Diary of a rebel

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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.



(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)