I came to London eight days ago with a reading ready for the XR Writers event in Trafalgar Square on Friday night, but that afternoon, while blockading the BBC, I decided to scribble down something else. I could have refined it, added, tightened, but it has a certain rawness, I think, which may give some sense of what the past week has been like:
When I was handcuffed in the police van on Wednesday morning, having spent nine freezing hours lying out in the middle of a junction, locked to a man who is now and will always be my friend, being subjected to what little torture, thankfully, is more or less permissible in the UK – ceaseless questions, kicks, abuse, torches held in front of our eyes, for hour after hour after hour. When we were in the van, crossing Westminster Bridge, with London alight in the first of the dawn, on the police radio a discussion struck up: how were they to deal with 100 protestors who were coming to parliament to present 100 trees to 100 MPs – including Ed Miliband, as for some reason they emphasised ceaselessly – who were coming out in an expression of solidarity.
It was my son’s 10th birthday, and I wasn’t with him. In fact, I was arrested at the exact time he was born.
The woman in front of me in the van, who had just endured the same nine hours, locked to a suitcase filled with concrete, which, as it happens, I had helped to build, at the talk of the trees and of the MPs, her eyes filled with tears and, let’s be honest, mine did too.
The madness of this situation. That we should be forced to break the law just to make our government, our representatives, listen. But the fact as well that they are listening – or starting to – because they must. Because we are right. We are right like the sun is bright. There are no shades at all.
So. What are we to do, as writers?
Climate change, ecological breakdown, the inevitability – if we keep this course – of societal and economic collapse. These are the truth. And if, as writers, we are to write truthfully, they must be fundamental to our work.
But, let’s be clear, these are symptoms. They are not cause.
And it is not for writers, in their fiction, to serve a movement – not even this. That is to say, it is not for us to go into our work knowing in advance what that work will say. Do that, as Alan Garner says, and “literature is lost”. It is not for us to blame. It is not for us to promote. It is for us to understand: why and how we have arrived here, how we have become so out of balance – above all, perhaps, with ourselves.
But, first of all, this is an emergency. Climate change is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced. Extinction Rebellion, the school climate strikes – these are, by definition, the greatest, the most important movement in history. I say this without the slightest hesitation.
So, really, I have only one thing to say. If you are to write, you must first survive. If you are scared or equivocal. If you don’t feel ready to put your head above the parapet. Put these things aside.
Get on the streets. Join the Rebellion. The need to act could not be more urgent.
Please. For all of us. Do it now.