Extinction Rebellion quiet protest 23 February 2020 in Cambridge.
They marked out an area and sat down, mostly with eyes closed, while shoppers passed by.
I asked a man handing out leaflets what he thought of the protesters who had dug up the grass at Trinity College. He said he wouldn’t do it but the protest attracted a lot of media attention. He said 3,000 people had joined in the UK in the last week, I wasn’t sure how much was attributable to the Trinity College protest and I said yes but the media attention had been of the wrong kind. I said people I had spoken to had felt distanced by the action.
He was a thoughtful man and he seemed torn over defending and condemning the actions of the other members of ER. We talked about pollution and its relation to climate change.
How different from the Trinity College protest. I didn’t feel a strong motivation to join them, but how could I feel anything other than sympathy and fellow-feeling for the people sitting there.
We went on a photowalk and ended up on the low-lying meadows that are cut through by the road that is named Fen Causeway.
Fen Causeway is a link road in Cambridge that was constructed in the mid-1920s to ease the pressure on other roads in the city. There was a lot of pubic objection to the road at the time because it intruded into what was a wild fen area.
There is an older Fen Causeway. It the name for a Roman road that runs from a junction with Ermine Street and King Street near Peterborough across the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk fens.
The route that the road took can be seen from the air. I googled for aerial photos of it and there are pages of them. Roman roads are easy to spot because they are straight as a die. Many times I have been driving along and realised I must be driving along the route of an old Roman road. They are very obvious.
Ermine Street ran from London to York in the north of England via Lincoln. It is about 200 miles long and is probably the most famous Roman road. I wonder whether teachers still teach of its existence?
You can see the low-lying ground here. At one time the fens stretched for many miles. That is until they were drained in the 1600s, mostly by an enforced workforce of Scottish prisoners who had fought on the side of Charles II in the last of the English Civil Wars.
A little history first. I first became aware of Extinction Rebellion (ER) when I saw a leaflet or a poster in Cambridge. I wasn’t sure what ER was but I didn’t take to the logo.
That is, I am not keen on stark black political logos, so I was ‘on guard’ as it were. I could see it probably represented the sands of time running out, but still it looked too much like other signs to which I have an aversion.
For example, there is the white racist African National Movement that was headed by Terre’Blanche. And there is the logo of Arrow Cross, the Hungarian nazi party during World War II, to name but two.
I can understand how ER might want to wrest that type of the logo from the Right and use it for good. But still..
And yes, I know the ER logo and the others are not the same, but they are of that same idea of a black, angular graphic. Maybe it is just me, and if that was all there was to this post I would invite you to stop reading now. But there is more.
A bit later, when Tamara and I were in the lobby after a talk at the University Of Cambridge about a year ago a man invited us to an ER party. I still didn’t know much about what ER was and he explained, kind of. We didn’t want to go to a party, so we said no. I thought it was a party (as in drinking, talking, dancing) and maybe it was.
Then, last April Tamara and I stayed in London for a week. ER had nailed a yacht (yes a yacht) to the road at Oxford Circus in central London, blocking traffic. They nailed the yacht to the ground and handcuffed themselves to the yacht. The yacht was there for days and meanwhile the police didn’t know what to do. It had come out of the blue and it obviously had political ramifications, so the police weren’t sure what they could or could not do. In the end they arrested some of the ER members and removed the yacht.
A lot of business people, that is van drivers, taxi drivers, people who needed those roads for work, were angry with ER because the road closure affected them in their pockets.
But everyone agreed that something needed to be done to stop the rush to fill the planet ankle deep in plastic. And most were convinced that climate change and a climate emergency were real and needed addressing.
And to some extent that emergency gave a pass to whatever kind of action ER felt driven to take to tell politicians that they had to change course.
Now forward to December last year when I went to photograph people at the Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge. One man I saw who was supporting ER was plainly very upset. He was shouting and exhorting people to take action to stop the madness as he saw it.
I photographed him and you can see that photo there and here it is:
Then in December, ER here in Cambridge did a die in in one of the malls. It was coincidental that I was in town. Of course, I took photos and one of them seemed poignant. It’s this one of a nicely dressed Asian woman (Japanese?) looking polite and somehow unfortunate as she entered the mall with the ER protest around her. I don’t suppose she was immune to the irony of her being the consumer walking past the ER protest against consumerism.
Then a couple of weeks ago I saw posters that ER had plastered on the windows of Christ’s College in the middle of Cambridge.
The text on the posters reads “The University Of Cambridge must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.”
I thought it was a mistake, a tactical error to paste posters on the windows of the College.
