XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 4 of 4

Breaking the law in broad daylight part 2: XR and anti-fracking activists continue the blockade of the Government Department for Energy, BEIS

By Fox (@SnowflakeFoxtrot on Instagram)

It’s been over five hours since several dozen of our activists locked on to and blockaded the Government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). As Snowflake Gamma is driven away in a police van under arrest for criminal damage, I turn and head back for the main entrance of BEIS to check up on the rest of my affinity group.

Suddenly Sierra reappears outside the main entrance. He had disappeared around the same time Gamma had – he must have faked his lock-on too, only pretending to attach the carabiner in his arm-tube. With police just metres away, distracted by the lock-ons around the corner and on the road, ‘Si’ cracks out another can of spray chalk. He starts with the message sprayed loud and clear in capital letters three feet high, on the windows of the building that face out towards the road: “FRACK OFF”.
Next he starts on an extinction symbol, even bigger. Another PNR anti-fracking activist has turned up with a camera; we’re both struggling not to laugh as we film. How can the police not have spotted him?
When the symbol finishes he moves straight on to the next message: it starts with a love heart.

“Oi!”
A police officer finally clocks him and starts to run over.
“Watch your back!” warns the PNR activist filming him.
But Si ignores her – he’s not about to run. His message isn’t finished, and he’s here to make a point. He keeps spraying doggedly on, not even speeding up.
Just as he finishes the R of ‘<3 PNR’ a copper grabs his arm from behind and pulls it into a lock, shouting.
“You’re nicked, you’re nicked – put the can down, PUT THE CAN DOWN NOW!”

At this moment, I witness the most deft disarmament of police adrenaline I have ever seen. In the blink of an eye, Si switches from a spray-painting radical activist on a mission into an ordinary middle-aged white English pacifist in a chirpy mood.
To de-escalate the arresting officer’s shouting, Si matches the volume of his voice and then immediately drops it down to a normal conversational level.
“YEAH YEAH, alright, okay. Just be careful of this arm, it’s injured.”
Si gently drops the can, raises his other hand in the air, and acquiesces calmly. The tension in the officer’s shoulders eases visibly.

As another officer strides in, Si turns slowly to face him and greets the man with a smile, reacting as jovially and politely as if he were running into an old friend in the street.
“How are you doing, mate?”
The officer stops dead in his tracks, seeming a little chuffed someone asked.
“Very well, thank you, and yourself?”
“Lovely – if you’d just take this glove off a moment, I’d like to demonstrate this arm’s actually a bit injured, so if you could be gentle with that…”
The man does as Si suggests without a second thought.

More officers come over and surround him. But the body language of everyone there becomes so relaxed, that suddenly Si seems like he could be chatting to new acquaintances in a pub garden, rather than a group of police catching him red-handed and arresting him for criminal damage.

From an outside perspective, it seems to be an incredible display of how to use both privilege and de-escalation to disarm police repression. I can’t help but laugh as I run off to check on the rest of the Snowflakes.

police

[Image: Police stand guard at the windows in front of Si’s artwork chalked on the walls of BEIS.]

I catch the last few seconds of Charlie being escorted into a van by two officers. The Christian Climate Action group appear to have all been arrested and moved on by this point, along with Indigo.

charliearrest

[Image: Snowflake Charlie still in the gates, taken minutes before being arrested.]

bravoarrest

[Image: Snowflake Bravo lies on her stomach handcuffed looking into camera, taken minutes before being arrested.]

Only Bravo remains inside the building; after discovering she had also faked glueing her hand to the entrance gates, the police have handcuffed her and moved her closer to the window. We still can’t hear each other, but we make some basic communication with gestures – she seems bored but okay. She’s been locked on since the action started six hours ago, so I can’t blame her.

As I gesture for her to pose in her cuffs for a picture, I’m surprised when her solemn expression suddenly bursts into radiant laughter. I turn to see why: Oranges is stood beside me, holding up a scrap of paper to the window. On it are scrawled the words “sexiest activist EVER”.

laugh
[Image: Snowflake Bravo, handcuffed, laughs at a message held up by Snowflake Oranges]

Now that the second entrance is clear, the message is relayed to those back at the main entrance, where the locked-on activists are getting restless. A few are still glued on clogging the main doors to the building as police works to pry their hands free with glue kits. Police are still hesitant to arrest them, and the blockade is dragging on – but now the second entrance is open, they’ve successfully diminished our disruption. After a painstaking process of cutting the drainpipe open, the two older Christian Climate Action activists blocking the road are finally freed from their arm tube and taken away for arrest. The cameras follow as one holds up his banner reading “for my grandchildren” outside the police van. Victoria Road is finally clear, and it seems the blockade is over.

christianarrest

[Image: an older Christian Climate Action affinity group member smiles and holds up a banner reading “for my grandchildren” as he is escorted away by police.]

