‘This Is An Emergency!’: My Experience Protesting With Extinction Rebellion

By Cas Bradbeer

Honestly, as ever, I’m disappointed in myself. I could have gone to uni less and protested more, especially since I strongly believe that this is about the most important issue in our control at this time.

I’ve recently spent a couple days protesting with Extinction Rebellion, the international body of activists protesting against the senseless inaction of our society in the face of the climate emergency. At their October Rebellion, I met people who had been camping out for weeks, people who were waiting for those who they’d travelled with to get released from prison, and people who’d gotten arrested themselves. I only camped for one night, and despite my efforts blocking traffic, was not arrested.

I feel ashamed that I didn’t protest more, whether that was against the mistreatment of the environment, the government’s refusal to accept the climate crisis, or the police brutality that I witnessed at the protests. What I’m so proud of though, is the everyday steps I take to help save the environment, and the voice that I give to the cause. So here’s my voice, here’s my protest, to which I beg you to listen, because the world needs us all to hear it dying and to change our ways.

The message of the protests were loud and clear – this is an emergency, act like it!

Sadly the only emergency action the government seems be taking is against us. The police treatment of the peaceful protesters was shocking and deeply upset me. I saw police slashing tents, going through people’s belongings, and dragging people by their backpacks without any warning, just to move them out the way. My friend who stayed several nights at Trafalgar Square said that there were helicopters hovering very low over sleeping tents between 3 and 5am each night to stop them from sleeping in an attempt to wear them down. The pinnacle of this treatment was when a ban on the whole rebellion was declared, which terrified me, as I never thought that we were in danger of losing our right to peacefully protest in this country. But now we are.

Before the ban, there were amazing talks, and displays and workshops that popped up throughout the weeks. Although it was difficult to find them as the police kept on taking everything down and seizing materials. In Trafalgar Square particularly there was a lot of key information and affective visual displays that really hit it home to me that the world is already suffering because of climate change, especially in terms of natural disasters which have dramatically increased over the past hundred years. Over this time there has been such inaction that we have now reached a crisis where we will only prevent billions from dying if we take urgent emergency action. This crisis is explained very well in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report made last year says we have 11 years to take radical action to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming, which is the only way to prevent irreparable harm.

The protests reminded me that it is vital that we make huge changes in our lives now, in addition to campaigning for authorities to take emergency action. I feel the former should always accompany the latter, because if you understand that change is desperately needed, then you should understand that this includes radical change from you as well as radical change from authorities.

The people who I met, who were invariably inspirational, also demonstrated to me what these changes could and should be. We need to understand what’s going on, so read the news. Embrace the anxiety it ought to bring you, use it to push yourself out of inaction. Use the information to inform the petitions you sign, what protests to go to, and what to say when you’re calling your MPs or complaining to the news about coverage. What really struck a chord with me though is not what extra things people were doing, but what people were willing to give up. They reminded me that if people can give up their beds, their jobs, their relationships, and their sanity for the cause, we can all work much harder to let go of our bulk of privileges. So I beg you to also give up: the meat, dairy, and plastic takeaways you eat; travelling via planes, private transport, non-electric vehicles; your next shopping spree; your drugs; and maybe even some of your civil liberties. We’ve all got a mountain to climb (I’ve certainly got to work on those last couple of privileges), but it is our absolute duty to so.

It can seem overwhelming, but I can assure you that this is much less overwhelming than the death of billions, not to mention our planet as a whole becoming uninhabitable. The planet is crying out desperately for you to change, and unfortunately many have not paid attention because this is a cry that is on such a huge scale and not visible to the majority of us, and our psychology makes it more difficult for us to comprehend such crises. But the evidence is there, and it’s time to act in opposition to our impulses. It’s so easy to give up, and it’s harder to give things up, but the latter is what the planet’s inhabitants, future inhabitants, ecosystems, and the physical structure of the planet need.

What you lose by giving these things up, I promise you will regain in the hope that Extinction Rebellion protests, and the climate activism movement in general, will give you. Seeing the crowds at the October Rebellion in London reanimated my passion for the movement. I don’t know whether it was the 30,000 people protesting there, the 1,800 peaceful protestors who were wilfully arrested, or their infectious fighting spirit. If I had to put my finger on it though, I think I would say that my passion was jet-propelled by meeting people who are as scared as I am yet are not pushed to the point of inaction. They reminded me that inaction is not where you go because you know what’s happening, it’s where you go when you choose to go there.

The time to start being radical was about 20 years ago, so start catching up now!

Photo by Joël de Vriend

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