Lesley Riddoch: Don't mock those who choose the alternative camp to consumerism
Wash the lot of them. Then take their benefits away. Then release the hounds Nothing but terrorists. Parasitical layabouts.
Why has the gathering of Climate Change protesters outside RBS headquarters in Edinburgh unleashed such an outpouring of online venom?
Is it the naivety and almost unbearable optimism of young people who think one occupation can create unstoppable momentum to halt climate change (and crush capitalism along the way)?
Is it their presumed social origins - "all Tarquins and Jemimas funded by their wealthy dads"?
Does the decision to focus on RBS backing for drilling off Greenland, coal mining and tar sand extraction seem unfairly selective?
Indeed, who are the 600-800 Climate Camp members gathered at Gogar whose intention is to disrupt RBS business sometime today?
From what I could see during a two hour visit on Saturday, their characterisation as a group of unwashed, dreadlock-swishing, dope-smoking drop-outs is simply wrong.
Evidence of planning and organisation is everywhere, the site is meticulously clean and the huddle of individual T-in-the-Park style tents is dominated by two large wedding party-sized marquees which took half a day to erect (just one of the "capacity-building skills" practised at pre-Gogar workshops.)
The operation began on Wednesday night when the site was "taken" by 80 members of the internet-based, Climate Camp collective.
Whether police and RBS were caught unawares or just avoided confrontation isn't clear, but according to Kevin Smith - the Media Crew member who accompanied my every move - the first act of the occupation was the erection of a dozen 20-foot high tripods at key access points. Camp members sitting atop the light aluminium constructions cannot be safely dislodged without injury or specialist equipment - options calculated to slow any police advance.
Inside, the camp is full of timetables, cleaning and cooking rotas and notices advertising workshops where (generally) earnest, clean-shaven and fresh-faced twenty-somethings learn their civil rights under Scottish law and the dos and don'ts of direct action.
There are two separate earth toilets for different "functions". Tomorrow a local farmer will apparently arrive to recycle "solid" waste.
If faith in their cause should ever waver, these activists could easily find work as floor managers, emergency planners or quartermasters. Absolutely no aspect of their physical presence has been left to chance.
The welcome board even contains an echo of that famous line from the late Jimmy Reid about the dangers of bevvying: "This camp offers an alternative to consumerism. It is not a space for excessive use of drugs and alcohol - nor is it a festival. It is an active movement for social change. Those responsible for violence, intimidation, harassment or unwanted sexual contact will be excluded."
Not exactly a camp full of Saffies (Eddy's serious and long-suffering daughter in Absolutely Fabulous) but not far off it. So why the bile - is it because these young adults are serious and we are not? How on earth can this generation command our attention or earn our respect?
If they deal with the stress, materialism and consumerist emptiness our generation has helped create by getting drunk, joining the dole or watching Big Brother, we are furious. If they get organised and act like some of us once did when we believed humans could still shape their destiny, we are contemptuous.
Jimmy Reid's funeral prompted a media - who latterly ignored him - to broadcast fond recollections of a possibly illegal work-in organised by young Communists who wanted to overthrow capitalism.
Today 600-800 young demonstrators will probably break the law to draw attention to their cause which is also aimed at overthrowing capitalism. What is the big difference? Their accents? Their tactics? Their age? Their cause?
Growing awareness of the world's near-total dependency on fossil fuels has encouraged mass denial not mass action. Our society cannot face the mounting, overwhelming but medium to long-term challenge posed to our very existence. Instead we focus on the mounting, overwhelming and short term crises created by recession.
Put bluntly the UCS work-in of 1971 saved the jobs of skilled working men on the Clyde. The fear is that the Climate Camp action at Gogar in 2010 will do precisely the opposite.
If RBS doesn't back Scottish firms and their plans for coal, oil and gas extraction, Scottish jobs will be lost to workers of other nations. The spectre of male unemployment is tangible, immediate and familiar. The spectre of climate change is not.
Campaigners have so far failed to convey the shape of a renewably-powered future, where engineering, manual, design and supply jobs will easily match the numbers currently employed in the extraction, delivery and combustion of fossil fuels. By 2030 offshore wind may exceed the combined total of all other energy production in Britain. A huge workforce is needed right now to get there - performing traditional, sub-sea and brand-new construction jobs.
Scotland has not yet turned to embrace that future. Banks (with the honourable exceptions of the Co-op and Triodos) are not currently investing in small, community-based renewable energy schemes. Scottish society is not yet angry about that fact and no amount of campaigners super-glued to RBS reception desks will change it.
But our world is changing. And the next generation is as entitled to register its non-violent ideas about the survival of our democracy as elders are entitled to mock and look away.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
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