In Extinction Rebellion, we’re committed to nonviolence in a good cause. Hope these hooligans, committed to violence against lockdown, get treated more severely than I was.
This year’s Rebellion Big Year has occupied a core part of my heart. Since I began a journey of obsessing about different priorities during each year from age 60, most of my preoccupations have been selfish or cultural or exploratory. In 2020, for the first time, I was going to carve out time from writing and family and self interest to put something back into the community. I chose Extinction Rebellion and it’s been a welcoming home to my aspirations to turn around humankind’s willful lack of action on global warming.
A Big Year needs structure, specifically a daily call to action, be it large or small. I chose to simply commit a minimum of an hour a day, but over time averaging out at two hours/day or more (some activist actions take a lot of time, for example getting arrested). So for four months I dutifully hunkered down each day on various activities: getting the hang of XR; helping my local XR group with its administration and meetings; reading up on global warming and climate actions and climate inaction; managing an XR Facebook group; educating myself about the science of global warming and global energy politics; and much more. At court in March and the end of April, my October 2019 arrest spent itself out, culminating in an easy “no charge” diversion. I felt empowered and, after plenty of initial nerves, at peace within the sprawling, somewhat structureless organism called Extinction Rebellion.
Covid-19 delivered a death blow to the Rebellion Big Year, because suddenly the very heart of the movement, non-violent civil disobedience on the streets, was no longer possible. And even today, it seems unlikely XR will be able to play much of a role in the post-Coronavirus world until at least the late Spring. But even before lockdown sapped my Big Year of its heartbeat, I’d realized something: activism is tough to allocate to a geeky “every day” obsession. Activism, by its nature, waxes and wanes, sometimes all-consuming, sometimes the storm to retreat from. Once you’re hooked onto an activist path, it has its own momentum and a “Big Year” framework adds little.
So, with reluctance, I have called this Big Year quits after four months and a bit. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed squaring up to my anxieties and rolling my sleeves up again in the messy world. The daily stricture of at least thinking about activism has definitely helped me. But now there seems little point, and I no longer need the crutch. I could be disappointed in myself, with dropping something partway through, but any plans on New Years Day made no allowance for the global and local impacts of this deadly virus.
I shall continue to be active within Extinction Rebellion and elsewhere, but the Rebellion Big Year is hereby cancelled.
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)
Keeping an eye firmly on post-lockdown. Bad news and hopefulness.
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.”
From where I stand, Extinction Rebellion is waging a war using NVDA. I’m helping organize.
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.
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!
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.
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.