But it doesn’t last. Minutes later, Delta, Echo, Veteran and the remaining arm-tubed activists silently get up and run in unison into the middle of the road, laying down and linking arms. Police look on in confusion at the change of target, and a ripple of hysterical laughter spreads through the activists.
The PNR anti-fracker comes back on the microphone.
“This just keeps getting better and better!” he booms happily.
Support crew again surround the arrestables with banners, blankets and snacks, followed by police.

I check up on the remaining Snowflakes. Delta is wrapped up warm and happily laid in the road, arm in arm in arm with the activist beside him. Veteran and Echo sit quietly locked together in the road, Veteran eating snacks, Echo tapping on his drum with the fingers of his free hand (image below). The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed.

end
As they settle, I hand my Wellbeing duties over to Quebec and say my goodbyes. After spotting my camera and seeing the footage of Si’s arrest, the XR media team have asked me to the office urgently to get my shots up online for the press and social media.

I later learn that the remaining activists continued to block the road for another two hours after I left, bringing the total time of the skirmish and roadblock to around eight hours. Police had painstakingly cut open arm tubes and arrested them one by one. They’d had to re-open de-commissioned cells in the city to accommodate the sudden influx of 22 arrestees at once, and we’d hit the news on several outlets across the country. A few hours later, Quebec sends a photo to our group signal chat: Veteran, Echo and Delta smiling and giving the thumbs-up outside the police station as they emerge from the cells (image below).

release1

Another surfaces of Bravo sat on a bench in the police station next to two more XRebels from Christian Climate Action, all three grinning (below).

release2
It was a triumphant start to Extinction Rebellion’s saga of actions over the next two weeks – but by no means the most spectacular. The rebels had bigger things in the works, and the Snowflakes would be at the frontline on many of the following days of action…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

For people and planet.

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 3 of 4

Breaking the law in broad daylight – The Snowflakes’ first day of action

By Snowflake Foxtrot (Instagram: @snowflakefoxtrot)

In the late evening, the meeting point is communicated only to affinity group coordinators via Signal, an encrypted text-messaging app. Our crew forms a Signal group chat and we arrange kit for the next day – snacks, first aid supplies, water, warm clothing.

The next morning several different affinity groups turn up together at the meeting point. There’s around sixty people in total. We’re told something unexpected – all the affinity groups will be doing the first action together as one. Presumably it’s to help build confidence amongst a lot of first-time activists. Arrestables and support crew are split into two massive groups. Arrestables are taken off to one side, briefed separately by some coordinators, and disappear.

This time, support crew aren’t originally told what the action is or where. We prepare banners and placards, and wait at a safe distance. When we get the message actions have begun, we bolt towards our charges, following the sound of police sirens.

As I approach the flashing lights surrounding the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), I see officers positioned to block the entrances. The extinction symbol has been spray-chalked repeatedly all over the entrance; one affinity group I’d spotted at the meeting point, surrounded by banners reading ‘Christian Climate Action’, are locked together or glued to the doors, singing hymns.

securitygates

Through the windows, I see that Bravo and Charlie have managed to make it past the doors and into the security gates, spray-chalking them with more extinction symbols, and have now glued their hands to the gates to prevent police dragging them away.
Another male activist, ‘Indigo’, is glued to the gate in between them. They are happily talking and smiling as security and police mill about, wondering what to do or waiting for instructions.

christianaction
[Image by Tamsin Omond: Bravo, Indigo and Charlie set up for a long wait as they occupy the entrance gates of BEIS.]

bravolaugh

[Image: Bravo and Indigo laugh at a joke made by a support team member]

orangelaugh

[Image: Wellbeing support Oranges sticks close to arrestable Bravo].

I can’t get past the police to go inside and can’t hear what’s going on through the windows. But I’m reassured that two other support crew have made it in and are looking after the three of them. Bravo is with a female wellbeing supporter with glasses, ‘Oranges’ – the two seem excited and happy in each other’s company.

pnr

Moving on to the next entrance, I see six arrestables laid down on the pavement (image above), locked-on to each other in pairs. They’re surrounded by support crew holding banners. One reads ‘PNR’ in solidarity with the anti-fracking activists of Preston New Road, some of whom have turned up today to support XR’s actions in London.

armtubes

Just around the corner by the second entrance, another dozen arrestables are locked on and blocking the main entrance to BEIS. Around half, including Echo and Veteran, have locked on to each other with arm-tubes (image above), forming a front line laid down on the floor between the police and the doors.

