Last night I introduced Clare Farrell, one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion, at the second Writers Rebel event.
The first event took place last October, on Trafalgar Square, where 40 writers – including Ali Smith, Robert Macfarlane and Susie Orbach – read and gave speeches.
At the event, I read Blake’s ‘What is the price of Experience?’ as a mic check – getting the crowd to read along with me. It was extraordinary, to feel the power of Blake’s words.
Before I read, I said that I was sure that Blake, if he’d been alive, would have been there, would have been taking part in the protest.
For last night, I was asked to say a little bit about writing and protest. Here’s what I said –
I like to sit.
I’m a writer. I like to sit.
I’m a Buddhist. I like to sit.
But here I am. I’m here, standing. Standing up in front of you, talking. Directly. Politically.
Thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. You could be somewhere else.
I could be somewhere else. Sitting. Because, like you, I’m a writer – and, for me anyway, that means more than just about anything else, I like sitting at my desk and writing.
It takes something to get me out of the house. Also, I’ve tended to agree – in the past – with the advice that getting too involved, too politically doctrinaire, hurts the writing, and takes time from it.
And so I’ve voted Green in most elections, and after Trump was elected I joined the Green Party. As something to do.
But I haven’t committed to any kind of political action that was likely to get me arrested. I’ve been on marches about university tuition fees, against war, against Brexit. But I haven’t become involved in organising civil disobedience.
Now, with the world as it is, with the climate crisis as extreme as it already is, I feel I have no choice but to become more involved, more committed – committed to Extinction Rebellion.
Why? Why Extinction Rebellion?
Well, I don’t know how old you are – I don’t know if you remember the 4-minute warning. 4 minutes until nuclear holocaust.
During the 1980s, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I’d do when the 4-minute warning sounded.
I was fairly sure it would sound.
Eventually, I settled on two courses of action – either I would run out onto the street, to try and find someone of my age to lose my virginity with, or, more likely, as the streets of Ampthill, Bedfordshire, probably wouldn’t have contained anyone capable of helping in that endeavour (they hadn’t so far, obviously) – or more likely I would put on ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon.
‘Imagine’ lasts a few seconds over 3 minutes, so I reckoned I could get it played start to finish by the time the nuclear blast hit.
At the time, looking at adults, looking at the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction, looking at Ronald Reagan, I wondered why everyone wasn’t already out in the streets – doing one thing or another.
I wondered why, things being so bad, so extreme, the whole human race wasn’t protesting.
Coming into the very recent past, I was still wondering why there weren’t mass protests everywhere about environmental degradation? Why wasn’t there resolute, global action?
Well, now there is – now, there are millions of people out on the streets. They are focussed, organised, and they have a sense of urgency.
It is Extinction Rebellion which has given the focus – at least in the UK.
If there is a single thing that has caused me to want to do more, to want to do whatever I can, then it’s just this: within my short lifetime, I’ve witnessed the English climate change.
You’re seen it, too.
We’ve seen bird and insect numbers collapse. We’ve seen winter becoming sometime muggy, rather than freezing. We’ve seen trees blossom in December that used to come out in March.
And that shouldn’t happen – that kind of change shouldn’t be perceptible within a single human lifetime.
It’s a planet we’re talking about, not a back garden.
I’ve seen this in a place, in a country, that is generally quite isolated from extremes of weather.
It’s true, I have benefited from many of the industries and systems that have caused environmental change. I’ve bought the plastic, eaten the meat. But I realise that just changing my own consumer habits is not enough. That’s continuing to sit.
I need to try to make more of a difference.
What we need now is individual commitment to collective, global action – political action; sometimes obstructive, sometimes annoying to people who just want business as usual, sometimes infuriating to them.
As a writer, like you, I have always tried to find my own words for things – not to take on slogans. But, at this point, I’m happy to copy an eleven year-old school striker carrying a placard that says NO PLANET B.
Because they’re right.
There is NO PLANET B.
We have caused the mess, with our dynamism and our laziness. We have put the energy into the ecosystem. Now we need to clean up our own mess. We need to take the energy out.
It can be done.
I’m a writer, so Writers Rebel is where I’m going to make my contribution, put my commitment, spend my time, make my stand.
And if the writing gets suffers, it suffers. And if the writing gets worse, the writing gets worse.
I don’t think it has to.
Maybe you’re where I am, maybe not.
This evening is a chance for you to think about what you want to do, or not do.
This evening is a chance for you to think about where you sit.
Here’s a link to Extinction Rebellion.
Follow Writers Rebel on twitter.