Community Ecology Practice Spirituality Urban

XR Buddhists

This Friday I went along to XR’s “The Big One”. I thought I’d attach myself to a faction and, because I’ve taken refuge, the natural fit was with the XR Buddhists. I joined their Telegram group and immediately found myself volunteering to help out. Our leader Joseph Mishan asked me to collect an UNFUCK THE SYSTEM banner from Main Stage at Great College Street (where later I passed Brian Eno) and bring it to the group at Little Sanctuary on the corner of Parliament Square where they were camped.

None of us could find the banner on any of the vans which streamed in loaded with awnings, stage blocks, drums, flags, sand bags, sculptures and PAs. This event is huge operation logistically and the organisation complicated. A quite important-seeming guy Jamie and a woman Poppy combed through a spreadsheet on a laptop which was flecked with raindrops trying to identify where it might be. When I started sensing I was making a nuisance of myself I beat a retreat. Joseph reassured me that it wasn’t essential.

Joseph Mishan.

Behind The Supreme Court Joseph led a couple of meditation exercises. He instructed us to partner up and share our feelings about climate change. A very sweet lady Shirley and I took turns to run over our fears and hopes. Then we bannered up and headed off in twin-file to Tufton Street.

On this walk I joined up with a lady called Liz who, travelling from Bournemouth, had dropped her dog with a friend in the west country, and spent a night with her daughter in East London. No small feat of organisation itself. There wasn’t the slightest indication that these were the entitled bourgeoisie that the movement’s critics allege. I was the only posh person I encountered. Hello me.

After a pitstop at St John’s Square our division sat peacefully in Sukhasana on the wet road outside Tufton Strett. Joseph asked me if I would be able instead to stand with my “eyes of the world” banner near the podium and so I gladly obliged.

55 Tufton Street is significant to XR because it is the home of the Global Warming Policy Foundation which we were informed seeks to undermine the scientific consensus around the climate emergency.

Joseph gave a great and succinct speech reading from the group’s DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE. I especially like how this statement uses the philosophical and scientific insight at the heart of Buddhism, the principle of Pratītyasamutpāda or “dependent origination”:

The climate emergency brings both the most terrible of possibilities and the most transformational. The possibility of mass extinction of life on this planet is forcing upon us a truth long forgotten by the so-called developed world: that all things are connected. We have lived too long in a delusion of separation, disconnected from our true selves and the astonishing grace and beauty of human and non-human animals, plants, rivers and mountains with which we share our world.

Looking right and left along Tufton Street revealed that there was a healthy-sized crowd of us.

After Joseph had finished and the XR Buddhists had had their platform, a woman (whose name I didn’t catch) took the mic and discussed the work of the GWPF and the significance of targeting them. To break up her thorough history of the group she set up a call-and-response in which she would name a person involved and the crowd would call out “Tell the Truth”.

I had a curious sensation of déjà vu when she called out “Jacob Rees-Mogg” whose room was across the street from mine at school. People would often burst into my room and throw wet loo-roll out of the window at Jacob as he walked in the alleyway between our houses holding his umbrella. Always holding an umbrella I remember, thinking of it now it must have been as much to look the part as for self-protection. Even then he was a figure of intense dislike. I thought Jacob was extremely eccentric to a bizarre degree, but I never thought to hurl anything at him. In truth I found him quite enchanting as one might do a very peculiar animal. Although I am 100% behind the science, I don’t expect Rees-Mogg thinks he is lying, so it was odd to be asking him to tell the truth…

It’s that same familiar dynamic from the culture wars of sticking pins in people, of either side of the divide shaming and belittling the other. “You’re a bad person!”, “No you!” It can only serve to harden the subject’s incorrect beliefs. It’s very easy to get caught up with it, of taking sides oneself. For instance, for many years I found myself (naively) as an apologist for David Cameron. I sincerely believed he was a reconstructed type! This was due in many respects to being worn down by the unremitting focus on Old Etonians in the media. Every time the Labour Party wheeled it out my heart would sink. What about those titans Shelley, Huxley and Orwell? And when it comes to the environment in particular which one of us is blameless? Although I appreciate the value of XR that’s why I’m probably more at peace with taking whatever personal measures seem constructive, and why in particular I feel the XR Buddhists are on the right track. Dharma innit.

After Tufton Street I wandered round the corner to the DEFRA building.

Before resuming my day as a gratefully insignificant person. Phew.