On October 15, activists dropped to the concrete in the courtyard of Guy’s Campus to represent the need for universities to “wake up” to climate change as part of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) initiative. Curious students and passers-by snapped photos of Geography Masters student Jonny, as his voice was echoing around the campus.
Confidently raising the megaphone in his hand, he turned towards the audience:
“We rebel against the entrenched educational systems, institutional ideologies, and power structures that underpin the climate emergency. We rebel against the privileged access to knowledge and its production. We rebel with nonviolence and education.”
Jonny, who declined to give his last name, listed demands for changes within institutions, urging them to “act in accordance with the climate knowledge they produce… bridging the gap between academia and the public”.
Students surrounded him and collapsed on the concrete. Some had signs, and many had pillows. The protest originally was meant to be a “die-in”, but Extinction Rebellion (XR) Universities decided against this plan. They said:
“After listening to voices within XR Internationalist Solidarity Network and the Global Justice Rebellion, we have decided that XR Universities will no longer partake in a ‘die-in’.
“Whilst these actions are intended to highlight the death so many are facing due to the climate and ecological emergency, we also recognise that this comes with the potential to cause offense and trivialise the huge losses of life and grave injustices that communities across the globe face on a daily basis.”
Following the “sleep-in”, students gathered by Guy’s Memorial to discuss the raised issues with one another. Giacomo Manca, a former LSE student who works with the XR Youth Solidarity movement, was the first to speak. He claimed that:
“The current ecological crisis is a justice issue. It is intimately connected with economic and racial oppression. People in the global south are already dying in the millions every year because of the environmental intoxication and climate disasters.”
Jon Urquidi, a second year graduate medical student at King’s, was one of the students participating in the “sleep-in” and the discussions that followed. He has been shocked by the passivity of his fellow students and urges them to stand up to their words:
“If you care about this and if you hold something to be true, such as the fact that there is this climate crisis… then it becomes increasingly more and more difficult to kind of stay sat at home. I was at a march on Saturday and somebody who maybe wasn’t our biggest fan was asking me if I wouldn’t rather be at home in bed. I was like: “Yeah, I absolutely would!” I’m quite busy, but this is a great opportunity to feel proud of yourself and know that you’re engaging in some way.”
Arrests have taken place across London for involvement in the XR movement, and the Metropolitan Police issued a statement on Monday evening banning further protests, citing “ongoing serious disruption to the community”. Jonny is not afraid of being arrested but has avoided putting himself in situations where he could be.
“If a policeman’s spoken to me, I’ve moved away. I’ve safeguarded myself”.
Jonny expressed disappointment in the police in light of their recent arrests and shutdowns. He said:
“They [the police] have a job to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s crazy to think that such a heavy approach is being taken to people who are really just trying to wake everyone up to the size and scale of the crisis that we’re facing, and remembering that this isn’t about our future, this is happening now to people all around the world.”