A spirit of rebellion swept through London on Monday. It was a moment when, like the school students’ climate strikes, the talk about climate change stopped and action began.
It’s part of an “International Rebellion” of coordinated global action.
For much of the day the police stood off as the protests took place. But as darkness fell police began clearing protesters from Waterloo Bridge.
Cops singled out individual protesters, asking them to move to Marble Arch before arresting them moments later.
One protester told Socialist Worker, "I'm scared, and I don't know if I'm ready to get arrested.
"No one wants to get arrested but at the end of the day I'm doing this because I give a shit about the planet. If we don't have disruptive protests we're not going to get through to the powers that be."
Seconds later she was taken away by police.
Protesters gathered together singing and chanting as they faced the police. There were cheers for every person taken by the cops.
A protester told Socialist Worker, "We're aware of what's going to happen. We're prepared for it.
"This demonstrates how serious people are, that they're prepared to put their bodies on the line and get arrested."
He added, "This protest is a reasonable response to what's going on in the world. I feel empowered by this."
Over the day there were 113 arrests. But activists manged to maintain blockades overnight.
Marble Arch was the key organising hub, one of the five sites across the city where action took place..
Shortly after the roads were blocked XR activists in colour coded hi-vis jackets began organising a kitchen tent, stewards’ rota and constructing compost toilets.
A stage on a truck hosted music and poetry and played host to feedback from groups who discussed how to set up Citizens’ Assemblies.
The Citizens Assemblies is a key demand from XR which wants a committee of ordinary people to oversee government action on climate change.
On the grass, small groups worked together to thrash out ideas about how to build the assemblies.
Susan argued that “councils should give over space to communitiy organisations to run citizens’ assemblies and eco groups. We need to engage children, and use social media”.
Steve from Woolwich, south London said that “each borough council should have an eco officer—a climate expert who can ratify all the piss poor decisions that the local councils make on building and road implementation.
“If someone is in the council at all times who’s an expert it might go a little bit better.”
Many on the streets were on their first demonstration—or returning to political activity after a break.
A protester on a barricade on Edgware Road said he was joining the sit-in because he was “terrified of inaction” and “our collective life support system” is in danger.
He said the energy of the school strikes and XR actions had inspired him .
“It can’t be ‘business as usual’ because there will be no 22nd century and there will be no-one left to notice” he said
Local campaigns fed into the demonstration. Mark came with a group who are fighting Bristol Airport expansion. They picketed the British headquarters of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan—which is funding the extension.
Oxfordshire resident Maureen said she had been a climate activists for years but the IPCC report last year “really galvanised” her.
“We’re fighting to get our parish council to recognise a climate emergency. But it’s not just about what’s happening in government or councils—we need a war-like mentality, a use of every resource to fight this.”
Alongside bigger occupations, a small group of activists took their fight directly to the fossil firm company Shell’s office in central London. It was designed to highlight that the company knew about the climate and ecological destruction it has been causing for decades.
Five were arrested on suspected criminal damage after the building was spray painted.
One protester said, “We need the big corporations tackled as much as the councils. I take my hat off to those that have the courage to take direct action."
Some banners on the demonstration used the word ecocide.
Val from Buckinghamshire explains that “ecocide is about how we’re in the sixth mass extinction. It is about how life on the planet is being killed—we’re losing the whole thing, the whole system.”
Troy is a plumber working in a posh hotel nearby and “saw someone struggling with a drill” so offered to help.
Together they constructed a huge bench which blocked one of the main roads leading to Marble Arch.
XR activists are hoping to stay on the streets for a fortnight—or until the government sits down to negotiate.
The audacious spirit of the international rebellion is exactly the kind of combative movement needed to tackle climate change.
Everyone should join the fight for a future without the capitalist priorities that will cost us the earth.
Disruption to win change
Hundreds of people occupied Oxford Circus, blocking four lanes of traffic in central London. Activists began gathering from 9am, boosted by a large contingent who arrived from Wales.
Then at 11am a truck arrived towing a large object under a tarpaulin. As activists glued their hands onto the trailer, the cover was removed to reveal a large pink boat with the words “Tell the truth” painted along one side.
XR groups with banners stood at each entrance to the crossroads, as hundreds more sat down in the road to enjoy the sun.
Activists set up a DJ rig on the boat, with music from singers, bands and performers throughout the day.
Others organised a kitchen, another marquee was established as a “Wellbeing Hub,” and there was an arts table where people could print XR logos onto clothes and banners.
Toilets were also set up for the “night shift”—a sign that the protesters plan to stay there for as long as possible.
Jess was one of those who had come from Wales to join the protest. She told Socialist Worker, “Today we’re going to take action until the government tells the truth about climate change and shows they’re going to pass policies to deal with the issue.
“They should divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables, and look at local food production and water sources.”
Another protester, Sarah, said, “I’m here for my children. I don’t feel that the government is taking the right kind of action on the climate. We’re not going to meet our commitments in the Paris climate change agreement.
“I can’t see any other way to make our voices heard other than to cause some disruption.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of people from XR youth gathered at Hyde Park Corner. They began with “training sessions” for activists before sitting in the road, then marching to occupy Piccadilly Circus.
Marchers—many of them school students—carried a giant banner that read “Extinction is Coming.” Within minutes of arriving at Piccadilly Circus, the ground was covered in chalked slogans and some spray paint.
Some activists climbed to the top of the Eros statue to hang banners and flags from the top. Organisers said they planned to stay there for four or five hours, with workshops throughout the day.
Many of those who joined had come from outside London, and had been on previous school students’ walkouts.
Amelie, who came from Gloucester to join the protest, said she had been on a school walkout in Stroud. “Climate change is such a big thing,” she told Socialist Worker. “But no one really seems to take notice.”
And Benjy said he had been on two walkouts in Bristol, “But they didn’t cause disruption like this.”
Benny told Socialist Worker that he wanted the government “To get its priorities right.”
“It’s about the power of money in the hands of a few,” he said. “They need to think about the long term, not profit in the short term.”
What's beyond politics?
Over 1,500 people attended the Beyond Politics event in Parliament Square. It kicked off at 11am with the sounding of the alarm to symbolise the 12 years until climate change is irreversible if urgent action is not taken.
Many people attended in fancy dress to commemorate endangered and extinct animals.
A people’s podium was erected to allow demonstrators to talk about how climate change affected their day to day lives. Speakers pushed for further citizens’ assemblies to force the government to take steps ending climate change.
Around 2pm people blockaded the road with speakers both on the stage and in the street. Justin, an orthopaedic surgeon said that he and his wife had taken a day from work to support the cause.
“We want our children and others to have a better future without fear of the effects of climate change,” he said.
Waterloo Bridge was transformed into a garden blockade with hundreds of trees and thousands of crowdsourced pot plants.
Children played on hay bales, and a picnic area on astroturf was set up. Around 15 different workshops were held on the bridge with speeches on the stage.
A drumming crew and choir contributed to a real festival atmosphere while yurts were constructed.