When I heard that Culture Declares emergency was organising a series of ‘Letters to Power’, I thought to myself: “Rupert, you should probably write one”. You see, I have spent much of my life attempting to talk to, persuade, even beg those with power - our elected leaders, heads of banks and businesses, big organisations or media companies, for example. I have written many, many letters to power before.
Though to be frank, it’s been largely pointless; while some appear to listen, most fail to hear and even more refuse to act.
Trying once again felt a bit like bashing my head against a brick wall. I felt my enthusiasm for the project draining away.
But then I stopped for a minute and really thought about power. Especially in the context of these last three tumultuous years.
I started to re-assess my assumption about who this letter would be directed to. When I looked up the dictionary definition - “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events” – and I recalled the way the world has changed since 2018, it became clearer where the power really is.
With us, the people.
We were the ones who, earlier this year, initiated precautionary action when, at least in the UK, our government was clearly going down a different, deadly, route of (non-) response to the Covid crisis.
We were the ones who supported our family, friends and neighbours with countless good deeds during lockdown, and who stood in public solidarity with the NHS and key workers.
We were the ones who questioned, and continue to question, the motives of our rudderless governments in their stance on coronavirus.
Similarly: we were the ones who moved the dial in 2019 on the climate and ecological emergency. Not the politicians or the financiers or the media moguls: us, the youth striking from school, and rebels across the country (and the world) putting our liberty on the line to change the national conversation. We moved public opinion, we made it possible for Parliament to declare a climate and environment emergency, for the Government to bring in a net-zero-carbon-emissions law, and for Parliament to create a Citizens Assembly. Sure, the Parliamentary declaration is as yet only symbolic; the net-zero law has a date 25 years too late; the Citizens Assembly is toothless. But power concedes nothing without a demand, and it has started to concede to all Extinction Rebellion’s demands. Because the people got the power…
And so it became clear who I needed to address my letter to -- you.
Every one of you who stayed at home even pre-lockdown, every one of you who volunteered to help the NHS and others – more than a million of you –, and every one of you who refuses to go back to business as usual in an uncertain and unsafe world.
And every one of you who struck, or rebelled. And any one of you who is thinking of doing something like that in the future.
If we can take the lead even just once, save lives once, shift the opinion polls once, change consciousness once, we can do it again – only this time it is for something unfortunately far more challenging (and far more deadly). The cause of action on the eco-emergency.
Check out the fires this time, in California, in the Amazon. Don’t look away from the collapsing ice-shelves, the unprecedented Greenland ice-melt. Rage at the dire flooding in China and in Bangladesh.
The climate crisis is upon us, as it has been for sometime, of course, but I think now, given what we have collectively been through and accomplished in 2019 and 2020, more eyes are open not only to what’s happening but (more importantly) to playing a part in attempting to make it less devastating.
Because that’s what we are talking about now. The time for thinking we can vanquish this emergency has long gone; now we need to work on how much we are willing to let it beat us. And how we fight holding actions against it.
And that’s why I’m talking to you.
At the centre of what we need to do is care – for ourselves, yes, but more for each other, as we have done during the Covid-19 pandemic, and for our ailing planet.
We have proved we can do it; let’s build on that.
As with corona, we cannot assume our governments have our best interests at heart. We need to take the power into our own hands. To transform.
On September 1st, when this letter is released, I will be standing in Parliament Square in London.
I know I won’t feel disheartened. I will no longer be weary because I know I will feel power all around me, like electricity. Not from the historic Houses of Parliament or the MPs we are peacefully disrupting but from my fellow rebels.
We are using our collective power to push for real and lasting change that will make a difference. We say: No going back to how things were pre-Covid. We want to live.
Our actions are the strongest way we tell a story, and change the narrative. We will exude the power of the so-called ‘powerless’, today.
You can too. You don’t need to join Extinction Rebellion to use your power – although you would be welcome – but you do need to act in a way that makes the world better for all of us. You need your action to reflect the scale of the emergency. You need to act as if our futures depended on it; which they do.
You make the power. You are the power.
This is your time, now is your moment.
And so, this my letter to power is directed directly and invitationally to you, reader.