Postcards from an activist - 1

Did you see the Channel 5 programme Inside Extinction Rebellion? First week went really well. Then some rebels took it upon themselves to disrupt the tube service at Canning Town, by climbing onto the roof of a tube train.

Up to then the action, although more ambitious than the Rebellion of April, had covered a relatively small area of the capital, the area around Whitehall and government offices. Most people who were inconvenienced in getting to work were civil servants, and many of them seemed quite pleased to be walking or cycling around a peaceful traffic-free Whitehall, with the silence broken only by birdsong, rebel songs and the occasional outbreak of drumming.

But the Canning Town incident created a bad taste and threatened the goodwill between XR and the public. XR were accused of being out of touch with the reality of life for many Londoners. If you are on a zero hours contract and you are even a bit late for work you don’t just lose an hour you lose a whole day, and you might lose that job altogether. The fact was that holding up a tube train was not planned or sanctioned by XR, but the principle is that any rebel can act in the name of XR, so the movement couldn’t disown it, although the organisers tried to distance from it.

Since October there has been a good deal of discussion and soul-searching about the best way forward. Only a year has gone by, and the achievements of XR and the climate strikers have been tremendous, at least in terms of raising awareness and leading many local authorities to declare climate emergency, Getting action is another matter though, and we are far from achieving the key objectives of the movement. These are for governments to tell the truth about the climate emergency and ecological breakdown; for governments to act now to mitigate the worst of this breakdown and secure the future of life on earth; and for citizens’ assemblies to be set up to build concensus and guide policy.

You might wonder why normally law-abiding citizens would risk arrest for such seemingly mild objectives. The trouble is that, once you know how bad things are, the only way to address the crisis is a wholesale change in the way we live. And not just in the UK, but across the globe.

It seems hopeless, but for the people of XR, there is no alternative. Even if we cannot prevent mass extinction of species and the wholesale breakdown of human civilisation, with flooding, sea level rises, water wars, choking fires and all the rest, we will be showing the generations who do manage to survive into the future that we tried, that we acted out of love for each other and love for the planet.

So we have to carry on. We have to keep mobilising, keep on demonstrating, keep on disrupting and generally getting up the noses of governments and the people who carry the most responsibility for the mess we are in.

So in the coming Spring Rebellion, starting in May, our key focus will be on corporate power, oil companies, mining companies, etc.

Executives in the oll industry have already admitted that, if required by law, they could make their industries carbon neutral by 2030. They have the technology to support massive carbon capture and if their profits depended on it, they could do it.

“Civil disobedience is not only moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics” writes Christiana Figueres, the woman who led the negotiations for the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s stunning that the approach of XR should be endorsed so powerfully. But still we have to take the wider population along with us. Getting this right matters so much.