It was one of the final days of the Extinction Rebellion protests, and hundreds of people had gathered in Trafalgar Square for a day of organised civil disobedience. Their aim: to highlight the growing climate catastrophe and the government’s inadequacies in addressing it.
The mood that afternoon was less 'riotous demonstration' and more upbeat daytime soiree, packed with a spectrum of society from dedicated activists to curious locals on their lunch break. They were, however, united in one belief: whatever your cause, knowledge is power. We talked to the attendees about the books that have inspired them to protest.
Andrew Darnton, social researcher & XR coordinator for Bristol
I always go back to Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. She put the pieces together to work out that species collapse was related to human practises – she writes beautifully and paints a devastating vision. The book was written in 1962, it’s like we haven’t even read it.
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky has influenced XR and how we mobilise to cope with emergency, we’re trying to strike a balance between disruption and creativity. We need to change business as usual and tackle issues such as fracking, HS2, and airport expansions while creating a new and attractive future.
Madeleine Young, climate protester
The book that has been key to empowering me is Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. It really helped me understand that it’s [the movement] about coming together with others and discovering what unique part we have to play. I keep rereading it.
Emily Reader, student
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge; Although it’s focused on race, the premise is to fight for something even if it doesn’t affect you on a day-to-day basis. It demonstrates why you should talk about causes if you have any power or privilege and inspired me to do the same – I’m doing that by turning up to the XR demonstrations.
Fi Radford, retired librarian
I read masses of non-fiction, sadly about the climate crisis. I love Barbara Kingsolver, a botanist who wrote Flight Behaviour. Her description of monarch butterflies clustering together is one of the finest pieces of literature I’ve ever read. The Wall by John Lanchester is frightening – I can see how it could come true with our present government. It’s fiction, about how we build a wall around the island and refuse entry to refugees; it presents a terrifying image of a not-unrealistic future.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
It’s bittersweet because nature comforts you but when you realise how threatened it is, it gives you solace and pain at the same time.
Henry Jones, student
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places where I’ve witnessed the devastation happening to our planet. I’ve seen penguins trapped in plastic and an elephant seal with metal wrapped around it's flipper. We are destroying the planet, yet it’s the only one we have. I’ve been inspired by Greta Thunberg and her speech at the UN; it’s my overall motivation for being here.
Mary Collett, retired company director
I’m a fiction reader and Margaret Atwood’s dystopias have been a big influence in imagining the future. Wilding by Isabella Tree is so wonderfully written and full of useful information, demonstrating how we could build a better, fairer, cleaner and greener society. There are billions and trillions in offshore accounts; why not use them to make the world a better place?
Joshua Largent, bookseller
Angela Davis’ biography is a fantastic book, she was a revolutionary in the communist party and the Black Panthers. It’s her story in the civil rights movement, it grips you from the first page. System Change Not Climate Change (by Martin Empson, Ian Angus & Sarah Ensor) touches on in-depth subjects such as food scarcity, the Anthropocene and Marx’s metabolic rift. It’s useful to understand the heart of the problem. The Extinction Rebellion Handbook: This Is Not A Drill is the book of the moment and details strategies and non-violent action. It makes [activism] really accessible.
Conversations abridged and edited for clarity.