On the eve of Earth Day (April 22), 963 people were arrested in London during the climate change protests, dubbed as the Extinction Rebellion (XR), that saw activists kick off an international series of direct action and civil disobedience.
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said that, during her 36-year career, she had never known a single police operation to result in so many arrests. It is this scale of disruption that will pave the way for social change, claim many.
What the rebellion looks like
London’s Waterloo Bridge, usually chock-a-block with thoroughfare, was transformed into a vibrant garden bridge as protestors brought plants and flowers, and constructed entertainment arenas to protest climate change, not allowing cars to pass for the entire week!
People glued themselves to city trains, chained themselves to concrete for six days with plans to prevent MPs from entering the Parliament in the future. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan police tried to confine protestors to Marble Arch and were able to finally vacate the bridge on Sunday night.
The disruption was notably met with a crackdown resulting in hundreds of arrests and charges, but reporters who felt the first pulse of a post-fossil-fuel era on Sunday claimed this could be the beginning a new youthful politics born out of impatience with political inaction.
Activists in New York also blocked major landmarks and pretended to be dead outside the city hall, demanding a city resolution declaring a climate emergency. Sixty people were arrested for disorderly conduct and two people for reckless endangerment.
Chapters of the protest also hit the streets of Berlin, Paris, Montreal, The Hague and even Ghana, where students and activists poured fake blood on streets near government buildings and blocked banking headquarters.
Raising the profile
Teenage climate warrior Greta Thunberg, who cast the first stone and made it all happen, reminded those who donated handsomely to rehabilitate Notre Dame, to share that enthusiasm for this cause.
Addressing the protestors in London, she said “humanity is standing at a crossroads” and further galvanised them saying they are “making a difference.”
The movement, as Matthew d’Ancona noted, was led by a generation that prefers to “form networks rather than to colonise institutions…perceive the world in terms of identity and power structures rather than the categories of classical individualism; and they are more interested in transnational challenges (climate change, the pathologies of inequality, automation).”
Among those arrested on Sunday was Olympic medallist and vocal climate change activist Etienne Stott. Lifelong climate crusader Sir David Attenborough, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, and actress Dame Emma Thompson joined the protestors.
Demands spurred by dire warnings
Billed as one of the most remarkable grassroots movements of the 21st century, XR has managed to impress its salient demands upon the common masses.
The movement has three core demands: the government must tell the truth about climate change; reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2025; hold a citizens’ assembly to plan and oversee the changes necessary to save our planet from the ecological apocalypse.
The big question: Will it work?
It has been a long but exhilarating wait to see Thunberg’s solo sit-in protest outside the Swedish parliament grow into global school strikes and take the shape of XR, which has budged even The Bank of England.
Its governor Mark Carney on Wednesday pointed to how the financial sector must play a central role in a massive reallocation of capital to help prevent catastrophic global warming.
Members of the British Parliament also backed the world’s first mandatory disclosure regime for a major financial market, which would allow people to know if their pension fund was being used to clear a rainforest or invest in a wind farm. According to The Times, business leaders too voiced their support for the protestors.
The discourse can similarly be shifted to meet the terms of the Paris climate accord, the Green New Deal in the US, the EU’s agenda on sustainable finance and numerous guidelines recommended by the United Nations. As Molly Scott Cato notes, it’s time for financiers, legislators, campaigners and activists to share ideas and work constructively on tackling the most important crisis of the 21st century.
Now that would be indicative of a real shift and measurable progress.
Take care, XR
According to d’Ancona, the protest’s syncretic culture may well remind one of the carnival spirit of the 60’s flower power movement, with roots in the philosophy of Gandhi, and the determination of the Occupy movement—and yet, it is arrestingly new and nuanced.
That is not to say there aren’t threats of fragmentation of hijacking by tech-literate far-right groups like Generation Identity. But this is the one time we can forget our class differences and codes of morality, because right now, we need whatever and whoever it takes to tackle this climate emergency.
London mayor Sadiq Khan responded to the Met’s request for 200 more officers to ward off protestors, citing forces being stretched too thin and needing to be engaged in fighting serious crimes.
While the movement continues to misunderstood by the liberal media, the prevalent political system, and law enforcement authorities, it is expected to survive these hurdles now that the ball is finally rolling.
Extinction Rebellion held a “people’s assembly” at Marble Arch late Monday to decide what will happen in the coming days, with the movement appearing split on what next steps to take in their campaign of non-violent civil disobedience. It will only be a matter of time before XR protestors hit the streets of India, inspiring the government to come clean and make commitments on their watch.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.