Episode #49 Spiritual Activism, Raw Courage and Being the Change: Sophie Miller of the Red Rebel Brigade
Red is the colour of our life blood. It joins us to the land and all the web of life. It was chosen as the original colour of the silent life-dancers of Extinction Rebellion as an explicit symbol of this life blood – and although other colours have been used, notably black for oil and blue for the sea – the feature of a red line of silent individuals threading between police and activists has become a key component of XR Actions across the world.
For those not involved in the Red Rebel Brigades, their presence can feel transformative. To understand better the deep, shamanic connection with the land and the sensing-into-spirit that is an integral part of Red Rebel actions, we interviewed Sophie Miller, founder of the Cornish Red Rebels in the UK and key activist in many other actions over the past eighteen months.
Manda: My guest this week is someone who exemplifies the qualities that we have been talking about in recent podcasts. Sophie Miller is a spiritual activist in all senses of all of those words. She’s been a member of Extinction Rebellion from the start, one of those trembling – or perhaps not trembling – warriors who takes to the streets to bring about change. And after the first April rebellion in 2019, she became one of the first wave of the Red Rebels: the silent, Earth-connected, energy-connected people who walk into the energy of a sometimes very fractious space, and transform it completely. As you’ll hear, Sophie is one of those people for whom action is a necessity. But she does it with absolute grace and a connection to the Land, to the energy, to the web of Life that feels to me as if it leads the way that all of us need to go. Not that we necessarily need to become Red Rebels, though I’m sure there’s room for more if you want to be part of that. But we need to find that thread of life that Sophie talks about and learn to follow it, unattached to outcomes, but trusting that we’re the right person, doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.
We had some interesting sound challenges with this podcast. Sophie was on an iPad in Cornwall, and our usual sound recording software, the Zencastr, really didn’t love any of that. So we defaulted to Zoom, which has a lot of good qualities – but studio quality, sound reproduction, is not one of them. And then Sophie’s dog thought it was fun to come and join us. And in the end, we stopped with all the stops and starts and thought, we just carry on recording regardless, because you can manage a dog in the background. So with apologies for the the not quite perfect sound: people of the podcast, please welcome Sophie Miller. So Sophie Miller, Red Rebel, activist and all-round Extraordinary Person, Welcome to Accidental Gods. You are down in Cornwall, as I believe. How is it down there at the moment?
Sophie: It’s actually quite weatherish at the moment, Manda!
Manda: So Cornish weather, that means it’s raining with bits in between. But as we record, it looks like Joe Biden might be the next president of the US, and he wouldn’t have been my first choice, but he definitely wasn’t my second choice. So I’m glad that it worked out the way it worked out. It could be so much worse. It could still be much worse, but we hope not.
So with that little glimmer of hope on the horizon, I would like to spend today’s podcast really looking into the Red Rebels of Extinction Rebellion, partly because I was so moved by your presence at my one really deep XR action in October of last year. And each time the Red Rebels turned up, the wave of relief that I felt was palpable, real, and to me quite extraordinary. And since then, you’ve done so much other work that has garnered so much really interesting attention all around the world. So before we look really at the Red Rebels, I’d like to look a little bit at the history of where they came from, and then your history of how you became involved. So shall we start off with how the Red Rebels arose in the first place?
Sophie: Yeah, absolutely, Manda. So the Red Rebels came about in the April Rebellion, and they came from an idea from Invisible Circus with Doug Franscisco and Justin Squire. And they created a kind of performance piece where Oxford Circus was like the circus, and there was a parade, and there were lots of characters involved in this. And the red people were part of this. They weren’t all of it; it was just an element of it. I think it was quite last minute, actually, even down to a few days before, it was like, ‘What about the red people?’ ‘Oh, yeah, the red people, what shall we do for the costumes?’ kind of thing. So these red people kind of appeared. And over the time in April, they sort of took on their own life in a way that was almost outside of XR. A lot of the times that they appeared, they weren’t necessarily within the XR demonstrations. So there was a big photo shoot thing at the Natural History Museum. They kind of popped up, almost, rather than it being all about them. And from that, they evolved into their own entity. They seemed to really capture the hearts of people, and go straight into very, very deep emotions.
