36, Member of XR Reading.
I am a 36-year-old married man with a decent job and a mortgage. With so much stake in the system, many people would consider it utterly mental the way I found myself on the August bank holiday: running through an underpass with a group of Extinction Rebellion protestors, trying to be faster than the police.
So why was this?
It’s pretty shameful but the tipping point in my own consciousness didn’t come when there were wildfires or tornadoes abroad; no, for me it was the July heatwave (first ever UK Met Office warning for extreme heat but mild compared to what happened elsewhere) and the floods. Nothing brings home the reality of the situation we’re all in like seeing a disaster on your own doorstep. The footage of something as familiar as a London tube station filling up with water was shocking.
We had been on a march from London Bridge to The City of London. I am a fast walker and so I quickly caught up with the Samba band, even though I had started near the back of the protest. (The fact that I love the incredibly loud drumming may have had something to do with it as well.) We stopped halfway to listen to speeches, including one from that well-known enemy of the state, Chris Packham CBE, presenter of Springwatch, and it was shortly after that when we realised that a group of us have had been cut off from the rest of the protest. This was an obvious tactic, as a helicopter had been circling overhead the whole time. Officers were blocking the streets in several directions and at that point, surrounding maybe one or two hundred of us, including the band. Bust cards were being handed out.
I thought “here we go, we’ve been kettled and now there will be trouble”; my wife had already told me “do what you want, just don’t get yourself arrested”.
It wasn’t long though before we broke through into a side street and started running. As we went through the underpass heading up to Tower Bridge, people were shouting “beat the police cordon”.
As it turns out, it’s a bit harder to get arrested than I thought. There is a lot of reliance on intimidation of the crowd instead, and aside from questionable police behaviour (£50m of taxpayers’ money well-spent), we have to contend with the right-wing media’s attempts to make XR look bad as well. I witnessed first-hand everyone parting ways to let a fire engine through.
Over the course of both weekends, I met a lot of nice, peaceful people, and several highly educated people who actually know what (the fuck) they’re talking about (unlike many of the aforementioned right-wing commentators). The person who stood out the most, though, was someone who said he was taking time off from his PhD studying climate tipping points because it was too much to take in.
Member of XR Reading
As a student in the 1970’s I was alerted to the stupidly suicidal harm being done to our only life support system; that warning was from scientist Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring was published in 1962 and led to a partial pesticide ban – despite fierce lobbying by profit-motivated business and industry – and to a surge of environmental activism. I became a supporter of groups like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and several others campaigning on behalf of nature and disadvantaged people. The more I learned, the more care I took about how I chose to live, for example by not having children or buying a car. There are too many people, consuming too much and polluting, depleting and destroying our precious finite resources.
I have seen that collectively, our poor choices are responsible for rapidly accelerating both the destruction of the nature which supports us and the death and displacement of people and other species. Science indicates that the current man-made global temperature rise of about 1.2 degrees which we are now witnessing the devastating effects of will within decades rise to as much as about 4 degrees under the current destructive policies, and still to as much as about 3 degrees if all the action required to meet the pledges made at the 2015 Paris conference is ever taken. And our climate breakdown, which is already alarmingly increasing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, and thereby increasing our food and housing insecurity, is only one big part of our larger environmental and economic emergency.
As a volunteer I have for decades been involved in various parts of the country in activities including nature conservation work, tree planting and management, community supported organic farming, the Incredible Edible network, guerrilla gardening, and sustainable transport. As an Occupy movement supporter I led a successful five year campaign to restore to use a valuable Listed building long neglected by a local authority. Most recently I helped to build the Reading Hydro community energy generator and associated fish pass at Caversham Weir. For many years I have been suggesting that people take whatever collective practical action they can to improve things ‘at ground level’, and to apply pressure to those in power to change what we cannot. For decades I have been one of the many people petitioning, writing, marching, and meeting our politicians to try to get those in power to act responsibly in response to our existential environmental emergency and other crises; as is now obvious, those in power have simply allowed situations to worsen for people and for for nature, and for the costs, scale, and urgency of the required responses to keep increasing.
