A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended the launch of Extinction Rebellion, a call to peaceful direct action to try and break through the silence and apathy around climate breakdown. I’ve been trying to work out what my role in this might be, and so to follow up the launch I took part in an all day training event on Sunday.
Held in the gloriously derelict Limehouse Town Hall, the event saw 120-ish people trained in non violent direct action (NVDA). In my little group there were students, young professionals and retirees, many of them first-time activists. We divided into groups and chose specific roles – coordinators, people who were ‘arrestable’, people who would take less provocative actions, welfare officers who would look out for everybody, and legal observers.
I was invited to join Christian Climate Action. They needed a legal observer, and I spent the afternoon in a crash course on the role. A legal observer is there to record activity, monitor police actions and thereby deter police from being heavy handed. They brief and reassure those being arrested, ensuring they know who to call and what to expect. Details of any witnesses are taken down in case there are queries or complaints later.
I put on my orange vest and put the training into use yesterday outside Downing Street, where five members of Christian Climate Action were arrested within about five minutes. (All now released, four on bail) Pictured here is Fr Martin Newell, a priest with a long history of peaceful protest and who has spent time in prison for it. I recorded a further six arrests and a stop and search over the course of the afternoon, ending up outside DEFRA with what remained of the Extinction Rebellion action group and a huddle of other observers.
After some thought and discussion with my wife, we’re agreed that my first responsibility is as a father. My children are 5 and 7, and too young to process the arrest and potential detainment of their dad. I don’t want to traumatise them or complicate their understanding of the law. It’s not without risk, but a role as a legal observer allows me to support front line activism without compromising my other responsibilities.
I mention this to share my own experiences, and also to encourage you to consider where you might be able to help. You may recognise the need for more radical action, but not be ready or able to risk arrest. Don’t worry – there is a role for you, at whatever level you feel comfortable. You may like to share events and show your support on social media, or make a donation. You can talk about what is happening, online and among friends.
Look out for local groups, and see if you can get along to a training day. You may have specific skills that you can offer, such as legal expertise. There are people taking photos and filming, and a media team working with journalists. You can be a steward at events where there are crowds. You can organise transport, or make cakes to share. Care and compassion are every bit as important as courage, and yesterday the wellbeing team moved like angels through what was at times a tense and stressful environment, making sure everyone was okay.
This saturday is a good opportunity to get involved. The week of action culminates with ‘rebellion day’ in London, with coaches coming from around the country. Thousands of people are expected, making it a very different sort of action both in impact and in safety for participants. A group from Cambridge will be facilitating a child-friendly area, so we’re hoping to go as a family – details on Facebook.
If you’re not sold on direct action, come along to the climate march instead. It’s in London on December 1st.
Climate change is too serious to leave it to other people to solve, and too urgent to delay. It’s time to make more noise, and whatever your skills or your situation, there is a place for you in climate change action.