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‘We will continue to rebel against our government until our demands are met’: XR York co-coordinator speaks out after being arrested

‘Even some of the police in the station were encouraging me and saying that we need to keep going, which was quite the surprise!’

Merry Dickinson, along with Mark Matthews, is one of the co-coordinators of Extinction Rebellion York and one of YUSU's Environment and Ethics officers for the next academic year.

They have recently been taking part in "International Rebellion;" the climate change protests that have been taking place in London for the past week.

This follows action which has taken place in York, such as the "mass die-in" and climate change protests in the city centre.

Merry explained to The Tab that
, "International Rebellion is two weeks of non violent direct action and civil disobedience, happening all around the world. In the U.K. this is a continuation of when we declared rebellion against the government on the 31st of October last year, with rebellion days following in November. The government is failing to do its job, to protect its citizens, through its wilful disregard of the climate emergency that we are living in. This rebellion will continue we are heard and our government is doing everything within its power to avert climate catastrophe.

We believe that we have to engage in this form of action as for decades people have tried the traditional forms of organising and yet there is still a lack of meaningful action. I can’t count how many letters have been sent, petitions signed, marches attended, conferences held and treaties signed about climate breakdown.

Yet we continue to pursue profit over life itself, seen through things like extractive industries, and the fact that emissions are still rising.

People are already suffering and dying from the impacts of climate breakdown, and this is only going to get worse in the near future. If we do not act now, we literally face civilisational and ecosystem collapse.

Therefore we, particularly those of us in the West who have the privilege of taking such action without risking our lives unlike many of those on the frontline communities, have a duty to do everything within our power to avert the worst impacts of climate breakdown. Civil disobedience is one tactic among many, but is vital for putting pressure on governments and corporations that wouldn’t be possible through traditional methods of organising.

Those with power have refused to take meaningful climate action for decades, and now it’s up to us to make them act for the sake of life itself. "

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Merry also told The Tab what she believes the next steps to be and how she and Mark will carry them out in their roles as XR York co-coordinators and YUSU E&E officers.

"In XRY we will continue to push for radical climate action in the city of York. Recently, the Council passed a motion declaring a climate emergency and committing to going carbon neutral by 2030. We intend to hold them to account to this. This includes full divestment from fossil fuels (looking at you pension fund and West Yorkshire Combined Authority), and pushing for change on a wider Yorkshire basis. And of course we will continue to be involved in national XR, and we will continue to rebel against our government until our three demands are met.

As newly elected co-E+E YUSU officers Mark and I intend to escalate our campaigns to make the uni take radical climate action. This begins by pushing for the uni to officially recognise that we are living in a climate emergency, and integrate this into all their policies and their courses as we believe all students have a right to be aware of the severity of climate breakdown. Part of declaring a climate emergency means that the uni must fully divest from fossil fuels, including indirect divestments! The traditional routes of calling for divestment have been exhausted, thus we plan to escalate the campaign through forms of direct action until the uni prioritises it’s students futures over profit. Another key point for us is drawing attention to the inseparability of climate and social justice, and mobilising students to engage in activism.

[We also must] Keep rebelling! Movement building! Escalating! The rebellion will be taken to cities all around the U.K., and the world, and we will not stop until the government hears us and our demands.

Merry was one of a number of protesters who was arrested during the climate change protests and she told The Tab about her experience.

"Honestly, I was quite prepared for it as I went into the situation knowing that they were arresting large amounts of people. As I was being carried away there was a guy walking next to me singing one of my favourite protest songs (yes I’m that lame), and everyone still on the road was cheering and shouting encouragement. So I was singing along to that and hearing all the love of some of the most inspiring people I have met made me feel proud to be part of holding the bridge and allowing this rebellion to continue. There is an element of fear as you don’t know exactly what to expect, but I knew that I had prepared for it, had a solicitor to contact and knew my rights which helps make it less intimidating.

I think the biggest thing in my head though was that I was doing this for the right reasons, and that this small cost to my liberty for a short amount of time is tiny compared to the daily struggles of those on frontline communities who risk their lives on a daily basis. Not only that, the lives of all of those lost and devastated by climate breakdown, was in the forefront of my mind, particularly as those people are the ones least responsible for climate breakdown and yet suffer the most. I fully believe that we in a position of privilege have a duty to use that, and to engaging in arrestable actions is part of that."

When asked how the public perceives XR, Merry said, "I think the public perception depends a lot who you talk to! I know that many people are upset by the disruption that we have caused, and the last thing any of us in XR want to do is bring unnecessary suffering to ordinary working people. Although of course that disruption is minimal compared to the consequences of not acting to prevent climate catastrophe.

That being said, when on actions the overwhelming amount of public responses of those of solidarity and gratitude (particularly cyclists, who seem to be really enjoying the car free roads!). The large majority of people I speak to, once aware of the severity of the climate crisis, are extremely supportive and believe that it’s necessary. Even some of the police in the station were encouraging me and saying that we need to keep going, which was quite the surprise!"