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A crude awakening

“This is not a rally, a demo or a march,” read the flier. “This is mass direct action that aims to disrupt the flow of oil into London. Welcome to the Crude Awakening.” Crikey.

Following a prompt early-morning rendezvous at Euston (the website had warned that we would be leaving immediately), half-an-hour of standing around waiting (which my affinity group utilized to staple-on our home-made polar bear masks), and some fun-and-games on the tube (“Like the badger mask mate!”), fifty-plus of us were now on a train heading out of London.

One of three “blocs” of climate change activists (the others had assembled at Victoria and Waterloo) mobilised by the prospect of “switching-off oil” somewhere in the capital, we’d been instructed to bring a two-zone travel card and to be “ready to hold space”. We had no idea where we were going. Until now.

An all-women affinity group had already begun a blockade of the UK’s busiest oil refinery at Coryton. “[T]hey can’t hold the road for long without us”, the flier explained. Wow. “Once we pass Grays [station] we are leaving the Oyster card zone”, it continued. Damn.

Visions of getting stranded in Essex with a maxed-out Oyster and only £2 in my bank account rose unheroically to the forefront of my mind, and I managed to persuade my four-person affinity group to get off at the next stop to discuss our options.

After buying tickets we boarded the next train but ended up stuck in Grays for forty minutes due to a delayed train. It started to rain. Nevertheless we pressed on, determined to use the low-res map on the flier to navigate our own way there come-what-may.

Alighting at Stanford-le-Hope, we were shocked to see 200 fellow Awakeners pouring out of the other carriages. We’d forgotten about the other blocs!

A brisk half-hour walk – during which we managed to lose our police van escort (by crossing a farmer’s field) and acquire an entourage of local youths (who drew some fine penises on the road in chalk – how crude can you get?) – brought us within spitting distance.

“Run! Now!” someone shouted, and we dutifully sped up slightly, arriving just in time (I was later told) to stop the police from clearing the blockade, which successfully stopped tankers from entering or leaving for roughly six hours.

This is a difficult time for climate change activism. Following the failure of last year’s summit in Copenhagan, popular concern has dipped (tinyurl.com/2ubmqdw), and editorial discussions at the BBC about next year’s news agenda have (allegedly) placed climate change in the category “Done That Already, Nothing New to Say” (tinyurl.com/23uglj6).

Clearly we have a mountain to climb, but looking across the Channel – where mass strikes and protests over pension reforms halted operations at 12 refineries and posed a serious challenge to Sarkozy’s presidency – the challenge clearly remains for us to fulfil Spartacus’ promise to Crassus in Kubrick’s eponymous film: “[W]e’ll come back, and [w]e’ll be millions!”