By Tim Jones
The sky was bright and clear, the late Autumn sun still low at eleven o’clock. From Blackfriars Bridge we watched as they occupied Waterloo. We were nervous as we waited for our signal. When we had arrived, just before ten, there were only a dozen others gathered on the north side. We looked to be outnumbered by the hovering police. But by quarter to eleven, when we had moved cautiously onto the pavement of the bridge, we were at least a hundred. We had no idea what would happen when we got the signal.
We laughed as we stepped onto the roadway of the bridge and lifted our banners across it. We were Londoners from all over the world, from all over Britain. The police were calm and friendly – they had, in fact, blocked the traffic for us. We were full of colour. The number of young children, drawing on the tarmac with chalk, was a joy to see – and a great relief. I had thought we might be dragged off in the first ten minutes but there were three or four hundred of us by midday – a critical mass of people moved to action by love. The news came in: Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo and Southwark had all been taken.
In love there is a latent turbulence, an animal uncertainty. It can be a thrill or a terror. Will we be worthy? Will what we love be snatched away? These days I’m scared, a lot of the time. It’s easy to believe that forest fires and hurricanes and sudden drought are things that only happen in far-off foreign places where they’re probably used to it. But this year’s Summer dried up our ancient damp soil and our worms are all dying. The land, soaked with chemicals and slurry, will not keep giving. Apparently the warm weather is good for our vines – so we’ll have something nice to drink when the rest of our produce has to be imported. What will we joke about in the pub when the migrants come in serious numbers? Will they welcome us ‘on the Continent’ if we have to move first? The Atlantic has always been kind to us but that will change and we learned nothing from Fukushima: what would our poets say about their lakes turned still with radiation?
I felt slightly ashamed of these fears when, on the bridge, we heard witnesses from Ghana, West Papua, The Caribbean Islands and Mongolia, where the cost of our lifestyles and the exploitation of corporate imperialism has been felt for decades.
Everyone patted George (Monbiot) on the back or got a quick photo with him. We huddled around Phil and his companions who lay on the floor with their hands chained together. Phil has been one of many heroes this week. I met him last Sunday at our training. He’s 82 and the thought of his grandchildren facing a broken planet breaks his heart. I don’t know how many times he’s been arrested so far this week. I can’t remember being so impressed in such a short space of time by so many people.
There was a collective sense of elation – of happening. But also an anxiousness, an urge to act. A message came from my sister, that our dad had been arrested on Lambeth Bridge – he and my mum and sister had travelled down from Sheffield, leaving at 4am. Then we heard an announcement that police were moving in on Lambeth and that they had fewer rebels than on the other bridges so could any groups go west to support? We gathered and decided to go.
I should say something about my affinity group. We formed last Sunday, fairly organically, out of a hall of a hundred or so people. We had shared a few messages through the week and spent only a few hours together but, by the time we were hurrying along the South Bank, weaving through the ambling crowds of tourists, there was a sense of absolute trust between us. They are all kind, unassuming and wakeful. Despite different approaches to how things should be done, we decided things together.
Once we’d passed Westminster, which was full of people but clearly still inaccessible to traffic, we saw the profile of Lambeth Bridge. A small crowd with their flags flying above them clearly held the centre but there was no movement at all on either side, so it seemed clear that the police were blocking access. Then, out of the blue, I saw my other sister. She was strolling along and only noticed me when I waved. ‘What you doing?’ I asked. ‘Just looking for someone to hang out with,’ she said, before confirming our suspicions that Lambeth had been sealed off. So we turned back to Westminster Bridge to see what we could do there.
Under the shadow of Big Ben, we heard, after some more speeches and music and shifts holding the banners, that the gathering on Westminster Bridge had been declared ‘legal’ by the police. As a group we were mildly disappointed and, perhaps, quietly relieved; some of us were positively annoyed. (Having been respectfully warned in good time, the police were in control of the whole business. In future we might have to be a bit more continental in our approach.) A festival atmosphere ensued. I met my mum, sisters and my dad – he’d been released after an hour or so in a van. I got the stories of him standing his ground and then, as per the training, ‘going limp’. He only weighs about nine stone but it took six officers to carry him away – it was good training.
As evening set in we congregated on Parliament Square. We were cold and tired but glad, still, to be there. It was a singularly transgressive pleasure to walk onto the forbidden well-watered grass and sit for a final moment of communion. People spoke some beautiful and terrible truths about where we are and what needs to be done. I don’t believe in the dogmas of organised religion, nor do I believe in the definitions of nationhood or the absolutism of ideology. But I believed in everything that was said: Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Marxist, Liberal. We have to accept the truth of conservatism, too – especially when it holds to its name. All these voices speak truth when they speak rebelliously against the order of power, against conformity, against destruction, against superficiality and speak rebelliously for reality, for creation, for regeneration, for a constant active renewal of love. The police stirred when it was announced that three trees would be planted in the pristine grass of Parliament Square. We stood and moved in closer, a few hundred bodies between the law and the trees. I don’t know how long they’ll be there. But we’ll plant more. What is there to do, in moments such as these, other than to quote a great rebel: ‘Even if tomorrow I knew the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.’.
Beyond the elation of the day, things look bad. We have to relinquish any hope that our way of life can continue. But, even if Nature were not about to put an end to it, is this really a way of life we hope to continue? For many years I have experienced a void between how I feel and what I do. What did I do on the 17thNovember? Almost nothing. But I was there, I was awake, it was a beginning. Now we can do two things: we can lessen the devastation by rebelling and not stopping until things have changed, and we can build a new and better hope that begins and ends in the living world.
On Sunday morning I met one of my new friends from my affinity group: Marco, who had travelled the long journey by train from Italy to rebel with us. He said something that moved me very much: now, more than ever, we are called upon to wage love.
Tim Jones is a secondary school teacher from London