Oz Blog News Commentary

Arresting Destruction

October 20, 2019 - 18:56 -- Admin

This is my rationale for getting arrested with Extinction

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th October

A few hours after this column is published, I hope to be in a
police cell. I don’t yet know what the charge will be, where I will be arrested
or when, but I know that if I go home this evening without feeling the hand of
the law on my sleeve, I will have failed. This might sound like a strange
ambition, but I believe it is a reasonable one.

If I succeed, I will be one of many. In the current wave of Extinction
Rebellion protests
, 1400 people have so far allowed themselves to be arrested.
It’s a controversial tactic, but it has often proved highly effective. The
suffragettes, the Indian salt marchers, the civil rights movement, the Polish
and East German democracy movements, to name just a few, all used it to great
effect. Mass arrests are a potent form of democratic protest.

They work because they show that the campaigners are serious. When
people are prepared to jeopardise their liberty for their cause, other people
appear more likely to listen to what they say, and more likely to recognise its
importance. Extinction Rebellion was founded by people who researched these
histories and sought
to apply their lessons
to the greatest predicament humanity has ever faced:
the gathering collapse of our life support systems.

Nowhere on earth is government action matched to the scale of the
catastrophes we face. Part of the reason is the remarkably low level of public
discussion and information on this crisis. Another is that the political risks
of action are higher than the perceived rewards: a balance the protesters want to
redress. But perhaps the most important factor is the brute power of the pollutocrats
driving this disaster. As the Guardian’s Polluters series
shows, the big fossil fuel companies have used political funding, intense
lobbying and gross deceptions of the public to overwhelm environmental protections
and keep harvesting their massive profits.

Those who confront them have no such power. We cannot buy
television channels and newspapers, pour billions into political lobbying or
seed dark ads on social media. We have only one strength: our vulnerability. By
putting our bodies on the line and risking our liberty, we make this great
neglected issue impossible to ignore.

So far, the campaign has been remarkably successful. Alongside the
climate strikes
, Extinction Rebellion has changed the global conversation about
climate and environmental breakdown. These movements are directly responsible
for the climate emergency declared
by the UK Parliament
and many other political bodies. But this is not
enough. It is one thing to recognise an emergency, another to act on it. We must
do more. I cannot justifiably say “we” if I don’t mean I.

I know this action will expose me to criticism as well as prosecution.
Like other prominent activists, I will be lambasted in the billionaire press
for hypocrisy: this is now the favoured means of trying to take us down. Yes,
we are hypocrites. Because we are embedded in the systems we contest, and life
is complicated, no one has ever achieved moral purity. The choice we face is not
between hypocrisy and purity, but between hypocrisy and cynicism. It is better
to strive to do good, and often fail, than not to strive at all.

Other criticisms are more valid. Extinction Rebellion is
too white
, too middle-class. Both charges are true, as the organisers
recognise: they know that they must do more to break down the cultural barriers
the movement unconsciously erects, engage with community leaders and listen to
voices that have not been heard.

But I cannot help who I am. I accept that the costs of arrest for
people like me – a white, middle-class man with an established career – are lower
than for other people. But this means I have
a moral duty to use my privilege. The victims of climate breakdown have so far
been mostly voiceless and invisible to us. But we know that, even with just 1°C
of global heating, climate chaos is already a
bigger cause of forced migration
than either poverty or political
oppression. Large numbers of people in Somalia,
Bangladesh, the Caribbean,
and many other parts of the world are already losing their homes
and livelihoods. The poor are the least responsible for climate disaster, but the
most likely to suffer its effects. They carry the cost of our consumption. We
have imposed this crisis on others, and must do what we can to curtail it.

Since I began writing this article, getting
arrested has become easier: the police have imposed
a blanket ban
on “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion autumn uprising” across London.
This looks to me like a breach of article 20 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights
: “Everyone has the right to freedom
of peaceful assembly and association.” Over the past four decades, the police have
acquired an extraordinary array of powers, enabling them, in effect, to shut
down any protest. But they deem even these insufficient: at a recent press
conference they
new “banning orders” for “habitual” protesters. Given that regular
protest has proved throughout history to be an essential mechanism for
political reform, this looks like a direct attack on democracy.

Far from deterring me, the draconian ban this week and the police demand for even greater powers strengthen my determination. Now I feel I am standing not only for the habitability of the planet, but also for the continued right to protest. This is my duty, and I intend to fulfil it.

Update: I was arrested at 1520 that afternoon.