Rebellion Report – Andy

Andy meditating on day one of the #impossiblerebellion in Trafalgar Square

It was my second day at the rebellion. Up to now I had been engaged but not emotionally. The action at BP HQ changed that, because of the thoughts it stimulated during the meditation.

I have developed the habit of meditating on the four immeasurable thoughts during actions, somewhat as follows:

  • May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes. May I myself bring them to happiness and its causes. Please Gurus and Deities, bless me to be able to do this.
  • May all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes…etc
  • May all sentient beings abide forever in bliss and its causes…etc
  • May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, and its causes…etc

As I started to get into this meditation, I began to think about who the sentient beings involved in BP include. I began with the CEO, maybe sitting in a big office at the top of the building; then all the others in the company involved in making decisions; then the shareholders, investing in order to get a return; then the motor industry, continuing to produce vehicles that consume the petroleum; the construction companies who make the roads; the politicians who facilitate this whole process through decisions about taxation and planning policy etc; and finally, we the public, who wish to travel from A to B.

As I took the thoughts deeper, I reflected on all the karma (action) of creating the causes of mass extinction through the creation of carbon emissions through using petroleum. I reasoned that if people are ignorant of the consequences, as many of us were in the past, then the karmic consequences aren’t so great. However, now we all know. Everyone from the CEO down knows. So, like it or not, all involved in the process are creating the karmic causes of killing on a wide scale.

The Buddha taught that the karmic results of killing are several – rebirth in a lower realm; when born a human, having the tendency to kill again or experiencing being killed; and living in a place with much violence and lack of resources.

What about knowingly generating the causes of mass extinction?

Not far into this train of thought, I started to break down in tears. It happened a few times during our half hour of meditation. At one point I opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful huge trees opposite, in St James Square. This triggered a further burst of tears for all the forests and their inhabitants destroyed by warming.

As I said in the debrief after, I find this unbearable, when it pierces my inner defences. Meditation has the capacity to do this.

I am now going into retreat for five weeks. I will revisit these thoughts and feelings during the retreat, I am sure. For me, this is the benefit of being a Buddhist, that one has a method for facing and working with the grief of the unbearability of what is happening.

The situation calls for the most powerful compassion. Compassion is the basis for action. Whatever action we take, based on such extraordinary compassion, will have a powerful impact, because the mind is powerful.

Andy has been studying, practising and teaching Buddhism within the Gelug Tibetan tradition for 40 years. He joined XR in 2019, and is active in his local XR group in South Somerset.

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Barclays, Buddhists and Blackbirds

The Barclays HQ action August 27th Canary Wharf London: by Joe Mishan

As I exit the station at Canary wharf with my friend Elizabeth to join the others in the  park, I notice with alarm a rather generous scattering of police; I immediately know that we have been rumbled. I am carrying a banner which is a bit of a give away I have to admit. A minute after sitting down in the park with the early arrivals for the action, the various exits to the park appear to be secreting police and security, some of whom amble casually toward us. I explain we are an XR Buddhist group and that we are constitutionally quiet, and have no intention to break anything; that we will be meditating in front of a bank in an undisclosed location. The police listen doubtfully, issue warnings about damage to property and general misbehavior before sauntering away to form an amphitheater of yellow jackets as we slowly grow in numbers. 

I am gladdened to see so many of us: about 36 Buddhists some of whom I have not seen for some time. And a group of the newly formed Blackbirds who are joining us with their bird-voices and movement as a backdrop to our meditation. 

I ask the group to pair up and to reflect on the impact of the climate crisis; what breaks our hearts? What inspires us? As I’m standing in the centre of the group amid the murmur of voices, a heavily uniformed policeman approaches me and says that since I don’t have a partner he is willing to hear my reflections! This is a novel situation (which is in no XR training manual as far as I know) and I’m aware of an instant conflict between curiosity, and eagerness to take up the opportunity to see what happens – and suspicion and hostility. I decide on the former course of action, and tell him about my deep concern for my children, how my early life primed me for sensitivity to harm to the natural world, and my guilt at my contribution to the crisis. He seems attentive in a somewhat distant way. He declines to reciprocate though, saying that he is not allowed to share his opinion whilst in uniform. He does tell me however that he’s been in uniform  – the army and the police – since the age of 17. I suppose I will never know what his intentions in approaching me were: and I wondered also whether he really knew what they were himself.

