What it’s like to be at an Extinction Rebellion protest

By Aram Hawa

From the 15th to the 18th of April I can proudly say I was involved in the XR protests which struck London this spring and brought business in the bustling city centre to a hurtling stop. Having not attended a protest since the Iraq war one back in 2003, I was joyously amazed at the turnout. Hordes of XR clad protestors began gravitating around Parliament Square as the sun approached midday, defiantly grasping their banners and thought provoking picket signs. Some were draped in fossilised carcasses, signifying the monstrous destination for humanity if their voices were not listened to, others were dressed casually, if not a little free spirited, but all wore the same expression of an emphatically determined activist who was about to do something a bit out of the ordinary.

I think people have a misperception that environmental activism is for tree hugging hippies who have an aversion to showers and shoes. Whilst undoubtedly there are these elements in the following, the vast majority of members are normal people who have become increasingly aware of the morbid nature of the planets future and have decided to act on it. It was so heart warming to speak to and watch elderly people politely yet defiantly refuse the demands of the police to remove themselves from the roads. What on Earth would drive them to do this and risk incarceration? Well, exactly that, the Earth. These well educated people were equipped with the latest scientific findings on the impending doom and havoc that climate change is threatening us with. Once you understand their behaviour in the global context of a planet warming up irreversibly, transforming lush green forests into barren deserted toxic waste lands and bountiful thriving seas into oscillating graveyards, their behaviour becomes completely rational! More than anything these people care, they care about the miseries we are inflicting upon the planet in our consumption based lives, they care about the thousands of animal and insect species which are being pushed to and falling off from the bridge of extinction, they care about the quality of life their grandchildren will have when the air they breathe is noxious and the water they drink is all but gone. Ultimately they care about the planet, encompassing all the sentient beings who reside here and the intimate and fragile relationship we have with our ecosystem. With this in mind, those elderly protestors amiably quarrelling with the police become the sane ones and the swarms of shoppers, tourists and commuters metres away become the ones deserving of a psychiatric health check up. How are they so comfortable living their lives when everything at stake? How can they contribute to the machinery which is making it so? Do they really not care despite everything being at stake? This is not something which can just be ignored. This is why XR must bring everything to a grinding halt in order for those who lead us to take a painful, unfaltering look at where our priorities lie.

The energy of being there is hard to describe, an infectious buzz pulses through the crowd. Organising the logistics was of course at the heart of the commotion but high faculty, stimulating conversations flourished in abundance. Protestors discussed what it was that brought them there, their fears and trepidations about the changing times, what they intended to achieve in reorganising the political architecture, all the while gregariously greeting and engaging with the bewildered commuters they were blocking. If I had to describe the whole experience in one statement it would probably go along the lines of – one of the most rewarding, emotionally infused, collectively harmonious, surreal experiences of my life.

I distinctly remember being sat on Waterloo Bridge with the thirty or so other protestors who were acting as the front line of defence against the teams of police sternly observing close by. One by one protestors were engaged with by police squadrons, isolated and sullenly informed of their supposed wrong doings. Most looked away at this point, others chose to question the foundations by which the police could instigate the arrest, it was a simple delaying tactic and the end result was always the same. Every time someone was dragged off into the back of a police van a cheer followed them, kind words of love and admiration for their commitment filled the air, a show of appreciation for the unknown price to be paid.

In the midst of this a women began singing at the front, her voice was sweet and her words brought about a stir in the crowd. Suddenly a number of protestors began to weep, it was strange to witness, there didn’t seem to be any single event which should have caused this reaction, but I understood. We, a group of misfits and strangers were all stood together at that moment in time with the sun gently blessing us with its rays and the wind tenderly dancing in our hair, how could such a world punish us with threats of imprisonment when all we wanted was to safeguard that which provides life and blood to us all? We stood peaceful and defiant, we knew what we were doing was right, throughout history small groups of well intentioned people have always been the catalysts for progressive societal change. That however does not lend enough weight to the ominous feeling of impending arrest by a militarised adversary. Personally, I have never felt such a connection to others as I did during that week. It is easy for a virulent disdain for mankind to develop when you are seemingly alone, constantly learning of the newest atrocities committed to a defenceless nature on a daily basis. I have never truly bonded with groups for shared interests in things such as sports teams and leisure pursuits, their deafening chants and pernicious rhymes always appeared superficial to me. It was different this time, for once I had found others who cared for the planet as much as I did, others who were also willing to risk the ridicule and scrutiny of everyone else in defending the rights of the Earth, others who were eager to discuss their ideas on what can be done to protect her from those who would wish to do her harm, it was truly humbling to be in the presence of such people with whom I shared so much. The song being sung reflected this sentiment, it was a truly beautiful spectacle to behold, one I will cherish forever. A moment which resonated with the entire experience of the protests; the chaos surging ravenously around, yet we, pious in our beliefs and determined in our actions, stood firm together, awaiting the smoke to engulf us.

