I was one of those despicable climate protestors blocking the Perth CBD yesterday. I hate inconveniencing people, but this is an emergency. I was feeling dread in the days leading up to the protest. For security reasons, there weren’t many details given out to rank-and-file protestors like me about what we were going to do. And you never know how the police are going to act. They can be fair and respectful to protestors or they can play hardball and be unpredictable. And who was going to look after the kids if we both got arrested?
We gathered at Elizabeth Quay, where the School Climate Strike of 10,000 had finished a few weeks ago. It was sprinkling and this was a smaller gathering of 800 rebels. But what a beautifully diverse bunch of people: a contingent of Aboriginal protestors at the front; a group of grandparents; a few Quakers; the silent, spooky red rebels, a busload of residents from Denmark, five hours south of Perth, where they have had to cart in water; a mother with three pre-school children; and, of course, the socialists.
I’d had a t-shirt screenprinted with the XR logo – an X-shaped hourglass to symbolise our time running out – but I wore a shirt and tie instead. ‘Get a job you bunch of useless bludgers,’ shout the comments on news stories. A lot of us have jobs, and I thought there was value in looking like the relatively normal middle-class person I am (well, I hope I’m not too normal). My wife, Nicole, had turned an old blue pillow case into a handmade XR flag especially for the ‘Flood the City’ theme.
We marched slowly onto William Street, onlookers watching us, some frustrated car drivers beeping us. Jesse the Pirate went through the marchers with a strange looking black cart – coffin or pirate ship? Sarah fell sleep in the baby-carrier. A policeman came past us and said to Nicole, ‘I’m tired too – can you fit me in?’ I felt good about that; he didn’t hate us.
We stopped when we got to the Hay Street Pedestrian Mall. There were more people to witness us now. I wasn’t sure what was going on – I thought we were going to keep on moving to Yagan Square. Then I saw a circle of protestors lock their arms to each other in front of me; I tweeted a blurry photo of it, and the international XR Twitter account retweeted it – my moment of random social media fame. The police horses were all around us, and a massive arrest van. I saw a police officer check his watch. We had plans, they had plans, and as Scott Ludlam said over the loudspeaker, ‘It’s about to get hectic.’ My heart started beating rapidly when the police stretched out police tape in a big square all around us. A dreadful robotic voice declared from loudspeakers cutting over our speeches that we were being ordered to move and if we didn’t we would be arrested and could have force used against us. I wanted to get straight over the other side of the police tape. ‘Don’t be skittish,’ Nicole said. ‘Do you want to be arrested?’ one of the XR organisers asked us, handing out cards with instructions about what to do. Nicole took one but then she and baby Sarah came out under the tape with me to the sidelines.
The rebels who remained were amazing. The standoff took several hours, as the police struggled to remove sixty-five people stuck in various ways to William Street. There was a solemn, determined looking older woman in a wheel chair. Jesse the Pirate was superglued by his feet to that black cart. It took them ages to get him off. These rebels wanted to get arrested, but I felt anxious for them, I hate seeing the instrument of state at work against us. Meantime, XR made speeches about the climate emergency for everyone in the area to hear. ‘Tell the truth!’ is our first demand – tell the truth, declare a climate emergency, communicate the urgency for change. We watched from behind the tape, waving flags. We cheered loudly as each rebel was taken off for arrest. There’s a lot of waiting in protests. Sarah was restless; she wanted to crawl around. We left at 12:30 with more than a dozen rebels still on the street. We were both exhausted. I’d been tensing my muscles all through it.
Maybe we’re putting sympathetic people offside. Maybe it’s the wrong tactics. I don’t know for sure. But nothing else has worked, the urgency of the situation isn’t cutting through. The system doesn’t listen until there’s a cost – disruption. This week, XR has got Channel 7, Channel 9, and News Corp talking about climate change. And that never happens. It’s the last roll of the dice for the future of humans. Come join us.