The Pastiche Politics of the Runway Rush

by | Jan 9, 2009

Following the Plane Stupid protest group’s day in court recently, another climate group, Climate Rush is planning disruptive action at Heathrow and Manchester airports next Monday, according to activist media portal, Indymedia.

Hundreds of anti-aviation protesters are expected to give the government a nasty shock when they return to Parliament after their Winter Recess on Monday 12th January. Protesters from the environmental action group, ‘The Climate Rush’ will be holding a sit-down picnic at the Departures Gate of Terminal One in Heathrow Airport. The dinner will begin at 7pm sharp and is expected to last several hours. At the same time the Northern Climate Rush will hit Manchester Airport Terminal 3 (Domestic Departures).

Climate Rush? Silly name. Never heard of them? Nor have we.

‘The Climate Rush’ held their first protest last October. Taking their inspiration from the Suffragettes they mounted a ‘rush’ on Parliament.

Ah. It’s a ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ form of protest.

But let’s give this claim that they take ‘their inspiration from the Suffragettes’ a little more inspection. What exactly is it they are taking from the movement?

Yesterday, we looked briefly at the words of Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change…

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

…and we pointed out that far from standing against the Government, protesters styling themselves on the Suffragette movement were necessarily doing what the Government were instructing them to do. It is curious, isn’t it, that Government lacks such confidence in its environmental policies, that it asks people to participate in ‘direct action’ in order to make it own actions look like a response to a democratic movement. What this clearly indicates is that the Government knows that environmental concerns do not emerge from ‘grass roots’, mass political movements. And it knows that it is a problem.

The favourable comparison of climate activists to the Suffragettes fails at the first inspection. Could we imagine that it was the early 20th Century Government, wanting to extend the franchise to women, calling for the radicalisation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage? No.

Climate Rush’s website continues to explain themselves:

Climate Rush is inspired by the actions of the Suffragettes 100 years ago, who showed that peaceful civil disobedience could inspire positive change. We are a diverse group of women and men who are determined to raise awareness of the biggest threat facing humanity today – that of Climate Change. Our government acknowledges the huge problems we face from Climate Change, but carries on with business as usual. We demand DEEDS NOT WORDS because individual choice alone cannot curb CO2 emissions if we are to stop runaway global warming.

And here a further contradiction separates the Suffragettes from Climate Rush. Demanding ‘deeds not words’ is all well and good, but the Suffragettes’ claim was that women were as capable as men in determining what form of Government should exist. Climate Rush, meanwhile, claim that Government action is necessary because individuals are not capable of making decisions. An equivalent claim by the real Suffragettes would be that women be made equal to men by removing the male right to vote. Some kind of equality.

This echoes the statements made by the lawyer defending the Plane Stupid protesters yesterday, quoted in the Guardian:

Benjamin Newton, defending, said the group regretted what they saw as the necessity of taking part in the protest, but had done so as a “last, desperate act” having exhausted all traditional means of influencing the democratic process.

It’s not the Government that environmental protesters have failed to influence – as we can see from Miliband’s words, they are on side. It’s the ‘stupid’ public that the Plane Stupid and Climate Rush protesters have failed to reach. Publicity seeking, and irritating stunts are their only avenue of expression. What this expression amounts to is not a call for democratic equality, but, on the contrary, less democracy. The democratic process has failed.

These protesters have nothing in common with the Suffragettes. At all. They flatter themselves with the image of heroic, oppressed, and put upon victims, such as the following graphic from the Climate Rush website:

Here we see silhouettes of women dressed in the Suffragette style, wearing sashes, bearing the slogans, not of radical demands for equality, but for less democracy, for lower standards of living, and less freedom. This is all about style and absolutely nothing about substance. A meaningful and important historical movement has been plundered for its iconic value only, with the values it represented left forgotten.
Such a travesty is possible because of the immaturity and intellectual vacuity of the environmental movement, and the Government which requested it. We’ve argued before here on Climate Resistance that environmentalism is unable to make its own history. Therefore it needs to steal gravity from moments in the past in order to make some kind of statement in the present. And so we see claims that ‘climate change is our moon landing‘, we are offered a ‘Green New Deal‘, and environmental advocates try to rekindle the mythological spirit that was generated during WWII as the country was on a ‘war footing’, all pretending that environmentalism offers a hugely liberating way of life.
This game of dressing-up and let’s-pretend is pastiche politics. It creates retrogressive manifestos by decoupage, not political ideas: historical images are stripped of their context to give meaning to the lives of a small number of morally-disoriented moralising whingebags. This breeds grotesque chimeras: the privileged offspring of the establishment, convinced simultaneously of their own importance and the belief that they are the downtrodden victims of industrial society. They march into the lives of ordinary people, going about their ordinary business and demand it all stops, to be reorganised around their insecurities and sense of alienation. Such incomprehensible naffness would be funny, if these infantile clowns didn’t already have what they were demanding.


