I walked along Victoria Street just as the first day of Extinction Rebellion’s campaign of non-violent direct action was in its final stages. Police had cordoned off Victoria Street around the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy where demonstrators had earlier lay in front of the entrance and turnstiles, so the area was particularly quiet as dusk was giving way to evening.
Only pedestrians were allowed to pass through, and those who did stopped to observe the windows that had been daubed with the Extinction Rebellion symbol, some taking leaflets or stopping to talk to Extinction Rebellion campaigners who were explaining the reasons for the action.
In the road, a circle of police enclosed a huddle of protesters who under the glare of spotlights were being cut free, their arrest imminent, then tension palpable. Around them, kneeling, wearing high visibility jackets, their gazes fixed, were the legal observers and others wearing jackets emblazoned with ‘conscientious protector’ were tending to those being loosed from the posts they had attached themselves to. It was beginning to rain and one of the young women crouched down to gently arrange one of the foil blankets in use, tucked a bin liner around the legs of one of the women, moved an umbrella bearing the words ‘Rebel For Life’ to give further protection.
Surrounded by the police, and the uniformed authority they embody, their vans lined up outside the government ministry chosen because of its promotion of fracking, that small vignette of care, seemed luminous, bright and rippled out beyond her.
Perhaps I was more attuned to the tenderness of her actions as last week I collected Mark’s ashes from the undertakers, where I had left them while deciding what to do with them. I know now that I am going to bury them in a place special to us both, but it’s taken me a long time to trust that it’s the right thing to do. Before putting the container in the bag I wrapped it with cloth I had chosen at home. The feeling I had of reverence and care, of somehow in that act of being connected to something bigger, more ancient than myself, reminded me of the time I spent selecting his clothes for him to be dressed in for cremation, the choosing the bag to carry them in, a gentle sensing of the what and how to show my love and respect. Among the things I packed then was a blanket from the sofa, a favourite for naps and wrapping around on chilly evenings,. This I folded, held and spoke all of my desire to love and protect Mark, that aching sense in my core of wanting him to go well. More recently while in woodlands in the Chew Valley I was asked to take down some strips of linen with charcoal wood rubbings that a group of us had tied to trees in the forest we stayed in overnight. I sat on a bench and folded each one with a sense that care and attentiveness was necessary, something I should do.
What can such small acts do in the face of the relentless, aggressive machinations of the world we’ve built? Honestly, I don’t know. But as we grope for a way forward, my hope is that such expressions of care and of value are vital to a world based on love and respect for one another and the earth’s resources rather than on relentless accumulation and consumption.
Sometimes, like the 20-year-old woman speaking at a recent press conference, we can only express pain and bewilderment when faced with the internal logic of this great hulking system that insists that to stop it is impossible. But like her, we breathe, and feel and trust that by caring and taking care, we may begin to create contexts where new possibilities can emerge.