On 22nd July, three rebels were convicted of taking action at the Brazilian Embassy against the ecocidal and genocidal regime of President Bolsonaro. Possible sentences range from a community order to 18 months in prison. This is the address given by one of the rebels, 24 year old Zappi Taylor, to the jury.
Non-violent direct action works. When we look back at history, we can see that change is brought by people brave enough to trust their conscience and go against the grain of what is normal for their time. Once segregation was considered normal. People of colour were treated as subhuman; women were treated as objects and inferiors; queer people as defective and dangerous. We have come a long way.
But today we face an existential issue. The destruction of our whole world has been normalised.
Science predicts that by the time I’m in my thirties, the immense Amazon rainforest, the great stabiliser of rain and climate, will be gone. This is unbearable. I can’t believe that we are not all losing are minds, knowing the consequences of this: the death of all the indigenous peoples, and widespread famine and suffering.
Sometimes it is hard to have empathy for someone on the other side of the world.
Yet in the future it will be us, our brothers, sisters and children, who will suffer.
According to the judge you are only here to decide whether we have committed criminal damage. But how can you determine the guilt of someone when only considering the action they took and not their reason for doing so? The judge has decided we have no defence under law.
But it is my belief that the law, as it stands, is incapable of responding to the severity of climate breakdown. This is about genocide and the destruction of our earth. If your only duty is to decide on the evidence, and the evidence excludes our reasons for acting, then what is the point of the jury? If you cannot use all your faculties as a human being – if you have been told not to empathise and sympathise with me, then what is the point of being human?
It is not the judge or the prosecution or the law we are opposed to. The judge has to follow the law, and the law is always catching up with the times. It is their job to read the letter of yesterday’s law and it is yours to decide whether we are guilty or not guilty today. The Brazilian embassy did not choose to press charges, so this case is being brought by the Crown Prosecution Service “in the public interest.” Do you think it is in the public interest to prosecute us when our collective effort and that of others was to save lives?
This process has taught me so much. But it has also tarnished my view of the justice system. Why are we the ones who stand trial while the criminals who perpetrated the worst crimes against humanity and destroy our green earth walk free?
I did this because I love life, its people, and its mysteries. Our natural world which is so bold, and yet so delicate in its incomprehensible diversity. Our ecosystems which connect and tessellate in ways we can’t fully comprehend. The plants and fungi of our planet that sustains all life. Their medicinal properties, their intricacy, their beauty.
Yet the route we are walking is of annihilation and extinction.
Some may say, “This is just the way the world is and you broke the law.” But I believe in a better world: a world not run on the basis of greed: a world built on compassion and common sense, a world where all the rights of all other people and creatures are considered, where we respect and protect the ground that feeds us.
When I first learned about the climate emergency, it brought feelings existential dread. As the penny dropped, so did my stomach. I wondered if the science could really be right. I thought perhaps that every generation fears the world is ending. But the more I learned, the more I understood that this was not the case. We are on a route to annihilation, to the breakdown of ecosystems and all the life that depends on them.
Surely the point of a court of law is to find justice. But the judge has told you that you must not listen to your moral compass or follow your feelings. Justice is defined as ‘the morally fair and right state of everything’. Surely morality is Justice. And to be moral is to be just. Should we be penalised for trying to stop the deaths of indigenous people, and for fighting for a liveable future?
Your verdict is for you and you alone to decide, and it will reflect the future you’d like to see.
In a democracy, laws change as society changes. Perhaps some of you will only see the damage of the climate crisis once it is at your own door.
Some have already had the courage to recognise this – like the twelve jurors who found the Shell protesters not guilty for criminal damage two months ago in London. If this verdict, in this situation, is given many times, the law must be changed. This is how democracy works.
A true verdict is one that is just. The jury system only works if you, and only you, decide on what is right, what is fair and what is moral. Otherwise, there is no justice.
I thank you for your courage. And remind you of what Fox said: “There is no greater cause to stand for on this green earth, than the green earth itself”.
Call to Action:
Make a donation to the Extinction Rebellion UK Central Defence Fund – to help pay the legal fees of those arrested, like Zappi Taylor, for protesting in support of Climate Justice.
Amazonian destruction is increasing under Bolsonaro, and COVID 19 has put indigenous peoples at increased risk. To protest the invasion of their ancestral lands, boycott Brazilian products.