Diary of a rebel
Diary of a rebel
Charlotte Greene (not her real name) writes about the powerful and personal story of her 24-hours with Extinction Rebellion’s October uprising in London.
A protestor on Blackfriars Bridge, London. Credit: Julia Hawkins/Flickr
‘Honey…. I’ve booked the children into school breakfast club tomorrow. I’m going to London.’ I know my husband knows what this means and that he’s not happy about it. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say, ‘but I have no choice. I have to go.’
The alarm goes off at 4.30 and I find my way in the dark to the front door and my packed bags. I find a pen and write the lawyer’s phone number on my arm. I am not ‘an arrestable’, I don’t want the police to arrest me, but we were warned that nothing is certain. My phone sends a message from the rebellion broadcast: ‘Rebels. Today we light up.’
As I drive in the dark to the train station, I keep thinking: ‘I can just turn round and go home now. Most people are asleep in their beds. Normal people are going to work soon.’ But I stay in the car and I walk on to the train.
As we arrive in London, it is light and the sky is red. At Waterloo station, I look at someone carrying a lot of luggage, and he smiles at me.
My phone has another message: ‘Police will be doing Stop and Search at Westminster Tube. Try to look like a tourist.’ This is not too hard for me: I am middle-aged, with glasses, and I do not look different. I go up the tube steps and no one questions me.
For a moment, as I come out of the tube and walk along the Thames river, it feels like a normal day when I travel into London for meetings. Then a dozen police vans drive past me towards a car that is blocking the road. It looks like a road accident, but the sound of singing tells a different story: this is a rebel action and the people from the car doors are not injured, but glued in.
As I arrive at Parliament Square, there are crowds of people and police. And then another phone message: ‘Whitehall! NOW! We are going in’.
The moment I step off the pavement and onto the road it is the first time in my life that I have broken the law. I wish I could tell you that I feel brave. But I am terrified. But looking around at the crowd makes me feel better. These people are nice. This is OK. And then I remember: this is the heart of government. And I feel frightened again.
We sit in the road all morning. There are a lot of police but they do nothing. When they do, I’m ready to run. But the people around me say they are here to get arrested – they will stay. They are very nice, normal, and strong.
Later in the afternoon, I take a break to walk around the ten other occupied sites around Westminster. I see roads blocked with vars, statues covered with banners, people glued to the pavement, and more police than I have ever seen. At times it feels too much – the full power of the state is here. But everywhere people are singing, banging drums, rebelling. It is not perfect or comfortable. To me, it feels uncontrolled, even dangerous.
I watch people get arrested and it is terrifying and hopeful. I find I am often trying not to cry. The crowd chants ‘We love you’ at the arrestees, and I feel happy about it and worried that it may all be for nothing.
All day, I sometimes feel good and then bad. The Rebellion feels very, very big and also very small – like it is too much but also not enough. And I know that we are all here – ordinary people doing extraordinary things – because this is what we must do.
I stay the night camped out on the pavement outside Number 10 Downing Street. It is not the best night’s sleep. Inside the tent on the wet road with a woman I’ve just met, with the police and their helicopters. I shiver and I don’t know if it’s from cold or fear.
In the early hours I go to the barricade and look out at dark, empty Whitehall, and I feel relief.
For years I have felt bad that no one is doing anything about climate change. There were times when I wanted to sit down in the road and stop the traffic by myself. And now here I am, doing that, outside Downing Street, in the middle of the night.
And now I am not alone. There are other people who feel the same as me but are stronger than me. And it feels powerful and necessary.
This is what I learned at the October Rebellion: I am not as brave as I thought I was. But I am braver than I knew. There are many thousands of people who are a lot braver than I am. They are young. They are old. They are ordinary. They are extraordinary. You might be one of them.
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(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)