Drones, Heathrow and non-violence

By Zeeshan Hasan

A few days ago, XR made the headlines for planning to stop Heathrow with drones.

I am finding it difficult to express how disappointed I was by this, especially after having spent a significant amount of time and effort editing the XR blog for the last few months. Like many others, I was drawn to XR precisely because it promised to be a non-violent movement to prevent climate breakdown.

Saying that drones will be flown in a busy airport implicitly threatens violence, just like a mugger who says “hand me your wallet or I will shoot”. There may well be no explicit violence, if the mugged person hands over their wallet; but there is obviously an implicit threat of violence which brought about the action of handing over the wallet. That’s why mugging cannot be called non-violent, and is both immoral and a crime. By the same logic, if airport authorities cancel or postpone flights because of threats of flying drones, they are acting under a threat of violence which is simply immoral and unacceptable on the part of an organisation like XR.

XR should be always claiming the moral high ground of saving all life on earth; it simply cannot threaten violence and maintain this moral high ground. This Heathrow strategy to me is simply the undoing of all that XR stands for.

I hope that XR people reconsider this strategy. For my part, I have to say that I can no longer be associated with a group that would entertain such violent and immoral strategies. This will be my last blog post.

Spring 1987

By James Turner
A silent figure shifts along

Beneath a green and leafy bank,

With in his heart a dreary song

And on his back a plastic tank,

And sprinkles with a deadly rain

The weeds that grow beside the lane;
And in the passing poison shower

Wall pennywort and lords-and-ladies,

Nettle and goosegrass, leaf and flower,

Are chemically despatched to Hades:

Tomorrow any passer-by

May see them sicken, droop and die.
In line against a granite wall

Jack-by-the-hedge stand proud and straight,

But soon they’ll twist like corkscrews, all

In silent protest at their fate.

Our passerby will ask,

“Are these Not victims of some strange disease?
What will the Judge’s verdict be?

The Best-Kept Village contest comes!

In tubs and hanging baskets, see?

Petunias and geraniums:

That’s what the Judge will judge us on.

So, work that lever, silent one.

Spring 2012

By James Turner
In this street nothing grew at all
where pavement meets with churchyard wall,
but while financial markets crash,
here weeds can make a coloured splash.
They root and photosynthesise and cling
where stone and asphalt once were king.
This gum-bespattered world has mellowed,
primrosed, oxford-ragwort-yellowed.
For, since corruption bit the banks,
no men have passed with plastic tanks
of herbicide to spray the weeds
before they bloom and shed their seeds.
More weeds means insects, means more birds—
I’d paint the future green with words!—
but when the money flows again,
they’ll soon return, those dogged men,
with tanks of poison on their backs,
to mount their chemical attacks
on cheekily invasive plants.
Those primroses won’t stand a chance.

XR – Where Next?

By Chris Taylor

What a beautiful rebellion we have conjured. What a beautiful vision of care and compassion, regeneration and community. We lived it. We breathed it – in London and in places across the world as we flexed our muscles in International Rebellion.

And returning to our daily lives, fractures are starting to appear within the movement. Cracks that reveal tensions and differences. These are to be welcomed, embraced, for they reveal tender places that we need to give attention to. How we deal with them will shape whether the movement grows and flourishes.

We have the potential to reveal a pathway to a new version of human society. If we hold to our vision of a world beyond climate chaos and species extinction and if we act out of our values of regeneration and renewal we have the opportunity to pick up from where Occupy, The Arab Spring and Standing Rock have brought us. We have the chance to be the next wave lapping at the shores of a regenerative world.

So what about these fractures in the movement? How do we best deal with them? I have seen four in particular that I feel deserve our attention.

  1. Burn Out. I have seen many of my friends and fellow rebels return from London exhausted and washed out. Perhaps this is inevitable. We partied hard. We saw a chance and threw ourselves at it. Yet, if our culture is truly regenerative, maybe we are missing something.

It has taken us two thousand years to get to the brink of civilisation collapse. Rome will not be dismantled in a day. Let’s pace ourselves. It’s time to let go of the need as individuals to “make a difference”. This is the voice of ego and it leads to burn-out. Only “we”, the movement can create change. So let’s ensure we are deeply sharing power amongst us, passing the baton back and forth in a continual relay. And when we have time to rest, let’s do it well so we can return with energy afresh.

  1. Inclusion. There have been challenges, particularly from people of colour, recommending what we need to do to be more inclusive. It is of the utmost importance that we respond positively and deeply to these challenges. The global system that is destroying the Earth is built on empire, colonisation and patriarchy. Social inequalities and environmental destruction go hand in hand. All the evidence from history suggests that as social inequalities widen, environmental destruction accelerates.

Unless we dismantle the intricate structures of oppression that have silenced the majority of humanity, we will not save the planet. We will become just one more minority interest group trying to impose its will on the world. Only the radical inclusion of the colonised and marginalised will bring into the movement the wisdom and humility needed to live in harmony with the whole of existence. It is our work to do. It is not something separate from why we are here.