We form a column to exit the park. Our placards read: ‘Barclays: the Ecocide Bank’ under a picture of the Earth on fire. It’s pithy and in yer face: and also true. Barclays is the highest investor in fossil fuels in Europe. Since the Paris agreement they have poured $145bn into fossil fuel projects around the world, and despite net zero promises there is no sign of them slowing down. We set off in a slow meditation walk to the deep resonance of a single drum-beat. The sound echoes eerily off the glass and concrete of the streets. 

Canary wharf is in my experience a uniquely dehumanised, de-natured place. There is something almost sinister here: a place of rigid angularity, every centimeter privatised, claimed and conquered by the corporate dollar. Gleaming surfaces occupying the vertical and horizontal planes. It was into this arid place that our march took us: the slow heartbeat of the drum echoing the heart-ache of all we have lost in the name of profit.

On reaching the towering bulk of Barclays we were greeted (or intimidated), by the sight of more than 40 police lining the edges of the roads, backed up by metal barriers. Such is the mobilizing power of meditation. We were granted a place to sit at a safe distance from the front doors of the building and we settled onto our places. I was handing out leaflets to the few passersby and was privileged to witness the soft insistent power of lines of meditators sitting in stillness. It was in intensely moving experience shared, so I heard later, by the head of security at the bank. 

Shantigarba began the guided meditation as the Blackbirds gathered behind us, performing bird-language curiosity at the unusual stillness of these humans, and then joining in in appreciation with vocal calls and postures which echoed and amplified. The meditation moved through four mudras; the fierce abhaya mudra, the Earth-touching mudra, calling on the Earth to witness our belonging to web of life, then an invitation to open the eyes to see clearly into the pain being inflicting on the Earth. And finally in anjali, the meditators bowed to the Earth and sent kindness and well-wishing to all beings blighted by the impacts of the fossil fuel industry.

As I watched the silent synchronicity of movement flow across the lines of meditators, the grief I had been feeling all week broke through again. It was intensified I think by the unyielding immobility of the police ranks, the locked and closed doors and the empty glass windows of the building behind them. My grief was the grief for the lost heart of humanity; lost beyond reach in a labyrinth of greed and delusion. 

After the sitting meditation we walked again in slow procession back to the park to gather again and read the Buddhist Declaration of Interdependence. It was good to be back under the few trees in the park again, their generous shelter and reliable presence. 

At this action, like so many others, I was reminded of the exceptional grace and power of our faith and its expression through meditation. I felt honoured to be part of this Sangha of Buddhist activists which has such heart and courage in it. 

Thank you to all who took part, and a deep bow to the Backbirds who have flown into our hearts like a blessing. 

Namaste to all

Joe Mishan was one of the original co co-ordinators of XR Buddhists and is pictured below.

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S14 trial at City of London Magistrates

By Mikey

A folder with tabs on it.  There is a statue of Quan Yin on the folder and a number of coloured cue cards with a lotus patch all pinned together.

As a teenager I was so bad at facing difficult things that I had my GCSE results sent away to a family friend so that I didn’t have to face them. I was acutely sensitive to failure and rejection and strived to remove myself from situations where they might be present. But as I grew into my twenties I found turning and facing unpleasant things was incrementally easier the more I did it. 

Deep into my thirties it came as a surprise to me to have this childhood coping mechanism re-emerge. When did this turning away appear? When I should have been preparing for a trial. I had been charged with a breach of section 14 of the Public Order Act, or as I called it ‘meditating in the road’. Instead of preparing my defense I found myself watching a lot of Homeland, and it also seemed far easier to watch long legal commentaries on the state of Britney Spears’ conservatorship than to prepare my own defence. To try and make progress I fell back on the bargaining that got me through my university coursework. Back then 150 words would get me a cappuccino, today writing a couple of cue cards would get me a whole episode of spy TV. I kept thinking that in the final week before my trial I’d be motivated to work on my defence, or in that final weekend, or the day before, or on the train ride to London. But motivation never really materialised. 

I managed to do bits and pieces. I decided I wanted to talk about heatwaves and drew on the Climate Change Risk Assessment from the Climate Change Committee, and particularly their briefing on the risks associated with higher temperatures. I wanted to make the point that while my motivation to act was the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable and those who had contributed least, there are very real impacts felt here too. 

