Rebel diary — October 2019
This is for my children — and your children too. Love like you have never loved before. Rebel for life.
It doesn’t take many people to take a bridge and we took it quickly. But we didn’t have infrastructure, the police had taken it all the day before in a raid on a nearby compound. Including the disabled loos and lots of other kit to keep us all safe and well on the bridge. And most importantly of all there isn’t something to lock on to so the police have gone straight to the middle of the bridge and are pushing back in both directions.
Fearing kettling, we plot Plan B and move back to take the roundabout. Then the infrastructure starts to arrive and a PA system goes up, a kitchen pops up, a trumpet player plays and tents go up in the road.
It’s October 2019 and we’re blockading Lambeth Bridge in central London.
Banners, flags. An exquisitely dressed tourist on a Boris bike just tried to get across and a Flying Sushi delivery driver too. Good luck. YouTubers talking to themselves, incessantly encouraging people to keep watching. Hippies, revellers, a chap from work, Mums and Dads and children, Grandparents, all watched over by police in Hi-Vis and a hovering helicopter. There was a police van parked by Marble Arch yesterday with a banner on it announcing ‘Facial Recognition in Operation’.
I’m here because I’ve woken up to a crude realisation: unless we do something drastic, we’re not going to make it.
It’s not just me. There are thousands of us. We are all over this city. This is not a few folks marching passed the Palace of Westminster. There are groups of us from all over the country taking different sites from Lambeth to Trafalgar, Whitehall and Vauxhall. And yet everywhere but here it is still taboo to tell it like it is. People don’t like death, let alone mass extinction — it’s too dark. Part of the charm of modern society is the insulation from harsh reality and society works just as well at keeping harsh realities at bay as our cities do in keeping out the natural world. Some of it gets in but it’s ‘normal’ to be undisturbed by either the harshness or the beauty of non-human life. Being here in a city only makes it easier to see just how blind we have become. Last night it wasn’t even dark, the sky was as orange as the streetlights and you couldn’t see a single star.
I’m not sure where I’ll sleep tonight; will wait to see if we secure the site. I’m exhausted, could sleep sitting down right here in the road. Bad timing for a cold.
More runners are looking to get across the bridge, “sorry”.
So many photographers. The odd inquiring journalist. A man shirtless, covering himself in Marmite. “At least half the police hate this shit, right?”
Just seen a burly looking guy, shaved head, big beard, pick up his dropped bookmark and then show it to his friends. He held back tears and his voice wobbled as he showed them the bookmark’s drawing that his child had made of a field and flowers, the XR logo and a message of good luck and love. All scrawled in beautifully naive crayon as only young hands can.
More plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
Current trajectory to 4 degrees in global average temperature looking ever more likely.
Crop failure, famine, drought, flood. Death and loss. I see all this whooshing passed me as I sit stock still in the road, surrounded by police and fellow rebels. A wicked inheritance for our children. It really does seem that for many, it is still harder to imagine the end of capitalism than it is the end of the world.
Police took the bridge back, pushed us off the roundabout, too, so we’ve moved to Marsham Street and joined the Bristol crew. Put a tent up in the middle of the road in the dark. Woke up this morning to find ourselves outside the Home Office. We’re there now, sat by the entrance greeting everyone as they arrive for work, wishing them a lovely day and apologising for the inconvenience. It’s lovely to hear people say “not to worry” or even thank us, made me smile. Meanwhile BoJo has called us “nose-ringed crusties”.
I saw a young boy (maybe 8 years old) on Marsham Street, at the south end by Horseferry Road. He was sticking up an enormous poster reading: “There is no Planet-B. Please act now!” with a rainbow, a setting sun and a huge XR logo. All around the logo were animals: sharks, turtles, jellyfish, an octopus, a whale, birds, insects, plants and flowers, a rhino and a cat. Next to the cat was a heart, above which was a globe on fire.
“Did you make that?” I asked.
