A look back at year one as a rebel

Sophia Cheng / 4 min read / Inspiring Activist
16 April 2020
Reflections on 2019's April Rebellion

This day last year was a special one.
The weather was glorious and it was set to change my path in life.
It was day one of my first rebellion.

I met a good friend, both of us curious to see what was going on. We walked from Victoria station, me with my first ever protest sign freshly painted, towards Parliament Square.
There were flags everywhere. Crowds, noise, smiling faces and some sort of ceremony which we couldn’t make head nor tail of from where we were sat. I found the Essex banner and met with my then-very new local rebels who had travelled up from Chelmsford to check things out. There were 4 of us.

It wasn’t until we left Parliament Square and made our way to Waterloo Bridge that it dawned on me what had been achieved: Waterloo Bridge and its dual carriageway had been pedestrianised. (Bikes were very welcome too!) Trees took the place of traffic. Music instead of noise pollution. We picked up patches and adorned ourselves with pride.
We pushed on to Piccadilly Circus which had been taken over by XR Youth, making their voices heard on the statue of Eros. And we joined an impromptu drumming session. Charged with taking the drums back to Marble Arch we walked down the middle of Regent Street, void of 4 lanes of vehicles. Exchanging wide smiles with strangers, who were in fact fellow rebels. At Oxford Circus we were greeted with a pink boat! It was absurd and beautiful. People weren’t rushing to get into the nearest shop, they were looking up at the performances on the boat and at each other. Wanting to make it to all 5 sites, we walked up an empty Oxford Street (still banging our little drum) right up to Marble Arch and found a temporary village come to life, complete with welcome desk, toilets, welfare and training tents.

I was exhausted by it all and only been a passive participant, a tourist to the rebellion. But it left such a profound impact on me. I came back, the next day and the next. Every day for the two weeks of rebellion.

Looking back 366 days later, I think it’s not an overstatement to say it changed the course of my life. After giving up a life of travel for climate reasons, I returned to the UK hoping to find ‘my people’ and contribute to something bigger. On April 15 2019 I realised I had found it and I had been welcomed with warm, open arms and big smiles. I recalibrated for a more courageous course.

Experiencing the rebellion forged a fire in the bellies of our little Chelmsford crew – getting to know each other while stewarding or sharing the big Easter Sunday lunch in the sunshine, soaking it all up – from there we grew XR Chelmsford into a flourishing gang of brave rebels. And boy did we show up in force when Rebellion #2 came around

And what about now, 15 April 2020?
What was highlighted in protest has been shown true in a pandemic: individuals are not to blame for systemic failures (stop trying to shift the attention/blame), this system is broken and cannot be solved by pushing the same money-driven policies through (again) and boy do we need clear courageous leadership in a crisis. But bold solutions are being discussed and there is a mainstream murmuring that recovery must put people AND planet over profit. Is the story changing?

What happens next, I don’t know. XR isn’t perfect, it’s flawed, complex and still has a lot to learn, just like you, just like me. But Waterloo Bridge is quiet again (so I hear) and this time the disruption is omnipresent yet invisible. The sun is shining again but we are in our homes not in the streets. But behind the bolder bird calls, things are still stirring; relationships being solidified, our understanding stretched, our skills sharpened. Quietly we are unhooking from our toxic life support; productivity ≠ self-worth, consumption ≠ happiness, fast ≠ always better. Communities forged in fear of the climate crisis have blossomed in a corona crisis; exchanging food, supporting the vulnerable and getting to know our neighbours. And beyond XR, silos are being broken down, economic justice is social justice is climate justice. We are daring to imagine a better future.

This is only a pause.

Photos from 15 April 2019

And my has XRC grown since then.

Take a look of photos of the gang in action since.

Avatar photo Sophia Cheng With a decade of communications experience across the for profit and nonprofit sectors, agency and in-house, Sophia has made a habit of making ‘the hard stuff’ more accessible. Since 2018, she has reorientated her life around the climate crisis. She has forged her decade of communications experience into offering workshops, mentoring, blogging, and more, on the biggest issues of our time. View all posts
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