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.

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