“Yeah”, his face filling with pride that someone had acknowledged him and the hours he had put in. I asked his name, we shook hands and then parted. I walked on to catch up with my group but slowed as I felt a great surge of emotion welling up inside of me. In my mind I saw his poster and I saw my daughter in his place, in front of her own sign, and it broke my heart. Tears rolled down my cheeks. My friend called to me to ask something, then heard my struggled reply. She saw my tears and hugged me as I cried. And I cried hard. I cried for how awful things have become, for the terrible legacy being left behind; for the heaviest of burdens to place on such young shoulders. I cried for what lies ahead and I cried with love and compassion for the rebels I was with. It is so lovely and rewarding to wake up each day into a kind, generous and forgiving community — taking care of each other, embodying the world we want to create. Loving each other, having empathy and respect. I cried for the world we are losing and the smaller one yet to come.
This is for my children — and your children too. Love like you have never loved before and rebel for life.
A week after returning home from the October Rebellion, I’m just finished giving my first Heading for Extinction talk, and I am elated, which is odd given the subject matter. But calling it out in a room full of people, being bare, honest and clear, is empowering and uplifting. I feel more loving and more loved as I was able to connect with so many strangers and to deepen my bonds with the rebels I already know. I put myself in a vulnerable position but I never once felt vulnerable. I felt alive and I felt connected. I feel something shifting in me and in how I view myself and what I’m about. I’m getting older, I’m changing and I’m determining that change. I want the confidence to both be me and be happy no matter what’s going on around me. I want the self-esteem to believe I deserve it and the courage to keep going.
Doing the talk, being a part of XR, gives me the belief that I can. And that’s because it asks me to do just the same with the world. It asks me to believe that we can do this and that we do deserve it. Our consumption needs us to feel unworthy, insufficient, always in need of more. Our consciousness has been so thoroughly colonised by capitalism that its targeted messaging has bored into our very souls, seeking to determine for us exactly who we are and who we aspire to be.
The job of XR is to challenge that. To wake people up, to join together and believe in ourselves and that we can make a change. The raising of the stakes, the arrests, the sacrifice, makes it feel more serious; in reaching for extremes it feels more believable that we can do something. That we’ve finally got the message and are acting on it.
We’re challenging the rules of the structure we are seeking to change. We are testing the boundaries and we’re being seen by the eyes of the law and of power as a result. We have their attention. Now we must convince them of what needs to happen and it’s going to need all of us to show them just how serious we are.
Now, writing this up in the summer of 2020 in the loosening grip of UK lockdown, there’s a huge opportunity coming to rewrite the system. It’s made all the more difficult because of social distancing but ideas can still be shared just as easily. We need to rebel even more against business as usual, we need to ridicule the notion that we can shop ourselves to safety. This is our time to celebrate new ideas and show a collective will for other solutions. We need to have them in hand to offer up when things get broken. We need them to take care of each other no matter how politicians choose to act or fail to.
I’m still optimistic. To paraphrase Arne Naess, I’m still optimistic, albeit more so for the 22nd century than the 21st Century, but that in itself is a win given the situation we’re in. It’s not that there’ll be an apocalypse — the fall of industrial civilisation is not the end, merely another beginning, of which there have been many throughout the history of human development. We just happen to be around at the transitionary phase, a time of great uncertainty as one thing ends and another is yet to become. Maybe that’s why our imagining how to solve our situation right now is as hard imagining the future. So much uncertainty might ironically also be why so many want the security of continuing business as usual even if it means denial or wilful ignorance. It’s completely understandable to seek reassurance in how things have always been. It’s just becoming an ever more flimsy refuge that soon will provide no cover.
Building a different kind of civilisation asks us to set aside our egos and work for an end that some of us may never see in our lifetimes. It’s a multi-generational project just as building cathedrals used to be. The first phase has a very clearly defined deadline for a blueprint and it is fast approaching.
It will take sacrifice and it will take courage to draw up a new design but it can’t take time because we just don’t have any.
See you in September.
Rebel for life
Woodford Roberts is a busy Dad and XR Rebel In Cornwall. His work has appeared in Adbusters, Resurgence, and Dark Mountain books.
Woodford is passionate about the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill. Join us outside Parliament from 1st September to demand that MPs debate it, or support the rebels online from home. More information on the September Rebellion here. For those in London, we’d love to see you at the Writers Rebel event on 2nd September!