Voices from The Big One

March for Nature of 60,000+ people.
Finishing with a die-in at Parliament Square. Photos: Feng Ho

Last weekend Extinction Rebellion hosted “The Big One” in London, at which there were over 200 groups (a real mix of environmental, cost of living crisis, health, equality and social groups and workers unions).

A group of people hold a colourful banner reading:
Oxfordshire United for Climate Justice
Oxfordshire Greenpeace joins the march on Saturday

The police estimated 95,000 people marched for biodiversity and stopping new fossil fuels, all the major government departments were picketed, marathon runners were cheered on, and many conversations were had exchanging ideas and solutions, but no arrests were made, and no disruption was caused – so it didn’t make the news.

Many people were there from Oxford though and here’s why.

Megan Murray-Pepper, middle, at the Department for Education
MP for Oxford East, Anneliese Dodds, came out of Parliament to listen to her constituents at the DfE.

At the Department of Education Megan Murray-Pepper, secondary school English teacher from North Oxford, said “For me The Big One was all about demonstrating the widespread public demand for greater action on the climate and ecological crisis. I’m a mother and teacher and I’m so worried about the impoverished world our children are set to inherit – nature in decline, emissions rising, rampant inequality. But we have a choice about what the future could look like. I was among teachers and educators from all around the country asking the Department for Education for some real action. What if we reimagined our curriculum to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values they will need for the future? How can schools properly safeguard pupils in the face of climate breakdown and foster a world in which they will be able to thrive as adults? The current strategy from DfE falls so far short of addressing these urgent questions. During The Big One it was really inspiring to take part in a programme of ‘street lessons’ offering bold and imaginative possibilities for the future of education. Our children need and deserve this.”

“What an incredible experience to be part of a crowd of 60,000 people of all ages, drawn together by their shared love of the natural world – and deep concern at its destruction. Myrtle the turtle is a green sea turtle, endangered like so many of her kin, by sea pollution, overfishing and warming of the oceans – in other words, the wrecking of her home.” – Suzanne

Suzanne with Myrtle the Turtle

We went with Oxford Climate Choir to London on 21st April, to join Climate Choirs from Bristol, Bath, Brighton, Sheffield, Southampton and London. We were there when 300 singers were joined by thousands of others marching down Whitehall on the 21st. Rehearsed singers led the singing and those carried along in this particular ‘Wave’ added their voices at will.

Singing with such an enormous choir was inspiring and joyful. The glorious sound we made bounced off large buildings and could be heard along other roads. There were smiles, cheers and applause from activists and the public, along with the very British response of ‘we can’t see you doing this embarrassing thing, so we are not really here.’

Comments on our video posts include “So beautiful – really tears at my heart every time.” “This was such a beautiful moment which made my heart swell with joy.”

The Climate Choir movement also had congratulations from Gail Bradbrook: “Massive huge well-done, Jo (Climate choir founder). ‘Beware the revolution that sings.’ So important…beautiful…Thank you”

Climate Choirs offer a dramatic form of outreach with great potential to really make our presence felt. Lot of photos and filming occurred in London which then spread in social media.

Contact Oxford’s XR singers at: hazeldawe5@gmail.com

Hazel and Steve Dawe
Abha Jeurkar, researcher on issues of education and child rights

“I was there for The Big One for all the billions of people in the global south whose lives are being massively disrupted by the climate crisis, may it be the floods in Pakistan or the famine and hunger crisis in East Africa. As I find myself in the privileged situation of being in the UK, I am very aware of my personal levels of consumption – I heat my home and most fruits and vegetables in the grocery store are imported. My best personal efforts of reducing consumption always fall short of the mark. But I think that it is better to be a hypocrite and engage in collective action to make the system better than to be a hypocrite and not do much.” – Abha

“I went to London over the weekend to support the coalition of peaceful groups that have come together at this critical time in our planet’s history to demand the UK government stop issuing new oil and gas licences. It was deeply moving to find so many wonderful, caring individuals from every walk of life voicing their opposition. Many had never been on a march before. Everyone was expressing alarm at the planetary damage and biodiversity loss that worsens year on year despite the starkest of warnings and the succession of scientific advisory reports. There was a strong sense that, for everyone who cares, now is the time to step forward and work together to ensure the government acts.”

Miranda Lewis, editor

 “I was at The Big One because I’ve heard so many times lately that we have all the solutions, all the technology we need to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in with the climate. We know what we need to do, all that’s missing is the political will to do it. I was in London to try to generate that political will for change, by showing those in power how many people really desperately want it.”

April Jones, full-time mum
April and Teresa among stewards from Oxford keeping the march safe

“I went down to London because I wanted to be alongside many thousands of others to deliver a strong message to our government. During the Covid pandemic we were always being told to trust the scientists. Yet, just a few weeks ago more than 700 scientists warned our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, that there must be no new developments of oil and gas if we are to maintain a sustainable and liveable future for all. Why is our government choosing not to listen to the scientists on this, the biggest threat that humanity has ever faced? It felt so inspiring to be in London and to realise that ordinary people do care deeply about the climate emergency. The cost-of-living crisis is directly linked to the climate crisis, and I really hope that people now will begin to demand change before it is too late.”

Teresa Garlake, writer/editor

“I was at the Big One stewarding for the full 4 days. Talking incessantly to people on the streets has made me realise how many are truly afraid of what really the climate crisis means. With some exceptions (like a young man who said he ‘would die’ rather than take one of our leaflets) most felt relieved to have found so many people with the same concerns and the desire for radical change. I am proud to have contributed to events which are bound to mark a new start in strengthening our alliances and creating a stronger movement to stop fossil fuel, to halt the destruction of nature in all its forms, and tackle social and climate justice across the world.” – Ines

Ines Smyth, humanitarian worker

“I joined a little XR group in Gloucester Green heading for Victoria on a damp and chilly Friday morning. Soon enough we were getting off into an even greyer and damper London. Walking towards Westminster, our first sign of XR activity was a cheery crowd of medics – the air blue with their flags. And then we heard the unmistakeable sound of a full-on XR gathering – our destination: the Department for Education. Wow! So many people and so many old friends to greet. Standout number 1 for me was being mere feet away from Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party. I’d heard him speak before, and here he was again, speaking truth to power with the strength and clarity we have come to expect from him. A worthy successor to Caroline Lucas? I think so. Then on to my standout number 2. Whitehall with the biggest contingent of red rebels I’d ever seen, followed with equal dignity, by the – reds-plus-high viz- ‘no more airport expansion’ group – and then the XR choirs, singing their hearts out on their way down from their rehearsal point in Trafalgar Square. So moving…I felt so proud and so glad to be there.”

Caroline Roaf
Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the Green Party, outside the DfE
“Discobedience” – dancing in protest! Photos: Suzanne Williams

“I’ve never been on any kind of protest before this, and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Initially I felt somewhat underwhelmed. We were there by 9.30 with not many others around. As the day went on and we picketed DfE, and went to 55 Tufton St more people were around…a sense of something bigger/more was developing. The highlight was discobedience and people’s passion.”

Pen Thompson

Article: Jessica Upton and the Media & Messaging team