The solicitor who had helped me with the plea hearing was kind enough to be quite direct with me about my chances in the trial. I had no effective legal defence. I had the sense that she was rather worn out by these activists pursuing legally incomprehensible strategies. And yet having a trial felt very important. After a long career of public silence in the civil service, the opportunity to state my truth out loud was important to me. 

However I felt quite confused about my own defence. Was I guilty? Had I set out to break the law on purpose? Was the aim to get convicted? And if so, what sort of defence statement should I make? I was holding in my head two slightly contradictory ideas: 1) that civil disobedience is a plausible tactic to enact change – and that can involve breaking the law – therefore I am guilty; and 2) I’m not guilty because this is an emergency – a moral argument, but not one the court accepts. 

A few things helped me in the run-up to the trial: Lucy Chan gave a lovely talk about Fierce Compassion at one of our meetings, and it helped me to connect with embodied compassion (something that I’d been struggling with); I took the Quan Yin statue I’d acquired after the last Rebellion with me to London for the trial; and I thought of my favourite chapter in Satya’s book Dear Earth about being held in the lap of the Buddha. As I made my way to court in a slightly cramped taxi, I remembered reading about the concept of bombu nature – that we are all foolish beings – and that cheered me up! Here I was, clasping my foolish folder of papers in my sweaty hands, my foolish cue cards, my foolish defence. And I would go to court and meet the foolish judge and the foolish prosecutor, and we would have a foolish trial. 

I was found guilty in a hot, stuffy courtroom on the 13th of July. The Judge had been reasonable and polite. In his judgement on the case he gave us a gentle 30-minute schooling on how the law does and doesn’t work. I had been worried about breaking down in court before the trial, but on the day I’d found myself nervous but steady. The only moment I felt a slight prickling behind my eyes was when the judge pronounced us guilty. The upshot of all of it was a nine-month conditional discharge and £322 in costs. 

On the coach back to Bristol I texted my friends and family updates on the trial, and assurances that I was feeling buoyant. “I’m a bona fide criminal!” I told them. I’m still processing what that means. 

The socialisation I received about crime and justice as a child – that only bad people are guilty of crimes – will take time to unlearn. I can hold in my head statistics and arguments about failures of the criminal justice system, including its systematic bias against Black people and other ethnic minorities. I know and respect many activists who have broken the law. I am inspired by historical examples of people who chose non-violent civil disobedience. I still think about Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail. I was energised by John Lewis’s idea of ‘good trouble’. And yet, despite knowing all of that, my having a criminal record still seems novel and unlikely.

What happens next? I don’t really know, but the world is still not paying enough attention to the urgency of climate change. I still believe in non-violent civil disobedience as a tactic for creating change (though not the only one). I think there are more sacrifices I can make. 

But, if the Crown Prosecution Service is reading this, the answer is I’m definitely not going to get in more trouble. Or at least not for the next nine months. 

Mikey is an XR Buddhist activist currently working on the Camino to COP. They have previously written about their their arrest and experience of juggling their civil service career and activism.

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Arrest report: September 2020 Rebellion

I shut down when I was arrested. I closed my eyes and tried to find some part of me inside which felt stable, while I was carried by officers through Parliament Square.  I could feel my jeans slipping. The officers put handcuffs on me because I wasn’t cooperating. At one point they put me down and told me to pull up my jeans, something I struggled to do while disorientated and with my hands cuffed in front of me.  Someone yelled out ‘throw them in the bath, they are all dirty’, and the police officers (who very much were fed up with carrying me) kindly told me to ignore it.  I was numbly aware that it was possible one of my civil service colleagues might see me ignobly dragged through Whitehall. 

I was asked to be searched, which I agreed to. The officers found a note I’d written asking for someone to call my partner if I was arrested.  A legal observer following me asked if I gave permission for them to take the note. I was so grateful to connect with someone who was on my side.  He took the note, and followed me. By this time I’d agreed to walk, but still mostly had my eyes closed. I can usually navigate my mild autism quite well but I felt it keenly during this period.  We eventually arrived at a police van down by the Foreign Office where I saw Kaspa and Satya. I was in too much shock to have a conversation, but their gentle chatter between themselves and with the officers helped to slowly calm me down.  Orientate myself.

