I Was One Of The First Extinction Rebellion Protestors To Be Arrested – Here's Why I Have No Regrets

I know lots of people don’t have the privilege of being able to risk arrest, but I’m proud to have participated in this massive expression of civil disobedience

I was the first Extinction Rebellion activist to be arrested on Waterloo Bridge last week [April 2019].

I didn’t plan to get arrested, I didn’t expect to be arrested – but I have no regrets. These protests are a moment of collective transformation for thousands of people, and a huge step up in communicating the urgency of climate justice. I’m proud to have played my part.

Here’s how it happened. I joined the protesters who had occupied Waterloo Bridge for the week, enjoying the unpolluted, pedestrianised roads. Activists had lined the roads with trees, plants and flowers, while a makeshift skatepark showed us what life could be like in our cities if there was political will to cut carbon and create communal space that actually made our lives better.

Suddenly, the mood changed. Someone said numbers were falling, and I was moved to do what I could. I went to the front as I have a very loud voice and I led a new round of chanting. A large group of police officers came over the bridge, marching in pairs. I just chanted louder – and was really pleased to feel the crowd respond the same way.

It was a beautiful experience to be in such a highly charged situation, with such solidarity between all the protestors. But before I knew it, my hands were behind my back and I was being taken away by two officers. I carried on leading the chants, while one of the police officers told me that I was the first to be arrested.

Once inside the station, it was clear that the police were overwhelmed by numbers. We were all waiting in a corridor for hours whilst they processed people. The usual practice I was told was that you would go in a cell and be processed one by one but there just wasn’t the resources for it – it’s clear that if the protests continue to ramp up, the police will struggle.

Hours later, it was amazing to walk out of the police station and have a group to greet me, including Green Party members. They had biscuits, hugs and juice at the ready and Extinction Rebellion have made an amazing welfare network to make sure that everyone is well cared for after coming out of police custody.

I don’t take civil disobedience lightly. I’m a law-abiding citizen that respects the hard jobs the Police have to do. I’ve never been arrested – and I wouldn’t be keen to be again. Nonetheless, faced with a government so inactive on climate change, I’d absolutely be willing to go through it again repeatedly until they heard the message.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency. The United Nations has told us we have until 2030 to take bold action on climate change, we’re already failing to act upon it. I’m proud of the work my Green colleagues have done in the London Assembly to push the Mayor of London and the Greens across the country who have pushed dozens of councils into declaring a climate emergency. But not enough action is being taken.

We must aim for net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and that means taking urgent action immediately. Ten years ago, Caroline Lucas was one of a group of people calling for a Green New Deal – a massive programme of investment which would give everyone a good, secure job in a new Green economy. A decade later, it’s an idea whose time has come. This is the vision I was fighting for when I was taken away by the police.

I know that lots of people don’t have the privilege of being able to risk arrest, and that my experience with the police is not the experience of everyone. It’s important that we don’t fetishise arrests as a sole means of achieving climate justice. We need a multifaceted approach of protest and politics to transform our economy into something which brings prosperity to all while staying within planetary limits.

All the same, this was a life-changing moment for me, and I’m proud to have participated in this massive expression of civil disobedience. The climate movement hasn’t roared with life like this for decades. As I stood on the reclaimed Waterloo Bridge, as I felt the connection between myself and thousands of others, as I saw this sudden, beautiful, exhilarating transformation of my city - I knew that another world is possible. I truly believe it’s about to arrive.

Zack Polanski is a climate activist and Green Party candidate for the London Assembly


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