Finally being in London during an Extinction Rebellion protest, I thought it would be remiss not to head down to see what a protest for our right to a future looks like.
I arrived in Westminster shortly after 11am on 7 October, and as seen in the pictures above, the protests were still in their infancy. Tents and art installations were still being set-up, protesters were still making their way to their chosen areas, and the roadblocks, although already successful in diverting traffic, were being reinforced.
A number of things were already fully established though. Firstly, the sense of purpose. Many of those I spoke to knew exactly why they were there, and what they wanted. A number of them said they were also willing to be arrested, which is just as well since by lunchtime over 130 of them had been. This leads to the second thing that was highly noticeable — a strong police presence.
I was genuinely surprised by the number of police that were present at the various protest spots throughout Westminster. At some places the number of police felt almost equal to the number of protesters, although again it is only the beginning of two weeks of disruption, and even over the course of the few hours that I was there the numbers swelled noticeably. This is not to say that the police were attempting to crack down on the protesters, indeed all of the police I spoke to were in good spirits. They were happy to answer questions about the event, and even direct me to the areas where there was larger gatherings.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people most annoyed by this renewed act of civil disobedience appeared to be the ordinary people of London. Many comments were made by passerby's expressing annoyance and frustration at their inability to easily go about their day. Office workers smoking outside appeared frustrated at the almost obligatory drumming circles, and one woman was complaining to a police officer about her difficulty in finding a taxi because the roads were closed.
It did momentarily lead me to question whether these methods will ever prove effective. Those who control the means of change are, initially at least, unlikely to be impacted, while the wider public are more at risk of being alienated to the cause. So far, the Prime Minister’s response is to brand the protesters ‘uncooperative crusties’, and is encouraging police to use the full extent of the law to deal with them. I hope that Londoners, and people across the globe are able to see past the inconvenience to grasp the very real threat of climate change that we face, and join in piling on the pressure to cause those in power to act.
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