By Jo Hoffman
XR Grandparents, an affinity group of Extinction Rebellion, held a very successful vigil in two phases at Solidarity Park – across the road from Parliament House – from February 10th to 21st and again from March 9th to 21st, when, alas, it was overtaken by the COVID 19 emergency. Solidarity Park is Crown land managed by UnionsWA.
Both stages of the vigil were manned 24/7. The vigils were highly visible having our external boundaries covered with banners painted by our members.
We had street signs saying “Honk for climate action!” which drew a lot of support, with even cyclists yelling out “Honk! Honk” as they passed.
Our vigil was scheduled to coincide with Parliamentary sitting times and our presence seemed to upset a number of politicians, who asked in Parliament whether we had permission to set up camp there, who authorized it, and whether we could be removed. The most complaints came from the Liberals, but I was told our Premier understood our position and was maybe even a little sympathetic to our cause. (This came from my local MP who has had the misfortune to have her ear bent by me over climate action many times).
The Police from Parliament House visited us each day they were on duty. They were friendly and chatty, obtaining the minimum information from us that was required for courtesy and diplomacy.
During this time we were able to set up a sense of community amongst our members as they held their weekly meetings at the site and joined together in companionship and common interest.
After the break, unfortunately, the virus scare was starting to have an impact on members who fell into the ‘at risk’ category. However, we were able to arrange for outside speakers to address us including Dr George Crisp (Doctors for the Environment), Katrine Swindells (Vets For Climate Action) and our own Dr Colin Hughes who opened the session on Thursday 12th March. On Friday night we had Junkadelic come to rehearse and entertain us, and on Saturday 14th March we had Dr Peter Newman from CUSP & IPCC come and join us at our campfire. Dr Newman garnered a lot of interest from our members as he was very knowledgeable, approachable and friendly.
Our campfire consisted of a cut off drum topped with greenery surrounding a lantern covered in coloured cellophane to simulate the real deal. We had five different flavoured dampers followed by fresh fruit and juice or tea & coffee.
On Wednesday 18th March, Dianne Evers from The Greens came for morning tea along with her staff member. All politicians, around 90, had been invited, but we still had a good chat and enjoyed homemade pikelets, muffins & scones with jam and cream. Our camp was also visited by a 10-year-old school boy who made a recording as his schoolmates were unable to join us due to the health scare.
But of course, the major event was on Monday 10th March with the passing of the Burrup Bill.
We had a number of drums and hearty drummers making a din, along with singing and chanting, which resulted in a Noise Abatement violation. That was outside the Parliament building. Inside we had more members dropping leaflets down on the pollies from the gallery. Five members were arrested and removed after attempting to glue themselves to the railing. This failed. The railing was too smooth for the glue to take hold. Perhaps we will know better next time.
As I was there every day, arranging the 24/7 manning of the site, the speakers and the catering for events, I had a lot of adjusting to do when it was over. The virus took its toll and isolation restrictions were implemented within days of breaking camp. All of a sudden, an event that had consumed so much of my time, had suddenly and prematurely ceased, leaving me feeling totally lost, empty and alone. One of my colleagues described the feeling as ‘hitting a brick wall.’
I am able to report that we are all back up on our feet emotionally, we are keeping in touch through social media and through zoom. I personally now spend a lot more time with my disabled brother and in entertaining friends one on one.
We are all looking forward to the end of isolation and starting to gear up with this end in mind. We have also formed an affinity group to assist others during this difficult time, to extend our ‘brand’ beyond simply protesting. We just have to ride out the isolation with hope and determination to see where we land at its final demise. The future is uncertain and we need to be prepared for the next phase of our lives – whatever that may be.