London’s Metropolitan Police have made nearly 800 arrests this week, targeting climate activists demonstrating in Central London. The protesters, part of the Extinction Rebellion, have blocked roads and public sites such as Trafalgar Square and Westminster Bridge. The group aims to put pressure on the UK government to do more to combat the climate crisis.
But the government has so far criticized the movement, with Boris Johnson publicly insulting the protesters and the Met police arresting hundreds by the day.
The Extinction Rebellion heats up
As protesters continue to congregate, tensions with the police have increased. The police have demanded that protesters contain their demonstrations to Trafalgar Square, attempting to limit the movement’s widespread protests across the city.
Since the protests began on Monday, police have arrested around 800 activists, paralleling the 1,130 Extinction Rebellion arrests made in April.
Despite the crackdown, the demonstrations have been peaceful. From one of 60 participating cities, Londoners have gathered for a two-week long, non-violent occupation of public locations throughout the Westminster borough, where the Houses of Parliament meet.
The crowds represent all sorts, from students to Oxford professors to parents with young children. They’re singing, chanting, sleeping in tents, leading yoga classes, and, at one gathering, even enjoying a live samba band.
Last week, protesters also sprayed nearly 2,000 liters of fake blood on the Treasury building to highlight government hypocrisy. In a statement, the movement criticized the UK’s pride in leading the fight against climate change, despite “pouring vast sums of money into fossil exploration and carbon-intensive projects.”
These actions contribute to the Extinction Rebellion’s ultimate goals. They’re mobilizing to draw attention to the urgent threat of climate change and demand the UK government take action.
The movement has three major demands:
- Tell the Truth. According to Extinction Rebellion UK, the group is demanding their government declare a climate and ecological emergency. In essence, they want the government to acknowledge the dire consequences of climate inaction and take a stand.
- Act now. Secondly, the protesters want the UK government to create stronger initiatives against climate change. They specifically are asking Parliament to stop biodiversity loss and enforce net-zero carbon emissions by 2025, rather than 2050.
- Beyond politics. The Extinction Rebellion also demands an institutional shift that would give more power over climate-related decisions to the British people. They propose the UK government create a Citizens’ Assembly, which would handle decisions about climate and environmental justice.
These demands have encouraged large crowds of supporters and activists. Protesters have stood their ground, despite police attempts to shut down the demonstrations.
“This is our home, our planet, our future, and we are destroying it. The government needs to step up and tell the truth,” one activist remarked.
Another demonstrator, 83-year-old Phil Kingston, spray-painted the UK’s finance ministry building with the message: “Life, not death for my grandchildren.” Kingston was arrested shortly afterwards.
Also among the crowds were George Monbiot, a popular environmental writer and political activist, and former politician Stanley Johnson — Boris Johnson’s father.
The movement faces government backlash
Despite the peaceful nature of these protests, the UK government has not taken a liking for these displays of civil disobedience.
The UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called the protesters “uncooperative crusties,” highlighting his disdain for citizens who exercise their right to assemble and disapprove of their government’s actions — or rather, inaction.
Funnily enough, Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, embraced the title. “I regard it as a tremendous compliment to be called an uncooperative crusty,” he said to a protester crowd at Trafalgar Square.
Donning an Extinction Rebellion pin, he continued: “From tiny acorns, big movements spring. We have been moving far too slowly on the climate change issue.”
Despite its humor, the insult pinpoints the current resistance of Parliament to enact real change.
And with police arresting protesters by the dozens, the government’s distaste for these climate activists has real consequences.
Yet, in spite — or maybe because — of hundreds of their fellow activists facing arrests, the Extinction Rebellion is going strong. For them, the time is now.