Photo-diary of XR Cambridge’s Rebel for Justice protest
12.30pm: It’s the first Extinction Rebellion (XR) event of the decade for Cambridge and protestors are gathering outside Shire Hall. Everyone has been watching the bushfires burn up Australia with increasing horror. There’s a sense that this is about getting out on the streets and being heard, that maybe that’s healthier than sitting at home feeling helpless. Organisers XR Youth are setting the pace in 2020: fed up with the lack of progress on reducing global temperatures, they’ve announced a week-long shutdown in Cambridge next month.
12.40pm: The Rebel for Justice event, which is organised by XR Youth, has a 15-piece samba band! In fact it’s two samba bands for the price of one, Marcus, a drummer, tells me.
“The Cambridge XR samba band and the Bury St Edmunds came together to form one big samba band for today led by our great leader Jeremy,” Marcus says. So here they are (above) in rehearsal, and they’re kicking off quite a racket when they want, but the slower, more funereal, rhythms also catch the mood on the way through town.
12.50pm: The stewards have got walkie-talkies! Here they are, some of them, there’s around a dozen monitoring the protest through town in their gilet jaunes, shepherding the marchers through traffic lights, over a bridge, through the gloriously historic streets, to Guildhall. Gotta say I love the stewards, they’re all lovely and very passionate about their role, which they’re very good at by the way. Before setting off there’s a crowd-warmer speech from the steps of Shire Hall from XR Youth’s Amelia, who reminds the assembled throng that “we’re in the sixth mass extinction event on Earth, which will make much of the land uninhabitable, with millions of homes lost because the breakdown of our climate has begun, and we can expect super-storms, droughts, famines... In our city the University of Cambridge, Cambridge City Council and Cambridge County Council all have a huge effect, they wield huge power but they are acting too slowly or not at all.”
1pm: Off the 200-strong group goes, into Castle Street towards town. The banner above, incidentally, presents a new theme for the Extinction Rebellion movement. Tying in climate justice with ‘social justice’ is a fresh development. The speaker after Amelia on the steps of Shire Hall explored this new slogan, talking about the transport system being a service not a commodity. The audience was eerily quiet during this speech, he wasn’t connecting. One of the most refreshing aspects that made Extinction Rebellion so potent in 2019 was its ability to navigate through and around party politics, plus the number of young people on the streets. It would be a pity to lose that, and in any case it’s not always the situation that climate justice and social justice go hand in hand. For instance, social justice dictates that everyone should have access to wifi, but in practice that creates more demand for energy.
1.15pm: Just by the Round Church, passers-by burst into applause. There’s noticeably more support from the public. People just care. They see the news, everyone’s talking about the kangeroos and koalas, the half a billion animals burned or suffocated in Australia. And they want to avoid the same or something equivalent happening here. It’s human nature. After last month’s election, the worry was that climate change counter-measures would be on the back-burner. That was before Australia’s prolonged and ongoing agony: now everyone knows that Extinction Rebellion have got more than social justice or even climate justice on their side - it’s about survival now.
1.25pm: Outside Senate House. A quote from Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN in September. When Extinction Rebellion sprang up just over a year ago, the concern was that humanity had 12 years to save the Earth - check the picture in our report here. But 12 years seems generous now. This year, 2020, is perhaps going to be the most important year humanity has ever faced, and the suggestion that the global economy can enjoy permanent growth forever is suddenly for the birds. Even 12 more years is a fantasy.
1.35pm: Some iconic Cambridge buildings in this picture as passers-by and protestors listen to a speech. As everyone walks away, a busker is playing REM’s Everybody Hurts outside Great St Mary’s church, which seemed fitting. Everyone was pretty shattered after last month’s general election result, but the ongoing catastrophe of the Australian wildfires has really brought it home, that we don’t really understand climate breakdown. That’s not anyone’s fault necessarily: we don’t fully understand how genetics, or the spine, or the brain, works, not fully - but the predicament does mean that a mass extinction event hasn’t been closely catalogued before. Now we can see the full extent of the furies that humanity’s experiments with nature have unleashed, and that’s alerted everyone to the scale of the problem and galvanised those who were already involved into further activism in what in actuality remains a fossil fuel-driven economy.
1.40pm: Cambridge has its own problems adapting to climate change. Tourism is a significant part of the local economy, and adds to the city’s traffic woes. The city’s many scientists have yet to speak with one voice on how to address climate action. The Unjiversity of Cambridge remains stubbornly wedded to its fossil fuel assets, in spite of the clear danger that they will soon become stranded assets - they know this, and sit on their hands. Extinction Rebellion’s February shutdown will put the spotlight on the glacial pace of change when it comes to adapting to the threat we face.
2.30: Outside Guildhall, the Rebel for Justice demands are spelled out. The movement is making three demands of what it sees as the main culprits for what it calls the lack of effective action to combat the looming catastrophe. It expects the university, city council and county council to “cut ties with the fossil fuel industry,” to initiate “a citizen’s assembly on climate justice” and to “plan for a just transition away from reliance on fossil fuels for transport”. Annie, pictured speaking here, also decries “greenrotting”, which “enables fossil fuel companies to portray their destructive activities in a constructive light”.
2.45pm: The samba band outside Guildhall. The musical stars of the day, their repertoire includes some great rhythms, and some truly memorable slower arrangements. Thanks y’all!
2.50pm: From left are steward Jenny Langley, Amelia from XR Youth and steward/photographer Derek Langley.
Amelia says: “The samba band has been great - it’s a first for a march in Cambridge. Also there’s quite a few people from Bury St Edmunds and other areas as well which is nice. This event has been organised by XR Youth so notice has been served on the Rebellion for Justice in February. I think it will be really powerful and make the difference we need.”
“Notice has been served, Martin Luther-style,” adds Derek, “but without the nail.”