Police arrest over 800 activists as Extinction Rebellion protests in London continue

Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in London started on Monday, 7th of October as part of the International Rebellion. The rebellion, involving groups of activists in countries across the globe, is a unified protest against the lack of direct action taken by governments in addressing the environmental crisis. The environmental pressure group began its planned two-week shutdown in central London on Monday, blockading Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Smithfield market. The group concentrated their efforts in areas around Whitehall to stress the government’s inaction in addressing the climate crisis. Several protestors glued themselves to the Department for Transport and the Home Office, whilst a procession of parents marching on Downing Street staged a sit-down protest and “mass nurse-in” after their initial path was blocked by police.

The Metropolitan Police released a Section 14 order banning demonstrations across central London, largely clearing the XR Whitehall camp by Tuesday evening. So far, over 800 arrests have been reported, whilst the force claims to have made provisions for holding cells for over 1,000 people. Officers are alleged to have forcibly removed protestors, tents and equipment from the sites, in what has been described by activists as a forceful and violent manner.

The events transpire days after the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson labelled XR protestors as “uncooperative crusties”, in a pitiful attempt to divert public attention away from the governments lack of responsiveness to the environmental crisis and towards an inaccurate and demeaning image of XR supporters. Similarly, various critics on social media site Twitter have attempted to portray protestors as hypocrites, for using a diesel generator at their camp, eating McDonald’s for lunch, and transporting canoes in vehicles.

These criticisms overlook the central reason behind the protests: that our planet is heading towards destruction and our leaders are doing nothing about it. Any discussion of hypocrisy is a deliberate attack on activists, in an attempt to harm the movement and maintain the status quo that is fuelling the destruction of our natural ecosystems. It remains crucial that we all support the actions of XR, as the group have been successful in raising public awareness and pressurising governments to take responsibility for the environmental crisis. If anything, criticisms of XR simply reveal the success of the organization in disrupting business as usual and infuriating those in power.

In the next phase of non-violent direct action, activists will engage in a sit-in protest at London City airport for up to three days. An XR representative revealed plans to implement a “Hong Kong-style occupation of the terminal building, lying, sitting or glueing-on in front of the departure and arrivals gates”. As the organization has repeatedly reiterated, non-violent strategies are used due to the repeated failure of conventional approaches such as marching, voting and lobbying.

If we have any hope in achieving a more habitable world, we must commend rather than condemn, the non-violent, peaceful actions of Extinction Rebellion and its devoted activists.

Olivia Abbott