Another half, including two elderly women along with Snowflakes Delta and Gamma, are sitting or standing with a hand glued to the revolving doors, some with small pieces of paper on them that read: “Glued on – don’t try to move me”. One elderly woman, “Juliet”, has even glued both hands to the electronically-opening side door, forcing security to deactivate it.

doors

I’m happy to find all the Snowflakes and proud of their first actions, but frustrated that in the fray they’ve been split up. I can’t get to Bravo and Charlie to support them. Despite the fact we’d agreed glueing hands wasn’t part of the Snowflakes’ repertoire for actions, the others are stuck…

Or are they? I take a closer look at Delta and Gamma. Their hands seem to have moved slightly on the windows. I catch Delta’s eye, and as I step in close I see the glue container still full, hidden behind his leg.

gluedhand
[Image: Delta smiles as he fakes glueing his hand to the revolving door.]
“I’m not locked on,” he whispers. “They’ve shut the side doors but the revolving doors still move. Me and Gamma are thinking of sneaking inside when they’re not looking.”
I look at him and grin.
“Do it, it would be bloody brilliant.”
I do the rounds of our locked-on arrestables, handing out snacks and high fives, joining in chants, helping rearrange banners and taking photographs.

nonviolent

[Image: Gamma holds up a banner reading “Non-Violent” as she pretends to have her hand glued to the electronic gate of BEIS.]

Later on, A PNR anti-fracking activist comes on the loudspeaker. He announces that on hearing the news of what XR are doing in London, Preston New Road’s activists have suddenly turned up unannounced and blocked the gates of Cuadrilla’s fracking site, bringing their operations to a standstill for the day. A great cheer goes up amongst the small crowd gathered.

pnrmic

[Image: Rebels hold up banners and media film as a PNR anti-fracking activist talks on a loud-speaker.]

Around forty police and several vehicles are present, but they’re mostly standing around, apparently not sure what to do next. As the day drags on, it becomes clear they’re reluctant to arrest the activists, especially with so many cameras around. They’re simply not doing anything violent or dangerous – they’re just standing up to make a point for our future. Some of the police, who likely have children to raise, appear to be on our side.

dbeis

[Image: the small crowd of activists, media, police and bystanders gathered around the blockade at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.]

But more and more press and cameras are coming in. It’s time to up the game. Two older activists, locked together with an arm-tube, run from the first entrance and lie in Victoria road in front of BEIS, blocking traffic. At their feet, they lay a banner that reads “For my grandchildren” (image, right). Support crew and police surround them, but it will be a while before they get the right tools to cut off the plastic pipes shielding the chains around their wrists.

roadblock

[Image: a crowd of activists and police gathers around the roadblock.]

In the meantime, out of the corner of my eye, I see Gamma using the distraction. She gets up and makes a run for it in her highly conspicuous long red cloak. The camera operators and I are laughing as she disappears down the street. Soon afterwards, I notice that ‘Sierra’ or ‘Si’, a tall man who was lying down in front of BEIS apparently locked on to another protester with an arm-tube, is also gone.

A few minutes later, we find out what they’re planning. A great cheer goes up as seemingly out of nowhere, Gamma suddenly reappears minus the red cloak in the middle of the activists. She climbs up onto the top of the entrance to BEIS, a can of spray chalk in hand. Police flock back around the entrance but the locked-on and glued arrestables are in their way.

raisedfist

[Image: Gamma raises a fist into the air and calls to the crowd below, with the Extinction Symbol and “<3 PNR” spray-chalked into the windows of BEIS behind her.]

As the officers watch helpless, Gamma brazenly spray-chalks the extinction symbol, along with “<3 PNR”, on the windows above the entrance to BEIS. Someone hands her up a loudspeaker, and she delivers a speech about why they’re here, and the government’s criminal subsidy of environmentally-destructive fracking across the country. As she finishes, there’s cheering and clapping from the crowd – including some of the press.

rebelforlife
[Image: Gamma holds up a banner reading “Rebel for Life” and the extinction symbol up on the entrance to BEIS, as a crowd of police wait for her to come down.]

