20th October 2019
This is my rationale for getting arrested with Extinction Rebellion
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th October 2019
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 youth 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.
- George Monbiot arrested for defying Extinction Rebellion protest ban
- George Monbiot (+ background sources)