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I spent eight years as a high school geography teacher. Often, I talked to children about the climate crisis. I used to say, ‘We have to do something about this – it’s getting really bad and it’s going to affect people in our lifetime’.

And every time I talked about it, the kids would raise their hands and say, “Well, what do you do about it? What do you want us to do?”

So, about 10 years ago, I found myself quitting teaching full time to try to find a way to give our children a future where they could eat, have lasting prosperity, and live full lives, as I had done before.

I never thought that this would expose me to arrest, fines and the possibility of being imprisoned. And I never thought it would lead to me standing on a Sunday morning on private property where I was camping with other Blockade Australia activists with what I later learned was an unmarked police car which was going at full speed knocking down two of my friends.

Two people in their early twenties who asked themselves the same question: what am I doing to protect our future? – was injured after being hit by an unmarked police car picking up camouflaged officers who were secretly guarding private property.

The IPCC has told us that we are heading towards a future with a temperature increase of well over 2 degrees Celsius. The catastrophic bushfires we saw just a few years ago, the drought, the floods in Lismore and Brisbane – all of this is just the start of what is going to be a dangerous climate future.

This is what brought people to the Colo Valley camp in Sydney’s northwest. It was a place where people came together in their concern for the future. People who know the answers lie in building community, building relationships. Basically, we’re just a group of friends. And sometimes some of us who are interested in nonviolent civil disobedience take steps for a secure future in this way.

As a history graduate, I have always been interested in the effect of nonviolent civil disobedience. I was moved by people who did not use violence, only truth and their collective power to stand up and fight for the civil rights that many of us take for granted today.

Everything from the rights of First Nations people in this country, to voting for women, to the 8-hour workday, has been won by people committed to nonviolent civil disobedience. We now regard people like Martin Luther King as heroes, but back then they were the most reviled people in the nation.

So when it comes to the environment and civilization being in danger of collapsing, I have to ask myself: what can I really do? How much do I love and care for my planet? How much do I really love and care for my neighbors?

weekend in australia

At no time did the people in the car tell us who they were. We were concerned that the car would speed into our kitchen further down the road and run over some of our friends, including people with disabilities, children and the elderly.

Throughout the day, a hundred armed police descended on our camp. When asked to turn on his body camera, a policeman said, “the descent hasn’t started yet, I don’t need to turn it on.” I felt like the gloves were gone.

The police searched and seized my laptop. They searched and seized all of our phones, even when I told them I couldn’t afford another phone because I live on the money I had saved up doing disability support work. The police still have all my devices. I am writing this article through voice memos to my friend who is typing them.

After many hours in the cold, during which I had to push the police to access the toilets, shelter when it started to rain and warm clothes, we were finally released. A friend of ours who had fled when the police arrived got lost in the bush in freezing temperatures until 4am. The officers refused to call the SES and prevented us from entering the property to search for him.

We were thrown into the dark without much of our belongings and without our cars.

Seven of our friends were arrested. Two of them were denied bail for intimidating police and conspiring to commit the crime of obstructing a road. They are being held in jail for three weeks until their hearing in July.

All I can think of right now is that we’re the canary in the coal mine. The climate crisis is getting worse. Natural disasters are on the rise. And people like us who try to stop this are now facing two years in prison and a $22,000 fine just for sitting on the roads of New South Wales.

The amount of resources to keep us from sitting on the roads is mind-boggling. If these resources had been invested in better environmental protections, we would be well on our way to preventing catastrophic climate change.

But we are far from it. The newly elected federal Labor government is committed to developing fossil fuels. We marched legally, we made the petitions, we even got the votes. The only thing left to demand government action on climate change is nonviolent civil disobedience. If we don’t take back our future, it will be taken from us.

Greg Rolles is a climate justice activist who has been involved in civil disobedience movements such as Blockade Australia for over a decade.


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