  1. Stefan

    I don’t know, but if a group tries to stop flights again, I can imagine passengers making their way out there to beat them to a pulp.

    We the public have heard their protest and suffered the inconvenience of being held up during travel, which is in itself stressful anyway. (Go visit Johannesburg to get a little reminder of mob mentality under stress.)

    We heard their protest and nothing changed our minds. Now it is no longer new. Now it is no longer a new situation where people freeze not knowing what to do. Now people will know what to do, and they will react with anger lest they get held up again the next time. Are passengers really going to let them get away with it, when it is known that the authorities will be very soft on them, acknowledge their silly arguments about how they are doing it for a “just” cause?

  2. Lee Jones

    It’s particularly ridiculous because the Suffragettes campaigned for freedom and equality, whereas environmentalism imposes limits to freedom and freezes existing inequalities.

    I am actually getting increasingly disturbed by these protest groups. We have a tiny minority of people who are trying to impose, by fiat, their malign views on the rest of society. As you rightly point out, they are successful precisely because they are conjured into being by an officialdom that already shares their goals (even if the protestors are too foolish to recognise this). But in this sense they are akin to Mao’s red guards, and no less dangerous. Although Plane Stupid were sentenced to community service and to pay fines, other protestors who shut down a power plant were let off on the grounds that they were preventing a bigger crime. How long until all these groups wise up and use this defence?

    I am very worried about the future, not because of climate change, but because of the extremist, intolerant and authoritarian response to it being encouraged by the state. As you know I’ve written a couple of pieces on how green ideology is being spread in schools – and I could write more, I see new evidence all the time. Within ten years, the youth of this country will have been completely brainwashed into believing that swingeing cuts to living standards are required to save the planet for their (non-)enjoyment. The political climate will then become utterly intolerable.

  3. Stefano

    I’ve been tending to compare the AGW movement to the Suffragettes anyway–it occurred to me a couple of years ago–but for a different reason.

    Assume for a second that AGW is real. What is the slowest possible way to try to solve this problem? Well, the slowest way to solve this problem is through trying to effect a social change.

    AGW needs to be handled within 10 years or we go beyond the tipping point. But social change takes 50 years minimum. And the Suffragettes are a natural example. They were founded in something like 1897, and over a hundred years later, here in the most advanced Western countries, we still don’t have true equality. Think about that for a moment. And at least 50% of the population should already be on side, right?

    So if the environmentalists genuinely wish to solve this problem, social change is the one thing they should give up on right now. It will not be solved socially in time, it will not be solved by changing people’s behavior, it will not be solved by changing their material values.

    The only possible solutions to AGW involve a technical upgrade to existing infrastructure. Making coal plants cleaner, making oil fueled cars cleaner, adding more nuclear stations, and so on. All stuff that you might want to be doing anyway even if nobody had ever heard of AGW. Ie. it has to all be stuff that people could already do within their existing material values. Don’t ask anyone to change their way of life. Don’t ask anyone to put the environment first, ahead of their personal needs.

    If CO2 is the problem, don’t reframe the problem as “greed”. Jesus Christ tried teaching us to give up on greed 2000 years ago. The Buddha tried to teach us to let go of attachment 2500 years ago. And how much progress have we made socially in that time?

    It is somewhat ironic that the environmentalist method of effecting a social change is… effectively.. unsustainable. It might even be destined to become a small spiritual cult, integrating pseudo Buddhist/Christian values, and God replaced by Gaia. Maybe there’s a sci-fi novel in there.

    The environmental movement has gained some traction with middle class Westerners, but whilst we entertain great principles and noble ideas of social change, the day to day achievements are more about trying to recycle a bit of plastic or unplugging your mobile phone charger. Pure token gestures. A famous Buddhist monk coined the “spiritual materialism”–that’s where you pretend to be spiritual, just for the ego gratification that it gives you.

    Either the environmentalists are truly unaware of the sheer impossibility of changing people’s material values, or they truly don’t believe the problem is real, but just like to have something noble to inflate their egos.

    It AGW is real and solvable, it will probably be done quietly by a bunch of anonymous engineering geeks, designing technical upgrades, and working probably in the bowels of some big oil or coal company.

  4. StuartR

    I do think the comparison with the suffragette movement is apt, but I don’t think it is for the reasons that these guys have chosen. There is a thesis, which I kinda agree with, which I think I first saw in something Michael Crichton wrote, that goes like: Any arising movement for change is usually tracking an existing change that is going on anyway,.

    The suffragette movement was a very public showing of what women wanted as their rights, but I wonder if it ever had any real effect on speeding up the eventual winning of the vote for women. After the First World War, when women were needed in industry and men were cut down in their youth, then the inevitable happened, and women finally got the vote.

