On 21st April, climate activists from South Yorkshire travelled to London to be part of The Big One – the biggest climate protest ever to take place in the UK. As part of the event, SYCA members joined others outside the Department of Transport to demand better buses for South Yorkshire.
Here, Graham Wroe gives us his account of the event and some of the thoughts of others from South Yorkshire who took part:
Last Friday I joined with thousands of campaigners peacefully protesting without causing any disruption, outside important Government departments in Westminster. My small part was to join the newly formed Sheffield Climate Choir, singing “Let Us Stand” written by Sheffield choir leader Kate Thomas. A second song, “Voice of Change” had some in tears when it reached the line “We can’t tell our children that we have not tried.” The harmonious voices were in sharp contrast to the energising rhythms of the massive samba band.
As reported in last week’s Telegraph the South Yorkshire contingent gathered at the Department of Transport to demand Better Buses for South Yorkshire. People’s Pickets formed at every major government department in Whitehall calling for urgent new policies to tackle the many strands of the climate emergency. They range from the cost of living crisis to the failure to insulate our homes, deal with sewage pumped into seas and rivers and protect refugees fleeing war and famine.
Rob Callender, XR spokesperson said: “While we suffer the cost of living crisis, oil company shareholders rake in record profits. The people know it’s not a crisis, it’s a scandal! So we are setting up People’s Pickets at these departments until they negotiate with us. Tackling the climate crisis means creating a better, fairer, more caring society for everyone.”
Tufton Street – the home of the opaquely-funded so-called ‘think tanks’ who spout the worst climate denial and promote disinformation unchallenged across our national media – was targeted by pickets demanding an end to their deadly campaign of lies.
Natasha Walter, writer and campaigner said “Writers Rebel is picketing Tufton Street, the home to a powerful group of think tanks including the main climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is funded by fossil fuel companies and lobbies for fossil fuel interests. By picketing Tufton Street, Writers Rebel will bring its remarkable blend of truth-telling and creative power to the very heart of climate science denial.
“It’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless just now. It looks as though the world is moving inexorably towards climate catastrophe and ecological collapse. But this is not the time to give in to doom and despair. This is the time to seize the opportunity that we still have to call for change and work for change and believe in change.”
Saturday saw the Unite for Nature Rally. The crowd was addressed by TV presenter Chris Packham, Insect Apocalypse author Dave Goulson, Jyoti Fernandes from Land Workers’ Alliance, and Delia Mattis from Black Lives Matter speaking on the current climate and ecological crisis and solutions. The Biodiversity March, which was arranged with Earth Day organisers, had a real carnival feel with amazing costumes including a giant octopus, bouncing kangaroos and beautiful nature-based art.
The route circled around government departments in Westminster, ending in Parliament Square for a mass ‘die-in’, a symbolic spectacle where participants spread out and lay down in silence, in memory and mourning for the heartbreaking 70% decline in wild animal populations since the first Earth Day in 1970. A recent study shows that the ecosystems we depend on for our survival are vanishing quicker than in any of the five mass extinctions that have struck our planet.
More than 200 different groups united at the Big One. Yaz Ashmawi from Extinction Rebellion, said: “This is a hugely significant moment in our history. Never before have we seen this many organisations standing together to demand urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency and calling for a fair and just transition led by citizens. While the mainstream media grasp at straws and focus their attention on fabricated plans for disruption during the London Marathon, the real work of building a mass movement impossible for the government to ignore is gaining momentum. This is the real story: disrupting the London Marathon isn’t happening, but civilisational collapse is. Which should we be talking about?”
Loz Barfoot from XR Sheffield said “ It was encouraging and inspiring seeing so many people in the streets outside Parliament and Westminster this weekend. But beneath the excitement was anxiety, and this ate at me as I travelled back to Sheffield and checked the BBC News headlines for our story. The silence from mainstream media was deafening, and it pains me that this establishment works so hard to interrogate disruptive actions and activists, but at the biggest nondisruptive action in Extinction Rebellion’s history, they do not cast a light. It is more obvious to me now than before, these institutions are complicit in manufacturing the problems we campaign against, and they are also complicit in forcing the hand of disruption themselves.”
The disruption to the snooker in The Crucible by two Just Stop Oil protesters has gained far more publicity than 60,000 non-disruptive protesters in Westminster. Is it surprising then that Extinction Rebellion is reconsidering its tactics? The mainstream media continue to fail to report the awful truth of the climate emergency, that genocide is happening now as people face drought and food shortages, wildfires and floods and small islands are being overwhelmed by the sea, all caused by the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. How do we wake people up to demand change?
Here are some thoughts from South Yorkshire campaigners.
Sarah Casson said “It’s the first time I’ve been involved with Christian Climate Action and Extinction Rebellion. I found it inspirational to join with so many people from diverse backgrounds who all share a passionate concern for the good of the planet and for climate justice. There’s such an energy that comes from being together and raising our voices in solidarity with each other and with people all over the world.
I found the moment at the Shell Building especially powerful. (this was when former Archbisop Lord John Sentamu tried to deliver a letter to Shell from a number of Christian organisations) Even though we weren’t able to deliver the letter (to Shell) I pray that our voices will have been heard in some way and that that faceless edifice will start to crumble.
I don’t get the feeling that the government is listening but friends and contacts I’ve talked to about the issues are. It’s as if the government is functioning in a parallel universe that has little connection with the needs and concerns of the majority of people in this country let alone the world. The political status quo just isn’t working – we need new ways of living and cooperating in society and the global community, and more effective forms of governance and resource management that respond to needs of the many, not the few!
Being at the Big One gave me a sense of empowerment, courage and hope. The March for Nature was amazingly energising. I found the die in outside the Houses of Parliament a particularly powerful moment full of grief but also strangely hopeful because we were all there together.
Taking part this weekend has given me courage to talk more with others about the climate emergency, to encourage them to join us, and to use protest and lobbying more as a vital part of working for change in our democracy.”
Geoff Cox from Greenhill said “The best of humanity took to the streets of London last weekend. Dedicated scientists and healthcare professionals, creative people and caring people. It pains me to think how little coverage is given to these thoughtful, concerned citizens, and how much is given to things of little or no consequence.”
Sheffielder Catherine Fish from Green Christians said,” I am grateful to have been involved with so many in this crusade for a just, sustainable earth”.
George Arthur from Better Buses South Yorkshire campaign said “Attending and speaking at the Better Buses picket of the Department of Transport was a great experience. The number of people from around the country demanding that the government start to fund public transport properly was inspiring. Only able to be at the Big One on Friday I was enthused by the magnificent carnival atmosphere, the wonderful costumes and music and the brilliant organisation of the day. I just wish that the government would show the same enthusiasm to take action to stop the climate crisis that threatens us all.”
Many thanks to Graham for sharing his report, which was first published on his blog https://tellthetruthsheffield.org/
XR Sheffield will be having a de-brief to look at highlights, feedback, and what comes next. Join them at Union St, Monday 15 May, 6:45pm.