Update #7 – To Parliament, and Beyond
April 25, 2019 by Douglas
We’ve created wonders. We’ve made history. We’re just getting started.
The London Rebellion, after ten unbelievable days, will relinquish its final location on Thursday. We’ll be coming back to a different world.
At a monumental people’s assembly on Monday, rebels from across the UK came together to discuss how we’d move forward. Amazing ideas were shared, and were recorded to be visible here, here and here; we hope these ideas will also be seen in the shape of the plan going forwards.
An important part of this plan was when and how to leave our last location at Marble Arch. The discussion of this question began on Monday afternoon, and was made extra pertinent by a police raid later that evening, and then another the following day. During the latter – and from a police-cordoned stage – a further people’s assembly was convened to address specifically this question. A majority agreed to hold a closing ceremony at 5pm on Thursday.
We’ll be leaving on our own terms – and what terms! It’s clear that we’ve entered a new level of membership and support, both in the UK and abroad. Our social media following has more than doubled on all platforms; our Instagram reached over 8 million people in one week. With 40,000 new members since last Monday we’ve just crossed the 100,000 mark, and we’re nearing on 400 XR branches globally.
In London we pledged not to leave the streets until we saw serious engagement from government. Since MPs returning on Tuesday we’ve had so much political traction it warrants a whole section, the short version of which is that we’re doing really well. Is it enough? Of course not. The change we demand for the sake of our world is enormous; the apocalyptic interests against it are powerful.
It’s in view of this, and by demand from several peoples’ assemblies, that we came back to Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday (see below). It’s for the same reasons that we’ll be disrupting the City on Thursday, and carrying out several more targeted actions in the coming days.
And it’s why, from the end of this week, we’ll be getting ready to spread our message wherever we go, in our local communities and across the world. But before we start this next journey, we’ll be holding a day of regeneration and reflection on Friday. It’s good timing because the long-term wellbeing team just finished a fantastic guide on post-rebellion care, which we strongly recommend that all rebels read. There are also online debriefs.
To start the reflection process early, this team would like to take a moment of humble gratitude – to our incredible members, of course (we’d especially like to welcome the recent arrival of XR Pakistan), but also to so many others who’ve made this Rebellion possible. To the many movements before and around us from the Chartists to RTS, Occupy to PNR and so many more, who fought and fight for our right to political protest. To the NGOs who’ve lent us their support, and the churches who gave us their space. We look forward to working together where we can, for the sake of the planet.
MPs have been returning to Westminster since Tuesday. As they’ve come back, we’ve seen a remarkable new level of environmental engagement.
This has been at its most apparent in the Commons’ hour-and-a-half discussion of the “Extinction Rebellion Urgent Question”. Among other highlights this featured a call from Ed Miliband for a government declaration of climate emergency and the implementation of a ‘green new deal’. The government’s familiarly brazen response of celebrating ‘progress to date’ seemed to ring a little more hollow than usual, the more so with Greta Thunberg watching from the gallery.
The general picture for now is of greater support from Labour, underlined in person when Extinction Rebellion Youth presented a letter to Diane Abbott outside Parliament. However there’s hope for the Tories yet, as Environment Secretary Michael Gove has offered a meeting with Extinction Rebellion. Sceptics might note the twelve past occasions on which Gove has voted against measures to address climate change, along with his attempt as Education Secretary to remove climate change from the GCSE geography curriculum… but we’re not here to bring up the past – we’re here for the future.
Beyond these early and official exchanges, our political strategy team also reports lively engagement ‘through backchannels’ – we can only speculate what might emerge from these.
We’re just two days into this session but it’s already clear, as one paper puts it, “Extinction Rebellion protests have WORKED”.
What’s next for London and the UK?
Several people’s assemblies held in the last few days, including these ones, have been the primary guidance for what happens next
First, regenerate! As goes the fifth of our key principles and values: We value reflecting and learning. Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences. This process can and should take time, and is an important part of how we do things. One London-based opportunity to do this will be a musical event on Monday.
Second – decentralise! From Saturday we’re encouraging rebels to return to our communities, whether in London, around the UK or internationally, and to tell the truth as it is. One of the most literal ways to do this might be to call a local radio station (see notices for tips); but the greater project will involve finding or starting a local group, and knitting these groups into a network of local and international solidarity. There’s already a lot coming up on the international scale: mass die-ins, a mother’s day march, and a global climate strike.
And as the last of these suggests, we’re also very keen to engage with other movements where we can. There’s already an opportunity this weekend, when the brilliant Reclaim the Power will hold a National Gathering. If you’re making summer plans already, RTP are also holding a mass action camp from the 26th of July.
