Heavy policing takes the sting out of the anti-coal power protest, with batons, horses and dogs threatened.
9.15 am – “Protesters Fired Up for Coal Demo” screams Sky News on the screen at Victoria station. We arrive an hour later in Rochester, where the bus fills up with protesters – several complain that Arriva buses have been refusing to pick them up. Some people from Climate Camp jump on and give a quick legal briefing – there is a Section 60 in effect, they explain, which means that police can stop and search anyone in the area without having to give a reason.
The bus is repeatedly overtaken by large convoys of police vans screaming past with sirens blaring. Helicopters circle, and the power station looms, Mordor-like, beyond the cornfields. Walking from the village of Hoo, we are again overtaken by endless convoys of speeding police vans. Every fenced area to our side contains more vans and police – from Cambridgeshire, the Met, Manchester… At a junction, we meet the march coming down from the camp. It’s small – maybe 1000 people pottering along, holding placards, banging tin cans, playing acoustic instruments. We estimate that there is at least one policeman for every protester, which is absurd.
An organiser informs us that 19 people have “made it over the fence”. We figure she is exaggerating, but that some of the direct action ‘green group’ (we are in the fluffy, peaceful ‘orange’ march) are by now involved. About midday, we reach the gates and are encircled by a yellow belt of police. Various eco-left figures make impassioned speeches. One woman suggests we encourage the police to “switch sides” and join our movement. “That’s how the Venezuelan Revolution started,” she cries triumphantly. This is certainly optimistic. People attach banners to the gates – at the side, one reads “The End is Nigh”, and a circle of people sit on the ground beneath, singing hymns into the grey sky. Which is pretty creepy. Someone from the Green Party condemns eco pin-up George Monbiot for suggesting we go nuclear, to mixed cheers and muttering – clearly the wedge issue.
After the speeches, a minor stand-off ensues. Police horses are seen running through nearby fields. We leave the protest, and head for the camp. As we walk up the road, a helicopter hovers over us. I take a photograph. A siren and voice immediately booms out – “Disperse this area immediately or we will use batons, and horses, and dogs.” There are maybe a total of seven of us strung out on the road at this point, quite obviously “dispersing”, and flanked by at least three times as many police. We get the message.
We are detained and body-searched by the police on the approach to the camp itself. They are polite and give us a little pink chit outlining just which of our civil liberties have been suspended and why, but the logic doesn’t stack up – they are searching for “weapons, because of the risk of serious violence”, which could be used on the protest. But no one was searched on the way to the power station, only on the way to the camp itself! Are they searching in case there’s a schism in one of the debate tents and a group of dreadlocked vegans decide to settle it once and for all with a knife fight? People complain of being detained and searched repeatedly, and of 5am dawn raids, and you can only conclude it is policy of continual low-level harassment, designed to make the experience of attending the camp as frustrating as possible. A female PC mutters to herself, “I can’t believe we actually have to search every fucking person,” so at least they seem to be enjoying it as much as the protesters.
Around 2pm, we see the dog-end of the protest being “escorted” back to camp. Someone teasingly claims to one of the police that he wants to go to the nearby shop. Whack. He is roughly shoved back into the group, a look of shock on his face. As we leave the area, two thoughts are at the forefront of my mind – firstly, why aren’t there more young people here? 1,500 is a pretty poor turn-out for the future of the planet you have to live on. Surely everyone didn't go to Field Day? And secondly, that we have seen the true face of modern Britain – one where civil rights are suspended as a political tool, and where you cannot gather to voice anti-establishment views in public without almost literally being smothered by the state. Ugly.