And the arrest itself? By the fourth day of the protest and having witnessed hundreds of my brothers and sisters being taken away I began to feel within myself a mesmerising fire ignite, a shimmering manifestation of duty to the cause, a call to arms. I hadn’t come all this way, shared the highs and lows with my comrades to not take the final plunge.

Seeing photos of the dozens of cohorts of neon coloured police teams descending on Parliament Square to break our blockades, I quickly hastened with two other rebels from Oxford Circus. Upon arriving I quickly realised that the photos had not done the situation justice; hundreds of police officers stood circling the Houses of Parliament, like vultures in frenzy they shot each other glances and nods, ravenously deciding which victim to take next.

Without thinking twice I grabbed my rucksack and ran to the corner of the square, one of two remaining fortified positions that still bore the hallmarks of a committed group of rebels. I pushed through the crowd of intrigued onlookers, bursting through into the centre I threw myself to the ground, joining the fifteen or so other brave souls who in their beliefs and actions, were demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice their freedom for the greater good. It did not take long for my time to come. Two officers paved their way towards me, their heavy duty shoes echoed loudly across the callous street floor. As they squatted over me, their arsenal of weapons dangled cautiously close to my face, a baton, mace spray, handcuffs and others I couldn’t discern. They stared intensely, their expressions bore no emotions, the mask that is used to conceal ones humanity was wrapped tightly around their faces. They read to me the crime that I was committing, detailing the law which had designated obstructing the highway as a crime, they asked me if I understood. As rehearsed, I gave them nothing, not responding in any meaningful way, listening instead to the encouraging songs of the rebels which at the time seemed to take on a defiant childlike innocence.

The sentence was given, “You are now under arrest, you do not have to say anything but…” the words fell out of his mouth like a rapid river over a cliff edge. I was walked off past crowds of civilians and protestors, heading directly towards the den of police vans conglomerated around a patch of grass where the other detainees were being held in anxious anticipation.

To be honest, the next twelve hours were comfortable and at times comical. The officers, slightly bewildered by the mammoth logistical task before them of coordinating the cell spaces across London for the hundreds of arrested protestors, regressed into a relaxed state. The good will and intentions of the protestors rubbed off and laughter and kind words were exchanged. The long queues forced a harmonious engagement between both sides, allowing the officers humanity to seep through the gaps in their armour, cascading into an angelic bubbling of friendly human connection. Things carried on in this vein for the four hours that it took to check me into a cell, after which a thin bed and my book provided the nights entertainment.

Without being formally investigated I was released in the early hours of the morning. Upon being led out of the final security door I was greeted pleasantly with smiles, warming words and a well earned brew by the XR arrestee support group who had been waiting all night for us. How comprehensively XR had thought out this entire operation, the care and devotion which had gone into arranging such a post release reception filled my thoughts as I left the building, my admiration still growing for the organisation as I walked down the miserable and dreary London streets. I was of course heading straight back to the protests.

XR / Critical Mass demonstration in the City of Lancaster

By Lawrence Freiesleben

The Time:  17.30 – or 5.30 p.m. if you prefer old time.

The Date:   Friday 26th April 2019

The Place:  Dalton Square, central point in the City of Lancaster.

The Aim:    To take temporary control of the City’s central one-way system.

At this point the Mass is not yet Critical. So far, all anyone might notice is a few eccentric cyclists and standers-about. For the present, sitting on the bench opposite a slight knot of people, knowing the plan and anxious to eat something long delayed from lunch, it’s inspiring to watch the numbers build.

By 17.45 a swelling crowd occupied much of the area around Queen Victoria’s Memorial and I don’t think that long-reigning monarch would have been amused – either by us or by where Empire inevitably leads.

It was time for me to change from observer to participant. Ditching a warm jacket (excellent North Shields charity purchase from some years back) for the home-sloganized, Extinction Rebellion T-Shirt, I joined the friendly throng and soon spotted a fellow member of the South Lakes XR Group, Liz Boothman.

Two other younger members, Bella Matarewicz and her sister Rosa, soon arrived to increase the enthusiastic assembly. Undaunted by being refused space for their bikes at Oxenholme railway station, they had come to join the equally important walking group, planning to march through the City’s pedestrianised areas. Meanwhile the cyclists would be orbiting the encircling one-way system as slowly as possible.

