Extinction Rebellion protest

Image Credit: Creative Commons: Julia Hawkins

This passing bank holiday weekend, I felt it was important to attend the protests launched by Extinction Rebellion in the name of preserving our planet and species. As a member of the Young Greens Executive Committee, I am passionate about the environment and was keen to get involved. I left my house early Friday morning to travel to Parliament Square, little did I know I would still be on Waterloo Bridge singing my heart out at 4AM Sunday morning!

The power of love

I have been involved in many protests in my young life, but I have rarely seen anything so well organised, so effective and so purely wholesome as this. From the first moment I stepped onto Parliament Square to the second I left Marble Arch the resounding feeling I felt was love. Love for our planet. Love for my fellow demonstrators. But most importantly, love for every human being on this planet.

Whether that be the few counter-protesters or the police trying to break us up, the important theme was that we showed love to everyone who approached us. With this approach, you avoid the pitfalls of isolating people who are not yet on board, and nothing is achieved if a significant portion of society feels isolated, and Extinction Rebellion identified and managed this to perfection.

Preventing shut down

I saw hundreds of arrests, from activists braver than I, yet the chants “We love the police” and “Who’s police, Our police!” continued to ring out until the moment I left the protest. What Extinction Rebellion understands is that the police are not the problem in this scenario, even if they are the facilitators for the will of the establishment.

What else Extinction Rebellion expertly did was make all zones alcohol and drug free. Whilst some people in attendance quite rightly fancied an ice cold can of beer in the blazing heat, everyone understood that we did not need to give the police, the right-wing press or anybody else an excuse. An excuse to shut us down. An excuse to demonise us. Or an excuse to not take us seriously.

The clear out

I spent Saturday daytime with the remaining activists on Oxford Circus, many of whom were arrested as the police scrambled to clear the junction. I watched in awe as the police used a vast array of power tools to try and free the activists who had managed to completely secure themselves to the concrete floor. The smell rising through the air of burnt tarmac. Sparks flying off the ground as they saw through the locks. Dozens of police surrounding each peaceful activist secured to the floor. This felt absolutely surreal against the backdrop of thousands of shoppers, giant brands and luxury cars. It was incredible.

Eventually, the police cleared the square however not without igniting the wrath of the protesters with some unashamedly non-environmentally friendly decisions. A large rubbish truck enters the Oxford Circus junction and all of the sleeping bags, duvets, cardboard boxes and everything else was unceremoniously discarded without a moments thought as to what could be recycled. If you could choose one crowd you would not want to watch that, it would be a large crowd of environmental activists.

As the sun went down, I moved to Waterloo Bridge for one of the most powerful evenings I have had the privilege to experience. With knowledge the police were looking to reclaim the bridge, hundreds of activists descended for an evening of music, talks and togetherness. A candlelit vigil was held whilst talented musicians played beautiful music on a wide range of interesting instruments against a backdrop of dozens of Police.

As the skatepark was dismantled, fairy lights taken down, trees torn up, we sang. As the fire brigade came to sturdy up the truck, so the police can cut protesters down to carry them away, we sang. No matter what negativity they tried to throw our way, to dampen our spirits, we simply sang.

It was clear by the end of the night the police did not expect this sheer determination and resilience from and it was evident the bridge was not being cleared tonight. Victory, for now. And yes, the bridge was cleared the following day, but not without a fight.

The morning after

Sunday brought more magic as hundreds marched from Parliament Square through to Marble Arch. A funeral procession with activists dressed in black, brass band in tow, led the rebellion forward as we marched past Buckingham Palace right into Marble Arch where Greta Thunberg delivered her rousing and inspirational speech. After days of activism, much walking and losing my voice completely, I thought I would take Sunday night to myself. Of course, my favourite band Massive Attack played a impromptu show, of which I then missed, so we are not going to talk about that.