More activists pass up banners and placards, and she holds them up for the cameras to see why we’re here. Still protected by the buffer of lock-ons, she sits down atop the entrance with a placard reading “save our children”, and begins talking to reporters who hold their cameras above their heads to film her.

gammaarrest

Eventually, Gamma comes down and is wilfully arrested by police the moment her feet touch the ground. Escorted by two officers, she walks without fuss, smiling wide as a horde of police and press follow her to the van (image above). I ask police where she’s being taken so I can meet her when she comes out of the cell, but she waves me off – “I don’t need anyone to pick me up, thanks.”

But Gamma’s arrest was another distraction. As I’m about to see, Si, who’d also disappeared from his lock-on, had his own plans to carry out…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the occupation of BEIS, and the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 2 of 4

Affinity group formation: building a confident team

By Fox (Instagram: @SnowfFakefoxtrot)

christianclimateaction

[Image: Snowflake Quebec checks in on two locked-on arrestables from another affinity group, Christian Climate Action, outside the blockaded Government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.]

The day before our first action, our newly-formed affinity group meet again.

After our Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training the day before, the Snowflakes affinity group (AG) meet at another location. We’re planning to go to a quiet park, but the 100th Remembrance Day parades block our path. Instead, we end up in the crowded basement level of a café, squeezed around two small coffee tables.

It’s a far more public location than I’m comfortable with. Not only that, but having just met the day before, we’re still somewhat uneasy around each other. It’s a strange atmosphere. We ask some questions and play games for a short while to get to know each other better. We establish personal boundaries – things we are or are not comfortable with regarding each others’ behaviour or the actions we’re willing to take. Our words are careful until we slowly begin to feel more comfortable together.

We start to work through each others’ concerns and plans. People queuing for the toilet stare at us as we calmly and openly discuss illegal actions and arrest, without revealing crucial information such as times or locations. We establish hand signals and code words that might be useful in case of problems in the field when we don’t want to give out key information.

Suddenly, two police officers walk in from the parade.

I speak a little too loudly, abruptly interrupting Charlie talking about spray-chalking and locking herself on to fencing:
“I’ll get home before dark.”

The group falls silent for a moment, and spot the coppers.

It’s an alert signal we had established just minutes before. The key word combination or phrase, such as “before dark”, is designed to sound like it’s part of normal conversation, so members of the affinity group can alert each other to danger without strangers understanding.

The police officers come and stand directly beside us, queuing for the toilet. Our conversation switches to banal chatter, quickly filling the silence. Bravo surreptitiously slides a bag of patches and gear, marked with extinction symbols, under the table where it’s out of sight. I lay a forearm on the table to cover the “Rebel for Life” patch I’d had in front of me.

The conversation is disjointed and awkward, sounding almost too upbeat as we pointedly ignore the officers. Around a minute later someone suggests we head for the office. Everyone enthusiastically agrees – for some strange reason. We grab our gear and leave the coppers below, regrouping outside with a sigh of relief.

“Good thing we got our language sorted,” says Charlie.

As we continue talking on our way to another meeting point, Delta reveals he’s considering getting arrested too. In a perfect combination, we find out one of XR’s founding members, ‘Gamma’, is looking to join an affinity group for the next day of actions – the two buddy up as arrestables.

Recommended to do so by an experienced activist, Veteran and I head back to the hall in the afternoon for some more technical training and to pick up gear for tomorrow’s actions. Inside the main hall, another even bigger group – around a hundred and twenty people – is receiving their NVDA training, as we had yesterday. It’s encouraging to see how full the room is. We skirt past them to meet someone we’ve been directed to in the next room over – in this case, a stairwell. ‘Builder’ asks us to turn our phones off and leave them outside of the room.

Builder explains he’s someone with experience creating, acquiring or advising on how to make and use the physical materials activists often need to complete their actions. Opening a large duffel bag full of activist resources, he describes different methods activists can ‘lock-on’ to each other or buildings.

The idea of this is partly to physically block something from functioning as usual, like a road or the parts of a machine. However, lock-ons also prevent the police from simply dragging activists away, slowing arrests down and increasing the duration of disruptions.

Some are straightforward, like a bicycle D-lock around the neck or handcuffs being attached to a gate. The technique was allegedly recently used by an activist who attached themselves to a digger at the HS2 construction site where old-growth forest was being bulldozed to make way for new railway lines.

