To James ‘Iggy’ Fox
We are nature. We are science. We turn grief into action. We protest and we sing and we play and we dance. We do so for life. We are mourning the earth. We are mourning us. We are re-inventing the city. We are the grief-stricken carnival spirit that marks Extinction Rebellion, making it a bittersweet joy to walk into a transfigured Trafalgar Square, all rebels with a cause, XR flags, with their bright colours and bold graphic design, flying high in the air, all roads freshly blocked, the large traffic circle replaced by exuberance.
Trafalgar Square is about to become a playground.
Rebels, tourists and the world press snap away.
The bronze statues of lions proudly wear their large Extinction Rebellion medallions.
There is no traffic soundtrack, but the traffic lights beam their usual colours.
The stench of burnt petrol will fade away.
The smog will vanish.
The square will disown concrete.
We are sorry. We have a sacred duty to rebel. We chant, disrupt carbon emissions and pray for sanity. Our presence translates the trauma of omnicide. Our utopian smiles, adrenaline and bonhomie pervade the air, transforming the asphalt into a transcendent place of sorrow, laughter and hope. Gyrating in front of a THIS IS AN EMERGENCY fuchsia banner which blocks a street, here are the astonishing hula-hoop rebels, a group of delicious young women with hoola-hoops ceaselessly spinning around their arms a tale of defiance. Diagonally blocking Whitehall, black humour takes the shape of a fantastically ghoulish hearse with the floral tributes for the final journey, OUR FUTURE written along the black ribbon which rests on the coffin, the XR symbol centred on its back, while two rebel chauffeurs are locked to the steering wheel, ready for the planet’s funeral. In yellow vests and flat peak caps, the police guard the funerary ceremony, arms crossed, legs wide apart, perhaps wondering whether play is one of the highest forms of resistance. The samba magic begins, to bind us in rhythm. It features a gutsy old lady rebel in a wheelchair drumming away, joyfully, furiously her XR drum.
We protest in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night. We protest and we sing and we play and we dance. Dear lost people, we are one of the maps. Here is the future. It is life-affirming. It transforms autumn into spring. It playfully bids adieu to a culture of death. A new vision of human nature is out on the streets, a ritual to give form to grief. Here, in the soon-to-be-filled-square, are the piles of kitchen utensils and food brought by all of us, to make do for the police seizures. Here is charming Roc with his beguiling smile, as a dad of mighty rebels, artist and writer, dressed smartly for his police liaison role. Here is radiant white-hair Lorna by the fountain, her luminous eyes focused on her mobile, as she coordinates legal support for the imminent arrests. Blocking the asphalt from side to side, lock-ons will keep on multiplying on all the roads. Surrounded by police in yellow vests, it is mostly elderly conscientious protectors lying on the road on lock-on, arms spread out, holding hands, a human chain of veteran activists: ‘I am willing to be arrested,’ their placards say. The Red Brigade, a large crimson splash of mourning humans with faces painted white, and black tears, dutifully visit them, a solemn presence, sorrowful and soothing at once.
I will be arrested in a few days’ time, when I finish the mountain of work. Like so many rebels, I will have to organise my own arrest. I am also caring for my mother. I will take her to my brother’s flat. I will be available for arrest from Thursday onwards.
I now capture moments of hope in action, the thing with feathers that won’t ever take ‘no’ for an answer. At the centre of it all, an unforgettable three-and-a-half feet tall rebel with startlingly large eyes, and a circled hourglass painted on her cheek, over her head a light pink handkerchief with a bee block-printed at the front, the XR symbol at the back, and an XR kerchief scarf over an orange duffel coat.
With startlingly large eyes, she’s screaming and screaming at the police.
Frowning, always on the verge of crying, she yells:
‘Leave my mummy alone!’
‘Don’t touch her!’
The police are trying to arrest some rebel mothers blocking the road, their faces contorted in agony. Her rebel mother is sitting on the road, a baby on her lap. Most fathers and mothers can only but be rebels. The rebel mothers stay put.
Arms wide apart, the little rebel girl stands in front of her mum.
‘There is a plague in the sky. And in the earth. And in the seas.’
