This week, climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion is occupying parts of central London in an effort to bring awareness about climate change. Roar has spoken to several of the King’s students involved in the Climate Strikes and in Extinction Rebellion.
Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion is this week occupying several locations in London in order to raise climate change awareness. The organisation, which according to a press release is present in more than 72 countries and 473 cities, is Friday moving into its fifth day of protests in central London, in addition to moving in on London City Airport.
Coline Baralon is a student at King’s and has been at the protests all week. She says there is no reason not to join the occupation. “Our governments are failing us and this planet and we can only require they do better or leave. Climate change damage to the environment and to our resources is increasing every day and our remaining time to make a powerful change is terribly tight,” Baralon explains to Roar, encouraging other King’s students to join her in the strikes.
“We have the chance to live in a city where thousands of benevolent activists gather in a cheerful atmosphere to demand crucial change, and we have everything to gain from joining them,” she says, adding that she is “thrilled” to see how the current protests have spread to more than 60 cities in Europe and the US.
The police have been respectful
“Londoners know what this fight is about and they either support it or do not realize what’s ahead for all of us,” Baralon says.
Critics are calling the actions of the climate organisation “irrational, uncompromising and extreme,” something which Baralon rejects. She says “disrupting traffic for a couple of weeks is nothing in comparison to the climate emergency we are facing. Civil disobedience is, unfortunately, a requirement for the action to resonate. No one is intrinsically happy to do it, every activist wishes it was not a necessity, yet it is.”
On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that more than 800 arrests have been made since the occupation started on Monday. Baralon tells Roar that “the police were mobilized in large numbers on most sites. Their strategy seemed to be to circle protesters sitting on the ground, but also constructions and vehicles to prevent rebels from building tents or tepees made from bamboo.”
Protesting is “comically insignificant”
Another King’s student involved in the protests is Patrick Sandbach. He says “the police have been really respectful and professional so far.” He also explains to Roar that Extinction Rebellion has been “keen to communicate the rights of protestors so that everyone knows what constitutes an arrestable action, and those who choose to become arrestable do not try to resist the police and cause trouble for them.”
This is confirmed by Aura Nájera Aguirre, a third King’s student activist Roar has spoken to. “In other countries activists are often oppressed by the police force, censored, and sometimes killed. Even though there exist tensions with the police, I found a lot of communication and coordination in order to maintain the occupied space safe,” Aguirre says to Roar.
Sandbach claims climate change “is the greatest common danger we have faced in history,” and says that he considers protesting “almost comically insignificant.” However, he thinks it is the least he can do to contribute, saying that occupying locations in central London “is an important step in communicating the urgency of the cause.” Like Baralon, he is not dissuaded by the criticism that the movement has received, amongst others from British prime minister Boris Johnson, who on Tuesday called the climate activists “uncooperative crusties”.
“There is no basis to argue that inaction is somehow better than taking part, in whatever way you can, to ensure that this planet remains healthy for generations to come,” Sandbach says. “In years to come, I would rather be able to say that I was there and I tried than that I stood by for fear of criticism.”
Striking is like therapy
Sandbach describes the atmosphere in the occupied parts of London as “upbeat and energetic,” saying that the level of commitment displayed by those who have chosen to become “arrestable” is “inspiring and humbling.”
“People are chained to wooden structures, bicycle locked to each other, or even to the steering wheels of their cars. It really conveys the conviction that these people have to their cause,” Sandbach says, adding that there aren’t just students and youth present at the occupation. “There is a mix of young and old, people from all over the country, and all walks of life – from teachers, baristas, CEOs and lawyers.”
Aguirre confirms what Sandbach is saying, describing “an overwhelming feeling of unity” in the occupied spaces. She likens striking to “a form of therapy”, as “eco-anxiety is an increasing occupation” of hers. According to Aguirre, the strikes are necessary, as “the UK government declared climate emergency a few months ago, yet we have not seen any relevant efforts.” When asked if she has a message for her peers at King’s, she is clear; “Strike. The Trafalgar Square camp is just 10 minutes walking from Strand Campus.”