Climate change campaigners join Extinction Rebellion protests in London - The Leamington Observer

Climate change campaigners join Extinction Rebellion protests in London

Leamington Editorial 31st Oct, 2019   0

Some 40 members of the Warwick district branch of Extinction Rebellion took to the streets of London during recent protests. Chris Philpott, who was among them, tells the story of their efforts to save the planet.

Extinction Rebellion – often referred to as XR – is a local, national, regional and international movement using non-violent civil disobedience in order to start a dialogue with the government about what needs to be done to address the current climate emergency.

Extinction Rebellion’s three central demands of the government are it tells the truth about the climate and ecological crisis, reduces emissions to zero by 2025 and is led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

The purpose of the rebellion in London between October 7 and 19 was to get the government to agree to XR’s demands and for more members of the public to become aware of the climate crisis.

Initially Extinction Rebellion wanted to cause peaceful disruption to the government by occupying 11 sites around Westminster. Warwick district XR were part of a larger, regional grouping of the Midlands and East of England who occupied Horse Guards Parade opposite the Treasury. The theme of our site was the “love rebellion” to express the non-violent nature of our protest. The police from the offset were intent on clearing as many sites as possible and our site held out until Wednesday of the first week. In the first week I moved to three different sites. In the latter half of the rebellion two main sites remained – Vauxhall Gardens and Trafalgar Square. They were eventually cleared in the second week and the police declared XR were banned from central London. Despite this protests continued as there were an estimated 30,000 rebels in the capital.

The effectiveness of the protests was they targeted the government and institutions which perpetuate the damage caused by climate change. For instance at our site we read out an alternative budget statement in front of the Treasury, highlighting the need to de-invest in fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy. This theme was pursued in the second week by a massive protest in front of the Bank of England calling for a withdrawal of subsidies given by the government to support fossil fuel industries. At Gatwick Airport I was part of a peaceful protest against further expansion of airports when I had the opportunity to perform some of my songs. These were interspersed with mock “die ins” to highlight that air travel drives climate change that will cause millions of people to die in the future. There was also a protest at City Airport with many arrests.

Highlighting the ongoing mass extinction of species was marked with a funeral march down Oxford Street attended by 30,000 people. On the last day there was a march of 3,000 rebels with the theme that we are all “caught red handed” because we are part of a system that creates climate change, thus everyone painted their hands red. The march went to all major government departments and there were speeches demanding what the government has done about the climate emergency since it was declared in May.

Overall I was inspired by the presence of all ages of people behaving in a non-violent way to demonstrate peacefully. Some 1,700 people felt so strongly they were prepared to sacrifice their civil liberty and get arrested by peacefully blocking roads. XR had a good relationship with the police – members are trained in de-escalation and worked with the police to make sure that there was no verbal or physical violence towards the rebels. Throughout it was clear we had issues with the government, not the police.

The big success of the action was that it brought climate change to the forefront of debate in the media both nationally and internationally (60 countries took part).

Chris Philpott is 69-years-old and a retired teacher and teaching assistant

Quotes from local residents who attended:

“I felt compelled to attend the protests in London as finally the world seemed to be waking up to the climate change crisis, following the Youth Strikes on Fridays and the XR actions in April earlier in the year. I had to lend support to this growing movement.”

Dominic, 50, a gas engineer

“I have previously been on demonstrations and marches, supported charities, made banners, chanted slogans, been interviewed on radio shows, set up websites, visited camps… the list goes on for ways I have throughout my life tried to support movements calling for change. Something with Extinction Rebellion is different, there is a clear focus, which encompasses pretty much every movement that there has ever been to improve life on this planet for all. So just two weeks after getting involved with XR I find myself sitting in the middle of the road behind 10 Downing Street with people who I had known for just a few days (and plenty I was only just meeting), but whom I trusted with my life. Spirits were high and Love was all around.”

Alison, 52, local council training officer.

“I went to be part of the Rebellion as I can see no other option – the urgency is painful and the denials and arguments against action equally so. However, in London on the streets over the two weeks 98 per cent of the time the response was positive. Even from Londoners who were being inconvenienced.”

Victoria, retired

“The Extinction Rebellion community helped me to find a voice, and in that I realised I could do something to voice my concerns. I realised that I could go to London and make a difference, it was an empowering realisation.

It was a life changing experience for me. I felt so much love within the community, and it’s so important to have people to mourn with over such a complicated subject as climate change and facing extinction. There was beautiful music and

performances, and solidarity in holding sites and support and love for those who were willing to give up their freedom for the cause. It made such a huge impact to my life personally; I have a whole new perspective and know now that I am strong enough to make a difference. I think the movement will, and already has, made a difference. We are starting to raise awareness and that’s the first step to change, even if the media isn’t always positive.”

Stef, 27, games designer

“I was arrested on the Tuesday of the second week after sitting in the road on Millbank. I sat down prepared, but not intending, to be arrested. After a few minutes a policeman politely told me that I would be arrested unless I moved. He gave me several opportunities to move, which I declined, and then arrested me, at 3.45pm. I cooperated and walked away with him, rather than being carried, which meant that I did not get a cheer from the other demonstrators! As we started to move off, my name and a contact number were noted by one of the XR detainee support team, who did indeed phone my partner and leave her a message explaining what had happened. We waited for about half an hour by the wall separating the road from the river, until a van came and drove us off to Lewisham Police Station, with four other detainees and our arresting officers. I was not handcuffed, nor at any point pushed, pulled or otherwise restrained by the police. At the station, we waited half hour as we were processed one by one. Eventually I was processed at the front desk by a friendly lady, my possessions were logged and stored, and I was locked in a cell — they let me keep my glasses and take in a book. I chose a lawyer from the bust card that XR gave me, and (I think) the police contacted them on my behalf, but they did not call back, and in the end I did not speak to a lawyer. I was given tea, and pasta Bolognese in my cell, and, to my surprise, was released at 8.30 in the evening, “pending further investigation”. The police were at all times polite, even friendly, and I saw no need to behave differently towards them.”

David, 60, lecturer


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