In December I compared climate actions with strike action. I noted how many people had taken to the streets in previous years to protest to the Government against the poll tax in 1990 when between 180,000 and 250,000 people march to the Houses of Parliament, and against the Iraq war in 2003 between 750,000 and 2,000,000 people marched to Hyde Park.
On New Year’s Day Extinction Rebellion made an unexpected announcement: “We’re quitting!” Certainly that was the phrase picked up by the media. Quitting what? The climate crisis arena? Activism? Public life?
The group is quitting, for the moment, disruptive actions such as glueing to things, blocking roads or breaking glass, and instead sticking to such legal protests as are still permitted. “As we ring in the new year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic…This year, we [will] prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, as we stand together and become impossible to ignore.” https://extinctionrebellion.uk/2022/12/31/we-quit/
So this morning I joined a hundred people from XR with a hundred flags (or thereabouts) for the launch of 100 Days. A hundred days until the 21st April when everyone passionate about protecting the world from the further ravages of climate change is invited to unite in protest in Parliament Square.
The message to the Government is that we need action now on the climate crisis to safeguard all our futures.
Last week I took part in the Earth Vigil outside Parliament. Participants sit on the pavement, backs against the wall that surrounds the building, and between 11 and 3pm a prayerful presence is maintained holding the needs of creation before God.
When we arrived a young police constable asked what we were doing.
“Praying for the earth”
“Well if you need anything …” he replied.
We take up our places and quietly began to pray as tourists and workers and parties of school children walked by – a back and forth, crisis-crossing flood of human life. ‘Lord help us change our lifestyle and our priorities and safeguard the next generation.’ Abruptly the murmur of urban life is broken by loud, upbeat music (via an amplifier) whilst a commentary is loud-hailered by a one man protest group, hurling abuse at the Tory party.
Restore focus once more on our silent prayer. Behind the many legs of the passersby, waves of traffic slide past by as traffic lights regulate their flow. Buses in twos and threes, black cabs swinging round tight curves, delivery vans and construction trucks, SUVs that are certainly not for utility and bikes which are! ‘Lord help us shape a better future, a better use of people’s skills and resources; a cleaner, kinder world.’ From the opposite side of the square another amplifier sets off in competition with the first. The music is more classical in tone. These protestors are women speaking out against the oppression of their comrades in Iran. They are wrapped in flags.
Refocus, centre down, pray. A trickle of people come and go through the chicane that gives access to Parliament, inside whose doors policy is worked on, debated, argued, and often fudged. ‘Lord help change the systems that shape our economy. So often they damage the lives of ordinary people and the health of the environment – bring wisdom and humility to the hearts of minds of those in power.’ A kerfuffle in the middle of the road – police are rushing forwards – has someone fallen over? No not fallen down but sat down. Not one but a dozen or more sat or lying in the road, odd hands glued down, other hands grasping ‘Insulate Britain’ banners.
The frenzy of the moment is heart stopping. Brave? Vulnerable? Safe? The faces look confident. Now the road swarms with police and journalists – where did they all come from? More activists and members of the public add to the melee. Traffic grinds to a halt. It takes a while for the police to restart the traffic, directing them along the unoccupied traffic lane – a rogue motorcyclist tries to take an alternative route and is reprimanded.
A degree of order returns. Traffic moves in waves controlled by the lights.
Pedestrians continue to cross-cross the pavement, now and then stopping to take photos. Tourists add pictures of both the Houses of Parliament and the freedom to protest to their phones. More police vans, more police officers arrive and a slow process of note taking and questioning, surveying and evidence collecting starts. ‘Lord be with those who risk their comfort to stand up for the cause of justice. Be with those in other parts of the world who risk their lives in this cause. Challenge our churches to recognise what is happening and what needs to happen.’
A quick reconnoitre confirms we know some of the glued on protestors. Both they and the women of Iran are held in prayer. ‘Lord surround them with your protection that they may know they are loved. May their endeavours for justice be fruitful.’
Person by person the road protest is slowly – almost tediously – dismantled as the protestors are conveyed to the back of police vans and driven away. The media presence holds strong filming and interviewing the protestor in the road – they have certainly caught the attention of the press. And the public too. Passers by continue to stand and stare and take photos – what will they say when they get home or when they share these images on social media? Will their sensibilities about the current crisis of climate and justice have been raised? Only 2 or 3 shout abuse or remonstrate with the protestors.
Pray, think, reflect. ‘Lord transform the hearts and minds of all who pass by today. Fill them with compassion and a desire for justice. Safeguard the earth that it be not destroyed by our folly.’
And tomorrow and next week and next month …. the protests will go on for we need justice in our world and there are many willing to demand it. ‘Lord have mercy.’