There was a moment on Waterloo Bridge, which is quite well known now, where the police had kettled an area and then the Red Rebels appeared, and kind of came around the police. And there was just a moment, a very intense moment of emotion between the people, the police and the Reds. And after that, other groups started springing up across the UK. People were interested, and Doug made some videos for how to make the costumes, how to do the movements, and try to kind of decentralise it and enable people, empower people to take it on and do it for themselves. After that it grew, and it grew, and it grew. And now it’s global. We have Red Rebel brigades throughout the world: in Australia, in America. We have a global Red Rebel Zoom occasionally, and it’s incredible really; it really has taken on a life of its own.
Manda: So can I dig a little bit deeper into his idea? So originally there were red people who were part of the circus in Oxford Circus. Was he basing this on something he had already done, or did the idea of ‘red’ arise out of nowhere?
Sophie: Well, it kind of emerged, if you like, and then it was kind of pinned down through the doing of it. So after performing it, Doug wrote something to try and put it all together. I don’t know if you’d like me to read that maybe.
Manda: Yes, I think that would be lovely. Please do.
Sophie: It’s quite beautiful, and it really sums it up. It was that kind of, I don’t know, sometimes when you’re making making artwork, or certainly performance work, you sometimes sort of channel into something, and you’re doing it, and it’s only as you’re doing it that the meaning really starts to come through. So I’ll read it now. ‘The Red Rebel Brigade symbolises the common blood we share with all species that unifies us and makes us one. As such, we move as one, act as one, and more importantly, feel as one. We are unity, and we empathise with our surroundings. We are sympathetic and humble, compassionate and understanding. We divert, distract, delight and inspire the people who watch us. We illuminate the magic ground beneath the surface of all things, and we invite people to enter in. We make a bubble and calm the storm. We are peace in the midst of war. We are who the people have forgotten to be.’
Manda: Brilliant, we are who the people have forgotten to be. That is so beautiful. And if it is red, he chose red because… blood? Because common blood’s common to everything?
Sophie: I think it was subconscious and then – like, yeah, obviously, it’s blood. It’s the blood of all species, and it’s something which people really tune into. And you do feel that you are representing the blood of all species. It’s such a common element across everything, it’s instantly recognisable. It cuts straight in there.
Manda: And there must be other cultures around the world – I’m aware, for instance, that in China, red is a very lucky colour, I think also in Japan. And I’m wondering, has the rebellion taken off in those two nations, and has it got a different slant to it there?
Sophie: There’s a Japanese group, but yeah, I’m not sure. And there’s a group in India as well. So yeah, it still seems to be people kind of owning it in their own way, and going with the flow, and still doing it.
Manda: And so was Doug one of the red people in the April – so this is April 2019 – was he one of the red people then?
Sophie: Yeah, this was April 2019.
Manda: And he wasn’t one of the other characters, he was a red person. And so he took part in the Waterloo Bridge action. Excellent. And so when he writes and puts on YouTube about drawing up the feeling… because how to make the costumes is one thing. I’ve watched the YouTube and it’s fantastic; it’s like a giant IKEA kit, but in fabric. I suppose that’s what all sewing is, but I’ve never got to grips with sewing; not my thing. But he also is speaking a lot about how to be how to be a red person, or now we call them Red Rebels. And it felt from the first moment I saw the Red Rebels that felt so deeply shamanic, in terms of being utterly rooted in the Land. It didn’t feel like circus performance at all. It felt like something arising, living, from the spirits of the Land. And I am guessing, or from what you’re saying, that this is something that arose from within that original April Rebellion, but perhaps was not intended beforehand or was not fully articulated beforehand?
Sophie: So I probably need to speak just from my own experience of performing it and inhabiting that space. Because I wasn’t part of the original red Rebel brigade.
Manda: So let’s go back to that: how did you become part of it?
