Extinction Rebellion heads for protest finale in City of London

protesters prepare to leave marble arch
Protesters prepare to leave Marble Arch. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Climate campaigners target financial district before voluntarily lifting occupations and blockades on Thursday

— Climate change activists plan to cause rush hour disruption in London’s financial district on Thursday before they bring an end their climate “rebellion” that has led to protesters occupying sites across London for more than a week.

Their climate “rebellion” to highlight the escalating global ecological crisis will draw to a voluntary close with a “closing ceremony” and a day of disruption in which demonstrators plan to swarm into the Square Mile to cause roadblocks, targeting big business and banking.

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) group, which has been backed by senior academics, politicians and scientists during nine days of peaceful mass civil disobedience, said its action in the City of London was likely to last a few hours, and comes on the day it is due to end blockades at Parliament Square and Marble Arch.

A spokeswoman said the area is being targeted because “the financial industry is responsible for funding climate and ecological destruction and we are calling on them, the companies and the institutions that allow this to happen, to tell the truth”.

Extinction Rebellion said in a statement that it would leave its remaining blockades on Thursday, but added: “The world has changed … A space for truth-telling has been opened up.

“Now it is time to bring this telling of the truth to communities around London, the regions and nations of the UK, and internationally. In this age of misinformation, there is power in telling the truth.”

The group said it would like to “thank Londoners for opening their hearts and demonstrating their willingness to act on that truth”.

The statement added: “We know we have disrupted your lives. We do not do this lightly. We only do this because this is an emergency.”

The activists said protesters had “taken to the streets and raised the alarm” in more than 80 cities in 33 countries. “People are talking about the climate and ecological emergency in ways that we never imagined,” they said.

The group said it would work to build up a resilient movement to force politicians to address the climate crisis, and further direct action protests may take place as soon as the coming days.

The move came as it emerged that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, had agreed to the meet representatives of the group. A spokesperson for XR said this was “totally unconnected” to its decision to end the current phase of the protest, adding that the meeting was under consideration.

“It may or may not go ahead, depending on the details of how public it is and who will be attending,” they said.

Support for Extinction Rebellion has quadrupled in the past nine days as public concern about the scale of the ecological crisis grows.

Extinction Rebellion: a week of protest in three minutes – video
 

Since the protests began last Monday, 30,000 new backers or volunteers have offered support to the group. In the same period, it has raised almost £200,000 – mostly in small donations of between £10 and £50 – making a total of £365,000 since January.

The group said the figures showed the public was waking up to the scale of the crisis, adding that pressure was growing on politicians to act.

The group said numbers of people on the streets for the protests had dwindled from a high over the Easter bank holiday weekend, but the number of people who had signed up to offer ongoing support and backing for future demonstrations had risen from 10,000 before the protest to 40,000 by Wednesday morning.

The decision to call a halt to the protests came a day after Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student who inspired a global youth-based movement when she began a “climate strike” outside Sweden’s parliament last year, visited Westminster.

In a speech to MPs, she said: “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

XR’s youth group wrote to MPs on Wednesday as parliament restarted after the Easter break, pleading with them to act swiftly to address the crisis.

The letter, which was handed to Labour’s Diane Abbott outside parliament, states: “We are writing to ask you to hear the science, to feel the public’s change of heart and to act now to save our futures … Now the time has arrived to stand up and be counted – you are our elected representatives and we need your help.”

In response, the shadow home secretary backed XR demonstrators, telling a crowd of up to 100 protesters – one of whom towered above the group on two-metre stilts while others wielded banners – that she acknowledged a “climate emergency”, one of the activists’ key demands.

Abbott said MPs needed to come together to host a “broad conversation” on one of the group’s requests to bring the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

Abbott also suggested meeting XR for a detailed discussion of policy aims, a proposal met with rapturous applause.

More than 1,000 XR activists have been arrested in the past nine days. Protesters occupied four sites across London and staged acts of civil disobedience including blocking roads, disrupting a railway line and demonstrating at Heathrow airport.


by Matthew Taylor, Molly Blackall | The Guardian

 

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