Diary: 'next time, I think I’ll leave my car at home'

IssueDecember 2019 - January 2020
Comment by Catherine Bann

I never made an actual decision to join XR Peace; I was caught up in the maelstrom that is Angie Zelter. One minute I was in a meeting about blockading DSEi, the next we were discussing the finer details of using Yorkshire CND’s mock Trident missile to block the MoD on the Embankment on 7 October.

I hadn’t previously been involved in Extinction Rebellion as I had little time and some misgivings. These stemmed from the fact that I broadly share Peace News’ critique of XR, while remaining supportive of the wider aims.

Notwithstanding my personal reluctance to be a number among the arrestees (I’ve been arrested many times, so I don’t fear that, but I admit to finding court cases boring and hugely inconvenient), I’m not convinced that a strategy based on increasing arrest numbers is sensible.

The whole process including court and fines etc is a massive energy drain, relies on a certain amount of privilege, and this, added to other issues with XR’s strategy as outlined in these pages, makes it problematic.

However, these political objections were subsumed not just by the energy of XR Peace, but by my overriding motivator: solidarity.

My comrades and friends are on the streets in what feels like a desperate last-ditch attempt to stop climate change.

I may disagree with the detail, but do I carp on the sidelines about the best tactics or the correct political standpoint, or do I heave a big sigh, roll my eyes a bit, and join the fray?

So, with remarkably little preparation, I found myself towing this 12-foot prop on a trailer through the dark streets of central London at 6am on a Monday morning.

I despise towing at the best of times, and this wasn’t the best of times.

At least, I thought to myself, this would be our missile’s last blast, and I’d never have to tow the thing again.

Expecting to be pulled over at any moment, it was a shock to arrive pretty close to the MoD, and even more of a shock to see the road already blocked by XR Peace.

Being geographically challenged, we had had barely any communication with anyone else from XR Peace prior to the day.

Our luck ran out with yards to go, stopped at a red light, and already clocked by police.

I had to decide whether to run the light.... For a serial rebel, I’m very obedient when it comes to traffic regulations.

Luckily, matters were taken out of my hands when my passengers jumped out, unhitched the missile and locked on to it. And still the light was red.

My vision of driving off into the sunrise melted away when I was instructed to step out of the vehicle, madam, and at 6.38am became, as far as I’m aware, the first arrest of the October rebellion.

I spent the rest of my time in London trying to work out where my car was, and how to get it back.

I gave up, finally, and returned home – where my children were forbearing when told there would be no lifts to activities for a while.

I was eventually reunited with my car (happily minus the missile trailer) 15 days later, minus my friend’s laptop (but that’s another story).

Several weeks later, I’ve had time to decide in retrospect whether I wanted to be involved in XR Peace, and, actually, I’m proud of what happened.

As one banner read, climate change causes wars, and wars cause climate change, and that is a maxim that needs greater attention, something I feel the actions of XR Peace achieved over the fortnight in London.

I remain deeply uncomfortable about the political strategy and the messaging of XR.

As an atheist, the language of impending apocalypse, fear, death, grief, guilt and sacrifice makes me want to run a mile, and I will never love the police.

But I have to doff my hat to the scale of XR’s ambition and their success thus far.

Success is always a winner when it comes to movement-building!

I also applaud XR’s willingness to own their mistakes, and for being willing to engage with other groups, and with constructive criticism.

XR is an idea whose time has come. It might not be the best idea, but it has caught the imagination of thousands, and if it can adapt and absorb other ideas about social change, then I’ll join XR on the streets again.

Only next time, I think I’ll leave my car at home.

Topics: Activism
See more of: Diary