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We Are the Asteroid, We Are the Dinosaurs

By Susana Medina and Roc Sandford.

PAOLOZZI RENDEZVOUSING

‘Would you like some cider, Susana?’ ‘Yes, please! … … Roc, can you do all the talking? I’ve been editing all day … and I’m a bit …’ … ‘Unfocused?’ … ‘Yep.’

File name: edit 2 20190606 Susana Roc 1 18-00-34

Roc: So, Susana.

Susana: Are you going to ask me a question? That’s cheating!

Roc: Well, that’s normal for interviews!

Susana: All right. Okay. No, I thought you speak first as in you say — whatever. Okay. You can ask me a question.

Roc: So, when I saw you, I think at the Finneganight, you were wearing a skirt with a beautiful symbol embroidered on it. Can you tell me about that symbol?

Susana: Well, it’s the Extinction Rebellion symbol. It’s a stylized hourglass, time running out, inside a circle, which represents the planet … Borges often mentions the hourglass in his writing … And that colourful skirt has two big circles, and I just took it to Waterloo Bridge and had the Extinction Rebellion symbol block-printed. I like the idea of becoming the message. Extinction Rebellion’s Arts Factory is great with all these stalls with block-printing of XR symbols. Most people who come across them want to become the message! But the hourglass is — I like it as an object. It’s the perfect symbol!

Roc: The hourglass also looks a little like the pictures of women they put on ladies’ toilets. They have someone wearing a skirt which is like the bottom bit of the hourglass, and the torso is the top.

Susana: You know what it also looks like? Like the Midland Bank’s symbol, but vertical.

Roc: Interesting. Yeah. I’ve noticed it looks like Spiderman. If you turn it on the side, it looks like Spiderman’s face.

Susana: I read an interview with ESP, the guy who designed it, and it seems like he approached different ecological NGOs to see whether they would be interested, and they said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘It wasn’t an interesting symbol,’ which amazes me because I just think it really works.

Roc: It’s very powerful.

Susana: And he and an artist did a mosaic with the symbol to begin with.

Roc: I wonder where that is.

Susana: It exists. It’s a tangible thing.

Roc: It might be where the great icons of Extinction Rebellion are. The pink boat. And the truck.

Susana: Where’s the boat?

Roc: And where is the truck?

Susana: Where’s the boat?

Roc: I don’t know. But I don’t know where the mosaic is either. And maybe they’re all in the same place. Extinction Rebellion never-never-land?

Susana: Extinction Rebellion heaven! … I might be wrong because I’m thinking of Paolozzi and mosaics in the Tube, but when I saw it, it reminded me of him, because of geometry, abstraction and the fact that it’s a mosaic. So, I associate the XR symbol mosaic with the Tube. I think it’s somewhere in East London … Tower Hamlets, maybe.

Roc: I have a Paolozzi that he made for me.

Susana: You what?

[… …]

Day 4 of Extinction Rebellion: Oxford Circus. Pic by Valadimir Morozov.

Roc: Susana, I wanted to ask you about what happened to you during the rebellion. Because I think that’s very interesting.

Susana: Do you want to answer that question first?

Roc: What me? What happened to me?

Susana: Yeah!

Roc: Okay. Lots of different things happened, maybe it’s hard to talk about, but lots of different things happened to me. And I had some amazing times! The ones that spring to mind are on Parliament Square. Two nights in a row the police overcame Parliament Square. The first night we were down to about six people lying in the road, and hundreds of police, it seemed like hundreds and hundreds. And we were finished. And suddenly more people started coming and there were seven people and eight people and nine people and ten people. It was amazing. And then there was the sound of the samba band, this incredibly loud drumming. Unbelievable, that sort of shook your whole body and your brain inside your skull. And the samba arrived which was maybe a hundred people and maybe there were another hundred people with them and just the force of the noise and the rhythm and the band just swept away the police as if they were like nothing. Rhythm trumped force. And the square was taken back by Extinction Rebellion. It was so moving!

I thought that was just amazing and I was very worried just for a moment because the momentum with which the samba band arrived and swept away the police didn’t stop there, and the samba overshot and went out onto Westminster Bridge. And I could see that they might suck back the police in their wake, back into the square. And it was beginning to happen. So, I was worried that we would lose it again, but actually then the band washed back.

