The Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, is out to get arrested today. Good for him. Good for us all.
A few hours after this column is published, I hope to be in a police cell. I don’t yet know what the charge will be, where I will be arrested or when, but I know that if I go home this evening without feeling the hand of the law on my sleeve, I will have failed. This may sound like a strange ambition, but I believe it is a reasonable one.
If I succeed, I will be one of many. In the current wave of Extinction Rebellion protests, more than 1,400 people have so far allowed themselves to be arrested. It’s a controversial tactic, but it has often proved effective. The suffragettes, the Indian salt marchers, the civil rights movement and the Polish and East German democracy movements, to name just a few, all used it as a crucial strategy. Mass arrests are a potent form of democratic protest.
They work because they show that the campaigners are serious. When people are prepared to jeopardise their liberty for their cause, other people appear more likely to listen to what they say, and more likely to recognise its importance. Those who founded Extinction Rebellion researched these histories and sought to apply their lessons to the greatest predicament humanity has ever faced - the gathering collapse of our life support systems.
Nowhere on Earth does government action match the scale of the catastrophes we face. Part of the reason is the remarkably low level of public discussion and information on this crisis. Another is that the political risks of action are higher than the perceived rewards – a balance the protesters want to redress. But perhaps the most important factor is the brute power of the pollutocrats driving this disaster. As the Guardian’s The polluters series shows, the big fossil fuel companies have used political funding, intense lobbying and gross deceptions of the public to overwhelm environmental protections and keep harvesting their massive profits.
...I know this action will expose me to criticism as well as prosecution. Like other prominent activists, I will be lambasted for hypocrisy: this is now the favoured means of trying to take down climate activists. Yes, we are hypocrites. Because we are embedded in the systems we contest, and life is complicated, no one has ever achieved moral purity. The choice we face is not between hypocrisy and purity, but between hypocrisy and cynicism. It is better to strive to do good, and often fail, than not to strive at all.Speaking about standing up for future generations that they may at least have a somewhat viable existence, how many of our supposed political leaders have done as much. Only one? Yeah, that's right.