Sophie: Yeah, I saw the Red Rebels and just had an immediate feeling of ‘there it is’, that’s the only way I can describe their activities. Whatever it is, I don’t know what it is – but it was like that: ‘there it is’. And I thought, somebody needs to set that up in Cornwall. And then… I’ve always worked on a philosophy as well: ‘I’m somebody’. Because that’s how things get out, because you can spend a lot of your life thinking ‘somebody needs to do that’ and then it never happens. But I am actually also somebody, so I need to do stuff. So I thought, okay, well I’ll just do it then. So I gathered together a team. People made some costumes, went out and did it. It became, through the doing of it and the understanding of it… Doug, as you touched on, in the videos talks about getting into the headspace of it. You have to kind of get into the headspace, in the heartspace. For those who aren’t aware of it, we move really very, very slowly. All our movements are broken down into almost stillness. So even a blink is done at a really slow speed. So your hands are moving incredibly slowly. Everything just slows down. So it’s very meditative doing it. And almost by doing that, by moving that slowly, you bring yourself into a different space. You start inhabiting the world in a different way. Because we are out in the world, we’re not in a separate space. We’re outside, in a demonstration, or wherever we happen to be doing a performance. It takes you into a different zone and a different way of being.
So the first time I performed it, the only way that I could describe it was feeling like something opened up: a new slit in between two worlds. And you see things differently, things become very different when you’re in there, and it was a surprise to me, actually, I didn’t realise that it was going to be like that. And I know from talking to other people that the same thing happens to them. And I think that is why when we appear on a demonstration in a very tense, volatile situation, you mentioned the demonstration in October last year -the one you’re referring to at the BBC, which was very, very, very tense.
Manda: It was astonishing. Yeah.
Sophie: And when we arrive, we kind of slide in between the space, and get physically in between the protesters and the police often. But there’s something else there: that you’re kind of opening up and letting an energy, a kind of calm energy enter in, a real stillness. One of the things that we feel is that we’re not part of the protest. We’re witnessing the protest. Some of the history which we’ve we’ve talked about is that we come also from a tradition of the Victorian mutes. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, for people who don’t know, they were basically hired mourners that the Victorians used to hire to express their grief for them at funerals
Manda: So they didn’t have to do anything as unseemly as cry.
Sophie: Exactly. So they didn’t have to let their own grief out. They were able to to hire someone to do it for them. So in a sense, we are doing that as well.
Manda: So this grief was done silently, Victorian funerals?
Sophie: No, they they would definitely let it out. So that’s probably the other thing I should mention: we’re completely silent. We don’t talk. For people who haven’t seen us: it’s all silent and slow. But there’s definitely grief work there as well that we’re doing, as an expression of the grief of the planet, of the grief of the people that is sort of locked in to people a lot at the moment, I think.
Manda: Yes. And do you find that you are actually grieving during an action when you’re out on the street being that red line, thin red line between the activists and the police, or does that come out later?
Sophie: That’s a very good question. It very much varies according to where we are and what we’re doing. So before we do an action, we will ground ourselves and tune in to each other. So there’s a lot of preparation, obviously, with getting into the costumes and putting the makeup on, and the practicalities. But then once that’s done, there’s time spent tuning into each other in a circle, and tuning into the Earth as well. We do a lot of grounding and shielding, so we’ll put a golden orb around ourselves to protect us when we’re out, and to hold us, basically. And that is what we carry carry out with us into the space that we’re going into.
Manda: And did Doug introduce that in his original ideas, or is that something that’s grown since?
Sophie: I think that’s something which has grown over time and from the practicalities of performing it. And from my perspective, because of the opening up that you’re doing when you step into that zone, it’s something which is necessary, and it’s something that became obvious that it was necessary. We’ve talked about that as a global group, about people doing it to to protect themselves. And it helps to tune into each other anyway, and make the performance stronger. It’s something which you do as a performance artist or if you’re working as a group, a theatrical group, then you do loads of warm up exercises. You play catch, you play, to kind of tune in for that, and have that.
Manda: So do you do playing catch, and that sort of tuning in, as well?
Sophie: We do that in workshops.
Manda: Ok, alright. So by the time you go out on the streets, you know your group really, really well.
Sophie: Ideally, yes, definitely.
Manda: And one person is chosen to lead the meditative start, or do you shift that around amongst yourselves?
Sophie: We usually have one person who is a lead, yeah. And then they will hold that. It depends on the group that you’re with, really. So within your group – we have area groups, and there’s usually one person who is the lead of that group, and they will facilitate workshops, and be the lead who takes people out. When you go out, you definitely need one person at the front who is making the decisions, but you operate as a whole. So with the tuning in, you become one body, like a zoetrope, like a Portuguese Man of War. Yes, you’re you’re one organism.
