Extinction Rebellion protester: Why we got arrested for climate change

October 11, 2019
Duncan Roden speaks to the media before being arrested in Sydney, October 7. Photo: Peter Boyle

More than 38 people, including myself, were arrested during an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in Sydney on October 7 to demand immediate and serious action to tackle the climate crisis.

I didn't go to the protest with the intention of getting arrested. I had planned to stay with most of the crowd on the sideline, chanting, singing and cheering on those brave enough to take a hit for the cause.

But, as I sat on the road and police moved in, the thought of just standing up and saying “See ya” to those next to me as I scooted to safety just didn't seem right.

When I first got involved in the climate action movement a decade ago, it was frustrating — governments were dragging their feet on climate action, proposing inadequate band-aid solutions or simply denying it was an issue.

Unfortunately, not much has changed.

The richest and most powerful nations in the world, having already squandered several decades, are still not taking the action needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.

I thought about my homeland, Fiji, and other Pacific Islander peoples who are fighting — in some cases for the literal existence — of their island homes.

I looked around at the others risking arrest and saw people ranging from grandparents to kids who looked like they were barely out of school (if at all).

I figured I am (relatively) young, have no kids and live in one of the worst climate criminal nations in the world — if I won't take a stand (or remain seated, in this case), then who will?

XR operates on the strategy of disrupting business-as-usual though the use of non-violent civil disobedience, with the aim of forcing government to take notice. This includes actions such as peacefully blocking roads in major cities, which is what I found myself doing that day.

After being arrested and hauled away to a police station, I shared a cell for more than 10 hours with former WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. He told Guardian Australia: “The question really is, if the government wants us to stop — whether that is the school kids or people doing banner drops — they have a very simple and clear path to do that.

“Nobody is doing this for fun. We are doing it for a purpose, and that is for the government to snap out of it.”

Environmental scientist and Western Sydney University academic Martin Wolterding was also arrested that day. He told me he has two grandchildren, one three years old and the other 13 weeks. “My sense of justice, my love for them, tells me I have to do everything I possibly can to ensure they can have long, happy lives,” he said.

Martin said the pain of the wrist lock the police used on him during his arrest was “excruciating”.

“I'm 75 years old,” he said to the police, pleading for them to just let him walk. He was sent to hospital for treatment.

The police offered arrestees stringent bail conditions for release, including a 2 kilometre exclusion zone barring them from entering Sydney’s CBD and requirements to not associate with any XR persons or attend XR protests.

In response to the bail conditions, NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Pauline Wright said: “It offends against the right of freedom of political expression that’s been implied in the constitution.”

Several arrestees contested the bail conditions in front of a magistrate and were released with no conditions, including Lily Campbell, who endured 27 hours in custody.

On being released, Campbell told the media: “I sat on the road because the Amazon is burning, because the polar ice caps are melting, because the Great Barrier Reef is on the verge of destruction, because for 30 years the science has told us that capitalism is destroying the world and that its time we do something about it by rebelling.”

I asked Martin if he would continue supporting XR actions. “Absolutely,” he said. “I can't do anything but this.”

I can only agree.

[Duncan Roden is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

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