When Extinction Rebellion proposed acting in response to the continuing failure to bring about the increasingly desperately needed changes, I joined in, and our early action did indeed result in the late Parliamentary acknowledgement of our environmental emergency, which in turn changed the conversations many of us were having with politicians and others, especially those who were disputing even the basic relevant scientific assertions. When XR do take action, I often speak to people nearby about what is happening and what needs to be done, an activity undertaken by supporters commonly including seriously concerned scientists, medical professionals, teachers, worried parents & grandparents, and retirees like me. As a police officer for almost all of my working life I was thanked for doing my best to serve and protect everyone, to evaluate evidence and act accordingly, and to respond quickly to emergencies; for doing the same voluntarily with XR I was unlawfully arrested.
As Greta Thunberg says: it’s good to have hope, but for there to be hope there has to be more than words; there has to be action.
Daniela is 54. An alumni of the university, she studied Italian and film studies at Reading in the 80s. She now works as a primary French teacher. She is a member of XR Reading.
I first became aware of XR during the Easter rebellion of 2019. I was on holiday in Wales and felt a strong urge to join the protests immediately. That was not possible so I obsessively watched all the action on the FB live streams. I was mesmerised by the colour, theatre, samba and joy of the peaceful protests and amazed by the huge numbers of people willing to be arrested. Back in Reading, I attended a Heading for Extinction talk and NVDA (non-violent direct action) training and I was hooked! Once the reality and severity of the climate and ecological crisis had sunk in, it was impossible not to act; nothing I did as an individual would ever be enough. At the training we formed an ‘Affinity Group’ – a group of 6-8 rebels that work together. The affinity group we created has been massively important to my growth in XR; activism can feel isolating, especially when XR faces criticism and misrepresentation in the media, so having fellow rebels to talk to is crucial. Within a week of training, I had joined the local group and a week later I was on my first action outside Barclays bank, being a ‘nuisance’ by pouring fake oil and telling customers that Barclays is the largest European investor in destructive fossil fuel exploration and extraction.
2 years down the line XR is still a very big part of my life. I have participated in several campaigns ie: Stop HS2, Money rebellion, back the CEE bill (Climate and ecological emergency bill), Free the press, Kill the bill and recently the Impossible Rebellion; demanding an immediate end to all fossil fuel extraction and exploration. I have been naturally drawn to working on outreach projects, talking to the public and welcoming new members to XR. I also enjoy the visual art and theatrical aspects of the movement; painting banners, printing flags and dressing-up is hopeful, fun and sociable. The diversity of activities within XR is huge, training and support is given to allow rebels to choose suitable roles like de-escalation, welfare, first aid, police liaison, arrestee support, media and messaging, digital rebellion, lobbying, action planning and more…
I describe myself as ‘non-arrestable’; as a teacher, being arrested could impact my employment, so I do not sign-up for what we call ‘spicy’ actions which include occupations, road blocking , lock-on tubes or gluing. In the most recent rebellion, I helped with welfare in the blocking of Oxford Circus and a Downing Street action. For the first time, I came very close to being arrested and witnessed heavy handed, violent and intimidating police response which was very shocking and a worrying development in the policing of the protests.
In moments of doubt, I hear my fellow rebels asking: ‘Are we making a difference? Is there any point? Is anybody listening? My answer to them is a resounding YES. Real change at government level is still criminally inadequate but we are changing hearts and minds every day. Change is now – XR is an integral part of it. Thank you XR, the world would be worse off without you.
XR rebels align with 12 core values and 3 demands https://rebellion.global/about-us/
Our local group: email@example.com
62, retired. Member of XR Reading
I’m a reluctant activist. Some people have embraced with joy the creative exuberance of the Extinction Rebellion protests but for me the prospect of going onto the streets and facing the public dressed in XR regalia, or even in a costume as part of an action, makes my soul shrink. Like a snail I retreat into a shell of thoroughly British embarrassment. It does not help that for a number of critics the theatricality of many of the protests – designed to catch the eye of the media – is grounds enough to dismiss XR’s campaigning as mere play, and activists as attention seeking children in a world of supposedly rational adults. These critics have not been paying attention. Now that I have got over myself enough to dress up, chant, march, dance and sit in roads I see that despite its playful tactics climate activism could not be more serious. Our fate, and the fate of subsequent generations, is in our hands. Nobody is coming to save us.