We’ll try to keep you posted with similar events going forwards. If there’s something you think we should know about, whether XR-organised or otherwise, please email email@example.com.
Credit: George Butler
Before we begin with the historic happenings of the Square over the last few days, an apology is due. It turns out there is not just one man living atop the tall trees overlooking the green, but half a dozen, a veritable brotherhood of bark scalers living among the foliage, unscathed by the policing operations below. Some have been up there now for 10 days. This reporter ant can only offer the admittedly meagre excuse that he is short-sighted and that those towering trees tops really are very far away. XR Tree House gang, we salute you all!
Tuesday saw the first fledgling flutters of a loving relationship between XR and Parliament. But it’s also clear that this relationship isn’t going to be easy. There will be sickness, and there will be health. In the morning, hundreds upon hundreds of rebels gathered in the shade of Marble Arch and headed for Westminster Palace, the plan being that they would hand over letters to their local MPs returning from recess. The letters would invite the politician to a people’s assembly on the climate and ecological crisis, and make clear XR’s three core demands – that the Government declare a climate emergency, that they act now to achieve net zero carbon by 2025, and that they are led by the decisions of a National Citizens Assembly.
The climate-conscious colonnade, peppered with banners and flags, and drummers and singers, marched along Hyde park to Buckingham Palace, then down the Mall towards Whitehall, a light police escort clearing the roads ahead and shielding the marchers from traffic.
But on arrival at Parliament Square, the welcome they received was not warm. A police cordon blocked off the Houses of Parliament, and white tape had been put up to funnel the marchers onto the green. While many rebels settled there to write more letters and prepare them for send off, some tried to deliver a first batch using the Cromwell entrance point. The police wouldn’t let them through.
What then followed was, with the benefit of hindsight, a massive exercise in stalling. A police liaison officer mooted a new drop off point at No.1 Parliament Street, asking rebels to collect into groups of ten and await chaperoned entry. It took until 4pm for the first rebels to gain access, but with the building closing at 6pm, the clock ticking on, and many hundreds of rebels patiently waiting with their letters, it was clear that this system was not fit for purpose. Doubly so when those first rebels to gain access returned with letters still in hand, telling tales of needing ‘green cards’ to ‘mass lobby’ MPs whose attendance must be prearranged.
The majority of rebels settled down on the green and listened to speeches from, amongst others, three real-life Labour MPs who championed their cause! Clive Lewis (Norwich South), Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton Kemptown), and Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) all spoke in passionate support of the rebels and what they had achieved, allaying some of the frustration felt by the crowd. With the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) having already appeared on the Marble Arch stage on Monday, that makes a grand total of four MPs who have now publicly professed their unflinching support for Extinction Rebellion and its aims. Just 646 more to go, then we can all get a good night’s rest.
But about 200 tenacious rebels decided to not give up after the folly at 1 Parliament Street, and headed for Churchill’s gate to try and deliver their letters. Police swarmed in to form another cordon, and so the exasperated rebels sat down in the street holding their letters aloft, demanding their democratic right to communicate with their representatives. Threats of arrests and section 14’s started to circulate. It was at this point that a dame in shining armour arrived. Baroness Jenny Jones, the only Green Party member of the House of Lords, spoke to the rebels, negotiated with the police then Westminster security, and managed to get permission for a small group of protestors to visit the Palace. The jubilant protestors self-organised quickly, and soon 12 rebel representatives carrying great stacks of letters were ushered through the gate. Many security checks later, they found themselves in the inner square… only to be blocked by security again. Two options were eventually given to them by the head of Westminster security. Leave the many hundreds of letters in the post room, or return on Wednesday with an alphabetized list of MPs addressed in the letters, and start a process to ‘mass lobby’ them (essentially meet with them in groups). It was also clear by this point that there were no MPs left in the building – it was late and they had all gone home. The rebels elected to return the next day, with one representative describing the day as “hugely farcical and frustrating”. After the elation at gaining entry to the halls of power, the disappointment at not meeting one minister, and not handing over one letter, was immense. For many in attendance, never had their parliamentary democracy seemed so removed from its stated aims. Although the process of giving someone a letter had seemed a simple one, Parliament is an arcane institution that has been designed to make even basic contact with MPs difficult. But we are learning, we are adapting, and we are not going anywhere. If any MPs are reading, get ready. Loving democratic engagement is heading your way, like it or not. There is no planet B. But thanks to XR, there is a lot of people power.
UPDATE: 1:00pm – Labour MP Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) has joined the XR MP supporters club. The Shadow Home Secretary met with a group of XR Youth rebels on the square and accepted their letter. So now it’s just 645 MPs to go!