The example Builder has the most of are ‘arm tubes’: a model where two activists chain one arm to their buddy’s, using a chain and carabiner around the wrist, placed into and drainpipe tubing to prevent the lock being easily undone. Police then can’t simply drag the activists away from whatever they’re occupying or blocking, as they risk injuring the locked arms.

To move them, police have to request special tools to painstakingly cut through the tubing until the two activists can be separated, arrested and removed one by one. It’s a way of enhancing the use of one’s body as a blocking tool to directly cause disruption for a longer period of time.

In this case, he’s mass-produced a bunch of simple arm-tubes using plastic drainpiping, and says once the tools are out these can be cut through in a matter of minutes. However, he explains other activists have created arm-tubes using various combinations of metal piping, mesh wire, metal rings and cement to make them heavy and sturdy – a nightmare to cut through or move once locked. Depending on how sturdy the lock-on is built, the whole process can take hours, increasing the disruption caused to the activists’ target.

I’m asking questions and learning all the details. Veteran just nods and smiles; she’s used these several times before. We thank him for his time and I relay his advice to the rest of the Snowflakes. By evening, we’ll have the information on our first action target…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

XR Snowflakes Affinity Group, Part 1 of 4

XR SNOWFLAKES EPISODE ONE
Extinction Rebellion’s arrestable activists: Inside the formation of civil disobedience affinity groups

by Fox (Instagram: @SnowflakeFoxtrot)

charliearrested
[Image: Snowflake Charlie is arrested in the blockade of Southwark Bridge]

“… and all those of you prepared to do the most arrestable actions all week, in the far corner by the window.”

London, England – two hours in to the first of Extinction Rebellion’s Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training days.

The hundred or so people present divide into clusters in the large hall depending on how far people are willing to go and how often. Most spread towards the other end of the room from me, willing or able to attend only one or two action days, or preferring low-level offences like roadblocks. I’m stood with half a dozen others just outside of the far corner – prepared to go all week and willing to try all sorts of actions, but unsure of being arrested.

In said corner to my left, a group of six or seven people with determined faces stand shoulder-to-shoulder, facing out to the rest of the room. There’s something unnerving and yet inspiring in the calm set of their faces. Looking at them, I’m filled with a mix of awe and jealousy.

One of the primary goals of the training session is for those attending to form affinity groups – the core unit of XR activism. They’re groups of around 8 to 12 people who have an ‘affinity’ for each other. This is based partly on practical elements, like how close they live to each other or how much free time they have. But they can also form based on how well people connect, the values they share, the targets they have in mind, or how daring an action they’re willing to try. Once formed, XR affinity groups can act independently of any central organiser or coordinator, taking action when, where and how they see fit – as long as it squares with XR’s values and vision of change.

When the organiser suggests arrestables need to be backed up by a non-arrestable support team, my cluster is naturally magnetised to the heady atmosphere that surrounds the silent stoics in the far corner. They’re a mixture of genders, ages and experience levels. A couple are veteran activists, with experience of repeat arrests at demonstrations such as Preston New Road’s anti-fracking campaigns. They’re fighting for their children’s and grandchildren’s futures. Others have only dabbled in activism or have never done this before, and just seem like younger people fed up of not being in control of their own.

We form a circle of fifteen or so people. As we go round and introduce ourselves, the atmosphere is electric and tensions run high. My original cluster of mostly young people explain, almost embarrassed, reasons why they’re hesitant to be arrested. Some are worried about how the police might treat them, one is worried about being sectioned, some work with children, or a criminal record could end another’s career. Everyone listens without judgement.

But those from the far corner cluster each calmly assert they are willing to be arrested repeatedly, until they are put in prison on remand for their actions. There is no posturing or arrogance, just a quiet certainty. For some, it seems like a decision they’ve taken a long time to arrive at.

As each establishes when they’re available and what they’re willing and not willing to do, many leave the circle for other clusters less willing to do the high-risk illegal actions. Eventually the group pears down to just eight individuals – four arrestables, and four support crew including myself.

Extinction Rebellion’s policy is to be open about who they are and what they are doing from the get-go, with no-one hiding their faces or resisting arrest. One of the first things that a coordinator did was to call out the fact that police infiltrators or corporate spies might be present – and to encourage them to “do their job really, really badly”.

Most people in the room are using their real names, and have no illusions that their details and data are readily available to the police, often before they’ve even done anything. During the training, arrestables prepare to be held fully accountable for their illegal actions, gathering knowledge on the likely charges they’ll face and their legal consequences.

