Update 25/4/21: the ‘Shell 7’ have been acquitted by jury, despite the judge stating ‘they have no defense in law’. This is a huge vindication of the strategy of the Shell 7 actions, which has resulted in significant press coverage and a proof of public support for activists who challenge governments’ and corporations’ inaction on the climate crisis -even to the extent of careful property damage.
When I watched my Rebel comrade Simon smash a window of the oil giant Shell HQ’s offices in London, I thought it was an act of tactical genius against one of the key driving forces behind the ongoing climate and ecological crisis.
Simon, along with six other committed activists, including Ian Bray, another XR co-founder, intended to cause at least £6000 worth of damage in order to get their case heard -and then hopefully acquitted, at the Crown Court in London. The first stage of their plan has worked -from tomorrow, April 12th 2021, the ‘Shell 7’ will appear at the Crown Court to start their ten day trial. If this trial gets enough media attention, and especially if the Shell 7 are acquitted, this could be a key nail amongst many in the coffin of this multinational which has willful deceit and complicity in murder, at the core of its policy and practice.
I watched the window smashing action on some news channel or other. I was involved in the initial Extinction Rebellion (XR) bridge blocks of November 2018 but for mental health reasons was not involved in the big London shutdown of April 2019. The destruction of property caused by the Shell 7 at such a symbolic location at the start of two weeks of peaceful Rebellion in London (resulting in over 1000 arrests) was a demonstration of tactical (although risky) brilliance. I reasoned that the wider more peaceful approach of XR -which had not generally so far involved smashing windows- would cushion with a halo this one more ‘aggressive’ action at Shell’s London HQ, giving a particular moral pertinence to it. In other words, the effectiveness of the Shell 7 action was co-creative with and relied upon the discipline of non-violence and even peacefulness displayed by thousands of XR activists during their taking of the London streets (as it turned out, on several occasions)…mass actions which involved no destruction of property. The recent smashing of a window of a branch of Barclay’s Bank by Gail Bradbrook, as part of the launch of XR’s Money Rebellion is a different tactical turn, in a different time and strategic context to the early days of XR, and much called for.
Recently I have been discussing with an American friend the difference between strategic and moral non-violence in mass social and political movements for change. My friend prefers the latter approach, from a Gandhian perspective. However with an action like that of the Shell 7, I would argue that moral and strategic non-violence are synthesised. The Shell action’s timing to kick off the April 2019 Rebellion in a passionate way, with that isolated display of ‘destruction’, was both strategically and symbolically appropriate (risking media and public backlash which turned out to be relatively minor). It was not completely non-violent by the Gandhian moral standard, but nevertheless it drew attention to the moral acceptability of the more peaceful two week rebellion that followed. The wish to cause £6000 plus worth of damage was an added tactical intent within the internal logic of the action itself, the tactical result of which is about to unfold.
Had the Shell action been performed in the middle or even at the end of the XR April 2019 Rebellion, I believe the impact in terms of media and public opinion could have been disastrous. To kick the Rebellion off, it turned out to be perfect. It is no accident that one of the Shell 7, Simon, was a key co-ordinator in the Actions and Logistics team of XR for the first mass actions in the UK.
More recently, I have been interviewing XR activists as well as other diverse ecological and social justice activists from around the world, doing my small part to help build a truly global movement of movements, platforming some of the diverse voices essential to such a movement.
One of my most pleasurable interviews, despite the poor internet connection, was with Lubem Gena, the media person for Extinction Rebellion Nigeria (yes, XR moves in Nigeria too).
The video below is Lubem observing one minute of silence for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other eight members of the ‘Ogoni Nine’ who were executed by the Nigerian government with the complicity of the Shell Corporation.
For the sake of the Ogoni Nine and a habitable planet for human beings and a continued diversity of other species, please, support the Shell Seven and follow their trial which begins tomorrow. Write about it, shout about it, do arrestable actions in support of it…please do whatever you can.