The Barclays bank security guard was loud, flustered and very quickly asked us to leave. Adrenaline surged through my system. Three of us were sitting in silent meditation. We ignored his words and kept sitting quietly with our eyes closed. I heard one of our police liaisons trying to reason with the guard, and then another voice joining in. I half-opened my eyes. This new voice was a police officer in a bright yellow jacket. How had I got here?
“Would anyone like to sit inside the bank?”
I tentatively raised my hand. Two other people put their hands up as well. Okay, I said to myself, I guess I’ll be sitting inside the bank.
Barclays bank are the biggest investor in coal in the UK, they are the most invested in fossil fuels of any bank in Europe and 7th in the world. Since the 2015 Paris agreement they have invested $145 billion in fossil fuels and despite having net zero goals in 2020 their investment in fossil fuels was higher than in 2019…
It’s clear we need an immediate end to fossil fuel extraction, and the environmental and human cost of continuing to use them will be devastating.
We were planning to mindfully walk to the bank, to sit outside in meditation with our banners and placards which read, ‘Barclays the ecocide bank’, and to hand out leaflets and talk to passers-by. If some of us agreed to sit inside the bank it would probably increase the visibility and presence of the protest.
Despite knowing all of that I was ambivalent about ratcheting up the tension by arriving just before the main protest and sitting inside the bank. Lots of positive change throughout history has come about through non-violent direct action – I know that there is value in creating the right amount of disturbance and yet I was wary.
Satya and I had decided to go home a day earlier than planned, and getting arrested would put a dent in those plans, I wasn’t sure of the value of arrest as protest in this context, I was simply tired after a few long days of demonstrating in Glasgow and knew it would be both jangling and exhausting.
I had a mix of reasons for wanting to act. From all of the very good arguments of the value of NVDA and protest, to wanting to feel useful, to competitive parts of me that compare me with other activists, to the parts of me that are flabbergasted at continued investment in fossil fuels and business as usual.
Taking all of this into account I had raised my hand.
In the bank our brilliant police liaison (a demonstrator trained in speaking to the police) continued to talk to both the police and the security guard. The police were asking how they could trust we really were peaceful, and they were letting the liaison know that we were now trespassing as we’d been asked to leave. And yet, they weren’t rushing to speak to us directly. I half-opened my eyes again. There was a police van outside now, and a whole crowd of officers, and a crowd of public, and a dozen or more other XR Buddhists sitting in meditation outside the bank.
I don’t know how much time passed. A few minutes perhaps. It felt both longer and shorter. How long could we continue to sit without risking arrest, I wondered? How much use was it to increase the drama of the protest by being here?
None of the three of us inside wanted to be arrested today, we’d each said that we’d ignore requests from bank staff for us to move, but would move when the police instructed us to.
The police convinced the liaison to pass on the message that we were now trespassing and that it was an offence to stay once we’d been asked to leave.
I stood up and had a chat with the officer. He very slowly ushered me to the door, and I sat down outside with the other XR Buddhist protestors.
We sat for another half an hour or so. I focussed on my breath, and occasionally noticed people chatting to Satya and Joe who were handing out leaflets. Some of them agreed to change where they banked after reading our leaflets filled with facts. One or two were upset with us for being there at all.
Slowly most of the police left.
As my nerves calmed I was able to unpick some of my different emotional responses to that encounter. Anger and frustration at the bank, gratitude for those sitting with me both inside and outside the bank, fear of conflict, fear of an escalation into physical violence (later I learnt one of our police liaisons had been pushed by the security guard), gratitude to the earth for supporting me, for my body for continuing to breathe, for the teachings and traditions and practices that allowed me to remain more or less steady.
The bell rang, signalling the end of meditation. We bowed, gathered up our banners and walked in mindfulness and silence away from the bank.
Later, away from the protest, as my emotions began to settle I noticed a deep well of grief for what we have lost already, the acute personal pain of the Earth’s suffering that was lodged within me, and a deep sense of connection to both the Earth and the XR Buddhists I had shared the day with.
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