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My tumultuous relationship with XR

You never know how people will react when you say “Extinction Rebellion.” The group has aimed to lead the human species away from walking into an early grave with the “divide and conquer” tactic; Divide the masses away from the 1% and conquer the system into forming a more environmentally friendly planet. I worry after the blocking off the distribution of the nation’s morning papers, they will only achieve the former.

The Extinction Rebellion “Climate Rebellion” held in April 2019 was my first protest in support of the group. And my expectation of what a “protest” should look like was shattered within just seconds of stepping outside Westminster underground station. The samba drums, brightly coloured flags, bunting as well as legal advisors greeting you with sheets of paper with your rights as well as the aims of “Extinction Rebellion”. Bit most strangest of all were the people who sat on the ground, only to be listening to what I’d later find out was a talk on how to correctly and legally perform an upcoming “Die-In” at the Natural History museum. 

The marble-arch encampment was one of the most surreal places I have ever been, surrounded by high-rise buildings, children’s play groups, and people making and giving out food. There were even talks being given from the back of a lorry – most notably by Greta Thunberg – and a sea of orange, green and pink flags.

My experience was entirely positive. Even when blocking roads or “swarming” as it is referred to under UK Law, not quite an arrestable offence. Despite going through traffic and apologising for the delay and explaining to drivers why we felt we needed to protest, a significant majority agreed the climate change topic needed to be put at the forefront of the agenda.

Luckily it was. The Lord Ashcroft polls revealed for the first time, Climate Change was a clincher with regards to people voted in the December 2019 elections, below key issues over public services, Brexit and the economy.

Yet in October 2019, the tide started to turn. When Extinction Rebellion activists climbed on the tube roof, and then dragged off at Canning town – a diverse and historically working-class area of London – eyebrows were raised. Questions centred around whether or not Extinction Rebellion had lost sight of the “blame the corporate and not the consumer” message we had heard so frequently before. 

Returning to the present day, police have now charged twenty-six people with aggravated trespass on the Broxbourne printing works and Knowsley printing works – two sites which print and deliver News Corporation’s newspapers, including The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail). The newspaper association owned by Mr Rupert Murdoch.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment of the protest, the monopolies over the British media must be addressed, I feel this is perhaps the last straw for many people. And though I feel Extinction Rebellion have interpreted the “right to information” in an acceptable way, it is hugely and evidently very different to how the majority interpret it, seen by the outrage and condemnation from social media, newspapers and MPs. 

Speaking from a personal standpoint – an aspiring journalist – I can’t find a viable way to support a group that is trying to reform an industry I am trying to enter without any publicly announced plan on how to reform it.

If Extinction Rebellion wants to keep the goodwill they fought so hard to build up in April 2019, they must keep the press in their favour. Disrupting the press and all those employed in sales and supply lines will in fact do the opposite. And if they are to keep in the public favour, they must clearly acknowledge both their right to protest as well as the individual’s right to the press. 


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22/09/2020

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