A movement where librarians turn outlaws

This is the beginning of a new movement, one where librarians become outlaws, and children become warriors, writes Suzanne Harrington

My friend Teresa, a 53 year old librarian, gets arrested, and held in police cells overnight. She and I are on Oxford Street in London together, at the Extinction Rebellion, bringing supplies to our teenagers and twentysomethings who are camped out at Marble Arch.

We are astonished at how well organised, well informed, and well chilled the protest is; it feels like a festival, except in the middle of the street in central London. There are bright banners everywhere emblazoned with words like ‘Non Violent’ and ‘Tell the Truth’ and ‘System Change Not Climate Change’. You can’t argue really. Not with 60% of species wiped out since Teresa and I were in primary school. No wonder our kids are walking out of school, climate striking. No wonder they are disrupting key areas of cities all over the world, from Ireland to New Zealand, Canada to Uganda.

Teresa and the arresting officers are mutually apologetic, behaving with impeccable politeness. It is all as British as tea and crumpets. She is one of a thousand people non-violently arrested over Easter in London; the police are overwhelmed.

Suzanne Harrington
Suzanne Harrington

The protestors speak kindly to them, offering empathy. “This is about your children too,” they say. The police know this. We all know this.

We already owe a debt to the fearless, tireless Greta Thunberg — and now to Extinction Rebellion — for peacefully yet unequivocally shoving climate catastrophe and ecocide in our faces. Well, not ‘our’ faces, exactly. More ‘their’ faces, the faces of our global elected leaders, until now permanently turned away, focused on fossil fuels and GDP. All along, we — the masses — have been bumbling along, doing our best, crushed under the individualisation of responsibility for the 6th mass extinction. Our fault. All those plastic drinking straws and coffee cups. All those microbeads.

The individualisation of responsibility is never a bad thing, if it makes us rethink our actions and put new actions in place. It’s not just about microbeads — it’s about what we have for dinner and how we reach our holiday destination. It doesn’t mean we stop having dinner, or stop going on holiday — it just means thinking and acting differently.

But — and here’s what got the Extinction Rebellion movement going — we can think until our brains leak out our ears, we can go more plant-based than a herd of deer, we can swap planes for trains, boats and bicycles, we can electrify our cars and switch our energy suppliers to renewables, we can quit our fast fashion addiction, and our plastic use, we can live every sodding moment of our lives as mindfully and ecologically possible, and we will still continue hurtling towards climate breakdown. We need to stop equating ‘success’ with economic growth, because it’s killing us. It’s bigger than us. Teresa is released, and goes home. This is the beginning of a new movement, one where librarians become outlaws, and children become warriors. It’s that urgent.

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