Musings of Christos Tsiolkas

Christos Tsiolkas (Age photo)

One of my favorite novelists (although I confess I haven’t yet tackled “Damascus“, which came out late last year), Christos Tsiolkas is also a trenchant, brutally honest commentator on our modern world. In this morning’s Age/Sydney Morning Herald, his “Were so many of us wrong?” essay spoke to me more than many of the surging chorus of prognosticators about the post-Covid-19 world.

Tsiolkas has an uncanny ability to merge the commonplace of what is occurring with much taller questions. Beginning with his last-minute flight home to Melbourne from a literary festival schedule in UK, he describes the growing sense of splintering uncertainty. Now (at the time of writing, after six days of isolation), he finds that, “Refracted through the changes brought about by the virus, the recent past seems an aeon ago. All the same, it has made me thankful for the present moment. Real time.” That’s something I’ve also experienced. As I have, Tsiolkas ponders what recent myths of existence have been shattered beyond recovery. “After the past few months,” he writes, “after these transformations, can a writer still adhere to certainty?”

(Photo from article)

Quiet moments

Nara forest scene

My court case approaches. I find myself taking time to breathe and reflect. Here’s Sasha Sagan from “For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals and Reflections for Finding Wonder“: ” Between those two enormous mysteries, if we’re lucky, we get eighty or one hundred years. The blink of an eye, really, in the grand scheme of things. And yet here we are. Right now. It’s easy to forget how amazing this is. Days and weeks go by and the regularity of existing eclipses the miraculousness of it. But there are certain moments when we manage to be viscerally aware of being alive. Sometimes those are very scary moments, like narrowly avoiding a car accident. Sometimes they are beautiful, like holding your newborn in your arms. And then there are the quiet moments in between, when all the joy and sorrow seem profound only to you.”

Nothing happens

Arrest

You do something scary and dramatic, imagining you’re changing the world, and then nothing happens. What’s next? Do you lick your wounds and retreat: “what’s the point, eh?” Do you posture: “look at me, look at me”? Do you drink red wine?

A month and a half into the Rebellion Big Year, I’m feeling a salutary backlash. I’m working hard to help grow Extinction Rebellion locally, but whatever growth we’re exhibiting isn’t dramatic. None of my social circle has followed my lead, if that’s the apt expression. The Spring Rebellion last October (see the picture above) made a difference, with climate change featuring higher in the media than ever before or since, but we’ve dipped out of the news again, just another protest group.

Nothing magical has sprung forth. Did I imagine it would?

All I can do is exhibit the obdurate patience of my climate change heroes. We do what we do because we must. Change will come. Tomorrow is another day.

Rebellion Big Year: 7-week reflections

XR

Nearly two months of this Big Year and there hasn’t been any conspicuous rebelliousness. I haven’t been arrested again, partly because Extinction Rebellion itself has been biding its time since the Spring Rebellion and gathering for the Autumn Rebellion. My first protest march will be in a couple of weeks and that will be spirited but mild.

I have been busy, nonetheless. Activism isn’t only about the visible actions, it’s about building an institution and growing the supporter base. I’ve gotten involved with my local XR branch and am helping with the boring admin of the group. I’m getting to know how a “self organized system” like XR works – it’s fabulous, excellent in theory and exciting in execution! Next week I help give a local XR introductory talk.

I’m also spending time dealing with the emotional side of activism, especially the ongoing cycles of grief and rage arising from an appreciation of up-to-date climatology contrasted with the nastiness of political inaction. So I read and reflect a lot, including books, articles, and the Twitterverse. All of this is immensely interesting but time-consuming and debilitating.

So … not much to report, really, or at least nothing dramatic. My basic goal has been to spend at least an hour each and every day, and averaging two hours daily over the year, and both those targets are being met.

I expect the remainder of this year to be more exciting, not that “excitement” is necessarily worth looking forward to!

Thinking about XR’s 3rd demand

Climate Assembly UK

I have little hesitation in adding my voice to Extinction Rebellion’s first two demands. “Tell the Truth” is so obvious, especially in the say-something-but-never-do-anything political swamp of Australia. I won’t talk about it here. Similarly, “Act Now,” the second demand, is crystal clear: to cut emissions, we must … cut emissions.

Our third demand “Beyond Politics” is more cryptic, if also immediately sensible. To be precise (from XR’s main website, which you should check out!): “Beyond Politics: Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.” I’m a strong believer in “capitalism with a human face,” entailing a more interventionist, altruistic, strong hand than we currently have, and XR’s demand to short circuit our current lobbyist-influenced shitty brand of politics rings true to me. But what is a Citizens’ Assembly?

