Thousands marched to the Home Office: “Climate Justice is Migrant Justice”: pink origami boats for MPs and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, 23rd April 2023[i]
The route to Parliament Square on Sunday, the third day of The Big One, was fraught with delays. Forget the *%$+£^g London Marathon! was my working title, not because in Greenwich I got stuck on the wrong side of it, but rather because, despite heavy drizzle and worse, as far out as Woolwich, spectators lined both sides of the course two or three deep. What a pity that all those people, after an hour or two of cheering for their friends – I’ve nothing against that – couldn’t move on to do something we all need far more desperately! With that amount of support for the environment and our common future, a better direction might have been forced upon our lickspittle cabinet in the very limited time available[ii]. Wake up and cut their strings!
Outside the Home Office in Marsham Street, 23rd April 2023
Several people I spoke to over the four days of The Big One, charitably believe that it is grief which prevents people taking action: that resignation has taken over, or that grieving for the gradual death of the Earth, they are in denial. Others, that the understandable fear of being arrested is a major deterrent to participation – a fear that, as intended, has been increased by the undemocratic powers enshrined in the Policing[iii] and the Public Order[iv] Bills. These bills have little concern for law and order – in fact their introduction is inciting the very reverse. They are purely about officious state control[v].
A protest[vi]supporting the Hong Kong 47[vii] under Waterloo Bridge, 23rd April. With the advent of the Policing Bill, is the democratic situation in disastrously Brexited Britain[viii] set to follow such examples?
But as well as grief and fear, our widespread complacency, I believe, largely arises from a combination of lack of awareness, of misinformation and of distraction . . . and yes, it’s that old cracked record I’ve been playing since I was 13: if religion was supposed to be the opium of the people, then consumer materialism with all its affiliated gifts and entertainments (rubbish films and television, spectator sport, cheap flights abroad – to give just a few examples) are its hallucinogen. In short, we have been cushioned into silence. Even in the current social crisis, rather than take action, the human tendency is to fall back on distraction.
The Marathon arrives in Parliament Square and XR keeps its promise, 23rd April 2023
XR promised (and stuck to their assurance) that the Marathon would not be disrupted and XR newsletters and updates urged us to give the runners – many of whom were running in support of environmental causes – our full support as they passed. As an ex cross-country runner myself – albeit one who identified with Tom Courtenay in The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner[ix] – I can see the joy or challenge of running itself . . . at least through the countryside on your own. But long-distance running as a spectator sport? The London Marathon has clearly become another of those traditional national distractions, which like assorted ‘royal’ events[x], have become more an excuse for a party than anything else. And perhaps, as we likely enter the last days of human society – and certainly the death of the careless myth of progress – consciously or subconsciously, perhaps distractions are all that many can face?
Funeral for the myth of progress, 4 minutes to 5, 24th April 2023
At London Bridge, no longer able to bear the crush of extra passengers literally jammed into the train, I thankfully broke out onto the platform and struggling through the crowded platforms and concourse was eventually relieved to be back in the rain. It was obviously going to be better to walk to Parliament Square along the south bank.
The second Anti Fossil Fuel March crosses Waterloo Bridge – towards where tourism used to end, back in the 70s . . . 24th April 2023
Back in the mid-1980s, long before the new Globe Theatre (or Shakespeare’s Globe)[xi] opened, Southwark cathedral used to be a very quiet backwater. Borough market also was a real – if possibly declining – place. At certain points between these areas and the National Theatre, there was no river access, no almost continuous riverside path. Basically, tourism ended just east of Waterloo Bridge with small enclaves for The Tower of London and Tower Bridge and the very isolated HMS Belfast. Further back in the mid-70s, this area still had an air of wartime bomb damage and many of the warehouses were abandoned. Who could have foreseen the crowds of tourists and weekenders ramming through 50 years later – warehouses poshed into swish shops, eating parlours or luxury apartments?