Organised by members of Morecambe and Lancaster XR groups in conjunction with the cyclist’s rights group Critical Mass, banners placards and signs were handed around – along with safety pins to attach them. After a general welcome, instructions about the routes, and a rousing send-off by Labour M.P. for Fleetwood and Lancaster, Cat Smith we were all ready. A call went out for any cyclists confident about breaking into the traffic to take the lead.

Halting the traffic and setting off, our clamouring company of cyclists were of all ages, from children to pensioners. A dedicated and enterprising boy of about thirteen scooted along and amongst us, zipping left and right to put flyers under the wipers of parked cars. Interested bystanders, and drinkers in wayside pubs, perhaps amused by our ragged procession, were keen to take leaflets, happy to investigate what we were about. What heartened me most about our repeated circumnavigation of the city’s centre was the amount of encouragement and support we received – even from drivers being held up. The fact of climate emergency is obviously getting through to everybody – with now the media joining in: “Climate Protestors are telling us the deadly Truth” ran the Financial Times last month. Only the government is still dragging its feet.

At points on our orbit there were several prolonged horn blasts which were not so friendly. These were soon counter-blasted by children and other riders with whistles and bicycle bells, as well as cyclists carrying those audible music devices on their bike racks . . . Sadly, it turns out (as anyone reading this probably knows) that these are just called ‘portable speakers’. I may be Luddite in my attitude to technology, but I still prefer gadgets to have an imaginative or catchy name.

None of my photos – many taken optimistically over my shoulder whilst cycling, turned out to be quite what I wanted. The images of a cheap camera are a poor substitute for memory and a sense of connection, but they serve well enough as record.

Dating back even to before my involvement with CND in the early 1980’s, I have long had a recurring dream about cloaked protestors on bicycles. The Climate Emergency behind this consciousness-raising demonstration may be just as dark as the threat of Thermonuclear War, but the event itself defied the black sense of despair or inevitability which the dream has always given – its sense of prophetic unease. This Critical Mass/XR event was contrastingly uplifting – and for a while on the southern section of our gyratory, the sun even briefly glimmered.

XR Machynlleth post-London healing debrief session

By Beth Maiden, XR Machynlleth regenerative culture group

Almost everyone I talked to in the wake of April’s rebellion in London described taking part as ‘overwhelming’, even if they had a great time (which most had)! Actions like these are very intense and complex, and it’s hard work for most of us to participate. Hard work physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Suddenly, for days, a week, two, we are like a tiny pop-up nation, requiring systems for decision-making, communication, care and support, and more. Feelings run high as we co-create community, trying to respond collectively to a fluctuating, unpredictable environment that can change in an instant.

Then, just as suddenly, we are home, coming down from it all. Trying to make sense of what just happened, how it felt, what worked, what didn’t. What was joyful, what was painful. The whole roller-By Beth Maiden, XR Machynlleth regenerative culture groupcoaster of feelings we’ve just ridden.

We’re often so focused on the ‘action’ part of activism that we forget that driving it all is emotion. We act because we feel something. And when we are acting, we keep on feeling – highs, lows, joy, grief, anger, love, hope, elation, and of course the comedown after.

And so we need space to process. Space to share all that comes up for us – the common ground, and the different experiences. Space to celebrate. Space to release grief and pain. Space to gather back in all of the parts of ourselves that are so easily lost in these big overwhelming actions and in the fight of everyday life. Space to be witnessed as whole, imperfect, feeling beings. Space to witness each other.

Regenerative space.

A regenerative culture is one that is committed to creating those spaces, so that we can process and heal and ultimately, stay in the movement and not burn out.

Here in Machynlleth, members our Regen group hosted a healing/debrief session for local folks who had gone down to London.

I’m sharing a simple template of what we did for other groups to use/copy/adapt if wanted:

We weren’t totally sure what the session would be like – we just knew that we wanted to hold space for activists to get together and share process all they had seen and felt and experienced in London and since returning.

We booked a community room in a local church for 3 1/2 hours. We advertised the session as a debrief specifically for folks who had been to London. We encouraged people to bring along food to share, cushions, blankets. We also invited people to bring a small object that represented how they feel or felt about the action, to create a temporary community altar.

We had three of us to hold the space – two who had taken part, and one who had not (to hold the space while and allow for the other two to participate).

