Ahead of Wednesday’s High Court ruling on the legality of the Met Police’s October ban of all London protests by campaign group Extinction Rebellion, it’s now more important than ever that smaller cities back their local climate change activists, says Mairi Ella Challen
Everyone’s familiar with the work of Extinction Rebellion. Indeed, how could you not be? In the past year alone, the environmentalist campaign group have garnered a strong name for themselves through their non-violent and uniquely theatrical protest style, commanding mass media coverage and permeating the public consciousness.
Accelerating from humble beginnings, this grassroots collective has made it its mission to spread the word on the climate crisis and truly shake up government policy, both in the UK and on an international scale. An impressive ambition for an organisation which celebrated its first year anniversary this May.
And its successes have been staggering. After a series of mammoth public protests across the nation, MPs finally gave way to XR’s pressure, approving a motion to declare a climate change emergency. While scientists have been desperately warning us against the grave dangers of rising greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels for decades now, it took the raw passion of groups like Extinction Rebellion to actualise such a huge step, demonstrating the impact of such acts of peaceful, civil disobedience .
Global warming concerns were first voiced at UN conference in the 70s and the World Scientist’s Warning To Humanity, penned by a huge number of science Nobel Laureates, was published back in 1992. Still, many feel that political policy has been feeble and insubstantial, failing to accurately reflect the urgency of situation. The UK government’s Climate Act of 2008, a legally binding pledge to execute an 80 per cent cut in emissions by the year 2050, is falling significantly short of it’s timetabled goals for carbon mitigation.
XR’s influence is far reaching and the world is seemingly starting to wake up to the severity of the emergency. Towns and cities across the globe have seen and influx of creative and impassioned demonstrations, from musical flash mobs to processions through Nottingham’s very own Market Square, all of which have remained strictly peaceful.
Why then, are these dedicated activists still facing a shocking degree of objection and animosity from many sectors of the media, the police force, and in some cases, the general public?
Many critics are quick to point to some of XR’s more disruptive tactics, such as swarms and roadblocks, as the source of the controversy. By upholding traffic, delaying commuters, and generally inconveniencing the public, the group have generated a lot of hostile reactions.
This is something that Etienne Stott, 40, an administrator of the Nottingham Extinction Rebellion Facebook group, willingly acknowledges. “I think the theory behind the more disruptive tactics is to create an emotional reaction which engages people with the issue at hand… This could well be anger or frustration,” he said.
“The idea is to try to break through people’s apathy. Perhaps they’re busy doing other things in their lives and sometimes it’s about jolting people and making it difficult for the message to be ignored.”
The organisation is keen to stress that its intentions are born out of a sense of desperation and a moral duty to ensure that the critical issues are heard loud and clear.
“By being maximally assertive, and difficult to ignore, be that for politicians or members of the public, we really want to create that engagement,” Etienne said.
“Once we’ve tried all the other methods and they’ve all been systematically ignored by the government then all that’s left is non-violent civil disobedience… by disrupting the authorities and the leaders, we are just trying to get their attention.”
These comments come on the eve of very important legal decision, one that could make or break the future of not only XR, but activists nationwide.
On Wednesday November 6 at 10am, the High Court will deliver its crucial judgment on the Metropolitan Police’s contentious decision to ban all Extinction Rebellion protests across London during the second week of its October Rebellion, a move that was dubbed as “an abuse of power” by XR lawyers.
“Instead of trying to stop XR from doing its work, they should actually listen to us and the government should do its job which is to protect our future.”