Reflections on the Impossible Rebellion

At this crucial moment in climate change history, it can feel like we are tackling the politically impossible. During the 2-week Impossible Rebellion in London, and under the constraints of the current pandemic, at times it really did feel impossible. However, this was an important chance to grab the headlines before this year’s COP26 talks scheduled for early November. 

Oxford rebels shared their thoughts at the recent Monthly Gathering. As with previous Rebellions, there was an astonishing level of thought, care and organisation on display, channelled into manifesting the many actions visible on the streets. But this time, instead of expending huge amounts of energy trying to hold mass camp sites and kitchens, there were smaller, transient and more focused actions, which seemed to ‘pop-up’ at key, strategically targeted locations. Not only were these impressive in their ingenuity, they also allowed rebels to ‘flow like water’ wherever we were needed, attracting rebels to transform small actions into occupations, and then expand into marches to flood the London streets. There seemed fewer rebels on the streets than previously (it was an impossible rebellion after all) but Rebels were glad to see the steady flow of actions maintained throughout the full 2 weeks and praised the much greater diversity of participating group alliances.

Pink table in London. Credit: Deborah Gill

The Rebellion kicked off with the striking symbolism of the giant Pink Table providing a centrepiece image for the newspapers and powerful message to ‘bring everyone to the Table’. It was pleasing to see greater diversity of speakers from different ethnic backgrounds and participation of groups from climate-affected communities – an opportunity for us all to learn more. Assembling new alliances attracts other groups who are supportive of general XR principles but also have their own specific concerns and perspectives. 

Illustration by Imogen Foxell
[Original drawing: Imogen Foxell]

Although Rebels thought that the Rebellion was generally covered poorly by the mainstream media, the Pink Table and Chairs generated much discussion on the streets and yield some early media coverage with both sympathetic (Guardian, Channel 4) and reflective (Financial Times, LBC, Radio 4 Women’s Hour) analysis. The invitation welcomed all to ‘Come to the Table’ and Rebels appreciated the genuinely more friendly and willing to engage than previous Rebellions. Perhaps XR is viewed as less of a fringe group and more of an organisation highlighting what people already see (or don’t see) in the news.

The unique XR brand of creativity provided some powerful images. XR Oxford and the South East was involved in the Greenwashing action in Parliament Square. Greenwashing is a crucial message, because it is so insidious that we are all largely ‘brainwashed’ into thinking/hoping that our leaders are doing something to tackle the climate emergency.

Photo of child holding a "Greenwashing powder" box. Credit: Feng Ho.
Row of rebels wearing green shirts spelling out "Greenwash". Credit: Suzanne Williams

The smaller, more solemn actions were much appreciated, such as when Oxford Rebels dressed in funeral black joined the Pram Rebellion in Parliament Square, as a sad reminder of the perilous future for families everywhere.

Rebels dressed in black holding ghostly white buggies. Credit: Suzanne Williams

The solemnity of the meditators was also a powerful presence at the local action outside Barclays Bank in Oxford. During outreach, the public wanted to know more, a reminder to include more specific information in our leaflets to pass onto the public in future actions.

Meditators in front of Barclays Bank, with a sign saying "This bank funds climate chaos". Credit: Raia Browning.

The solemnity, reflecting our serious message, was in stark contrast to the colourful carnival march through London on the final day, which some Rebels thought might be perceived as too much jollity. Although attracting attention from legions of photographers, perhaps these actions risk sending a mixed message.

Although Rebels were generally inspired, there was also a strong desire for Rebels to improve XR’s visibility on the streets with more local actions. After the energising highs of the Rebellion we must remember to reflect, regenerate, and re-group to welcome new rebels and also to plan how we go forward.