Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of London over the past two weeks as part of Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) calls for parliament to address the ‘Climate and Ecological crisis’ facing the planet today, with many UEA students partaking in the protests.
To date, over 1000 arrests have been made in the London protests by Metropolitan police, which include activists from the XR contingent in Norwich, as reported by the EDP.
Organised by international movement formed last year, Extinction Rebellion, the protests started on Monday 15 April, with masses of people occupying key public spaces, namely Parliament Square, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Marble Arch.
Fuelled by the belief that climate breakdown has occurred even faster than scientists could have predicted, protesters seek to demand that the government take emergency action to prevent irreversible changes to our planet.
As the protests have progressed, the past week has seen action taken in locations such as the London Stock Exchange and Heathrow Airport.
People have come from all over the UK in attempts to make their voices heard and show commitment to the cause, with a number of protesters hailing from universities across the country.
Lotty Clare, an International Development and Environment student at UEA, attended because she believes that ‘we have been lied to for decades about what climate change means, and how we fix it. International agreements are non-binding and are simply not ambitious enough for the amount of change we need to our systems.’
Predominantly spending her time in Parliament Square and Waterloo Bridge, she added that, ‘We are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event and it is man made.’
‘People of colour, indigenous people and people in the global south have been suffering from the tyranny of resource extraction, environmental degradation, land grabs, pollution, and extreme weather due to climate change, whilst the rich only get richer.’
‘This for me is a great injustice and addressing climate change means addressing racism, sexism, and a capitalist, patriarchal system that has divided humanity.’
She agrees for the most part about XR’s tactics in addressing the government with the climate emergency. ‘I agree with the occupation tactics, and disruption business as usual because we need this to get policymakers to listen to us…and it has been effective so far in creating a lot of attention and engagement.’
However, she too expresses concerns that XR’s tactics are somewhat controversial and need improving. ‘…arrest shouldn’t be aimed for, and that there is a danger of glorifying arrests which is not good. There is valid criticism that many BAME people cannot afford to get arrested, and it is uncomfortable seeing mostly white protestors getting arrested and basically having no issues, whereas black people can be arrested simply for walking down the street, for just existing.’
Indeed, it also highlights the belief that the movement is majoritively led by middle-class, white males, making it not entirely inclusive for people from diverse backgrounds. In response to this, Lotty considers that ‘XR may have a PR issue, or an appearance issue.
‘All the people in interviews I have seen with spokespeople are white, and XR need to do a better job, as does everyone in the environmental movement, to actively ensure participation of marginalised groups, and make spaces for different voices, experiences, ways of seeing and forms of knowledge.’
‘Being at the protests, they are a lot more than arrests – that is just a necessary part of what is happening and it is not being actively sought out. There are people’s assemblies to give a model of what a new form of democracy would be like, there are pedestrianised garden areas, people come and talk about struggles all over the world, for example Kurdistan and Mozambique. There is art, poetry and communication and collaboration.’
‘Ultimately, the environmental situation is urgent, and we need systemic changes coming from the top, bottom, and every which way. The government will not take big enough steps unless we really turn the pressure up with the environmental movement, and everyone has to be represented in that movement.’
‘I don’t expect that things will change over night but this protest is a part of an ongoing movement.’
A spokesperson for XR from Dorset, Karen Ecclestone, who has camped overnight in a variety of XR’s occupied locations since the campaign’s inception, believes that the protests have been fairly impactful so far.
However, she admits that it’s ‘ambitious’ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, which is one of XR’s key demands.
‘We have the technologies there, but it’s government willpower to put it in place.# Other demands include encouraging the Government to call for a ‘climate and ecological emergency’ and to create and lead a Citizens’ Assembly.
However, while XR organisers emphasise their commitment to being ‘passionately non-violent’, there are those who are more critical of XR’s tactics. The Metro reported that some commuters were having to use taxis to get around the capital as opposed to using public transport, due to the travel disruptions caused by XR protesters occupying public spaces, which some would argue contradicts XR’s demands by actually contributing to the carbon emissions they seek to reduce.
Karen admits that she ‘hadn’t realised’ the counterproductive impacts of their tactics and that ‘we are sorry for any disruptions we may have caused but it’s short term and what we’re looking at is for long term life.’
A student from Gloucester made the three hour coach journey to Oxford Circus because she just wanted to ‘be a part of it because it’s so important. No one is paying attention to it and it will literally affect my life so much.’
Some have even come from across the world, with media coverage of the protests sparking global curiosity. Max, a photographer from Nigeria, who was documenting the protests in Oxford Circus on Thursday 18th, said: ‘One thing I have noticed is that it’s been completely non-violent. It’s just been people talking about issues of climate change.
‘If it’s for real that the scientists say that we’ve got 11 years then it’s something that we should start looking into. It shouldn’t have to take citizens to come out… for lawmakers to start thinking about what they can do.’ Protests have occurred in over 30 countries around the world, which illustrates the collective, global interest in capturing the attention of governments worldwide.
XR have made the decision to pause the civil disobedience despite originally being planned to continue for an additional week, which would end on the 29th April, or until ‘the government takes action.’