UPDATE: 4:00pm – Police have started ushering down the rebels living atop the Parliament Square trees using cherry picker hydraulic lifts. XR Tree House gang, we only just formally knew thee. You have inspired us to look directly upright far more often, both when attending protests and in day to day life.
UPDATE: 10:00pm – After a titanic effort involving rebels being literally sent round the houses (of parliament) I am happy to report that the letters were finally delivered to MPs on Wednesday afternoon. They overcame delusional advice from parliamentary aides (you can just give your letter to your MP!), false promises by police liaison officers, wrong numbers from Westminster security, bureaucratic headaches (alphabetize 1000 letters according to MP surname!), bad weather (it rained while they were alphabetizing 1000 letters on the grass of the square), and many, many hours of waiting (two days nearly), but a group of around 20 rebels did finally gain access to 1 Parliament Street, some of their local MPs were able to talk with them in Conference Room C, and all the letters were handed over in two great folders, with the promise that they would be united with their intended MP recipient. It was a clash of cultures, it was an episode of ‘The Thick Of It’ written by Franz Kafka, but ultimately, people power prevailed. Whose representative democracy? Our representative democracy!
Police v trees
After a stunning week of peaceful disruption across central London, Monday at the Arch marked the start of a new phase in the Rebellion. The pupa stage of speeches, singing, and street arrests across multiple sites was now developing into the imago of public assembly at a consolidated HQ, and a thriving movement was now openly deciding how best to flex its bulging, crowd-built muscles.
Despite the pressure of knowing the world’s media and Greater London’s police force were recording every temperature check, and the daunting responsibility of distilling the thoughts of a thousand, excited, sun-baked minds, the People’s Assembly on XR’s future was a beautiful success – the kind of universal, non-hierarchical, political gathering one would have thought could only exist in an episode of Star Trek (for more details on the Public Assembly and the decisions that emerged, see the intro).
The group feast that followed was another vision to behold, with hundreds of rebels taking turns to kneel at a great white tablecloth zigzagging along the ground, and chow down on vegetable curry, salad, and sponge cake, all on one plate (curry with cake works folks – try it – just another way that XR has blown my mind). The music that followed was an eclectic mix, even for XR, with a booming reggae set, a man with a ukulele, and then internationally acclaimed folk rock superstar Beth Orton. A few yards away, shoppers, tourists and rebels sat together on the tarmac of Oxford street doodling and writing messages on a great roll of paper that was being gradually unfurled like a carpet.
So far, so new. But then came something sadly familiar. Just before 10pm, the herd of white vans arrived, and 200 police officers marched into camp, surrounding the truck that housed the Marble Arch stage. In a reversal of the normal roles, the crowd sang in unison (“Climate justice now, people gonna rise like water…”) while on stage, police dismantled the sound system in silence. Fears that the fuzz might go on to dismantle the entire camp proved unfounded (for now) and the rozzers retreated into the night with only their amplified music equipment to keep them company.
They were not gone long.
As journalist George Monbiot addressed the crowds the next day, the familiar phalanx of officers reappeared. Again they made a beeline for the now ‘emergency’ stage (using a secondary sound system recovered from the Waterloo bridge site), and again they surrounded it. But this time they came armed with a section 14 order – meaning they did not just have their beady eyes on the sound system, but the truck and potentially the entire site. Everyone decided to disregard the police presence and just carry on as planned. George finished his speech extolling the rebellion (“What we have seen in London over the past few days, people will look back to as the tipping point.”) and the rebel crowds then held a scheduled people’s assembly, breaking out into discussion groups to debate how long to hold the Marble Arch site. In the background, the police started their long struggle to remove the arrestees locked-on to the stage truck. Three were chained to the base and another three were on the roof. Many more rebels knelt beside them in solidarity.
As night fell, the Arch campsite was alive with samba drums and hula hooping, but the police presence remained, and the mood was anxious. To struggle on in defiant disruption, or make a gracious and tidy retreat? That was the question. The answer to gradually emerge from the camp was the latter, with Thursday being the settled leaving day. Hours later, the police again retreated with only another sound system to add to their war chest (bravo you sterling lock-ons!) but not before issuing a decree that no amplified music be played on site – only educational speeches. They also issued a section 14 to reclaim the roads around the Arch, indicating the camp itself would be safe until Friday. As the large kitchen tent was relocated from the road on Wednesday morning, the last bastion of the Great London Rebellion appears to have just hours left to stand. But it will fall on our terms, at our time, and be done with characteristic grace as the police look on. There will be a leaving ceremony on Thursday night, where there will be poems and songs, and a final litter clean up on the Friday morning. It will be sad, it will be joyous. It will be another technical defeat that feels like a historic victory.
