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Pete Lawrence - 19 Apr 2019


Saul Alinsky, the US community organiser who wrote Rules for Radicals, and Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement. “The essential element here is disruption. Without disruption, no one is going to give you their eyeballs,” 

It has been a momentous week for Extinction Rebellion in London and it still goes on, though no-one dares say where it is going.

When I first reported from the London Bridges protest in November, many people had not heard of the organisation. This wasn’t  surprising really, given that their launch was on Halloween last year and they had only just started to make themselves known. A week later in my home town of Frome, there was as prescient a piece of street theatre as one can imagine by the rapidly forming local XR group - a funeral for extinct species, which brought the town centre to a standstill. 

Now, on the fifth day of action, XR still holds four major London spaces despite over 500 arrests. It has been hailed as "the mother of all protests" and brought the group to the attention of the entire mainstream media in no uncertain terms.

One thing is also for sure and that is that the landscape in terms if awareness of eco-activism has changed forever. My friend Shane Collins hit the nail on the head with is report from Day 4 by saying that "the rewinding of London has begun".

The unusual started to feel almost everyday, although never mundane. Dancing around a big pink party boat in the centre of Oxford Circus? Yes, please. Chilled music from string quartets and folk icons in amongst the greenery and tents on fume-free Waterloo Bridge? I'll take that! Kids, youth s and elders all talking, listening and learning from each other in the sunshine? Naturally. A Campout on the grass around Marble Arch? Why ever not. A People's Assembly in Parliament Square? This is starting to sound like a utopia.

Not that anyone is resting on their laurels. Today a crowd of teenagers were at Heathrow to spread the message. Other actions have included swarming on Vauxhall Bridge, a Children's Assembly on climate awareness and a critical mass cycle through London's streets.

I said in November that I thought Extinction Rebellion could easily become the most effective popular protest movement of modern times. I'm not about to change my mind there but a lot is already following through in its slipstream.

Here's my report and photo gallery from four central London locations - Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus.

I arrived slightly late for the start of proceedings in Parliament Square on Monday and immediate walked into a packed and very chilled Gardens, where Jamie Kelsey-Fry was facilitating a Peoples Assembly. The symbolism of this shouldn't be lost on anyone. Here were possibly a thousand people, convening in orderly groups of eight (mostly), sitting on the grass discussing how a new politics could work, with specific attention to how Citizens Assemblies could usher in a new way of representation  - while the old one festered behind us in a building covered in scaffolding and covers and its members were out taking their Easter break. The Gardens were a hive of activity and soon a representative from each group came to the stage to give a brief synopsis of what they thought Extinction Rebellion could so to up its game. There was an amazing range of replies. This was true democracy in action.

I'm convinced that it's only a matter of time until we see Peoples Assemblies becoming the major decision-making process at many levels, offering a direct democracy and, crucially, engagement and empowerment of citizens who currently feel that nothing they do can make a difference. It is good to see that Citizens Assemblies have been added to XR's three demands.

A quick walk along Embankment to Waterloo Bridge, where the first thing that struck me was the fresh air and lack of fumes. I was delighted to see a very good natured garden party taking place in the sunshine. As I arrived, Sam Lee, a folk musician of some renown who I have worked with before was finishing a singing set from a lorry stage and all around, people had planted trees and were putting out pot plants, flowers and erecting tents. Police were chatting with protestors and mingling with skateborders and grafitti artists, checking that their paint was eco-friendly and would wash off easily. They were reassured. I've said it before but it felt a bit like a Big Chill on Waterloo Bridge. Who needs Boris / Joanna Lumley's champagne and croissants garden bridge when you everyone can enjoy this!  Over the following hours the bridge played host to yoga, a rocking sound system and a string quartet.

I met several Fromies on the bridge, including a couple dressed in tiger onesies who were allegedly arrested later on Monday. Later there was yoga, choirs, meditation, and more ... the sort of entertainment that the South Bank Centre might offer but in a slightly more anodyne fashion and at much higher prices!

Then it was a short hike to Piccadilly Circus for drums and dancing, samba and whistles. A carnival atmosphere in the sunshine as protestors packed into the square with its absurd juxtaposition of neon high tech corporate advertising billboards next to urgency of gritty street protest. It was joyous.

Then a short walk up to Oxford Circus where a big pink party boat was dominating proceedings - with DJs and speakers - while I was there someone representing Bristol University announced that they are the first UK academic institution to declare a climate emergency. My short film clip and tweet about this went down well.

Hats off to those who are willing to stand their ground and offer themselves up to arrest for the cause. This is the only way the message will get across. Petitions and contained marches have repeatedly failed to change things in the past. You only have to look at the way universal suffrage was achieved to realise that upping the ante is really the only way to make the powers that be take notice. As Roger Hallam, XR's co-founder said in today's Guardian says, disruption is the way forward "Another co-founder, Roger Hallam, has been clear that the strategy of public disruption is heavily influenced by Saul Alinsky, the US community organiser who wrote Rules for Radicals, and Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement. “The essential element here is disruption. Without disruption, no one is going to give you their eyeballs,” 

Already this week, Mark Carney at the Bank of England has warned the financial sector that it risks losses from extreme weather and its stakes in polluting firms and that they cannot ignore the dangers of climate change any longer. The protests are cutting a swathe through the financial sector, it would seem.

Here is Shane's review:

“Marble Arch, Extinction Rebellion. Day 4. All 4 bases still held. We are training people quicker than the Police can arrest us, 400 and rising- arrested for 3-12 hours then released. Waterloo Garden Bridge is a 24 hr garden party, Parliament Sq saved last night from total eviction by 300 Police by Jewish faith groups and the Samba band drawing in 100's, tents being re-erected and blockades re-established. Oxford Circus is afloat with people surrounding a large pink boat featuring Quakers and Christians locked on below, DJ's above, every arrest attracts more people, as everything is avowedly non violent the cash strapped Police cannot get violent without a back lash. Interesting alliance between us and the police against right wing media mocking them and calling for a crackdown. Marble Arch is vibrant, tents everywhere, stage bands, speakers, full on kitchen, 5 blockades, printing press, fresher air. I heard birdsong in my tent last night, probably the first time for decades in the traffic free Marble Arch that birds have sang. The re-wilding of central London has begun ! Come join the bank holiday rebellion. Heathrow tomorrow, we need more people on the streets, now is the time. We won't forget this and have no idea where it's going but it feels exhilarating.” #ExtinctionRebellion

Co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam is scheduled amongst the speakers at Campfire's August Campout

And here is my gallery: 


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