The Extinction Rebellion announced yesterday that they would be closing down their London protest today at 6pm BST, on what has been their 10th day of nonviolent action against climate inaction by the UK government. Known also as XR, the citizen-led organization is technically based in the UK but has come to represent an international movement to get politicians and world leaders to take climate science seriously. XR has demanded that the U.K. government draw up and stick to a plan to eliminate carbon emissions over the next five years in order to avert a climate emergency. According to The Guardian, the protests are the biggest acts of civil disobedience in the country’s recent history.
The end of the protest comes after over a thousand arrests of activists since the beginning of XR’s London demonstrations on April 15th. “We will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world,” said XR representatives in a statement. “We know we have disrupted your lives. We do not do this lightly. We only do this because this is an emergency.” The demonstrations were designed to shut down parts of London, including the Waterloo Bridge, and thus gained the attention of high-profile supporters like youth activist Greta Thunberg, actress Emma Thompson, and Olympic gold medalist Etienne Stott (who was one of the people caught up in the arrests).
The demonstrations also attracted powerful detractors. London Mayor Sadiq Khan emphasized the burden that the protests had put on the city’s police, whom described as “over-stretched” and “under-resourced” for a protest this size. While there are certainly members of the Metropolitan Police who support XR, a commander of the Metropolitan Police suggested to the parliamentary Human Rights Committee that laws surrounding protests ought to become more restrictive, according to BBC News. “We will conduct a sober review of our tactics against recent protests, but I think it is likely to say the legislation associated with policing protest is quite dated and that policing and protest has moved on and that legislation should follow suit,” the commander said.
The XR protests were nonviolent by nature, inspired by the civil disobedience employed by other peaceful movements; a handful of protestors were willing to use their bodies in nonviolent interventions, shackling themselves to immovable structures, staging mass “die-ins” or staying out of reach of authorities by sequestering themselves in tall trees. Four XR protestors in Los Angeles, California even “super glued” themselves to the Universal Studios globe; the Los Angeles Times reported that the protestors may face felony charges that are grossly disproportionate to their crimes, especially in the context of the harm that climate change denial has on the world.