Two days with XR in London
Two weeks ago I wrote about how I joined Extinction Rebellion. A week later I was making last-minute preparations to join the London rebellion with normal life on hold.
The 5.15am rendezvous with fellow drummer at Warrior Square Station on Monday didn’t happen. Coffeeless and rudderless I had to find my own way to St James Park where the 40+ South East drummers were meeting.
As soon as we set off, I realised I should have stored my backpack. My legs were already wobbling before we left the park for Parliament Square. After 45 minutes alternating between exhilaration and anxiety about my back and shoulders, I went back to the station to stash my luggage.
Returning to Parliament Square there was no sign of the SE crew and communications, so carefully planned, didn’t work. This was the lowest point, feeling rather foolish and lost in London, aware that things were going on around me but not really knowing quite what.
But I soon teamed up with a remnant of the South West drummers – lost in a skirmish with the police We toured the streets, beginning to make sense of what was happening and listening for the distant sound of drumming.
What hits you most is the immense diversity of people and activities and the way that collaboration between them can create an astonishing order out of chaos, a small village emerging before your eyes. There was singing, praying, talks, dancing; but all with a clear purpose: raising consciousness of impact humans are having on the climate and creating a sense of urgency about changing our reckless way of life.
And flowing around this was the normal life of London: tourists queuing to visit Westminster Cathedral, Londoners on their way to work – but no cars as the area from Whitehall to Lambeth Bridge and back up to Parliament Square was car free. London transformed.
Two separate worlds seemed to exist in one space. London protest met normal London around the edges where pedestrians hurried past, sometimes accepting leaflets or stopping to chat and offer support. There was little outright grumbling but maybe that was taking place where traffic was blocked.
We found the SW drummers so I joined in. Drumming isn’t just exhilarating in itself but brings much needed hope and support for the real heroes of the protest, such as those holding banners across the streets, those locked on to create the space for others to act.
Around midday, I found the SE drummers and the sense of belonging to a tightly-knit movement was enhanced. The afternoon passed in a blur of marching and drumming – buoyed by the sense that we were energising others taking part.
I pitch tent in the drizzling rain outside Westminster Abbey. This turned out to be the Scottish camp. Another friendly group with a clear identity. I lay awake in my tent otrying to make sense of the day.
Despite lack of sleep I was supported through the next morning by a sense of purpose -and what seemed the best coffee of my life. In fact everyone seemed to be fitting into an amazing pattern as if choreographed and rehearsed to perfection.
In the afternoon, the police moved in to clear Whitehall, the closest I came to arrest. These are important moments when you have a split-second decision to obstruct or move, be arrested or avoid arrest. Police officers can issue a Section 14 notice if they ‘reasonably believe’ a protest ‘may result in disruption to the life of the community’ (among other things). Once notified, you move or get arrested.
They didn’t succeed in taking Whitehall that day, but I’d gone by then, concerned about my belongings, caught in a downpour as I took the tent down… I decided to catch the train home to Hastings. Next time – and there will be a next time – I’ll be travelling light.
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