Communion with the Red Rebels
Linda Richardson was active in the Green Party when she first encountered the Red Rebels in London.
“They first appeared with Extinction Rebellion in spring,” she says. “Everybody was a bit bamboozled by them, while being struck by their presence, their slowness, peaceableness and expressiveness.
“I heard a suggestion by Sophie Berridge, who was a Red Rebel in London, and she and others came to my house and we made some outfits together, so that’s how it started, in early summer.”
Linda, an artist and facilitator of mindfulness and meditation practices, lives in Linton and spends a lot of time in Cambridge. The bonds the Red Rebels have forged are where their strength lies, and where Linda first met fellow Cambridge super-activist Hilary Cox Condron at an XR protest.
“We’ve become rebellious sisters,” Linda says. “Red Rebels have walked at Latitude, Ely, several times in Cambridge… around 20 people have walked.”
The walking has a rhythm of its own, with its own demands. So how do you prepare yourselves?
“I don’t have experience of how other Red Rebel Brigades prepare so I can only talk about Cambridge,” says Linda. “To me, it’s more of a shamanic practice. It’s not just a pretty costume. We begin with the usual chatter but as we put on the make-up and the costume we grow more and more quiet. When we are dressed we hold hands and breathe, relax our shoulders and remember what it is we’re doing. We are not informing or persuading people, we’re channelling another world where the forests are burning, where insects are being annihilated, where people are mourning the deaths of their loved ones, where drought and deforestation are happening because of greed and money. This is what we hold in our beings as we prepare to walk. We don’t speak again until we get back. We feel like we’re taking another world out into the ordinary world. It’s about compassion, not judgement.
“The walks can be very intense, they last a couple of hours. It’s physically exhausting because you’re not walking with the momentum of the body. We walk very slowly at a pace that immediately confronts the fast pace of the town.”
And what sort of responses do you get?
“People are so surprised! You hold their gaze gently. They nearly always react in some way. Some walk by, some stop and look, some want to touch us, it’s really strange. Some even break down in tears.
“People have forgotten the power of a mythic act. They think: ‘What is that?’ It’s astonishing. They’re generally agog. We’re stirring an ancient memory in people. They know what they’re seeing is something profound but they have no vocabulary with which to frame it.
“I’ve never done anything like it in my life. Most of the Red Rebels really understand the deeper meaning of what we’re doing. Once we are walking, we never speak and we never should speak. I think it’s one of the most profound things Extinction Rebellion does actually.”
The most recent Red Rebel march through Cambridge saw the appearance of a bearded man. So has the gender balance changed?
“We have several men who walk with us, although most of us are women,” replies Linda. “We don’t have a policy on gender, we just want people to be there – people who have a sense of bringing an inner world into the open, the world of burning, of drowning, of dying, of mourning. I love to see the beards though of course it’s a feminine-inspired group. Andy Bates, who walked with us on Saturday, is a very masculine man – he’s into bushcraft actually, though he’s in touch with his feminine side.”
Do you advocate a matriarchy?
“I can only talk for myself. I would hate for things to swing vastly. Patriarchy is so disconnected, but if we swing to the other side and became matriarchal, that could become extreme too. Men and women have to live in harmony.
“I’d love to see more men walking with us. It’s beyond the costumes for me. For instance, I don’t wear flowers in my headdress and Andy wore feathers and bones in his headdress. The flowers were the original idea and the source, but you can still create a powerful image without flowers. On Saturday one of us – Nicole Page – was in a wheelchair, which was great. There were a dozen Red Rebels at the Funeral for Life [the most recent walk], and about 40 of us in total.”
“It’s very interesting that children and silence seem to have caught the imagination,” replies Linda. “We’re sick of information, we’re sick of words. People are alienated from their own being, and you can’t manipulate silence.
“It’s so beautiful.”