However, from here on, I’ll refer to the activists by code names. This is partly in respect for each individual’s privacy and personal security from public opponents of the Rebellion. More practically, it’s useful to to tell their stories without embellishing them as heroes or appealing to the “activist’s ego”. But the main reason, to me, is because in relation to an issue which affects the whole planet, their identity should be irrelevant. This story isn’t about who they are, it’s about what they do.

We establish roles – who does what as a general rule. An action coordinator volunteers themselves, assigned to communicate information within the group such as meeting points and times, and to potentially liaise with other affinity groups taking action on the same day. Each activist pairs with one other in the AG: a buddy they will stick with if we get split up or if things get out of hand.

Dark-haired woman ‘Bravo’ buddies up with ‘Charlie’, a woman with short hair – both arrestables. The two other arrestables appear to know each other: an elderly lady with extensive experience of anti-fracking activism at Preston New Road, who I’ll call ‘Veteran’, points to a bearded animal rights advocate with a determined expression, ‘Echo’.
“I feel safe with him. We’ll buddy up.”
Echo nods in calm agreement.

I volunteer for wellbeing coordinator, thinking my first aid training might make me useful in that sense. It’ll be my job to make sure the arrestables are looked after at the actions – that they’re fed and watered and warm. It’ll be up to me or a Legal Observer to find out which police station they’re being taken to, and to communicate the details to the Wellbeing team and Arrestee Support. This way, we can make sure one of the AG or someone from Arrestee Support is there to meet them as they come out – with snacks, cigarettes, or whatever other comfort they’d requested beforehand.

brazilianembassy
[Image: a Wellbeing team member, wearing a blue Wellbeing sash, calls out for supplies as they attend to two arrestables laying in the road, who are locked on to each other in the roadblock in front of the Brazilian Embassy. November 15th 2018.]

A younger Scottish man and woman who are already friends, ‘Delta’ and ‘Quebec’, buddy up together and agree to help me on wellbeing. Another quiet man, ‘Hotel’, agrees to help out with coordination.

We spend the rest of the day training and preparing for what the likely worst consequences will be of our actions. There’s a conflict de-escalation role-play, where we take turns playing angry drivers on blocked roads, and the activists talking to them to defuse their rage. We practice going limp while being arrested as a non-violent means of slowing police from moving you: we take turns pretending to be police and activists, dragging each other along the to get used to the physical feeling of it. We learn about the likely charges and legal consequences of different actions.

charlielimp

[Image: Snowflake Charlie uses passive resistance (going limp), a non-violent method of slowing police which does not count as resisting arrest in the UK.]

Many questions are answered, and a lot of knowledge is shared not only by those who’ve set up the event, but by those who have come to the training: anti-fracking activists recount their previous experiences of arrest and actions, lawyers shed light on court procedures and offences, scientists add in useful facts. A flurry of documents and phone numbers are distributed on paper and electronically for activists to learn more about what they’re getting into. Although Extinction Rebellion coordinators acknowledge there’s no way to tell how the state and the police will react, all the legal information is explained in a surprisingly simple way.

At some point, one of the organisers running the workshop asks us a difficult question: what is the name of our group? I suggest ‘Maximum Effort’, referring to the Deadpool catchphrase and how far our arrestees are willing to go – but no one gets the reference. Echo suggests ‘Reasonable Choice’, and this gets a few nods – but we’re running out of time.

“Snowflakes,” someone says.
Almost everyone seems in agreement, but the name makes me uneasy.
“Do you all know what that means?” I ask.
The term ‘snowflake’ is used as a patronising insult that describes people as fragile, wrapped up in the uniqueness of their ego, and easily offended. It’s often used by those at one far end of the political spectrum to describe the other end as weak. Particularly, the alt-right use it as a derogatory label to describe far-left individuals with a strong reaction to situations of social inequality, sometimes also known as ‘social justice warriors’.

Most of the group seem aware of the meaning and the irony of calling the most radical group of activists in the room fragile ‘Snowflakes’. Others, like Veteran, don’t seem to care. Everyone but me seems happy with it and the name sticks. I guess we’ll own it.

We exchange contact details and arrange to meet at a separate location, just us, to get to know each other better and begin making plans. Little did we know, we were also about to have our first close call with the police…

More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.

