Last night I got back from XR’s October Rebellion in London. I had only joined Extinction Rebellion a couple of weeks previously, but had already been incredibly impressed by the thoughtfulness and quality of the movement. I refuse to call it an organisation - there is no formal structure or hierarchy and it works as a network of interlinked groups and individuals, who have all signed up to a simple set of principles.
It’s not too early to say that the experience of those three days has changed my life. With a coachload of fellow activists from Birmingham, I arrived in London on Sunday morning and immediately joined the opening ceremony at Marble Arch. By that time the police had already sequestered a lot of essential kit like portaloos and camp kitchen equipment, but the atmosphere of solidarity was palpable.
This time, the Rebellion has been organised around different regions of the UK taking particular strategic ‘sites’. So for instance, Scotland was assigned their base outside Westminster Abbey, and our group, from the Midlands and East of England, the area all the way down Horseguards Road from the Mall to Birdcage Walk.
Thinking myself a bit old to be camping in the park, I had fixed myself up with a bed at a friend’s house and by the time I got to our meeting place outside the Treasury at 8.30 on Monday morning, a road block was already forming across the junction. Within ten minutes several members of our group had been arrested, simply for standing in the road. It was shocking. But it was also galvanising and nothing could have been more effective for turning us into a team. By the end of the day we were well set up, had persuaded the police three times to turn back, solely through our disciplined calm non-violent means, and were cheering rush-hour cyclists through the junction as if it was the Tour de France. It must have been wonderful for them to be riding through huge swathes of the capital completely traffic-free.
On my walk back to the tube at Charing Cross I was amazed to see that a whole village of tents and gazebos had sprung up in the middle of Whitehall. Everything was peaceful and amazingly well-organised.
It was awe-inspiring. Although we can’t really be optimistic that the worst effects of climate change can be averted, in the XR actions we are able to demonstrate once again that the human spirit can survive and thrive in the face of disaster.
Today I’ve been catching up with the media coverage of the action. So we are hemp-smelling crusties according to the PM, although we have all pledged not to bring any drugs or alcohol to any XR actions. We are overwhelmingly white, middle class and privileged, and somehow we are expected to be apologetic about this and accept that we are hypocrites. So yes, we have tellies and have flown too many times, but it’s the very fact that we recognise that we have been a big part of the problem that drives us to act now before it’s too late.
Those of us born after the second world war have been truly blessed, with good and cheap food, mass transport, free education and health care, and hopes of a bright future - until now. In the midst of our blessings we have been visiting a curse upon our children and grandchildren.
Better century is a great website because it helps people think through all kinds of changes they can make in their daily lives to mitigate the effects of over-consumption. But it can’t be down to individuals to change everything. We need a wholesale system change that stops putting money and shareholder value over nature and the future of the planet. In order to be able to face the future with hope, we have to act now.
The October Rebellion is happening because although the government declared a climate emergency after the April actions, they have done nothing since. In fact at the Conservative conference, the environment was hardly even mentioned.
What XR is asking for is simple. Tell the truth - stop treating us like children who can’t understand the science. Act now - we need to start tackling carbon emissions seriously and aim to reduce to zero net carbon by 2025 if we are to avoid catastrophe. Set up a Citizens Assembly to start the public debate about the changes we need to make in society to turn this round.
Do we want to lose our prime arable land in the east under sea water? Do we want people to be fighting each other for space, fresh water and food? Do we want the planet to burn?
I have decided that at my age, with my pension and a roof over my head, I can afford to take the risk of arrest and maybe even prison to try to persuade the government to listen and set up a citizen’s assembly.
As I write this I am receiving messages that my comrades are being arrested. That is good, because it shows we are having an effect. History has shown time and time again, with Gandhi and the salt marches, with the American civil rights movement, with the Peace Women in the Irish troubles, that non-violent direct action is the most effective way to drive change.
We know that not everyone will feel able to join XR in the struggle, but if you feel that you could, but it’s just ‘not you’, don’t be afraid. Most of us are plain ordinary people, respectable law-abiding people, who just got to the point that we had to do something. If you join us you will find a friendly tribe. If you can’t, then please support and speak up for Extinction Rebellion!