Extinction Rebellion Experiences: A Personal Perspective - New Associations Article 3

On the 31st October, 2018, Extinction Rebellion declared itself in uprising against the UK government over its failure to act on the climate emergency. I joined the rebellion ten days later and took an active role in the mass disruption that followed. We targeted government buildings, closed down six bridges over the Thames and, during the International Rebellion, occupied four major London sites. I was part of the first wave of rebels that closed down the roads around Marble Arch.

The rebellion has grown in size from a few hundred people in October to over ten thousand in April and continues to grow exponentially. We believe we are on the right side of history and are prepared to sacrifice our liberty in honour of our beliefs. During the International Rebellion, over one thousand ordinary people from all walks of life were arrested and jailed for their participation in non-violent direct action.

There was no trouble with the police. Indeed, Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, is on record as saying: "This is very, very difficult for us because my colleagues have never come across the situation that they are faced with at the moment. They are dealing with very, very passive people, probably quite nice people, who don't want confrontation whatsoever with the police or anyone else but are breaking the law."

We believe breaking the law is necessary to bring about change. We tried signing petitions, we tried writing to our MPs, we tried legal demonstrations – so far nothing has happened and we are now out of time. According to a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have just eleven years to avoid social and ecological collapse. The IPCC represents the best minds in the field of climate science. Scientists are not generally known for their use of hyperbole. We are in a desperate situation.

I have been aware of climate change since I was a teenager. I remember the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997, and how hopeful I felt at that time. Everything changed in the new millennium. I remember the terrorist attacks, the long war, the failure of successive governments to listen to the people, the financial crash, austerity and then, in recent memory, the referendum on Europe. With every passing year, I lost a little more faith in the government’s ability to act in the best interests of the people and prevent catastrophic climate change.

It is not easy to live in a culture of denial. Before joining the rebellion, I frequently felt anxious, depressed, angry and occasionally desperate. I did not feel as though I could talk to anyone about how I was feeling, outside of a small circle of trusted friends, family and colleagues. I remember how people used to change the subject as soon as I mentioned the climate – as though the climate crisis was a taboo subject. All of that changed when I joined the rebellion and, for the first time, met others with whom I could identify.

I consider myself privileged to be able to speak openly and honestly about my feelings within a community that values empathy and respect above all else. We are developing an inclusive culture that welcomes every part of every person, including those parts that do not always seem coherent or cohesive. There are tensions and conflicts, of course, as one would expect in any mass movement with no obvious hierarchy. Nonetheless, we share a common goal and are committed to working through our differences together.

There is so much I would like to say about the rebellion, but I will end by sharing my experiences at Oxford Circus on the day the police confiscated our iconic pink boat. The boat had provided a striking visual focal point with the words “TELL THE TRUTH” emblazoned on its side. I loved that boat. In my mind, it came to represent love, inclusion, diversity, hope, defiance and, above all else, an unwavering commitment to the truth.

We had managed to hold the space for four days straight, reimagining the famous retail location as a place of celebration, with singing and dancing and music and play. Then, on the fifth day the police moved in, determined to reclaim the space. I remember arriving at the Circus to find a police cordon around the boat itself and the hundred or so rebels who had already ‘locked on’ for the duration. It had become impossible to get reinforcements to the boat.

I did not know what to do. I felt powerless to intervene. I desperately wanted to break the police lines, even though it would have meant certain arrest, but felt torn between my commitment to the rebellion and my commitment to my family, who had travelled with me that day. As I watched my five year old daughter draw chalk flowers on the road, to the sound of heavy cutting machinery, I feared for the future of the rebellion. More than that, I feared for my daughter’s future.

As I witnessed the boat being slowly dismantled, I felt almost overcome by grief. Then, in that moment of near despair, something beautiful happened. Two rebels – I do not know their names – invited us all to sit down together, several hundred rebels or more. They suggested we convene a ‘Peoples’ Assembly’, which is essentially a forum for sharing thoughts and feelings with a view to building consensus and commitment to a course of action.

We were invited to consider how we would help each other bear the grief of the coming climate crisis and build resilience within our communities. I knew immediately that everything we had been through so far – the struggle, the hardship, the discomfort, the pain, the sense of impotence in the face of state power, the conflict between responsibility to family and responsibility to the planet, the near overwhelming feelings of loss, grief and despair, the ability to support each other and make sacrifices for the greater good – I realised that these are the emotional experiences we must all work through together as a society, if we are to survive the climate emergency.

Please join us. The rebellion needs you.

Rob Stuart is a psychodynamic counsellor in private practice. He trained at Birkbeck College, University of London and is registered with the British Psychoanalytic Council and the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

 This article by CPA member Rob Stuart was part of a special issue focusing on the climate emergency of New Associations, the magazine of the British Psychoanalytic Council. Helen Morgan, a Jungian analyst and former Chair of the BPC commissioned the articles that comprised this autumn 2019 issue. (British Psychoanalytic Council Illustrator: Allen Fatimaharan.

Written by Rob Stuart

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