  1. Business. Controversy arose within XR when a group of entrepreneurs formed XR Business. Many were offended by this, saw it as opportunist or out of alignment with who we are. Others took a position arising out of economic analysis: capitalism is destroying the world so business cannot easily become part of the movement. All of these concerns are valid. Given our current situation we are right to be a little suspicious.

At the most fundamental level, the disintegration of our current form of economics is essential in achieving our three core goals. When the leading edge of concerned business breaks ranks and reaches out we would do well to hold them in the embrace of tough love. There is much that business must make amends for, much damage it must heal. And only a regenerative approach will hold them to this task. Those of us who have done the inner work, faced into grief and despair are well placed to hold others to the reality of what they have done. Who else will do it?

The success of all non-violent movements has come when they have been able to mobilise a mass of people AND hold a mirror up to the people who hold positions of power within the old system. Some of these people will crack. When enough do, pressure from the mass takes on a new power. This needs to be our approach to business – tough love and safe spaces to allow those at the leading edge to acknowledge the wrongs of the past.

  1. Strategy. This is less a fracture, and more an ongoing field of discussion. How do we maintain momentum?  How do we achieve maximum impact? How do we achieve our goals – not only here in the UK but globally? This is no easy task. And like all complex tasks it will take time to realise. While we feel the urgency of the situation we would do well to sit for a moment with the not-knowing of how next to proceed. Anything we do precipitously will be at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive. It risks adding to our sense of exhaustion.

I have heard many wise and considered voices within the Circle of Counsel exploring how to proceed: “Come back different”, “Go to the places where climate emergency is felt most already”, “Go to the belly of the beast – the financial heartland”. All of these feel like tactics worth integrating into a strategy based on building momentum and undermining the Pillars of Power.

How exactly we stitch them together is not yet clear. What I do know is that we must hold tight to our values of non-violence, compassion and regeneration. Whatever we do must bring us as individuals, as Affinity Groups and as a movement to a renewed sense of our our vigour, our own agency and our own interdependence with all that surrounds us. This is the path to the world we are seeking to birth.

As we move forward let’s remember something profound about the work we have decided to undertake. At one level this movement is about tackling climate chaos. At another it is about stopping the extinction emergency that is facing not only humanity but one million species across the planet. At another level still, it is about completely reinventing what it means to be human.

Unless we are able to create mindsets, behaviours, communities, organisations, societies that recognise our complete and total interdependence with the living planet we will not succeed at even the first level. This is why regeneration is so crucial a part of who we are. It must guide our every thought and our every action.

Onward in compassionate rebellion!

Notes from a straggler

By A. S. Arthur

I have nothing to say about the science or news, I can only speak to my own experience. The climate crisis is something beyond words. You’re a reasonable person, likely you already know. I have nothing to say to that.

I was on Waterloo Bridge the night before the police took it back. I was there until quite late. At some point during the night, a group of drunk young Londoners struck up a discussion with the police; when were they going to get rid of us? They wanted to know. The protesters were stupid, wrong, an inconvenience. The police reassured them, agreed loudly: what we were doing was ignorant, pointless. They were going to get rid of us as soon as they could. No need to worry.

I stayed until four AM before leaving alone, unprepared for the cold. Despite the emergency blanket I’d been given I was freezing. I came back the next day to find it entirely cordoned off. A wall of police standing all the way across the street at both ends of the bridge. A friend of mine was up there, locked in under the truck. She was stuck there for hours before it was dealt with. For a while I could still reach her on Signal. She knew she had all our support, all our love. I told her so, while I could. Before the “Message read” notification stopped appearing. Before the police took her phone, took her voice away.

I followed a group of other stragglers back down across Westminster Bridge, through the pressing crowds of tourists, past the dozen shell games in progress to Parliament Square.

The atmosphere in the square was much the same as it had been the day before. Same atmosphere, different people. Those I’d established speaking terms with previously had gone, replaced by fresh faces, a shift change. I wandered about. Listened to the music playing in front of the Supreme Court. Handed flyers out to passers-by under the statues.

It was sunny still, I wanted to keep moving. I found myself on the far side of Parliament Square Garden, standing near a police officer in a blue hi-vis jacket; an intelligence gatherer. The ones you really shouldn’t speak to. I asked him about the night before. Was that just a de-escalation tactic, what the police had done with the drunks? Something they were trained to do; agree with troublemakers, encourage them to move on? He took offence to this. He’s a fully rounded human being, he said. All police are, they have their own opinions about the climate crisis. They can say whatever they want. In fact he agreed with our message, he told me, just didn’t agree with our tactics. That’s something you hear a lot. Everyone seems to agree there’s a climate emergency but our non-violent direct action is taking it too far. I blinked at this. Left him to his own devices. Wandered back across the grass to the lengthening shadows of the statues there. The statues of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Millicent Fawcett. The statues erected by the government and by the people to overlook the Houses of Parliament. To overlook the seat of power. Non-violent direct action is taking it too far? I have nothing to say to that. Some actions speak for themselves.

