Page last updated at 20:16 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 21:16 UK

Eyewitness: Climate Camp in the City

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News at the G20 protests

It was a day that started with nervous looking bankers in dressdown mode on the Tube - and culminated with the strangest sunset the City of London has seen in a long time.

A suited businessman carrying a banner
The economy has been looted. I'm a capitalist but I don't believe in the thieving that has been going on
Worcester businessman Richard

For a quarter of a mile along Bishopsgate, one of the busiest roads in the financial heart of the country, scores of tents had popped up: the climate campers were in town for the night.

The G20 delegations were heading for comfy beds in their embassies and high-security hotels. But the hundreds of climate protesters didn't mind - because they had taken the street.

These protests aimed to capture the agenda and get a message out a day before hands are shook and ink dries on the official communique of the G20 leaders.

Nobody knew on Wednesday morning if London would witness major acts of violence.

But by 1900 BST, there had been only sporadic acts of violence and just 22 arrests, from an estimated 5,000 demonstrators who descended on the City.

The police acknowledged very early on that the majority of people didn't want a fight - and throughout the day most of officers in most locations were clad in high-visibility vests rather than riot gear.

That's not to say people weren't angry with something to say.


Richard, a businessman, had travelled from Worcestershire to join the demonstrations because he was so angry over the state of the economy and its effect on his medical devices firm.

He looked a contradiction in terms - sitting on the steps of Liverpool Street Station in his nice suit, but carrying a placard denouncing the world economic order.

"The economy has been looted," he said. "I'm a capitalist but I don't believe in the thieving that has been going on.

"My turnover is down 30% and I know people - hardworking people - who are really suffering. One of my friends in the Midlands has laid off a third of his staff. Ordinary people have been let down."

Smiling demonstrator
I've come for a laugh with friends, not the political message
Sophia Pearsun

Seconds later, cheers rang around the steps of the station. The "G20 Meltdown" group had arrived with one of the four "modern horsemen of the apocalypse" symbolising the state of the world today.

The police carefully marshalled the group away from the station and towards the Bank of England. As the demonstrators headed towards Threadneedle Street, the atmosphere became tense.

At the Bank itself, several thousand people had gathered from different directions. A coffin was carried up the steps of the Royal Exchange - followed by the effigy of a banker.

At one point, a couple of people popped out onto the balcony of the Bank of England high above the protesters' heads. They were booed - and decided to go back inside again. The jeers turned into cheers.

Violence came shortly after. A small group of black-clad young men charged a police line and escaped the cordon, with scuffles along the way.

As officers moved in to seal the breach, the mood became tense - leading to later attacks on the windows of a branch of RBS and other clashes with police.

This was the shape of the day - occasional stand-offs would turn nasty - but the small hardcore of people intent on violence could not muster the support they needed to take on the police.

Happy campers

Half a mile away at Bishopsgate the mood could not be more different.

The studenty-young crowd rushed Bishopsgate so quickly that all of a sudden there were tents popping up and bunting being strung across the road.

Men and women climbed lamp-posts and strung a banner declaring that Nature "doesn't do bailouts". They'd set up opposite their target, the European Climate Exchange, where permits to emit carbon are traded, a cornerstone of the world plan to combat global warming.

When one group autonomously tried to occupy the Bishopsgate crossroads - leading to tense scenes with the police - the climate campers ignored them and their calls for support.

Demonstrators in zombie make-up
"Zombie bankers" were among good-natured demonstrators

Thea and Matt the Zombie Bankers witnessed some of the violence - and said that the police had been very fair and hoped the camp would be able to stay the night.

"The policing has largely been quite good," said Matt. "There's very few officers at the camp and I think that they've handled themselves well.

"We've also had no problems between us and the people who work in the City. I think they all know that it's nothing against them as individuals - it's the system that's wrong."

The City workers themselves were clearly having something of a go-slow day. Thousands of them who had turned up to the office poured onto the streets at lunchtime.

Many were clearly enjoying the scenes - some told us they sympathised with the protesters, although, of course, they declined to go on the record.

By late afternoon the Climate Camp was in full swing. The tents were all safely erected, sleeping bags were out and the "farmers market" was open for ethical non-profit vegan business.

Earlier in the day there had been a minor crisis over who was going to carry all the baked spuds - but that had been solved and there were a lot of happy campers tucking into their tea.

Earnest-looking young men and women were leading workshops on direct action, climate politics and what to do next. The alternative style of the event meant that decisions were being taken not with a vote - but a consensual mass wiggle of hands in the air.

Not all the campers appeared to share the views of the organisers.

Overnight stay?

Sophia Pearsun said she's come along for the night for a bit of fun.

"I've got my sleeping bag and some Strongbow. I've come for a laugh with friends, not the political message."

And Joseph Finlayson, a Leeds philosophy student, found himself agreeing with the very target of the camp's ire.

"I don't think it's necessarily wrong," he said. "It's probably quite an efficient way to compel companies to effectively think about their carbon output. Now I'm here, I think I need to go and talk to the [rest of the protesters] about their arguments because I think there is a lot to debate."

Beyond these debates, the camp clearly wanted to be a summer festival in the city - but without the mud.

Climate campaigners
Climate campaigners want the G20 to consider moving away from fossil fuels

Out came the guitars, the cannabis and the jugglers. There were solar cells on bikes - but also some tension towards the police under the surface.

Two officers checked the boarded-up door of the Champagne Nail Bar. "Oi! I'm sure there's some working-class people in there you can beat up," shouted a camper.

Murray Worthy and Nina Mackelow had both taken time off work to run climate workshops at the camp. By 1900 BST nobody knew if the police would allow them to stay overnight - but they were determined to do so.

"We've been quite surprised with the policing," said Nina. "We advertised it openly, everyone knew what we wanted to do and it could have been a lot different."

But weren't the campers being a little naive in thinking they could influence the G20?

"This is anything but naïve. We have a very short space of time to change climate policy before it's too late," said Murray. "And we're not even looking at the proper issues.

"If you properly analyse the problems we face then I don't think you can honestly believe the G20 leaders have answered the questions. We shouldn't be trading carbon as a quick fix - we should be thinking about our dependence on fossil fuels - and how we can end it."

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