Somerset Silent Rebellion in action outside Barclays Bank in Yeovil, Somerset 16th September 2023
At a recent meeting of the XR Buddhists Action Design Circle we discussed the themes from XR strategy of local engagement and outreach. We decided that it would be good to open up the discussion to the whole XR Buddhist sangha. I thought it might be helpful to share my experience here in Somerset as an example.
My first action with XR, involved sitting outside Barclays Bank in Yeovil in February 2019 as part of an action organised by South Somerset XR (SSXR). So it was meaningful for me when this July, in response to a call from XR Buddhists (XRB) to organise local actions on the same day, sitting at Barclays Banks, to try to get something happening at Barclays in Yeovil again.
Six of us participated – me from XRB, a retired vicar from Christian Climate Action (CCA), and four members (old friends) from SSXR group. The action was a great success, with a nice write-up in local media. The CCA guy was the only one with experience of this type of action. The local rebels were most happy with the way it enabled them to get the message out without any aggression, and in a visually arresting way. One of them had never meditated before, and really enjoyed it. They said, please invite us next time.
Afterwards I reflected on the fact that I had been the only Buddhist present, despite my having invited my local sangha, so I decided that in future we would need a more inclusive name, and with permission from the Cambridge group, Silent Rebellion, I created Somerset Silent Rebellion, with a Telegram chat group, now 23 members strong.
So, when the opportunity came along for another local Barclays action in September, I put out the call, and this time nine came (50% increase) – the same six from before, plus a local buddhist, a guy from Animal Rebellion, and another CCA person. Another successful action – no local media, but useful photo sharing in various buddhist and general forums, plus a plan for a Barclays meditative action at the XR southwest regional gathering (Unite to Survive) in Bath on 28th October.
The reason I’m writing this article is to encourage XR Buddhists to follow the strategic direction of XR central towards going local and reaching out to other groups. Since involving with XRB in late 2019 I’ve been up to London lots of times to join actions, but it takes time, money and effort from here in Somerset. XRB friends from further afield just don’t make it. XRB actions have been rather southeast-centric.
You can see the benefits from our Somerset experience – more people involved, more local visibility (arguably more impactful than sitting in a busy London street), less traveling, and adding to the range of styles of action that general rebels know of.
If you would like to share your thoughts on this, please write a response in the Telegram chat group and/or join the XRB Action Design Circle, on whose behalf I’ve written this piece. The XRB Action Design Circle is committed to providing materials and guidance to support people organising locally.
I spent most of 2021 planning for COP in Glasgow, I helped to organise an interfaith pilgrimage from London and Bristol all the way to Glasgow. I stayed in Glasgow for the duration of the conference, along with many other activists peacefully holding space in the streets. On the last night of the conference I took part in an overnight interfaith vigil with many of the people I’d travelled with in the previous months. We lit candles and sat together and took turns to walk silently in small groups down to the conference centre with our placards and send our love to the people inside who were working on getting a deal. I remember being disconnected from everything in Glasgow – but I cried that night. I cried leaning against the chain link fence, where we had tied our ribbons with their messages of hope. I cried as dawn broke with all the anger I felt there being so little to show for our year of efforts.
It took me several months after coming back to recover from being away for so long, and from the heartbreak of another COP opportunity wasted. And life turned again, I had to find work, retrain, and reorientate my life. And so this year I’ve been far less aware of COP, and it’s taken me a while to find space to stop and breathe and allow myself the openness to engage a little with what is happening. COP is happening in Egypt this year from the 6-18th of November. And there will be vigils once again.
I go through cycles in my relationship with activism. Sometimes the scale of the challenge seems so vast, and the immediate results so vague and minimal that my motivation dwindles. But what I come back to is that just because I live in a world of complex political, social and economic systems – it doesn’t let me off the hook from engaging. I can’t control what happens in the outside world, but I can choose to turn towards suffering. To witness it. To be present for it. I can choose that.
There were emails fluttering into my inbox about COP, about vigils, and about political prisoners in Egypt and it’s taken me a while to turn towards that suffering. I was sent this article about COP by Naomi Klein about what it means to have COP in Egypt.
