Thousands of Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters brought traffic in central London to a standstill for several hours on Friday.
Some blocked roads at Oxford Circus with huge tripods in the morning. And protesters marched to a number of government buildings later that day, demanding the government take action to tackle climate change.
Grania, a social scientist from Cambridge, told Socialist Worker that she felt it was her “duty” to take part. “For centuries people have suffered because of climate change and it’s always the most vulnerable who suffer first,” she explained.
“It’s our duty to be here and demonstrate if we can, for the people who can’t.”
Demonstrators are coming to the end of a two-week International Rebellion that has seen tens of thousands take direct action. Protester Alice told Socialist Worker that the rebellion had been “really awesome, incredible”.
XR rebels staged sit-downs outside government departments on Friday, chanting, “Where’s your plan?”
There was often a calm and sombre atmosphere, with many protesters singing songs quietly. But there was also determination—the actions were in defiance of a police ban on all XR protests anywhere in London.
The size of the protest meant cops couldn’t enforce the ban, although they did arrest some rebels. And the scale of the climate crisis motivates many protesters to face arrest.
Clare, a charity worker, got involved after she was working in Mozambique when Hurricane Idai hit earlier this year. “I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” she told Socialist Worker.
“But the reaction from people in Mozambique after the hurricane was, ‘The government won’t help us.’ And it feels like the same here.”
Clare said she is “terrified” about the potential for climate catastrophe. “The violence that the people with everything will use against people who have nothing will be huge,” she said.
“But I think we can get somewhere. You don’t have to go as far back as the Suffragettes to see successes. Look at the poll tax protests. People have got rid of whole regimes.”
Lots of protesters dyed their palms red as the protest was dubbed the “Red Handed Rebellion”. XR said this referred to the idea that everyone is red-handed because we have all contributed to climate change.
But many protesters were clear that it’s the rich and powerful who are primarily to blame. Alice said, “A lot of people have invested a lot in the current system. That’s why there are barriers to change.
“Companies are putting short term gain over providing for the next generations.”
Mental health worker Judith agreed. “Governments are ignoring this and we’re just walking to our deaths,” she told Socialist Worker. “It’s because they are invested in businesses that are making money out of how things are.”
An action by some rebels yesterday that disrupted transport services led to howls of outrage from right wing newspapers and some on the left. Some protesters told Socialist Worker that they hadn’t agreed with the action—and that most had voted against going ahead with it.
But protests are often disruptive—it’s how they grab attention and put pressure on political leaders.
As Pat, a rebel from Huddersfield, put it, “Some people said the disruption would have made people late for work. But what’s being late for work for one day compared to the end of the planet?”
Socialists should resist those who want to use Thursday’s action to undermine XR, so it was good to see the size of Friday’s protests.
Protesters ended the day with a “transition ceremony” in Trafalgar Square—another site that cops had cleared.
The gathering once again showed protesters’ defiance and willingness to resist.