“Extinction Beckons” – as a result of consumerism, obviously. Appropriate billboard glimpsed from the Fossil Fuel March as we crossed Waterloo Bridge on the 24th April 2023
Not far from Southwark, following the riverside path, a rumble of percussion could be heard gradually building. At first, I assumed it was on the north bank of the river, part of the route of the Marathon, but rather from across the Thames it came from ahead, rapidly becoming distinct – an exhilarating battering ram for use against a corrupt establishment:
XR drummers from around the country drumming on one of the Thames tidal beaches, 23rd April 2023
For a while in the rain, I sat alongside the band with its changing players and conductor[xii], down on the beach as the tide came in. Then we headed off in groups towards Westminster Bridge. I talked to a group from Nottingham and other individuals from Cardiff, Norwich, Bristol and of course, London itself. I had assumed the band all knew each other, but many had only just met. Back beyond Parliament Square in Abingdon Street another workshop demonstrating Citizen’s Assemblies, which I’d explored the previous day, was winding down towards the start of the march to the Home Office to demand justice rather than persecution, for refugees and migrants. The densely-packed march, ended with an emotive rally below the raised shallow moat which fronts the government building, giving amongst others, an Algerian refugee the opportunity to share his feelings about a nightmare journey in a small boat. Shouldn’t trying to seek happiness be a human right? he implored.
Outside the Home Office, 23rd April 2023
After a long walk across Central and South East London, I caught a train to Woolwich and walking uphill was taking a photograph of Plumstead Radical Club when a very friendly man invited me in, despite that he had to pay £2 to register me as a guest. These days it is a social club and probably quite reactionary – though nobody complained about my badges, XR symbols and general get-up, so I could be wrong. Its cosy time-warp interior and welcoming family atmosphere certainly provided a very atmospheric end to the day . . .
Inside Plumstead Radical Club – here almost like a cosy railway carriage, 23rd April 2023
My granddaughters outside the Plumstead Radical Club on Monday the 24th April,with their own placards and ready for marching
Monday began with me wrapping duct tape around my disintegrating left boot. Amazingly, this still holds. After protesting all the way downhill to Plumstead station with few spectators to speak of – “Don’t let the world die!” – and on the train to London Bridge – “My Future is in Your Hands” – followed by the Underground to Westminster – “We Will Become Extinct, The Dinosaurs Did!” – my three granddaughters were still not lacking energy. Westminster Underground[xiii] with its Brutalist, totalitarian, inner style – let the bones show, no façade – was a welcome relief to a claustrophobic . . . all that S P A C E. Yet there are undertones of Orwell’s 1984 in the place, very appropriate in proximity to the hypocrisy and wilful blindness of Westminster – as double-spoken by forked tongue, nit-brained, Tory world-scalpers, liars and criminals.
“My Future is in Your Hands” “We Will Become Extinct, The Dinosaurs Did!”, 24th April 2023
24th April 2023
Emerging from the station to be immediately swept into an unforeseen protest and the energy of a hammering, street band beat, felt through the pavement – an anti-fossil fuel precursor to the bigger afternoon version – was exhilarating. This morning route was short but very sweet, and being almost directly behind the band, my two elder granddaughters went into manic dancing patterns, waving their flag and placard respectively, occasionally joined by their more observational younger sister. Excelling themselves inventively, they had an enlivening effect on the crowd around them, being treated with delight – even rapture – despite the danger caused by their jabbing signs. Many asked if it was OK to take their photograph. It was of course. An XR journalist was keen to interview them along with my daughter-in-law, about the “impact of the day so far.” A couple of hours later this might’ve worked, but at the time they were far too involved in the protest.
Houses of Parliament, 24th April 2023
Marching up Whitehall . . .
That afternoon’s Anti Fossil Fuel march was probably the climactic one in terms of buzzing energy. There was more anger here than elegy – if it is possible to judge a half-mile long procession from the one section you are in. As with all demonstrations, it makes such a difference depending on where you are in the column.
. . . to Trafalgar Square . . .
