On 8th October 2019, several people were playing cricket on the road round Parliament Square, in front of Westminster Abbey. A few thousand others were busy stopping the traffic in 12 different localities. On the back of this person’s shirt is written the words: ‘Extinction – it’s just not cricket.’ This was the beginning of the London October Extinction Rebellion.
In my last blog I said that my deepest wish was not to be afraid but to play in the sand of my life. As I’m sure any child psychologist would tell you, play is a vital thing for healthy growth in children. I don’t think it stops being important when we are adults. Surely, part of play is trying out new approaches, new ways to do things, playing with what its like to be someone else, being creative…
Over the last two weeks, Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists played, with great seriousness but also with great creativity and often great courage. Some of it you might agree with and some you might not. We’re in the midst of huge change and what is called the 6th mass extinction. If we want the wonderful diversity of life that inhabits our planet to survive, we have to wake up and change, radically.
READ THE SCIENCE!
(you can start with the IPCC report :International Panel on Climate Change https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/)
We need to challenge ‘business as usual’, suggest alternatives, act them out. The three demands of Extinction Rebellion to governments are: Tell the Truth, Act!, and create Citizens Assemblies (similar model to juries) to take this out of party politics.
Throughout the two weeks of the London Rebellion, people met in People’s Assemblies to plan, make decisions and check in with each other. On the Telegram app there were often messages reminding us to look after ourselves. There were constant reminders that this movement is Non-Violent and when we start feeling the rage rise, we need to step aside. Everywhere there was a conscious choice to speak reasonably, to hear one another and to ensure non-violence was our signature. When the police started arresting people and the temperature was rising, people who had trained in de-escalation would step in and often someone would start a song to help restore the peaceful mood. We’d sing to the police ‘We love you police’ and sometimes add ‘we’re doing this for your children.’
Below is a taster of my experience of the London Rebellion (there were events around the world). I was only up there on 4 of the days and I didn’t camp.
On the Monday 8th October at 8.30am, as requested, a number of us gathered incognito at Parliament square. Police were everywhere and searching people and it was nerve wracking. A group of us XR Meditators stood at a bus stop on Whitehall ‘waiting for a bus.’ We then moved towards the Women’s memorial. We’d been told: ‘when the man with the yellow umbrella walks onto the road, everyone go’. It was like some sort of strange comic farce. The man with the yellow umbrella walked out and we all ran onto the road. The police ran after us and a policeman grabbed me and pushed me off the road. I saw Tim go back onto the road several metres down so I followed. Someone shouted ‘sit down’ and we all sat down and that was that. A couple of hundred activists sitting in the road and we’d done it! Whitehall had been ‘taken’ just outside Downing Street.
It may help to know that the people who’d come with me and were sitting with me were mostly quiet introvert types: buddhists, meditators, psychotherapists, nurses, gentle souls. It was extraordinary. On that first day, we as a Meditators group, offered meditation on the hour every hour for 10 to 15 minutes and despite the noise, we kept silence and others joined us. I found it surprisingly easy as all the noise outside drowned the usual panoply of noise inside my head!
I didn’t see it but later on a giant pink octopus travelled down towards Whitehall and got kettled by police.
On the Wednesday some of us came back and we walked around the different sites. By St James Park we saw some ‘birds’ fly past while a young man entertained children by making huge bubbles. Just out of sight is a wooden frame with a young woman on top. In front of her is a crowd of people ‘holding the road’ and a cherry picker has been brought over to remove her.
Later we came back to find an indomitable woman in a wheel chair who had fixed herself to the road with several people attached/glued on to her wheel chair. We helped put the blue plastic over to protect them from the rain.
Coming out by Methodist Central Hall, Parliament Square were some phoenixes and an uncooperative crusty 🙂
These birds joined a band drumming a rhythm that got me dancing in the street. Shortly afterwards, I saw the young man who led the dancing, gluing himself into his tent on the road in front of Westminster Abbey, while police were arresting and removing others. I hope you are ok, Patrick. Further along, I watched as 3 police officers unzipped a tent, read the rights to the person inside and then dragged him out and arrested him.
On an impulse I sat down in the tent. A policewoman came back, furious and told me I was illegally sitting in someone else’s property. When I said I was just looking after it for him, she grabbed me by the arm and almost literally ‘threw’ me out of the tent. several XR people surrounded me to see if I was ok and to offer me care and biscuits.
Down Whitehall, walking back towards Trafalgar square, a group of Australians had decided to appear as jumping kangaroos.
Over the days we watched as the Red Rebels wove their silent way through the crowds. This time they arranged themselves in front of the Women’s Memorial.
Up in Trafalgar square Extinction Rebellion had found other creative ways to block the road. Police had stopped them bringing boats into London, so instead, someone drove a hearse in, with a coffin that had ‘Our Future’ written on it. Two men sat in the front of the hearse, one locked on to the steering wheel.
The police moved in over the days arresting more and more people and gradually clearing the 12 different sites yet XR members continued to act.
On the Saturday we joined the march from Marble Arch to Russell Square, a sombre and highly imaginative funeral procession that allowed rebels to grieve for the ongoing ecocide. The march drew a crowd of more than 20,000 people, despite near continuous rain, and brought Oxford Street to a standstill for several hours. I brought my sign and walked with friends very slowly for over 3 hours.
The view from above was impressive.
On the Sunday the police slapped a section 14 on the whole of London for Extinction Rebellion which meant they could arrest anyone anywhere in London. In response, at least 1000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square.
In spite of this section 14, I came back on the Thursday 17th, a day before the Rebellion officially ended and joined a variety of working people; librarians, nurses, university lecturers, professional coaches, engineers, farmers, scientists etc etc. We marched to Trafalgar square, heard from some of these people and then finished the day with a mass meditation. There was a wonderful medley of faiths and philosophies represented and offerings included inviting everyone to bellow out 3 Ohms, sing a Taize chant “Ubi Caritas” and the first verse of “Amazing Grace” with particular reference to the words ‘I was blind and now I see’.
What is it about this movement that matters to me? It’s thoughtful, creative, non-violent and aims to be as inclusive and democratic as possible. It can get somewhat chaotic and messy but creativity in my experience is not tidy. XR is challenging those in power to make systemic change, it dreams of a different way of living which is fairer, sustainable and which honours, not destroys our beautiful planet. It is waking people up to the fact that Climate change is happening now. People and creatures, trees & plants are dying now.
Is it worth all this effort when we may not succeed? As my son put it, ‘you mean we might make this world a better place, for nothing?’ ! Even if we don’t ‘succeed’, it is so heartening to be in the company of so many people who want to create a better world and want to do it actively and non-violently. Many people on the rebellion joined in workshops on non-violence and discovered how to relate to each other in healthy, creative ways, how to notice and channel their anger and fear. That’s got to be good 🙂
This movement is following in some very honourable footsteps: the Suffragettes, Gandhi, the Civil Rights Movement and many others. There are older footsteps to honour: for me, the Jesus who challenged the authorities and who turned over the tables of the money changers.
For the love of this beautiful earth and for all living beings in it, lets make a stand. After all, extinction is ‘just not cricket’.