We Have Seen What’s Possible and There’s No Going Back

By Clare Farrell, Extinction Rebellion co-founder.

This time last year Oxford Circus was closed to traffic. Normal activities had been dramatically slowed down. A pink boat, camps, kitchens, print studios and welfare tents appeared where queues of buses and taxis had once been. A defiant celebration of truth and love had occupied the streets of London. Philip Green lost a few quid and the BBC lobby had cleaner air swept in through their grand revolving doors because Oxford Street was traffic free for a week for the April Rebellion. 

A year later Oxford Circus is completely closed again. All the shops are locked and the stock is out of date. Businesses have been disrupted once more, but for a different reason. 

In 2019 we were told “How dare you, this has cost companies millions of pounds in lost revenue!”.

In 2020 we’re told “This is necessary, it’s an existential threat. Stay at home, save lives, save our NHS” (the same NHS that’s actually being sold off right now).

We know now what is possible

What a year this has been already. What strange, miserable times. It turns out the things we were told we simply can’t change when we were on the streets last year are perfectly possible (necessary!) to change if we decide to prioritise. Coronavirus is showing us what’s possible, at least. What a shame thousands have to die before we do anything about it. 

Knowing what we know now, a rebellion is needed more than ever in 2020 when we’re finally allowed back out again. Just because Coronavirus has understandably put everything on hold, it doesn’t mean the climate and ecological crisis has been too. When we walk back out our doors again, that even bigger crisis will be there waiting for us. 

We are almost out of time. 

Because the neoliberal system – the very essence of it – is totally fucked and incapable of protecting us in times of disaster. The Covid-19 pandemic helps us see this very clearly. A neoliberal system will never be “well prepared” for crisis because being well prepared costs money that you don’t get back. Like sitting on PPE stocks that you don’t need right away, but which mean you’re ready when crisis hits. My friend’s dad was in the army. You might know their saying, ‘Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance’. We need to be prepared for what is coming. But preparedness relies on valuing life more than profit. Economic efficiency might just be our enemy, for now and for the future. It’s time to start risking a few million here and there to be better prepared. We have had plenty of warning, but we’re led by the ignorant, the heartless, and the unwilling. 

It’s about time we were led with some compassion. 

While we bash pots and pans for the NHS on a Thursday night from our homes where we’re currently imprisoned, Covid-19 is allowing the government to continue selling it off while simultaneously acting as though they’ve been supporting it all along. They’re using this as a guise to get out of the fact they didn’t listen to the warning signs and do all they could before things got out of control.

The billionaires are definitely getting prepared for crises and have been for a long time. A multi billion dollar industry has sprung up around bunkers that can house you in the apocalypse (long term future lockdown, a bit like now but without daylight). This grand waste of money is because they love being prepared while also loving a system that hates being prepared. 

Confusing isn’t it.

No going back

The stall I’m setting out here is that pragmatically speaking, compassion and striving for a fairer society that puts people and planet before profit is now a necessity and moral duty. Because we’re in deep shit. It’s interesting that people are using this crisis to celebrate the fall in emissions when the truth is, they will need to drop way more than coronavirus has caused them to if we’re to stand a chance. As climate researchers have pointed out, “If this [a 5% drop in global carbon emissions] is all we get from shutting the entire world down, it illustrates the scope and scale of the climate challenge.” We need people now more than ever to rebel and insist the government makes the changes necessary to avert future disaster. We need them to lead with compassion and put people first, not vilify protesters who are causing short term disruption and holding them to account. 

Health, environment, inequality, planetary stability – it’s all connected, and as a global family, so are we. The divisions in our society can shrink when you realise you are all facing the same fate. There’s nothing quite like running out of money, losing loved ones, your job, your home, fearing for your life and knowing for sure that politicians would have you sell your grandma if only she was able to work. It’s time we recognise that we are truly all in this together and say no to going back to anything remotely “normal” where the most vulnerable and ill treated in our societies are considered expendable. 

When we’re allowed back out again we need to come together in even greater numbers. Because it’s not getting any better, guys. The billionaire bunker builders are paying attention, they know what’s coming. If we allow the government to take us back to normal after this then we’re truly fucked. Yes, we must say to each other there’s ‘no going back’ after the coronavirus passes, but we must also SHOW there will be no compliance. 

Debts strikes, rent strikes, enact refusal on all fronts all at once. And yes, get back on the streets. Our heels are dug in now and we need to keep the pressure on. We will not move. As soon as lockdown loosens we must disobey every aspect of the so-called exit strategy that is gearing up to rush us back to business as usual. We need to do it in a way that is creative, peaceful, full of love. Demand an entry strategy instead. One of rebirth, forgiveness, new beginnings, a just transition, infinite care and a post carbon economy. 

We are active citizens – we know that by creating a mini political crisis, through disruptive rebellion like we did this time last year, that change can happen. And Covid-19 has made it crystal clear what is possible if the political will is there. This is what true disruption looks like, and there’s more to come if we don’t set aside differences and make the necessary changes now to avert future disaster. 

Credit Francesca E Harris

Truth, love, compassion

We owe our movement to those who broke laws before us, and we know very well that tough, courageous love, can change the world.

We’re ready for the coming period of peace talks.

We will spend our energies on reconciliation, forgiveness, and letting go.

We are determined to be profound protectors of love. To defeat cynicism.

We are love in action.

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