The best COP show in town

The best COP show in town


On Sunday 31st October four ‘Red Rebels’ were turning heads at York Station. But who were they and what was it about? Our guest blog comes from two of the mysterious Red Rebels.

This was my second outing as a Red Rebel and there had been a very long gap since the first time, so it felt really good to be getting the face paints on again.

The visual impact of the Reds is what turns heads and makes people ask what we are doing and it makes such a powerful statement in whatever arena we appear.We had a rehearsal the week before which settled nerves, reminded us how slowly we had to walk and gave a renewed sense of purpose and solidarity.

After a delicious shared lunch, we were ready to don the costume and become one body mind with each other.One of the beautiful things about the Reds and Extinction Rebellion (XR) in general, is how everyone is there for each other. Help with adjusting costumes, touching up make-up and carrying possessions was all there in spades and we were soon ready to depart.

The driving rain which had started the day off so miserably, miraculously cleared up just before we left so the weather gods were smiling on us. Black eye liner tears were not part of the plan and we have yet to invest in big red umbrellas.

Crossing the Scarborough bridge towards York station we were able to pause for tableaux (a dramatic activity where the Rebels pause, tell a story simply through gesture and body placement) with many passers by stopping to take photos. Our guides were handing out flyers and engaging with people who were drawn to our performance and it was lovely to hear the children who saw us going “Wow, look at that Mum”. It is them that we do this for.

York station was quite busy and again, we turned heads as we walked up the platform pausing for tableaux and for a poem to be read out inspiring empathy and love. We were able to pause by the War Memorial and on top of the bridge crossing the platforms and the response was universally positive. People were intrigued, curious and supportive.

Three out of the four of us boarded the train to Manchester as part of relay heading to COP 26 in Glasgow. I had to stay behind. I felt bereft watching the train pull out of the station and my heart went with them on their mission.

I was struck yet again, by the power of silence and stillness; the impact of slowing everything down and recognising your environment in a new and respectful way recognising how precious it is.

We will be out again soon.

The Red Rebels brigade is part of Extinction Rebellion and is a street performance group.

Regional Red Rebel groups have travelled by train to Glasgow over a three-day relay, silently and solemnly performing in carriages and on station platforms up and down the country ahead of their arrival in Glasgow Central and COP 26.

Their aim, through haunting performance and poetry, is to paint a terrifying picture of climate breakdown to world leaders.

A Red Rebel guide on Sunday, who carried on to Manchester Piccadilly, carries on with her perspective.

Having been a part of the Red Rebels performance just once before, as a Red, this outing saw me joining the group as a guide. It was a markedly different sensation to be engaging with passers-by and handing out leaflets (not my comfort zone at all), as well as subtly communicating with the Reds, to guide them, without disrupting their silent state.

To witness the wordless drama of their performance, imploring, weeping, railing, beseeching – all conveyed by gesture – draws curiosity in many of the people who happen upon it – the sight of their flowing red robes is arresting, signifying blood and life and danger and passion, set against their stillness, slowness, quiet.

The Reds’ movement through the station was flanked by other local people wanting to give a voice to their desperation  at the global inaction in the face of the climate emergency.

The Police and staff from the train companies assisted the brief action to run smoothly, with respectful support.

Our next step was to board a train for Manchester Piccadilly, where we converged with several other groups – it was an affecting spectacle to see the various Red Rebels join together, as if they were kinsfolk united again after an absence. Also, for us guides to be met and welcomed by fellow guides from Manchester, making sure we were all comfortable and up to speed with the planned movement around the station.

As in York, there was a large number of curious passers-by, who assembled like an audience, filming and photographing,  as we lay down our banners to be taken on to Glasgow, and the Reds formed their large tableau on the concourse.

As non-violent direct action the Red Rebels engage without disruption, sending out their silent message for people to respond to in their own way, to bring a sense of solidarity – not reproach. Some people were eager to converse, to show their support, or to question. Some stood watching at a distance. Many had some awareness of COP 26, many were sceptical, but most agreed that the world needs to act now.

It feels like a small act in the face of the enormity of the problems, but the climate emergency compels me to put myself beyond my usual safe boundaries to try and add to the global voice shouting for real large-scale political action to address the crisis, before it’s too late.

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