    Our current age of comfort and security (yes even with the threat of terrorism) and the lack of a monolithic enemy in the form of the Soviet Union, together with the real prospect of needing some sort of plan for future resource depletion, means that -if you could tolerate a laissez-faire philosophy – we will change eventually to any new system required. I would not say the suffragettes were cynical in the way they campaigned for the vote, just that, women were empowered by the fact that society was changing already. The fact that underlying needs are implicit means that the motivational gap for the campaigner and moraliser is readily filled with people whose antennas either consciously or subconsciously pick up on this relative freedom to fill this Zeitgeisy need..

    I feel I am treading on eggshells here but, but maybe there is a natural tendency of a certain type of human to fill a certain space in society that is a bit noisy and maybe a bit self aggrandising, I’m sure the Pankhurst’s suffered nobly, but they remain the only people we think of when we think of the suffragettes, they alone seem synonymous with winning the vote. But how many women silently and vocally at the time but now forgotten, created the circumstances for this? This is all a bit ‘off the top of my head’ , I will have to talk to my sister about this, I’m sure she will set me right :)

    In a similar way, I personally think humankind is already equipped to mitigate any problem with resources or even climate in the future. I believe that predicting events 100 years in advance is a waste of time. If anything we should be smarter and ensure we have an infrastructure that can handle quick turnarounds without a slow bureaucratic overhead. Trouble is, carbon offsetting and other woolly demands seen today, seem just designed to do just the opposite, whilst give certain people a feeling of moral warmth without actually ensuring any real usefulness.

    I think this is where the departure from the suffragette comparison is, the suffragettes wanted votes now! Not a slow constricting reshaping of society that seems just designed to ensure the names of the vocal campaigners are written in stone.

    Now if anyone wanted to campaign for a new world where freedom to debate any issue from any point of view is allowed, and the value of people’s thoughts can be used to ratchet up freedoms, discovery and enlightenment rather than bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator, then sign me up. I don’t mind going down in history as an early adopter of this idea!

  5. geoff chambers

    Stefano and Stuart R,
    I’m no expert on women’s suffrage, but I think the first states where women could vote were Wyoming in 1869 and New Zealand in 1893. So one of the most progressive movements in the history of democracy started in the most backward corners of the English-speaking world, a comforting thought to us leftists who find more common sense on “climate change” in the pages of the Daily Mail than in the left-wing, intellectual press.

    But Climate Rush’s identification with the Suffragettes is, as you say, pastiche. And in bad taste, at that. (Can you imagine demonstrating in defence of Palestine disguised as Lawrence of Arabia?) That a few hundred idiots want to dress up in period costumes and conga through an airport is of minor importance. That the Guardian and other serious news sources treat this as an important news story – that is serious.

    (I’ve just noticed that the Moonbat, our Welsh iceskating Savonorola, has just launched a frontal attack on Spiked, Ryanair, and the Aga-burning Middle Classes, no less. To your posts, denialists, “c’est la lutte finale” (which according to wiki translates as “arise ye workers from your slumbers”) He’s at his ad hominem best. So who will deliver the stake through the heart?)

  6. Lee Jones

    Two quick points. One, on women’s rights, or any rights: it’s totally false to believe that political freedoms are merely the efflux of economic change. Social and economic development sets the parameters for political development, but what happens within those parameters is wide open, and depends very much on political practice. As Switzerland proved right up til 1971, it was perfectly possible to accommodate female workers without granting them political equality.

    Second point, via James Heartfield:

    Anti-climate protestors, Climate Rush, claim to stand in the tradition “the Suffragettes 100 years ago, who showed that peaceful civil disobedience could inspire positive change.”

    But their message of scarcity would horrify suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, who wrote

    “Socialism means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance.

    “Our desire is not to make poor those who to-day are rich, in order to put the poor in the place where the rich now are. Our desire is not to pull down the present rulers to put other rulers in their places.

    “We wish to abolish poverty and to provide abundance for all.

    “We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.

    “Such a great production is already possible, with the knowledge already possessed by mankind.

    “To-day production is artificially checked, consumption still more so.”

    Workers’ Dreadnought, 28 July 1923,

  7. TDK

    On a historical note, prior to the universal franchise, voting was based upon a property qualification. There were cases of women voting. For example Lydia Taft.

    The fact was that before the Married Women’s Property Act was passed (in the UK) women lost their property upon marriage. However an unmarried or widowed woman could own property and hence potentially meet the threshold.

  8. Stefan

    Lee, thanks, great quotations there!

  9. Alex Cull

    I agree with Stefan, and would say this is a very good post with excellent, thoughtful comments from everyone – the main reason why I keep coming back to Climate Resistance.

  10. perlhaqr

    I do wonder how efficiently you could clear protestors off a runway by backing a 747 up to them, locking the brakes, and running the engines up to full power.


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