To resist is democratic

Democracy is a precious, and essential part of our society. Our leadership must always be accountable to the people, and if they are not, we risk oppression. We are, without a doubt, lucky to live in a liberal representational democracy, and when the time comes to vote, we should. So why then, are people acting politically, with civil resistance, outside of this mechanism?

Over the last twelve months, thousands of people in the UK have engaged in peaceful resistance, and over a hundred (and counting) have been imprisoned. It’s not just in this country, in Canada ‘Save Old Growth’ are blocking motorways demanding no more felling of ancient trees. In France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Norway, the USA and Australia, ordinary people are resisting, disrupting transport and cultural activities – demanding that their states act to protect, not destroy, life. 

They are ordinary people – coming together and acting out of love as much as fear and grief. Engaging in civil resistance, and defying a state, that while democraticly elected, has proved deeply harmful. There’s no denying this harm – while the International Energy Agency has made it clear we can have no more new oil and gas development, the UK Government is ready to approve new oil fields and issue new exploration licenses, a death sentence for millions.

Our politicians say they are ‘committed to reaching net zero’. What they are actually committed to is kicking the can down the road and round the corner. Gambling on unproven or non-existent technology to reverse our dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Instead of taking action, they’re making the problem worse for another 30 years, literally pouring fuel on the fire. The UK is the home of BP and Shell who are making eye-watering profits, and enjoying tax breaks to destroy life – because “pensions”, because “jobs”, because “economic growth”.

A stable climate is not a competing policy demand to be set against pensions, transport, or public sector funding. One provides the basis for everything else, there simply isn’t a contest. Our predicament is almost comically simple – either we stop the destruction of the global systems that enable ordered civil society to work or we lose everything we value, our traditions, our cherished landscapes and, crucially, democracy. There are no free and fair elections on a burning earth. 

In 2019 the MoD published a report outlining what is coming if we don’t immediately reduce carbon emissions – “increased conflict over diminishing natural resources”. That’s code for war. War over food and water – and we know what war looks like, flattened cities, dictator warlords, child traffickers waiting on borders, tortured grandfathers – it’s being documented once again in Europe.

So what has happened in the UK to protect against this future? Traffic on the M25 has been disrupted, London bridges closed, oil terminals have been blockaded and occupied, football matches interrupted. Inept radio hosts have sparked viral memes about growing concrete and inspired themed stag nights. Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, XR and Stop HS2 have been painted on both the Left and Right as an eco-mob, eco-fascists, as selfish, naive and childish. But perhaps the most damaging criticism is that they are anti-democratic. 

It’s as if every right and freedom we enjoy has been handed to us by a benign government. As if the Suffragettes never smashed windows, as if the race riots never happened, as if Stonewall simply wrote letters, as if those demanding disability rights didn’t chain themselves to railings and buses, as if the poll tax was scrapped due to reasonable debate and discussion or waiting politely for a chance to vote. Change requires citizens to stand up and resist harmful governments, it is part of democracy.

Resistance has nothing to do with “protest”. Protest is when you express your disapproval. You do not express disapproval when murderous governments engage in an act condemning the world to go over 1.5C in the 2030s – a death sentence for small island states and millions in the global south.  Pakistan today demonstrates what we face – 33 million people impacted by floods and agriculture decimated.

We know what to do. It’s what the Suffragettes did, it’s what the Civil Rights movements did, it’s what everyone does when the inalienable right to life and a livelihood are violated. We engage in non-violent civil resistance.

What we must do now is block and disable the cogs of the machine. This is not a “tactic” – it is an act of self respect, an act of solidarity, an act of love and necessity. 

We must resist now or we will look back with longing at all we have lost. The last 250 years of sacrifice and tears expended by generations to create decent societies is about to be snuffed out in the blink of an eye. The word betrayal does not cover the reality of what is going on. All our traditions, all our values, all that we claim to stand for is about to be lost.

It’s not about winning. It’s about doing what has to be done. Those who fought fascism in the 20th century, those who are fighting the oil companies across the global south, those fighting the Russians in Ukraine, they act because they know someone has to stand up. 

The next generations are watching us. Can you feel the weight of billions of children yet to take their first breath? They are saying “Are you mad? Get out there, and stop this – or you condemn us forever”.