What just happened?

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By Chris Neill

A psychosocial perspective on the April 2019 Rebellion

two years ago I was a hard-working psychotherapist whose mind was
mostly preoccupied with looking underneath the surface of events for
an understanding of what they actually meant. I retired for a quiet
life in the garden (although now I seem to have become a hard-working
environmental activist instead). Letting go of the professional
duties doesn’t mean you stop thinking like a psychotherapist and
I found, anyway, that the powerful significance and intensity of the
Rebellion brought an automatic re-connection – emotionally,
spiritually and mentally – to that way of experiencing and relating
to things.

very many of us, I’m sure, I found myself drawing on old skills as
well as learning many new ones during the frenetic build-up to April
15th and the tumultuous unfolding of the 11 days afterwards. A key
thing in psychotherapy is self-reflection and as the pace of things
slackened in the final couple of days, as we all began, however
reluctantly, the heartfelt process of withdrawal and dis-engagement,
turning our attention again to the concerns and demands of the ‘real’
outside world (which now seemed less real than it ever had) I found
myself wondering how to understand the narrative of what had

using the word ‘narrative’ I mean deliberately to suggest that a
sequence of events tells more than just its own story. Most often, it
also tells us something deeper about ourselves. There is a tradition
of thought running through most of the the central theories and
philosophies used by psychotherapists – whether they be Freudian
analysts, Jungians, Gestalt humanists or transpersonal psychologists
– which says that the things we do, individually and together,
ranging from brief personal actions and simple physical gestures
through to extended periods of complex social interaction – can be
understood as enactments and re-enactments of deeper unconscious
realities. These things – from simple ‘Freudian slips’ to the
repetitions of history with global impact talked abut by people like
the contemporary communist psychoanalyst Slavo Zizek – reveal ideas
and truths that are not yet fully conscious. By studying the
narrative, then, we may be able to see something which is trying to

as I found time for pause and reflection while shuffling between the
tea tent, the people’s assemblies and the drumming bands at Marble
Arch on the penultimate day of the London rebellion, I found myself
wondering about this story that we seemed to have just told ourselves
about ourselves. Other than the fact that we had made a tremendous,
incredible collective effort which had brought about a radical change
in public consciousness, what else did the narrative tell us?

thought which impressed itself upon me most strongly, and which I had
already found myself mentioning to many people I spoke to, was that
this was a story about collaboration and determination, goodwill,,
kindness and creativity. Even though parts of the media were still
trying to run a story which was about police inefficiency or
collusion or about work-shy dreamers who had no idea about reality,
the obvious truth was emerging for all to see if they wanted to: when
people act together and are connected to a worthwhile sense of
purpose, and when they do so whilst seeking to stay connected to
higher values like Truth, Beauty, Will, Love and Wisdom, astonishing
things can be achieved. This, perhaps, is how we will address the
huge global problem of climate change. We will consider and plan
carefully and we will act decisively with urgency and discipline. We
will dedicate ourselves to this cause, acting without self-interest,
sharing generously of ourselves and our resources. We will care for
each other and ourselves, making sacrifices to the greater good
without losing sight of of our own rights and dignity. The idea that
everyone is responsible will spread like a wildfire and become the
new ’normal’. We will climb with exhilaration a steep learning
curve in which a process of creative collaboration feeds upon and
nourishes itself. We will rapidly develop new skills, exchange
knowledge and information at breakneck speed in order to meet the
escalating challenges which present themselves to us. In doing so we
will amaze others and ourselves with the truth of the proposition
that a small group of people can change the world.

