This interview was originally published by Fat Quarter on 10 August 2009.
In February last year, a handful of Bright Young Environmentalists, dubbed “The Commons Five”, scaled and then chained themselves to Parliament in protest against increasing aviation. Most of the media attention focused upon one of them in particular—a female, upper middle class Cambridge student named Tamsin Omond. The press coverage dripped with a mix of incredulity, admiration and general put-out-ed-ness; just what on earth did a privileged young lady like that have to do with, or to say about climate change? The crux of it was: she didn’t fit in with our ideas about what a typical eco-hero should be.
Tamsin is a leading member of female-led environmental group Climate Rush, who bill themselves as “a bunch of young girls who completely think we’re going to create a revolution”. Moving away from a more typical style of eco-campaigning, the “Rushers” have instead chosen to adopt the Suffragette movement as a direct model for their own campaign. In doing so, they have begun to re-define what it means for a gal to be green … cue runway-side Edwardian costumed tea-parties and swathes of red-sashed cyclists cursing riotously down rush-hour Oxford Street.To find out more, I met up with Tamsin in a North London cafe.
As the milk swirled through china cups of Earl Grey, she explained the rationale: “Well … Because it worked! They actually did get the vote! What we’re asking for is a 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050—it’s quite boring policy —and what they were asking for, in a way, was boring policy. But what was involved in bowing to that policy change, was a complete transformation of society.”
What’s more, Tamsin argues, climate change is a feminist issue: “You might not have realised, but actually women are the people who are going to suffer most and first from the effects of climate change. And whether you’re a hardened feminist or not, it’s a basic truth that women wield the consumer power within Western society and that’s a huge power!”
It’s this female power that Climate Rush seeks to harness: “There’s another reason why it made loads of sense to form a women-led group. It was that there were so many women who if you brought them together could do some totally hot-shit stuff. You know, like the Women’s Institute are doing some really great stuff at the moment and they’re getting quite a bit younger and a little bit more radical and then there’s this group called We Can who are basically a group of mums from West London who are totally supportive of what we do.”
Indeed, there’s a strong sense that Climate Rush taps into a wider sense of excitement—to which groups such as I Knit London, Stitch n’ Bitch and the WI testify—around the idea of recapturing traditional women’s skills and perhaps a lost sense of female community. Hip, artistic, creative, well connected and media-savvy women are at the heart of this revival, and it’s this kind of lady that makes The Rush’s protests stand out against other kinds of green campaigning. Using Rushers’ artistic skills “makes your protest suddenly really beautiful and then that’s a great photo … and then people are gonna run a story.”
Making protest accessible, attractive and relevant to women who may have been otherwise alienated from a grubbier, more masculine style of campaigning (“It’s so ugly and it’s so boring”), is, Tamsin stresses, key: “The Green Movement has been dominated by a particular kind of guy … the kind of guy that thinks of himself as a bit of a superhero and a bit of an eco-hero … and that’s not really the point.”
Climate Rush is nothing if not photogenic. Ironically, in drawing inspiration from the last century, the movement has managed to make itself look a whole lot more of-the-moment than some well-established elements of the green movement. Eschewing muddy Doc Martens in favour of polished, lace-up ankle boots, these ladies are unashamedly trendy: “It gives people the opportunity to be stylish and to not have to be like a crusty hippy up a tree, but to be allowed to be just quite fierce women who challenge the big social structures, it’s quite amazing!” Omond exclaims.
A major part of this attitude is a pragmatic willingness to exploit PR and the media: “Climate Rush has got a lot of stick from the green movement for playing to the media and especially for playing to the fashion media …but we need to make this completely mainstream and make it as natural to go and lock yourself to an aeroplane as it is to go shopping on a Saturday
“This is the most recent of a variety of social struggles and we’re breaking the law, but we’re not law-breakers and we’re actually part of a very important tradition – a historic tradition – like the Suffragettes.”
Time for a change
And, like the Suffragettes, whose tottering floral hats and demure full-length dresses only thinly draped a steely militantism, the Rusher’s appearance belies a deeper sense of female empowerment: “It’s just such a great time to be a woman, in a way. We were born into a society where we are completely entitled and completely empowered … and it’s how we use that empowerment …Yes, women consume a lot, but the whole system of infinite progress and expansion, expansion, expansion at the expense of nature is quite an interesting sort of patriarchal model and it’s definitely an interesting thing to think that there’s generation of girls who are growing into women who are probably questioning what on earth they’re going to do with their future.”
It’s just these young women who are, Tamsin argues, becoming activists and who have the potential to really change things: “There’s this network of really fucking great women who are all working on climate change. You know, the Dalai Lama said “Western women will save history … and you know, you’re like, ‘OK, cool, better get on that then!’”
To find out more, visit http://www.climaterush.co.uk