Islington Extinction Rebellion occupy Trafalgar Square ‘burning earth’ site
- Credit: PA
Islington climate rebels were among thousands occupying the “burning earth” site in Trafalgar Square yesterday.
Extinction Rebellion activists are assembled in central London as part of a two-week "Autumn uprising". which has seen groups across the globe participate in civil disobedience.
The Met Police has arrested more than 800 activists this week, using controversial "kettling" tactics to corral protestors into Trafalgar Square and the pedestrian areas around Nelson's Column.
These conditions have been imposed under S14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to stop protestors causing excessive disruption.
Patrick Vickers, 25, an Islington XR activist who researches climate solutions at University College London, was arrested on Monday but returned to the fray the following day.
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"I was sitting in the road obstructing the highway," he told the Gazette. "They [the police] were doing their jobs. They were really respectful, they gave me many warnings to get out of the road but I felt I had to be arrested. I think it's my civic duty to prevent danger and violence in the future. If we have kids, before they're adults, we're looking at the collapse of our food system and water wars."
He added: "I think it's really important that the people in Islington who understand this and the council can have a symbiotic relationship were we work together, listen together and really successfully go after targets the council has set to be carbon neutral by 2030.
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"That's an amazing target, but I think we have an opportunity, because we have a Labour council and a grassroots interest, to create a blueprint for a zero emissions but high wellbeing lifestyle, which basically hasn't been done before.
"We can show that tackling climate change doesn't mean a drop in standards of living."
XR activists have sound systems, plenty of food space to share ideas in their makeshift camp - and there's a conspicuous absence of cars in surrounding roads due to their blockades.
Ellie Austin, who was stewarding at the event yesterday, said: "The police have moved in and taken all the tents we had in the road and across the south section of the square, and they chucked everyone's possessions into a giant pile."
Quizzed on the general atmosphere, she added: "It has been lovely, amazing. There have been lots of families having a jolly time."
Anais Kegels, 24, said she was protesting in central London because she's "pissed off".
She added: "I just feel really frustrated and quite isolated at people around me that don't seem to care about important things like this.
"It's about trying to find a sense of community. I think for me one of the big things is learning how I can take away this anger and learning how I can take away this anger and share it in a positive way, because this is a topic I find difficult to talk about with family, colleagues, friends, trying to find common ground. There's no valid argument any of this, for me, so it's about finding the better way to communicate that."
Reflecting on the mood at the protest, she added: "It's really emotional but in a positive way and I feel really proud.
Nick Seaton, 24, is a freelance photographer who joined the Islington XR group a few weeks ago.
He said: "I'm here for the same reason everybody else is: I'm worried and scared about our future and I kinda just wish we had a government that was more productive and enlightened. The state is 10 years behind the rest of us."
But Nick doesn't agree with all XR policies.
"I think the net zero by 2025 is an admirable goal," he added, "but it's so ambitious it allows people to pick holes in the argument."
Nick's always cared about environmental issues and tried to make a difference in his personal life, but has hitherto found protest movement's unattractive.
He added: "But XR is just a different thing. It feels fresher, more modern, more agile and it had momentum - when you come across something with that momentum its very intoxicating."
Novelist and journalist Ned Beauman, 34, said he attended an "amazing" XR occupation of Waterloo Bridge in April, but has only recently become actively involved with the Islington group.
He said: "I didn't want to go to a meeting at a community centre but everyone was just on the same wavelength.
"It sounds grandiose, but I was manning a road block on The Mall on Monday."
Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) added: "It shouldn't be necessary for librarians, lawyers, engineers and other people to take to the streets to call for the government to tell the truth and act on climate change.
"I've just spent the afternoon in a citizens' assembly discussing climate flood risk and what to do about it. There was more creativity and climate leadership in Trafalgar Square than I've seen from anyone in our current government."