Astonished, rebels and bystanders watch the feisty little rebel girl. Black fringe, black eyes, pale complexion, three-and-a-half feet tall, the hourglass symbol on her check, head, chest. How old is she? Five? She is the future of the planet, if we cherish it enough to protect it. One day, she could have grey hair and laughter lines, if we care for her future. Discombobulated, a policeman, clasped hands with interlocked fingers, crouches next to her. He is clenching himself back, exercising some sort of self-restraint, his body language conveying great anxiety and frustration. He watches her speechless, obviously thinking: ‘Things are going really bad.’ The only way he can talk to the little rebel girl is by crouching next to her. All the police are crouching around her, so she is just a bit taller than them. The little rebel girl commandeers the situation. The world is her oyster, but the planet is dying. She’s one of the many Gretas who won’t stop screaming until we all listen. Suddenly, she’s all the Gretas, whatever their age and gender, as well as all the different names all the Gretas have. The little feisty girl has the power.
A helicopter soon starts circling the sky above the square.
‘My mummy’s protesting for the common good!’ the little rebel girl yells.
The crouching policeman looks as if spoken by a moral dilemma, words caught in his throat. He rests his hand on his heart. A policewoman, pursed lips, plump hands, tucked thumbs under her fingers, asks the rebels to get up and leave the square. ‘Sit down, sweetheart,’ the rebel father says, but the little rebel girl isn’t finished with her intervention.
Always on the verge of crying, pointing her forefinger to the policewoman, the little rebel girl yells:
‘We are doing this for your children
We are the children who know what you’re doing
We want to live
We want the birds and the trees and the sky to live
And the elephants, butterflies, penguins and the monkeys, the pandas and the zebras
And the seas, rivers, the fishes, turtles, hippos, giraffes, rhinos and the tigers, lions and the bumblebees and the insects. Don’t you get it?’
The little rebel girl bursts into tears.
Disarmed, the police leave.
The rebel parents hug and kiss their daughter.
With its hideous roar, the helicopter continues to circle the sky above.
There is everyday heroism, and everyday villainy.
We are zing, pluck, zest, vim. We protest and we sing and we play and we dance. Drumming binds us. There are no XR boats, this time. We are the boat. A scaffolding tower is quickly conjured up in front of Waterstones. At its top, lovely Fox with his red Rapunzel hair waves a large magenta XR flag with a skull at its centre, and symbols of life pushed to its edges. The scaffolding tower becomes an XR citadel, as young rebels glued to it, well-known beloved faces, start giving out passionate speeches. There is clapping and sing-alongs. The hourglass is ubiquitous, on flags, clothes, drums, sculptures. Decorated with Stop Ecocide placards, high flying XR flags and stickers, the lock-on towers keep on growing, playful fortresses where rebels glue themselves with superglue. The vibrancy is palpable. Familiar faces rebel as if their lives depended on it, because their lives are also the lives of others, including all life on earth, present and future. Here is cheeky Savannah, wearing her beautiful torn cloths. Here is Clarissa, a big mama rebel in pink waterproof, who turns away when she sees I’m about to take a picture of her. ‘How are you?’ I say. ‘Not good!’ … ‘How come? ‘The police confiscated £1000 worth of kitchen equipment … and now they’re saying they’ve lost it!’
Her face is full of despair.
She strides on.
‘Drop out of the fairy tale,’ the police says.
But it ain’t exactly a fairy tale. It’s a new story implored by science, a cautionary tale with gruesome fairy-tale elements and a vision: We’d like a happy ending.
Excerpt from ‘Trafalgar Sq Rhapsody’ from Rebel Rebel, An Emergency Dialogue by Roc Sandford and Susana Medina, a dialogue about Extinction Rebellion and solutions to the Climate Emergency, conducted since the April Rebellion. A collage or ‘pastiche’ of different sorts of writing, it is a historical snapshot, literary experiment, intellectual exposition, and an act of planetary defence.
Susana Medina is the author of Philosophical Toys (Dalkey Archive Press), offspring of which are the short films Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne); Red Tales (bilingual ed. co-translated with Rosie Marteau, Araña editorial); Poem 66 (bilingual ed. trans. R. Marteau, the runner-up in Good Morning Menagerie’s International Translation Award), and Souvenirs del Accidente (Germanía). She has been awarded the Max Aub Short Story International Prize and an ACE Writing Grant for Spinning Days of Night. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Best European Fiction, 2014, Dalkey Archive Press. She has exhibited at Tate Modern and collaborated extensively with artists.
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