Love, Rage, Rebel: Hope in climate activism

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

by Kirsty Heron and Tom Deacon

Recorded by authors

Introduction

This essay emerged following a Work That Reconnects Network webinar on how to build global connections supporting climate activism through the Work That Reconnects (WTR). Drawing on our experience with Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, Extinction Rebellion and global activists during COP26 in Glasgow, we share how we are supporting movements for climate justice in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England (W.I.S.E.).

In many countries, to take to the streets and protest … would be to come up against massive amounts of state, corporate and police oppression that can be violent – even fatal.

We’d like to name here that we are operating within the social and political context of this particular place in the world, and acknowledge that activism might look very different where you live. In many countries, to take to the streets and protest in the ways that these climate campaigns do would be to come up against massive amounts of state, corporate and police oppression that can be violent – even fatal. Here, the state is introducing new laws that erode civil liberties and the right to protest peacefully, directly impacting activists in the movements we are part of. At the time of writing (December 2022), 100 climate activists are in prison in the UK.

Of course you might be fortunate enough to live in a place where the right to protest is protected; we celebrate that and hope that you can use these liberties to pressure the decision-makers in your country to act now for a future that includes all life.

Although these stories are personal, we are also telling the stories of the collectives we have the honour of being part of – collaborations with facilitators of the Work that Reconnects whose dedication and care have helped make this possible. This is an evolving story, one story among many in the Great Turning, and so we write this with a curiosity of what it might inspire in you.

We have brought WTR into direct action spaces, resilience building workshops and ceremonies amidst thousands of people.

Although a first look at offering the Work That Reconnects within these campaign groups might suggest attention to just one of the three dimensions of activism – “Holding Actions” – we are also exploring how it can be part of “Building the New” and “Shift in Consciousness”. We have brought WTR into direct action spaces, resilience building workshops and ceremonies amidst thousands of people. In this way, the WTR is helping to shape different ways of organising and growing community within these campaigns, as well as supporting regenerative cultures to develop and emerge within activist organising.

Photo from XR website: https://rebellion.global

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is a global movement with a focus on using nonviolent mass civil disobedience to force urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency. Its “Three Demands” are: “Tell the Truth”, “Act Now”, “Decide Together”. 

Our journey began in 2019 during a two week Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in London. Prior to the Rebellion, a small group of WTR facilitators had been organising a schedule of workshops to take place at various designated locations in the streets that were to be occupied by XR protestors. Most of us didn’t know each other; it was all organised online. We had times, dates and co-facilitators all lined up yet, the reality turned out to be somewhat different. The police put pressure on all the occupied encampments in the streets, and the venues in which we had hoped to offer our workshops didn’t exist. As a responsive self-organising – and determined – system, we adapted. Meeting as buddy pairs in the middle of giant, noisy crowds to plan a workshop outline, we grabbed a microphone and invited people to join us in a small tent where a group was gathered to move through a short “Spiral” of the Work. This connective conversation touched into the gratitude and grief that brought people out of their homes and onto the streets. More accustomed to running workshops with clear and calm boundaries, of times and locations and even participants, we learned a lot about adapting to rapidly changing, dynamic, and often chaotic situations.

The shift in energy was palpable as people turned to their neighbours and shared some of their deeper motivations for being there.

We’ve also brought ceremony to the streets of London. In 2020, on a tidal beach of the River Thames in London, a “Council of All Beings” was held at low tide, police watching curiously over the walkway wall. Bringing the voices of other beings into the midst of an intense period of nonviolent direct action, we honoured the voice of the river itself through integrating a “bowl of tears” ritual that then flowed back into the river. The motto for that rebellion was “flow like water”…a fluid response to the policing tactics used previously to disable the protest through confiscating all infrastructure. In October 2022, during an XR Youth Climate March in London, a facilitator of the Work led 1000 people in an “Active Hope Spiral”, inviting people to connect in threes using sentence starters. The shift in energy was palpable as people turned to their neighbours and shared some of their deeper motivations for being there. This inspired a whole crowd of people to tune into their hopeful visions of the future!

Insulate Britain & Just Stop Oil

Photo by Victoria Jones/PA

These two campaigns identify as enacting nonviolent civil resistance, building pressure for specific political action relating to the climate crisis. Insulate Britain, using high level disruption of major motorways in the UK, brought its demand of insulating Britain’s social housing. Just Stop Oil, through a range of disruption tactics including targeting oil infrastructure, roads, and high profile art/sport, has challenged the British government to halt all new oil and gas licences. 

We are involved with a team called Resilience to Resist that offers, among other kinds of emotional and practical support, workshops called “Building Trust and Courage” online for Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain activists. These use the Spiral of the WTR as a backbone. For the past 18 months, activists in these movements have been able to access these workshops once, twice, or sometimes three times a week when there is a build-up in preparation for actions. We have also offered day-long workshops of the WTR this winter across the regions of Wales, England, and Scotland. These are community-building gatherings where we can meet in person, share food, stories, tears and laughter. 

We see that the Work can help to mitigate burnout, through the sharing of feelings of both gratitude and grief, finding a wider sense of community…

The regularity of these offerings means that “Active Hope” is practised in community and can support and inform the way that a movement resources itself. In climate activism, as with other activism there is a tendency for people to give and give to a point where they are empty – we call this “burnout” and it is increasingly common as the urgency of the climate situation grows. We see that the Work can help to mitigate burnout, through the sharing of feelings of both gratitude and grief, finding a wider sense of community by seeing other people, other groups and nature as allies, and also reframing activism in the context of the three dimensions of the Great Turning.

