Parliament Square, 21st April 2023
A historical moment undoubtably – April 2023 – but assuming there is anyone around to remember, will this time only be viewed in the future as the days in which selfish governmental marionettes in the thrall (and pay) of global companies, hammered the last nails in our communal coffin, while much of the human race just looked on – too frightened, grief-stricken, busy, indolent or unaware, to object to our forthcoming murder?
“Shell profits from Hell on Earth”, Parliament Square, 21st April 2023
Local groups gather for the March for Biodiversity, Broad Sanctuary, 22nd April 2023 – Earth Day
Without the rage and aggression, the blocking of roads and attacks on the buildings of offensive organisations, do events like Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) The Big One[i], become almost invisible to the wider public? In the environs of Parliament Square over the four days, a sense of festival or Mardi Gras often took over, anger taking a back seat. Children and younger teenagers are often best at this. It is a relief to see and gives others hope, no matter how fleeting.
Dancing to samba: “Don’t Let the World Die” / “My Future is in Your Hands”, 24th April 2023
Parliament Square, 22nd April 2023
Black and bitter costumes and slogans were contradicted by the desire of a cross-generational movement to shake itself into the oblivion of fun. I even shook hands with a tree. Solidarity!
21st April 2023
Parliament Square, 22nd April 2023
The tree that shook hands with me, Abingdon Street, 22nd April 2023
Understandably, not all younger people are inclined to party, Abingdon Street, 21st April
It’s clear that every branch of social and ecological resistance is growing and that even lethargic consumerists are beginning to realise that only drastic system change can save the human race. At one level this is political – banks need to be controlled, global corporations made to pay heavily, many of them terminated altogether, as with the multi-millionaires also. The rich[ii] need to share or be phased out. We cannot afford such parasites.
By Westminster Abbey, 22nd April 2023
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Broad Sanctuary/Victoria Street, 21st April 2023
Horseferry Road approaching Millbank, 22nd April 2023
Even if the world’s wealth could be distributed more evenly[iii], at a social level, system change will inevitably involve sacrifice even for the poorer of us – a reduction in consumer aspiration which will fall particularly on upcoming generations. We must learn not to waste food, gradually become vegetarian or vegan[iv], give up flying[v] and cut travel to a minimum. The education and health systems – “essential backbone and future of society”[vi] – need a major rethink to understand and adapt towards radically different priorities. The military needs to be made fully accountable and reduced to a minimum[vii]. Many will be reluctant to face such changes, but it cannot be business as usual any longer. We have no more time to dither or tolerate the plundering of the earth by global companies aided by increasingly fascistic ‘governments’ – among which the current UK’s Cabinet (“obfuscating on thin ice as one placard worded it”) is such a pathetically dismal example:
“I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA” Parliament Square, 21st April 2023
The Global Justice March forming up in Parliament Square, Friday, 21st April 2023
The March for Biodiversity, Broad Sanctuary, Saturday, 22nd April 2023 – Earth Day
Too much disruption and public sympathy can be endangered, yet if direct action is suspended – and Extinction Rebellion have clearly stated that this moratorium was temporary[viii] – a sensation-obsessed media quickly transfers its attention to some vapid celebrity, or such comparative trivia as the London Marathon or the irrelevant Coronation – an ignoral which feels like a baiting. It’s seriously worrying, that despite being supported by over 200 organisations[ix], so many concerned people were not even aware that Extinction Rebellion’s The Big One was taking place.
Friday, 21st April 2023
Saturday, 22nd April 2023 – Earth Day
Mainstream media coverage was appallingly bad – something you’d expect from the majority of newspapers, but even the BBC[x] seems to have become a puppet for the government – a puppet of puppets. I’m not quite sure why I write “even the BBC”, perhaps because I still like to believe in some ideal version of the BBC my mind . . . in something which mostly died a long time ago. Just as I continue to believe in some ideal of freedom[xi].