We waited for a long time before setting off in the van.  I was still handcuffed and can remember feeling quite sick, through a combination of nausea, dehydration and shock.  Kaspa and Satya were offered water, I was not, and didn’t quite know how to ask for it, or how I would open the bottles while I was in handcuffs. So I watched the businesses go by and tried to note their names as a way of keeping my mind occupied. I could hear Kaspa and Satya chattering about family visits in the background and tried to leach some of their purported nonchalance.

We arrived at Lewisham police station.  We sat on benches outside the custody suite, they were the sort of benches I used to bunny hop over in school gyms. I was cold, and eventually managed to ask for my hoodie after I’d seen other people asking for things from their bags, which led to them finally unhandcuffing me. That helped unlock some of the mental paralysis I’d been feeling.  I sat next to Satya and overly conscious of not having any XR related chat grilled her on Pureland Buddhism which she gamely fielded. 

I was taken inside for processing.  I was very thirsty by that point, I hadn’t managed to ask for any water.  Asking for things made me feel vulnerable. Being processed was an odd mixture of deep concern (was I okay?  Did I have any injuries to report?  Did I have any mental illnesses? Had my rights been explained to me?  Would I like to take this booklet away to read more about my rights? Of course they could get me some water!) and being treated like an object – particularly when it came to being searched and having my fingerprints and DNA taken.  The custody officer had obviously been on some training as when I told him my title was Mx and explained it was a gender-neutral honourific he asked if I wanted to be searched by a male or female officer (presumably no non-binary officers were around…)

Eventually, and sort of blissfully, I was taken to my ‘cell’.  I can remember doing my NVDA training in Islington ages ago and discovering that in the UK you got your own cell when arrested rather than the more American style ‘drunk tank’ experience. I think that was the first time I thought that maybe I could get arrested.  Eventually, a vegan meal and orange squash appeared as well in the cell.  I was mostly preoccupied by the fact that there wasn’t any toilet paper.  Why wasn’t there any toilet paper?!  Was this on purpose?  Did we not get any?  It took me hours to convince myself that they must want you to ask for it, and that would be an okay thing to do.  Eventually, they took me to make a call to my solicitor and at that point I tried to ask for it as casually as possible and it turned up in my cell five minutes later. 

I couldn’t sleep in the cell.  The blue waterproof mattress wasn’t very conducive to comfort.  Someone was banging on their door.  There was a stencil on the ceiling saying ‘protected by Smart Water’.  What did that mean?  It conjured images of Jennifer Aniston protecting my cell.  I meditated a little. I read aloud from the Thich Nhat Hanh book. 

At some point in the early hours, I was told I would be released.  It’s very dangerous in Lewisham at this time of night, I was told by the officers.  You can stay in the police reception if you want.  I still felt adrenalised and a little numb. Eventually Kaspa and I with another rebel managed to get a taxi back into central London and I was able to jump out when the taxi met the Thames. We were told Satya wouldn’t be released for hours.  This turned out to not be true. 

It was an odd experience walking back along the Thames to my accommodation.  There was a full moon. It was a stretch of the river I knew well. I had many happy times at the National Theatre, at the BFI.  I could see the Houses of Parliament across the river. I could see my first workplace when I started in the civil service. Below that big moon it felt like my life had come to a turning point. 

This whole process has been a difficult one for me. And yet I’m also grateful for many things.  That I could take part in actions without expecting to be treated badly by the police, that I didn’t (in the end) lose my job because of my activism, that I’ve had legal support from XR, and that Kaspa and Satya were there with me. Being in a situation that is more likely to lead to arrest is not possible for everyone. 

The following morning I saw photos of my arrest. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body, I hated being photographed and yet I shared those images with everyone I knew. I was proud. 

Arrest report: September 2020 Rebellion Read More »

Volunteers wanted: COP interfaith vigil

To pause, to pray, to meditate in the midst of action is a radical act. 

Are you willing to help us build a community that provides space for that radical act? 

A community that models the power of sharing a profound powerful intentional silence in the face of catastrophe? 

Can you help us create spaces that invite people to pause, and ground themselves back into the mystery of the possible ………………… 

We would love you to join in with our quiet but growing murmuration of hope. 

After the success of the Vigil in Parliament Square in September 2020 and building on our shared experience of creating intentional contemplative spaces within spaces of protest we hope to be able to take the Earth Vigil to Glasgow for COP 26 and we would love to gather as many rebels as possible around this idea in order to make it happen.

