Friday April 19th. 2:30pm. Waterloo Bridge. On a normal day, cars, trucks, motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians would be in command of this portal between the north and south bank of the river Thames. But this isn’t a normal day. It hasn’t been a normal week. Waterloo bridge is now one of four camps occupied by the environmentalist group, Extinction Rebellion.
Since Monday, the group have had control of the bridge, as well as the junction that connects Regent Street and Oxford Street in the heart of London’s shopping district, Marble Arch and Parliament Square. They have camped, they have occupied, they have glued and chained themselves to the ground, to trains, to a huge pink boat at Oxford Circus, and most notably outside Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington home.
By all means, they are here. And they are here to stay.
I joined the protest on Friday, acutely aware that the best part of a thousand people have now been arrested for taking part in the ‘disruptive’ protests, but ready to ingratiate myself, and show solidarity with comrades who have put their neck on the line for a cause that literally impacts every single living thing on Earth.
What I found at Waterloo Bridge was actually quite surreal. Having already been there for a week, some even having slept on the bridge for a week, the atmosphere was fairly tame with maybe a few hundred people sat together on the bridge chatting, listening to speeches, singing and playing instruments but by any stretch of the imagination, it felt slightly muted.
Then maybe every five minutes, a cadre of maybe six to eight police officers would enter the group and drag someone away, only for the arrested persons to be clapped away by their surrounding comrades. Then the cycle would begin again. Singing, drumming, chatting. Then another arrest. And another. And another.
However, it couldn’t have been more peaceful. I’d go as far to say that it was an picture of tranquility and a collective spirit of both optimism owing to the amount of coverage they have brought to the issue, but also a shared feeling that this really is it. I heard a number of people poignantly say that they don’t want to be spending their week disrupting people’s travels and ‘making a nuisance’, but that they honestly don’t know what else to do.
The issue of environmental welfare and climate destruction has taken decades to become front and centre of our political discourse, but Extinction Rebellion and the ‘School Climate Strikes’ have made this issue unavoidable now. The younger generation simply will not put up with our current trajectory and politicians cannot ignore them anymore.
I’ve also spent my week defending their programme of civil disobedience on Twitter against a backlash from what appears to be an official and organised army of moaners and whingers who are maybe just a tad unaware of how calamitous the current picture looks. It makes me think that David Wallace-Wells’ new book, The Uninhabitable Earth should be compulsory reading before people are allowed to spout ignorant nonsense at me about ‘disruption to work and shopping’. Because believe you me, if you think this is ‘disruption’, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The sheer level of apocalyptic disruption that will be caused if we continue on this path of global self destruction, will be incalculable and totally devastating. What Extinction Rebellion are doing is creating a hardened, action-ready organisation of direct action that is putting these issues at the forefront’s of everyone’s mind.
How do I know? Because we’re all talking about them. And come the next general election, the environment will be the issue of the day. Thank God. Happy Easter!