The day the Blue Rebels rose-up

The day the Blue Rebels rose-up and led a climate protest for the rising seas. (Plus a thought for the coastline wanderers.)

Blue figures leading a procession of protesters
Blue Rebels lead Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s Blue Wave protest, 2020 (Copyright: Leda Bartolucci:

The Blue Wave surged up Buchanan Street. A wave of climate protesters dressed in blue and green, fancy dress costumes, sea creatures mingling with plastic pollution.

There were the familiar symbols of Extinction Rebellion, terrace-like chants to save the planet, a singing choir, the belching riffs of the brass band, the cacophony from makeshift instruments. The colour, energy and noise were not the only things causing a stir.

Leading the procession were ethereal spirit figures, their faces painted white, their cloaks and headdresses a deep blue. Their movements were slow, graceful and mournful. They are the Blue Rebels, a silent, powerful yet vulnerable contrast to the noise and energy swirling up and down Glasgow’s main shopping thoroughfare.

The Blue Rebels are Scotland’s version of the Red Rebel Brigade who were created by Bristol street performance group the Invisible Circus for the Extinction Rebellion Spring 2019 uprising in London. The red “symbolises the common blood we share with all species, that unifies us and makes us one.

We illuminate the magic realm 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.

Rebel Red Brigade

Photos of the Red or Blue Rebels often feature striking tableaux of figures in urban landscapes, engaging with the city streets and landmarks. But the images don’t capture what it’s like to actually see the Blue Rebels in action. First a silent appearance in the corner of your eye, then the raised arms raised to the River Clyde, an offering of ritual to flowing waters.

Close-up of Blue Rebel
Blue Rebel: @mickmcgurk

The busy crowds in Sauchiehall Street felt ripples of the wave approaching, then they saw the Blue Rebels. You could see the impact on their faces: amazement, bemusement, poignancy, awe, hostility, wonder, fear, joy. Some set their faces to grim determination, defences screaming on emergency power to filter it all out.

An activist told me that he once saw the Red Rebels descend on a line of police and start caressing, without touching, their faces, staring into their souls. Old Bill* could only hold the thin blue line for a moment before retreating in understandable terror. You know what they are thinking. Give me the gilet jaunes, the nihilistic football hooligans, the good old honest May Day violence anyday. Anything but that bloody mystical weirdness. The double bubble isn’t worth the feelings conjured up by these creatures.

Blue figures walk down a pedestrian bridge
Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s Blue Rebels on South Portland Street Suspension Bridge, Glasgow 2020 (Copyright: Leda Bartolucci:

For the Blue Rebels are otherworldy spirits, their silent warnings pleading with us to stop destroying ourselves. They create benign visions yet are harbingers of terrible nightmares, drafting through the city streets, making people stop and stare.

Much later a few of us escorted the Blue Rebels back to the day’s HQ. They didn’t break out of character or out of step once as we moved through the city, buffeted by winds and a sleet storm. We all fell in with the spell. We stopped the traffic so they could cross the streets with solemn grace. We kept watch for any malevolent passerbys.

Once inside we hung back so they could take the lift alone. The doors closed and the Blue Rebels disappeared into the restless and haunted consciousness of the city.

The spirits will return. The old ways know their time is returning, whether they forgive us or wreak a terrible vengeance depends on what we do next.

Rising seas and shoreline wanderers

The street carnival has a serious message in highlighting the dangers we face from rising sea levels caused by the climate crisis. Even if we collectively manage to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C, by 2050 at least 570 cities and some 800 million people will be exposed to rising seas and storm surges. The world will become one of sinking mega cities, abandoned settlements haunting foreshores, climate refugees and slow mass migration.

Many are already living with the effects of the rising seas. Their voices, haunted by loss, send out countless warnings and calls.

Screengrab from Climate Central’s interactive map showing parts of Glasgow Clyde area that could be hit by rising tides in 2050.
Screengrab from Climate Central’s interactive map showing parts of Glasgow Clyde area that could be hit by rising tides in 2050.

Yet despite all these voices, for some reason, I keep thinking about those long-distance walkers following the coastline. Solitary obsessives stalking the perimeter, taking years to circumvent the UK, happily pursuing the margins where land and sea meet, resting wearied bodies just beyond the line of the foreshore.

West Scotland and the islands are a cartographer’s vision of both heaven and hell. An unfathomable, masterless labyrinth of water, land and sea. One can only admire the madness required to trace paths in these parts.

The UK coastline is in a state of constant of flux, but the scale of change could be rapid and fundamental. By the time the walkers have completed the loop they’ll have to start again to walk the new paths.

They’ll be delighted with that. They walk with their dreams and to outpace their demons.

*I’m being unfair. Some of the police officers I spoke to seemed interested in and hugely sympathetic to the environmental aims of Extinction Rebellion.

In 2020, the international climate movement is coming to Glasgow for COP26. Please donate to XR Scotland because we need all the help we can get to make an impact at COP26.


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