Trudging through a soggy December afternoon is rarely as heartening as it was last weekend. The Wave, organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, attracted swathes of punters to London, all intent on putting pressure on the gathered politicians at the upcoming Copenhagen Conference on climate change. Some were seasoned veterans, others were barely old enough to walk. All the pilgrims gathered in Grosvenor Square around midday and the congregation of banners, face-painters and vibrant music gave the day a festival-esque feel. The choice of Galvanize by the Chemical Brothers as the anthem of the day was particularly astute and fitting.
When the music subsided, so did the early euphoria. A sizeable stage had been erected for the organisers to give speeches from, yet the PA was either too weak, or badly balanced, so their words fell on deaf ears. Next to me, a small girl, no older than six years old, blew loudly on a whistle. As her parents tried to quieten her down, she retorted: “What’s the point? I can’t hear them anyway.” Among the crowd, Energy and Climate Change minister Ed Miliband mingled, fielding general questions and posing for photos.
From this point onwards, the lack of organisation began to show, as the march got off to an awkward, stumbling start. The planned exit to Grosvenor Square became an impenetrable bottleneck, and made the event seem more like queueing for climate change, rather than marching. As we reached Mayfair, the pace began to quicken and the eccentricity of the protesters shone through.
Later, my group passed the Cactus Caravan, a cycle-powered stereo atop a garishly-decorated trolley, which entertained the masses with classic protest anthems such as Gold Lion by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.
As we marched past Starbucks, McDonald’s and Porsche garages, I was surprised not to see even a hint of anti-capitalist rage. Despite various communist banners, the tone of the Wave was peaceful and a million miles away from the hectic events of the G20 protests, back in April. The sheer turnout and the diversity of the crowd made this a far more significant demonstration of public sentiment. Those who marched in The Wave were undeterred by the wintery conditions and there was no allure of anarchy and violence to draw in the curious or those attending for the wrong reasons.
All the major charities were out in force, some making more helpful contributions that others. I was in two minds about the rickshaws that Oxfam had deployed to ferry protesters along. On the one hand their irritating size hindered those of us on foot (what’s the point of going to a march and being chauffeured around anyway?), but on the other hand they did provide valuable support for the elderly and infirm.
As the march turned onto Piccadilly, a party atmosphere began to build. Walking down the middle of one of London’s most famous streets was a liberating experience, which climaxed at the world-famous Piccadilly Circus. This invigorating feeling continued to buoy up the troops as we passed Trafalgar Square, despite a cynical banner that proclaimed: “Don’t be duped, investigate climategate“. It may be a while before people are marching for climate change denial, but the presence of this defiant banner was indicative of the sea change that has taken place over the past week.
Reaching Parliament Square should have been a triumphant end to this march, however, due to a gross lack of central organisation it was more of a damp squib. The proposed finishing point was 3pm, at which point we were all meant to create a Mexican wave around the Houses of Parliament. But when exactly is 3pm? By whose watch? From where I stood it was impossible to hear Big Ben’s chimes, so the wave that came was disorganised and confused.
As we crossed the eventual finish line at Embankment, we were greeted by a man on top of a bus giving general encouragement via a megaphone; words to the effect of “Thank you all for coming, aren’t we all great?”. I have no idea who he was or whether he was meant to be an important figure. “Last year we had George Monbiot, this year we’ve got this berk,” a man next to me bemoaned. Our megaphoned crier was certainly far from well-informed. “How many did we have here today?” he asked an assistant, before inaccurately proclaiming that 40,000 had turned out.
Later, from the comfort of a nearby pub, BBC News informed us that the turnout was closer to 20,000 and our fellow beer drinkers cheered heartily. In some ways it was all about the level of participation, which showed a real groundswell of support ahead of the Copenhagen conference. The range of people, from toddlers to pensioners, hippies to yuppies, showed that climate change truly is an issue with the scope to garner widespread interest. To convert this popular sentiment into results will take much better organisation, however. Stop Climate Chaos ultimately failed to provide a focal point for the march, resulting in an anti-climactic, disaffected end to an otherwise encouraging march.
To see more photos from The Wave, click here.