Thousands of rebels poured onto the streets of central London early on Monday morning to demand urgent and dramatic action on the climate emergency.
Organised by non-violent direct action group Extinction Rebellion (XR), the London mobilisation is part of international action in over 60 countries.
Activists hoped to occupy the streets at 12 sites in Westminster. But their efforts were thwarted in several instances by a heavy police presence, arrests and confiscation of equipment.
To help keep cars off the road, activists locked themselves to cars, vans, a hearse, and a missile emblazoned with, “Trident—immoral, obsolete, militarily useless.”
By late morning, up to 3,000 rebels gathered in Trafalgar Square where a number of samba bands kept people dancing.
Hannah told Socialist Worker she wanted to be on the streets because “XR is all about action”.
“Before April I was feeling pretty desperate about the loss of wildlife and the changing climate—I was feeling powerless,” she said.
“But then I thought, ‘Oh my god people are actually changing things.’ This is something I can do beyond recycling.”
Action around parliament was made up of several relatively small scale roadblocks, with around 100 on each.
Whitehall was partly secured by groups of people “locked on” at points along the road. Arm locks will take police several hours to cut through. More people were sitting or standing in the road.
At around 12 noon rebels erected a three metre high scaffolding on the roundabout by Trafalgar Square. They hung a banner from the top declaring, “There is no planet B.”
The nature of the roadblocks made the action much more improvised than the rebellion in April. And at any particular site, the action may feel smaller. But wherever you go in the area outside parliament something is happening—and there’s no more traffic.
Ahead of the rebellion, the Met police requested extra help from specialist protest removal teams from forces across Britain.
The police are moving much more quickly to stop anything permanent from being set up. At the roadblock on Millbank, activists were arrested while trying to put up a gazebo.
Another activist, who had travelled from France, was arrested near Parliament Square for trying to draw a bike lane through the roadblock using chalk. She hadn’t even finished the word “bike” before police arrested her.
Basile, who had travelled with her from France, told Socialist Worker, “I think she was surprised to be arrested. In France it’s different. The police are more violent, we’re used to being teargassed. But we don’t expect to get arrested for something like this.”
Many rebels spoke about how XR has given them a sense of hope after years of worrying about climate catastrophe.
Nicki was dancing along to the samba band by Downing Street when she told Socialist Worker that being part of the rebellion was “lovely”.
She said, “I’ve got six grandkids—what will the climate be like for them? It’s so easy to feel despondent and demoralised, but getting together gives us the sense we can change something.”
Dave Barns, who came down from Leeds, was threatened with arrest at Millbank. “I don’t want to be arrested,” he said. “It will have a negative effect on my life. But that will be a drop in the ocean compared to the climate catastrophe.”
He added, “The police got a hammering in April in the press for not acting quickly enough. So they’re trying to show they’re doing all they can.
“But they’re human beings. They’ve got children. If I was in the police I don’t think I would be able to arrest peaceful protesters for fighting for their future. I don’t understand how they can go about their jobs.”
Police raided XR equipment ahead of the rebellion, snatching materials and making arrests. They showed their true role – to defend the system.
Another protester told Socialist Worker she would stay at a roadblock “for as long as it takes”. But she wasn’t prepared to be arrested. “You don’t have to be,” she said. “I don’t think people always realise that from the outside. Even just being here is contributing.
“If everyone got arrested, who would be left to protest?”
The London action was unfolding as rebels from across the globe also took to the streets.
In Madrid, activists blocked the street with a pink canoe and cops pulled apart rebels sat in the road with arms linked.
India saw die-ins across 11 cities. Three locations held funeral ceremonies “to pay homage to the 164 murdered environmental activists from 2018, extinct species and the planet”.
Sydney in Australia saw 30 arrests as hundreds occupied a key junction in the centre of the city. Ellie Baxter from XR Australia said, “Our governments have stubbornly refused to step up and take action on the climate and ecological emergency that we are facing.
“We have lobbied, we have protested, we have signed petitions for decades. It’s now getting to the point of no return.
“We at XR think our only option is to cause disruption and to enact civil disobedience in the hopes that our government will finally listen.”