Current Situation

  • A small group from XR Faith Bridge have been attending the zoom meetings in preparation for COP covering both ‘Camino to COP’ and ‘Earth Vigil’ and so after a number of discussions about where, when, and how, an outline for the Glasgow Vigil has emerged……
  • Glasgow Friends Meeting House has been booked for storage and daily ‘in person’ updates on vigil place and time.
  • A daily vigil space to be created according to the events of the day, needs/focus of actions and protest.
  • Vigil to start on day one of COP (Nov 1st) – explore the possibility of an opening event which could involve invited speakers.
  • Vigil to close with a through the night candlelit presence on the final evening of the conference – establish if evening before final day (Thursday) or end of the final day (Friday)
  • Vigil to have built in flexibility to allow for changes/events/capacity throughout the 12 days.
  • Vigil to have a signal chat and some form of outreach (flyer/QR code)
  • Use existing Faith Bridge Banners and logos.
  • An online Vigil space to be developed and enabled by a parallel Faith Bridge Group

Some of those who will be involved in the Earth Vigil will be out of action for organising from September 5th onwards because of their commitment to Camino to COP.

How to get involved

email hjburnett@msn.com for Glasgow Vigil.

email peter.clare@gmail.com for Online Vigil

Join our next Zoom Meeting at 6pm on Saturday July 17th https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85226408416?pwd=Zkh2Y1p0Tk15ZEFTL2pQekpNcFMyZz09

ID 85226408416

PW Vigil

Volunteers wanted: COP interfaith vigil Read More »

Research request

A wicker XR sign, part of an XR banner, a candle in a jar, a bell, and a Buddhist bowl.

Dr. Martin Wood, a lecturer at Gloucestershire University, is looking for a few folk willing to help him with research – mwood2@glos.ac.uk or 07943 666390. He said:

“I am doing some ongoing research concerning religio/spirituality and environmental activism over the last three years.  It’s all concerning emotion, ritual and symbolism in relation to themes like the creation of significant if not sacred space during direct communal action…not something many of us have been involved in over the last year or so. The work has been provisionally considered for Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief but there is a great deal of work that needs to be done on it. I am hoping it will lead to a more nuanced and insightful understanding of not only of the deep held convictions of activists in relation to their spiritual lives but also as a way of contributing to the strategies that could be considered when it comes to getting more people active in non violent direct action in the coming, hopefully post Covid, period of time.

Research request Read More »

Okavango Delta Action 22nd April 2021

Extinction Rebellion UK, XR Families, XR Buddhists, in cooperation with Extinction Rebellion Africa and Namibian and Canadian Activists organise peaceful protest Earth Day action to Canadian High Commission, Trafalgar Square (London), to demand Canada, home of ReconAfrica, and other members of the G7 (the company trades and has offices in 4 of those 7 countries) stop this project, all new oil exploration, criminalise ecocide and fund alternatives for countries like Namibia and Botswana to whom a climate debt is owed.

Thanks to Joao Daniel Pereira for the photos. If you are inspired by these photos please sign this letter.

London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.
London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.
London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.
London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.
London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.
London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.
London, UK. April 21st, 2021. Extinction Rebellion families gather in front of the High Commission of Canada to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta for oil by the company Recon. Credit: Joao Daniel Pereira.

Okavango Delta Action 22nd April 2021 Read More »

Protest at the Namibian High Commission in London against ReconAfrica oil drilling licences in Namibia and Botswana

Male activist in a blue jumper, outside a building with black railings. He holds up a sign which says 'No Drill, No Kill, in the Okavango'.

22 March 2021: Protesters including XR Buddhists Nick Clarke and Zoe Solomans outside the Namibian High Commission in London highlighting the risks posed by oil drilling licences granted to Canadian oil company ReconAfrica. 

Licences for oil exploration (with a 25 year licence for oil production if oil is discovered) cover an area of approximately 35,000 sq kms of which about 25,0000 are in Namibia. In total this is an area larger than the size of Holland! The boundary of the licenced areas include the main river flowing into the Okavango Delta which it abuts for about 270 kms and up to the edge of the Delta. The Delta is an oasis in the middle of the Kalahari desert, so large it can be seen from space and home to the largest remaining wildlife populations in Africa and a UNESCO world heritage site. It also remains the home of the San people, so ancient that all modern humans can trace their DNA to them. All of this is under threat from the inevitable pollution from oil drilling.

