Climate protesters occupied London City Airport on Thursday as part of an International Rebellion that began on Monday.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists arrived at the airport in east London from before 9am. By 10am big crowds were gathered outside while more protesters had glued themselves to the floor inside.
Pensioner Phil Kingston travelled from Bristol to join the action. “I’m here for my grandchildren and their generation,” he told Socialist Worker.
“They will be the ones who will suffer—and so will the poorest people on the planet.
“I’m a Christian and I’m very upset by God’s creation being destroyed.”
But like many, the scale of the new climate movement has made Phil optimistic. “People are together,” he said. “But the government is completely stuck with an economy that they don’t know how to change. They’re in collusion with big business, basically.”
Sixty-one year old artist Helen agreed. “Very very rich and powerful companies are destroying the world,” she said.
“The government could make big changes in a stroke—such as by taxing fuel. But they want to keep the status quo and they’re lobbied by the fossil fuel industry.”
Protesters targeted the airport because it is due to expand. Expansion would cause yet more pollution and emissions in an area already suffering.
Mike is acting as a “police liaison” for XR. “There were 86 deaths in Newham last year that were directly attributable to air toxicity,” he said.
“The official medical advice is that you should avoid the main roads in Newham because they are too toxic. That’s the official advice! And expanding this airport will make it worse.”
Mike added that the airport “is not for local people”.
“It’s for business people,” he said. “They say expansion will create jobs, but over time it’s hardly any. To say it’s helping the local community is disingenuous. We’ll just be in a toxic bubble.”
Police carted off people who were peacefully sitting on the ground, in some cases saying that a breach of the peace was going to take place.
But there was an upbeat mood as protesters sang, played music and shared information about climate chaos. Two protesters got onto the roof of the departures area and unfurled a banner.
Later in the day a Paralympic bronze medallist, James Brown, climbed on top of a plane as part of the protests.
He live-streamed his actions saying, “Okay, here I am, top of a fucking aeroplane at City Airport.
“Oh man I'm shaking. This is all about the climate and ecological crisis. We're protesting at government inaction on climate and ecological breakdown. They declare a climate emergency and do nothing about it.”
He said it was “scary” because he “hates heights”. He was eventually arrested.
Another protester boarded a plane to Dublin. He refused to sit down and prevented the flight from taking off on time.
He delivered a talk on climate change while the plan was grounded. “We have two generations of human civilisation left if we carry on with what we’re doing,” he said before being arrested.
There was some anger at the police. Mike described witnessing police dragging protesters along the ground during this week’s protests in Westminster.
Southwark Green Party member Tracey said the police response was “disproportionate.”
“They’re trying to intimidate people,” Tracey told Socialist Worker. “But I support non-violent protest. The need for urgent action is enormous.”
Maggie from Calderdale in West Yorkshire said police behaviour was “entirely predictable”. “A lot of well-meaning people say the police must go home and feel bad about what they’ve done,” she said. “But I say, no. There is a culture in the police that’s about their social agenda.”
There was also a sense that protesters are getting somewhere, and optimism about getting change.
“Until recently the climate emergency was not on the agenda,” said Mike. “It is now and that’s very much to do with XR and other groups.”
Helen said XR had “really made a difference”. “We have to reach ordinary, everyday people,” she said.
“There’s an idea that sorting out climate change means having less but it isn’t true. A green revolution would mean people having better lives—it’s exciting.”
The rebellion is also bringing new people into political activity. Alex describes himself as “in the centre” politically.
“This is the first thing I’ve been involved in,” he said. “It’s because of my children—my daughter is here and she’s willing to be arrested.
“It’s very out of character for her—she’s a totally law-abiding person. If your children are doing this, you can’t not support them.”