Manda: With a brain that goes all the way to the end, like a dinosaur. Brains all the way down your spine. So because when you, for instance, turned up at the BBC, I guess there were probably 30 of you. Or maybe I’m exaggerating, because it was such a profound experience, but it felt like quite a lot. And I always wondered, how does the person at the front know what’s happening to the people at the back? Because I’m pretty sure you were in front of that day, although I didn’t know you then, but I recognised you afterwards in spite of all the makeup. I would like to talk about the makeup in a moment. But on a day like that, because we arrived at the BBC at seven, nobody knew we were going there. You must have discovered we were there, realised we needed help, got yourselves together – got there on the Underground maybe, I don’t know. And then you walk in. And how do you as the person at the front of this long line of people… do you have a lived sense of each step of the way, of each of the other individual people in your performance?
Sophie: You kind of do, at the front, but you’re more tuned in to the people immediately behind you, who are tuned in to the people behind and in front of them. Kind of working on that basis, but you’re sort of feeling the whole. And I think probably the shared movement helps maintain that, because we all move as one. So we’re walking incredibly slowly. We will move our arms, and the person at the front, when they move their arms, the next person starts moving theirs, and the person behind them, and the person behind them. So I think because we are sharing that space and that motion –
Manda: The noises in the background are a dog, people. We have tried. He’s having fun.
Sophie: Because we’re sharing that motion, that helps us to tune in, to keep our brains operating on the same level. It’s very hard to quantify, because it’s such a subtle thing. And I think that’s why working with a group that you work with a lot massively helps, as we call it, complicity. It’s the complicity of the group that carries you through, so you know what each other is going to do, and you have that immense trust in each other. And you tune in and you feel each other. So it’s very, very similar to that.
Manda: And it must have, because I have been at theatre performances that were going badly wrong. And I’m thinking complicity is such a good word because in when it goes right. There is complicity between the actors and the audience. You’re all complicit in building the energy of whatever the piece is. But I’m remembering in the days when I lived in Cambridge and used to go to kind of experimental theatre quite a lot, and there’d be occasional ones that really just fell apart. And the audience is all sitting there going, I have no idea what you’re doing. And the actors on the stage are obviously struggling. And then I’m transferring that to the streets where every time I’ve seen the Red Rebels in action, and not always your group, but often there’d be a situation where the activists are being activists and on the whole, sitting down mostly, and the police are standing radiating rage and real anger most of the time, and then you come between those two groups. And I had always thought, your shielding must be impeccable, or – well, your shielding must be impeccable at some level, because you’re not picking up either the anxiety, or in the case of the BBC, as I remember it, we had started off peacefully singing songs. But then at some point, not only had the police sent in the territorial support groups, so the Yellow Jackets had now got a line of Black Jackets in front of them. The Black Jackets are the guys who just don’t take prisoners, and are really up for a fight. And then the Samba band came. And that was the point where I discovered the power of drums. I used to do battle re-enactment. It’s not the same thing, but you can kind of… drums on a battlefield – you can see why they use them. But the Samba band at the BBC, bloody hell, it was.. the call to action of that rhythm was almost overpowering. And there were a group that was going, okay, now we have to sit down. And the police were like, oh, Jesus fuck, this is it. Because you could feel the energy build. And at that point, by then we were outnumbering them three or four to one. There was a point when they’d outnumbered us several to one, but more people had come, and then the Samba band had come, and it felt like this thing was reaching a crescendo. And then the Red Rebels arrived, and I just burst into floods of tears of, oh, thank God they’re here. And you walked in the middle of that energetic space, and I could see total relief on the faces of even the TSG guys who were spoiling for a fight. ‘It’s OK. It’s safe now.’ And you face the police. You didn’t face us. I guess you face the greater threat, but I’d be interested in that one. But I’m really, really curious to know how it feels for you to walk into that energetic space and hold your own integrity.
Sophie: Oh, it’s amazing hearing it from your perspective, it’s not something that I get to hear very often, hearing what it’s like to experience it. And really interesting that you say about bursting into tears, because that is an effect that we often have on people, like it’s the emotional release. Really interesting to hear you say that. To walk into a space like that, you feel like you can almost see a wall of energy, like on a subtle sense, it’s like a wall of energy around it all. Because we are so centred at that point, because we are so tuned in, there’s very much a feeling of there’s no choice but to go forward and into that wall. And it’s almost as though it was a solid wall. You have a feeling of ‘It will open’.
