There is no hypocrisy in non-violent direct action. Nearing one-thousand protesters have now been arrested, such is the sacrifice and commitment coalesced inside the Extinction Rebellion. More of us are joining each day. And internationally the Movement is burgeoning, holding together the very powerful principles of non-violent direct action and self-sacrifice in common cause.

Every day, new reports unfold about the current impact of global heating on climate and the ecology. And every day the criticism and disparagingly clever comments increase. By fair means or foul we are called-out as hypocrites.

In our local protest this week, as we held a banner across the pelican crossing spelling out Extinction Rebellion in pretty and colourful pieces of scrap fabric, a bloke driving a van called out, “bet you used acrylic paints on that!” Hmmm…Clever. 

Across the country people comment on the images of our tents in Hyde Park or Marsham Street, decrying the protesters for leaving rubbish. It has to be said that the rules of engagement with XR are no alcohol, no drugs and no littering, the protesters being particularly obsessive-compulsive about the latter. But the opposition are keen to portray as as “dirty”, “uncouth”, and ultimately indecent. 

There are many slurs shouted from passers by and printed in the media. A favourite is the transport we use. “Ha, they’re taking a diesel coach to London – hypocrites!” 

“There you go, they’re drinking coffee – think of the world’s resources used to make that! Ha, hypocrites!”

“Bet they’ve been in an airplane…hypoc…”

“Bet you’ve got a TV!…hypo..”

“Why don’t you cycle everywhere? Hyp…”

“Your electric bike has rare-earth metals in the battery – hy…”

“Your cycling helmet is plastic so how dare you protest!”

Today’s right-wing Daily Mail reports seeing XR protesters inside a McDonalds burger bar – probably using the toilets because the police had confiscated our paid-for and provided portable toilets. But hey, why not just shout out, “hypocrites!”

In the name of Love which we espouse against Hate, the opposition is understandable. We are disturbing the equilibrium and that always evokes anxiety. The responses are defensive in the first place. Of course there are those who vehemently reject our arguments or come from a political standpoint of opposition to collective emancipation, but in the main the retorts are clever-defensive, batting-off the omni-present question posed – “why don’t you join us?”

Extinction Rebellion says no more Business as Usual, quoting Greta Thunberg, “I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is!” Taken at face value, that is a very threatening statement. The less confident amongst us, and those who suffer anxiety and depression will probably find it unnerving. The best response is to push it away or make light of it.

We say the house is burning and they kick back.

We have to eat our own exasperation at the responses. The house is burning. I run into your flat and try to help you save your baby. You start to complain that I didn’t take my shoes off at the entrance. The house is still burning. The fire brigade arrives and you send them away fearing water damage.

And how easy it is to point out that we who believe the world is on fire are still in the house. The only way we could leave would be by committing mass suicide – not a recipe for preventing global catastrophe. And so we live within the existing society, yes, picking-up our litter and changing what we can of our personal polluting ways, but in the main we are obliged to manage as best we can with what is provided: public transport, electricity, communications – all based upon carbon fuels and single-use plastics.

In fact it is the scale of the enterprise that is the most threatening. Those who have faced-up to the scientific facts and observable degradation of the environment and eco-systems are living in a very Big Picture. It is very disquieting and often overwhelming. We come to realise that, as individuals, we have very little influence over the System. The size of the global economy is mind-boggling, the essential change to zero-carbon emissions by 2025 all-but inconceivable, the devastation caused by a global temperature rise of 2, 3 or 4 degrees centigrade compared to pre-industrial times quite paralysing. Even imagining the demise of the bees befuddles belief. 

So we can quite understand the put-downs. We are living above and outside the superficial aspects of day-to-day life. Ours is global vision because global heating raises demands about the base of society not just the superstructure. Everything must change. 

Using a plastic bottle, eating a burger, using carbon-generated lighting are all side-issues when the house is on fire and there is no escape. We have to focus on putting the fire out, now. Of course that means we don’t waste or pollute anymore than we can help, but such individual actions of contrition don’t add up societal change – it is the global politic, economic model and methods of production that have to change.

In a state of despair at the sticks and stones of throwaway snide comments this week, one protester wrote with sarcastic wit: “Until we see a Movement comprised of people with implacable good manners, faultless political analysis and exemplary consumption habits, I’m afraid we’ve little choice but to support the unfolding political and environmental catastrophe.” And someone else added, “…and even then we’ll probably be busy that day…”

“You can’t get people on your side by causing disruption”, is the final damnation of our side. But, clearly, the Status Quo is not benign. The Status Quo is killing the planet and its people. Disrupting such an indefensible normality is essential. In the process of protest we are undoubtedly gaining ground, more people becoming involved with the issues if not the actions themselves. 

The cry of hypocrisy does, nevertheless, identify one final and indisputable reality. There will be those who, come what may, will actively defend the System that is so palpably indefensible. We will not convince everyone, and the forces of the status quo will continue to weaponise them with everything from slurs and cries of “hypocrite” to active and organised violence against us. These are the early days.

Wednesday 9th October 2019

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