During April 2022 we were on the streets of London with Extinction Rebellion protestors. Melanie reflects on what we learnt during this Rebellion. For a round-up of all our activities at the Rebellion see our latest newsletter.
This was our learning rebellion – a rebellion for gathering to see what still worked and what didn’t, for trying out some new things, and for looking up from what is possible now to a bigger future. This was the rebellion where we picked ourselves up after the setbacks of covid and lockdown and started to mobilise again, conscious of the two years we have lost. Having had a couple of weeks to recuperate and begin the process of feedback, reflection and discernment within CCA, it seems a good time to think about what we have learnt.
Persisting in speaking the truth about the climate and ecological crisis in our churches and local communities can be a lonely and isolating experience and we tend to underestimate the need for the community and fellowship of simply acting together with like-minded people. It was spirituality and emotionally refreshing to be doing things together as part of a very visible (thanks to our t-shirts) CCA presence. This was reinforced by the opportunity to sleep together in a church hall and by our gathering for prayer and planning at the start of each day. This very real sense of fellowship helped us maintain a positive energy throughout the week. It also helped create a good space where people who were coming along to an action for the first time and people who came to show support could ask questions and determine what role they wished to play so they could feel safe. And for those who couldn’t be in London, taking part in the online vigil and following the rebellion on social media were also positive experiences of our community. It’s important to acknowledge the many hours of planning and organisation that made all this possible.
Grounding ourselves in worship and prayer is the lifeblood of what we do. There have been a huge number of comments on the importance of the communion service which we held in Hyde Park amongst the rest of Extinction Rebellion preparing for action. Amidst the drums, the flags, the noise, we created sacred space as we all readied ourselves for the week ahead. It was resonant with the Eucharists celebrated on the streets in previous rebellions, our Christian worship belonging not only in church but at the heart of our protest, reminding us of our primary allegiance to God’s justice rather than powers of this world. And as we continued to pray when we met each morning, we recommitted ourselves to the service of God. Collective as much as individual prayer is at the heart of what we do and making time for this is crucial.
Joining Extinction Rebellion in the mass actions was an opportunity to learn new action skills and hone our existing ones. Whether it was taking on roles like stewarding, using a banner to stop traffic to allow safe progress, talking with empathy to angry people, or just being present, it was good to be in service to the wider movement of which we are a part, and we got the opportunity to do things that helped us become more courageous.
We have a particular calling to actions specifically related to our faith. On Palm Sunday, we used a die-in to challenge the congregation and clergy after mass at the Catholic Cathedral. On Maundy Thursday we used the symbolism of oil and foot washing at Southwark Cathedral and message bearing banners alongside a die-in in front of St Paul’s Cathedral to confront Anglican clergy attending their annual Chrism services with their Diocese ongoing investment in fossil fuels. And on Good Friday we led an XR multi faith procession in the centre of London sharing our Way of the Cross and praying in the streets outside some of the many companies involved in the fossil fuel infrastructure. Asserting the need for spiritual values in the face of this crisis, publicly witnessing to our faith and speaking directly to the Church and to other Christians are key parts of our mission.
It’s not all roses, we discovered some thorns too. We need to rethink and prepare better for days when our purpose is outreach on the street. The work of engaging strangers in conversation about mobilising in the face of the climate and ecological emergency is hard, and often dispiriting when we can’t find a way in. It takes most of us outside our comfort zones. But we reach people beyond our usual communities in this way, and when people do stop and engage, valuable conversations and connections can occur. We need to grow a more diverse movement and build more widespread public support, so it’s important that we continue to learn and practice ways of doing this well.
Another thing we may need to rethink and refine is our tactics and strategy around blocking roads. There is a growing feeling that we will need to discern a new balance between effective disruption and the harm caused to people who are already having to cope with structural injustices. This will take care and compassion and prayerful attention, but engaging in nonviolent direct action requires that we examine and re-examine what we do, with love and honesty in our hearts.
Soon we will be going back into our local communities, looking at ways to embody this learning and inviting more people to join us. We will be holding a number of events across the country in the months to come where people new to CCA and those who feel already established can meet and learn together. It would be lovely to see you at one of them – we need all of us.
And building on what we learned this time round, we hope to see you on the streets in September!