Extinction Rebellion Cambridge: Two years on for ‘the group that came out of nowhere’ for climate justice
James Murray-White - XR Rewilding founder, activist, writer and filmmaker - talks to the activists who have propelled the climate change group from zero to international recognition in two years.
It takes time to seed and grow change – to create a rebellion. Only fires start quickly and burn everything in sight, as we’ve seen so tragically in California, along the Amazon, and in Australia.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) burst through into cultural consciousness in two years ago: the first mention in the Cambridge Independent was on November 14, 2018, the first report on December 15: a no-holds barred approach to action, undercut with its non-violent methodology, has helped shift the national conversation around climate and social change.
XR Cambridge is one of many groups formed around the UK and around the world to form a community, to focus on the climate emergency, and to get others to respond and at least become aware of the energy of change. Since the first training day at Trumpington Village Hall, the group has created actions and events across the city and the county, including cycle rides, blockades, theatrical marches, Hallowe’en death walks, to ramping up the divestment discussion at the heart of the University - and last but not least the ‘lawngate’ action at Trinity.
There is no question that the group will continue when the response to the climate emergency remains disastrously slow: atmospheric shifts are happening at a rapid pace due to humans emitting carbon, and the natural processes that counter-balance the carbonisation of the air are also being destroyed. There’s no rest when the scale of the problem continues to accelerate.
My tiny part in all this has been trying to draw attention to land issues here in the UK: land use, land access, letting land speak for itself, and allowing land to rewild. Land - forests, and peat bogs - in Scotland, Cumbria and Dartmoor, for instance - have a huge part in the ecological processes of life. Humans are on a journey to rewilding ourselves, to understanding that we are part of the ecological system.
Let’s start now.
“Declaration Day on October 31, 2018 - the start of XR - changed my life. Finally I’d found people who were telling the truth about the climate and had a plan. I could do nothing else but take early retirement and become a full time activist; after all I have two beautiful young grandchildren to protect. They look at me with such trusting eyes, I would indeed be betraying that trust if I did nothing. Our son died from cot death. There was nothing I could do to save him, but there is something I can do to protect my grand-daughters, and that’s being part of XR. XR has made a difference, many governments and institutions around the world have declared a climate emergency and, as an issue, its profile is now much greater but we desperately need to change rhetoric into meaningful action and it’s my job to keep the pressure up.”
“Nature was and is my first love. From an early age I got swept away by nature’s beauty and complexity. As I grew I learnt more about its destruction and did what I could to protect and preserve it. I raised money for conservation charities, joined said charities and I have spent the past 25 years working for a local nature conservation NGO. But still nature is being destroyed, everywhere. Extinction Rebellion is serious about turning this around. It encourages the sharing of emotions. It demands the truth to be told. It demands meaningful action be taken. It is winning.”
“Looking back at the photo from our first NVDA training, I am filled with joy, warmth, and above all, gratitude. Gratitude for the communal space to plan, celebrate, reflect, learn and grieve for all that has been lost. In the span of one life (thank you, David Attenborough), we have decimated the living world and the consequences loom over our heads like a dark, heavy cloud. Even those who aren’t conscious of it still feel its weight. Yet, we march onward, slowly, quietly, towards our own extinction. Cue the Rebellion for Life: an opportunity to step out of this zombie-like march and add my voice to the rising sea of dissenters. And in that sea, supporting the movement with wisdom and steadfastness, was a seasoned group of good ancestors. To witness them fight, with love and kindness, for my future, for nature, for those who experience displacement, hunger and water insecurity, restored my faith in humanity. Thank you for all you have done.”
“Attending the NVDA training in Trumpington - then aged 68 - and learning about XR just seemed the natural thing to do, as if the time in history was right, as was proved when a couple of us arranged two similar events in Bury St Edmunds that drew in more than 60 people each time. From there it just evolved and blossomed, embracing all the best of human endeavour and hope: telling the truth, acting now and re-generation. Local and London actions followed, so did arrests but also more commitment. The emergency hasn’t gone away and neither have we.”
“My main memory from the first XR training in Trumpington was the sheer number who were prepared to turn up to be trained in non-violent direct action on the climate crisis. People kept coming in – more and more chairs found. The reality of the catastrophic situation we are all facing, the strength of the desire to do something serious about it, spoke powerfully through those numbers. Since that date, events have taken me a long way from that community hall, and the pandemic has forced new ways of rebelling, but this was an important start.”
“I came to that gathering [in Trumpington] because I had long recognised that direct action was necessary if we were to halt the forces pushing our teetering ecosystems into the abyss. It was wonderful to be with a crowd of people who had reached a similar conclusion. It seemed that this movement had come out of nowhere, though in reality it rested on the shoulders of brave environmental activists around the world. We had much success in joyfully publicising the need to avert catastrophes and in using our shared purpose and care for each other to patchwork our knowledge and talents. There are many signs that our movement is constantly revitalised through our solidarity with each other and our determination to end the exploitation of people and nature.”
“Learning about the climate crisis and joining Extinction Rebellion was a highly transformational journey for me. Acknowledging the severity of the crisis was hard, but meeting people who care ensured that my fear was turned into action. Two years on, we still didn’t get the change we wanted, and work must continue. XR is now part of an amazing network of movements, all fighting to dismantle this system that is grinding down on the poor and marginal. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, the existence of movements like XR and the people in it is what gives me hope.”
“Since joining XR I’ve gone from a gentle law-abiding activist to full-blown NVDA, including two arrests. I no longer live in a state of petrified inaction when I think of the climate crisis. I’m facing it head on and trying to make the movement more accessible for disabled people. I’m also involved helping to decide UK strategy and I’m part of the justice steering group which represents marginalised people. I’ve met some amazing people and I hope I’m doing a tiny bit towards making a safer, more just world for future generations.”
Hilary Cox Condron
“After going to that first meeting, with my son, Finlay, our home started to fill with paint, flags and banners. Since then, working with other artists, and seeing the creativity throughout XR, has been phenomenal. It changes people. It fuels the imagination needed to envision a different way of living. Finlay and I took turns to do the night shifts during the first rebellion. When the police phoned to say he’d been arrested I told them I was incredibly proud of him. And I am. It’s incredible to think that people said change is impossible, yet less than a year later, streets were completely empty. I was in deep grief for weeks after that first meeting - the realisation of what my children face was horrific. Is horrific. More than anything, when I see that photo of us, as strangers, I feel love. And hope.”