Wednesday morning comes around and since returning from Waterloo Bridge I’ve done some research on Extinction Rebellion’s latest protests. As of Wednesday they have several posts including Oxford Circus, Parliament Square, Piccadilly Circus and Waterloo Bridge. By virtue of having to cross Waterloo Bridge to get to university I decide, after a day’s studying in the library, to have a closer look at Extinction Rebellion’s set up, exploring their urban garden and strategy whilst also generally seeing what happens.
Nothing much has changed from the previous day but at around six o’clock there’s an announcement on the mainstage, (a diesel lorry but we’ll gloss over that), that Parliament Square, one of their main strongholds since the protest began on Monday is about to ‘fall’. A search on Twitter reveals a battalion of police officers moving in to remove what has so far been a peaceful protest. The phrase ‘overdoing it’ comes to mind but duly, as soon as the call for help goes out, a thin trickle of people begins moving towards Parliament Square.
Before arriving, we hear from others that it has fallen, but this is not entirely true as there is a small last attempt by twenty protestors who have organised a lie down protest. They’re still there when we arrive. It looks like the last minutes of the protest but every time the police arrest one person, another goes in to take their place. Still, it’s not certain that the protest will last much longer.
That is until we hear the sound of beating drums and whistling from the west. Another hundred or so Extinction Rebellion protestors have responded to the call and hove into view on the horizon. Parliament Square becomes a stronghold once more.
Here begins what can only be described as an ad-hoc game of strategy between the police and protestors. The police have the capability for greater use of force, but given the lack of clear orders, they are staccato in their response. Some banners they take down swiftly, others they allow peacefully to be mounted across the entire breadth of the road.
All this happens whilst the band does laps of Parliament Square — leaving the lie down protestors free from their Alamo-esque predicament — with a small contingent of less than twenty manning each of the five key points of the Square. Extinction Rebellion looked to be there for the night as I left the square to head for Waterloo Bridge, but not decisively so.
If there is one problem with Extinction Rebellion it is that, though they are decisive in where and why they’re protesting, where they expand to is less certain. At several points the main protest, complete with the drums, was made to move out of the square prompting discussion that they will be heading to other haunts. However, at the last moment the protestors simply turned around and returned inwards.
Who supports them?
Well, this is difficult to say because most of their supporters are white and middle class. They field positive responses from commuters. Go on twitter and type in Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus and you’ll see that most find it refreshing that there are sites free of buses and taxis, pedestrianised in the Dutch fashion and, in the case of Oxford Circus, covered with soil, chalk drawings and trees. Whilst those who drive for a living are immune to their environmentalist driven eco-rhetoric, those who don’t, like it for the most part.
Which is why some of their decisions as to what to target have been a bit puzzling. Target roads yes, target bridges yes, but underground stations and over ground stations? Not only that but they are preventing all vehicles, even electric ones from passing through. These decisions are harming not only their credibility, but their popularity, particularly amongst fellow students.
The big question: Will they really change anything?
Well it all depends on how long they’re there for. Another question that hasn’t been answered is how long they intend to protest for. Is it a week, two weeks, a month, more?
The aim of the police Wednesday night was to remove them all, which would have limited their impact. They failed, so it looks like they’ll be here for another week at least. Where ‘here’ is, remains to be seen. Waterloo Bridge and Marble Arch are the most likely to hold solid for the long term. Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, currently being manned by offshoots of Extinction Rebellion, less so. I should think they will be gone by next Friday. Parliament Square will be somewhere in the middle in terms of longevity.
The biggest factor though will be organisation, not just that of the police but their own; something that was bolstered by Extinction Rebellion tactically putting different wings in charge of different points. For example, the Scottish have Parliament Square and the Youth Wing have Piccadilly Circus to hold.
But where do I stand? It’s very easy to see both sides of the argument. On the one hand they’re disrupting the lives of many who rely on driving into London to make their living. Also the decision to disrupt the tube preventing those who rely on it from getting to work means disabled people are being unnecessarily restricted.
And yet, it is a fact that people will only listen if you disrupt their everyday lives. People will only listen if you make enough noise to get them to stop and engage. At its core the protest is peaceful, because the fundamental aim is to make this world a cleaner place for all, and if that means that Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Parliament Square are cut off for a week or two, so be it.
Extinction Rebellion’s protest may lack precise execution but it makes a damn good point about a key topic in contemporary society: our future wellbeing.