Manda: There’s a kind of a cleavage plane that you can enter into. You said in the beginning, that space between…it’s a virtual space, until you enter it – and then it becomes a real space, I’m guessing.
Sophie: It will open up ahead of you . That space is there, but there’s 100 percent commitment to moving into that space.
Right. So, had you done a ceremony, kind of out of sight around a corner? Because you must have… I don’t know how you get there, but I’m guessing it was the Underground? You didn’t all cycle, but you’ve gone through the middle of London. And my experience then again is, you know, two streets away from the action, you don’t know the action is even happening. People are just going about their normal London life. And this is pre-covid London, so it’s busy. It’s full of taxis, and car alarms, and and all the buzz of a city. And yet you’re in that space when you get to the action, so do you stop just around the corner, and recentre? The action of getting there, you’re centred in?
Sophie: Yeah. The whole time. So, from when after we get dressed in costume, when we leave, wherever we’ve got ready, then we’re in character. We don’t break character when we are out at all. We stay… You’re in red, and you are red and you’re channelling it the whole time. You mentioned about what it feels like to to kind of step into that space, and about facing the police. I think it can be a really big emotional release for them, too.
Manda: Do you have you had any conversations with either serving or former police about that?
Sophie: I have, actually, when I’ve been in the role as guide, because we when we go out, we have someone with us who can act as a guide as well,
Manda: Who’s also acting as police liaison then?
Sophie: Not police liaison: person liaison, just to keep us safe. Really because because we’re silent, and we don’t talk, and we’re moving very, very slowly. And we are in an often sensitive situation. We need to have somebody with us ideally who can answer questions, or just look out for our personal welfare. He’s got an eye on us, and an eye on our safety. So, I’ve gone out a few times and done that with the group in London, and talking to the police I kind of used it as an opportunity just to find out what their experience was, because I was intrigued. And the people that I spoke to said that they they love it when we show up. They were incredibly grateful because of the de-escalation effect, from a practical level of a de-escalation of us arriving, because it just changes the energy. And it was really interesting to hear that they could pick up on that energy shift as well. And one of the things that we do, we certainly did in October, when you stand and face a line of police, was engaging with individual people on an individual level. So, it’s the common human element that we feel.
So, you’re standing there as a being, making eye to eye contact with another being. What role that being has is almost irrelevant in that situation. You just are existing, two beings. And it’s the same whether you’re gazing eye to eye with the police, or with someone who’s locked on to something, or whoever. It’s that shared blood, I suppose, that we have; being of one blood, and we certainly found… what I found, that sometimes police will want to look anywhere but into your eyes, and the flecks of dust on your shoulders become incredibly interesting. They’ll just look away, look away, look away. Try not to engage. And then other people just will look, and really engage. And I think for them it can help. Well, for anybody doing that, that deep looking into another being, it can really help to process a lot of emotions that have arisen in an incredibly volatile situation. So, volatile from whatever side of the protest you’re on, it’s there, the emotions are there, and they can be released.
Manda: Yes. Thank you. And it certainly looked like that at the times when I was there. And so if we move on a little bit from London, October 2019. I met you in November, and quite soon after that, you were beginning to do actions that were not red, you were beginning to move into other colours representing other things. So I think before I had met you and possibly before the October rebellion, you had done an extraordinary photo shoot where you went, I believe, as a Red Rebel into the sea in Cornwall. And we saw in real time the sea levels rising, which was very powerful. But then quite soon after that, you began to be seen in public in actions where you were in colours other than red, and that you were beginning to channel, it seemed to me, other energies than the lifeblood of the Earth, and I wonder if we can talk a little bit about what those other colours were, and how they arose, and how it felt.
Sophie: Yes. So, the action which you were talking about, it was an action which we did in August 2019 in the sea in St Ives, which was about sea levels rising. And it was an incredibly powerful action to be part of. And we stood for around 45 minutes while the tide rose around us to represent the rising sea levels. And until, well, we were one being in the water. And certainly, I’m quite small, and my feet were no longer on the ground when we left the water. So, it was amazing and very, very powerful to to watch, I believe. And a lovely film was made of it, too. And then we had ideas for other colours which were kind of bubbling away. And it was only actually, from my perspective, in January of this year that things really started to kind of click in.