as I considered the evident and inspiring truth of this, however, I
could not escape another truth – which is that we had, ultimately,
failed. We had not continued “until we win” as the mantra had
been Yes, I know we are not in the least finished, and the rebellion
is only paused, it is is only the beginning, etc. And I truly believe
all that. But the narrative of April 15th-25th does also have less
cheerful things to tell us. It tells us that that, notwithstanding
our Herculean efforts and all the marvellous variations of Love and
Will which were expressed, we were in the end defeated. Our
roadblocks were taken down. The glorious symbols of our defiant
audacity, the pink boat, the lorries, the trees, the solar panels,
were removed. Our people, one by one, were carried away. In the last
days , there had been plentiful evidence of our weakening. Resources
ran low. People got dirty and tired and ill. Some looked skeletal. It
was harder to think and make decisions and communicate effectively.
There was more evidence of fracture and discord in relationships. On
Waterloo Bridge we ate bread and jam instead of delicious vegan
stews. Drinking water became scarce. As we abandoned one site after
another, Marble Arch became too overcrowded, too noisy. People lost
valuable possessions and lost track of each other. Even as we
continued to assert our triumph, we could not deny that we were all
exhausted, completely done in. This, of course, is what may happen in
the story of the battle against climate change. We will make
wonderful, unbelievable progress and it will be a heart-opening and
joyful experience, but in the end we will fail.

i thought about this, I began to consider more specifically the role
of the police in this narrative. What had they been doing and what
did that mean or represent? We all kept saying how good they had been
and how kind and non-judgemental, how they were ‘“just doing
their job”. How might this be understood? It struck me that the
police in this narrative might best be seen as the forces of nature –
not unkind, nor intolerant nor even indifferent, but implacable
nonetheless. In the end, if a few thousand people come to occupy
London, to erect roadblocks and kitchens and performance spaces and
toilets and yoga spaces and meditation tents and gardens and tree
houses and skate ramps in the streets of the capital, the police will
marshal their forces and dismantle them and arrest the people who put
them there however much they sing and dance in defiance. This is as
much the ‘law of nature’ as is the fact that if we keep pumping
carbon into the atmosphere, cutting down forests and destroying
wildlife then the oceans will rise, the icecaps will melt, the land
will become desert and we will all die. The police were just doing
what the police do. It is as foolish to complain about supposedly
‘unfair’ tactics like issuing Section 14 notices or publicising
the details of people charged with offences or cordoning off
demonstration spaces as it would be to complain about average global
temperature rising. Nature, like the police, is not unkind nor
inflexible but it has its limits, If we push it far enough it will
destroy us. In the last days we became simply unable to combat the
rising power of the police, just as we may be unable to keep up with
the escalating challenges with which nature presents us. Torn between
responding to one emergency or another – do I rush to reinforce
Parliament Square, or Waterloo Bridge or Oxford Circus? – undermined
by emotional stress and depleted by a lack of rest and nurture, we
will be simply overwhelmed.

even if that it is an accurate understanding of the narrative, this
should not be depressing; because it is
only a narrative. And a narrative, like any myth or fairy-story, does
not tell us what is going to happen but only what will happen under
certain conditions. If. like Icarus, you fly too close to the sun,
you fall. If, like Rapunzel, you cannot free your inner feminine, you
end up locked in a tower. If, like two of the Three Little Pigs, you
build a house of straw or sticks, it will get blown away and you will
be at the mercy of the wolf.

condition we need to pay attention to in our story, I think, is
simply to do with numbers. This narrative of the April 2019 Rebellion
shows us what will happen if we do not have enough people on our
side. Fortunately, we have some time; not much, but enough to have
another go, another practice, maybe even two, in order to get it
right, so that we tell a different story, one of real triumph which
ends with us living in glorious harmony with nature and in right
relationship with ourselves and each other.

what I saw over the 11 days in London we could not have tried harder
or better. We were really amazing. We were magnificent. But we lost.
Yes, I know we won too and did so much more that any of us dared to
expect but the actual story, within its own frame, is not one of
victory, and it is crucial that we pay attention to that. How we will
win next time or the time after is that there will be a lot more of
us. We must learn from the story that we just told ourselves about
ourselves. We must give ourselves a little time to recuperate and
heal and then we must start to nurture the immense appreciation and
goodwill which our actions have seeded in the general public. Already
many of us are aware of people in our local communities sparked,
stimulated, even clamouring to join us. This must be grown and
protected and harvested so that whatever ‘next time’ looks like
and whenever it happens we will be three times, five times or ten
times bigger and stronger. When we have that many people with us,
working in the same wonderful way, we will be actually unstoppable.
And this amended story, with its happy ending, will, I believe,
inform and inspire a realistic and ultimately successful endeavour in
that ‘real’ life, in which we will come to be at last in harmony
with ourselves, each other and the natural world.

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