Did a shaft of light just break through the media eclipse of Brexit? A brief moment when Earth’s destruction became a mere 12 stories behind the flimsiest thoughts of newly-promoted Tory cannon-fodder?
Yes. I hope you caught it. Credit for this brief anomaly goes to Extinction Rebellion (XR), a new civil disobedience outfit responsible for blockading five bridges in Central London on Saturday. A reported six thousand protesters appeared, me included, to voice concern over government inaction on tackling Climate Change. XR is part of the Rising Up network, committed to nonviolent protest and boasting a very broad remit. Rising Up has the will and ability to execute protests on a wide range of social ills, most recently Universal Credit. It also has a Draft manifesto, which is a far more thoughtful and relevant sketch than the sixthform daydreaming that stereotypically commands the protest scene.
Not that the gathering and the organization were one and the same. The XR team were there somewhere, busily coordinating speakers, poets, singers. But the throng itself was a broader church. Many people were there merely to express their anger on an issue that doesn’t get the coverage it deserves, an issue bigger than politics itself. And Rebellion Day was the handiest vessel for it.
In the back of my mind, however, was the last time I protested. That was a day that left me with less hope than I had started with. The event was hijacked by organizations promoting themselves rather than any climate solutions. Corbyn’s a good egg in many ways, but not very climatey. He was keen to reopen coalmines at that time, yet turned up as star eco-speaker. Other marauding revolutionaries sought recruits to their causes, colours rarely green. The day ended with a sense that ‘they’ had not heard our message. Perhaps there was no ‘us’. And the message didn’t contain a solution. But how could it have been different?
XR has an unusual approach. It involves playing the media, and it has an emotional component. A portion of the volunteers must be arrested, generating news stories. And the gathering is intended as a chance to publicly, collectively and peacefully grieve our dying world, displaying the tragedy and desperation of our situation. And pay attention to the name. Extinction Rebellion. We, the gathered, are humans protesting against our own coming extinction! This deeper reality of the situation is familiar to readers of New Scientist or is perhaps implicit in Naomi Klein, but has never yet held court on Westminster Bridge.
It was a wow moment for me. There was a stir of feeling, of love for the Earth that sustains us, and a yearning to heal it. Discussion and camaraderie bloomed since we were mingling, not marching. One speaker was a Green, Jenny Jones. Brilliant, but not given star billing. Most other speakers were just ordinary people who told XR they wanted to speak. They represented young, old, London, Dorking, India, Ghana, Lincolnshire. They represented us.
If we were grieving, we were also hoping. I spoke to many who were excited about Carbon Fee & Dividend, especially in the light of Canada’s recent commitment. And those who hadn’t heard of it mostly wondered why, with a “that sounds brilliant!” and a head-scratching “there must be some reason why it wouldn’t work…” Others were simply hostile to anything that resembled a system, but there was a healthy passion even among them. They enthused over rewilding projects, and the growing thirst for a better politics.
These issues need to grow into something politicians can ride on. Right now, my hopes are up. Carbon Fee & Dividend is on the up (thanks to Policy Exchange taking it to Westminster) and Extinction Rebellion have galvanized the hordes of worried and wise voters across the UK and 14 other countries, with dozens of future events planned.
The eco-passionate are not uniform, but we all benefit from coming together like this. We are becoming hard to ignore. Thank you, XR.