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Why I won't condemn the Christian climate activists who disrupted London

Furious commuters at a crowded Canning Town station have thrown drinks at one Extinction Rebellion protester before he was yanked from the train to the platform floor, much to the apparent delight of the cheering horde. Holly-Anna Petersen, who is a member of the group who caused the disruption, explains why she believes such attempts to unsettle the British economy are justified 

Last Thursday, Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters climbed on top of a number of trains destined for The City. They targeted this area because in 2018 banks spent $654 billion financing the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Among these early risers were 5 members of Christian Climate Action, the Christians of XR. This is not the first time we have targeted the railway. Six months prior, we made headlines around the world for climbing on top of the Canary Wharf DLR.

The action this time, while still making headlines, received different reviews. As tension rose between protesters and morning commuters, the media criticised XR for stopping regular workers getting to their jobs on environmentally friendly transport. This caused frustration among others in the movement who felt it had been carried out under their name. Yesterday we heard that senior figures in XR have admitted it was a mistake to target London’s public transport network at rush hour.

One member of CCA who took part was mother-of-three Ruth Jarman. She said: “In all honesty I wanted to get up and leave. It makes me feel awful thinking of the upset we caused to people’s already difficult lives and I apologise to every person who was disadvantaged. I personally was in two minds about taking part and made the decision at the last minute. I apologise to anyone who thinks that I made the wrong decision in that moment. My intention now is to reflect with others and learn together how to go forward.”

The actions of XR and CCA has got a lot of coverage over the year – which has pushed the issue of climate breakdown up the agenda. But ultimately CCA is just a group of Christians who, around our 9-5’s and other life commitments, are trying to do what we can to prevent the escalating climate catastrophe. Because of this, we members of CCA have lots of different views and opinions. While some may think the more disruptive actions are too intense and want to scale things down, others may think that some of the softer actions are dangerous, as they do not address the scale of the problem we face and so could act to normalise inaction to an emergency.

I personally, like many other members of CCA, didn’t get involved in the train action. And like others, am experiencing a number of difficult emotions following it – such as anger, sadness and compassion. I have respect for those who did feel compelled to take part, not because I necessarily agree with all aspects of the action, but because I know that they were acting through their best intentions when they made the decision. 

I know XR can sometimes be portrayed as mere frivolity. It is not. We have spent so many years trying to appeal to those in power through letters, petitions, marches and campaigns. They have not listened. Emissions are still increasing and we are heading for catastrophic global suffering. We are not disruptive people. We are desperate people who have been driven to be disruptive. We are not doing this as an awareness raising stunt or a bid for attention or popularity. We are doing this because history shows that economic disruption, through nonviolent direct action, is the most effective way to make those in power listen and act. Our aim is to cause economic disruption to the level that it forces those in power to make the changes needed.

And we know we aren’t going to get everything right. We know we are going to make so many mistakes. We are broken human beings just like everyone. We are not doing this because we think we are perfect for it, but because “if not me, then who? If not now, then when?” Looking back at the events on the tube it is easy for me to stand on the sidelines and point out the aspects which could or should have been done differently. However, I do this from the comfortable position of someone who has a cautious nature. Whereas, it is pioneering courage, such as that shown by those who took part in the train action, which has caused XR to come to fruition and thrive.

It is easy to build a movement, but it is infinitely more difficult to sustain one. So instead of passing judgement, I sit alongside my fellow Christian climate rebels in love – to reflect and learn for the future.

Holly-Anna Petersen is a member of Christian Climate Action 

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