Well, I didn’t make it to COP26.
Bunch of reasons for that. Work mostly. The nearest I managed, thanks to an inside tip, was to be at the local station when two of the ladies in red started their trip to Glasgow.
Well I watched the proceedings on the news. It doesn’t seem to have accomplished much, and I wish I was surprised. And it seems that I wasn’t the only person with that mindset, as I discovered from Facebook that a march in London was on the cards for Saturday 13th – the day after the summit was to conclude – to protest what they were fairly sure would be a lack of useful decisions, actions or progress.
They were right. And at 10:30am on the 13th, I was standing in Lincoln’s Inn Fields watching the banners gathering.
It’s been a while since August, which is the last time I photographed one of these. There were faces I recognised, many of them holding new banners. People met, hugged, circulated.
Then the speaker came to life. First surprise of the day there – an announcement that the microphone was free for anyone who wished to speak, but was being run by the Revolutionary Communist Group (at least that’s what was on the banner – it may have been the Revolutionary Communist Party), who were allied with XR. I’ve long known XR to be a broad umbrella of political and social beliefs and persuasions, but I hadn’t heard of that one before. As a non-joining independent observer my first response was to picture what the reaction of certain tabloids would be to that little announcement.
The speeches began, with a quick announcement that today was the day of the Lord Mayor’s Parade, and that given the City of London’s long history (and current practice) of making large sums of money from fossil fuels, a protest was going to take place. There wasn’t a lot of time – I think the schedule they were working to had begun to slip – but we heard from a few people who’d been at COP26. They didn’t have encouraging stories to tell.
And then of we went, down a few streets, lines of police on both sides. Slightly hurried – someone up front was trying to get a chant going over the megaphone. It wasn’t working – the file of people were being urged to move quickly, people were saving their breath and the group was spreading out. And then up ahead I started seeing the parade vehicles – big military trucks with banners. And then it was a left turn, and the next thing I knew the XR parade was marching along Fleet Street toward St Paul’s, while the Lord Mayor’s parade moved past them going the other way.
It was a pretty confused scene. Carnival floats moving, with XR in the road, waving flags, chanting, and the police standing between them to let the parade get past. Also in the mix was everyone who’d just turned out to see the parade, who were standing on the pavements, wondering what was going on, and in a lot of cases not appreciating having their view spoiled. And the whole thing kept moving toward St Paul’s – meanwhile floats carrying everything from Royal Marines to Candlemakers were rolling past with people on them waving to the crowd.
At some point I moved up onto the pavement to get around a group, and found myself on the pavement side of a crowd control barrier. I was moving along through the crowd, some of who were registering their displeasure – at least one lady in the crowd poured water over a protestor lying in the road, and some debate ensued. Still people moving in both directions on the road, and after a few minutes of shooting over the barriers I got up onto the steps fronting a building and got a decent view out over the heads of the crowd.
And that’s when I got my first look at London’s Lord Mayor.
Actually, my first look at any Lord Mayor outside of a pantomime.
The whole parade took a while to go past, and once it had the XR group moved off, back in the direction they’d come. The loudspeaker and the banners had kept on as the parade rolled passed, interspersed with the occasional onlooker yelling at them to shut up and / or go away. With the parade gone on its way, the crowd barriers shifted and I was back to shooting as I moved with the XR contingent down the roadway.
Shortly before the Royal Courts of Justice they were halted at another barrier – it had been blocking the road, with a pavement access for pedestrians, but police stopped allowing foot traffic through at that point. As the XR groups came together in one mass there were speeches, followed by a decision to backtrack.
Everyone turned around, then turned off Fleet Street in Mitre Court, and eventually ended up on the Thames embankment just a little West of Blackfriars Bridge.
Well the banners flew, and those on the loudspeaker kept talking – about banks, about defence spending, about tax havens, about imperialism and colonialism and about the City of London’s financial history.
The police corralled everyone off the road eventually – I think there was one arrest of someone who refused to move, but the only picture I got just shows a scrum of photographers. And then, as earlier, the parade passed with police there to ensure it wasn’t disrupted.
From that point, I was more or less just watching it – I’ve never seen a Lord Mayor’s Parade in person before, and quite frankly after a couple of hours listening to the loudspeaker it was beginning to get a little repetitive. So I moved a little way down the embankment in the direction of Temple Tube Station, and settled in to watch. An XR jazz band started up, in a bizarre counterpoint to the marching bands in the parade.
And once the parade has passed, there it ended – somewhere around 3:30 if I recall right. A final address to those who’d turned out, and the drums struck off, and everyone headed to the pub. Good way to end the day.
That was my COP26 – the two events that bookended it.
For me, the surprise of the day was the apparent alliance of XR and the Communist Group. I try and keep my own politics out of these writings – I’m helped by my lack of allegiance to any political party – but I’ve said before that I don’t think Communism is a solution to anything. And while at least one speaker on the day seemed very keen on Cuba’s universal healthcare and free education, I somehow can’t picture the Cuban authorities allowing civil disobedience at one of their official parades. That’s by the by – my point is that no political system is perfect. Where this alliance will lead, or what influence it may have, time will tell. XR has always been a broad church. My major concern would be that this alliance may leave them open to anyone wishing to write them off as a far-left lunatic fringe.
When and where the next of these events may be, or what form it will take, I can’t tell you – I suspect we may not see another large-scale event before spring.
We shall see.
The above is a factual description of events that I witnessed on November 13th 2021. Where I am quoting others, giving a personal opinion or relying on other sources I have said so. Conversations are based on my memory, which is of course fallible. To the best of my knowledge, the details I have provided are accurate.
The description is based on and supported by time stamped digital photographs, which I have used to establish chronology and timings. Correlation between text and events should not necessarily be inferred unless specifically stated.
All images used in this article are my own work, and I retain full copyright to them.