As I got of the tube at Westminster I was shockingly underwhelmed, everything looked as it normally did. My friend John Good and I had a look around parliament to see if there was anything happening there, but there wasn’t, on hearing the news that climate change had brought Central London to a standstill was exaggerated.
Yet we did see lots of police presence, ironic as in normal everyday life we barely ever see the police on our streets, hoovering above our heads was a police helicopter (no doubt pumping all sorts of toxins into the atmosphere).
We began to walk Trafalgar Square we where the protest had its heart, and heard a speaker saying: “Our government has declared a climate emergency, but where is their emergency plan?”
Anyone who had been an episode of “Yes Minister”/”Yes, Prime Minister” (or been involved in much Church life!) will know that there is a vast sea of difference words/rhetoric and action/implementation.
Yet I was struck by this speech that it deterred away from issues we would normally associate with climate change, particularly education, the D.W.P and the arms-trade/war in general. All important issues, but wondered about the risk of loosing focus, but also realised that issues of sustainable living effect everything, and are more far reaching than we realise.
Some music started, and it did feel a bit of a party atmosphere, reminding me of a mini Glastonbury, Greenbelt or Banksy exhibition. Lots of art and creativity with some powerful quotes including Wilberforce’s words “that we can choose to look the other way but we cannot say we did not know”, or one simple placard saying “what did you do in the climate crisis dad?”
Boris Johnson has characterised this as a whole load of “nose-ringed crusties”, “dread-locked hippies in bivouacs smelling if hemp” and many other Borisy insults, and there were plenty of people who fulfilled that stereotype, yet there were many of us who were fairly ordinary people who care what we are doing to our planet and how it effects us all, and will/is effecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our world.
There were plenty of tents, and some gazebos offering art and creative opportunities for banners and T’shirts, some drew on the ground with chalk. I spied an unusual tent, a science tent, where XR volunteers were dressed in lab coats and talking to people about the science around climate change.
“What if climate change was a hoax?”
“I wish it was a hoax , but even if it’s not and we clean up our air, land and sea and try and live more responsibly that can’t be a bad thing can it?”
We got chatting to a lovely couple from Chichester, who had been influenced by the Christian group the Quakers, again normal people doing what they can, this ladies husband has taken time off work to protest, a sacrificial act.
We ended up talking about our kids, -want my child to stand up for what she believes to be right- and she said that they had been nervous of taking their kids here, but we all agreed that actually it felt safe and child friendly.
I thought of my Facebook feed filled with comments like “stay safe” which is ironic considering actually things such as street pastors etc are potentially more dangerous, we view getting arrested as an awful thing (and no one wants to get arrested) but this made me realise how compliment we are as a nation. Thinking of Christians in North Korea living out their faith in much greater danger, hearing a woman speak the year before last at New Wine their prison system sounded so barbaric imprisoned in an over crowded camp for simply praying with another Christian. Getting into trouble or being unpopular should not stop us doing what is right.
I had to fly off for to St. Martin’s -in what their associate vicar, Sally Hitchiner, calls London’s most ethical cafe- to meet two friends, Nick and Eileen.
Nick and Eileen are the brother and mum of one of my best friends Simon, a wonderful and fun guy who died shortly after we moved to Poole. Simon was a nurse who worked amongst the homeless in London, before moving to Nottingham and where we met and became friends. Indeed, Simon helped me through a really tough time which I will always be immensely grateful. Simon we discovered later was more than just a guy who liked to party but sadly was an alcoholic. He ended up going to rehab in South Africa, and then working in rehab. “Treatment for all” was his mantra seeking to make funding for rehab for drug and alcohol affordable to all who needed it regardless of their ability to pay. They are exploring something to do in Simon’s memory.
As we finished our coffee (fair-traded of course!) Nick spotted on his phone that XR were taking action to the BBC with a protest.
John and I rushed over to join them, John being fitter than I was saying wise words and I wheezed agreement. Talking about this being a generation wanting to be heard and leave a legacy.
I remember the music of people like the Manic Street Preachers saying “if we tolerate this then your children will be next” or bopping around in a field at Christian Festivals like Soul Survivor singing Delirious’ “Historymaker”, but I think this feeling has grown and grown.