Well, a modern real-life example is being enacted right now. In the United Kingdom, an enabling and optimistic institutionalised process called Climate Assembly UK (check it our here) has commenced at speed. The government agreed to it as a result of XR pressure, and 30,000 random households were approached, with 110 citizens finally selected as representative. Over four weekends, these ordinary folks will examine data presented by experts, as a first step. The first such briefing took place last weekend.

What will happen? Is this well designed, well structured? Will it hold political heft? I’m going to find out… Whatever happens, we want something like this, but very much with unstoppable teeth, here in Australia, to short circuit the current poisonous political stage.

XR arrestees in London

London Magistrates Court

Of course I fret about my March court date. A friend alerted me to a short article on the blog of the London Review of Books. Lorna Scott Fox’s “Extinction Rebellion on trial” recounts observations about the London situation, which is Melbourne’s amped up by a factor of ten or more. Maybe one hundred of us got arrested here in the Spring Rebellion, whereas London’s April Rebellion last year netted some 850 charges, and they’ve been processed in the London Magistrates’ Court from last September.

As Fox relates, London’s wave of conscience-driven trials has been “gumming up the works,” which is part of XR’s aim – to sacrifice to get oneself noticed by the powers to be. Half those charged pleaded not guilty. I have no idea what I’ll plead, primarily because I have no idea yet what the precise range of court possibilities in relation to my two charges will be. Fox says the court officers – judges, prosecutors, even ushers – have been personally moved by the moral necessity argument raised by many arrestees, but “the narrow definition of necessity is decisive every time” … guilty … fines plus costs. There is no mention in Fox’s article of any post-trial jail time, which I guess soothes my anxiety somewhat.

What I do take heart from is Fox’s overview, so close to my motivations, of my London brethren’s pleas:

As the judge invites each defendant to prove the necessity of their actions, we hear speech after eloquent, wasted speech about the science of climate change, the terror people have for their children, their grief for the world; the sense that there is no option but civil disobedience.

Rebellion prep work

XR Inner East

It can seem as if activism is just yelling in the streets. The reality is that activism, like all political effort, is hard graft, day after day of organizing, convincing, planning, and so on. I’m not suited to it at all.

But I’m hard at work getting ready for Extinction Rebellion’s biggest year yet of non-violent disturbance, action and protest. The first fortnight of 2020 have been spent preparing to assist in the running of my local Extinction Rebellion group, XR Inner East. I’ve had to learn how it’s structured and organized. I’ve absorbed the tech tools it uses to facilitate discussion, retain member records, issue newsletters, choreograph events, and enable member communication. The last three days have vanished in a blur while I do what I do best, which is absorption of information and systematic organisation of data. The group is small (at least in terms of active members) at the moment, but new members are joining fast, as the catastrophic bushfires jolt citizens into taking action. The people are wonderful, just ordinary folks like me, and I’m most excited.

In the meantime, my complementary efforts at keeping on top of the rapid science improvement and the global political tapestry continue apace. I’m also wrestling, as I no doubt shall for the rest of my life, with the inevitable cycles of philosophical angst and renewal. More on those aspects soon.

Rebellion Big Year: Motivation

Motivation

In the early 1980s, I was a peace movement activist. Not for that long, three or four years maybe. I remember it as inspiring but also exhausting. Campaigning for change outside the established political party system is brutally harsh because it involves butting up against the enfolding fabric of our society. No one wants to be the party pooper, do they? No one sets out to rebel. Rebellion occurs because it takes hold of you, because you can see no choice.

So it ever is. When I chanced upon Extinction Rebellion in the middle of last year, I immediately knew it was for me. I’d spent two decades watching planet Earth slowly warming up. I’d read the science, puzzled over the consequences. In the 2000s, my governing emotion was incredulity (“can’t they see?”), in the 2010s despair kicked in, but by 2019, what took hold of me was anger. Rage, if you wish to be more precise. In simple terms, I was willing to pay whatever price – and at that stage, price meant money or time or inconvenience – was necessary to fix this thing, to keep the globe in good shape for my children, but nothing … zilch … nada was happening.

Grandchildren arrived. Photos of glaciers, then and now, exhibited their retreat. Corral reefs set out on death marches. Arctic sea ice commenced a disappearing act, while the great ice shelves of Greenland and Antarctica began slow meltdowns. Species headed for extinction. Hot countries, mine included, began to experience drought, deathly heat, and fire. I had to act.

You can see that my motivation was raw, primal, and you can see I had to act. But now, three months since being arrested during an Extinction Rebellion action, I need to develop a more nuanced philosophical perspective. Over this summer break, that’s what I’ll do most days, as part of my daily Big Year commitment.