So that was the first night, which I think was the Wednesday night, and then on the Thursday night the same thing happened but with even more police. So many police that I just didn’t think there were so many police. It was like there was hardly any space for all the police to be. Because they were just packed. And again, they came back into the square and started taking people away and taking down the barricades and I’ll tell you what happened, it’s interesting. I’d been on Parliament Square earlier in the day and the Rebel Rider cyclists went by and I didn’t have any particular role then on Parliament Square, and nothing was happening there, it was all quiet, so I just got on my bicycle and went with the Rebel Rider cyclists.

Susana: When was that?

Roc: That was on Thursday evening, I think; on the first Thursday of the Easter Rebellion. So, I went with them and we went past Buckingham Palace. As we passed the palace and my neighbouring cyclist gestured angrily at it, I set out the hidden purpose of a constitutional monarchy — which is to have that dangerous role of head of state already occupied by an un-legitimated nonentity, and therefore unavailable to a Trump or a Maduro. However, my neighbour cycled off looking alarmed before I could finish. And so, we ended up outside the BBC. But then I got a message over my comms saying Parliament Square was under attack by the police. So, I immediately started shouting to the Rebel Rider cyclists at the BBC, ‘Quick, quick, come to Parliament Square because we need help.’ But they were making so much noise that nobody could hear me, and I was making gestures which they couldn’t understand. So, in the end I left them at the BBC and went alone to Parliament Square, feeling thwarted and beaten. But on the way, to my joy, I saw the samba band at Piccadilly Circus. And again, I tried to get them to come to Parliament Square. ‘Quick, quick, come to Parliament Square, we are going to lose it!’ But they were making so much noise that, again, they couldn’t hear me, and couldn’t understand the gestures I was making. So the same thing happened, and I went to Parliament Square and I’ve just never seen so many police, it was completely unbelievable. And they were taking everyone…

Susana: Were you fearful? Were you feeling anxious?

Roc: I got in a very interesting state there of almost jubilation and I think a sort of primate thing came over me where I was behaving very like a monkey, like I had my arms up and I was making a lot of whooping and chattering noises and I was sort of dancing around sideways between police creatures, on two bent legs, my knees opened wide, like monkeys do, and it was almost like my feet were hands. It was very interesting … The square was gonna fall. It was falling.

Susana: Parliament Square, I was there at some point when you needed to be there, so I went there, and it was like not that many people, and the samba band came in to kind of save the day. So, hope was always in the air. I was always trying to share messages from Twitter, Facebook, telling rebels where they were needed. But there weren’t that many police when I was there, so your experience is more like: ‘This is really critical!’

Roc: It varied a lot, the police, yeah. So again, we were down to the last few people on Parliament Square when the Rebel Rider cyclists came, and the cyclists started circling round the square and making it very hard for the police to operate because there were all these bicycles going by. Round and round, like a mesmerising bicycle wheel. But it wasn’t enough. And then a policeman grabbed me because I am dancing like a chimp through all the police creatures, dressed in their ‘gilets jaunes’ as if they were just a harmless yellow mist, and I was much too fast to grab but eventually I got grabbed by a policeman. So, I just talked to the policeman for a long time and made the conversation really captivating, so he got completely distracted and would forget to arrest me or anyone else. It’s all on film on his chest-mounted video camera and I’d love to see that. But in the end, after a rather long and interesting conversation, he suddenly came to himself and said I had to go away from the square or be locked up right now and, I didn’t want to be locked up right now, so I went away from the square. But then just as I went away, I heard the thudding sound of drumming! So I knew the samba band had come, and hoped that the same thing would happen as the night before. That again it would be saved from the police. And it was! So that was two nights of amazing experiences on Parliament Square.

Tell me your most amazing experiences.

Susana: I’d say it was the overall experience. The Rebellion embodied the crystallization of a new type of consciousness I thought would mark the new millennium. I knew it was there. But it was only during the Rebellion that I saw it crystallised. On Waterloo Bridge, I had a glimpse of Utopia. The energy was extraordinary. I loved the trees we took there, the plants, all the colour, life and I loved seeing the variety of Extinction Rebellion flags waving high in the air. In the future, there will be a blue plaque at Waterloo Bridge commemorating the Rebellion. It was there that I really felt that there was a kind of high form of collective intelligence taking over. I felt that very strongly there, being part of all those beautiful and empathetic people sharing and cooperating with everything. There were rebels from all over the UK. The loveliest people, all gathered in one point in space. We all felt truly useful. It was a profound shared experience … The well-being area was such a clever idea, and it was heartening that the church had opened its doors to us, so we could store things there, or just chill out. It was also great when we were messaging late at night, because the stage-truck was surrounded by police, and from my end, all seemed lost, and you were there, liaising with the police, and reassured me we’ll be there the following day, and then, the bridge wasn’t taken that night. I felt truly elated coming back to the bridge in the morning. It was also the most crowded day.

