“I Wake Up Every Day with Profound Existential Dread”: Extinction Rebellion Activists in San Francisco Stage Anti-Fossil Fuel Protest in Solidarity with D.C. Arrestees


Photo by Daphne Mullen.

Daphne Mullen, Staff

As the planet is heating up, so is public pressure from thousands of Americans taking action against fossil fuels – many of them right here in our Bay Area backyard.

On Oct. 15, climate change activists from the organization Extinction Rebellion held a demonstration at the Phillip Burton Federal Courthouse in San Francisco. It was part of a wave of protests in solidarity with Indigenous activists and their allies who risked arrest by putting their bodies on the line in Washington, DC, earlier this month to demand a future free of fossil fuels.

The event was a precursor to the nationwide climate change protest happening this Friday, Oct. 29, in the runup to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) that starts Oct. 31 in Glasgow, Scotland. Members of Extinction Rebellion said they’re doing their part to build activist momentum around the Bay Area.

Rita Foster, a retired theater performer from San Jose, talked about what motivated her to attend the rally. “I am here because I wake up every day with profound existential dread,” she said. “I have adult daughters who don’t want to have children because they are afraid of the future their children will inherit. Art is what I know, so it’s the tool that I’m using to fight the climate crisis.”

Foster added, “I don’t understand why more people don’t care. If they hadn’t been lied to so effectively, so aggressively all these years, they wouldn’t be doing anything else.”

Photo by Daphne Mullen.


The San Francisco event, which ran for about two hours, felt like an exhilarating gathering, although only a few dozen people attended. The crowd chanted as people held up posters and banners featuring beautifully crafted yet harrowing images that depicted the harmful effects of fossil fuels – such as an hourglass symbol inside of Earth, signifying the lack of time humans have to act on the issue.

The atmosphere in front of the courthouse was serious and somber, but energetic and hopeful at the same time. Performance artists in costumes circulated the scene. Some dressed in rags and white face paint to symbolize the death and destruction that climate change is bringing upon the world. Others wore robotic suits and gas masks to represent the corporate greed that motivates the fossil fuel industry.

“We’re in the middle of a climate crisis, and in the U.S, resistance to the destruction of our climate has been led for hundreds of years by Indigenous communities,” said Jade Northup, a photographer and artist working with Extinction Rebellion.

“Basically, we just wanted to come out here to our local federal building, make some noise, and spread awareness of these events in solidarity with our brothers and sisters out in D.C getting arrested this week for the climate.”

Northup admitted that the nature of the climate crisis goes beyond politics. “There is a moral imperative to act,” he added.

“Our action and inaction not only impacts us and our children, but it impacts the global majority. The fossil fuel industry has been extremely harmful to people and their health, especially marginalized communities,” he said, adding that in the Bay Area, people in Richmond have higher rates of asthma because they live in a refinery corridor.

Photo by Daphne Mullen.

As the event wrapped up, people grouped together to speak about why they had come to the event. Many shared stories of their personal experiences and feelings about climate change, and the effects that a dominant fossil fuel industry has had on their lives. As speakers passed around the mic, actors continued to perform, some trickling into the streets to get the attention of those passing by.

Eerie, electronic music played in the background – a beat that seemed to match with the stiff movements of the actors. Daniel Larlham, one of the performers dressed in a gray, robotic-looking suit, revealed the brainstorming and planning that went into the costumes.

Photo by Daphne Mullen.

“I was kind of the instigator of this character. The character is called ‘The Xtractor,’” Larlham said. “They’re supposed to represent predatory, rapacious extractive capitalism, and they have a self-perpetuating structure to them: they have a human core at the center of them, but are totally armored and possessed. They’re ‘self-fracked’ by the system that they are a part of.”

Armando Davila, another performer, spoke about the environmental impact that people in the Bay Area are having on climate change.

“We here in the Bay Area are the top 1% of the planet. We consume a disproportionate amount of resources, we pollute a lot,” said Davila. “Our city and region are not sustainable, and disproportionately consume the world’s resources. For me, the only ethical resolution to this is to constrain our resource consumption to a lower and more fair level.”

“I try to imagine a day when I hear our world leaders say that we are initiating this transition [to renewable energy] comprehensively,” added Davila. “We’re all waiting for that to happen.”