On the longest night of the year, thousands of impassioned citizens gathered in capital cities across Australia, to protest the Adani Mine and call on our state and federal governments to declare a Climate Emergency. In Melbourne, five hundred Extinction Rebellion protestors blocked the central intersection of Bourke and Swanston street. They held it for ninety minutes.
With drums and cheers and awkward smiles, a succession of speakers took turns at the microphone, building a web of connections between Extinction Rebellion and other causes. Among others, Indigenous activist Gary Foley reminded us that civil disobedience in Australia has a proud history, and said that he was standing with us in the name of his children and grandchildren; Dr Christine Canty gave a very human speech about the difficulty of balancing competing work, family and political demands; while Kath Larkin offered a unionist perspective on climate justice. The speeches were passionate, smart, and sometimes contradictory; inevitable in a decentralised movement. The point of Extinction Rebellion is not to enforce an environmental orthodoxy, but just to get everyone pulling in the same direction.
It only takes a moment of rebellion to change how we see our world, and as soon as the streets were blocked passers-by flowed into the space. The spatial geography of the impromptu assembly was symbolic of the challenge faced by Extinction Rebellion. Within a square of banners stood hundreds of adults, adolescents and children, committed to the cause. Beyond them were the politely-blank ranks of fluorescent police, and a milling crowd of listeners who preferred to keep a distance. People who care deeply about the Climate Emergency but perhaps do not think of themselves as radicals. That crowd ebbed or swelled at its edges as passers-by responded to what they heard, and that is the crowd that Extinction Rebellion must keep reaching out to if we are going to grow our numbers in the lead-up to major actions in October.
In the dark and spitting rain, the glowing billboards overlooking the intersection gave a cyberpunk glow to the occasion. Newsfeeds scrolling across the screen flashed the headline that the Morrison government was considering dipping into Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund to subsidise aging coal power stations. A policy suggestion that is both utterly insane and completely unsurprising in the topsy-turvy political landscape of 2019, and its utter grotesqueness was a reminder of why we had gathered. Because our leaders have relinquished the responsibilities of leadership and retreated into their own world of make-believe, it is up to us to be the adults in the room.
We chalked messages of love and rage in the intersection, before relinquishing the space. YOU HAVE MORE POWER THAN YOU THINK I wrote, hoping it would be seen by the thousands of citizens who would cross that space in the hours to come. By now the rain will have washed it away, but we will be back with growing numbers and growing confidence, expressing our demands for sanity, for co-operation, for change. We hope to see you there next time.
And in the meantime, come along to one of the Introductory Talks we hold monthly in each city. Because we can’t do it alone, and it’s true what the chalk-guy says – you have more power than you think.