With the fast-moving and inspiring events in London, plus our own successful ‘Critical Mass’ demo here in Shaftesbury this last Saturday, this meeting already feels like rather old news. But for anyone who was not able to join the thirty or so who attended (including several welcome new faces) and for the record, here goes…
After a welcome and a quick round of announcements, the first hour of the meeting was given over to sharing a substantial proportion of an Extinction Rebellion talk given in Oxford on 28th March. Introduced by George Monbiot, this featured XR activists Rachel Treharne and Zahara Plummer giving their version of the talk that many of us attended here last November. Treharne, introduced as an Arctic ecologist, took the audience through the factual aspects of climate breakdown, while her colleague covered the thinking and strategy behind XR and its response to the inadequate actions of our governments. If you weren’t at the meeting and would like to view it, the link is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb1zOI6ZGCU
This kind of XR induction talk is well loaded with facts and figures, and a lot of them are bleak. But it was encouraging to hear of the work of Erica Chenoweth, co-author of ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’. To quote a Guardian piece (which you can read in full at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/01/worried-american-democracy-study-activist-techniques ): ‘…nonviolent resistance often evokes brutality by the government, especially as campaigns escalate their demands and use more disruptive techniques. But historical data shows that when campaigns are able to prepare, train, and remain resilient, they often succeed regardless of whether the government uses violence against them. Historical studies suggest that it takes 3.5% of a population engaged in sustained nonviolent resistance to topple brutal dictatorships.’
Some discussion around issues from the video followed. It was asked if XR had policies, and one cogent answer given that the orientation was towards opening the discussion - as there is still a great deal we don’t know about what can be done to end the climate emergency. Another query concerned the links that might be formed between Planet Shaftesbury and young people in the area. This became the prime topic of one of the smaller discussion groups that subsequently formed, others centring on participation in the London action; Dorset-wide action and extending our links with other activists in the county; and the organisation of our ‘Critical Mass’ event.
Well, let’s say the organisation of ‘Critical Mass’ allowed a lot of room for spontaneity and in the event that worked well in its favour. With regard to activity in London, at time of writing this we await the decisions to be made by a People’s Assembly at Marble Arch, the one remaining occupation site. We know that more events were planned and that one of them may be some kind of concluding rally. Those who are prepared to go and join in this or other actions may well be hiring a coach or minibus for a day-trip. This will obviously be at short notice but keep an eye on the website and/or emails for any developments.
Looking at Dorset wide action, we were informed earlier in the meeting by Richard Thomas of his approach to all candidates for seats in the new Dorset Council on the matter of whether or not they would push for a climate emergency to be declared. He told us that so far only the labour candidates were committed to this. Given that none of us felt able to stand as a candidate for Planet Shaftesbury, it’s really a case of putting whatever pressure we can on the existing candidates. We also have a petition on Change.Org (thanks Ed!) under the heading: ‘Ask Dorset Council to declare a Climate Emergency and take action’. In the 3 days since it was set up it’s already attracted nearly 300 signatures. Find it at: http://chng.it/sWGDGYrwdS – if you’ve not already signed, please consider doing so and sharing on whatever social media lie at your fingertips. Hopefully I will be able to report on further developments as those involved in this sub-group set about making contacts elsewhere in the county.
In the fourth group, those of us with grey in our hair were advised by those without to get our Instagram account for Planet Shaftesbury up and running, to send out speakers to local Forest Schools, youth, scout and home-schooling groups along with organisations like Seeds 4 Success in Mere. There is a potential well of enthusiasm and vitality to be tapped here – hopefully (again) further developments to come.
We meet again on May 16. Check the website and read the emails for further details as they come.