Extinction Rebellion (XR) is on the streets in London, Manchester and Cardiff this week. In the news: Protesters arrested. Protesters urged to reconsider actions because of COVID-19. Literary figures join the campaign. Police put on a show of strength. XR blocks roads.
XR tweeted this complaint: We are not the story. The story is catastrophic government failure to act on the climate emergency.
The problem is, that’s not as interesting as a load of people blocking roads, waving flags, shouting, getting too close to each other, and being arrested.
People make good stories. People are interesting. What they have to say is usually not so interesting.
The challenge is, then, if you’ve got something very important to say, how do you get it into the news? How do you get others to join you? How do you get the government to change its policy, especially one that seems to take little seriously and that’s so riven through with vested interests? The conventional wisdom behind demonstrations and protests has always been to make a big fuss, disrupting and obstructing the normal business of a city centre. The story is that we’re making this big fuss because the point we want to make is really important, perhaps so important that we’re willing to make some personal sacrifices for it, like getting arrested.
And that is the problem. The story is the fuss, not the message.
The messenger is the message, like it or not.
There is a story worth telling here. Business as usual is being disrupted by global heating and the disruption will only get worse. Our lives are on the line. We are all going to be arrested to some degree or other in the sense that our present way of life is going to come to a stop. At the same time, the mutual support and respect that’s expressed within XR and their commitment to non-violence embodies something of a world of care and gentleness that could emerge from the coming collapse of this world. You could say that XR is being prophetic, not so much in what they say as in what they do.
If no one listens or understands, that was always the fate of the prophets. The word is like fire in the bones, according to Jeremiah (20.9) – impossible to hold in.
The messenger is the message, so live it out loud!