It was such a juvenile ‘hit and run’ protest. They came when no one was about, pasted the windows and then ran off.
It just seemed against the spirit of standing up (or lying down) and protesting in person. It was against the idea of ‘owning’ their protest.
And against the idea of doing no damage, even the small irritation of someone having to scrape the posters off the antique glass in the windows.
Dig Up The Grass
And now this week ER did something that managed to unite everyone against them. This is the grass in front of Trinity College.
ER dug up the grass and then took a barrowful of it and dumped it in a local Branch of Barclays Bank. The action was in protest at Trinity College proposing to sell off some agricultural land they own in Suffolk, for development. I don’t know what the connection with Barclays is.
The tree in the background is a graft taken from the apple tree under which Isaac Newton sat. And I read in one of the newspapers that one of the protesters chained him or herself to the tree.
By the way, there are two Newton apple trees in Cambridge The other Newton apple tree graft is in the grounds of the Botanic Garden here in Cambridge.
You may wonder what Newton’s connection with Cambridge is, and here’s a short extract of the Wikipedia entry for Newton. As you can read, he was a student at this College.
In June 1661, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on the recommendation of his uncle Rev William Ayscough, who had studied there. He started as a subsizar – paying his way by performing valet’s duties – until he was awarded a scholarship in 1664, guaranteeing him four more years until he could get his MA
Open Letter To Extinction Rebellion
I don’t know how much control the central governing body (assuming there is one) of Extinction Rebellion has over groups such as the Cambridge group. And I don’t know what they make or would make of what has happened. But in my view the local group is antagonising people whose support it needs.
Or to be more specific, they have lost me if they keep on destroying things in the cause of mending things.
This painting is in the National Portrait Gallery in London. I was there a couple of days ago and immediately thought of the long tradition of lounging on the benches.
That was before I read the description to the painting that refers to the very word ‘lounging’ where it says”:
“a rare and informal view of…. lounging back on one of the green front benches in the House of Commons..”
That caused me to chuckle as I thought of Jacob Rees-Mogg (see below).
Here is the full description of the painting:
JOE CHAMBERLAIN and ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR, 1st EARL OF BALFOUR A rare and informal view of two great statesmen, lounging back on one of the green front benches in the House of Commons, evidently taking part in a debate. Chamberlain (1836-1914),the MP for Birmingham, had deserted the Liberal Party over the issue of Irish Home Rule. He joined the Conservative government in 1895 as Secretary of State for the Colonies. Balfour (1848—1930) became leader of the Tories and succeeded his uncle Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister in 1902.
Painting by Sydney Prior Hall (1842-1922) Oil on canvas, c.1895
There’s Lounging And Then There’s Lounging
As the newspapers reported last September:
A prominent pro-Brexit politician sparked outrage — and a meme — Tuesday when he stretched out across a bench in Parliament, appearing bored as British lawmakers heatedly debated the country’s exit from the European Union.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative leader of the House of Commons known for his aristocratic mannerisms, sprawled himself out in the front row of Parliament on Tuesday night, spurring some lawmakers to shout “Sit up, man!”
Anna Turley, a Labour MP, called Rees-Mogg’s posture “the physical embodiment of arrogance, entitlement, disrespect and contempt for our parliament.”
The Labour MP Anna Turley took this photograph of Rees-Mogg.
Jacob Rees-Mogg Today
More or less since that incident, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been very quiet and has kept out of the limelight.
As of today, Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council.
Wikipedia describes the functions of the Leader of the House and of the Lord President of the Council:
The Leader of the House of Commons is generally a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom who is responsible for arranging government business in the House of Commons.
The Lord President of the Council is the fourth of the Great Officers of State of the United Kingdom, ranking below the Lord High Treasurer but above the Lord Privy Seal. The Lord President usually attends and is responsible for presiding over meetings of the Privy Council, presenting business for the monarch’s approval. In the modern era, the holder is by convention always a member of one of the Houses of Parliament, and the office is normally a Cabinet post.
The Field Upon Which The Knights Shall Joust
We shall see how it all plays out in the current mood of the Government seeking to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court. I imagine the Privy Council will have a part to play in the constitutional tussle.
Just in case anyone is feeling sympathetic to the effort I took to type out the fulling description of the text that accompanied the painting, I didn’t actually do that.
In the gallery I took the photograph of the description with my iPhone. I then cropped it to show just the text and put it into Picatext, an application for Mac OS that extracts ASCII text from JPEGs.
That way I didn’t have to copy and type out the description, just copy and paste.