6,000 activists, five bridges, 82 arrests. I think it's fair to say that the Extinction Rebellion event on Saturday was a success. The five London bridges were peacefully blocked from around 1100~1600, disrupting traffic and economic activity in the city. I was with the 1,000 or so on Blackfriars Bridge, and was able to observe strangers coming together to share food and have fun.
We mobilised at around 1100 after gathering on and near the bridge. We moved to sides of the road and the central pedestrian island, then flooded the road, sitting or standing along the crossing. There was already a police presence and many police vans were parked nearby, though they offered no resistance to our movements. After a period of time the police moved a van onto the road between us and the bridge, cutting off all access. Had an ambulance or other emergency vehicle needed to get through, it is likely we would have allowed them to pass. However, the police stopped this question from even arising through their blockade. It is also worth noting that there are many other bridges in London besides the five we closed off ─ there were other routes between the two sides of the Thames.
We soon moved from the end of the bridge to the centre. While this meant the groups from both ends were able to merge, it also cut us off from the public. People walked the bridge and could see the demonstration, but the direct impact on the public was reduced by not being easily visible from the shore.
A portable sound system was set up, live music began and a knot of people danced near the speakers. There was a very friendly and positive atmosphere throughout the day. A play parachute brought people together for some simple games, and later many speeches were broadcast.
There were speakers from all over the world: a Mongolian shaman, and individuals from Ghana, West Papua and the Caribbean all spoke out about the climate disaster, social and societal issues, and environmental exploitation; and how all three have damaged their area of the world. It was fantastic to see such global collaboration, and such a mix of cultures distilled in the speakers. Some had travelled from local movements in their respective areas of the globe to join with Extinction Rebellion that day, saying that it was all part of the same cause. To join together in our millions makes us strong, and a healthy worldwide community of supporters is vital to get countries' governments to make the changes required to avert the climate disaster that they are still trying to avoid meeting head-on, and work on social inequality.
A number of people in the crowd actively sought arrest. A small group of people used lock-ons and lay on the road. They were tended by protesters, given food and water, and kept warm with blankets. When people began to leave Blackfriars and join together at Westminster Bridge instead, the police began to move and arrest those that chose to stay. Although there was a collection of rebels who stayed on the bridge but were not using lock-ons, to the best of my knowledge, on Blackfriars Bridge only the users of lock-ons were arrested. I was with the final group who pushed back against the police, singing and pressing against their cordon around the lock-on activists, and the police were at all times very reasonable and tolerant. They allowed the protest to continue all day, and even when arrests began, they left most of the rebels alone. I have heard that the police at Lamberth Bridge were unable to deal with the numbers they were required to arrest in order to clear the bridge, so they eventually gave up and permitted the demonstration to continue.
After most of the day on the bridge, rebels from all bridges joined forces to march to Parliament Square, which lies very near to Westminster Bridge. By that time I had moved to Westminster, as the police closed down the demonstrations on each bridge. Lamberth held out for a long time, but those at Westminster moved together to Parliament Square after a final speech from a young girl, possibly the youngest speaker. When we arrived in Parliament Square, an interfaith closing ceremony took place. Thousands gathered together to reflect on the day, and reasons behind the rebellion. While the rebellion was a success and a move in the right direction in this current time, we should not be in this position where such action is required. We as a society should not be heading in the dangerous direction we are currently moving towards.
What struck me was how easy it was to participate in the rebellion ─ while I am sure that behind the scenes there was a lot going on, for the common-or-garden activist who had no involvement in organisation, all you had to do was turn up. This makes it very easy to join and do your bit for our future: even if you don't want to be arrested or don't feel you have anything you can contribute, being a body in the crowd counts.
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