Activist Diary #4: Out on a limb

A few days ago I returned from a short trip to the wild west of Cornwall, where I had given two talks on Extinction Rebellion, the activist campaign run by Rising Up! of which I am a member.

Talking first at Penzance, and then at Porthtowan, I was really out on a limb, geographically and psychologically. I had never given the talk alone, and had only once before delivered it (with a co-activist).

It turned out that the whole two-day experience was productive but intensely draining, including a fair degree of psychological exposure and vulnerability, and some criticism absorbed because I wasn’t robust or clear in my thinking enough to rebut it. Criticism that would not have been forthcoming, I feel, if I had been better prepared.

Knowing something of the workings of my mind and the human unconscious in general, even as I was going through the whole experience I understood that I had engineered the situation to be a difficult one for myself, as a toughening experience on the extreme western edge of the UK to prepare me for the campaign ahead.

Even before the first talk which I gave in The Lugger Inn in Penzance, I walked right to the far edge of the beach, away from the shops, and literally ran across the boulders piled up there. Slipping could mean a serious injury or worse, but at the time it was imperative to maintain the highly strung mind-state that I had cultivated for that first talk.

Sat on the far edge of the boulders, I delighted in the company of juvenile gulls and cormorants, and practised the talk a little, reading to a brick wall.

Thankfully the audience at The Lugger turned out to be much more engaging than the wall, but they had a toughness to them; perhaps it was their Cornishness. I knew my talk was successful when a few people walked out during the early minutes of the second half of the talk. They hadn’t disagreed with the science of catastrophic climate breakdown, but when I started talking about the necessary solution of direct action to force governments to enter war-time level mobilisation, to reduce carbon emissions to zero within just a few years, in heated frustration they claimed ‘it can’t be done!’

I was glad to get the sign-ups for the campaign at the end of the talk.

The second night didn’t go so well. I was over-tired, and didn’t manage to give the audience much eye contact. I think this led to a lack of trust, which contributed to the break down of the talk before the end, with interruptions turning into a discussion at the wrong moment i.e. before I had a chance to fully explain myself. I got no sign-ups this second night, but at least we were all in agreement that ‘something needs to be done, and soon’. (I can still maximise the Facebook interest that this event generated).

Getting a lift back to Redruth from the venue with the owner of the Vegan Cornish Pasty Company and her partner, was the highlight.

The Cornish experience overall reminded me that Extinction Rebellion and the science and principles behind it, occupy the extreme edge of intellectual thought in this country, even though our contention is that they should occupy the mainstream of intellectual thought, such is the climate breakdown emergency that we are currently facing.

I was also reminded of the human need or drive to express underlying emotions and preoccupations in unconscious behaviours, which can become more conscious if we let them. Personally, I am becoming increasingly aware of a momentum inside me that wishes to act out the extreme, the wild edge of thought and emotion and behaviour. This need to act out the extreme is a reflection of the generally unexpressed urgency of climate breakdown that I see in the denial of the eyes of the people that surround me.

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