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)

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.

Notes:

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

iii

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

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/28/destruction-earth-crime-polly-higgins-ecocide-george-monbiot?CMP=share_btn_link

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

EXTINCTION REBELLION – as seen from Cumbria

By Lawrence Freiesleben

A baton to pass on

Having lived for years in relative isolation and felt like (another) voice in the wilderness since 1980, the sudden rising up of Extinction Rebellion is inspiring. Despite taking part in numerous protest marches and movements since 1977 and been aware of countless courageous actions by activists being absorbed or quickly side-lined by our largely traitorous media, I’m hopeful that this time, a wider cross-section of the population have begun to get the message. As Shaun Chamberlain links in his vivid post: Why I’m Rebelling against Extinction: As a global society we are accelerating towards oblivion.

Attending the first meeting of my local Kendal group of Extinction Rebellion last Friday, at the Friends Meeting House, I was surprised by how many ‘ordinary’ looking people appeared galvanised by the opportunity of taking action. Some of the members there had taken part in the bridge-blocking protest in London back in November, one of many significant actions in towns and cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Copenhagen, Galway, Stockholm, Dublin, Cork, Berlin, New York and Madrid. Another member was a hardened Greenpeace activist who outlined the different levels of roles available to anyone wishing to take part in the holacratically organised, Extinction Rebellion: You don’t have to be arrested if you feel that’s a step too far. Everyone interested at any level is vital.

Petition organisations like Avaaz and 38 Degrees have achieved amazing things. What we can only hope for next, is that all such groups along with old campaigners such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace can overlap and work in unison to stir our useless government into action rather than justifications and excuses. Better still, we need to begin the process of dismantling our entire omnicidal, neo-liberal system. It needs to be replaced – every last lock, stock and stinking barrel!

Anyone reading this, please look up your local branch of Extinction Rebellion. They are springing up everywhere and have already spread to 35 countries abroad. This emergency cause is one that the internet and (dare I say it given my own abstention), social media – were born to facilitate . . . a cause which might partly excuse much of their blatant consumerist triviality. Please go out (or stay in) and spread this idea as far and wide as you can! https://rebellion.earth/