Extinction Rebellion, a grassroots environmental organization, called for civil disobedience protests around the world starting April 15 to spotlight the global climate crisis and demand immediate action to address it. Activists heeded the call in 33 countries, and millions of people worldwide learned from the militant protests that followed.
In England, Extinction Rebellion’s plans for an April action were underway for a year. Thousands of people, worried about global weather disasters, signed up, willing to disrupt and even be arrested. Demands included that Parliament implement concrete measures by declaring a climate emergency, decrease the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a people’s assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Protests began with a bang April 15 in London. On day one, demonstrators occupied four major sites in the city — and they blocked traffic at Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus. Encampments were set up as thousands of people from different classes occupied the sites — parents with children, young people, seniors, workers, scientists, academics and celebrities—and disobeyed the police and held their ground.
Berta Cáceres, hero
A bright pink boat, named the Berta Cáceres after the murdered Honduran Indigenous leader and world-renowned environmentalist, was moored April 15 at Oxford Circus in central London. Cáceres is a symbol of resistance in this movement. On April 20, after cops cut through the hull—to which people had glued themselves—hundreds of activists blocked nearby roads, surrounding police. To haul the boat away and clear out protesters, cops roughly dragged away people, including those who had chained themselves to the road.
Other actions were held outside the Shell Oil building and at the House of Commons’ public gallery. People blocked the doorway of the London office of the French oil company Total. Twenty youth unfurled a banner near Heathrow Airport asking: “Are we the last generation?”
On April 20, police began removing protesters who had blockaded Waterloo Bridge for five days. The next day they forcibly removed remaining protesters, including those who were locked and glued to a truck there. Cops also swept Parliament Square and aggressively grabbed occupiers.
In total, 963 environmental activists were arrested in London from April 15 to 21. Criticisms mounted of police who used pepper spray on demonstrators and otherwise mistreated and intimidated them, with detainees held in cells for long periods.
Other protests in response to the call by Extinction Rebellion were held across Europe and in India, Pakistan, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, Mexico, Canada and many cities in the U.S. Some were huge. In Australia, protesters climbed onto train tracks and blocked a moving coal train on the way to Brisbane. No one was hurt, but arrests took place.
Demanding their governments act immediately to address the environmental crises, thousands participated in sit-ins, die-ins and blockades of banks and corporate and government buildings, among other creative activities. (Read about international actions at tinyurl.com/y28z3h5s/.)
Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old climate activist, summed up the emergency at a London rally on April 21: “We are facing an existential crisis, the climate crisis and ecological crisis which have never been treated as crises before. They have been ignored for decades.” (The Guardian, April 21)
These protests are a welcome development. But this movement needs to take aim at global capitalism, the main polluter and menace to the planet.