Support for climate ‘civil disobedience’

Friends participate in the 'Extinction Rebellion' movement

Quakers are upholding Friends’ decisions to take part in a campaign of civil disobedience as part of their witness against climate change. Several Friends took part in the ‘declaration of rebellion’ rally on 31 October in Parliament Square, London, to launch the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ movement’s campaign, which aims to ‘force governments to enter world-war two-level mobilisation mode, in response to climate breakdown and ecological crisis’.

Two Quakers – Ian Bray and Liam Geary-Bautch – were arrested at the rally for ‘locking on’, which is when protestors lie on a road chained together.

Fifteen people were arrested overall, with around 1,000 people attending. The Quaker Green MEP Molly Scott Cato also spoke at the event, coinciding with her article about the action in the Guardian.

Huddersfield Friends are supporting Ian Bray’s action, which he tested as a concern at the Meeting and was minuted.

He told the Friend: ‘The dire situation we’re in isn’t being acknowledged by the government or state. It’s the whole institution. The media doesn’t report it, the politician’s don’t act. We’re trying to call out all these things.’

He added: ‘The rally was more successful than we anticipated because big names came on board. The journalist George Monbiot stood in the road and made a declaration. His involvement meant that news of the rally was pumped out to his thousands of Twitter followers.’

Sue Hampton, from Berkhamsted Meeting, also attended the rally. She said: ‘The gathering in sunshine was remarkable for its emotion (most of us cried at least once or twice), the quality of the speeches (including Greta Thunberg, Molly Scott Cato, Clive Lewis and Rupert Read), but also for the peaceful spirituality. “Love” was at the core of the message. When we moved into the road in front of the Houses of Parliament, we did so quietly, with purpose and solidarity, singing.’

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, signed a letter backing the event saying: ‘The “social contract” has been broken… [and] it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.’

Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) tweeted on the day of the rally: ‘Upholding all those acting under concern and standing up for the planet today’, along with an Extinction Rebellion hashtag.

The movement is planning a sit-in protest in Parliament Square on 17 November. According to the ‘declaration of rebellion’: ‘If the government does not respond seriously to the Extinction Rebellion’s demands, civil disobedience will commence from 12 November.’

Ian Bray told the Friend he plans to campaign nonviolently until he is arrested and put in jail. He said: ‘The whole spirit is not about attacking individuals but about doing things in a Quakerly way. We seek to have good relationships with the police – we’re not adversorial, and principally and strategically, we are nonviolent.’

However, peace activist Gabriel Carlyle, writing in Peace News, said he was ‘sceptical’ about the movement, as the demands are ‘pretty vague’ and ‘utopian’ and have no ‘intermediate stepping-stone-goals on the way to winning any of these demands’.

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