I wasn’t particularly Dave Spart as a student in the 1960s but I embraced all the “Left Wing” causes and fifty years on I still do. We were right to oppose the Vietnam War, the criminalisation of homosexuality, Apartheid, the lack of Civil Rights in the United States, the draconian abortion laws, capital punishment and racial and gender discrimination in Britain. Yes we might have been a tad self-righteous but we were right. Whether I can be said to have “rebelled for life” I doubt. But most of what I believed in 1967 I believe now. Probably.
Today the equivalent causes to mine when young include the Environment and discrimination – some of the discriminators are the same as they always were – gender, class, race, colour and the rest. You think you’ve won a battle and then a decade or two on you find you haven’t. I protested outside the American Embassy in London against Vietnam and outside Lord’s Cricket Ground against plans to tour South Africa. We won that one too. Eventually.
The environment is the hot button for Extinction Rebellion and the rest. That’s fine except that it’s far more complex – there were certainties about my youthful protests. They weren’t nuanced because they didn’t need to be. Green issues are far more complex and often largely misunderstood. It is, for example, grossly superficial to condemn out of hand all uses of fossil fuels and the oil companies which supply them . But measured and informed debate can be tricky – you get trapped in an Orwellian binary shouting match “Oil and Gas bad, Wind and Solar good”. It’s not as simple as that.
I support Extinction Rebellion’s right to protest peacefully but I’m not wholly clear what they want. I support strongly the underlying premise of “Black Lives Matter” and despair that fifty years after Martin Luther King it is necessary. But is violence the best way to protest against global warming and institutionalised racism? When that happens the nature of the protest becomes the issue not the subject.