Activists are debating the way forward after Extinction Rebellion (XR) ended its long-running disruptive protest in central London on Thursday night.
The climate change direct action ended its ten day occupation of Marble Arch with a “pausing ceremony” attended by up to 1,000 people.
Earlier that day XR activists blockaded the London Stock exchange and other roads in the City of London financial district. There were also protests at the Treasury and in Canary Wharf, where five activists were arrested.
The evening ceremony had a sombre, reflective and very often spiritual atmosphere. But it was also an opportunity for activists to take stock of what they had achieved.
One speaker noted that many of them over the past ten days would have been “tied down, locked down, glued down” on roads as part of the action.
One activist told Socialist Worker that XR’s action had been “An amazing achievement”.
“The message is getting through,” they said. “We’ve been talking to people about what’s going on. And people have said, they may be inconvenienced by our action—but that we’re right.”
Another protester, Sheila, said she was “very pleased that I managed to come to this”. “I would have been gutted if I missed it—but also because I’ve met people from my area who I can get involved in more actions with,” she said.
Beginning on Monday of last week, XR activists occupied several key roads in central London—including at Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge and at Parliament Square.
Impressively, they held onto most of them for several days—defying many attempts by police to clear them, and more than 1,000 arrests.
And they have forced the question of action on climate change to the top of the political agenda despite condemnation and hostility from mainstream politicians.
Tory Home secretary Sajid Javid last week called for the “full force of the law” to be used against XR protesters. And Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan demanded they allow London to return to “business as usual”.
Yet by Tuesday of this week, Tory environment secretary Michael Gove claimed he would meet with XR activists. And on Thursday, Tory international development secretary Liam Fox said it was important to “take climate issues seriously”.
He emphasised that investment in renewable energy would be an “enormous opportunity” for bosses in Britain.
The protests have also forced the Labour Party to shift too. Labour, and the Labour left group Momentum, at first reacted cautiously to the protests.
Momentum promoted its own climate change campaign without mentioning XR, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to meet protesters outside his home.
But by the beginning of this week Labour politicians were speaking at XR protest sites, and Momentum was congratulating the activists for taking action.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell tweeted on Thursday, “#ExtinctionRebellion has successfully raised the profile of the climate threat and focussed the minds of us all on the action needed. Thanks and congratulations to its supporters and participants in peaceful protest.”
Most XR activists see the response from politicians as a victory. One activist at Marble Arch, Nick, told Socialist Worker, “I’m not Michael Gove’s biggest fan. But if he follows up on what he says, that’s good.
“We need to talk to these people. And we need to write to our MPs. My MP came here to support this. It’s my job now to remind her of that, because we’ve had 30 years of politicians promising action and doing nothing.”
There’s now big potential to take the large number of people galvanised by XR’s action and build a movement with them.
XR groups could set up “citizens’ assemblies” to discuss action on climate change—a core demand of the group. And they could hold similar actions and protests in their own areas.
It’s also clear that XR could continue to organise large national protests and demonstrations.
And the movement has to be built deeper into the labour and trade union movement. Its protest has shown the potential for the kind of action that could take place across London when Donald Trump visits in June.
Organisers didn’t announce any further actions at the ceremony. But they did call on activists to “continue once you’ve rested”.
“Gather up energy to take it to our families, to take it to our friends, in our workplaces and our schools and all the places we know,” they said.
One protester at Marble Arch, Helena, told Socialist Worker that activists had to focus on “getting the word out,” after the action had ended. She added, “What I’ll do after this is I’ll be a lot more conscious of all the things I do and consume.
But another said, “It would be a shame if this was just a flash in the pan—and I don’t think it will be. I think people will start taking action to push the government in the right direction.”
And protester, Ferhat, told Socialist Worker, “This is just the beginning. We need more.
“It’s not going to work if this is just for ten days. We’ve got to carry on doing this.”