  • We had time to grab a cuppa while we arrived and came to sit in a big circle. There were about 20 of us from the local area. We agreed that this was a safe, confidential space.
  • For the first hour we simply went around the group. Each person took a few minutes to introduce themselves, talk about what they did in London, sharing thoughts and feelings while the group listened.
  • Then we ate together. This was really special – some folks hadn’t seen each other since the action, whilst in London everyone had felt very close. It felt really powerful and important for activists to be back together again, revisiting the experience with others who ‘get it’ about what it was like. We also lit candles on the altar.
  • After food, we worked in pairs, taking turns to share and offer active listening. One person would talk for one or two minutes, whilst the other would listen closely, without interrupting or strongly reacting. Using a timer to ensure we all got the same amount of talking/listening time, we asked three questions: How did I feel at the action? How am I feeling now? and What are you hoping for going forward, what seeds have been planted?
  • Then we joined pairs, to make ‘pods’ of four. Again using a timer (five minutes each), each group took turns to talk and listen. This time, the question was ‘What do I need?‘. This might be what I need right now (touch, words, silence…), or what I need more generally – from my community, from XR, from my self – to feel supported and remain a part of this movement.
  • Lastly, we had a closing circle to once again move round the group and share reflections on the action as a whole. Each person took a few minutes to share ideas on what was great about the action and its aftermath, and what could be done better, and we wrote these up on flip-chart paper for future planning.

Feedback after the session was that it was healing, nourishing and really necessary. As it was a dedicated space for people who had shard a very specific experience, people generally felt safe to share a wide range of emotions, they knew others would listen and understand. And whilst not everyone understood the purpose of the session at the beginning, we found that everyone had a lot to say once things opened up! There were tears and a lot of laughs, and the whole thing felt very profound. We intend to host these kinds of sessions after every action, to keep offering space for the regeneration that is so important to the sustainability of XR.

My weekend with Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion protest

Image Credit: Creative Commons: Julia Hawkins

By Tyrone Scott

This passing bank holiday weekend, I felt it was important to attend the protests launched by Extinction Rebellion in the name of preserving our planet and species. As a member of the Young Greens Executive Committee, I am passionate about the environment and was keen to get involved. I left my house early Friday morning to travel to Parliament Square, little did I know I would still be on Waterloo Bridge singing my heart out at 4AM Sunday morning!

The power of love

I have been involved in many protests in my young life, but I have rarely seen anything so well organised, so effective and so purely wholesome as this. From the first moment I stepped onto Parliament Square to the second I left Marble Arch the resounding feeling I felt was love. Love for our planet. Love for my fellow demonstrators. But most importantly, love for every human being on this planet.

Whether that be the few counter-protesters or the police trying to break us up, the important theme was that we showed love to everyone who approached us. With this approach, you avoid the pitfalls of isolating people who are not yet on board, and nothing is achieved if a significant portion of society feels isolated, and Extinction Rebellion identified and managed this to perfection.

Preventing shut down

I saw hundreds of arrests, from activists braver than I, yet the chants “We love the police” and “Who’s police, Our police!” continued to ring out until the moment I left the protest. What Extinction Rebellion understands is that the police are not the problem in this scenario, even if they are the facilitators for the will of the establishment.

What else Extinction Rebellion expertly did was make all zones alcohol and drug free. Whilst some people in attendance quite rightly fancied an ice cold can of beer in the blazing heat, everyone understood that we did not need to give the police, the right-wing press or anybody else an excuse. An excuse to shut us down. An excuse to demonise us. Or an excuse to not take us seriously.

The clear out

I spent Saturday daytime with the remaining activists on Oxford Circus, many of whom were arrested as the police scrambled to clear the junction. I watched in awe as the police used a vast array of power tools to try and free the activists who had managed to completely secure themselves to the concrete floor. The smell rising through the air of burnt tarmac. Sparks flying off the ground as they saw through the locks. Dozens of police surrounding each peaceful activist secured to the floor. This felt absolutely surreal against the backdrop of thousands of shoppers, giant brands and luxury cars. It was incredible.

Eventually, the police cleared the square however not without igniting the wrath of the protesters with some unashamedly non-environmentally friendly decisions. A large rubbish truck enters the Oxford Circus junction and all of the sleeping bags, duvets, cardboard boxes and everything else was unceremoniously discarded without a moments thought as to what could be recycled. If you could choose one crowd you would not want to watch that, it would be a large crowd of environmental activists.

As the sun went down, I moved to Waterloo Bridge for one of the most powerful evenings I have had the privilege to experience. With knowledge the police were looking to reclaim the bridge, hundreds of activists descended for an evening of music, talks and togetherness. A candlelit vigil was held whilst talented musicians played beautiful music on a wide range of interesting instruments against a backdrop of dozens of Police.

As the skatepark was dismantled, fairy lights taken down, trees torn up, we sang. As the fire brigade came to sturdy up the truck, so the police can cut protesters down to carry them away, we sang. No matter what negativity they tried to throw our way, to dampen our spirits, we simply sang.

