None of us were born for this

After the Russian invasion in February, the Armed Forces of Ukraine posted a video showing the humanity of the soldiers fighting for their freedom.

The video shows soldiers in action, captioned with who they really are, in the peaceful, everyday life they should be living: ‘I’m a bus driver’; ‘I’m a younger brother’; ‘I’m a geology student’; even ‘I’m the neighbour who bangs on the radiator’!

The final line in the video says: ‘None of us were born for war. But we are all here to protect our freedom’.

The video is saying that these people aren’t a special elite removed from everyday life. We’re reminded that defending freedom doesn’t tear us away from our real human selves. In fact, the opposite: it’s what keeps us truly human. 

This is exactly why Just Stop Oil doesn’t describe supporters as activists. The term ‘activist’ is to civil resistance what ‘soldier’ is to war: a specialist, niche identity that acts as a metaphorical ‘uniform’, creating barriers and separation.

Ordinary Ukrainians weren’t born for the battlefield. But history has called them there. When their freedom, their very existence, is at stake, what else can they do but defend themselves? 

And in the context of the climate crisis – a war on the whole of humanity – the same applies. No-one was born to climb a gantry over cars hurtling along a motorway. No-one was born to be led away to a cell, with no idea when they’ll see their loved ones again. No-one was born to be insulted and yelled at as they cry out the truth in the serenity of an art gallery. 

But like the soldiers fighting for their freedom in Ukraine, these supporters are answering the call of history. And these times – dragging us all towards unfathomable chaos, destruction and death – call us to bring our everyday selves into new ways of being and acting. 

To answer the call, you don’t have to become an activist. You don’t have to leave behind your job or family responsibilities to take on a radical fringe identity. You’re still you: a loving mum, taxi driver, best friend. But you’re the bigger, braver ‘you’ our devastating times demand: a you who’s defending our freedom, protecting what we love, acting to stop it all being burned to ashes. 

We can’t choose the time we are born into. But we can look at it clearly and choose how to respond. And the reality is this: we are being marched towards a catastrophe that will destroy everything that supports peaceful, ordinary human life: the rule of law,  food security, health provision, safe housing.  A catastrophe that is already burning, flooding and starving peaceful communities across the Global South. And we’re being abandoned by the institutions who are supposed to protect us, to ensure our basic needs are met and that the rule of law can work

These institutions, from our own government to international bodies like COP, are falling apart at the seams. We can’t rely on them to save us when they are rotten to the core. In the face of the biggest crisis humanity has ever known, all they’ve done is licence more oil and gas, expand airports, pump more carbon into the atmosphere. For our ‘leaders’, it seems disaster can’t come quickly enough. 

So it’s down to us. The business owners, the nurses, the annoying neighbours, the computer programmers, the cleaners. The introverts, the extroverts, the Tory voters, the Labour voters, the doctors and the patients, the teachers and the students. All of us.

The media will keep on calling Just Stop Oil supporters ‘activists’. They want to paint supporters as a closed, underground cult: worlds away from the ordinary people whose lives are being ‘disrupted’: the mums who can’t get their kids to school on time; the job seeker who can’t get to an interview.

But that mum, that job-seeker – they are up there on the gantry too. The separation – between activist and ‘real human being’ – is a media fiction, designed to make Just Stop Oil look as weird, fanatical and ‘other’ as possible. 

To go back to the video of the Ukrainian best friends, students and taxi drivers on the battlefield, answering the call of history, one message stands out loud and clear in the face of this fiction:

None of us were born for this. But we are all here to protect our freedom.