15 october 2019

'To do nothing is criminal': XR activists on defying the police

Extinction Rebellion gatherings are continuing despite a police ban. Five activists explain why

Aamna Mohdin and Martha Brennan, The Guardian, Tue 15 Oct 2019

Extinction Rebellion activists have defied a London-wide ban on protests to demonstrate for a second week as they continue to call for action on climate change. The environmental pressure group, which described the ban as a “disproportionate and unprecedented attempt to curtail peaceful protest”, said its lawyers had sent the Metropolitan police a letter threatening legal action. On Tuesday, the group protested at the Department for Transport, had a spontaneous gathering in Trafalgar Square, and demonstrated at Millbank Tower. Five protesters have told the Guardian why they have defied the ban and continued demonstrating.

Josie Holt, 39, activist

I have superglued myself to the bottom of the caravan because I am deeply concerned at governments’ complete lack of appropriate action on the very obvious climate emergency that all life on Earth is currently facing.

I am here to highlight the real threat of food insecurity. I can’t tell you how many other places I’d rather be, but I don’t feel I have any choice.

I am ecstatically happy to live in a time and place where I’m still able to take action. I am so privileged to be able to do this here today when so many people can’t. I am doing this for all the people on the ever increasing frontline of climate change. I’ve come out to protest for all the other people suffering from droughts and food shortages because of the lack of action from those in power.

I want to be at home teaching my four children but I no longer have that option because this affects everyone.

Mothiur Rahman, 44, lawyer

I have been protesting with Extinction Rebellion since last August. I came out as a response to what’s happening, but as well as climate justice, this is about civil liberties. The state is going in the direction of over-policing and taking away our liberties. That is why I’m out here, because banning people in London from protesting and searching people with XR badges is a bad direction for us to be heading in.

I’m not scared of being arrested. I got arrested on Monday and was held on remand for 16 hours. It was OK. There were lots of singing and meditation.

Today is not just about the danger we face. There’s also the story of restoration. It’s about transforming society so we have set conditions in our system to enable a plurality of voices to emerge.

We need to rethink the tools of our democratic system. In the current context, if the balance of power that has existed for centuries no longer works, we need to rethink, to have that balance to enable ecological restoration and human restoration.

Mark, 52, businessman

As the environmental system breaks down, food and the supply of food is going to become an issue. Something needed to be done 20 years ago, but that’s why we are here.

We’re starting to understand the interconnectedness of the planet and the laws of physics and numbers which we are playing with. We can’t live on credit. We’ll meet a crunch. It won’t just be the people in the global south or marginalised people. We can see it’s not an isolated event. It is a global phenomenon.

For us to think Britain is immune to it so we can buy out of it is folly. It will affect all of us. There is no hiding from this, so it is time for us to speak up.

Francesca, 39, mum

I’m here for my kids and for everyone else’s kids and the kids who haven’t been born yet.

It’s a relief to be able to do something. Brexit is such a black hole and really painful, but this is a chance to come together to do something constructive and align ourselves with reality.

The ban just makes me more keen to come out and get more involved. There are over 1,000 arrested. Let’s get that up to 2,000. It is fantastic the police are taking us seriously. They’re doing their job and we respect that and their calmness.

My plan A is not to be arrested, but this isn’t about staying in control. If I’m arrested I’ll deal with it. I have faith in what we’re doing.

I’ve not been involved in protests before. I have more of a background in the social sector. I feel like this is something I’ve been waiting for a long time.

We have a hope of turning this around. Individual activism is not going to be enough. We need to act as a collective.

Ash, 25, former technical business analyst

I’ve been thinking about climate change for a long time and the severity of it didn’t hit. There was the feeling of the powerlessness and no one doing anything about it.

Protesting doesn’t make me feel more hopeful as such, but it makes me feel like I couldn’t be anywhere else. There is a duty to make some agency and do it. To do nothing is criminal. I turned down a master’s place this month because I couldn’t sit in a classroom.

The ban seems like a draconian impact on our right to protest. It’s pretty shocking that suddenly wherever you are, if you’re protesting you’re a lot more of a target. It has created a sense of unease and fear. When crossing Lambeth Bridge on foot, there were walls of police and stop and search was occurring. It was a bizarre state to witness and not something you expect to see in the UK.

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