It was clear by the end of the night the police did not expect this sheer determination and resilience from and it was evident the bridge was not being cleared tonight. Victory, for now. And yes, the bridge was cleared the following day, but not without a fight.

The morning after

Sunday brought more magic as hundreds marched from Parliament Square through to Marble Arch. A funeral procession with activists dressed in black, brass band in tow, led the rebellion forward as we marched past Buckingham Palace right into Marble Arch where Greta Thunberg delivered her rousing and inspirational speech. After days of activism, much walking and losing my voice completely, I thought I would take Sunday night to myself. Of course, my favourite band Massive Attack played a impromptu show, of which I then missed, so we are not going to talk about that.

Extinction Rebellion Tie-in Die-in, Kendal

By Lawrence Freiesleben

On Wednesday 17th April, members of Extinction Rebellion South Lakes staged a Die-in around Kendal market place. The weather was beautiful and who is ever going to complain about that? Unfortunately, far too many people still seem to share demagogue Donald Trump’s delusion that all global warming amounts to is lucky people in temperate zones getting more sun. As a recent casualty of increasingly unstable weather systems, the population of Kendal and villages nearby must be uneasy about this. Yet it’s always been amazing, how sunny weather and the onset of spring is apt to ameliorate or dim our fears – as if us and our beautiful landscapes with their trees in blossom and the cheer of daffodils will be here forever. Despite the broken bridges that remain broken, left behind by Storm Desmond, we are all too easily reassured. The body is simple in its reaction to warmth and light and the attractions of market day.

Setting up signs and banners in three different parts of the square, chiefly outside the low chains protecting the war memorial, at first, we passed unnoticed – the colourful signs and lettered flags taken for a precursor of carnival? Careful not to conceal any information already present on the windows of two untenanted shops, our own placards were propped or masking-taped to the glass. When we left, the only real sign of our presence would be the chalked lines around the fallen bodies, including those of children who spontaneously joined in. The only damage that occurred was caused by an officious security guard to whose initial crocodile smile we had granted a charitable benefit of the doubt. Taking advantage, while we were dying elsewhere in the square, he ripped down Wendi’s banner, also throwing her treasured bicycle to the ground – all part of the job, only doing his duty . . .

By contrast the community police officer who chatted with us a while, cheerfully agreed we were doing nothing he considered illegal: the disused shop was ‘a civil matter’.

With various members of the South Lakes group away for the duration of the main Extinction Rebellion event in London, our numbers were limited. Arrest however, seemed unlikely and the greatest block in many of our minds may have been embarrassment – that classic British trait?

Never underestimate the effect of embarrassment. If it wasn’t for crippling embarrassment, you never know, I might have taken up ballroom dancing, or any type of dancing. Or learned languages freely.

A Cornish friend of mine ,an eco-activist since the 70’s – who held secret midnight discussions with Swampy in the 1990’s and was an invited guest at C40’s 2011 conference in Sao Paulo – was adamant that action needs to be taken at every level, from every possible angle.

The thought that the Home Front is just as crucial as the Front Line, was one I kept in my mind to deflect disappointment at not being able to get to London – a regret of other members too. But if some considered Kendal a soft option, others were not convinced.

One interested office worker, who soon became a member, said she’d been down in London and felt quite comfortable joining the throng: the largeness of the company making her feel safe. In Kendal our group fluctuated at around 16. Crowd support and back-up were, to say the least, limited. That, she felt, would have made her think twice.

By contrast, a lady who died there and then, wished she’d known in advance that an expensive trek to London wasn’t necessary – nor incurring the irony of extra carbon to get to an event protesting against it!

Though I admire all those resolute, tireless, folk who walked to London, my ideal would have been to cycle. And maybe next time, if things don’t change fast, there will huge columns of cyclists all across the country, legally blocking routes everywhere – a wheeled echo of the Jarrow marchers. With enough warning there need be no idling engines. Everyone will know to put their cars and lorries away and stay at home.

In provincial towns, many of the public appear to know little or nothing about Extinction Rebellion. To them, it’s just a story on the news about some “pesky protesters” far away, “down in London”. Seeing Kendal residents they recognise – many of them pensioners with no experience of making a spectacle of themselves or braving abuse, determined for the sake of their grandchildren to make their point and explain what XR is about – really opens their eyes. It becomes personal rather than a fleeting headline. Our purpose in Kendal was not to disrupt ,but to try to publicise and explain, and although we had two or three hysterical people railing against us, generally, there was interest and support. Even the stallholders trying to make a living, were not all hostile.

Not wanting to disadvantage any of the stallholders in particular, after an hour we altered one of the locations of our dying. I asked the trader on the vegetable stall if he minded us dying nearby and he said not. Taking a leaflet to read at home, he only cautioned us against the shifting shade.