I remember the first time I saw lock-ons, that is people who have locked themselves together, usually with their arms in a tube, with the intention of being arrested. They were an elderly couple, lying on the ground in The Mall, chaos and noise all round them, a line of police advancing towards them. They looked uncomfortable and cold, despite the donated scarves wrapped around their necks, but they were calm. I was so impressed I offered them the last of my chocolate. In return, they explained why they were there, these two people in their seventies who will probably not face the horrors which those younger than them will suffer if we cannot effect massive, systemic change. I was awed by their passion and commitment and I remain deeply impressed by the energy of all those trying to engage with their fellow citizens and convince them of the need for immediate action to prevent looming climate catastrophe. So when well-meaning, and sometimes less well-meaning , people ask me whether I feel my actions with XR are effective I have a simple question for them: more effective than what? More effective than sitting at home rinsing out yoghurt pots in the mistaken belief that I was surely doing my bit? (Only nine percent of plastic is actually recycled. Sorry if you didn’t know that; it’s a bummer.) More effective than assuming that someone else, somewhere, somehow was going to sort it all out?
The answer to that original question is yes it is, though if you feel that you know a better form of direct action, tell me about it and I will gladly join you. But don’t sit back and ask me why I can’t just sign a petition. The time to protest about the destruction of our world is now. And if you are nervous, or embarrassed, or unsure: educate yourself, because your government is not telling you the truth, and draw strength from others engaged in this struggle. Love and rage.
Member of XR Reading.
I’ve been interested in nature for as long as I can remember. Initially a fascination with all animals (plants not so much) that distilled into a great interest in birds. Probably because these are the most visible and varied, and (to me) beautiful animals in the country I live in.
Because of this interest I’ve always been aware of the pressure that humans have been placing on the natural world. Since the 1970s I’ve seen all the worrying documentaries. I’d happily get involved in conversations where I’d explain that we have a big problem, but even during those earlier decades I had no idea how big the problem actually was and how exponentially it was exploding as I chatted. For a long time I’ve just felt paralysed at the scale of it. Practically I did little other than diligently recycle (recycling is such a sop). Didn’t think twice about flying when I could afford it. Just more and more vehemently bored my friends and family (who are all very sympathetic) about how urgent a problem this is. So when XR turned up my interest was piqued. I first came across XR physically when they performed a die-in in Broad Street, Reading. I had a chat, and took an email address that I didn’t follow up on.
A few months later the April 2019 XR Rebellion happened. I’d booked to see a couple of films at the BFI on the South Bank. I decided I’d go up a few hours early to see what goes on with this rebellion thing. I went straight to Oxford Circus, walked up the steps from the Tube and there was the pink boat. The atmosphere was electric. Singing, chanting, drumming, police, confused bystanders. I started talking to people. Many intelligent, but not well informed. I knew quite a bit about climate change by now. I was amazed at how quickly people were turned. Two separate people I started a conversation with were just complaining about these people blocking the road. Within 10 minutes they were signed up and handing out XR leaflets. You don’t become a member of XR. You just turn up.
I’m involved in activism because it’s too late for the climate and ecological emergency to be fixed just by everyone making individual life changes to reduce their carbon footprint. Personal changes are important, but things have to happen quickly now at a geopolitical level to prevent ecological and societal collapse.
Primarily, stop burning fossil fuels and international compensation for Brasil to stop destroying the Amazon. There’s a lot on the brink right now. We need system changes that mean individual actions automatically have less impact. This requires government and international action.
I feel I have to do something to keep tapping away at the wall of inertia. Doing it collectively helps, but it’s also liberating to act individually from time to time. We just have to keep going, keep talking, keep making a noise. It might be too late, but I can’t do nothing.
In terms of individual changes. The quickest way you can have an effect is reduction of meat and fish consumption (dairy too). Every portion of meat and fish not purchased means a little more biodiversity, fewer emissions, and a little more carbon capture. Start reducing to perhaps one meat or fish meal a week, and go from there. If everyone in the west did just that it would have a huge effect. Generally buy less stuff. Systems can change.
Reported by Grace Eakin