Sophie: One of the inspirations for the Red Rebel Brigade was Butoh Theatre. It’s a Japanese style of theatre and it’s very much about stillness and tuning in. So, I went back to the origins of it and thought a lot about Butoh theatre, and different costumes, and different ways of expressing things through costume and through movement. And in October 2019, one of the actions which we had wanted to do was to go into the British Museum and attend a ceremony for the returning of the bones to the ancestors, and we were unable to do that. The museum closed down when the demonstration started, and we just weren’t able to go, but it stayed very much, for a small number of us, it stayed very much on our radar. And it was somewhere that we knew, felt deep knowing that we needed to go there, and we needed to do something.
So, in contact with BP or not BP, who do a lot of work, or have done a lot of work, with the British Museum and trying to get fossil fuels out of culture. I spoke to them in January about the Reds attending something which they might be doing there. And through the conversations, it became apparent that they weren’t keen on having the Reds there, partly because the Reds, even though we’re separate from Extinction Rebellion, we were visually very much tied to XR. And it presented an opportunity to do something different. So, I worked with Doug and another costume designer, Phil, on developing some costumes that could represent oil. And we came up with the black oil slick characters. We launched them for the BP or not BP ‘Fall of Troy’ demonstration.
Manda: Fall of Troy. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Sophie: So the British Museum had an exhibition about Troy. And BP or not BP staged a demonstration in February 2020, a huge demonstration where they brought in a Trojan horse in front of the museum and had lots of characters to talk about removing fossil fuels from the British Museum. The black oil slick characters appeared there for very first time. So, the costumes are quite different to the Red Rebel costumes: whereas the Red Rebels represent blood, and the black costumes represent oil. And the concept of that was taken totally within the design of the costumes. So they move like oil. The fabric that they’re made of is very heavy fabric, and they flow like oil. The movements that we do are very slow, similar to the Red Rebels. But when you perform it, you’re constantly feeling the movement of oil, that flow. And on a subtle level, the performing of it is a very different feeling to being a Red Rebel.
When you’re being a Red Rebel, even though there’s a deep grief that you feel, a grief for all that is lost and all that is being lost, and a deep love as well, there’s a warmth to it, I guess, a real kind of heart-opening warmth to it. But doing oil, you feel like – it’s kind of, I don’t know, it’s a kind of a darkness that you feel. You almost feel the kind of fossilised… I don’t know, that deep kind of compression of everything in the ground coming out. And certainly, performing it for the very first time, that was really… I was very, very aware of that in the British Museum. The thing which came through most of all was that oil should be left in the ground. It was like we shouldn’t actually be performing this even: like, this shouldn’t exist, this should be kept in the ground. This should be left exactly where it was. So as you can imagine, doing the the shielding and grounding when you perform something like that is very important.
Manda: Yeah, how do you? I’m really interested in… let me get my question straight. I’m imagining that when you are being the lifeblood of the Earth, there is extraordinary grief and despair, but it has a certain cleanliness to it? Clarity, a kind of a healing and letting it flow? What I’m hearing from the oil slick is not that. There’s a sense of something being out of balance and possibly – dangerous isn’t the right word, but contaminated, toxic, all of the things that I guess I’m projecting onto oil. Did you find yourself taking that home, or was your feeling good enough that you were able to kind of walk through the oil slick and come out of it still being the Sophie Miller that started?
Sophie: In answer to your question, yes, I was able to. It’s quite a Short answer isn’t it: yes.
Manda: Yes, that’s good.
Sophie: What I would say, that one of the things which we do at the end of every action, whether it’s red or oil slick, is take time to come out of the action. So it’s not simply a matter of taking off your costume and leaving. There is time always given to closing, whatever it is we’ve done.
Manda: And can you say a bit about what you do?
Sophie: Yeah, I think probably every group does it differently. But with my group, we take three breaths. We take one breath for the air; we take one breath for all the species that we’ve represented. And then our final breath, we take for ourselves. And as we breathe out, we say our own names, and we call ourselves back into our bodies. And then we take off our headdresses, and then it’s closed, and it’s done. So, doing that is is enormously helpful, really. And it seems incredibly simple. It doesn’t take hours. It’s short, but it seems to tie off whatever needs to be tied off.