Undoubtedly, there is a vulnerability felt in lying on the pavement. With eyes shut, all the passing comments of support or scorn, impatience or contempt, become magnified. Yet talking was harder for me . . . at least at first. Others went through this same transition. My partner, who tends to be reserved in interactions with strangers, quickly warmed to the task. By the end she felt empowered. At last she was doing something instead of just worrying – and if things turned nasty we had a plan to ensure at least one of us would be free to pick the children up from school.

I’m not sure I felt empowered, but I did eventually manage to engage a few sceptics – who hopefully walked on with at least some idea of the crisis we are in.

“When you lot can do something about over-population let me know!” One woman challenged, and it was tempting to emphasise how wars, plagues and famines linked to climate change are already common and will only get worse. It’s always difficult to avoid the temptation towards fatalism that underlies the go-for-broke mentality so prevalent all over the world.

Throwing leaflets straight in the bin or refusing eye-contact were probably less common than the polite statement “I’m O.K. thanks” to proffered leaflets – a reaction which riled some of my comrades – struggling perhaps to resist the retort of “Not for long!”

The dilemma of how forceful we should be – purely verbally – stays with me. Long arguments with bitter opponents absorb valuable time, as does preaching to the converted. The background hope is that some people between these extremes, will later usefully reflect on a few points gently made.

The role of chief hysteric went to a woman ranting about our lack of respect for the war memorial. This, we stayed outside and fixed nothing to. We merely lay down nearby. Personally, I saw this more as a homage. What was the point of all those soldiers dying, only for us to trash the world they died for?

The war against extinction, against apathy over climate change and our own careless consumerism, is more urgent even than the fight seventy years ago, against the Axis powers.
(Photos by Kirsten Freiesleben April 17th 2019)

From XR Die-in, Seattle

By Rob Lewis

I am lying on sunlit bricks before the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building. I have died, and now look up at a twisted rectangle of sky framed by glass-sided buildings. A single branch waves overhead, reaching from a tree rising from a square of trucked-in soil. About twenty people have also died around me, and lay in the positions they fell in. We will stay dead for about twelve minutes.

That’s how many years we have to prevent climate hell on earth, at least according to the last fleet of studies.  Twelve years is not a lot of time. Perhaps I should have better things to do with mine. But then I realize, arms splayed out, looking slantwise up at the diamond-pointed sun, I’m doing precisely the thing I should be doing and want to be doing. I am dying into the truth of my time. I am dying into the dying. And it feels strangely restorative

The sea is near. I can smell it. And I begin thinking of orcas, in particular, one named Tahlequah. Last August, with her dead calf draped across her nostrum, she heralded her calf through the sea for seventeen days and nights? She made us look. She made us see what life is like behind the word extinction. It’s hunger, loss, attrition. Extinction lowered its mask of data and revealed a broken-hearted mother, grieving on a scale beyond our ken, a grief as big as the ocean. I am thinking I am lucky to be able to lie here and grieve for her, and for all of creation, really. I am thinking of how long I have needed to do this.

Those who can’t lie down join in standing-death. I can’t see anyone though, just this strange, powder-blue fragment of sky. On this chilly April morning the bricks are surprisingly warm, laying a deep bed of deep quiet amidst the clanging jack-hammers, staccato horns, rhythmic sirens. The city thrums on and I realize we are the lucky ones. We at least have found an off-ramp, a brief side exit from the techno-industrial race to ruin.

Though we appear to be sleeping, we are actually waking. We are shaking off an industrial drowse, grieving for a distracted humanity. There’s a feeling of honour to it, a solemnity. This is necessary work. It helps that the sun warms our faces. It helps that we decided to just do this, as awkward as it might have felt at first.

And now here we are, dying into something beyond ourselves, into orcas, snow geese, yellow tanagers, glacier-fed streams, snow-fed glaciers, salmon and seasons. Climate refugees, hurricane victims; we die for them too. By our bodies we have cleared and planted a small plot of human atonement, and inhabit it with a mood akin to prayer. A cloud’s view would see a city swirling around a spot of stillness. Is it a wound or a flower?

It is surely both.

A Non-Violent Direct-Action, Training Day in Cumbria

By Lawrence Freiesleben

“Leave it to me, Sunshine!” may never have actually been spoken by Jack Reagan of the Sweeney, before he proceeded to kick down some miscreant’s door; but for anyone with a memory of such scenes, the words can hardly be mistaken for the gentle endorsements of a solar panel salesman. Rather they’ve become – if time-tempered by humour – a prelude to violence: violence against doors if not against people.

