Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Squatters' Rights

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Squatters' Rights

Article excerpt

Sixteen people--mostly male--are standing in a semicircle around a pile of joists and toilet seats. "Has any of you ever built a toilet before?" I ask.

"No. But we all had a good look at that one over there," says one volunteer, "and we're optimistic."

It is Thursday: set-up day at the Climate Camp. The previous day, the campers "swooped" and took possession of a chunk of land on Blackheath, in south-east London. By the end of the day, they had put up five tripods and several hundred metres of six-foot-high metal fencing; bussed in at least half a dozen lorryloads of equipment (marquees, hay bales, tubing and bits of wood); found the mains tap and connected up a water system; and put nearly a thousand letters through the doors of local residents explaining why they were there and promising to tidy up after themselves.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The organisation of the Climate Camp might be the eighth wonder of the world. The whole thing is run by volunteers who meet once a month at locations around the country. There are subcommittees to deal with each aspect of the camp, such as media, process (how things are done) and the site; plans are presented at the meetings and OK'd or refined. Anyone who has been on one patch for too long is moved to another one in order to prevent de facto leaders emerging.

The toilets are a perfect example of the agonising but productive process behind each year's Climate Camp. All Thursday, every time I pass, the group is there, talking a lot more than hammering. …

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