Drilling is being conducted by a Canadian company, ReconAfrica. A number of its chief officers have a background in fracking, from its founder Craig Steinke and including its VP of Drilling (who pioneered fracking in the US) and its current CEO. The company believes there are 125 billion barrels of oil in the region. If burnt that would release 1/6th of the worlds remaining carbon budget!

An activist in a blue coat knocks on the door of an old expensive building to deliver a letter.

This is a project of such insanity it is hard to find the right words. All of these plans were under the radar until drilling began this year. However the world is waking up. 

Activists in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Germany and Canada are challenging these plans. In the UK we are linked to them and are uniting under the banner of ReConOut! This network includes people within XR (with a strong XR Buddhist and faith flavour) and from the region. ReConOut were at the Namibian High Commission to present a letter to the Namibian High Commissioner, HE Linda Scott describing their concerns. You can find a link to this letter below. 

At this action Nick Clarke said: “Today is World Water Day and I am joining with activists across the globe highlighting threats to water systems. The Okavango Delta is a jewel of biodiversity, its value is beyond all measure and its waters sustain the livelihoods of more than a million people. Oil exploration inevitably risks polluting the Delta. If we were to burn the amount of oil ReconAfrica believes is there it will contribute to catastrophic levels of climate change risking billions of deaths and the collapse of our human societies. In solidarity with activists in Namibia, Botswana and Canada and indigenous peoples of the region I am imploring the Namibian government to think again and look for sustainable alternatives to meet its economic and energy needs. We understand this would come at a cost and we demand industrialised countries support Namibia to fund these alternatives.”

Two activists, one in a wheelchair, hold up a sign which says 'No oil drilling in the Okavango #reconout'.

Moving forward the network will be focussing on G7 leaders as they meet in Cornwall in early June. These G7 talks will include much on climate change and plans for the COP climate talks in Glasgow in November. ReconAfrica has corporate links with the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. The failure of industrialised countries to regulate their companies, to allow further oil exploration at home and globally, to not meet their commitments to fund alternatives to fossil fuels for countries in the global south to meet their energy and economic needs and the UK cancellation of much of its overseas aid… these and others are all issues it will be demanding leaders address. The Drilling in the watershed of the Okavango Delta needs to be urgently stopped: it is profiting shareholders in the global North and the wealth of a small company above the lives of millions in the short term and all of life in the future and sacrificing a priceless pristine ecosystem. In challenging this project we can also show how it exemplifies so many issues that must be addressed globally.

ReConOut will be starting with actions in April and May, building momentum towards the G7 talks and then on to COP.

To receive updates and get involved please sign up here: http://bitly.ws/cemz or email ReConOut@pm.me

Protest at the Namibian High Commission in London against ReconAfrica oil drilling licences in Namibia and Botswana Read More »

Yogaratna’s Not Guilty Plea

A man in a blue boiler suit stretches out his hand against an old stone walled building.  He is using his hand and black chalk paint to create outlines of his hand against the stone.

My action (as part of the Oily Hands protest on 28 August last year) was aimed at encouraging the University of Cambridge to divest from climate-wrecking fossil fuel investments.  I did this because there is a climate emergency, which the University of Cambridge is not treating like an emergency.  I believe my action was necessary and morally justified by the situation, therefore not criminal.  If you break down a door to rescue someone from a burning house, breaking the door is not criminal damage.  I’ll also be arguing that what happened was not ‘damage’, and giving evidence that I didn’t intend to cause damage.  I’ll be referring to the right to protest, and to cause some disruption, which so far has been respected by the police, and arguing that my action was legitimate and proportionate protest in that sense.

You might possibly sympathise with wanting to do something positive about climate breakdown.  But you may think that the situation does not justify tactics like chalk-spraying on a wall, that other means were open to me, my action was not a lesser evil, justified as an attempt to prevent a greater evil.

So what about these tactics, including things like chalk-spraying on a wall?  I appreciate that many people don’t like XR and its tactics.  But there is a background which makes these tactics necessary.  There has been 30 years or so of petitions from environmental pressure groups, of the Green Party struggling to be heard with a political system and media heavily dominated by big business which is almost entirely hostile to green issues.  30 years of almost no substantial action on climate breakdown by governments of both ends of the political spectrum.  But the climate situation, attested to by David Attenborough and the climate scientists, is desperate.  