How differently each of us perceives violence, was one of the early questions asked last Sunday in Kendal, where the South Lakes Extinction Rebellion Group, hosted a Non-Violent, Direct-Action, training day.

The turnout was good, the age-range wide – from students to pensioners: though I’d guess the majority were between 50 and 60?

Regardless of the potential chaos of XR’s non-authoritative ethos, impressively, our training day, as well as practical role-playing exercises, managed to incorporate numerous digressions into moral and legal issues as well as a delicious cooked lunch, yet still ran to time. Not an easy task in a crowded hall hampered by poor acoustics.

Guided by Joel and Kyle, young, enthusiastic, national representatives of XR, the day began by reminding us – lest there was any chance of forgetting – why we were here: the disastrous situation; the negative facts and figures escalating. Not nearly enough is being done – that much is frustratingly obvious. Even without the folly of Brexit (rather than heads-in-the-sand isolation, surely, we need all the connection we can get?), most of the media would still be wallowing in celebrity scandal, sport or trivia. Meanwhile our current ‘government’, always a poor joke in bad taste, stumbles on like a maudlin, terminal, drug addict. Someone needs to commandeer all their single-malt for redistribution. Though preferably not Jack Reagan.

That it may already be too late for humanity, was a fear many people visibly shared that overcast Sunday. When, at a later point in the afternoon, we indicated our agreement with the anxieties of individuals, by moving from the large circle of our chairs towards their imaginary axle point, the voicing of this particular worry, created a tight knot in the centre of the room.

A knot that contradicted the result of our first exercise:

Intended to introduce about forty people, many of whom had never met before, groups of eight or so were asked to form circles – randomly taking hold of two other hands or wrists. Without letting go, we had to see if this knot could be untangled. Ours looked impossible. But to our amazement, despite aged, aching limbs or heavy walking boots, by patient mutual persistence it was, eventually, untangled. Not that anyone took too much encouragement from this – despite the humour that one member of the circle, Liz, was somehow facing outwards. The crisis of climate emergency and the blithely suicidal tendency of humanity is far more twisted; our consumerist habits, a matted confusion of selfish carelessness. Our world is a mess, and our controls set for destruction – the auto-pilot resistant to every striving influence. That Ring a Ring o’ Roses may only connect with bubonic plague in urban legend, didn’t stop me feeling when we stood in a ring at the end, some doom-laden overlap with the current global situation.

Joel was the more experienced of the speakers and obviously used to dealing with varied groups of XR volunteers. His softly spoken colleague Kyle was acting as back-up for the very first time and visibly gained confidence as the day went on, despite being interrupted and being asked to speak “LOUDER AND MORE CLEARLY” by several members keen not to miss a word. The situation of Joel and Kyle was not one I envied – all the more so after another exercise amply displayed how easy it is, even in moments of simulated stress, to literally forget everything useful in your head.

This was during one of the exercises in which the group divided into two lines to represent peaceful demonstrators versus, a) an irate public, and b) the police.

I don’t know if the ‘opponent’ opposite me, was an actor famed for local or national dramatics, but his angry desire to get to an imaginary job and later his pathetic pleas to be allowed to gain access to his ailing hospitalised wife, were so convincing that I couldn’t help but laugh. Attempting (badly) to fulfil my role as activist, I tried to take refuge in gently explaining the demonstration’s purpose – that we were protesting “for the sake of everyone. For the future. For our children,” and so on – all very easy theoretically while able to access the facts and figures . . . In practice, most of these arguments went out of my head and though some friends might think of me as a talker with a tendency to dominate conversations, I literally couldn’t remember what to say.

Far more effective was the woman opposite me, when next I became a police officer: However much I “Please Madam-ed!” her, she just smiled and beamed. Again, it was hard not to laugh.

Joel next became a demonstrator to show how much harder it is for the police to move those who can manage to remain floppy rather than becoming rigid. Naturally enough, it’s harder still to move protestors whose arms are linked. I asked if he knew of any instances of the police tickling people to get them to desist. He laughed, and we assumed such levity would be beneath both protocol or dignity.

Another XR member with a friend in the police force, passed on this friend’s insider view of how frightening it can be to suddenly be called on to ‘police’ a demonstration.

Thankfully, few of the police nowadays, resemble those I remember from demonstrations in the 70’s and early eighties. Very few are like the notorious SPGi using unauthorized weapons to disperse protesters. In fact, almost every policeman I have personally encountered in the last thirty years has been respectful and friendly. Which is the whole point about XR and non-violence. XR is trying to speak for all of us, and doesn’t wish to make enemies of anyone. To quote a recent report on the traffic block in Sheffield (19th March), in Newsletter #17 – Paint the Streets:ii “The Police were marvellous, supportive and protective.” 

