By Rosie M
Just thinking about creating disruption makes my chest feel a bit tight and my stomach fluttery. I do not like breaking the rules.
As a woman, I have been trained my whole life to move over on the footpath and let others past, to keep my bag on my lap on the bus so the seat next to me remains free, to be quiet, and not take up too much space. My upper middleclassness and whiteness have instilled me with an excessive commitment to being polite, not causing a fuss and doing what I’m told. Ideologically I don’t agree at all with these expectations and I manage to not comply with them often, but they are nonetheless very influential.
This past weekend, I was a marshall in the first bike swarm. The bike swarm is a light-hearted, minimally disruptive action which is not arresteable. On the non-violent direct action stakes, it’s as low key as you could possibly get. A group of us went on a leisurely ride around the city and took up both lanes of the road so any traffic was forced to follow at our gentle pace. We had music playing, rang our bells in silliness, there were many smiles and even adorable small children grooving to the music in their bike seats. Everyone seemed to have a great time.
And yet, the whole time, my body was practically yelling at me
“We should move over! We’re riding too slow! Someone might get angry!”
I had plenty of time to sit and notice these feelings as we cruised at what felt like walking speed. I thought to myself- “Wow. I have been well trained!”. I took deep breaths and reminded myself many times that everything was going to be fine and the discomfort would pass. And I concentrated on why we were there. Why I choose to move towards this discomfort, rather than away.
Yes- disruption will disrupt people. It will make people late to work. It will use police resources. It will make people uncomfortable and annoyed. And we will be told to get out of the way, move over, be quiet, stop creating a fuss. Many on the outside will not appreciate the meticulous care and consideration that goes into the organising of our actions and will describe us in all of the unoriginal, derogatory ways that people have been describing activists since there were activists to describe. These are the self-preservation tactics of the systems we are seeking to dismantle, also known as backlash. Sit down, be quiet and do what you’re told.
But being polite and compliant hasn’t worked. Negotiating reasonably and providing reliable scientific data hasn’t worked. It is undoubtedly valuable to be doing my recycling and composting at home and being conscious about what and how I consume, but that changes very little on a structural level. And we’re simply running out of time.
Any discomfort that I experience from participating in non-violent direct-action, including if I am arrested, pales in comparison to the discomfort of what probably lies ahead in a future where climate change is inadequately responded to. The discomfort of watching comforts I have taken for granted my whole life disappear one by one, of fearing that my children will die at a young age or that we won’t have enough food or water to survive, of rising fascism and violence and the threat of war. If there is any chance that my discomfort now might mitigate any pain, loss, despair, death and violence in the future, it is worth embracing.
As we recruit more rebels, upskill, escalate our disruption, I have no doubt that I will continue to feel uncomfortable and so will others. So, I will just have to befriend discomfort. I will cultivate my courage like a seedling, fertilising it with a compost of my fears about the future and watering it with the courage of other rebels. I’ll remember to breath. And trust in the love and outrage of the rebels alongside me and all over the world.