The Egyptian communities and organisations most affected by environmental pollution and rising temperatures will be nowhere to be found in Sharm el-Sheikh. There will be no toxic tours, or lively counter-summits, where locals get to school international delegates behind their government’s PR. Organising events like this would land Egyptians in prison for spreading “false news” or for violating the protest ban.Naomi Klein
In the article, she focuses on a British-Egyptian citizen Abd El-Fattah who is being held in prison in Egypt on terrorism charges for a post he made on social media about torture. He is a pro-democracy activist and figurehead of the 2011 uprising. A book of his writing, many of which were smuggled out of prison, has just been published. It is called You Have Not Yet Been Defeated (the title of this blog post). The title reminds me that I am not in prison, and I can speak out, and that there is still hope.
So I’ve bought the book. And I’ve signed up for some vigil slots. And so my COP this year is going to be less on the streets. But I do want to use this as an opportunity for myself to turn towards suffering, particularly the intersection of political struggle and climate. I’m grateful for all the activist work that is happening, often at much greater cost than I face when I go to the streets or even when I am arrested. This year I’m going to spend some time understanding more about what is happening in Egypt, and sharing that with people when I have the opportunity.
If you would like to take part in the daily vigils in London they will be outside the Carriage Gate entrance to Parliament between 1 and 2pm daily between 6th and 18th November – more information here. Sarah MacDonald is also organising a daily vigil between 1200 and 1300 on College Green in Bristol during COP and you can contact her at email@example.com for more information.
Vanessa Nakate is a Ugandan climate activist, who started the first climate strikes in Uganda as part of the Fridays for the Future movement. She was invited to various international conferences and was famously cropped out of an AP photo of her and other (white) climate activists. In the book, she reflects on that incident, her climate activism, racism, and there is a deep emphasis on intersectionality, particularly the links between climate and gender.
I found the book a great read, it was an enjoyable mix of things that felt familiar (eg. awkwardly holding up a sign somewhere), but in a very different context, and Vanessa’s personal reflections and history.
Some of my favourite bits of the book are the parts where she is describing her early climate activism. Where she was doing something that was difficult to explain to people, often on her own or with only a few people, often feeling ignored by passers-by. The questions of where to go, and what the signs should say felt familiar. She mentioned that she wasn’t sure what to put on the signs but included one slogan which said ‘Thanks for the Global Warming’ which was intended to be sarcastic.
However, while there were elements of her activism that felt familiar, it was also clear that she operates in a very different context. There was an illuminating discussion about how school strikes may be an option for young people in the West but are more complicated in a place like Uganda where schools have to be paid for, and where failure to attend can be more strictly punished by expulsion. She writes about adapting the school strikes for her local schools by bringing the striking into the classroom, with the consent of the teachers.
One of the threads which runs through the book is intersectionality, in particular, the intersections of gender and race with the climate crisis. One of the difficulties she has in getting more women activists involved, particularly young women, is that standing in a public place with a sign is seen as not something a marriageable woman would do. Or alternatively, she is only doing it to be noticed by men. As she becomes increasingly involved in a global movement, she becomes increasingly aware of the role racism plays in the climate change conversations, as well as the reality of the climate emergency. Not only is she cropped out of pictures, but she notes the general lack of voices from the global South and when they are included it can be in a tokenistic way. However, she also pays tribute to the many other activists, particularly women activists who have inspired the work she does and she brings their voices into the book.
This summer, XR Buddhists are inviting you to think about how we take action in solidarity with marginalised groups.
In the first session we will be considering what solidarity is, why we might find it uncomfortable, and what actions we can personally take this summer. The emphasis is on how participants can act in solidarity with other groups, supporting other activists from marginalised groups in a variety of causes. When we work in solidarity with others we are able to magnify their voices and their causes, and increase our own knowledge and empathic understanding for the complex ways in which capitalism and colonialism intersect. There are lots of opportunities for people to support different actions, some of which are in person, some are digital activism and some include writing letters etc. There are many ways to get involved.
