By Phil Kingston
Fun within this context of decidedly serious work. This was alive on many occasions throughout. Our planning and debriefing meetings often had hilarious moments; and fun and repartee enhanced many connections with others. Being locked -on across an office entrance or road soon brought along security guards or police liaison officers (PLOs). The latter have the double task of keeping us safe and gathering information, particularly about how long we intend to be there. Information can be used against our plans so silence on areas like that is essential. Once both sides are agreed on the implicit rules, the boredom of lying there for several hours sets in so everyone is ready for fun to bubble up. A difficulty with reporting examples is that they have nothing like the life of the present moment. I will have a go:
Sometimes the right words popped up. A freelance reporter with Extinction Rebellion interviewed me whilst being led to a police van:
‘’What are you charged with?’’ ‘’Protecting the Earth.’’ ‘’Where are they taking you?’’ ‘’Heaven.’’
A PLO said she was concerned about me still lying on the road when the police re-opened it and cheekily asked: ‘’Would you like to come aside with me for a while so we can have a little talk about that?’’ ‘’Oh I couldn’t do that. My Mam warned me about going off with strange women.’’
A cheerful PLO suggested sharing jokes, something which I enjoy. A sample: ‘Johnny has just turned five so mum has to pay his bus fares. Money is scarce so she asks Johnny if he will be four while he’s on the bus. The driver asks:
‘’How old are you son?’’ ‘’I’m four.’’ ‘’When will you be five?’’ ‘’When I get off the bus.’’
A policeman who said after arresting me ‘’We haven’t handcuffed you. You won’t do a runner will you?”
And another who was standing with me while we were waiting for a police van to arrive. I asked if I could sing him a song. ‘’Is it good or bad?’’ ‘’Definitely good’’. He still had his video on whilst I sang Marshall Rosenberg’s song and he chuckled at the end of it, saying ‘It’s gone through, but I don’t know if they’ll send it on’’.
Being with friends, old and new, in Christian Climate Action had deep meaning for me. The integration of prayer with action was an ongoing strength and I experienced the truth of ‘Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name’ prayers are answered. Shared prayer at times of uncertainty and risk seemed a special gift.
I valued the solitude of being in a cell. I appreciated the singing when it travelled along the ventilation system in some police stations. Amazing Grace seemed exactly right in that context. I read part of Riot Days by Maria Alyokina, a Russian Orthodox Church member and one of the Pussy Riot group. (I urge you not to jump to judgement about the word riot. Their actions are outrageous and as far as I am aware, always nonviolent). I was disturbed to learn that while on the run from the Secret Police she unknowingly had her last breakfast with her 4 year old son for two years, being arrested soon afterwards. She was incarcerated in a punitive gulag where human rights and dignity had little meaning yet she somehow maintained the courage to keep challenging the abuse which she and others received. She brought to mind one of my stars, Berta Caceres, the fearless leader of indigenous environmental activists in Honduras at a time when an average of two a week were being assassinated by Government and Corporate hirelings. She was awarded the prestigious environmental Goldman Prize and soon afterwards was assassinated. This is her 3-minute acceptance speech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR1kwx8b0ms .
Somewhere along the line she and Pope Francis met, two people fully alive in God’s Spirit. Her references to ‘rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy’ fit well with the way the Pope lives his role as an expression of service to others; and the ways in which he challenges capitalism and racism (See his speech to the World Gathering of Popular Movement in 2014 http://movimientospopulares.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Documents_ingles_web.pdf
Since then he has many times challenged clericalism as the misuse of power which it is within the Catholic Church. I experience the exclusive maleness of power and authority within the Church as an affront to the radical equality of women and men as children of God; and to Jesus’ injunction to ‘’call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven’’. Calling priests father implies that lay people are children, which we are not. I no longer follow this practice. My decision implies no disrespect for the person and role of priests. I have much gratitude to the many who have contributed to my life and who do so now. My prayer for all of us in the Church is that different roles never take away the equality and ease of us being sisters and brothers through our common baptism.
Compared with Maria and Berta, the challenges and restrictions I have experienced this fortnight are peanuts; and our actions are only scratching the surface of the power of domination and opposition which we can expect. On the Monday after this round of actions finished, the Met Office published a Report which predicts that UK summers may be as much as 5.4 degrees C hotter by 2070 than they were in 1980 -2000. This is much higher than the IPCC figures which are acknowledged to be on the side of considerable caution. The Guardian reported it as a news item with no editorial comment. Once again political ‘leaders’ like Michael Gove and Claire Perry made comments which conveyed no sense of developing CATASTROPHE. I think I understand why journalists and politicians and the rest of us do that: I avoided sitting down and reflecting on this statistic for a week after getting home. I was then fortunate to receive an opportunity in a Nonviolent Communication practice group (a la Marshall Rosenberg) to speak about my response to it. Helplessness, grief and despair jumbled out of me because my longing for the security and well-being of my grandchildren and all of their generation was being mangled. As is so often the case when we share honestly with friends, these feelings and longings became integrated into my being and hope returned. Optimism hasn’t done so but hope is sufficient when it runs free. If we can help turn this impending catastrophe around, that’s a wonderful task in which to cooperate. And If the human race is heading towards extinction let’s face that process and live it with mutual love and care.
Many times in our group, we have reminded ourselves that the outcome of what we do is unknown; it’s in the hands of the God of Love. Our job is to respond to the prompting of God’s Spirit, a Spirit who ‘blows where she will’. Her presence has been palpable across this burgeoning movement during these two weeks and one of my hopes is that we Christians will walk alongside other Faiths in future rounds.