by Ruth Musgrave, Green Christian member
Some diary entries written in the first week of the Rebellion. Each morning we went to Bart’s hospital for radiotherapy treatment for my husband Pete’s cancer and then went on to the Rebellion.
We got to Lambeth Bridge at about 9-45am. It was damp and dull but a relatively small number of protesters had already taken it. The Police succeeded in moving everyone to the two ends of the bridge, but that was the opportunity for the small roundabout to get sealed off to traffic. At first it felt as if the Police were gaining the upper hand, as they removed the beautiful handmade sculptures of Dinosaurs which people had made, but the creativity could not be stifled. A couple about our age showed us, with some humour, that they were wearing home-made skeleton body suits underneath their outer clothes. They were planning a die in at Kings cross later in the day.
Slowly the traffic island was colonised. Gazebo’s went up, even a complete wooden structure the size of a garage. I walked along the road to find a cafe with a toilet and saw that the same thing had happened at the next junction down. This one was being held by Rebels from Wales and tents were already set up. To the right of their camp, in front of the Home Office in Marsham Street, a lorry had been placed across the road and people were locked on to it. By the time I got back to Lambeth Bridge a whole infrastructure had appeared there too, as well as a small tent village.
Rabbi Newman (of Faith for the Climate) was leading some prayers with a makeshift microphone, but within minutes a table and full sound system appeared. Speakers like George Monbiot and Jonathan Bartley jumped up on to the table to give their speeches.
I joined a Quaker meeting for worship sitting on the pavement, and discovered at the end of it that another larger one was happening a few yards away.
A full blown food canteen appeared from nowhere, equipped with veg prep, serving and washing up areas. Big boxes of food were constantly arriving, all donated, and all the food was free. I moved round the Roundabout a little further. Squashed inside another gazebo trying to keep dry, a group was having a workshop on nonviolent action. Music and poetry was still being performed at the makeshift stage next to it. A line of Police blocked the way to Westminster down Millbank, but a Jewish woman was sounding the Shofar, the Rams Horn which is blown as a call to repentance at the time of Jewish High, Holy days, which are happening now.
When I left I decided to see how the folk outside the Home Office were doing. They had covered the street with their tents. The trays of Flapjacks and Brownies being passed round here were welcome sources of energy in the afternoon drizzle that had set in. A mother breastfed a young baby on the kerb in front of me, I noticed others wearing cloth posters proclaiming their jobs, “I work for a cancer charity” “I am a medical researcher” “I should be in school” were 3 that caught my eye.
Reaching Victoria Street, another group had taken the area around Westminster Abbey. Parliament Square too was closed to cars. How lovely to be able to wander on the roads and not worry about getting run over! I noticed Gandhi’s statue, and next to it one of Millicent Fawcett carrying a banner which read, “Courage calls to courage everywhere”. It seemed very appropriate. Whitehall was also completely shut down, and I was told that so was Trafalgar Square. The organisational genius of all this was amazing. An enormous number of people must be involved in making it work
We were a bit later leaving the hospital this morning as we tried out the new plant based cafe there which opened today. We also went over to Smithfield meat market. The animal rights group were just packing up and going to move off to Westminster.
We headed to Westminster as well to rejoin the “Faith Bridge” (aka Lambeth Bridge). When we got out of the station we saw that Parliament Square and Whitehall were still car free, like yesterday. The Scottish contingent were also still present in force outside Westminster Central Hall. At Milbank a small number of beleaguered protesters were sitting in the road being arrested, and, to our disappointment, the Faith Bridge had been taken back by the Police. All the tents and infrastructure had gone. Only the Police remained. Apparently the last people left or were arrested by 9pm last night.
The Welsh group were still holding their site nearby and had spread their “camp” the length of Marsham Street. The lorry was still sprawled across the road outside the Home Office.
By chance we spotted some people Peter knows from Christian Climate Action who were heading to Trafalgar Square, the new venue to replace the faith bridge. We stood with them, in front of the Police and the lorry, and sang hymns! Peter became the photographer and I helped to carry the banner as we walked along Whitehall. I’m not a normally a fan of the hymn “Amazing Grace”, but somehow it sounded much better as we sang it (with some nice harmonies) as we walked. People clapped and took pictures.