. . . and The Strand. 24th April 2023
My section of the march for the latter part of the distance, was comprised mostly of younger people from 16 to 18 up into their twenties – very friendly, yet justifiably filled with rage. Of all the marches, this one followed the best, most populous route, a route with plenty of engaged and cheering bystanders: up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, then past Charing Cross along the Strand to cross Waterloo Bridge, around the IMAX cinema, past planet destroying Shell’s[xiv] global headquarters and into the Jubilee Gardens by the London Eye.
Near Charing Cross, 24th April 2023
The Strand, 24th April 2023
4 years ago, the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency… then did nothing.
Together, we did something. We got organised. We created an unprecedented coalition working across divides and differences. Tens of thousands of people joined The Big One. And for four days, we picketed and marched and rallied.
We gave the Government until 5pm on the fourth day of The Big One to respond to us. They didn’t.
Tens of thousands of people sharing a single concern, gathering together peacefully, not a single law broken – and they didn’t even acknowledge us.
We can’t wait another 4 years or 4 days. The time is now. Choose your future:
- Picket | 2. Organise Locally | 3. Disobey
So begins the statement which appeared on Extinction Rebellion’s Global Website[xv] a few days after The Big One, by which time both XR and Just Stop Oil had a multitude of actions planned. In fact, on Saturday May 13, I joined a Just Stop Oil slow march which temporarily brought traffic to a near standstill on Lancaster city centre’s one-way system. Naturally this creates a lot of ire, some of which is selfish and half-witted, some, more justified. Nobody likes being stuck in a traffic jam and the extra traffic fumes and waste of fuel are not good. So, considering that nobody carrying out these confrontational actions – potentially dangerous to themselves – is happy about having to do it, what is the point?
The Strand, 24th April 2023
Firstly, as has just been illustrated by governmental silence and an almost total lack of media interest regarding The Big One, it seems that only actions create publicity[xvi]. While the media crave violence and confrontation for ratings and drama, the government simply wish demonstrators would go away – leaving them to pillage and prioritise their rich pals and paymasters in secret. Yet can this whole corrupt elite, really be stupid enough to believe that with profits made from destroying the Earth, they can isolate themselves in some fantasy bubble or luxury security compound indefinitely?
Waterloo Bridge Road, London, 24th April 2023
At present, the other chief reason for protest – one that everyone, without exception, should be standing up to support – is the very right to protest itself. Democracy in England is already tenuous enough with its outdated first-past-the-post voting system[xvii] and increasing rich-poor divide. Clearly the underlying aim of the Policing[xviii] and the Public Order[xix] Bills is to protect this status quo, to fortify the rift between the haves and the have-nots. Unfortunately, all too many of the have-nots, like loyal dogs, still identify with their owners.
Waterloo Bridge, London, 24th April 2023
Waterloo Bridge, London, 24th April 2023
In Lancaster on May the 13th, we gave way to an ambulance, a police riot van, (which looked at first as though it was there to take us all away), and two buses, but obviously had to re-block the road fast while walking backwards. I didn’t realise we would be blocking both carriageways of the one-way system as other city marches confine themselves to one lane. The two police liaison officers with us were very thoughtful, which was fortunate as several cars tried to get past us by mounting the pavement or revving, surging forward and tooting aggressively. A mere 17 or 18 of us holding them back, felt like too few[xx].
Waterloo Bridge, London, 24th April 2023
Climate change allied with the current social crisis you’d think, could and should form a consensus issue strong enough to force system change. Yet as was obvious in Lancaster on Saturday 13th May, with the engine-revving morons in 4-wheel drives and SUVs, plus other knee-jerks strolling the streets, all too many people just “don’t give a stuff” – as one particularly gormless man openly declared. It’s sunny, we have our shiny cars and new haircuts . . . all’s well with the world[xxi]. They obviously haven’t heard or understood the IPCC’s[xxii] final warning that if we don’t take drastic action on the climate crisis now, it will be too late[xxiii].