Manda: It feels very much like what people do at the end of constellation work when they’ve been taking the part of some other person in a constellation. Do you know if it came from that, or did you make it up, and it turns out to be the same?
Sophie: I made it up, and it turns out to be the same!
Manda: That’s very interesting.
Sophie: I’ve never heard of Constellation work, but it sounds interesting. It seemed to me to be the most sensible thing to do. And that’s why I said other groups, other people who lead groups, might have their own way of doing it.
Manda: But if you starting to have worldwide Zooms, presumably you’re also sharing best practise. And ‘this is what works for us’. And other people can use it if they want to.
Sophie: Exactly. Yeah, exactly, Manda. But yes, to go back to what you said before, the oil is really different. And the way that you summed it up there is very accurate. Certainly with the oil, there’s like a non-judgement thing. It’s like everything feels equal, like you could pour over a city or a landscape, it’s not like a natural landscape is any better or worse than a tarmac road. It all feels so equal when you’re oil. But when you’re doing Red, then there’s a lot a much stronger connection to the natural landscape. We did an action recently at the HS2 site.
Manda: Well done! And was that as Red Rebels there?
Sophie: That was as Red Rebels, yeah. And that was incredibly powerful, doing it in that landscape, because tuning in when you’re somewhere like that, tuning into the natural world. We all of us who were there felt the absolute… I think the best way that we described it was screaming. You could feel the landscape screaming, which actually, even if you’re not that way inclined, it makes sense because the trees have been ripped from the ground. The mycelium, which exists on a biological level, is screaming. So you could feel it in the landscape.
Manda: And yet the people doing it have managed to shut themselves off to the point where they’re not feeling it. For those listening who are not in the UK, HS2 is High Speed 2 rail line that that appears to have been driven quite deliberately through pretty much the last of England’s really ancient primordial – forests are not the word anymore, they’re woods. But there are some very, very old trees there which are being systematically slaughtered to run a rail line, which is going to take 20 minutes off the journey time from London to Bristol. Even at a time when London and Bristol were big city hubs that was pointless, but now that Covid’s here and everybody is starting to work from home, and they are not going back… anyway, I could rant.
And I’m wondering now, because what it feels to me that you’re doing is that this is shamanic practise in action. You’re a group of people. You’re dropping out of consensus reality. I would be so interested in somehow really measuring the group brainwaves of a Red Rebel group in action, because I’m sure you’ve shifted out of Beta. You probably not even an Alpha. You’re probably heading towards at least Delta, Theta or Delta, and you’re entering that space between the worlds, that cleavage point in the energy of whatever is happening. And that’s what shamanic practise is. It’s stepping into the space between the worlds in order to ask for help, and the help that you’re asking for is from the Earth, and it’s to move the actions forward if you’re working for XR, or it’s to presumably help the group BP or not BP to shift attitudes around fossil fuels, or it’s to help the Land, the forest being cut down for HS2 to heal, and perhaps to change the energy of that so that they stop, which would be good.
Sophie: Yes, absolutely. And I think as well there’s an element that we have to accept when we go out, that we don’t know what we’re doing. There’s no plan. You don’t know why you’re doing it. Certainly leading, there’s a lot of trusting your heart with what feels right, and what feels right might not be the obvious thing to do. It might not be the obvious action that has led to media coverage. But for some reason, you just know that this is the right place to go, and this is the right thing to do there. And I think that there’s an appreciation for most groups, and certainly people who are in the role of leading, that you trust that reasoning, that you’re working for a different purpose. When you’re out, it’s not you. It’s not me leading. I’m working for something else. I’m following something else. And some people describe it – and I do feel it – like you follow a line when you go out. It’s like a kind of a thin line that takes you through a demonstration, takes you to wherever you need to go, to the person that you need to be with, and you know how long to stay there. And then you know exactly when to move. And if you can tune into that, and just stay open and present with that, then it will be right. And it might not be right now, and it might not be right tomorrow. But there’s something there that has shifted, that maybe in a week, or in five years, or whenever it’s exactly the right moment, that has pushed something, it’s nudged up against something and shifted it.
Manda: Yes. And that trust, the ability to listen to the Song of the Stars or the Song of the Earth, or whatever it is that you’re listening to, trust it, act on it. So it’s that. What do you need of me now? OK, what I need to do is follow this instinct and let go of having to know the outcomes. If we could all do that, the world would be a different place. So what I’m interested in also is when you’re not in character, you’re not in costume with the makeup on, when you’re at home, how do you recharge your batteries? Because I’m guessing you come home pretty drained? Or does the bubble manage to continue so that you’re not feeling exhausted afterwards?
