Brown, protest and the case for action

Parliament roof 2

Gordon Brown's comment yesterday, upon hearing that five climate activists had taken to the roof of parliament to highlight collusion between BAA and the DfT over the Heathrow third runway 'consultation', could not have been more untrue.

In one sentence he highlighted just how disconnected with the concerns of the general public this government has become - not to mention how little the disenfranchisement of vast swathes of the population, especially the young, means to him. Hearing him say "decisions get made in the chamber of this house [not on the roof]" must have left those millions of Londoners with no means of objecting to a third runway, the great range of councillors and mayoral candidates whose views on the runway have been completely silenced, and the millions of British citizens deeply worried about climate change, screaming in true panto-style: "OHHH no they don't!".

If it was the case that decisions were being made democratically in the house then those Plane Stupid activists would not have needed to be on top of it. In fact, the documents obtained under Freedom of Information which reveal that BAA wrote parts of the public consultation on the expansion plans, make clear, not for the first time, that government decisions are made in the lavish meeting rooms of major corporations, not in the Houses of Parliament at all. A third runway at Heathrow, says the World Development Movement, will emit as much climate wrecking gases as the whole of Kenya. Given the government is about to pledge to slash its carbon emissions, if made in a functioning House, the decision would have long since been made to rule out the expansion plans. This would have fitted with the views of 70 per cent of people that don't want the runway. That would have been made explicit by their MPs. But Gordon Brown didn't even have the courage to ask Londoners the simple question: do you want a third runway? Instead, his so-called consultation was just gobbledygook and spin.

As it stands, our democracy isn't working. And during the course of the 24 hour media frenzy that ensued around our rooftop occupation – no-one question that claim. In the strip lit rooms that have served as the 'action hub' for Plane Stupid the last few days, there was no hint of political 'apathy' or 'ignorance' that the young are so often labelled with. Such prejudices, as reflected by the commentariat's astonishment that a bunch of young people know their way around their own parliament building, has surely finally been quashed. On the contrary, the last generation that can stop climate change is more aware than any of its forbearers that there is a huge weight on our shoulders to get urgent and far reaching action from our government.

We know we have a huge job to do if we are to stop climate change. And we know that there is now no conventional means of wielding our democratic rights. We know that less 'direct' protest methods, in an age in which you need to apply to the police to hold a protest, and in which two million marching against Iraq can be ignored, cannot be seen as a viable response to this planetary emergency. This is why direct action is on the rise when it comes to climate change – and why it's ordinary people are getting involved.

Ironically, it is in our direct action circles that true direct democracy is being utilised. It's that which makes us strong. As communities go, our consensus decisions and leaderless structures have made for strong action and solid support mechanisms when the legal fall-out comes down. Such circles require no less than 100 percent of the group's consent for our actions, so you won't find an activist atop a roof with 70 per cent of their group saying no. And unlike our failing system, direct democracy is irrepressible. How many politicians would we have to sack to quash the plans for a third runway? But lock up one climate activist - and there are plenty more willing to 'lock on.' The Camp for Climate Action, returning this summer, shows that even without Plane Stupid, Greenpeace and the like, there's plenty more actions to come. In contrast, when Gordon Brown is finally arrested for crimes against the climate, one has to wonder who will be waiting outside the police station with the beer?

This generation knows that it is still possible to redirect the planet away from the spiralling decline in access to clean water, arable soil and predictable temperatures which will lead to countless unnecessary deaths. But currently our only political tools are our bodies and some jazzy technology like 'spy cams' which help us reach the world within minutes. Direct action is the only pathway left open to us - and 'the last generation' are running down it at full pelt.