Friday 5 November
The day got off to a bad start: for one, my adrenaline, much like the presence of the sun, had started to wane. For another, our print edition had turned up on perhaps the busiest day of the week. And lastly, though it was to no one else’s surprise, I was running very late.
The plan was to meet everyone by the office before sending people off to cover the highly anticipated “Fridays for Future” march, led by Greta Thunberg. We had photographers, reporters and editors out: some following the march as it went, others heading more directly to George Square where Greta was due to speak. The delivery of our print was both exciting, but also possibly the worst timing; trying to sort same-day distribution was a nightmare when what seemed like the entirety of Glasgow was filling the streets.
“Trying to sort same-day distribution was a nightmare when what seemed like the entirety of Glasgow was filling the streets.”
As much fun as being part of The Glasgow Guardian is, there is a perpetually rolling workload that multiplies exponentially if you ignore it for too long. Feeling a little protested-out, I was keen to push through with any emails needing answering – which definitely takes longer than the half hour I consistently try to timetable in – alongside ensuring our coverage was going out as quickly as possible. The glaring screen, general tiredness and being stuck in a slump got the better of me though, so I went home to try and take a break for the rest of the day.
“Try” was the key word here: switching off is not my forté, and so within the turnaround time of an hour I decided to go and see how the protest was shaping up. We’d a brilliant team of people reporting on different elements: some getting interviews from protestors, others on photography, and others pushing through to the forefront of the moving mass, looking for Greta. Jordan was so on the ball that he’d made it to the very front of the entire crowd, potentially with the best viewpoint of the entire crowd, dead centre.
Taking the subway into town – completely forgetting that I had a free travel pass from COP26, making me resent that £3.30 for the rest of the day – I came out at Buchanan Street to meet the head of the march being walked slowly into the Square fronted by a very dense line of police. I wasn’t with the photographers today, but running ahead to turn back and get some pictures of the crowd approaching me, I managed to get some alright shots before I was shoved out of the way by a police liaison officer. “Rude! Did she push you?! I’ll give her a bloody push,” a voice croaked in my ear, and to my right an old man stood angrily, holding a banner and wearing a lot of red. He did not match the general demographic of the protestors, and nothing about him nor his sign appeared to have anything to do with the climate crisis. Labour Party? Communist League? I wondered. Someone striking? I nodded appreciatively at him, edging back towards the top of the march.
“He did not match the general demographic of the protestors, and nothing about him nor his sign appeared to have anything to do with the climate crisis.”
George Square had been transformed into an exhibition of sorts: different activists of different ages occupied each corner. Some – and I have no clue – had pushed themselves up the various statues in the space, towering over the bustle below. The creativity in costume and sign design was incredible: I barely saw two the same, or that looked like replicas. From “Gays for Greta” to “Where is the global soul??” to “Get Insulate Done!” the atmosphere was energetic, and anticipatory. Everyone wanted to see and hear Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunbery speak, and as people toppled into the Square, movement was getting difficult.
Pushing my way through to the front – milking the fact I was wearing my COP26 press card and camera as much as possible – I found the large bulk of the rest of the The Glasgow Guardian team. It was brilliant seeing so many of us had turned up. On-the-ground coverage, in whatever form, is really fun. You get to attend events you wouldn’t normally, and for the most part hold that on-the-fence position of not necessarily protesting, for example, but also not opposing, or even just passively observing. I suppose the vast number of interviews the team has produced over the last few weeks speaks volumes for how happily entangled you’re able to become in these events.
There was a press box at the very front, though, directly in front of the stage. I wondered… could I? I spotted one of the Getty photographers I’d been with the other day. He waved me over, pointing out the entrance over the heads of some very tall reporters between us. The problem was that George Square had become so saturated with people at this point that movement didn’t seem an option. But fate was on my side.
I hadn’t initially noticed the altercation between the current stage host and a helper to her left, but something had gone wrong. The woman was shaking her head and pointing to the crowd. What had started out as an invigorating event was quickly sliding into the realms of amateurism, and as the crowd’s restlessness picked up, our host addressed us. “We’ve lost some of the speakers,” she admitted. “If you’re a speaker, can you raise your hand?”
Looking for raised hands in a ten-thousand-person strong crowd of protestors waving banners would be some feat, and I kind of respected her entirely misplaced confidence. Feeling someone hit me in the side, I turned around to see multiple hands grappling a red cloth line behind me. The speakers had arrived but… they too were stuck with the wall of people that had crammed themselves to the front. They were being waved around to the side of the stage by an organiser, and slowly, reluctantly – ironically, given they were the ones people had come to see – the crowd parted. As they walked on, I realised they were heading towards the media entrance, and it was the best chance I’d get to be close up to the speakers. Taking my chance, I grabbed onto their red rope too and got pushed through the people.
“Looking for raised hands in a ten-thousand-person strong crowd of protestors waving banners would be some feat, and I kind of respected her entirely misplaced confidence.”
The speeches were good, though at times, lacking organisation took away from the magic of the moment. Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg were welcomed like celebrities, and both delivered powerful speeches, their anger palpable. The electricity of the crowd climaxed, and then… after they’d finished, it just dispersed. There remained a happy buzz about the place, but within minutes, it felt as though the thousands that had filled George Square had just evaporated. I was glad to have gone, though. Throughout the day, I’d been getting updates from across the team, all situated at different points, and we’d been compiling these into a Twitter thread of the events. Dodgy 4G and battery power meant there had been a lull in the updates at one point, but the volume of content we’d collected over the course of the first week had been incredible.
We’d managed to get into the top 10, and then top 50, of COP26 coverage on Twitter, alongside national publications and major organisations, like the UNFCCC itself?! Credit to our COP26-designated team who seemed to be constantly throwing themselves into event coverage with full enthusiasm, the first week could only be described – and I’ve definitely used this word far too much – as completely and utterly surreal.