At Trafalgar Square the small CCA group set up their new camp on a traffic Island in front of Nelsons Column. Tents festooned all the roads around the square. The group held prayers on their “patch” and we joined them.
Nearby, in a makeshift space, a “People’s Assembly” was being held, and a young Afro-Caribbean man was talking about how the movement could engage more with the Black community.
Nelsons column was decorated with flames of fire, and under the monument a different sort of memorial had been set up, in memory of the many environmentalists around the world who have been killed because of their work. The epitaph read “REST IN POWER”. At last Nelsons column has been reclaimed!
We ended our own “rebellion” for today with a cup of tea in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields and headed home.
Today started, as is our pattern now, in the Radiotherapy department at Barts. When I got there Peter was sitting with someone we hadn’t seen before listening to his cancer story. Soon Rob from Woodford arrived for his treatment. He always greets us warmly. It’s a gentle little community of people. All going through the mill and dealing with it in different ways, counting the days till their treatment ends.
At the end of the room staff were setting up a table of delicious looking home-made cakes and other goodies (all very bad for Cancer no doubt!). It was the yearly fundraising cake sale for MacMillan. I got a cake box and filled it with treats which we eat later and made a donation.
It’s good to have this way of starting the day as it is a counter balance to the youthful, energetic, action packed Extinction Rebellion.
When I got to Trafalgar Square the place was humming. The roads were still blocked to traffic, which made them pleasant to walk along. When I arrived George Monbiot was about to speak. I’m lucky as I’ve heard him twice this week. A second piece of luck was getting a seat on a wooden box, which was more comfortable than the ground! He is an inspiring speaker, talking about the need to create tell a new cultural story if we want transformational change, a story about restoration to harmony. He called strongly for the re building of community and the need for many more Transition Town style activities locally.
Christian Climate Action had erected a big white gazebo tucked at the base of one of the lions around Nelsons Column. I joined them for prayers. The numbers had swelled dramatically since yesterday.
A young Muslim from Truro stood on the lion plinth with a megaphone. I could see his face drawing in all the courage he could get before he started to speak. “I am going to make the call to prayer” he said. What a beautiful place to hear it. We all stood silent and still.
A Bishop and a bevy of clergy then arrived. They were going to read the Biblical book of Revelation from the top of the steps in front of the National Gallery. It’s a strange book written in the context of the might of the Roman empire, but still has some resonance now. The clergy were somewhat upstaged by the “Red Brigade” who arrived at that moment for a die in!
I got fed up with listening to Revelation after a while and went over join in Quaker silent worship. Peter joined me. The aim was to create a still circle in the middle of all the noise around us.
After an unexpected and lovely brief meet up with Ben I went to listen to a folk group playing old, old folk songs. The singing was wonderful, haunting and poignant. Passers-by stopped to listen as well as all the XR lot. I think the lead singer is called Sam Lee. I’ve just looked him up, turns out he’s a famous folk singer, conservationist and broadcaster as well as being a song collector!
When Sam’s performance ended it was time to go, before the rush hour reached its peak.
When I arrived the people who had been in Whitehall had finally been moved by the Police, and had come up to Trafalgar Square, where hundreds were sitting in the road singing, interspersed with occasional updates from the protest at London City airport.
At the Faith tent I found a Muslim woman who had met previously. She was there with her toddler son. She and others from “Muslim Rebellion” were hoping to have a People’s Assembly on the steps up to the National Gallery about how to encourage more Muslims to get involved in the Movement..
I don’t know how they got on, because I chose to hear Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town Movement, who was speaking at the same time. He is one of my heroes. He believes that imagination is the key to creating a different kind of future. He encourages us all to ask “What if?” and then tells inspirational stories of communities who have asked that question and then started to transform their local area. He was followed by several people telling their stories of community energy projects in London. One was about Lambeth, where volunteers joined together to put solar panels on a number of community buildings (like schools) through individuals each buying shares. The money earned from electricity put back into the grid is used to pay shareholders some interest. In Lambeth, the Council got interested and now all social housing there has solar panels. On one of the estates a woman challenged them about what they could do for the young people (it is an area of high crime and disadvantage). One of the installing engineers took up her challenge and started a project to apprentice local young people in installation, and so the ripples from the project widen.
Time was running out by then, so I grabbed an apple from the ”organic orchard, help yourself” barrel and made for the underground.