I’m not going to throw lots of facts and figures at you.  And I’m not in any way minimising the suffering of anyone in the current pandemic.  Coronavirus has rightly been front page news every single day for the last year — but we need at least that kind of response to the threat of climate breakdown.  In fact the magnitude of suffering on its way to us from the breakdown of Earth’s living systems is far greater than what we have experienced over the last twelve months.

So the situation is desperate. But what about these activist tactics such as chalk-spraying a wall?  There is research commissioned by the very reputable Wellcome Trust (1) showing that people don’t like XR and its tactics, but that those same people do know and remember what XR is saying — a lot more than they know and remember the messages of other campaigning groups.  This kind of activism is unpopular but has raised people’s awareness and people’s minds are changing.  Since our action, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College separately have both announced plans (2) to divest from fossil fuel investment.  And in his statement Professor Stephen Toop (Vice Chancellor) explicitly recognised that morally this is the right thing to do.  But this is only after 5 years of campaigning by many people.  Climate change has shot up the agenda in this country in the last few years, for example the wave of local councils declaring a climate emergency after XR’s actions in April 2019.  There are many reasons for that, it’s not just down to XR.  But would all this really have happened without the pressure from activists?   

So there is evidence that conventional tactics have on the whole not worked, that these more direct tactics have had a positive impact, and that they are needed.  I sincerely wish these tactics were not needed, but they are.  And I sincerely regret if anyone felt hurt or offended by my action.  I did not do this lightly.  But what are the consequences of not speaking out on this issue?  This is an emergency, the alarm needs raising because action is not happening at anything like the scale or urgency that is needed. In an emergency, you need to get peoples attention, even if that means annoying them.

You may think that comparing my action to breaking down a door to rescue someone from a burning house is far-fetched.  But climate breakdown is an immediate threat to human life.  The climate scientists have found that people have been dying due to climate change since 2003.  And that includes deaths due to climate change in this country since 2010.

 I’d like to address the issue of damage for a moment.  I used chalk spray, which is very soluble in water, because my clear and deliberate  intention was to make a statement without causing damage.  I believe that something that can be thoroughly cleaned with water and a little abrasion cannot legitimately be described as damage.  I’m a dementia healthcare assistant whose gross hourly pay rate is £9.89 per hour.  Whatever the financial cost is of cleaning the wall, I believe it should be met by Trinity College, having profited for so many years from its deeply unethical climate-wrecking fossil fuel investments.

A word about protest.  The police and criminal justice system have so far recognised that there is a right to protest, and even that that protest might disrupt other people to some extent.  My action falls within that category.  Peaceful legitimate protest should not be criminalised.

Lastly, I’d like to tell you a little about myself.  I’d like to point out how ordinary I am.  I’m not alienated from society, I’m one of the majority of ordinary people in this country who want serious action to be taken on this threat to all our futures.  My first real job was 6 years in the Home Office in Westminster (mainly in the probation service policy unit).  I chose the Home Office because I believed in law and order, as I still do.  I value public service.  I’m an ordained Buddhist, and I’ve been a carer for the last 10 years – for the last 6 years on a dementia assessment unit.  I care very much about ethics.

Having said that, I’ve no wish to say I or we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.  I’ve no wish to polarise or demonise.  I know the world is complex, and I know from personal experience that there are some very fine and ethical people working for the University of Cambridge.  But the law should be about ethics, and appropriately holding people and institutions to account for their actions. The University of Cambridge has been (and is still being) criminally irresponsible and should itself be on trial.  What I did was legitimate and proportionate protest, not a crime. 

  1. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/opinion/extinction-rebellion-protest-london-boris-johnson-climate-crisis-newspapers-b404981.htm
  2. On 1st October 2020, Cambridge University publicly pledged to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030. Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor, stated: “The University is responding comprehensively to a pressing environmental and moral need for action with an historic announcement that demonstrates our determination to seek solutions to the climate crisis.”  University of Cambridge pledges divestment from fossil fuels by 2030 https://www.cam.ac.uk/news/cambridge-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels-with-net-zero-plan

Yogaratna’s Not Guilty Plea Read More »

How I keep going in the climate crisis by les

I’m not sure a typical activist exists – but it’s definitely not me.  It was quite late in life before I can claim to  having strong eco concerns and I also arrived late to Buddhism.   I’m afraid I worked in the City as an IT consultant for many of the banks funding the eco crisis.  I did fairly well from it, and looked after my family,  including frequent flights to the Caribbean to see the in-laws.   I can’t say I had a sudden ethical awakening and left the city because of it. But some sort of unknown, little understood crisis was emerging in me.  I left my well paid City job to work repairing wooden boats, maybe being in the outdoors and on the water so often brought me back to my youthful connection with nature.  

