Getting naked at Climate Camp

This week, Climate Camp hit the headlines with their direct action protests in Central London. The protesters courted media attention by chaining themselves to the locked front door of the Royal Bank of Scotland, standing naked in the windows of Edelman PR firm’s office, super gluing themselves to the RBS trading floor and leading flash mobs and protest marches around the capital.

According to one third year Queen’s student who worked for the camp’s media team, a really “good showing” of Oxford students turned up to the Blackheath location, which was kept top secret until the arrival date. The camp was even described by one London newspaper as an Oxford University neighbourhood.

Not all of the Oxford students who took part got quite so involved as Will McCullum, a Wadham finalist, one of seven protesters who stripped off in the glass-fronted lobby of PR company Edelman’s office block on Tuesday morning, shocking passing commuters in Victoria Street.

A keen activist, Will has been involved in the local branch of the organisation, Thames Valley Climate Action, which holds weekly meetings in Princes Street, East Oxford. This was, however, his first naked venture – in the name of protest, that is. “No nakedness or superglue in the past”, he confirmed. “I have done nakedness on stage in performances, but never as part of a protest.”

The group of “naked campers” as they quickly became known, accompanied by other (fully clothed) protesters handing out flyers and liaising with the public, accused Edelman of “greenwashing” the business practices of energy companies like E.ON. The protesters covered themselves in a virulently pink banner displaying the message “Climate Lies Uncovered”, saying that they wanted to “expose the naked truth behind Edelman”.

Whilst Will and his fellow protesters strutted their stuff behind the glass, singing and chanting to the bemusement of watching security guards and police officers, another Oxford student was outside the building engaged in slightly more risky pursuits.

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Carl Van Tonder, a second-year Chemist at St Anne’s, was one of several activists who scaled the roof of the Southside building in Victoria Street, using “a really great folding ladder” to climb up onto a ledge and make their point about climate change. “Yeah, it was pretty dangerous, but it felt amazing and no one fell off,” he commented.

Carl was not only on the roof of a global PR company, but he has also been communicating directly with its CEO via Twitter, the social networking site. Using the alias @seeitcoming he has been directly questioning Robert Phillips, CEO of Edelman. Phillips himself seemed willing to engage with the campers and to hold onto his sense of humour throughout the morning. One of his tweets read:

“@climatecamp We’ve offered your guys a conversation & a cup of coffee. We are happy to discuss & address issues. Please come clothed, though”.

Phillips made a statement to Sky News during the protest, dismissing it as a “cheap stunt”. “Despite the presence of naked protesters in our downstairs lobby and a couple of banner-wavers on our roof, it is very much business as usual at Edelman,” he said.

Certainly, whilst there were a few surprised faces on the pavement outside, the majority of people entering the building, including the police officers, seemed calm and unaffected. “The girls weren’t even entirely naked”, said one disappointed onlooker.

Oxford’s own (completely) naked protester was nonetheless enthused by his day’s work, commenting that he was surprised and pleased by the amount of media attention garnered by the campaign. “Yes I would do it again, as long as the target was well-chosen and well thought out. But to do it again we’d have to be very careful that it doesn’t become a stunt that you can just get out at any time. Getting naked isn’t something for every action and every target.”