NEWS
27/04/2019 07:47 BST | Updated 27/04/2019 12:47 BST

1,100 Arrests, Three Demands: What Did Extinction Rebellion Achieve?

After two weeks of disruption, there is hope as well as scepticism.

The Independent
Triumph for Extinction Rebellion as protests spark huge surge in ‘climate change’ web traffic.

They came in their thousands, armed with banners, street performances, and even a pink boat. The message - to tell the world the “truth” about climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, was made clear. 

Over two weeks, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus were blocked by activists, while a spectacular “die-in” at the Natural History Museum was just one of the colourful stunts staged to capture media attention. 

But despite temporarily disrupting London’s busy public transport network and putting some commuter noses out of joint, what did the demonstrations achieve?

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Alanna Byrne, media coordinator at Extinction Rebellion, gave a simple answer: a lot. 

“I think we did a great job. We’ve acted, we’ve had a great response, but now we’re really trying to move to a second phase where we have to put pressure on the government...the government have to start taking action themselves. I think we’re getting there,” Byrne said.

“The fact that we’re having people from various political parties responding to us - we’re pleased. But actions speak louder than words. Until something is done and our demands are met, we’re sort of keeping everybody at arms length, I suppose.”

“I think our message is resonating with people because there’s two sides to our message. One, It’s an emergency and obviously we don’t want to scare people, but the point of this direct action is that people have to understand this is something we have to sort out right away.

“Obviously we don’t want to be disrupting people’s lives, but the long term disruption if we don’t deal with this problem is going to be far worse.”

In just under a fortnight, the profile of Extinction Rebellion has risen and their cause has gained global media attention – as well as the disruption they created for Londoners. Was this response anticipated?

“We’ve been really worried about pissing people off, but we have tried really hard to be very apologetic in that respect,” she said.

“Because we’ve remained peaceful and nonviolent, and reached out to people, we’re speaking to people in the street, I think it’s worked really well.

“Maybe there’s an element of surprise. We’re certainly surprised at the response from The Sun and The Daily Mail and things like that, but we’re so pleased that they’re covering us and I think there’s definitely a surprise as to how big it’s got so quickly.” 

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The protests brought London to a standstill. 

As of 11.45am on Thursday, 25 April, a total of 1,130 arrests connected to the Extinction Rebellion protests were made, according to the Metropolitan Police. 

Sky News reports that more than 100,000 police officers were deployed throughout the ten days in response to the protests.

On Thursday, 13 people were arrested at the Stock Exchange building in the City of London on suspicion of aggravated trespassing, while another 13 were arrested in Fleet Street. A total of 69 people were charged.

In just 24 hours, police said an estimated 500,000 people had been affected by the disruptions.

Phil Kingston, aged 83, is thought to have been the oldest person arrested during the demonstrations. He clambered onto a DLR train at Canary Wharf on 25 April

According to Byrne some 40,000 people signed up to volunteer with Extinction Rebellion for different roles. Followers of the organisation’s Twitter page, she said, have more than doubled.

“We’re still collecting a lot of data and we will know more later,” she added. 

“The engagement has been intense, but really positive. But in terms of demographics, I am not sure.”

Now that the demonstrations have come to a pause, has Extinction Rebellion moved closer to achieving their demands?

“Two and three (net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and creation of a citizens assembly) not so much, but the first one was so key to the last few weeks – telling the truth. We’ve told our truth now and it’s resonating with people. This is the first step,” Byrne said.

“The government have to start telling the truth, and the media as well. It’s incredible to see how many media outlets are using much of the same language that we’re using. I really think that’s changing.

“Michael Gove getting in touch and saying he wants to talk, we’re sceptical of it but we hope we’re moving forward.”

So how will they now go about trying to achieve their second and third demands?

“Meeting with policymakers will certainly be happening in the future. I can’t comment on that too much but we have a political strategy team.

Cllr Claire Holland, Lambeth council’s deputy leader, told HuffPost UK: “On Sunday night [Waterloo] bridge became accessible for cleaning – our crews who were on stand-by, and they swiftly got to work at about 10pm. The clean-up took an hour and the bridge re-opened by around 11pm.

“While obviously this was extra work for the council, we are absolutely committed to tackling climate change. Our council was the first London borough – and one of the first local authorities in the country – to declare a climate emergency and we have brought forward our target for becoming carbon neutral to 2030.”