Just six years ago in 2015 during a difficult life period,  the rumbling internal crisis caught up like a Tsunami and severe anxiety led me to Buddhism in 2015.   In 2016 I read the book “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein and was incensed to learn about all the Ecocide going on.  I had no idea what to do with that feeling.  My poor wife’s ears.  I continued to meditate, my anxiety subsided in some ways but rose in others as my concern at the injustice of what was happening increased.  I floundered for a while, I’d seen so many petitions etc come and go over the years.  I gave up meat and made many other personal changes.  I have many more to do, I am quite the hypocrite still.    I eventually discovered XR and also Joe at DANCE and went along to an incredibly noisy Barclays meditation protest in Trafalgar Sq the same day XR occupied the bridges. As a newbie at some point I found myself locked outside the Bank in adhoc liaison with a crowd of Police while Joe, Mark and Rowan meditated on inside.  I just told the police to wait, these people will surely need the loo soon.  

Taking action worked wonders on my anxiety, I was alive again,  a human in touch with the cries of the world.   My local XR group grew and we did lots more actions locally and together in London.  Waterloo bridge supporting the Wellbeing tent was one of the highlights in my life.  The prospect of blocking four lanes of traffic in Marble Arch – one of the scariest.  ‘Go in with your knees knocking, it’s good spiritual practice’ I was told by Rowan. 

But my background and personal circumstances meant that my high levels of anxiety returned, occasionally this turned to depression.   So eventually I started to step up self care,  meditating more regularly,  more personal ethical lifestyle changes helped the despair a little bit.   I found the excellent guide by Vessantra called “20 steps to avoid overwhelm” very helpful.  A year later I eventually gave up my Facebook addiction. While posting stuff about the eco meltdown felt good in some ways it was probably stressing others.  I tried to balance it for a while with hopeful and humorous Facebook posts.  Now I rarely look at it and I feel so much better, less distracted, more focused. The world still goes on, I do need to establish a less distressing and balanced way of keeping abreast of news and contact with friends. 

On and off I tried my luck to get my lovely local Sangha to take on board environmental concerns within the context of Dharma but this was a struggle so for a while I decided in practical terms to separate my Dharma practise and Eco efforts.  Inside me they were inseparable.  I’m glad I now have this sangha too.  

I was invited to take up Samba drumming with my local XR,  this was hugely therapeutic –  music, outdoor practise, friends and laughter.  Making a noise to protest was a strange contrast to sitting quietly in protest outside a bank.  Even the Parliament Sq arrest for I can only guess drumming out of time was enjoyable.  

We all know what we face in the world but at times we must have fun.  

I did a workshop with Parami along the lines of Joanna Macey’s ‘seeing with new eyes’ where we role-played eco concerns.  I was paired with a young girl, 17 who I could see was really very scared for her future, as an older guy with a past life far from ethically perfect  – I felt ashamed.  That memory drives me.  I never feel I do enough activism but I have to balance that with my own well being.  I’m not an academic which can limit my confidence in speaking out which frustrates me. I’m currently doing an excellent course on having difficult conversations which may help with that perhaps.  

In part helped by Catherine Ingram’s article called ‘Facing Extinction’ I started to grieve for the world I knew and loved,  I started to accept that much of it was gone or going. Bizarrely this helped. Grieving helped ease the tension in me of what we faced.   I started to let go. 

I of course still feel the urgency and the weight of what we face but I’ve come to realise this –   I may not have the genius and appeal of Star Treks 7 of 9 but like her I need to plug in and regenerate on a regular basis.  Our self care is equally if not more important than the activism.  Be kind to yourselves and dare I say – May we all “live long and prosper”


Les is Retired, Wrinkly and Repenting

How I keep going in the climate crisis by les Read More »