We will then meet up later in the summer to discuss actions we’ve taken (or not taken) and what we’ve learnt. All are invited to join us.
The first session is on Saturday the 11th of June at 1800. We will consider the following questions:
- What has brought me here today?
- Why do I value solidarity
- What holds me back from reaching out
- What am I going to do? (link people to anti-oppression telegram)
If you’d like to see some of the actions you could take part in you can join the Anti Oppression Telegram group, run by the Anti Oppression circle. It’s a broadcast channel that posts lots of different actions which are available for support.
The zoom link is here (passcode is 782585). If you aren’t able to make the meeting you are welcome to add your reflections and actions you are interested in taking below.
Many Buddhists are concerned about the climate and ecological emergency (CEE) and are wondering what to do about it.
We are a group of people who have come together as Buddhists to practice compassion for all beings. We recognise that we all have an important role to play in addressing the CEE and developing a fairer and more just world. XR Buddhists (XRB) has been in existence for three years: we have sat in meditation, organised vigils with other faith groups, joined non-violent direct actions and provided a supportive community for Buddhists who are equally concerned about climate change.
We became part of Extinction Rebellion (XR) Buddhists because we felt strongly that our Buddhist wisdom teachings offer something unique to this movement which has allowed us to offer a powerful presence, stability and a place of refuge to other members of Extinction Rebellion. We were also drawn by Extinction Rebellion’s principles, which reflected the Buddhist principles of non-violence non-blaming, a regenerative culture and inclusivity.
On the 9th of April, we are meeting at Hyde Park in London as part of a series of events and protests organised by Extinction Rebellion. This will specifically be a day of outreach, training, and meditation: it will not be disruptive to the public. The events will carry on throughout the following week and to the Easter weekend. We welcome people at any time, but Saturday the 9th is a particularly good day to join us if you are new to XR Buddhists.
We would very much like to extend a warm invitation to members of your sangha and people from your tradition who would like to come along. You can either meet us at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park at 0930 on the 9th of April (we will be the ones with meditation cushions and an XR Buddhists banner!) or join our XRB Rebellion Telegram group to get updates on where we are.
We would be grateful if you could pass this invitation on to members of your group, and if anyone wants to find out more, they could look on our website, which includes some pre-rebellion events which might be of interest. Or they are welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My home vigil shrine for COP26
My experience of this year’s COP26 was different as I didn’t go to Glasgow. Like others, I find going to large protests challenging due to a health condition I have, and although I have kept trying, I made the decision for COP26 to stay home.
My usual tendency is to want to be in the thick of things, up front holding the banner, showing my love and commitment through being right where it matters. Instead I found myself on my sofa in front of my laptop, when the main action was hundreds of miles away.
I had offered to help out with the Faith Bridge online vigil, which ran alongside the in person vigil in Glasgow. Two colleagues had already put in a lot of work, and I joined the team just a few weeks before the conference. As is my usual style I hadn’t thought much about it, just thought it seemed a good option as I wasn’t going to Glasgow but still wanted to be involved.
So it was actually a surprise to discover what I did: a tremendous sense of solidarity with people of all faiths – people moved by a deep care for the earth and humanity, based on timeless lineages of spiritual practice. Somehow, by having the time and space to witness this in others, these qualities opened up more deeply in me, in a way I haven’t experienced so fully before.
Taking part in the online vigil was full of treasures – sitting in silence with others on screen, each in our own homes, witnessing all the hard working rebels in Glasgow in the cold and rain sitting on the road side, listening to Muslims reciting Quran verses on stewardship of the earth, lighting candles for future generations, zooming in at 3.30am for an all night vigil,,,. It brought to life in me a sense of kinship, and of the critical importance of giving and receiving support in these momentous times. So rather than it being about “me” “being an activist” and “doing” lots of things (all of which are of course valid and necessary), in this experience I was part of a larger circle. Offering my prayers, presence and deep appreciation, and trusting that that too makes a difference.
