A Joyous Protest – the Restore Nature demo

Dave Kellaway reports from Saturday’s successful Restore Nature demonstration.


Early on I thought it was going to be smaller than last year but by the end not everybody could fit into Parliament Square.  There were thousands watching the speeches on several big video screens positioned the length of Whitehall. People were still streaming in. Up to 50,000 came according to various estimates.

As in previous years, the organisers encouraged people to dress up as animals or plants.  Some hardened lefties may find this a bit naff or non materialist, but there is a really important point here.  We defend working people not just because we have read the analysis in Marx’s capital or know the inequality statistics but we actively relate to and identify with the struggles, hopes and dreams of working people. There is a personal, emotional attachment to support any human, anywhere being oppressed or exploited. 

Identifying with Mother Earth or our fellow animals is part of our ecological consciousness. I feel emotional and angry when I go snorkelling today and hardly see some of the fish or sea creatures I used to regularly see thirty years ago.  They were living forms that brought joy and beauty to my life. I loved them and they are no more, I miss them.

Creativity, colour, music, dance and song punctuated the march.  I counted at least three bands of drummers. There were two large bird sculptures that moved their wings above the heads of the demonstrators. A giant tricycle powered by two bikes contained a large egg timer that symbolised how time was running out.  Loads of children had dressed up too and marched with their parents and grandparents.  The Climate Choir – veterans of actions in parliament and city financial institutions  – serenaded the march with their latest original eco repertoire, here are two of them:

1. People have power! People have power! People have power! People have power!

…in the form of….shining valleys… …

where the pure air…recognised…

…and my senses… newly opened… …

I awakened

the cry

2. The Climate’s changing  what’re we doing about it

2. The forest’s burning

3. The ice is melting

4. The seas are rising

5. It’s time to act now..

[to listen to all songs and read all lyrics, go here

Naturalists Chris Packham and Steve Backshall spoke and there were poetry readings and performances from Billy Bragg and Feargal Sharkey. The actress Dame Emma Thompson called on politicians to “act now” on the climate crisis.  I heard a brilliant, militant speech from Asad Rehman from War on Want who linked the movement to save the planet with struggles against the cost of living crisis and solidarity with the Palestinians.

Over 350 environmental organisations supported the march including the  RSPB bird group, The Woodland Trust, The National Trust, World Wildlife Fund, Climate Coalition ,Rewilding Britain the Christian environmental activists and Butterfly Conservation as well as direct action groups Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion and the Hunt Saboteurs.

The unifying demands of the march were:

We want to see UK politicians show strong domestic and global nature and climate leadership by:

1. Giving a pay-rise for nature

2. Making polluters pay

3. Delivering more space for nature

4. Putting a right to a healthy environment in law

5. Ensuring fair and effective climate action

The march organisers it appeared wanted to focus on the environment and organisations that work on that question so there was no real participation from political parties, trade unions or the labour movement as such.  It was intended as an intervention into the election debate  – vote for the climate was splashed everywhere.  Clearly many were sympathetic to the Greens but, unlike in previous years, they did not seem to mobilise as a party for this demo.  Understandably perhaps they are committed to maintaining and increasing their parliamentary representation.  Losing green MPs would be a loss for the left, the environmental movement and progressives generally.

Nothing of course stopped political parties like Labour or the Lib Dems from publicising the march and encouraging members to join.  Staging photo ops and media stunts well away from any actual people remained their priority.  Starmer obviously preferred to condemn the direct action of Just Stop Oil at Stonehenge and in daubing Taylor Swift’s private jets.  Chris Packham, to his credit, has publicly defended this sort of direct action – while raising tactical issues. On the media he even directly confronted Taylor Swift.

Indeed what is politically interesting is that despite all the media moral panic about Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, here we saw their big contingents walking alongside people who maybe came through the National Trust or the Quakers.  There was no animosity towards them and I would hazard that there is a widespread sympathy for direct action. Not everyone is in a position to do it – they may be a bit more senior or have a career to worry about — but I don’t think you will find many of this crowd jumping to condemn activists in the terms that Starmer relishes.  It just shows the potential for a very broad active coalition on green issues.

LBGT+ groups were present – a large contingent of Lesbians (Butch and Femme for nature) were marching.  White coated representatives of the medical world made the link between personal health and the environment.  Palestinian flags or badges peppered the march.

Although there was some intervention by the SWP and I spotted some AWL activists the rest of the radical left appeared largely absent.  Some of Leninist groups maybe think it is far too petty bourgeois and not centred on the working class.  They reduce the movement on climate to an economistic  view of class struggle where if you just change who owns production then all the contradictions concerning our relationship to nature, such as extractivism, are eliminated.

Anti*Capitalist Resistance, supported this demonstration from the start.  We distributed over400 copies of the Ecosocialist Manifesto adopted by our recent conference and deliberately launched in its public form on the day of the demonstration. as well as copies of our latest printed newspaper.  Marchers were very open to receiving anti-capitalist materials.

We will be holding discussion meetings launching our Ecosocialist Manifesto in various towns and on line in the coming weeks – details on this site.

Other than where otherwise credited, photos in this article were taken by members of ACR

Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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