On the other hand, Joel’s experience of arrest (it’s happened to him three times) was more sobering to a claustrophobic, than other first-hand accounts I’ve heard. XR generally advise giving only your name and date of birth, although a new law now states that you must disclose your nationality – an insidious development perhaps connected to Brexit and all the threats we’ve been hearing about martial law? Not that one can blame the police for the follies of the ‘government’.

As with the military, a sense of unity or invincibility has long been a principle of more extreme forms of policing – an appearance of being inhuman or robotic, their ideal. One wonders how society might have developed if all this warring, macho, colonial bullying type stuff could have been avoided. Whether the human race could have gone in an entirely better direction? Yet no doubt cavemen practised cruder versions of similar intimidation, and only the most mindless guard dog is not checked if you suddenly appear to double in size by opening your coat. In a sense, XR is saying that all such tactics need to be defused and resisted. It is us as a race, of whatever colour or creed, that XR seeks to preserve. The question I can’t help asking is: do we deserve another chance?

Back in January, the inauguration of the South Lakes XR group, felt like a great day, felt like the beginning of this chance, but was sadly marred a few weeks later when one of its prime movers, Andy Mason, died. I only knew him for a few hours during and after that first meeting, yet already thought of him as a friend. When the steering of my 55-year-old car broke as I was setting off for home, Andy, was as helpful to me as if we’d known each since childhood. When it was obvious that the car was beyond safe temporary repair, he and his wife of more than 46 years, Maggie, took me back to their home while I awaited a tow truck. Later he insisted on standing with me by the car to be sure I would not somehow be abandoned at the roadside. More than the act of a good Samaritan, his reassuring presence was something I’ll never forget. Key to so many local progressive causes, Andy’s burning desire was to see a fairer world and a more sustainable society.

Pleased to see Maggie at the training day, tentatively I asked how she’d been. Her reply was: “When you’re fighting a war you don’t stop just because the comrade next to you falls. You have to keep going.” Which is the best tribute I can think of to both of them.

Lawrence Freiesleben, March 2019

Afterword: This morning, near the end of writing this report, a friend in York drew my attention to George Monbiot’s article in today’s Guardianiii, (see links below) honouring Polly Higgins – a campaigning lawyer who reminds any of us who have become cynical about the misuse of law by powerful corporations, of the better purposes to which it can be comprehensively put. For many years her aim has been to make Ecocide a crime. If you have the time, read the article and watch her talk – to which the article provides a link.

Better still, join the Rebellion in London on the 15th of Apriliv.


i https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Patrol_Group

ii https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv-O1fiIpyo&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0-Q8OeusBrxrH0HVKn3BwE9Wooq1UI2semRlvwlx3doUnNZNmCv_4SSFQ&link_id=23&can_id=dd78d531a5a2b4f56151a7a552e3f7bf&source=email-newsletter-17-paint-the-streets&email_referrer=email_518923&email_subject=newsletter-17-paint-the-streets


The destruction of the Earth is a crime. It should be prosecuted | George Monbiot


iv https://rebellion.earth/get-active/international-rebellion-a-guide-for-participants/?link_id=0&can_id=cfbaf1073f34e540f7114d9aef8a8119&source=email-april-rebellion-confirm-your-participation&email_referrer=email_518093&email_subject=april-rebellion-nil-confirm-your-participation

General XR Information

Welcome Pack for New Affinity Groups – XR Doc

Action Consensus

Participatory Decision Making – People & Planet

Regenerative Culture & Preventing Burnout – XR Doc

Extinction Rebellion Handbook

NVDA Literature

For Specific Affinity Group Roles

Legal Support Team Handout – XR Doc

Wellbeing Bundle for AG Wellbeing Coordinators – XR Doc

Legal Information

On the legal side, you might want to find out what it might mean for you, personally, to get arrested/convicted. You need to decide what is the right course for you, bearing in mind what is at stake for our planet; also remember that many actions carry a low risk of arrest and that there are many other ways to make your contribution.

Legal Briefing & Likely Charges – XR Doc

Legal advice/support for activists, bust cards – Green & Black Cross

Criminal records, DBS-checks, travel, employers – Unlock

Likely sentencing guidelines

Sign up with Mission Life Force ASAP – Mission Life Force

Conscientious Protector / Self-Representing in Court – Mission Life Force

Prison Workshop Video

Briefing on Prison – XR Doc

XR Legal are also here for support – xr-legal@riseup.net

Further Reading

https://www.risingup.org.uk/nvda-handouts has links to many more documents, including ‘action templates’ with lots of ideas for different types of action.

Beautiful Trouble