Also, I was pleased to start the Rebellion as a writer, by reading at different sites. I felt honoured to read ‘Dear Angelus Novus’ in the extravagant TELL THE TRUTH pink boat, which blocked the traffic in Oxford Circus for over a week. I felt honoured to be part of a historic event. The April Rebellion was a historic event. The TELL THE TRUTH pink boat was dedicated to Berta Cáceres, the environmental activist from Honduras, who was assassinated. It is an homage to her, as well as to all those who have been killed as a result of defending their land, telling the truth about corporate polluters. So, I was very conscious of that. And I went to Oxford Circus twice because you needed to be there. And the energy there was also extraordinary, with all these lovely people dancing, and everyone was so kind and gentle. I went to all the sites. Every day, I tried to keep in touch with what was happening on all the sites.

Extinction Rebellion Susana Medina reading ‘Dear Angelus Novus’ at the Tell the Truth boat. Pic by Derek Ogbourne.

Roc: They were very different, the sites. It was interesting what a different energy each site had.

Susana: Like Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus was delightfully chaotic, and Marble Arch was a kind of more peaceful and calm site, but they had a piano with the speakers run by rebels on bicycles, so that was quite special. I think Parliament Square, somehow, was not so crowded.

Roc: Except with police.

Susana: I went there twice … And I think it’s because everyone was somewhere else, and unlike Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, it was a site which didn’t block the traffic permanently. I really enjoyed the play about fossil fuels on Waterloo Bridge. I think you were locked-on under the stage-truck.

Roc: Yes, I got the sound but not the sight because it was taking place when I was locked to the drive shaft. And it sounded lovely, it sounded wonderful. Yeah. When there were bands on the stage-truck, stomping out time just by my head, and I couldn’t block my ears because my hands were padlocked, that was tricky. But otherwise, it was really serene — at the calm eye of a furious moral storm.

Roc Sandford under Waterloo Bridge truck. Pic by Susana Medina.

Susana: There was a kind of egoless atmosphere. The atmosphere, sheer cooperation, it was lovely.

Roc: It’s a bit like the story of the three little pigs and the wolf, in that the police were trying to blow it all down, day after day after day. Huffing and puffing. It definitely added to the atmosphere in a strange way. It wouldn’t have been the same without the police trying to take us away. And it possibly made it more beautiful. And more symbolical — there was a sort of symbolism of the fact that this joy was happening on little islands being battered by waves of police.

Susana: Yeah, it could end any time … You could be arrested any time.

Roc: Like life itself.

Susana: There was also this pervasive feeling of hope. Many things were going right with the Rebellion, and we were there day after day. I suppose most of us experienced similar feelings of celebration, joy, hope, pride at what we were doing. These feelings I’ve had from the beginning with Extinction Rebellion’s imaginative actions, and whenever I saw them covered in the media. It was so exhilarating being there, we felt the Rebellion was a complete success, there was this elation at overcoming the odds, but we were always dealing with this edge of tension, the presence of the police, and the fact that you could be arrested at any time. Whenever anyone was arrested, we would all clap and chant: ‘WE LOVE YOU.’ We would chant ‘We love you,’ but, you know, it was mixed emotions, really. Someone is being dragged in some kind of way, they’re going to be in a cell for you don’t know how long for, maybe pay a fine. So, on the one hand the idea was to get as many people as possible arrested, at the same time you feel … Do you have to get arrested to make a point about … You know, completely mixed emotions about the arrests. I found it really beautiful seeing grandfathers and grandmothers there, wanting to be arrested and doing it for everyone, for their grandchildren. I found that really moving.

Roc: There’s a story by Wells, The Time Machine, where there’s a society where people are very innocent and they’re picnicking and playing and making music but at night these creatures come up from underground and take them away.

Susana: The Morlocks!

Roc: Yeah. And it’s a little like that.

Susana: The Morlocks were right there in front of you!

Roc: Yeah, they come in the daytime now, the Morlocks. They don’t wait till night.

Susana: So many Morlocks! But the Morlocks are supposed to be the working class in The Time Machine.

Roc: I think Wells is talking about the future of the working class.

Susana: That are still, you know, oppressed. The day before Waterloo bridge was taken, it was cordoned off at the south end. There were vast amounts of police and police vans, and I couldn’t get to the bridge, so I had interesting conversations with the police about the necessity of doing what we were doing, and about climate change and I realized many of them were saying they’re overworked, they don’t have time to find out about climate change. So I said, just Google it. Just find out about it. I told them the real threat were the youth strikes, not Extinction Rebellion. They didn’t know about Greta Thunberg or the youth strikes. But there was eagerness to learn about things, some police people gathered around me and listened, and I found that heartening.

