Protesting in the UK has been growing in popularity, with Israel-Palestine ceasefire protests alongside Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion and many others bringing people out on the streets. One of the people taking charge of many of these protests is Caspar, a long-time climate and environment advocate, who may know a thing or two about running a successful protesting campaign.
A successful campaign is one that sets out to achieve a certain goal and manages to accomplish it, such as the ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ campaign which took place in London between 2012 and 2019.
The forgotten campaign
Within seven years of protesting, the campaign group managed to reach their goals through numerous activities. Among the group’s signature events were ‘die-ins’, in which protesters would lie on the floor of busy streets with their bikes, in an attempt to remember those killed by London’s badly designed roads and cycle lanes.
The group was set up by founding partners Dorothy McCarthy and Steve Routley, both of whom sought out justice for London’s cyclists, after their friend Daniel Harris was killed by a press bus whilst cycling outside the Olympic stadium.
After a lot of planning, the two founders set up the campaign group with two main goals, both of which were accomplished in their own time, something Caspar played a big part in.
Since the targets were met, the campaign group stopped operating, marking a successful protest campaign. As Caspar says: “they don’t operate anymore, they’ve successfully delivered what they set out to do.”
Stopping the killing
One of the main goals the campaign set out to achieve was to reduce both adult and child cyclists’ deaths or serious injuries, both of which dropped after the government began to take notice of the campaign. “The direct actions did two things – generated the conversation within the general public and lit a fire under their administration to build on them,” concludes Caspar.
Between 2005 and2009, the average fatal or serious injury incidents in child cyclists was 63 a year, according to Transport for London (TfL) reports. Following the completion of the protesting campaign, there were only 27 incidents in 2022, showing a dramatic decrease.
The same can be seen in more recent years, as adult cyclist incidents dropped from ten a year in 2021 to seven in 2022, showing a 52% reduction in the number of people killed in collisions, the lowest point on record.
With fewer cyclists dying in London, there was an influx of people turning to cycling as their mode of transportation, with cycling journeys in capital increasing by 84% in 2021, showing that cycling has become safer and more popular.
The decrease in cycling incidents shows how the campaign group’s protesting had a clearly positive effect in London and how protesting does work. As Caspar says: “it’s a funny old thing when campaigning, you’re never looking for acknowledgement, you’re looking for change.”
Increasing the funding
The second goal of the campaign was to make sure London’s cycling infrastructure received the funding it deserved. In 2010, prior to the campaign and protesting, the Department for Transport had announced that out of the UK’s £7.6bn transport budget, “a small proportion of the fund will be allocated to provide continued funding for the successful Bikeability scheme.”
That small proportion amounted to £42mn being spent that year for the ‘Cycle City Ambition’. This amount was seen by the ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ campaign as far too low, compared to what it should be.
In 2015, the protesters demanded that “the government needs to invest 10% of Department for Transport Budget by 2020 in safer cycling/walking infrastructure”. Their demand was nearly met, as out of the £34 billion transport budget of 2020, more than £2.5 billion was invested into cycling and walking initiatives, taking up 7.3% of the budget.
The new initiatives meant new cycle paths were made, pop-up bike lanes, widened pavements, and cycle and bus-only corridors. Caspar said: “They wanted a protected infrastructure to be built in London and that’s happened.”
The increased funding resulted in the decrease of serious injury or fatal cycling incidents, showing once again that the campaign worked. Caspar said, “I got agreement from the ex-Prime Minister (Boris Johnson at the time) that direct action helps.”
Recipe for success
Achieving the campaign’s goals has shown how protests can be successful, but for Caspar, ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ was not the end of his protesting days.
Taking part in numerous Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil activities has kept this protester busy, as he believes protesting is the only way for the public to get what they ask for. He says, “I don’t believe we would have a net zero target by 2050 if it wasn’t for the fact that XR popped up and were [as] disruptive as they were.”
According to Caspar, current protesting isn’t getting the job done because he feels it isn’t disruptive enough. He asserts what is lacking at the moment is “the sharp end of protesting”.
Many may believe that the current protests by Just Stop Oil are too disruptive but for Caspar, until the demands are met, they aren’t disruptive enough. As this environmental advocate says, “being disrespectful of the current system, which has no respect for us, is part of the process of being in civil resistance, as the social contract with the government is gone.”
Caspar believes that being disruptive goes hand in hand with protesting, even if it means annoying the public. When asked if he feels like a nuisance to society, Caspar concludes “yes, I do. I really don’t want to be doing this. I’m doing it because I care.”