Thursday 17 October 2019

Extinction Rebellion: Seven myths about the group busted after a night in the Dublin rebel camp

Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Caroline O'Doherty

Inside the rebel camp, the myths that swirled around outside disappeared faster than a Government minister hearing a samba drum.

Myth number one: the movement is full of people who missed out on being the hip young things of the students' strikes so they're being hippy old things instead.

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In fact, the Extinction Rebellion campers in Merrion Square ranged in age from 19 to 'not telling you but I may be receiving the old age pension'.

Myth two: they need to get jobs.

They mainly have jobs, or are in full-time education, or both.

They're teachers, engineers, therapists, doctors, artists, entrepreneurs and active retirees. They've taken annual leave, like others do for the Galway Races or Christmas shopping in New York.

Protest: An activist waves an Extinction Rebellion flag outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Protest: An activist waves an Extinction Rebellion flag outside Government Buildings in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Myth three: they're funded by some secret benefactor with murky intent.

A Gofundme account is as elaborate a financial scheme as they've got. They've begged and borrowed equipment and expertise and otherwise paid their own way. Like others pay for tickets to Ballybrit or JFK.

Myth four: They don't have popular support.

Dublin City Council gave them a week's residency on Merrion Square South and round-the-clock use of the park. That's more than the St Patrick's Festival gets.

Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Mark Condren
Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Mark Condren

Local businesses allowed them use of toilets, producers sent food, passers-by brought toilet rolls, others washed their tea towels and for every social media warrior who poured out online outrage, there was a real-life observer who honked a horn, applauded or silently sucked up the inconvenience for the greater good.

Myth five: They're awash with home brew and hash.

They run a strict no drink or drugs policy. The camp, its meticulous organisation, packed roster and overarching need to keep on message could not work otherwise. That's unfortunate to some extent because of:

Myth six: You don't feel the cold when you're warmed by the camaraderie of folk heated by passion for a cause.

Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Cold is cold. At 4am on an October night with the rain lashing down and a howling wind harassing a flimsy tent, it's even colder.

Thursday night in the camp was particularly cold, perhaps because of the events that preceded it.

Up to then, the week was relentlessly good-humoured. Volunteers waved cheerily from aboard a pink sailboat that belonged to a businessman who put it up for sale but gave it away for free when he heard what it was wanted for.

Protesters marched to the beat of samba drums, not war drums; passers-by were called to, not yelled at, road blockages were brief and the Garda attitude around latitude for the rebels - and the co-operation they received in return - was straight out of the guide to how not to repeat Jobstown.

There were a few concerns. The march through Penneys on Wednesday, highlighting the wastefulness and carbon intensity of fast fashion, left mixed feelings in the camp, with concerns that using a loudhailer in a confined space left shoppers feeling targeted, which was not the aim.

Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Rallying: Extinction Rebellion climate activists protest at Government Buildings. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

That's what the daily 10am meeting (after 9am communal singing in the yurt) was for - reviewing the previous day, planning the day ahead and working towards consensus on all.

On Friday morning, there was much to review after the arrest of five rebels who locked themselves to the back gates of Leinster House using bicycle locks around their necks.

Camp members were invited to declare themselves 'arrestables' if they were prepared to defy the law but up to Thursday night, none was called upon to do so.

Activists ‘locked on’ at the gates of Leinster House. Photo: Mark Condren
Activists ‘locked on’ at the gates of Leinster House. Photo: Mark Condren

The first couple of hours of the lock-on were as good-natured as any other event. Gardaí kept watch and engaged with the rebels' appointed liaison officer while other rebels acted as 'de-escalation first responders', empowered to step in and calm anyone who might get over-excited.

Boxes of Roses were shared out, banter was exchanged, a Garda bopped his head in time to Perry Como singing 'Magic Moments' on the sailboat's sound system.

Inside, around 20 TDs and some civil servants were waiting to get their cars out. Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan gave up waiting and left on foot.

"I have to go to the dentist in the morning. That's why I wanted my car out. I don't like going to the dentist so I didn't want to give myself any excuse," he explained.

Views on dentists established, how did he feel about Extinction Rebellion?

"I was in jail for protesting once - the farmers' protests in the sixties," he said. "I always believe, when you protest, you must make your point and leave. You must be careful not to endanger your cause by being a nuisance because all that people will remember about you is the nuisance."

Art O'Laoghaire, Sean Daly Cearney, Ronan O'Dalaigh, Claire Brennan and Rowan Golden were regarded as more than nuisances by gardaí who said they were a safety risk if the gates had to be opened in an emergency.

After almost four hours, and numerous chances to 'self-release', a large body of gardaí locked arms to surround them while members of the Garda Protest Removal Team spent an hour and a quarter cutting through the locks one by one.

The five were placed under arrest and carried to waiting vans before being taken individually to Kevin Street garda station where they were released without charge after about a hour.

Charges may follow but veterinary student Claire (19) and archaeologist turned photographer Rowan (24) were among the first back at the camp the next morning, ready to take what comes.

"No regrets," said Rowan. "Me neither," Claire agreed. "It's not enough to say you're worried about climate and biodiversity, you have to act on it."

At the meeting, the concern was how the public would react to what happened. Given the mass arrests at Extinction Rebellion events in the UK, what happened at Leinster House was minor, but it was an indication that rebels are prepared to step up their action and that gardaí are prepared to clamp down on it.

What that means for future rebellions, and the movement's desire to bring all of the public along with them, will be considered in cross-country online and in-person debriefings for weeks to come. Which brings us to:

Myth seven: they've had their fun and will run off to join the next passing fad.

Don't bank on it.

Irish Independent

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