Roc: I’m sure there’s a lot of very different views within the police. But there was a time where for instance, I was on Waterloo Bridge, liaising with the police, and the police officer in charge of trying to take the bridge back from us, he looked into my eyes and said: ‘I don’t agree with everything you’re doing, but I agree with almost everything.’

Susana: Good.

Roc: And I could see in his eyes that he meant it — you know, you can see in someone’s eyes when they’re telling the truth. It felt like we were both close to tears. But then there’s other police who were very sarcastic and nasty and then, at worst, the police would lose their tempers and be violent. But not very often. I think it’s wonderful how rarely that happened: it would be amazing if it had been not at all, but it was not that often.

Susana: Yes, with the police, you could plainly see that some agreed with what we were doing. And, it was beautiful, especially during the Easter weekend, to see so many families with their children and everyone was having a wonderful time. And I said to a policeman, ‘Would you like your children to be here?’ And he became really serious and said: ‘I would never allow my children to go to a protest.’ I said to them, ‘This is like being in a festival. Are you enjoying yourselves?’ And one of them was like ‘Yes’ and another one was like, ‘No, I’m just doing my duty, I’m just working.’ And he was the one who said he would never allow his children to go to any protest.

Roc: Two police people got in trouble because they danced.

Susana: Yeah, that was wonderful.

Roc: They got in trouble in the press — I don’t know whether they got in trouble with the police themselves.

Susana: I saw videos, and that was quite wonderful. Because you could see there was a party atmosphere and the policemen were really relaxed. You could see it was like being in a festival except for wearing the uniform. When I was talking to the police on the bridge, I said: ‘Our uniform is nicer, why don’t you just take it off?’ Because … Yeah. Why wear it? I don’t know.

When I watched Pond Rebel, the video diary that you’ve done about the Rebellion, at the beginning you mention that the Rebellion is about to start, you mention children and you’re almost tearful. Were you fearful for your children?

Roc: I was fearful, I was very fearful for my children during the Rebellion. But I was way, way more fearful for the future. And so, the real fear is for the future, I mean that’s probably what made me want to cry. And the feeling of children actually trying to stop that future is very, very moving and beautiful but also very upsetting. So, I think that’s what it was. I was apprehensive. I was more apprehensive then than now, it might be too late now for the authorities to really crack down hard on Extinction Rebellion in Britain, because there might be too many people, and they maybe can’t lock up 50,000 people. Might not be too late, we will see.

“We Are the Asteroid, We Are the Dinosaurs” by Roc Sandford and Susana Medina is a dialogue about Extinction Rebellion and solutions to the Climate Emergency, conducted since the April Rebellion. A collage or ‘pastiche’ of different sorts of writing, it is a historical snapshot, literary experiment, intellectual exposition, and an act of love for the planet.

Credit Francis Medina XR April Rebellion Waterloo Bridge: Roc Sandford and Susana Medina. Pic by Francis Medina.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Roc Sandford is a farmer, environmentalist and writer.
Susana Medina is the author of Philosophical Toys, Red Tales, Poem 66 and Souvenirs del Accidente.

International Rebellion, Monday 7 October
XR WRITERS REBEL, OCTOBER 11th 5-9pm, TRAFALGAR SQUARE. Press Release
A unique literary event, 40 writers will read work about nature, ecology and the current climate crisis. Writers so far confirmed are: Ali Smith, Naomi Alderman, Chloe Aridjis, Will Eaves, AL Kennedy, Helen Simpson, David Harsent, Daljit Nagra, Paul Farley, Glyn Maxwell, Susie Orbach, Philip Hoare, David Graeber, Owen Sheers, Simon Schama, Susana Medina, Irenosen Okojie, Deborah Moggach, Anjali Joseph, Toby Litt, Matt Thorne, Joanna Pocock, Robert McFarlane, Roc Sandford, Naomi Ishiguro, Juliet Jacques, Natalie Haynes, M John Harrison, Romesh Gunesekera, Chris Beckett, Rachel Edwards, Gregory Norminton, Tom Bullough, Leone Ross. Writers Rebel organising team: Monique Roffey, Liz Jensen, Roc Sandford, Jessica Townsend, Cath Drake, James Miller, Chloe Aridjis. For updates on the event follow #WritersRebel on Facebook and @XrWritersRebel on Twitter.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, October 4th, 2019.