FEATURE: Extinction Rebellion protests have hit Bury St Edmunds showing that the cause isn't confined to London and the big cities
We are heading towards a mass extinction. That’s the warning given by Extinction Rebellion – an international movement which uses civil disobedience in an attempt to spark drastic change and save the planet from the ‘climate crisis’.
Members say that we as a species have been digging our own mass grave for decades, with every idling car, aerosol spray and plastic bag throwing yet another handful of soil on our oblivious heads.
Below us are the bodies of those who have gone before us; species which have died out or are expected to soon due to our idleness, selfishness and denial.
And coming after us are our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be left to pick up the shovels and frantically try to dig their way out. No-one is immune.
The last few months have seen the Extinction Rebellion name and symbol come to the fore, with the most recent coverage detailing hundreds of arrests made in London this week during the movement’s International Rebellion Meeting, which is due to wreak havoc on the city’s streets for around two weeks.
But it’s not just people in the big cities who have had enough.
Throughout the country groups are forming, determined to bring the promise of rebellion and disobedience against the UK Government to even the most close-knit of communities.
And Bury St Edmunds is one of them.
Robert Possnett, a protester who started his Extinction Rebellion journey in Cambridge, has brought the cause to the town and has seen many people sign up to join the fight.
“We need to go on a war fighting,” said Robert, of Great Barton, who was among those protesting in Parliament Square this week.
“We’re talking about actual civilisation’s survival. The threat we face is far greater than what we faced during the Second World War, during which everyone’s conversations and the media would be inundated with stories about what was happening.
“Climate change is seen as an add on but this is far more important than Brexit and suchlike and yet it has taken a back seat to everything else.”
The movement puts three demands to those in power – to tell the truth, to act now and to go beyond politics and instead consult a citizens’ assembly to achieve their goals – of which the main one is to have zero carbon emissions by 2025.
And members are willing to go to extreme lengths to get there.
Although physical violence is strictly forbidden under Extinction Rebellion’s name, taking part in disruptive protests, causing chaos and carrying out acts of vandalism is actively encouraged.
“We’re asking people to break the law, to get arrested and put themselves on the line in order to make the necessary changes,” said Robert, who was arrested just last month after a four hour peaceful protest caused the breakdown of a Norfolk County Council meeting in Norwich.
“We know that certain people have children and other commitments that means they won’t be willing to get arrested but they can still do other things that will be instrumental in the process.”
So far, actions carried out in Bury St Edmunds have been in the form of marches, handing out leaflets and performing pieces of theatre, dance and music in the town centre.
A group of six people attended a meeting of West Suffolk’s Shadow Council earlier this year to present the cases of other UK councils which have declared a climate emergency, including Suffolk County Council, and ask councillors to follow suit.
Police were also called to Parkway, in Bury, earlier this month after protesters stopped traffic for seven minutes at a time over the course of an hour.
“It has been slow since we started in Bury but it takes a lot for people to put themselves on this type of platform sometimes,” said Robert.
“It was great to see the county council declare the emergency. It’s all very positive and we’re hopeful that it’s just the start.
“But we’re not just going to just forget it or give up now. I can assure people more things will be coming.”
For now, Extinction Rebellion’s work in Bury is being done in small focus groups, each of which are tasked with coming up with their own ideas of how to protest and what resources and skills can be used to strengthen the cause.
There are also meetings and training sessions held throughout the year for those who are interested in becoming involved, each one of which begins with a minute’s silence in tribute to the ‘victims and casualties’ who have already been failed by mankind’s ill-treatment of the planet.
“We are too late to stop the worst of climate change. It makes me want to cry just admitting that and admitting that so much damage has already been done,” said Robert.
“But we’ve got to remember that it’s not too late to change how far it has to go before something is done.”
And although Extinction Rebellion’s cause is built on the idea that it’s not too late, it is also driven heavily by the ‘harsh truth’ that time is running out.
We have 12 years, say protesters, before the damage done to our planet and our species’ very existence is considered irreversible.
As they see it, we are standing with far more than one foot in the grave and only have ourselves both to blame and depend on for rescue.
“I’ve been trying to fight this since the 80s,” said Robert.
“This is my last chance to do what I can to fight for my kids and to fight against a future in which half the world isn’t even surviving, or where most of the world is fighting for basic resources.
“I want future generations to be able to breathe the air without fear of death – that’s what drives me.
“Getting arrested is the least of my worries. This is the year of rebellion. Extinction Rebellion is stepping up.”
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