The first day of Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) occupation of London on Monday was shaped by resistance—and police repression.
The sound of samba bands filled Westminster as thousands of XR activists defiantly occupied streets to fight for climate justice.Numbers swelled throughout the day, as more rebels joined the action.
By late afternoon, activists had held onto 11 of the 12 sites the group targeted.
Lambeth Bridge was the only site successfully cleared by police, but rebels parked on the north side of the bridge instead, effectively cutting off traffic.
Cops were making a serious effort to clear the protest camp at Lambeth Bridge on Monday evening.
Police surrounded the camp—in the middle of an intersection—and began pushing people inwards. They arrested activists who refused to move, then began stealing tents and equipment—some of which still had activists glued onto the tent poles.
They also refused to allow anyone into the site—presumably to stop more protesters arriving to keep the occupation going.
Cops were more forceful and confrontational than they were during an XR rebellion in April—and the atmosphere was tenser. Some activists argued with cops, though they remained peaceful.
Chants of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” were followed by ones of, “Police, we love you—we’re doing this for your children.”
One activist, Chris, spoke to Socialist Worker as she kept an eye on her friend who was glued to a gazebo.
“There was a kitchen here, but they’ve just taken it down,” she said. “I suppose that’s a good tactic. It’s going to be much more uncomfortable for us here without a kitchen.
“We’ve got to try and hang on here for as long as possible.”
Police spent the morning impounding XR vans, arresting drivers and confiscating equipment. Because of this the sites were more chaotic at the beginning as activists took to the streets.
Yet despite the increased police presence, rebels held their ground—helped by parked vans, stages and gazebos.
By mid-morning cops had started to back off and activists had begun to erect more permanent features of an occupation.
At the southern end of Millbank, activists were busy emptying dozens of cans of beans into a huge pot while others held an open mic session from the stage.
Chris had travelled from Glasgow to be part of the rebellion. He planned to stay for a week because he is “gripped by the climate emergency”.
“I feel anxious at times, but this is exciting,” he told Socialist Worker.
Chris said the increased police presence was because “the state is always going to defend its interests”.
Katherine was blocking The Mall and faced Buckingham Palace with her banner declaring a climate emergency.“We’ve been called to arms—numbers matter,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I can’t express my utter desperation and I hope to influence people. There’s no leadership from the top, therefore people have to act.”
Katherine said she was willing to get arrested, but was “awaiting instructions”.
At the “Love and rebellion” site behind Horse Guards Parade, activists held a banner declaring “climate change has no borders”.
The occupation turned central London into a festival of resistance, full of creative actions.
By Parliament Square two XR cricket teams battled each other. And walking down Whitehall, a colourful group dressed as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”.
As the day wore on, disagreements about the cops appeared to come to the forefront.
On Millbank, rebels staged an open mic session as police pressured individuals to take their tents down.
One took to the megaphone to ask the crowd, “Do we love the police?” The majority shouted back “No!”
“They are lovely people but instruments of the state and the state is failing us,” he replied.
Emma addressed the crowd shortly after. “I’m really disappointed at how the police are acting,” she said. “They’re humans, and a lot of them are parents too.
“The people who sit in these buildings and sit in government are to blame. They can take our tents but they cannot take our spirit.”
One rebel sitting in the road replied, “Arrest the politicians not us.”
Rebels hope to hold the space for two weeks, or until their three demands are met. These are that the government “tells the truth” by declaring a climate emergency, acts now to cut emissions and that the fight over climate change be “beyond politics”.
With hundreds of police on the streets, there is no knowing how long activists will be able to resist.
Their occupation should be a focus for all those wanting to fight back against a system that destroys our planet and pollutes our world.
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