Magazine article Soundings

Paths through Utopias: Stories from a Utopian Journey across Europe

Magazine article Soundings

Paths through Utopias: Stories from a Utopian Journey across Europe

Article excerpt

5 August

It's Saturday night, a dozen of us are pretending to celebrate a birthday party, and I'm staring into a plate of lukewarm spaghetti. Any appetite has been obliterated by anxiety. The table has been booked under the pseudonym Abbey Hoffman, and a large bunch of lilies that we gave to 'the birthday girl' sits in the middle of the long table. We are in an insipid pizzeria on the northern edge of Heathrow airport. Behind us planes are taking off into the night sky. I never thought our Utopian Journey would begin somewhere like this.

But here we are, waiting to squat the land for the Camp for Climate Action, our first port of call. Utopian practices need to be grounded in resistance to the system as well as make visible the alternatives, and the Climate Camp's combination of protest and squatted ecovillage demonstrates the 'yes' and the 'no' of utopian practices perfectly.

Of course this trip is not about looking for a perfect place. The path to perfection is always paved with terror, whether it's the desire for the perfect body or society. But as Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, we are looking for 'a better world Yes, a perfect world Never'. The Utopias that interest us are those which reject perfection and recognise that the only constant is change. Building a perfect Utopia on a planet where everything is evolving and in flux would be like trying to freeze the flow of time.

The Camp for Climate Action is one hell of a utopian ambition. We plan to squat a field on the edges of Heathrow airport, set up a temporary self managed ecovillage that can cater for several thousand people, and provide a week-long base for popular education and direct action against the root causes of catastrophic climate change. It all has to be done under the radar, without any permission from the authorities. But without the audacity of action, utopias remain within the prison of dream and theory, and with less than 100 months (according to the science) to start a global decline in C02 emissions, the time for action is slipping away.


At two o'clock that afternoon we had been in a children's nursery classroom in West London. Booked under the auspices of the imaginary 'West London Orienteering Club', it was one of four final big group briefings. The time and place had been spread entirely by word of mouth - no emails or phone calls. The briefing begins: 'Welcome to operation Roaring Monkey'. Everyone laughs. 'Tonight we are going to take the site. Tomorrow morning we are going to be sitting together in a field having breakfast at the climate camp.'

Our communications tactics involve using a method borrowed from pirate ships in battle, a plastic bag full of dozen's of 'clean' mobile phones and a pile of photocopied maps. We will split into different groups of around 10 people each. We are the 'Fake-Birthday-Party-in-a-Pizzeria' gang. We make our way to the restaurant in separate couples - jumping onto tube trains just as the doors close, walking to the wrong platform and then doubling back on ourselves.

We are to wait at the pizzeria until we get a phone call that tells us that Operation Roaring Monkey is on green light. At which point we will leave the restaurant, walk up the street 30 metres and then over a fence into a field, and head north until we get to the site. That's the plan anyway.

Coffee is ordered. Time slows right down as we wait. We ask for the bill. Still no call. The restaurant is beginning to empty. No call. The tables are being cleared and the smell of bleach wafts across the room as the staff finish cleaning the kitchens.

The plain clothes police we saw earlier are still outside and we are the only customers left. I hold the phone tight in my hand, wishing it to ring. There is nowhere to go. This pizzeria is on the edge of the dead zone which is Heathrow Airport. …

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