 

‘Not the usual suspects’ – novice activists of ‘Rebellion Day’ at Westminster Bridge, London on 17 November 2018

By Ruth Davey, ruth@look-again.org (© Ruth Davey / Look Again 2018, http://www.look-again.org)

Photographer Ruth Davey volunteered to photograph Extinction Rebellion’s Rebellion Day on 17 November 2018. She spent most of the day on Westminster Bridge before moving to Parliament Square for the multi faith celebratory closing ceremony. She decided to focus on people who had never been on a demonstration of this kind before and was curious as to why they came along to perform an act of civil disobedience – illegally blocking a public highway. She is fairly new to Extinction Rebellion herself although she did cover a roadblock a few weeks ago in her hometown of Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Here protestors explain why they spent the day on Westminster Bridge.

tomhardy

Tom Hardy, 64, education consultant and retired teacher

“I am here for the future of my children. I have never done this before.”

HeatherBower

Heather Bower 53, civil servant

“I am here because something has to be done about the future of the planet – for us, our children and for generations to come.”

KateHodges

Kate Hodges, writer, with children Dusty and Arthur Jenkinson

“I want to be visible and take up space. It’s important for the children to see what we are doing and that we’re doing something for them.”

LindaDiggory

Linda Diggory, 59, charity worker, Stroud

“I’m here because of the absolute paucity of action from our government regarding climate breakdown following the IPPC report that says that we are facing an existential threat to humanity within 12 years.”

JonathanWise

Jonathan Wise, 47, marketing consultant

“I’m here to be in support of what I believe is the critical issue of our time.”

JennyWilkinson

Jenny Wilkinson, 65, retired childcare worker, with Sophie Wilkinson, 27, actor,

and Edwin Wilkinson, 68, retired social care manager.

“After 30 years of banging on, nothing is happening. The time has come. We had to join in on this one!” Edwin Wilkinson

JoCostello

Jo Costello, 68, mother, with granddaughter Katie Jones, 23, care assistant, and daughter Donna Winks, 44, foster carer, all from Wrexham, Wales.

“I have children and grandchildren. The decisions made in the next 12 years will decide what future they have.” Jo Costello

RobHusband

Rob Husband, 54, company director and coach

“I feel anger and frustration being caught up in this consumerism and greed on this place we call earth.”

EmmaDaveCordell

Emma Cordell, 27, nurse, with Dave Cordell, 27, project manager for a charity, both in London

“It’s crazy that people wouldn’t come here today. The future is so scary. What else can we do?” Emma Cordell

LiviAnning

Livi Anning, 19, student in Canterbury

“This is our last chance to turn things around before total destruction. We have to raise awareness.”

SallyWeber

Steve Turner, 61, former teacher, with partner Dr Sally Webber, 59, NHS worker for 35 years

“I am here due to national and international government failures in acting on the scientific evidence of climate change that is happening here and now.” Steve Turner

“The only person you can change is yourself. I decided to stop complaining and get up and do something. It’s time to wake up.” Dr Sally Webber

KaterinaHasapopoulos

Sid Saunders, 39, builder, with Katerina Hasapopoulos, 40, mum of 3, Stroud

“It’s common sense to come here today.” Sid Saunders

“This is about our children’s future. I have to do something.” Katerina Hasapopoulos

AnitaVanRossum

Anita Van Rossum, 71, from Stroud with Arrate Rojas, 34, from Bilbao, both volunteers for Mission Life Force, with international environment barrister Polly Higgins.

JamieRobbins

Jamie Robbins, 43, life coach, with daughter Ruby Robbins, 13, student

“We’re here to make a difference – things have to change and fast!”

 

Charged with ‘Protecting The Earth’ -Stories from Christian Climate Action Affinity Group -Part Three of Three

By Phil Kingston

SIX

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’’.                                                                                                                               

SEVEN

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.

 

‘Swarming’ – Stories from Christian Climate Action Affinity Group -Part Two of Three

FOUR

I hadn’t previously heard about ‘Swarming’, a system of road-blocking which involves a number of affinity groups blocking road junctions for 7 minutes and then leaving the road for 3 minutes. Police were informed in advance of the days when this would happen and we were committed to do all that we could to ensure the passage of emergency service vehicles. I was involved in speaking to the drivers of the first few stopped vehicles to let them know how long we would remain on the road and why we were doing this. Their responses were a mixture of anger, frustration, understanding and support. We offered drivers a chocolate or cake and told them how long before we opened the road. Then if they were willing, we explained why are doing this and offered a leaflet. I soon found myself responding to the drivers on the inside lane where there were many buses. About three quarters of bus-drivers opened their window and the majority of them accepted a leaflet. If their response was at all positive, I asked if they would be willing to open the door for me to speak with passengers.  I warmed particularly to one who opened the door before I could ask and said ‘’Would you like to come in?’’ I explained to passengers that I am a grandfather who has big concerns about climate breakdown and what our descendants are heading for, and asked if anyone would like a leaflet. One put up a hand and others followed suit. The driver smiled and said ‘’You’ve got time to go upstairs!’’