Section of a banner pondering the extinction of life in the oceans, 22nd April 2023
Saturday lunchtime, 22nd April 2023
Pickets at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Victoria Street, 21st April 2023
When I first arrived on the Friday, turning left from Charing Cross station and walking south down Whitehall, of the fifteen people’s pickets[xii] outside government buildings and the numerous other protest groups infiltrating or dominating a wide area, the first I encountered was Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, (CND), outside the Ministry of Defence, highlighting the Nurses not Nukes campaign[xiii]:
CND banner outside the Ministry of Defence, 21st April 2023
Enigmatic protestor by the gates of Downing Street, Whitehall, 21st April 2023
Lourdes Huanca of Peru, Whitehall, Friday 21st April 2023
Just along from CND, Lourdes Huanca of Peru[xiv], president of the Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women of Peru (FENMUCARINAP . . . not exactly for short!) emphatically addressed the crowd, with pauses for translation into English, outside the Ministry of Defence. Contradictorily, in Saturday’s more consistent sun a large crowd gathered at the same location for a demonstration which should not have stayed mysterious to me for long. Initially, I was drawn to the yellow placard below which begins: WELL BY THEIR SELL BY DATE AND INFESTED WITH MAGGOTS . . .
Russian, anti-Ukrainian protest outside the Ministry of Defence, Saturday April 22nd 2023
On the face of it, these targets (the Anglo-American Empire, London’s City trading markets, and NATO) are all justified game – but having no access to reference devices, and before a Ukrainian group arrived to counter the protest[xv], I did not twig that this was a Russian group protesting against British support of “the Nazis in Ukraine”. Another placard stating the Russian group’s denial of climate change, perfectly illustrates the complexities of multiple protests and the potential for confusion, especially in an age of often ridiculous conspiracy theories – such as the ludicrous idea that XR was created by the CIA! If that one’s true, then the CIA seriously miscalculated[xvi]. Also, the impressive black banner below was still in my mind from across the road the preceding day:
There’s nothing tricky or propagandist about the Movement for the Abolition of War[xvii]
The first march I joined on the Friday was for Global Justice, a procession which moved sombrely around Parliament Square before branching up Great George Street towards Birdcage Walk. Eventually it turned right to end on the steps near the Treasury on Horse Guards Road. The shouting was minimal. Instead, a vocal elegy gradually spread through the crowd, partially led in my section of the column, by an XR choir from Dartmoor.
I found myself near the Dartmoor Group again on Saturday’s March for Biodiversity
Though in four days I only met one person I knew from the North West, one of the group from Dartmoor, I encountered three times, and we finally talked during Saturday’s March for Biodiversity during which conversation she echoed my pessimistic fear, a lack of hope that anything can be saved now: “It’s too late,” she said with inner devastation, “but it’s better to know we tried. Better to belong to something rather than nothing . . .” Later, glancing down at her placard: 97% OF UK WILD FLOWER MEADOW GONE, she added tragically, “That’s wrong, it’s 98% now.”
Demonstration as choral elegy, Great George Street, 21st April 2023
At several points on a short route, Friday’s Global Justice procession paused . . . and its silent gentleness, the lines of its song, were compellingly moving. It was hard to prevent tears flowing from my eyes – as if we were all present at our own mass funeral. Or as if we could escape the inevitable one-way tunnel we’ve been in since the industrial revolution. And throughout the stillness and the song – as momento mori to nature and the best of the human spirit – came the tolling of a bell.
By the Treasury, Horse Guards Road, 21st April 2023
Only at the terminal point adjoining the Treasury did the mood become more aggrieved, with nervous security guards and police very obviously feigning confidence. From the nearby steps however I watched as the crowd gradually seemed to relax, some perhaps finding hope beyond the elegy? “We have to keep trying,” I overheard someone encouraging. “But how can we possibly make up for all those who can’t be f**king bothered?” a listener replied.
Houses of Parliament, 22nd April 2023
March for Biodiversity, Saturday 22nd April 2023
On Saturday, the March for Biodiversity was enormous[xviii], and taking a route out to the west it turned south onto Great Smith Street and Marsham Street, then east back towards the River Thames along Horseferry Road.
At the conclusion of its angry, friendly, sad but determined slow-moving loop, the march approached Abingdon Gardens and Parliament Square. All the way, our demands and protests were accompanied by a haunting symphony of bird calls – skylarks, swallows, a nightjar, owls hooting mournfully – whistles, a chorus of frogs[xix], sounds from the oceans and jungles . . . Here, before the gradual dispersal, the leading phalanx was called upon to die and willingly did so all around me. “There’s no space for me to die,” I complained, before obligingly, the corpses around my feet, shifted about to clear a space.
“At least it takes the weight off your feet.”
“Die quietly for heaven’s sake!”
For how much longer will such blackly humorous stoicism be viable?
