As I casually tied my bike to a post people wandered by, conspicuously carrying large pop-up tents, backpacks, trays of fruit and even armfuls of fresh flowers. The road was clear, journalists waited expectantly.
Then all of a sudden there was a flurry of movement as campers descended into the middle of the road and within minutes we had tents up with people determinedly inside them. It wasn't until I glanced up that I saw that the whole street had filled as far as the eye could see: with little resistance from the police thousands of people were able to set about creating a Climate Camp in the City. For we have a slogan, "Let's imagine another world", and what better place to start than now?
Enjoying a picnic on the turfed parking lot in the sunshine of the late afternoon (Amelia Gregory)
The infrastructure quickly took shape as bunting was strung from lampposts and a kitchen appeared near the centre of camp, complete with wood-fired rocket stoves. We even brought along our own fully functioning compost loos, housed in a gazebo. A stall of fresh local produce was set up under a banner proclaiming Farmers Markets Not Carbon Markets, and some cheeky types installed a "carbon casino" on top of a bus shelter (after all, what better to gamble with than our future?)
Workshop spaces were created where speakers could talk about topics ranging from self defence to the latest climate science, and of course the perils of carbon trading. As the G20 arrived to magically solve our financial crisis with a massive injection of cash and a determination to carry on business as usual this was the perfect time to raise awareness. How can we possibly hope to trade our way out of climate chaos with the exact same methods of financial tomfoolery that has led to the collapse of the global economy? And yet this is exactly what carbon trading proposes. Government and big business use carbon trading as the justification for huge new carbon intensive projects planned at both Heathrow and Kingsnorth, yet the only real solution for avoiding climate chaos is to leave carbon in the ground and start diverting money towards more sustainable technologies at the same time as reducing our energy needs and increasing energy efficiency.
Farmer's Markets not Carbon Markets - campers setting up a stall selling fresh, locally (yes, London) produced goods (Amelia Gregory)
As the media descended on Climate Camp there were plenty of opportunities to talk to determined protesters. Groups of people sat in circles between their tents, singing together and sharing food, and a human powered bike sound system was set up to much hilarity - if you ran out of puff the music stopped and someone else had to hop on quick. Many local workers were tempted out of their tall towers to join us - in the process discovering a bit more about our purpose and plans for a more sustainable future.
A gaggle of school girls arrived fresh from lessons and still in uniform, a parking space was turfed over with real grass and a picket fence, a huge game of "wind turbines and runways" was unfurled on the tarmac and an oversized dice thrown in the air as participants were given moral dilemmas to answer. Even a stand off between the police and black block at the northern perimeter could not dampen the high spirits of the camp, and when I returned not long after an ecstatic group of 5-rhythms dancers was throwing orange and gold shapes in front of our fabulous Nature Doesn't Do Bailouts sign.
School girls attend after a morning spent in lessons (Amelia Gregory)
In an unexpected twist of fate it was 360 years to the day since the Diggers reclaimed the common land at Saint George's Hill and planted parsnips, carrots and beans. The area is now a gated community for the rich and a sad indictment of the way that land has been parcelled off for the elite across the world. In a nod to this anniversary 'guerilla gardeners' - who transform waste land by planting useful plants - carried mini wheelbarrows of primulas and spraycans.
So far so good; the police appeared to giving us a wide berth. But as dusk fell they moved onto our space in force, kettling thousands of peaceful protesters for five hours, during which we defied their terror to hold a celidh and eat a dinner of fluffy baked potatoes. It was nearing midnight before tired protesters were finally released, but many remained determined to hold the space for 24 hours to better make our point to the G20 leaders. We sat down in front of riot police ten deep at the southern perimeter, only to be cleared from the road without warning and with unwarranted force. It was an upsetting end to what had been a truly inspiring day, but an amazing start to a year in which we will continue to focus on the parallels between the financial and ecological crises.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2009