For a long time apathy and complacency has paralysed us -anyone who follows politics knows that government are elected on smallish percentages of the eligible vote. Yet, with the Brexit debate and the Extinction Rebellion (whatever your views on this) however we have seen people have engaged or re-engaged, maybe not in the way we would like, but they are engaged.
We thought about how fear grips people, young people especially, when the fear narrative threatening both the environmental and economic future is making young people feel deeply anxious, and unheard. Yet, I know for me personally how fear and guilt are poor (but powerful) motivators, instead I want to see Hope as better incentive.
Martin Luther King said “riot is the language of the unheard”, we know the more and more we are ignored and overlooked the more angry and frustrated with the way the world is. I was reminded of a Franciscan saying about “shouting at the night” and many of us have deep sympathy with the sentiment saying “we don’t like the way the world is going”.
As I gasped for breath, and side stepped a group of tourists.
I wheezed something about “being a society where everyone is speaking but no one is listening” -which isn’t entirely true when we think of YouTube influences etc- but “how do we speak and get listened too ?” But it is an interesting question, do we just shout on the echo chambers of facebook, or to the already converted in our churches. How do we really speak and listen beyond those who think the same as us, how do we engage meaningfully outside our ‘tribe’ or ‘group’?
We arrived at the BBC about the same time as an army of police, I did think that John and I looked like off duty coppers(!)
I thought about the BBC an organisation I have come to feel more uneasy about who appears to have become very biased. I remember in the days of Blair and Major (yes I am that old!) feeling they were trying to be balanced, but now (whatever your politics) they are softly right wing and remain in their outlook, speaking a lot about Brexit but little about climate change and its effect on the world’s poorest.
I saw banners saying “tell the truth” everywhere I looked and then saw people in suits with pape mache animal heads, reminding us how close to extinction some of these animals and their natural habitats are. The protesters wanted a meeting from someone from the BBC and clearer reporting on the science of climate change.
As we stood there in the cold we chatted to people, one lady passed around free (vegan) flapjack, I was struck by this movements open-heartedness, welcome and hospitality.
A couple of people had climbed on the roof and although the police officers were pretty chilled at the start of all this, I did suspect they would end up getting arrested, and knew that eventually this area would get cleared but for now it was all reasonably calm.
There were some more speaches and a citizen’s assembly where people votes by a show of hands as to what the next phase of action would be.
After a while here we headed to Lambeth North to the Oasis accademy to meet Tom, a friend of John. Tom works in a hospital for Oasis with young people and the victims of knife crime.
As I thought about the tragedy of young people killing one another, and many are so scared to go out that they are arming themselves in self defense. I remember hearing a friend, Luke, who is doing an MA with me, talking about as a response to knife crime in Luton they did a prophetic act of making a sculpture from the blades that had been surrendered on the street. A prayer for peace, and echoing the sentiment of turning spears into ploughs and shears into pruning hooks, longing for the day when people practice war no more.
I snapped out of day dreaming and tuned into John and Tom reminisinf about working with young people in a place in Southampton called “Shirley Warren”. Many of the young people from this estate were marginalised and disenfranchised, where they lived as a community together and served sacraficially for a number of years. It was amusing listening to their conversation (with laughter) “do you remember our burgled?” and “remember that house when we got a brick through the window… Didn’t that happen twice?”
This reminded me that good quality real relational youth work changes -and I believe- saves lives. Sadly too often this type of youth work doesn’t happen as much as it should in our Churches, where the youth worker too often works keeping the middle class churchy kids happy, rather than seeing the local young people reached with the amazing good news of the Kingdom of God.
I sensed the Holy Spirit was moving and speaking as these guys reminisced, and wondered that although I had come up to London to think about protest and climate change, God had been wanting to get my attention about the plight of young people with the dangers of knife crime in our towns and cities.
John’s phone rang and he had to go and meet his wife who was picking him up from an outer London station, we left and went our separate ways getting on different tubes.I got onto one going back into central London and picked up the Evening Standard and saw the main headline “Two Teen Knife Murders in just 5 hours”.