TWO bridges across the Thames and a host of normally busy roads around Parliament are to be blockaded by members of the climate protest-group Extinction Rebellion (XR) from next Monday, as part of a co-ordinated “International Rebellion”.
Similar protests will be made in more than 60 cities around the world, including New Delhi, Cape Town, Santiago, and Buenos Aires, as well as Sydney, Montreal, Vienna, Prague, and Washington, DC. The action comes on the heels of a UN climate summit in New York in which leaders of the developed world disappointed campaigners (News, 27 September) .
Organisers believe that the event will be bigger than the similar protests in April, when activists camped out for a week at London landmarks — Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, and Oxford Circus — and 1000 people were arrested (News, 26 April). They have published their plans online, and hope to hold the sites for at least a week through non-violent occupation.
One location is Lambeth Bridge, which has been designated a “faith bridge”, and will host a variety of activities from different groups. The Community of Aidan and Hilda will lead liturgical worship, the Church Army will be hosting poetry workshops, and the development charities Christian Aid, Tearfund, and CAFOD will be leading a prayer vigil on Monday. There will also be baptisms, a daily eucharist, a contemplative prayer pool, Taizé services, foot-washing sessions, and possibly even a wedding.
PAAt an Extinction Rebellion rally in Baden-Württemberg, in Germany, in May, a demonstrator is carried away by police
The Revd Helen Burnett, Team Vicar in the Caterham Team Ministry in the diocese of Southwark, is a member of Christian Climate Action (CCA), the Christian arm of XR. She said: “For many of us, this is a spiritual act of witness. So it makes sense to celebrate this part of our faith and bring it into the heart of the protest.”
Asked whether they were concerned about the disruption that their protest would cause drivers, organisers said that they had decided to focus on Westminster after a protest in June blocked the M32 near Bristol and prevented a man from seeing his father, who later died in hospital.
One of the co-ordinators of CCA, Holly-Anna Petersen, said that part of the reason for choosing the Whitehall location was that those in power would be most affected.
“We’re aware that having roads closed can be very annoying for people, and it’s not something we do lightly,” she said. “We’d much rather be using our annual leave to go on holiday than sit in a road, but we feel it’s the only way to persuade those in power to take the required action to tackle the climate crisis. We’re desperate; we’ve tried everything else but it’s not worked, which is why we’re having to do this.
“By focusing on the roads around Parliament, we’re increasing the number of MPs and policymakers that will be affected rather than normal people. Likewise, in April, we held a prayer vigil on top of the DLR train at Canary Wharf Tube Station, to affect people working in the global finance industry.
PAClimate-change protesters sit on Princess Bridge, Melbourne, on 14 September
“But we recognise that other people will have their lives disrupted to some extent, and we’re sorry it’s come to this. We’re just so scared of the disruption climate change will create, and that is what we’re trying to prevent.”
The Metropolitan Police said that it was aware of the protests, and that its officers would act in a “proportionate” manner. A spokesperson said: “The Met is aware of a number of planned demonstrations and protests by Extinction Rebellion commencing Monday 7 October through to Monday 14 October, expected to take place across a number of central London locations.
“The Met have been preparing for this protest for several weeks now. The policing operation will be proportionate to balance the right to a peaceful protest, while ensuring disruption to communities is kept to a minimum.
“Officers from across the Met will be deployed to support the public order operation, balanced against policing the rest of London.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, met XR members during the protests in the spring, and told them that he shared their concerns over climate change. He wrote at the time: “The reality is that City Hall only has the powers and resources to reduce less than half the carbon emissions required to reach zero carbon by 2050, let alone 2025.
“The truth is the Government holds the overwhelming majority of the crucial levers across taxation, legislation, and regulation.”
PAExtinction Rebellion activists block the Wilson Bridge in Lyon, France, on 15 September
Last week, he backed the global climate strikes, when more than four million children and adults walked out of school and workplaces. He said: “It is unbelievable that we should need global strike action for the future of our planet to be taken seriously.
“The stark reality is that our climate is changing rapidly, and we are running out of time to address it.
“I hope governments around the world, who are failing to take action, hear the voices of millions of people, young and old, unified in their call for action to save our planet. Our future depends on it.”