What Next: The Lancaster slow march, 13th May 2023 (image, Just Stop Oil)
It is the mindless, grasping attitude of the neoliberal privileged elites which has forced us into slow marches and other actions. Those accused of disruption have no other option, no choice but to keep the issue of environmental collapse in constant view, nationally and locally. The government and global corporations and their trickle-down[xxiv] influence on the super-rich[xxv] are the root cause. That is the message everyone must learn if we are to survive. Which side are you on?[xxvi] Most of those inconvenienced by actions just haven’t realised which side they need to be on, nor how clearly destructive our consumerist attitude has become. Such aspirational “getting on” cannot (mistakenly) be seen as it was in the 50s and 60s, as ‘improving’ any longer. And no matter how big and shiny your car is (or how sharp your haircut), the other side will not let you join!
What Next: Slow march in Lancaster, 13th May 2023 – the road clear ahead. Holding the back banner, I could only grab this photo over my shoulder
Unfortunately, unlike briefly in the Lancaster photo above, the road ahead is not clear . . . and my personal impressions of the last five years are very mixed. The pre-covid London Rebellion of 2019[xxvii] lasted much longer, but was it bigger? I have no intention of analysing statistics on this, being wary of the quote attributed to Disraeli about “lies, damned lies and statistics”[xxviii] and well aware that everyone is inclined to believe the statistics which suit them best[xxix]. I only know that although I was at The London Rebellion of 2019 for about the same amount of time as this year’s The Big One, the news coverage in 2019, of an event based around unexpected actions, was vast by comparison. Long after I’d returned home, I kept hearing reverberations from 300 miles away. This is not a criticism of The Big One, the non-disruptive approach was worth trying and perhaps, alternating more family-based, everyone-welcome, non-disruptive events, with civil disobedience would form a good double-pronged offensive? Otherwise, the dilemma of choosing which way to go is clearly illustrated by the photograph below. News itself may not be important, but raising and maintaining public awareness and understanding is.
Rebel scientists state the tactical quandary facing XR UK. Image from XR’s Global Newsletter 76.
Waterloo Bridge Road, London, 24th April 2023
Just yesterday I overheard a ‘normal’ middle-aged person (he justified his comments thus: “I’m no activist, I’d rather be at home tending the roses”) on the bus to Morecambe telling a friend, how obvious it was now that all branches of the media “are suppressing news about serious weather events abroad”. No wonder the obliviously disenfranchised in Lancaster can believe in a nice sunny day!
IMAX roundabout, London, 24th April 2023
What still annoys me intensely about the whole covid era, despite the tragedy of it for so many, was that partying governments found the will to persuade or order everybody to stop their lives and yet have little or no inclination to act upon the infinitely greater dangers of climate change, simply by encouraging a slowing down. Within a few days of the first lockdown the positive effects on the environment were startling. Later on, as the period of lockdowns came towards an end, there was such a consensus for a better world when covid was over (or when governments decided it was over), yet it was obvious to me, that the power of global corporations and the temptation of acquisition in humanity, would be too strong for this new leaf to last.
Best flyer of all? “We pay 1.7 million in subsidies every day to burn trees while the support for onshore wind and solar has been slashed . . .” [xxx]
The way in which covid temporarily killed the momentum of environmental action will also likely prove fatal to us in the long run, far more fatal than covid itself – which is why it is easy to see why those who go for conspiracy theories view the pandemic as part of a conspiracy. It was certainly very handy for our ever-derisory government, getting them off the hook just when they might easily have been dispensed with. Why could we all be bothered to make so much effort for something of infinitely less significance than climate change?
Waterloo Road, 24thApril 2023
York Road, 24thApril 2023
From my inevitably limited impressions of last month, many people – especially middle-aged and upwards, feel there is no chance of changing things fast enough now, but that we still have to try. The younger generation appeared more optimistic. How could they cope otherwise? Several older people said to me they were glad to be old and felt lucky (or guilty) to have lived most of their lives in a period of relative stability – to live in that post war period in which we could still believe the myth of progress and rising living standards for all.
