Red costumes billowing in the late autumn wind, the Red Rebels created a poignant atmosphere; slowed down, dreamy, as they walked through London during the Extinction rebellion protests of November. The stillness, the painted faces, the flowing gowns and veils drew the attention to a still point, reminding me of the moment when a funeral car appears, the moment when all attention is focused on that one thing, and everything else fades away.
While I remember the silence, the poetic movements, the sense that the presence of these red clothed beings was reaching towards something beyond just this moment, I also remember the blistering anger on the faces of three men I encountered during the first two days of the Extinction Rebellion – all of them white, all of them wearing suits and on their way to or from work.
The first approached me and a friend as we were watching the second Fellowship of the Springs event that celebrated the city’s wells and water ways. Blustering and fuming about some children who he’d discovered were part of our group ‘destroying the trees’ in the small park, he raged at us that they were committing “criminal damage”. The children playing among the trees in the garden were puling at leaves and branches as they set about making a den amid the greenery, but his anger didn’t abate when their mother went to urge them to be careful.Maybe his outrage enabled him to consider the message negated – the Extinction Rebellion’s urgency about the state of the planet only deemed valid if perfectly delivered.
The second man in a suit followed the departing backs of the Red Rebels along Whitehall almost screaming that they were targeting the wrong people, that it was George Soros, the Chinese, who were the real villains. The third man said nothing. Wearing tweed suit with a checked waistcoat, his rage was all in his facial expression as he leaned menacingly towards one of the women dresses in red as she walked silently down Charing Cross Road.
Research has long shown that conservative white men are more likely to be climate change deniers, and so it follows that that same demographic would be angered by the disruptive tactics of Extinction Rebellion.
My friend along with fellow Red Rebels later stood face to face with a police line. A young officer who first tried to stare her our, but found it impossible to hold her gaze, turned to his boss and said ‘What are we supposed to do about this?’
With men like Donald Trump in the White House starting off the new year and decade with strikes against Iran, in these early days of a government that is steeped in privilege, while playing the rage of others, those of us who walk with the Red Rebels might ask the same question back…