Wendell Berry says it well: “protest that endures I think is moved by a hope far more modest than public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence”. And I would add – alongside one another.
By Abbie who is a member of XR Meditators and XR Buddhists
Reflections after joining the Barclays HQ action August 27th Canary Wharf London by Tamsin Bishton.
It’s mid August and I’m trying to work out how I’m going to get involved in the Impossible Rebellion. I’m not new to XR or rebellion, but the fear and the way it is influencing my connection to this Impossible Rebellion is. My heart is telling me I need to take part. It is my intention to take part. But the fear keeps whispering in my ear … It’s been months since I’ve been on the streets. It’s a year since I was at the last rebellion in London. Things have been so challenging since then. The police seem harder now. The risks feel greater. I’m stuck.
My friend and fellow mindfulness teacher Abbie invites me to join the XR Buddhists’ action at Barclays HQ and it is exactly the direct connection and invitation that I need to help me step out of my frozen state. Yes. This is something constructive I can do with my fear.
I arrive at Canary Wharf with my husband (there for morale support and to help with outreach) feeling lighter than I have done in weeks. I have found that once you see the climate and ecological emergency, once you really let it in and feel it, it is impossible to shut it out again. Sometimes I am able to carry it with me in a spirit of “active hope” as Joanna Macy terms it. But at other times the grief is almost overwhelming. Through this last 18 months of pandemic and isolation the grief has often won out over the hope for me. So noticing my lighter heart as we sit on a bench and wait for others to arrive, I feel gratitude starting to bubble up.
I’m new to XR Buddhists and this is my first meditation action of this kind. I’m always in awe of the spirit of comradeship, kindness and shared purpose that flows from person to person during XR actions. It’s wonderful to meet this spirit again as, slowly, the pairs and individuals, dressed in black, looking for each other in the young Jubilee Park, recognise each other and form a group with quiet dignity and a few smiles of recognition.
We don’t know anyone else, and my friend Abbie is taking a well earned rest from the rebellion so isn’t here. But within minutes we’ve been greeted kindly, have shared some stories and connected with people. The sense of welcome is generous and compassionate.
Joe’s holding of the group, his hosting and preparation for the action, is so moving and warm. I share my heartbreak about the climate crisis, and what inspires me about it too, with my walking partner (who it turns out is from Brighton like me – small world) in the preparation space. I listen to her words about the same things. For the first time in a while I am really letting myself feel it. And the opportunity to have a real conversation like this with another human being feels so precious. And too rare.
It’s strange how my fear – which had been strong and commanding even the day before – just evaporates. Even though the police presence is very visible and noisy with lots of walkie talkie jabber, as I tune in to my breath and the movement through my body as we slowly begin to walk from the park to Barclays, what I notice is calm, sadness, purpose and relief.
I listen to the wind blowing with some force around the base of the towers all around us. I hear the talk on the radio.
“They are setting off walking” [crackle] [beep] [crackle] “Walking … they’re walking very slowly.” [beep] [crackle]
I almost laugh out loud.
Sitting in front of the Barclays building with my fellow meditators and the blackbirds is like coming home. I don’t know how else to describe it. As we are guided to raise our hands and practice the fearless Abhaya mudra – right hand held up as if to hold hate, greed, destruction, chaos, hopelessness at bay – then later touching the ground and calling on the earth as witness, I experience a flow of energy and warmth through my body even though the wind is blowing cold and my arms are bare.
I think about my privilege. I can take an action like this with a reasonable certainty that my physical safety is assured and that if I’m arrested my legal rights will be upheld in the end. And I know this is a privilege of my white skin and my class.
My mind moves to thoughts of what our fellow rebels might be doing on the other side of the river. I know the plan is to highlight the story of the blood money that has blighted our world and the lives of black and brown people through centuries of exploitation and violence. I send my sense of fearlessness and this energy that seems to be flowing up from the ground into my body outwards towards them across the river. I think of what this river flowing past us has seen. The goods, the plunder, the human cargo from around the planet.