“There’s no space for me to die!” The death of the Biodiversity March, Millbank/Abingdon Street, 22nd April 2023 – Earth Day
Although we eventually observed a long silence in death, the traffic went on beyond the houses of parliament, while the chain of aircraft on the flightpath never ceased, and the river smelt of bad drains.
22nd April 2023 – Earth Day
Parliament Square, 21st April 2023
22nd April 2023 – Earth Day
The call to “Rise again” was only transiently morale-boosting – a buzz in the neck, relief from the hardness of the tarmac – but was helped by a loud warbling siren, which at first, I took to be a big version of one of those water whistles our children used to frenetically maul in the bath or sometimes try to be poetic with . . . But it became more insistent and resolved itself into a police motorcycle trying to clear a path for some miserable-looking VIP chauffeured by latter-day, gas-guzzling, Range Rover and aiming for a back entrance to the Palace of Westminster. Tolerantly we stood aside and the vehicle and its dying vampire were given the thumbs down as if this was ancient Rome and ironic slaves had taken over the forum . . . temporarily . . .
The March for Biodiversity dispersing, 22nd April 2023
Hope regained . . . 22nd April 2023
Climbing from Woolwich, SE18, near the end of the second day, Saturday 22nd April 2023
rich heraldic defence
to hush the red double-decker’s as they pass
and usher the cheerful clatter of drinks
sun shades unfolded
in the walled garden of The Windmill –
the tower has no sails but still . . .
before all speech is lost
© Lawrence Freiesleben,
London and Morecambe, April-May 2023
NOTES – accessed up to May the 10th 2023
[ii] How do you define rich? You could try this: ifs.org.uk/tools_and_resources/where_do_you_fit_in though I didn’t, as I knew I’d be pretty much near the bottom . . .
[iii] Sign the Good Law Project’s petition against the HMRC’s £600 million pound loophole for the very wealthy: actions.goodlawproject.org/private_equity?utm_source=NB&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=privateequitypetitionemail03%2F05%2F23
[iv] A pressing point and one which seems undeniable in the long run. In the meantime – a point I raised with two vegan campaigners – what do you do about the lamentable rise in popularity of carnivorous pets? There are vegan alternatives but they don’t look very affordable at present. See: www.animalaid.org.uk/
[v] See flightfree.co.uk/
[x] Who is paying them for offering flights as prizes? businessgreen.com/news/4113311/prize-flights-bbc-urged-stop-offering-flights-competition-winners
[xi] Yet it is hard to continue to believe in some ideal of freedom and (eccentric) individualism once you realise how much of it comes at the expense of others. Like the fantasy of “quality always rising to the top” (9 times out of 10 it doesn’t) a great deal of the aspiration for freedom and liberty is a con-trick of capitalism or neo-liberalism. Similarly, the so-called “free market” itself, is an excuse for waste, overproduction and futile competition. Stuff economics! Such systems are a hoax – a swindle which penetrates our world so thoroughly that it’s become impossible to doubt or kill off. Like our supposed democracy, our bland freedom or individualism – cheered, encouraged, threatened – is merely token. In reality, the 95% bound to “fail” will always subsidise the 5% who “succeed”. In most cases this 5% is also a foregone conclusion – people destined to succeed through advantages of class and money. Occasionally a few others might make it into this 5%, through beauty, natural intelligence or talent in some form, but not often. Yet still the con-trick continues to stimulate consumer desire and dreams of ‘success’ – persuading us all too often to ditch community, conscience, and social and environmental concerns, in favour of self-fulfilment and a purely personal happiness.
[xiv] www.counterpunch.org/2023/02/03/our-demands-are-now-political-an-interview-with-lourdes-huanca-atencio/ Also: upsidedownworld.org/archives/peru-archives/peru-in-defense-of-land-culture-and-the-female-body-interview-with-lourdes-huanca/
[xvi] Unlike the CIA support for Abstract Expressionism – which whatever you think of the artists away from the poisonousness of the art market – makes Capitalistic ‘sense’. See: thecollector.com/abstract-expressionism-waging-a-cultural-cold-war-2/
[xviii] This eight minute clip covers a lot of ground, including a host of placards and masks I missed: vhttps://www.google.com/search?q=the+march+for+biodiversity+April+2023&tbm=vid&sa=X&ved=#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:129eef40,vid:e1AGD7kyDMI
[xx] Closing lines of SE18 – The Woolwich Quest