We were joined by many young people and our experienced coordinators asked if anyone would be willing to take that role and be given support in developing it. Two of them stepped forward. The job carries considerable responsibility in ensuring that the group gets on and off the road safely and responds to the unpredictability of motorists and pedestrians. I saw these two take charge like ducks to water, and was later stunned to learn that the younger is 17.

All who wish to take part in Extinction Rebellion actions commit to accepting a ‘binding framework for non-violent direct actions’ (see Extinction Rebellion Action Consensus). This includes a commitment to being ‘strictly non-violent in our actions and communications with members of the public, workers, the authorities and each other at all times’. To get near this ideal is probably a life-long learning process so it should be no surprise when we fail. Being faced with a very angry or distressed person is likely to trigger fear or helplessness. That is sometimes so for me. The big advantage of an affinity group is that the support of others can bring us through. One incident was when two angry motorists grabbed the banner and tried to drag it to the ground. The coordinator saw that the lights were red and quickly told us to leave the road. The motorists, satisfied that they had ‘won’ got into their cars and drove off.

The anger of individual drivers who stayed in their cars was often much easier to respond to than that of pedestrians. Being willing to try to connect with the concerns of both was much more valuable than leaving them fuming or shouting.  The encounter which has most stayed with me is of a distraught carer who was weeping about an elderly patient not being able to take medication on time. My colleague asked if she would accept the fare for the underground but she was unconfident about that way of travel, and suddenly  set off to try to find the next bus stop. I am reasonably experienced in nonviolent communication but realise that I, and probably most others, need much role-playing of these situations before doing this work again.

Swarming is clearly the most controversial form of action in which we took part. We are seeking to achieve the aims of letting Government and all politicians know that inaction or half-hearted action is at an end; and of alerting citizens to the reality of the deepening crisis. Our request to all who are critical of anything we do is to tell us and, if at all possible, also to suggest alternatives which will still achieve these aims.

(A word about safety for others who become involved in this kind of action. Where there are two or three lanes of traffic it’s essential to take care going into these lanes because cyclists and motor cyclists use them. Always peek into a lane when coming around the corner of a high vehicle. And if the traffic is on a bend, ensure that you and the coordinator can see each other so that the road is only re-opened if you are obviously safe.)

 

FIVE

The support system of well-being for CCA and XR met many needs. Whenever we came out of police custody people were there to greet us. One of our group was released at 5a.m. on a cold night and someone was there to ensure safety and care. I wore thermals and plenty of layers for outside lock-ons and took blankets but found that the cold still seeped through. Requests to our well-being people for more blankets were rapidly met and many protesters helped out too.  One brought an aluminium foil wrap and a nearby policewoman asked if I was already cold, explaining that this foil only maintains heat and doesn’t build it up: so if I was already cold it would keep me cold. I thanked her and said ‘’My daughter will be very pleased with you because she worries about me’’. It seemed to touch her.

On my final release from a police station, I was met by three support people and one of them offered to walk with me to find Piccadilly Circus Underground. As we walked along Regent Street on a November day, Christmas shopping was in full swing and Black Friday had already passed. This turning of the birthday of Jesus into an enormous money-making venture and gross consumption disturbed me; it’s exactly the opposite of the way of life which he calls his followers to live. I remembered his words ‘’You cannot serve both God and money’’. How many of the people around us are deliberately kept ignorant by mainstream media of the World Wildlife Fund’s research that we in the UK are currently using the Earth as though we have 3 planets. This reckless consumption is at a terrible cost to our children and grandchildren, the poorest peoples, and other-than-human life. I sometimes find it unbearable to stay with that reality because I feel overwhelmed by the extent and mindlessness of the process; but another aspect is because however much simple living I achieve, I remain implicated in the overall system. How can the fetish of more economic growth be justified by any politician or citizen in the materially rich countries? For Christians this is a crucial area and Pope Francis has given a sound lead by calling for de-growth in materially rich countries alongside healthy growth in poor countries. (Laudato si para 193).

Our well-being support people were an essential link in the chain of effectiveness of these actions, bringing food, warmth and human support at times of loneliness and stress.

By Phil Kingston