My Defence Statement in Court

What is an activist? It can be so many things. We don’t have to glue our hands to the pavement or abseil down bridges with huge banners (though of course, we can also do that). I believe that if we are actively engaged in reflecting on where our world is hurting and trying to remedy that and be part of the solution rather than the problem, we are activists. We must all be activists. Each and every one of us are needed.

Last year, I was an activist with my body and heart, putting myself on roads to plant my flag that screamed Our earth is suffering. Our current systems are not working. This year, my activism is building a novel about four female activists, word by word, hope by idea by vision.

Yesterday I was in Stratford Magistrates Court in London with two other incredible activist women I’m proud to know, to be tried for my first arrest in June 2023. The judge has not yet come to a decision and we will receive our verdict in a few days time. But whether we’re found guilty or not-guilty (and I will feel not guilty, either way), the three of us stood up in court and spoke our truth. This is a version of what I said:

My name is Rebecca. I am a 46 year old writer, teacher, wife and mother to three amazing teenagers. My youngest child is 13. He loves cycling, scouts, camping and making fires. My middle child is 16. She loves drama, singing, making clothes and drinking bubble tea. My eldest is 17. She is always reading, playing instruments and is studying sciences for A levels which she is passionate about and hopes to go to university next year to study biology further.

When my husband and I decided to have children, we knew we had a duty of care to protect them. And this eldest daughter, whose name is Maya, asked me last  year how we can protect who and what we love when we are facing climate collapse. She urged me, begged me, to stop talking about how worried I was about the climate emergency and actually do something about it.

In the year 2050 Maya will be 44, not much younger than what I am now. According to the last IPCC report, by then we will have far exceeded the supposedly ‘safe’ upper limit of 1.5 degrees temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. Far more likely we’ll be at 2 degrees and over a billion people will have been displaced from their homes. Will Maya be one of them?

By 2070 Maya will be 64 and most probably we’ll have reached 3 degrees. This will leave around one third of the global population living in extreme heat. The Amazon rainforest ecosystem, the great lungs of the earth, will most likely have collapsed.

By 2090 Maya will be 84, close to the age of her grandparents. By now we’ll be at 5 degrees which is described as unliveable. A planet that may be able to sustain certain species, but not humans.

Each generation is given two things: 1) The gift of this living breathing world and 2) The duty to keep it safe. This contract has been broken, and it’s happened on our watch.

In June last year I slow marched down Hangar Lane as is my legitimate right to protest under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. I was there to raise awareness of the climate and ecological emergency, NOT to get arrested. We didn’t glue ourselves to anything or lock on. We kept moving, were peaceful and made no noise. We had all attended a non-violence training to ensure everything was kept peaceful, wore hi-vis jackets so we could be seen and had amongst our group highly trained de-escalators. I accept that I didn’t get off the road when asked to by PC Farooq. I spent under 30 minutes in total on a very busy road which always experiences high levels of delays anyway at rush hour. I hate disrupting people. I’m conflict averse and have never been charged with a crime before. I respect law and order and I’m also terrified by how much all of us should fear the breakdown of this that is to come on our current trajectory.

Do I regret my actions? I regret inconveniencing people, but I don’t regret stepping up. No blue lights were blocked. PC Farooq stated that I needed to move onto the pavement and would arrest me under a Section12, presumably because I was causing a ‘more than minor disruption’ which would make a Section12 necessary. With all due respect to him, because he was kind and polite throughout, I do not accept this. Nearly 10 million people live in London. On any normal day in this area it is common to be delayed by an hour or more. This was NOT more than minor disruption.

To find us guilty today is to criminalise good, moral, thoughtful citizenship. When I was waiting to go into the police station, I talked to the Chief Inspector about Norfolk where I was from and from where he’d recently been on a cycling holiday. He actually said – and I quote – we need to keep these places beautiful so you people need to keep doing what you’re doing. I know I have no proof of this, but I am asking you to take my word as I am here to tell the truth today. This is the same Norfolk that in the heatwave summer of 2022 that’s been likened to the Blitz, dozens of hectares of Wild Ken Hill, a wildlife reserve that often featured on Springwatch suffered devastating damage from wildfires and countless mammals, reptiles, amphibians and rare birds were killed.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great.’ Well, history is calling us from the future to be great and we all have a choice, including you when you cast your judgement on us. If you find us guilty today, what or who is that you are protecting? Is it the ‘general people’ of London? No, I’ll tell you what it is: you will be protecting wildfires, floods, sea level rise, starvation, vast suffering and earth system breakdown. And I want to be able to tell Maya and my other children and all the young people that I love that I at least tried. And you should do the same.

Thank you for reading this blog post. Compliment it with reading In Defence of Life and Love , the poem I wrote during the week of my first arrest in London that I am being currently tried for in court & Lessons in Weariness, a poem written in response to my third arrest last year.

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