Chaotic scenes filled the streets of central London on Wednesday afternoon as police fought to throw Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters off the streets.
Waves of cops moved in on occupations in Westminster, arresting activists, smashing up infrastructure and removing tents.
It was a startling reminder of how little tolerance the British state has for any movement that challenges its authority.
As of 6.50pm, the Metropolitan Police reported 800 arrests during the course of the International Rebellion, which began on Monday morning.
Thousands of activists have camped out on the streets of London to highlight government inaction over the climate emergency.
Rebels remained defiant in the face of repeated attempts to oust them from the streets.
Emily told Socialist Worker, “It’s been a fight, but it’s one worth having—everyone is talking about it.
“Police can remove us but they can’t get rid of us. The climate emergency won’t just disappear, so neither will we.”
But on Wednesday they stepped up their action and systematically attacked the occupation in Trafalgar Square, and those near the Home Office and Westminster Central Hall.
It’s a concrete example of how the government will utilise the police to shut down any challenge to “business as usual”.
Police bosses have made sure cops are working overtime to harass activists, stifle debate and confiscate protesters’ belongings.
Met police deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor boasted of confiscating “80 tonnes worth of equipment” before the push on Wednesday afternoon.
Cops attempted to get rebels off the road at Trafalgar Square. Protesters with megaphones attempted to get people out and occupy the road again.
Around 800 rebels danced as cops closed off part of Whitehall and tried to intimidate activists off the streets.
“The police are trying to scare us,” one rebel told Socialist Worker.“But we’re building a community, and we will continue to fight as a community until there are real solutions to climate change.”
Despite repeated attacks, the day was filled with action throughout the sites.
Hundreds of women staged a march from Westminster Central Hall to Downing Street to highlight their fears for their children.
Dorothy said, “I want my kids to be able to experience the same things I experienced. I’m afraid they’re going to grow up in a world where they won’t feel fresh air, or they won’t have water.”
And the rebellion was still drawing in people who are new to the fight. Protester Daniel said he had never been to a demonstration before the global climate strike on 20 September.
“The strikes were great, and they were just the beginning,” he said.“People are pretty chilled here, but they’re also angry.”
Some sites in central London looked as if they would still be in place by Thursday morning—likely at St James’s Park and around Trafalgar Square. A planed protest at London City Airport is also set to go ahead.
But the police offensive on Wednesday evening marked a change in tactics from XR occcupations in central London in April, when cops were less forceful.
XR said, “Today the met police has become intimidating, provoking and in some instances violent in their attempts to shut down peaceful protesters, close sites and arrest rebels.
“We respect the police for doing their job but make a firm call for them to remain non-violent without putting the public and our rebels in danger, just as they did in April.”
Throughout the rebellion, aggressive action from the police has brought tensions to the fore.
One protester at an occupation outside the Home Office held a placard asking, “Are you sure you’re arresting the right people?”
And on Tuesday afternoon, as cops tried to move demonstrators from Whitehall, rebels chanted “Who are you protecting?”
Protester Georgie carried a homemade banner emblazoned with the same slogan outside Downing Street.
“Police will be remembered as people who protected money and economic growth not people who protected the planet,” she said.
The Met police posted a video of commissioner Cressida Dick on Twitter threatening activists with arrest.
“We will arrest you, and we will seize the things that you are using to obstruct the highways in London,” she said.
She urged rebels to “go to the middle of Trafalgar Square”.
“If you are protesting in the other sites you’re acting unlawfully. We will arrest you. I imagine you’ll go to court and you’re very likely to get a criminal record,” she said.
Despite Dick’s bullish attempts at intimidation, the aggression and violence from the police can’t just be attributed to police bosses.
Their actions aren’t just about orders from the top of the police, or the top of government, but from their role in society.
When thousands of ordinary people get together and organise a carnival of resistance, it represents a challenge to them. The actions of the police—just three days into occupation—show how they are trained, organised and ready to smash action by ordinary people.
Extinction Rebellion should be commended for taking on the police—and the state they are part of—to fight for radical change.