It seems to me that the presence of such police surveillance at public assemblies etc is becoming far more prevalent, and it appears to be almost standard practise now at virtually any demonstration or protest where the policies of the government of the day are being challenged or questioned.
I'm not entirely certain that this is acceptable. As I'm not entirely certain that any legitimate "law & order" interest is being served thereby. It seems to me rather that it is some sort of political agenda that is being served, and the deployment of police resources in such manner is far too redolent of the sort of activity that one would expect to find in a fascist or "police state".

Serious questions need to be asked. Such as, for example, what is the intended use of such photographs? Is it to build up profiles of individuals, their movements, their friends and contacts? And why? As some sort of "evidence" in the event that such people may, at some indeterminate point in the future, possibly participate in an as yet undefined "illegal act"?
Or is it to compile a database of people that may be likely to resist the introduction of some unpopular legislation in the future, or may oppose some future government policy?

Ok, call me paranoid if you wish, but think on this... what if such a "surveillance database" were integrated with the database that will inevitably be created from the ID card scheme that the government is still determined to introduce, albeit by the back door?
Its not too difficult to visualise a situation where, at some point in the not-too-distant future, ID card-related benefits (education, health, welfare, housing, travel etc) will be withheld if you just happen to associate with the wrong people, or just happen to go to the wrong meeting.

This is all just one step too close to the thought police as far as I'm concerned.

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