UPDATE: 4:00pm – Extinction Rebellion has formally announced a voluntary end to Marble Arch and Parliament Square blockades on Thursday, with a closing ceremony for the London Rebellion at Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park at 5pm.
The police move in on Marble Arch, and the varied animals therein
Over 300 rebels, more than half of them children, marched through Waltham Forest to the town hall to call on their council to declare a climate emergency. They also planted an XR symbol in a flowerbed in the centre of their community that would grow bigger and stronger like the movement.
Photo: Catrin Nye
The children of XR Islington brought plants and flowers to Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency office to extend an invitation to the people’s assembly on climate action at Parliament Square.
XR Youth Islington @XRIslington
Natural History Museum
Photos: Terry Matthews
On Monday afternoon around 100 rebels of all sizes lay down under the blue whale skeleton in the Natural history museum for a mass die-in. The protest lasted about an hour, with the ever-ravishing Red Brigade closing the event with a preternatural performance on the museum’s stone stairway.
Photos: Terry Matthews
Credit: The Lightscraper
Our new podcast is all about Citizens’ Assemblies. Featuring Matthew Taylor, Sarah Allan and Rupert Read. The new episode will be LIVE on all major platforms from Friday morning! You can listen to it on Apple Podcast or Spotify or Podomatic.
Engaging local Radio
East London Radio hosted an XR love-in on Friday with a rebellious take on ‘Desert Island Discs’ where rebels got to explain the movement and play some of their favourite tracks. The template of the show could be a great one for other local radio stations to adopt, or for affinity groups looking to socialise and educate new members in a new way. You are all free to copy it and can listen to the show here.
For a list of BBC local radio stations, see here.
Our video-tableau of humanity just launched – see here!
Disclaimer: those involved in writing these updates are excited but exhausted by the day’s events; we’re deeply, deeply appreciate of our fellow rebels around the world, and will do our best to cover their incredible, moving and inspiring exploits – but we can’t promise to catch everything! If you have a story that we’ve missed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Story’ in the subject line.
XR Pakistan got its first ever mention in a national newspaper. “Extinction Rebellion Pakistan is part of an international protest movement that has gathered steam in recent months and it calls for people from all over the world to ‘come together to save ourselves’. Pakistan is in a climate crisis but its minister incharge is a bigger cause for concern” Rina Saeed Khan, April 21 2019, The Express Tribune.
To mark Earth Day, rebels in Chile orchestrated an urban die-in, symbolising how life on Earth is shutting down.
Photo: Belen Morales Ferrer
The Czech Republic gets involved. Rebels from Prague and Brno repaint the Lennon wall in Prague with the words klimatické nouze; climate emergency in Czech.
XR Czech Republic
Photos XR Czech Republic @XRczech
Despite the brutal response of the police in Paris over the weekend, where protesters were pepper sprayed, rebels in Marseille decorated their streets with our key messages and shared values.
Photos: Extinction Rebellion France
Rebels held a street party in The Hague to celebrate our beautiful planet and invite new members to our movement.
Photo: Extinction Rebellion Leiden
Actions in the US continue as local groups sprout up across the country. Corporations as well as state and federal government buildings have all been targets. In LA, rebels took over the globe at Universal Studios, calling on NBC/Universal to take action on climate change.
Photo: Extinction Rebellion US
In Portland 11 rebels were arrested for a two day blockade of Zenith Energy, a corporation that profits from transporting dirty oil from tar sands overseas.
Thanks for reading!
Enjoy reading about the highlights of London’s Rebellion? Well now you can listen to them too, thanks to Extinction Rebellion Podlets – mini podcasts about the day’s XR happenings. They’re being released every other day, and Episode 3, which focuses on ‘Green Futures’ and how XR families feel about the times ahead is available for your listening pleasure.
If you’d like to share a story from the ground or join our global crew of roving reporter ants, then please get in touch at email@example.com.
We’d also really like to hear the ongoing stories of XR Affinity Groups during this momentous week of Rebellion. Help make and share history by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Credit: Evening Standard
This is quite possibly the last of our International Rebellion updates; from here we’ll be looking to resume our normal, weekly service in the old format.
As with a lot of other parts of XR, we’ll also be taking a bit of a rest and thinking about how we move forwards to localise and internationalise. To our many international readers, going forward we’re looking to engage with XR branches all over the world to make our coverage as global as we want it to be.
The writer would like to give his deepest thanks to all who contributed to our output in the past ten days; this team has put in some truly heroic efforts, most of which will not be ‘sung’, because we care about this planet and this movement and the duty of keeping its members as informed as possible.
If you have any questions or feedback about the newsletter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.