Just back from three days in London and I want to share some of my experiences as a newbie to Extinction Rebellion.
I only got involved after hearing Roger Hallam’s very moving and straight to the point talk at this year’s Campfire Campout just outside Frome. I had been keeping it all at arm’s length, thinking I don’t have the energy (post Chronic Fatigue) to do this stuff, in between episodes of grief when I think of what kind of future is in store for my grandchildren. But his talk hit me in the heart as did a plea from my good friend Annabelle for help. So I joined the XR Frome Media team, took on writing the newsletter and somehow unwittingly and very reluctantly became a coordinator for an Affinity Group, all within a month of the Campout.
I was pretty scared about being part of this London Rebellion having never been to any kind of protest in my life, since spending a few years of rebellious youth between the ages of 17 and 26 traveling with the Peace Convoy around free festivals in the eighties. I was at the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ in 1985 and pretty traumatised by that still.
One of the first heart-warming experiences I had after joining XR Frome was at the NVDA (Non Violent Direct Action) training at the town hall. I found myself at the end standing next to an ex police officer who is now working as police liaison for XR. When I mentioned the Beanfield (we both had agreed we don’t like that song ‘Police we love you, we’re doing it for your children too’), he was shocked and saddened and although he wasn’t in the force at that time, apologised on their behalf saying something like ‘they wouldn’t be able to act like that now of course’.
I was so moved then to see this video in which he appears:
And to see and reconnect with him at Lambeth Bridge and at the People’s Assembly that was held in Marsham Street on Tuesday.
Yes - I was scared. I really didn’t want to be arrested and was nervous about being surrounded by police and riot vans. So when we set off for Lambeth Bridge on the Monday, having heard that people were being arrested coming off trains wearing XR badges etc (was that true? I don’t know), I was quite paranoid. By the time the first road had been blocked though, and cars were turning around, I felt bold enough to walk behind the line of people holding the long banner across the road and start up a few rebel songs. Forgot to say, my main wish in going to London was to sing, because watching the action last April I’d been struck by how powerful the singing was, especially for calming everyone down when things were tense. And so I’d joined XR Song Carriers, an idea that came from rebel singers in Totnes to have a bunch of songs that lots of us knew so we could support each other in getting people joining in.
Lots of powerful moments:
- sitting in a gazebo by the roundabout at the end of Lambeth Bridge that we occupied for the day, eating a sandwich, being surrounded by police saying they were going to take the gazebo away. Then about 15 other people came and held on to the gazebo, refusing to budge, the police gave up and retreated.
- watching two of my Affinity Group elders standing firm when the police started to move in and try to clear us off. I hadn’t realised they were up for arrest but they calmly and gracefully stood as police cautioned them both, and then escorted one, and carried the other away.
all photos courtesy of Mark Brookes
- Hearing from one of our arrestees how she spent hours in a holding pen with two vicars and other people, sharing stories and snacks, and later how the police joined in, opening up about their lives, PTSD and difficult experiences. This movement is filtering out to everyone.
- watching another two members of my affinity group sitting with other arrestables, all with such dignity and resolve, while we all sang songs to show and share our support. ‘We Are Together’.
- On Tuesday morning, outside the DEFRA offices, a minute’s silence was held in remembrance of extinct species and for those species in danger of extinction. Following that silence, a song carrier started singing ‘Power to the People’, but changed the words, calling on DEFRA to use their power for the future and our children: https://youtu.be/e3FHVYsivU0
- Later that day, a small Action with my Affinity Group, slowly walking in formation with our bee flags and singing. We lined up directly in front of a line of police and sang ‘We’ve got all the love that we need to change the world. Hallellujia, we’ve got all the love, all that we need, blessed bee’. We think they must be trained to avoid eye contact, but one policeman gave us 10/10!
- In the week leading up to going to London, meeting with my Affinity Group and sharing our fears about the Action, and how we could support each other. Such deep connection and love with people, some of whom I’d only met a couple of weeks before. It was so helpful to be in the big crowds and chaos knowing we were keeping an eye out for each other.
And above all I’m inspired by the creativity, resilience and determination of so many people, setting up roadblocks and sites and bringing in supplies and infrastructure, making food for people, to have everything confiscated by police and then do it all again. And those brave, brave rebels on the front line – prepared to be arrested, locking on, climbing onto aeroplanes. Not many James Browns in the world! (https://www.facebook.com/jamesbrowncoaching/videos/10217988973187698/)
It’s hard work, this rebelling. I came home exhausted after three days, and am full of respect for everyone who is still there and so many people I’ve met. I realised just before I left for London that I’ve found a sense of purpose and commitment to something much bigger than myself, and am making nourishing and beautiful connections with all sorts of people. We won’t solve all the problems in the world in these two weeks, but I do feel hope now that things are changing, people are listening.
If you care about these issues and want to do something (and of course you do, that's why you're reading this, right?) but don’t know if you have the time or energy, I urge you to go along to your local Extinction Rebellion group and check out how you might get involved. There’s so much help needed in all sorts of areas, not just taking part in actions. And you will meet good, like-minded people. And if you’re like me, you will be energised and inspired by the connection and sense of community it brings.