When do we want it? After polite discussion and a show of hands

We're standing around Oxford Circus at lunchtime on Saturday, waiting for the signal. Some people have red and yellow flags. Some have whistles (these will shortly be both very annoying and very useful). At 1.23pm someone gets a text - we're off! He blows his whistle, waves his flag and plunges down into the Underground. We plunge after him: "Is it the Bakerloo Line? The Victoria?" We study the maps, trying to guess where we're going to end up. People keep blowing their whistles; in the confined space it is deafening, and I'm tempted to confiscate them (I wouldn't allow my kids to behave like this).

They all blow again when we get to Highbury and Islington (Islington? The very lair of the beast? I perk up at the thought that I can pick up a decent coffee) and we pile off the Tube, leaving carriages full of irritable tutting behind us. Up the stairs, through the barriers - everyone has paid their fare,
this is a protest, you know, not a revolution - and down Upper Street. Upper Street! The nerve!

And then the target looms ahead, with a banner reading "Stop Shell's Tar Sands Hell" dropped from its roof; the Shell petrol station is being closed down by a line of protesters. The occupants of a Vauxhall Antara that was about to pull in are glaring venomously through their windscreen. Result!

This wasn't the only action happening last Saturday: there was also a purple Take Back Parliament demo opposite parliament that was addressed by Mark Thomas and George Monbiot (sample chant: "What do we want? Electoral reform! When do we want it? Subject to referendum!") and several more around the country including, if rumour can be believed, 300 people dressed in purple following David Cameron in Edinburgh, while the Campaign against Climate Change held an overnight vigil in Parliament Square.

But does it feel like the roar of a country saying, "All right, you're in power, now give us a fair vote and sort out the sodding environment"? I have to say, no. It sounds more like a very polite suggestion. The actions were all energetic, but they were not huge. Perhaps the wind has been taken outof everyone's sails because a surprising amount of ground has already been won. No third runway at Heathrow, no ID cards, a green investment bank, more investment in renewables, a rolling back of some of the infringements of our civil liberties over the past few years. One activist who usually lives in a state of deep disillusionment muttered to me - sounding more than a little surprised - that the coalition has already done more of the things he has yearned for than Labour managed in 13 years. Even the climate sceptics seem to have shut up for the time being.

There are two things niggling at me, though. The first is the memory of Cameron saying last year that he would remove Brian Haw and his anti-war protest from Parliament Square if he came into power. That could get messy, to say the least. And the second is that vision of Cameron on his bike with the car following him. Is all this apparent progress just the bike? Will the car be coming round the corner any minute now? And what will happen when it gets to the petrol station only to find it blockaded by a bunch of angry hippies?

This article first appeared in the 23 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Green Heroes and Villains