Poem: To The Echelons Of Power

By Tom Burgess

To the echelons of power, wherever you are
It is not too late to turn, please
play a different role
Another world is waiting to manifest

Wont you pacify the grotesque hubris which has you
funding private escape pods
destined for far off planets
What do you have to offer the mystery of space?
Accept a profound disconnection with your origin and kin
The unfolding caverns of majesty require an imagination
one that goes beyond your sterile lunges for survival
You vampires of the common wealth
Do not build bunkers out of fear and petrol
Give to regeneration
Stop casting the most vulnerable as fodder
May the word collateral choke in your throats

What remains still extends grace towards you
Still the trees suffocated by indifference give oxygen
and the blessing of a raindrop on your skin is a whisper
Do not only hear a warning of scarcity and acid
In that whisper hear hope too
and turn
Join in and work for regeneration

Global Heating – the Elephant in the Room

By Eileen Peck

I wonder if others have had the same experiences as myself – coming across normally well-informed and caring people who don’t want to talk about global heating, and my feelings of anxiety when I try to bring up what seems to be a taboo subject? Not something to be mentioned in polite conversation!
If I hadn’t read George Marshall’s insightful ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’ I would have struggled to understand just why so many of my caring and intelligent friends, even (dare I say it?), in the environment movement, feel ambivalent about XR. Why are they asking ‘Do they really need to be stopping ordinary people from getting to work?’
Why are so many going along with ideas (promoted, of course, by mainstream media) such as ‘This action will only impact on ordinary people, not those at the top’ and ‘Emma Thompson is a hypocrite flying in to support the protest.’ And, most importantly how do we encourage people to look at the emergency seriously and support the brave action being taken by the rebels?
‘Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’ helped me to understand that the difficulty in perceiving the imminent danger of global heating arises from our primitive brain’s inability to see the bigger picture. The analogy is drawn with primitive man needing to worry about the tiger at the cave door before giving any attention to the bigger picture further afield.

And, don’t those who want to keep us from looking too closely at the ‘bigger picture’ ensure that we are kept busy with many tigers at the door: Gloom and doom pervade our mainstream media; terrorism and wars, crime and strife are our regular diet. The BMA even coined the phrase ‘The politics of fear’ which is seen as making people ill. We go about our daily lives dealing with getting ourselves to work, the children to school, paying the bills and generally dealing with the stresses and strains of everyday life. Global heating is low down on most people’s priorities. If we do start to think about it, we come close to feeling powerless and overwhelmed. How well I know those feelings!
If ‘Don’t Even Think About It’ has given me some insight into why conversations often steer clear of climate change, Matthew Crawford’s in ‘The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction’ sees our ‘distractibility’ in the modern world as the mental equivalent of obesity. ‘Distractibility’ is fed by a constant stream of stimuli in the same way that obesity comes from being fed junk food.

Since reading about ‘distractability’ I’ve become ever more aware of the deluge of information under which I seem to be buried daily. I’m constantly distracted by adverts in every available space: the back of car park tickets, popping up on computer screens, even inside toilet doors when I go for a wee!

Yuval Harari in his ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ sees clarity as power and that censorship works not by blocking the flow of information but rather by flooding people with disinformation. ‘What happens now?’ ‘What should we pay attention to?’ He says: ‘We can’t take on all these pressing questions – we have to go to work, look after the children. The future of humanity is decided in your absence.’

So it is that conversations usually centre around holidays and everyday domestic problems, while the questions often asked are ‘Is it is really necessary to disrupt people getting to work?’ and ‘Aren’t there other ways to bring the government to get them to do what is necessary to tackle climate change?’
The problem is that ‘other ways’ have been tried. I hope I’ve got this right but I understand that:
• International conferences have been held and agreements on cutting carbon emissions have been made and broken. Even the US, the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, quit the Paris agreement.
• The UK government passed the Climate Change Act in 2008 which made the UK the first country to establish a long-term legally binding framework to cut carbon emissions. The UK government crow about their success at reducing carbon emissions but from my car-clogged corner of S E Essex I wonder just how this can be true. Then I notice the convey of freight-carrying container ships making their way up to the Thames to the Dubai deep port in Essex and have a light-bulb moment: Yes, our domestic manufacturing industry has been destroyed so our ‘stuff’ is now made in China and other overseas countries. We import goods and export carbon emissions!
• The UK government which says it is committed to reducing carbon emissions even gives the go-ahead to a new coal mine and to fracking.

In the face of this inaction what else can we do? With the power of the fossil fuel industry dictating to governments and calling the tune worldwide, I reckon that to deal with a drastic emergency, drastic action is required which is why I’m behind XR.
All I think is ‘Thank goodness for XR, why has it been such a long time coming?!’