One result of introducing the WTR into these climate campaigns has been that we’ve received quite a few requests for training and skill-sharing from participants who can see the value in the work and would like to bring it to their local groups. We were fortunate enough to receive some funding to develop a training we called “Active Hope for Activists”. With a lot of gratitude to the Emergence Foundation for supporting this project, we appreciated the opportunity to gather with a group of 12 committed activists spanning both climate and social justice campaigns to share skills in facilitation of this work and how to offer it in activist spaces. 

COP26

COP 26, the UN climate talks held in Glasgow in November 2021, encompassed a whole lot more than simply a meeting of government officials, scientists, and of course the corporate lobbyists. At the same time that these talks were happening, a festival of climate consciousness was taking place across the city with tens of thousands of people engaged in creative conversations, workshops, music, art, film, poetry, and protest. 

In unifying our visions and hopes with others, we sought to generate determination, resilience and more love in action.

At one of the civil society opening ceremonies, we were part of a facilitation team that offered a “Council of All Beings” as part of a beautiful ceremony that included people from La Minga Indigena, a collective of indigenous nations from across the Americas. Minga is the coming together of people when there is a calling. Indeed, at COP26, many of us had followed a calling to add our voices to the protests against the continued exploitation of people and planet and the selling off of the future–to the demands on global nation state leaders to take action on climate and for the richer nations to pay loss and damage to those least responsible for climate change yet the most vulnerable to its impacts. In unifying our visions and hopes with others, we sought to generate determination, resilience and more love in action.

A collective of 7 facilitators offered Work that Reconnects workshops every day for two weeks in a community garden sanctuary space. The schedule included introductory workshops, as well as sessions dedicated to truth telling and honouring pain, mitigating for burnout and the three dimensions of activism (the “Great Turning”), listening to the voices of the more than human world with a “Council of All Beings”, resourcing ourselves with Deep Time, visioning the future we wish to create, shifting to Seventh Generation perspectives, and a deeply grounding session on “Gratitude”. Furthermore, as WTR network collaborators with the makers of the film Once You Know, we screened the film in a city centre venue and offered a post screening Work that Reconnects experience in-person with global climate activists. 

…we also took the opportunity to draw on the Work that Reconnects to either deescalate tense situations, or generate connection in moments of frustration or despondency.

Learning from other fluid protest situations, we also took the opportunity to draw on the Work that Reconnects to either deescalate tense situations, or generate connection in moments of frustration or despondency. During a tense moment of protest outside an exclusive dinner for world leaders, there was an opportunity to take the microphone briefly to invite everyone to connect with someone next to them (in a dark rainy Glasgow park) and share an appreciation, frustration, inspiration and next-step relating to the situation they were in. The darkness exploded into a cacophony of connective chatter. A few days later, still in the rain, outside the high metal fence of the official negotiation space, many people gathered as the COP faltered toward a messy end. The feelings of despair and frustration were evident. Here small connective conversations were initiated, bringing people together to connect and to voice their feelings, again using the “Spiral” stages as an informal structure, to build connection and process the moment.

Conclusion

We have seen how the WTR is a body of work that supports deeper understanding of community within a campaign, and offers a way to build and explore regenerative cultures within and beyond the movement. The adaptability of the practices mean that it can be offered in wild nature, in sanctuary spaces in a city, and on the streets, and that regular offerings and practise of the Work strengthen resilience and demonstrate a different way to organise, relate, and take action together. 

What might this look like where you live?

We’d love to continue this dialogue with other facilitators of the Work that Reconnects. If any of you are already offering WTR in activist spaces, then perhaps we can share more ideas and resources? Also, if you are curious and inspired to engage more with climate activist groups where you live, then please do get in touch and contact us at [email protected]

________________

Links:

Extinction Rebellion: https://rebellion.global/

Insulate Britain: https://insulatebritain.com/

Just Stop Oil: https://juststopoil.org/

Resources:

Love, Rage, Rebel: Climate Activism and the Great Turning – WTR Webinar and Conversation Cafe Series Webinar

Three Dimensions of Activism – WTR definitions of activism

Walks That Reconnect – WTR-inspired series of interactive audio walks developed for activists

Contact: [email protected]


Recorded by Erin Holtz

Kirsty Heron: I am a wanderer of Earth, currently making my home either amongst the mosses of the temperate rainforest of Scotland’s west coast, or on an organic market garden in mid Scotland, getting to know all things about perennial fruit.  I love beauty, wildness, generosity and passion. My work, my life, is dedicated to connecting people with information, ideas and experiences that can shift perspectives and lead to action on behalf of life on Earth. Being part of collaborative networks of people that encourage, support and empower each other is a gift in my life.

 

Recorded by Erin Holtz

Tom Deacon feels most at home immersed in the elementals of mountain and coast. He draws great inspiration from weaving and facilitating lived experiences in wild places with the transformative processes of the Work that Reconnects. As a mountain guide, climate trainer, group facilitator, and activist it is in the entanglement of the web where all these elements of his life meet that he feels most alive. Tom is enlivened by being a part of generative networks of humans, by growing vegetables in collaboration with the soil and sun, and by leaping into the arms of cold water.

One thought on “Love, Rage, Rebel: Hope in climate activism

  1. This is really inspiring and pertinent for our times. I love your adaptations as a “responsive self-organising – and determined – system” and the deescalation of tense protest moments like when you invited connection with the person standing nearby in the crowd, through sharing an appreciation, frustration, inspiration and next-step relating to the situation they were in. Brilliant! A spontaneous spiral to respond to a tricky situation. I have heard about you, Kirsty and Tom, from fellow facilitators of Circles of Active Hope who trained with you (I trained with Chris and Madeleine) and am looking forward to our paths crossing more closely one day. Thanks so much for these inspiring initiatives and approaches to the ever-changing systemic crisis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.