Although they have not had quite the coverage that they had for the mega ‘sit-ins’ that they staged back in April, Extinction Rebellion‘s July Uprisings in London, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Glasgow have garnered both headlines and strong reactions.
Having ‘processed’ through the cities the movement’s signature boats, each one named after a climate change leader, have now been banned from blocking the highways. In London, the ‘Polly Higgins’ started the week outside the Royal Courts of Justice in support of the protesters arrested in April. She was then parked up outside the Old Vic in Waterloo, across the road from a week long Extinction Rebellion camp in the Millennium Park. But she was not allowed by police to process back to Parliament Square for this week’s final rally on the grounds that it would cause too much disruption to those ‘wishing to go about their daily lives’.
But that, of course, is exactly what Extinction Rebellion and civil disobedience is all about. XR believe that unless you disrupt lives and break the law you will simply not be listened to. And they have a point. In 2003 nearly two million of us marched politely through London to protest against going to war in Iraq – and what good did it do us? None. We were totally ignored.
Extinction Rebellion would claim that however bad the Iraq war may have been, the cause for which they are fighting is FAR more serious and catastrophic and that extreme measures, which most certainly include severe disruption, are therefore totally justified.
Of course, that is the claim made by every protest movement from the dawn of time. And no doubt they have all sincerely believed that their cause was right and their actions justified. But in the case of climate change and global warning, this no fringe group of weirdos promoting some wacky cause.This is the vast majority of scientific community whose warnings are being proved right on an almost daily basis by the catastrophic weather events that are already happening around the globe.
So, let us assume that you accept that the cause is right, where do you stand on disruption?
Below is an extract from an article in the Guardian in May by Roger Hallam, one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion. And, as a campaigner, Hallam has form.
In 2017, in response to his disruptive actions, King’s College London removed £14million worth of investments from fossil fuel companies and pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025.
He wrote: ‘The only way to overcome entrenched political power (which he holds responsible for the failure to address global warming with sufficient urgency) is through extensive campaigns of large-scale nonviolent direct action……
The strategy is based upon three observations.
- Firstly that only through disruption, the breaking of laws, do you get the attention you need.
- Secondly only through sacrifice – the willingness to be arrested and go to prison – do people take seriously what you are saying.
- And thirdly only through being respectful to ourselves, the public and the police, do we change the hearts and minds of our opponents, which makes it easier for them to negotiate with us.
Which is fine but….. Disruption does not only affect ‘entrenched political power’ – it affects everyone.
I did go and ‘rebel’ this week, although only in a low-key, non-sacrificial, handing-out-leaflets sort of a way. But it was noticeable how many people took a leaflet and either said ‘we support what you are fighting for, but not how you are doing it’ – or stopped to tell me about how their businesses or their lives had been seriously impacted – sometimes actually damaged – by the XR actions. On Wednesday, in Bristol, a man told BBC Radio Bristol he had been unable to get to the city’s Royal Infirmary before his father died because of the blockade – which is certainly not what anyone would want. The movement did issue a statement apologising and saying how sorry they were that a protest should have resulted in such a distressing outcome.
But the fact remains that blocking the M32 – or Waterloo Bridge – or Oxford Circus – not only guarantees you headlines but forces everyone, from the highest to the lowest, to focus on your cause. The skill, and the oh so narrow knife edge to tread, is causing sufficient disruption to make everyone sit up and pay attention, without damaging their livelihoods to the point that they turn against your movement, no matter how just its cause.
While it is widely recognised that XR campaigners so far have indeed been respectful and caring, have cleaned up after themselves and proved themselves to be good citizens, it is not clear yet whether they are still on the right side of that knife edge. A couple of friendly policemen I was chatting to during leaflet distribution this morning felt that the movement had overstepped the mark and had lost public support. But I am not sure that that is really the case.
XR would certainly not accept that it had and have every intention of not only continuing, but escalating, their actions.
If you want to join them – or even just to find out a it more about the movement – check in to their website at rebellion.earth.
Meanwhile I need to decide whether next time round I will put my money where my mouth is and agree to be arrested, not just take the easy route and hand out leaflets…..
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