Crazy idea. A backwards march? For someone like me with extensive arthritis, the idea is horrific. We were called upon to do a local march to coincide with the London one on Sunday May 8th, but I decided straight away that if anyone walked backwards it would be for a short time – or a few people. Here Here they are in London, actually walking backwards. I can’t quite make out what’s going on… but maybe that’s the point. The government has signed the Paris agreement, but isn’t obliged to adjust its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – its carbon reduction offer, if you like – in line with the 2 degrees goal and the 1.5 degrees aspiration, until 2020. And that INDC doesn’t equate to our share of 2 degrees warming. More like 3 degrees. Who can make out what’s going on?
That was a rhetorical question. It’s all too clear – Cameron and his cronies only care about keeping in with corporations and imposing their particular toxic brand of Conservative ideology. I imagine that, with their protected upbringing, climate change is unreal to them. Their imaginations have been deeply damaged, and they’re determined to pass the damage on.
I jumped up at the end of a Green Party Policy and Ideas meeting to say that I wanted us to talk more about climate change, and to organise a local rally on Sunday May 8th. This would be a mere three days after the election, and on the day of the electoral count, in Bristol, for the councillors (the votes for the Police and Crime Commissioner were counted on the Friday and those for the Mayor on the Saturday). Everyone smiled. Good idea. They agreed. But, they warned, the most active people would be at the count.
I didn’t get it. They weren’t needed to actually count the votes, were they? What was it, a social occasion? No, they were watching the counting, each prospective councillor with a friend to give solidarity, and calling for a recount if necessary. (In the event, there were two recounts. Ani Stafford-Townsend, a great woman whose commitment I’ve seen for myself, watching her talking and listening to constituents on the doorstep when we were canvassing together, lost to Labour by only seven votes.)
On Polling Day I sat outside one of the polling stations for a couple of hours in the sunshine, next to the Labour guy. From then on, I began to get it. I hadn’t imagined the tension around the election, and I finally realised how absurd the timing of the march was, both in London and in other cities.
My co-organiser, Will Quick, was standing for Bedminster. He juggled his many commitments masterfully, but it was tough. He didn’t get in. There he is in yellow, gritting his teeth as he hears. In the election two years ago, the Greens were the only party standing for social justice. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has sent many people back to Labour. I understand that, but I think it’s a massive mistake to pay so little attention to climate change. No economic analysis makes sense if you ignore that big unwelcome fact.
Here’s our leaflet. A frightening one, this time. Yet many took it and thanked me, far more than used to. Things are changing. . Of those who didn’t take them, it was mostly men who said ‘I’m fine, thank you.’ And in my mind I replied, ‘You think you’re fine, but you’re not actually fine at all.’
Our march took place, bad timing and all. There were maybe 150 of us. I was so relieved it was no longer hanging over me that I enjoyed it. We chanted ‘For the sake of the kids, keep the oil in the soil: No fracking!’ and such like. We walked past shoppers, people looking for a good place for a Sunday roast, people hanging out in the city cenre. Skate boarders whizzed past on college green, picknickers lounged on the grass as we set up stall for our mini-rally. The sun shone.
Why so few people, asked people on the Bristol Climate Marchers website. Good question, but I don’t know the answer. Election exhaustion? But loads of people pay no attention to electoral politics. Bad organisation? I don’t think so, but I do think we needed longer for the message to percolate through the various lists. Or feelings of hopelessness, preference for a Sunday roaster and a relax in the sun?
I reckon 20% of the march were my own friends and family. My two year old grandson looked tragic in his buggy, cuddling his blue plastic crane. He hates the shouting, but he enjoyed the rally on the green in the sunshine with his favourite people. My four year old granddaughter and her friends had a ball dancing with placards. My 12 year old granddaughter was at the back. We saw her laughing with a policeman. ‘What was that about?’ ‘Oh, I said to him, “I had no idea the police were so committed to the environment”.’
The main speaker was Molly Scott Cato, the green economist and MEP. I don’t believe in being gloomy about climate change,’ she said. ‘No point in that. The point is, we’ve got to get the politicians moving.’ She talked about the advance represented by the Paris agreement, and the importance of staying in Europe for the sake of the environmental protection the EU has – and can – put in place. Then we had a speak out, inviting people in the audience to speak for a couple of minutes each.
And they were great: brief, passionate, clear. They spoke of the limitations of the mainstream media, of the need to oppose TTIP (Labour Party take note), and of current environmental campaigns against fossil fuels. Then for five minutes we reassembled and we did march backwards… with the horrible masked figures in our midst.