I’d like to share my experience of getting involved with the October 2019 Extinction rebellion actions in London.
I’m very new to Extinction Rebellion (XR). I went to my first XR welcome meeting only a few weeks ago. After that I watched the “Heading for Extinction” talk and decided I needed to go to London for the actions. I felt I had to do something, ACT NOW. I made this decision about a week before it was all due to start and was incredibly nervous for those next few days. I didn’t have a chance attend any of the non violent direct action (NVDA) training sessions and I hadn’t really made any connections with the people in my local group so had no idea what to expect. All sorts of ideas and fears were running through my head of what could happen. Eventually I told myself if I at least just stand at the side and watch I will learn something and will be able to share what I saw. So I picked up a cheap return ticket and headed down on Sunday evening for the opening ceremony. I also play in a samba band so I also picked up my drum just in case.
In the end, I spent two and a half days down there and I’m still getting my head around everything I saw and did. I met so many amazing people from all sorts of backgrounds. Or should I say ordinary people being amazing and doing amazing things. They all had so much passion and compassion. In my normal life I often feel I’m going mad worrying about climate change while everyone around me is just carrying on business as usual. At the XR camps, it was such a relief to hear peoples stories and concerns about the climate emergency, to not feel alone in my own fears.
The first stage of actions was taking to and blocking the roads around Westminster. Just through the sheer force of numbers, of people peacefully standing then sitting in the road, XR were able to gradually establish the sites. Up front are the “arrestables”, those willing to be arrested, who will lock or glue themselves in place, or simply refuse to move when ordered by the police. They are then backed by the general activists who in their numbers make it impossible for the police to simply clear the area. Wellbeing and Non violence & Deescalation volunteers help to keep things safe and calm. My overwelming impression of the whole process was how respectful and dignified the XR protestors were. The protests are there to challenge the existing (failing) systems not the individuals within it. I never witnessed any physical or verbal abuse thrown at the police. During arrests and moments of high police presence there would be chants of “we’re doing this for your children”. At other moments you might see protestors and police officers chatting. Personally, I never really came in contact with the police. Most of the time I was in situations were the police were just standing by and there is safety in numbers. Following the initial taking of the roads, an almost cat & mouse game between the police and XR began. Slowly tents and infrastructure were set up on the sites.
Early on, on the first day of actions I tagged along with a samba band that I found assembling in the park near Westminster. They were very welcoming. As I had my own drum I joined my section and soon got to know the people around me. We talked about who was “arrestable” and who might need protecting. Within half an hour we were playing right in the heart of Westminster. There were several samba bands around the various sites. The bands have this amazing power of creating distractions and bringing positive energy to tense situations, as well as adding to the numbers to help reinforce sites. I continued to play with various groups of drummers during the two days. We moved around several of the sites helping to raise spirits and relieve tensions.
When I wasn’t drumming I had the chance to hang around in the camps. I was able to talk to other protestors, see artists performing and listen to some talks on a range of topics including food security, environment law, and regenerative culture. There are lots of people helping by just being there creating the critical mass to keep the police from moving us on. The camps are kept functioning by a range of volunteers stewarding, liasing with police, preparing and serving food, making tea, clearing routes for emergency vehicles, keeping cycle lanes flowing, organising talks, delivering training sessions, or just keeping the place tidy.
At the camps I met such a diverse group of people, of all ages and backgrounds. Professionals, small business owners, retired people, students etc. The “arrestables” seen on the news are often white middle aged people and so XR has been seen to be lacking in diversity. However, the movement is very aware that young men and people of colour will be treated differently by the police and legal system. There is space in XR for everyone.
The situation in London at the XR site has clearly evolved from when I was there. Sites have been removed and there have been actions happening at various locations around the city. The police appear to have used questionable methods at times. I have continued looking at the Telegram broadcasts in the following days but found it difficult to picture what is really happening. The news media has generally been very patchy in their reporting. A major protest in the capital city on a issue that will influence all our lives, and yet there is hardly any coverage.
My main reason for writing this piece was to share my experience and help anyone else who might consider going to the actions. The “arrestables” are clearly a very important part of what is making these protests work but just as important are all the other people behind them, the force of numbers just being there, getting in the way of business as usual. If you are worried about being arrested you can keep yourself safe, talk to the people around you and keep yourself in less risky positions. There will also be training sessions on NVDA at the camps. I believe just being there, turning up will help so much. So many of the people I met were inspired to get involved because of previous actions and seeing people doing just that, turning up.
If you can’t get to the actions, you can still help. Your local group will have associated events planned. Also, while the actions are in the news, it is a great time to get talking to people in your life about climate change and XR. I’ve been talking to colleagues, friends, family and trying to spread the message. I’ve even got them looking at going to XR meetings.
I only had a limited time at the actions due to other life commitments, but I will try to get back or help in someway as soon as I can. I found the whole experience of being there incredibly inspiring. I hope I helped in some small way and I hope above all the movement continues to grow and aims of XR are achieved before it’s too late.
With Love & Rage
Heading for extinction talk: