Monday, 21 December 2020

Four days after the end of the fast

10pm and I've just scoffed two chocolates that were surplus from a batch I made for Christmas gifts. I guess this is back to normal now.

By day seven, my last day, I was feeling pretty weak. I would do some tidying up and then think, I'll just have a little sit down. After five minutes, I could get up and do the next thing. But it didn't really get harder to stick to the fast as I went on. There was something about it that got easier: habit, I guess. I felt pretty sure that I could have gone on if I'd chosen to, a notion that I found strangely chilling.

The hunger strike had done its job of providing me with a platform beyond the Extinction Rebellion bubble to get across some sense of the existential crisis we are facing and what more Brighton and Hove Council could do to address it. I'd been in both local papers and been interviewed on the breakfast show of BBC Radio Sussex, however it was always that Council meeting two years on from their declaration of a climate emergency that was to be the culmination of the action, giving me a chance to make a speech to the full council.

I'd written the speech a couple of weeks earlier, got feedback, tweaked it and honed it. I practised it out loud, checking it came comfortably within the allotted five minutes and trying out different emphases and phrasing. Not a natural public speaker, I was going to be relying on the text rather than my delivery to do the job.

It had been more than twenty years since I'd attended a council meeting. Now the councillors were around my own age and I could see them as public-spirited people doing their best, cutting the odd corner, and managing their public responsibilities in between supporting both teenage children and aging parents. People like me. Not the enemy. Not faceless.

There was a space for deputations near the beginning of the meeting. The space felt like a box: fenced off, safe, but too separate from the lives of the other people there. Still, it was something.

So, I read my deputation. And as I read through the familiar text, I consciously tried to inhabit it so that it wouldn't be just words. When I got to the "one thing you can do right now," I felt myself welling up. Reading "That is to tell the truth about the seriousness and urgency of the crisis. First, tell the truth to yourself. Then tell yourself again. Then tell your family and friends. Then tell the people of Brighton and Hove," made me wonder if I could get through it without breaking down into incoherence. But I struggled on in that about to burst into tears squeaky, breathy voice. I think I could have pulled back and disengaged, but I let the emotion through. I wonder if making apparent that emotional load that I'd been hauling round since the IPCC report in 2018 could help get the message out the box and under the skin of those public-spirited people gathered remotely in the virtual town hall. Who knows? Glad that I've tried.

If you'd like to read the deputation, here's a link to paste in your browser:

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

 Day 5

I didn't sleep so well last night.  I woke up around 3am wondering how to respond if I was asked "What about China?"  I was due to do an interview on Radio Sussex breakfast show at 7:40 that morning.  So between then and getting up I worked up three coherent reasons why we shouldn't wait for China to act before we acted ourselves.  And all the other questions that I might be asked...

This was my first time on the radio.  The funny thing with an emergency is that you end up doing things you never thought you would be able to do.  A lot of what I do in Extinction Rebellion (XR) is in my comfort zone: making placards, setting up systems, giving tech help.  But there's a great big pile of things I wouldn't do unless I felt I had to: fasting for seven days, getting arrested and giving radio interviews amongst many others.  The same is true for an awful lot of people in XR.

It's this sense of an emergency that I'd like to see in the my local council (and the government).  Not that they should all get arrested for direct action (though that would be excellent) but they should recognise the climate and ecological emergency for the paramount issue of our time, the one that will make or break us, the one that our society may not survive.  Once they recognise it, I hope they will find the courage to think outside the box and to put aside differences.  To find themselves doing things they never thought they could do.

 Day 4

Someone knocked on the door early this morning and after rushing downstairs to answer it, I felt pretty weak and lightheaded.  That aside, physical problems have been minimal.  I just have to do things slowly or not do them.  Not much troubled by hunger, just missing my normal routine of meals and snacks.

