As the climate activist group defies the police’s London-wide ban, supporters who have previously been arrested for the cause talk
It’s been three days since the Metropolitan Police issued a London-wide ban on Extinction Rebellion protests, but that hasn’t deterred the climate change activists. This morning, the group shut down several lines of London’s underground, gluing themselves to the DLR and standing on top of trains – in a horrific video shared on Twitter, one protester can be seen being violently pulled down by commuters before being attacked. Many have criticised this morning’s action, including one of XR’s own spokespeople, who called the demonstrations a “huge own goal”.
Before today’s controversy, XR seemed to have the public firmly on their side, with yesterday’s Trafalgar Square march teeming with supporters, continuing the group’s two-week International Rebellion.
Speaking at the march, XR co-founder Clare Farrell called the Met’s ban “a fucking disgrace”, but believes it’s had a positive effect on the movement. “It’s created a huge amount of public support and sympathy,” she told Dazed, “because everybody thinks it’s a total outrage, which it is. So it’s having a backfiring effect, which is what sociological literature says will happen when they crack down on you – this is a part of a lot of past stories that have resulted in success, so it’s a step forward in that sense.”
Yesterday’s demonstration enforced XR activists’ ideology, namely that they don’t care about the threat of arrest. The group has consistently urged its supporters to be jailed for the cause, something over 1,700 people have done in the last week and a half alone. Many have condemned XR’s fetishisation of arrest, citing activists’ white privilege when it comes to their treatment by authorities. Getting arrested poses a much bigger threat to people of colour who continue to be unfairly stopped and searched, and face death in police custody.
Clive Russell, who creates XR’s visual identity as part of design agency This Ain’t Rock and Roll, told Dazed: “Nobody actually wants to get arrested, we’d rather the government actually dealt with (issues surrounding climate change), but they’re too childish to do that, and we’re happy to get arrested to make them deal with it. It’s kind of a vicious circle for us.”
When discussing how the climate activist group supports those who have been arrested, Russell said: “We ask people to make no comment, and have arrest cards which tell them who their legal representatives are. We also tell them about our Arrestee Support (volunteers) who meet them out of the police cells when they get out, so when they leave they’re comforted and reassured, and don’t feel totally alone.”
With the rest of the week’s International Rebellion plans set to go ahead, more XR activists will undoubtedly be jailed. Here, Dazed speaks to those who have already been arrested to find out what happened, how Extinction Rebellion supported them, and to discuss their privileged treatment by police.
GULLY BUJAK, 26
“I was arrested in April as part of the first International Rebellion. I sat down in front of the pink boat in Oxford Circus and a few minutes later I was carried away by six police officers. The police were polite and considerate, but I am very aware that this sort of interaction is not in any way a universal experience and that I entered the situation from a position of privilege as a white middle class woman. Several months after my arrest I received my court summons in the post, charged with obstructing a public highway and failing to comply with a Section 14 notice. While the arrest itself was OK – the atmosphere of the crowd and the knowledge I was doing the right thing carried me through – the trial worries me; that kind of formal, pressurised situation will be a real challenge for my anxiety.
I went to the protest with the intention of getting arrested because research of previous protest movements shows that mass arrest can be a powerful tactic – it demonstrates the commitment of the protesters, which puts pressure on the state to address the issue. The poorest and most vulnerable people have been feeling the effects of climate breakdown for years and are paying for it with their lives. I feel it’s my duty as a citizen of this planet to do what I can with what little time we have left. I do believe most people worry about (the climate crisis), but they hide from it, telling themselves that someone else will fix it for them. What we’re doing is getting in people’s faces, showing them plainly that no one else is going to fix it for them. Ordinary people have to put themselves on the line.”
“The poorest and most vulnerable people are feeling the effects of climate breakdown. It’s my duty as a citizen of this planet to do what I can with what little time we have left” – Gully Bujak
MARIA WALLER*, 24
“I was arrested for allegedly obstructing the highway at 9:24AM last Monday (October 7) while holding up a banner that read ‘climate emergency’ on Horse Guards Road. The arresting officer wasn’t violent or rude, but after refusing to give any of my personal details – which you have the right to do – the policewoman booking me in repeatedly lied to me about my rights in an attempt to make me give my details. Eventually I was released under investigation after about 15 hours in custody. Extinction Rebellion volunteers have built a wonderful Arrestee Support network – as soon as I was released, someone was outside the station ready to help me get home and provide any help I needed. In terms of financial aid, XR has set up a central legal defence fund to help arrestees in need, but this doesn’t mean they can cover all legal fees for everybody. XR makes it clear that every person’s actions are their own.
I can assure you that nobody enjoys being arrested, but people are frightened for their futures. I’d never been arrested before, nor had I protested so much about anything in my life – this seems to be the case with the majority of XR arrestees. Ecocide is legal but fighting against it apparently gets you arrested – advances in justice were made possible through disobedience and sacrifice of individual liberties. Extinction Rebellion has been heavily criticised over white privilege and failure to include people of colour, which is certainly an issue. The climate catastrophe will mostly impact those who are least responsible for it, so I think that those with white privilege should be using it to challenge this toxic system.
When civilians, pensioners, doctors, scientists, professionals, students, and even police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protest the inaction for climate justice, it makes a very strong statement. We are all serious and terrified, and you should be too.”
JULIE ADAMS, 59
“I went down to the Waterloo Bridge protest in April – I left work at 6PM and was in the back of a police van by 7:30PM. I had no intention of getting arrested, but the police were choosing a lot of soft targets – older, polite, cooperative – and asked me to move. I thought, ‘I’m always going on about climate change, so it’s time to stand by my principles’, and I refused. The police commented on how polite and cooperative a lot of the protesters were, some of them even expressing their support. Our arrest was observed by a very kind XR man who regularly asked about my welfare. I was kept in cells overnight – very uncomfortable and unpleasant – but the police were very respectful. After questioning the next morning, I was released under caution. In the months between April and my court appearance in August, XR tracked me down and were great – they gave me lots of advice and told me what to expect. They said the most expedient thing would be to plead guilty (because I was) and that I’d get a six month conditional discharge and a £100 fine. They also offered to support me if I wanted to contest the charge, and XR reps were there with food and clipboards to record everything on the day of the court case.
Everyone who gets arrested have their own reasons. I’m not a rebellious person on the whole, but short of any other solid actions that can be taken to convey your concern about the climate, getting arrested is a very public declaration of your beliefs and a call to action. If XR is non-violent, then what else do you do except get arrested? If nothing else, it’s a catalyst for debate and a sign of commitment to the cause.”
* Name has been changed