The past three days have seen activists take to the streets of London to participate in protests of civil disobedience planned to go on until 29th April. So far there have been almost 300 arrests, mainly for acts of public order offences. Extinction Rebellion – the non-violent UK-based grassroots environmental group behind the protests – has apologised for blocking traffic over the past three days at some of London’s busiest junctions but, they say, they need to get climate change to the top of the UK agenda, and so far their strategy is working.
Joy Rowell, a 64-year-old grandmother of soon to be nine grandchildren, was arrested at Waterloo Bridge for blocking the public highway. Here is her account of what went down...
"I have always been aware of sustainable living and then when I read the latest figures about climate breakdown about six months ago, I researched and came across Extinction Rebellion.
When I looked up Extinction Rebellion, I realised it was my duty to get active and not just write letters. That’s why I am here at the London demo. I have taken part in a lot of other protests – such as the anti-Iraq war protest – but protest only gets you so far. If three million people can’t persuade a government not to do what you don’t want them to do, then you have to do something more. That’s why I like Extinction Rebellion, the thrust of it is civil disobedience and that’s the only way that we can make sure the powers that be take notice.
It breaks my heart that my children will not hear the birdsong I grew up with, see the variety of wildflowers that I grew up with...
It breaks my heart that my children will not hear the birdsong I grew up with, see the variety of wildflowers that I grew up with. The rate of losing them is accelerating. I am really angry, we have known about this for so long and it is so low on the government agenda.
I attended with Roger, my husband, and we met up with the local Forest of Dean group at the demonstration later on for moral support. There is a fantastic atmosphere, people are incredibly supportive and there are places you can go if you are feeling apprehensive. You only put yourself forward if you are prepared to be arrested, and there is no shame in saying you don’t want to be arrested for any reason. A lot of the people who attended the demonstration are employed and so they can’t be arrested. Whereas I am retired so I can do whatever it takes.
A lot of the people are employed and so they can’t be arrested. I'm retired so I can do whatever it takes.
The protest is a bit like a festival. People say that we are the 'great unwashed' and 'a load of hippies'. It’s not like that at all – there is a huge spectrum of people. From professionals to the unemployed, babies to people in their 80s. People were distributing coffee, a guy was cooking and giving away free food, everybody is sharing. Everybody is in the same frame of mind of 'this is it, this is our last chance and we need to get the authorities to see it'.
When I was arrested, they said we were breaking the law in terms of Section 14 [of the Public Order Act], which is blocking the public highway. We were sitting down at Waterloo Bridge, and the tactic was to make a lot of noise so that we couldn’t hear what they were arresting us for. I’m actually slightly deaf so I couldn’t hear anyway!
They asked if we were going to move, and I smiled, and then they asked us to go with them to the van. The policemen were incredibly gracious and they were on long overtime; in times gone by I have seen police aggression, but they weren’t aggressive in the slightest. At the police station they were incredibly caring, they were bringing us food and that aspect of it I was quite surprised by.
I was kept in a cell in Wood Green for seven hours, and my husband who was arrested 20 minutes before me was kept in Wembley. I think from the messages coming through in the police van, every police station in London was full. I was released pending investigation, but my feeling is they didn’t know what to do next because there were too many people arrested.
I would do it all again. I certainly will be back to the protest this week – probably not to be arrested as I want to see what happens with the 'pending' thing – and if nothing happens and it comes to doing something else more creative than sitting in the street but which is still civil disobedience, I am still happy to do that. My conscience tells me now that I need to protect the Earth, not only for my children and grandchildren but because we are seeing floods of refugees fleeing climate change already. That will increase so much, and we will start to see real problems here and all over the world. We need to have system change and that’s why I am prepared to take civil action."