Passing Shell’s global headquarters[xxxi] 24thApril 202324thApril 2023
But in the cheerful crowd at the end, underneath Big Ben, there were people both older and younger than me who were filled with optimism. Nearby, one of the bands raised the morale of anyone flagging – against the rain as well as the end of the four-day peaceful rebellion. Spontaneously drawn into conversation with a man I’d guess was a decade older than me as well as student Ally from Brighton, the latter raised my morale still further: “Wow man! I compliment you on the grandchildren – you don’t look a day over 30!” (I had a hat on and she must have had a lot of rain in her eyes) “That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all week,” was my reply as I got ready to leave for the walk to Euston in the gathering dusk.
Much later that evening, crossing Lancaster with the XR flag held high in the dark, three teenagers hailed me from across Market Street: “What’s that symbol?” “Extinction Rebellion!” I shouted back. All three punched the air with upraised fists “EXTINCTION REBELLION” they chorused.
We Will Not Be Bystanders, 24th April 2023
Just as I reached the end of this report feeling depressed that in almost four years since The London Rebellion, nothing has changed – four years since the UK declared a Climate Emergency[xxxii] and nothing been done – I had an uplifting email from a friend in Just Stop Oil “our northern teams are out on the road in London NOW! looking amazing and purposeful”. These teams are having an impact at three different locations in London, and being cheered from the roadside. They will be marching every week as an indefinite act of civil resistance. The next week for the northern teams is the week commencing July 2nd. Every single person matters!
What next: Slow march in London, 22nd May 2023 (image, Just Stop Oil)
Forget your inconvenience! If Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion can’t force change, we are all doomed. Get behind them now! juststopoil.org/get-involved/
© Lawrence Freiesleben,
London and Morecambe, April-May 2023
NOTES – accessed up to May the 24th 2023
[ii] So little time now, that this government needs to be got rid of as soon as possible – not difficult, if all their opponents could forget their other distractions awhile and join together.
[xii] Sambista? Or have these bands with their clear political focus, moved too far from Samba to come under that title?
[xvi] Chris Price, a friend of mine who also took part in the Lancaster Just Stop Oil slow march mentioned in this report, pointed out the following regarding non-disruptive protests versus actions:
“Firstly, we are now in an era where the media are in lock step with the government, so if the government don’t want it being profiled, the press oblige.
Secondly, if the government don’t acknowledge it, they don’t have to answer any of the questions raised. This doesn’t quite look like the dystopia Orwell described but it has all the trademarks.
Thirdly, disruption forces the government to comment. It still doesn’t address the questions but it cannot avoid the consequences of the activists’ actions.”
[xvii] makevotesmatter.org.uk/first-past-the-post Voter ID added to the essential unfairness of first past the post. “In a startling admission Jacob Rees-Mogg – who until recently was a government minister defending this policy – shared his views on what he thought Voter ID was meant to achieve versus his concerns at what actually happened”: youtube.com/watch?v=BWjJkzig35I&ab_channel=ElectoralReformSociety
[xx] Cycling back from Dalton Square with this badly lettered placard protruding from my backpack: generated a few horn blasts, some blaring, others cheerful – with once a thumbs up. A red light halted me near the open door to a pub where some tough-looking types were hanging about. To my amazement they cheered, inviting me in for a “Just Stop Oil party”. Not sure if this was a wind-up, a ploy to get me off the street for unfriendly purposes or entirely genuine, but as I was running late, the situation was avoided for good or ill . . .
[xxi] It’s hard to believe that anyone either supports or is tacitly prepared to put up with the current government – until you carry out an action like the Just Stop Oil slow march on Saturday 13th May and realise just how unthinking, ignorant or misinformed much of the electorate is. Coming from a working class council estate myself, working class Tory voters have always been one of my bête noirs, but to attack such people (whose situation is hardly of their own making in a world of little opportunity where most of the underclass is drip-fed a diet of right-wing tabloid trash) has always felt like class betrayal – despite that it is they who are betraying themselves. . .
Personally, my favourite version is Billy Bragg’s: youtube.com/watch?v=vbddqXib814&ab_channel=dprkspacemarine