Samba joined me today making a great big noise bouncing off the brutalist concrete of the town hall and resounding in the streets around.  And lovely people have turned up throughout the week to support my action.  It's made all the difference.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

 Day 3

Wet and blustery weather this morning created a Dad's Army kind of feel to today's action.  The placard kept blowing over and the visual impact of rebels dressing up as nurses was somewhat undermined by the fact they had so many jumpers and jackets under their borrowed blue tunics.  We had 24 calendar pages to stick up to mark the passing of days, but with only low-grade masking tape and a wet window to stick to, that didn't go so well.  In the end we shot a video of me leafing through the now damp and sticky pages in sub-Bob Dylan style.  At least the giant inflatable globe on the stretcher didn't blow off and bounce down the road.

It felt marvellous and ridiculous.  A bunch of sensibly clothed middle-aged ladies / heroic rebels on a wet winter Sunday putting their time and energy into art stunts to try to raise the profile of a global climate and ecological crisis.  

But, if not us, who?  If not today, when?  If not Brighton (and Hove), where? 

 Day 2

Food diary

Today I had warm water with vitamin C powder mixed in for breakfast.  Kind of tangy.  While I was outside the Town Hall, I had two cups of hot water from my flask.  Lunch was a little patch of salt licked from the palm of my hand - pretty intense in a good way, followed by some salty water with some potassium chloride added.  I then had an ultra weak black coffee (no sugar).  Back from my second stint outside the council, more hot salty water, and later some fruit tea from a second hand teabag with a pinch of magnesium sulfate.  A pinch of salt weighs about 0.3g or 300mg.  

Just looked up all the RDAs again and think I need to up the potassium.  It's not quite as nice to my taste as the sodium so I think I'll do a mixture.

Food is a massive part of my life usually.  I grow it, preserve it, cook it, buy it, eat it, wash it off the plates.  I ponder whether I eat to live or live to eat.  It's a pleasure in so many ways.  Cutting up veg is one of my favourite things to do.  Considering the shape of each potato and calculating where to make the cut, finding the best fit line of symmetry of a wonky homegrown carrot: these are my kind of flow states.

When you have enough, it's easy to take food for granted.  We're not used to real shortages, though Covid gave people a glimpse of these.  Climate breakdown is already leading to increasingly frequent crop failures  It only takes one extreme weather event, like a day of temperature beyond the range a crop has evolved for, to ruin a year's harvest.  Average temperature rises aren't so much the problem as the peaks. Crop failures are largely hidden by our global trading system, but there's only so much slack there.  I really don't want to see a future of mass starvation as crops fail across the world.  Even if I and my children and have enough to eat as the privileged ones, to live in such times would (will) be bleak.  I feel bound to do what I can to change the future we are headed to.

Friday, 11 December 2020

 Day 1

On the number 2 to Hove Town Hall I had a moment of considering how strange it feels for the future to become the present.  That feeling when a day finally arrives that has been long anticipated, hoped for or dreaded:  birthdays, surgeries or hunger strikes.

I've been arrested three times now during my last two years of activism.  It's beginning to feel a bit like going through the motions.  Time to try something new.

I struggle to express how I feel about the climate crisis.  How can something so big and bad be truly understood? It stands outside our experience.  Except perhaps in dystopian films and TV series: Mad Max, and the old BBC series The Survivors come to mind.  And those films where a comet is about to hit.  

But the thing that makes all this hardest to deal with is that people aren't running around panicking about the impending disaster.  It makes me feel like I'm a mad person. 

The normal world is hard to live in right now.  It's just too normal.  Even the covid version of normal, is just too normal.  Never mind all the talk of "getting back to normal".

A hunger strike isn't normal though.  It feels like something that is done in extremis.  I feel comfortable with it as it reflects my sense of our extreme vulnerability that is present in my thoughts of the future.  

Who knows if it will "make a difference"?  I've never had a head for political strategy.  To me it's about trying for integrity, to be a whole person with my thoughts and actions aligned.

So that's the end of Day 1.  Feeling tired, empty and ready for bed.  Looking forward to a day of low normality again tomorrow.