When we’ve finished meditating and are about to walk back to the park, I try to look up to the top of Barclays tower. It’s not the tallest building at Canary Wharf, but I still can’t quite see the top. The glass reflects back, impenetrable. Are there people there inside? Was anyone watching? Does our meditation, our plea, our desperation to try and make people with power make different choices – does any of it make any sense to them?
On the train home I continue to tune in to the spirit of fearlessness that’s flowing through me. I’m so grateful to the people who organised the action, who held us and guided us, and to the life situation I find myself in which means I’m able to take part. I know fear will be back. It’s an unavoidable part of stepping up to the reality of this terrible, inescapable emergency we’re all facing. But I’m certain that active hope will be here for me too. That’s enough.
At the Barclays action on the 27th August 2021 Shantigarbha led XR Buddhists in a mudra meditation which was developed with Nick and Joe. The spoken words are reproduced below. In the action the words were accompanied by the actions of the blackbirds, seen behind the meditators in the photo above. You can read Joe’s account of this action here.
As I ring the bell we bow to the Earth.
We sit in meditation together in alignment with our practice tradition, in support of all people and all species on the Earth who are facing hardship or threat of extinction in the face of the climate and ecological emergency.
We raise our right hand in the fearless Abhaya mudra. By doing this we express our fierce determination to protect and defend all beings from the harm that is threatened them by the actions of Barclays bank and much of the banking sector, which is funding fossil fuel extraction and projects across the world.
We express our determination to protect and defend all people and species afflicted by oil, coal and gas projects. To bear witness and to stand against corporations who support and fund projects that lead to the contamination of our precious water and air. And we pledge to protect and defend those whose land has been colonised for fossil fuel exploitation. And to stand with those who do not have the resources to protect themselves.
We stand firm in the face of this threat by opening our hearts to our love of the world, the preciousness and beauty of all life.
Lowering our arm we feel our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is also the breath of the Earth.
Touching the Earth with our right hand we call upon the Earth as our witness, we call upon the Earth as our witness that we, representing all people, are part of the intimately interdependent web of life on this planet.
We touch the Earth to acknowledge our mutuality with all life. To acknowledge that which harms others harms us all.
The Buddha-to-be called on the Earth to be his witness on the eve of his Enlightenment.
Now we call on the Earth to witness our right to being here in the fullness of ourselves as part of all life, and the right of all people and species to a life free of contamination and colonisation.
Withdrawing our hand we feel our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is the breath of the Earth.
Opening our eyes in a soft gaze, we awaken to clear seeing. We see the truth of the pain and harm being inflicted across our world by Barclays Bank and the banking sector, which supports projects that make profit for the few and suffering for the many. We awaken to the reality of death, and so we see the preciousness of life. We awaken to the suffering of those who have been seduced by the promise of money and power. And we acknowledge the power of this seduction in our own hearts and the dominance of this in our culture. We acknowledge how we have personally benefitted by the use of fossil fuels and we hold this reality. We do not turn away.
Closing our eyes again we remember our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is the breath of the Earth.
We hold our hands together in front of our heartsin the ancient mudra of devotion and salutation. In our imagination we hold the Chintamani, the wish-fulfilling jewel, to our heart. This jewel represents Enlightenment, the potential for collective Awakening. We send our blessings our care and love to all beings who are suffering as a consequence of our industrialised society’s relentless hunger for oil, which is supported by Barclays and our financial sector. We send kindness and care to human and non-human species being devastated by fossil fuel exploitation in the Boreal forests of Canada, in the vast coal mine in Columbia, and in the areas of the USA blighted by fracking.
Releasing our hands we remember our groundedness with the Earth, and our connection with our breath which is the breath of the Earth
As I ring the bell we bow once again to the Earth.
May all beings on this beautiful precious blue green planet, our home, be free of suffering. May all beings flourish once again, free of the taint of pollution and harm. And so with love and pain in our hearts we meditate together…
You can order Shantigarbha’s new book on climate change “The Burning House: A Buddhist Response to the Climate and Ecological Emergency” here.
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.