Sophie: Well, I try and spend a lot of time in nature and go to the beach, and I’m very lucky living in Cornwall, but I think I’m a bit like a dynamo in some ways that I get charged up by doing things. And I feel like doing the work, like the work of what I’m doing is what feeds me. So certainly, from doing the Red Rebel stuff and the oil slick and learning to trust that, learning to just follow that line, that feeds now into all of my activism work. So, I’m now working across lots of things. Doing Ocean Rebellion is one big thing that I’m involved in at the moment, which is a sister organisation to Extinction Rebellion.
Manda: And are you doing this in a in a costumed role, as a group, or as an individual?
Sophie: As a group. And we have some costumes which we again developed. We brought these out at the Marine Extinction March. They were blue costumes, kind of long trailing sleeves and a kind of flowing, sort of wavelike movement. So to answer your question about recharging, that’s maybe part of recharging.
Manda: Yes, I remember back to Gill Coombs and we talked a lot on our podcast about The Trembling Warrior, about how do we first of all find our courage, and where do we find where our limits are, and then how do we make sure we don’t burn out? But I’m sensing that your not burning out arises from doing more actions, which is amazing because for the rest of us, actions leave us feeling completely shattered. We have to go home and recover. So. The question that arose from that for me was that the borderlines of your courage seem to me to be boundless. I know at the moment the police are not arresting Red Rebels, but it has to be a possibility. Every time you walk into the centre of an action and stand in front of the police, they could decide not to look in your eyes, and simply to to go full on police instead. How do you find in your trembling warriorness the courage to keep moving?
Sophie: Well, the rebels are essentially non-arrestable, and we have no intention to be arrested. And I have done actions in the past, not with Reds, but I’ve been arrested. And I knew that I was going to be arrested when I did the action. It was what needed to happen at that point. But everything else I’ve done has been essentially non-arrestable, because the point hasn’t been to be arrested. However, whenever as you know, whenever you attend a demonstration, that is a risk that is present, and certainly in October, there were situations where there was definitely the potential there to be arrested, particularly when the police decided to outlaw protest, that we went out with numbers written on our arms so that we were kind of covered for that. But we had to accept that in ourselves, that there was that risk there, even though we weren’t actually protesting. We were there to witness the protest. And how do we find the courage? Well, I can only speak for myself. But I feel like, what choice do I have? This is the situation that we’re in, I. I guess, you know, given everything, I would probably rather be on the beach with my children. However, what choice do I actually have? And also, I think when I’m following that line, when I’m standing in truth, and I know that this is the right thing to do, then I don’t know: courage doesn’t even come into it. Manda, to be honest with you, it doesn’t feel like courage. Courage feels like doing something difficult. And this doesn’t feel difficult. This feels necessary.
Manda: I am in awe, but also in extreme gratitude. So, we’re heading towards the end of our time. Caro will probably tell me we’ve passed over it, but you have actions coming up. Are there any that you can tell us anything about, or do we just wait and see?
Sophie: Hopefully by the time the podcast goes out, shipping emissions won’t be able to just keep…
Manda: Right. Without us at least noticing they’re happening. Yeah, that’s a good note to end on. Shipping emissions at least being noticed by people. And I would just like to say it wasn’t a Red Rebel action, but Extinction Rebellion today on the day of recording, November 11th, took a wreath to the cenotaph, which I thought was an extraordinary creative and courageous and eye-catching and wonderful thing for them to do. I am constantly in awe of the creativity and the ways that people are finding to remind people that we have to act. And looping back to the beginning, you said someone has to do something, and I am someone, and there are a lot of someones out there, and not everybody leads a Red Rebel group in Cornwall. So, Sophie, thank you so much for all that you’re doing and for coming on to the podcast.
Sophie: Thank you for having me, Manda.
Episode #33 Feeling for the Edges of Ourselves - talking empowerment, neuroscience and societal change with Adam Hamdyapple podcastsstitcherspotifygoogle-playAdam Hamdy is a novelist, screenwriter, advisor-to-ministers (not that they necessarily listen, but that's...
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