Thousands of us came together in ‘The Big One’, a mass demonstration about the climate crisis, over four amazing days from the 21- 24 April.
Organisers Extinction Rebellion (XR) showed us that an existential threat to humanity’s very future on this planet can unite the most disparate groups of people. Whether we were believers or atheists, revolutionaries or ramblers, eco-warriors or worried grans, twitchers or trade unionists, young or old, the event included an extraordinary number of charities and NGOs plus trade unions, pressure groups, and representatives of all faiths and none.
Coat of Hopes
We travelled up from Sussex on Monday, after a weekend when thousands of people had already marched on Parliament Square, picketed government offices, celebrated Earth Day on Saturday and rubbed shoulders with the Marathon crowds on Sunday. If I was worried that the final day would be an anti-climax, it certainly was not.
We were lucky enough to meet Barbara Keal on the station platform, the artist who had initiated the Coat of Hopes, and walked all the way from the south coast to Glasgow for Cop 26. As she journeyed through Britain, Barbara had added patches all the time as people sent their hopes to be sewn on the cloak.
Arriving in London that day, she donned the coat on Victoria Station, heavy with its load of patchwork hopes, and led us out down Victoria Street, tall and compelling as she sang the Coat’s song – a modern day prophet. We, her little band, carried the long train as she walked and took turns in wearing it, feeling its warmth and the weight of all those hopes. Passers-by stopped us and asked the story. Others bounced up to Barbara to reminisce, having encountered her somewhere on the long road to Glasgow.
The carnival atmosphere developed as we drew nearer to the Houses of Parliament. Groups of people converging from all directions: the Red Rebel performance troupe were all in green – their faces white masks. A crowd of people with a massive model chimney were part of the Incinerator procession, on their way to picket the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero. I was told about the thousands of pink boats that were delivered to the Home Office, symbolising the millions having to leave home because of climate and ecological collapse.
Then we were in Parliament Square, flags and banners held aloft, music playing, drums and thousands of people all united in a single aim, to survive! Stalls lined the pavements – stalwart defenders of eco-systems, natural diversity, precious habitats, island nations, sustainability and, wonderfully, street food cooked by XR and offered for whatever anyone could afford.
We sat on the kerb, eating a delicious vegan curry, listening in to a Citizens Assembly on whether it was better to organise locally, picket the strongholds of the fossil fuel barons, or carry out actions that would lead to prison. The final outcome was that we should try a mixture of all three, although being slung into Lewes jail for annoying Tory MPs does not really appeal.
A sadder yet ultimately inspirational half hour followed as we listened to Holly, partner of Marcus Decker, who had just been imprisoned for two years and seven months, together with Morgan Trowland, for scaling the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at the Dartford Crossing. They hung a Just Stop Oil banner from the bridge and remained in hammocks until the police removed them.
Their sentences seem particularly harsh and it’s incredibly concerning that so many climate activists are ending up in court, not allowed to express their motivation as it risks extra weeks in prison for contempt. Holly’s speech was heartening and without bitterness, looking towards an appeal, but taking heart from the fact that the inmates of Chelmsford Prison were now hearing the gospel of sustainability.
A moving conclusion…
Wandering slowly back around Parliament Square, there was much to think about as the final mass demonstration gathered outside the House of Commons. Music filled the air; groups of people were everywhere and the square was still a place for pedestrians rather than traffic. Even the Met police seemed chilled.
Dropping in at the faith hub, I was sad to miss the open air communion on the pavement, but inspired by Archbishop Sentamu’s story about Shell calling the police when he attempted to deliver a letter in his role as Chair of Christian Aid. As a worried gran, the last sentence is one that particularly moved me:
“We ask you to humbly reflect on the need for your company to now rapidly change course, in order for there to be justice and mercy, and life at all, for all future generations. Be assured of our prayers for wisdom, courage and strength as you consider your response. Please look into the eyes of a child that you love, as you do.” – Archbishop Sentamu
..and an invitation
In one of the few media reports of the weekend’s activities, The Guardian mentions XR’s invitation “to become part of a new, thriving campaign to protect and restore our world.” Will you join me?