Power In Truth: Week 1
October 16, 2019
Monday 7th October
At around 9am, Scottish rebels, alongside fellow activists from Cumbria and the North East of England, blocked the entrance roads to the junction outside Westminster Abbey and the Government Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The chosen theme of our site, Power In Truth, reflects our areas’ past and present links with the fossil fuel industry and the importance of telling the truth about those industries; coal mining, fracking and North Sea oil and gas.
BEIS is responsible for all of these sectors – hence why we chose to occupy that area of Westminster.
Climate justice is another aspect of the ‘Power in Truth’ theme. While Scotland, Cumbria and North East England are parts of the world producing fossil fuels, and benefitting from the industrialised ways of life that have contributed to the climate and ecological emergency, it is the people of the Global South and Indigenous North who are suffering first and most from a crisis they have played the least part in causing.
We tell this truth, and act in solidarity with the struggles of those on the frontline of this global catastrophe.
Police stopped our trailer containing the site’s stage 100m from its destination, but five rebels locked on and glued themselves to the vehicle so it couldn’t be moved. They were removed and arrested 6 hours later.
Another 400 rebels set up camp during that time, despite the police removing infrastructure. 13 people were arrested throughout the day, and the atmosphere remained peaceful and calm with singing, speeches, workshops and people’s assemblies.
Weyman Bennet from Stand Up To Racism and Love Music Hate Racism made an impassioned speech telling the truth on the severe impact the fossil fuel industry has had on the climate and on the millions of people who have already been displaced from their homes as a result, whilst demanding that this movement have anti-racism at its heart. The day ended in true Scottish style with an impromptu ceilidh with bagpipes outside Westminster!
Tuesday 8th October
At 6am outside the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), 6 rebels locked themselves by the arm into oil barrels.
These were filled with a biodegradable oily substance which would be released on removal creating an oil spill – representing the locking in of future emissions through the continued exploitation and burning of fossil fuels.
BEIS houses the Oil & Gas Authority, the Coal Authority and is responsible for Climate Change policy in the UK. Due to vested interests and lobbying, the UK government continues to subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of £10.5 billion annually, despite parliament declaring a climate emergency earlier this year.
The six rebels locked on and blocked some entrances to demand that BEIS present their plan for the climate emergency. No arrests were made.
The rest of the day continued peacefully with more people arriving and the site growing. A PA system and stage running on pedalled energy arrived from another site so music was played and speeches were given from groups like Rainbow Rebellion (LGBTQIA+) and Free West Papua were given by different activists. Clare Farrell and Gail Bradbrook, spokespeople of XR, both spoke at our site on Tuesday, whilst a projector illuminated Westminster Abbey with the extinction symbol.
Wednesday 9th October
The day began peacefully with some activists heading to the Oil & Money conference, standing outside holding a banner reading “TELL THE TRUTH” and reading from reports focusing on the fossil fuel industry’s greenwashing activities and extensive lobbying to block climate change policy.
Some also joined the protest against DRAX power station outside BEIS. We had bagpipes and highland dancing, plus visits from the Red Rebels and their green counterparts, the firebirds and wild things, and the aircraft landing marshal performance artists.
The highlights of the first 3 chapters of the IPCC Report were read by a variety of people, including XR Scotland rebels, the eminent environmental journalist George Monbiot and representatives from Stop Ecocide before being interrupted by police turning up the heat on the Power In Truth site.
By the end of the day most of the site infrastructure had been taken by police. Two rebels were camping on top of the food truck (they literally had a tent up there!) and were denied food and blankets by the police, before coming down without arrest at 10pm. Activists locked on to vital infrastructure such as the site stage and tents, however, despite even the piano lasting till near the end, with the rest of the site pretty much cleared, the last of the lock-ons agreed to unlock at 5am after a long night of resisting.
After a gutsy 3 days holding the site amidst a strong police presence, chalk on the road was all that remained at Victoria road come Thursday.
Thursday 10th October
Scotland, Cumbria and NE England rebels mostly camped at St James Park with what remains of another site cleared yesterday by police, the Love Rebellion.
The Power in Truth site began the day with debriefs and peoples’ assemblies under the huge London Plane trees and watched the parakeets, coal tits, greater blue tits, and squirrels which call the park their home.
Around 1.30pm police told people to leave the park and move to Trafalgar Square. They took everything that wasn’t guarded and piled it up. Rebels created a human chain to prevent the police from reaching the kitchen while it was packed up and moved, saving a precious piece of infrastructure.
A few arrests were made as some rebels attempted to slow police progress or save infrastructure, but groups dispersed around 4pm. Some were followed by police, or stopped and questioned in the street. Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens was negotiated with members of the local community as a sanctuary. Around 300 rebels eventually set up camp in the park.
Friday 11th October
We may had been moved on from our site by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but our rebellious coalition of XR Scotland, Cumbria and the North East of England were still eager to carry out actions targeting the fossil fuel industry.
On Friday we carried out a large action causing disruption to the 6th Government Oil and Gas fiscal summit at the Andaz hotel on Liverpool Street.
We blocked the road outside the conference and people blocked the entrances by gluing themselves to the pavement.
We took this action at this specific conference to demand that the corporations who collude with our governments stop greenwashing the fossil fuel industry and cease fracked gas extraction which they claim is “clean” when it is undeniably not.
The programme for the conference did not once mention the climate crisis or staying under already woefully inadequate net zero targets. Instead, it focused on maximising corporate profit over investing in renewable technologies or funding a just transition for and led by workers, despite 84% of the public being in favour of renewables.
Before the action at the Oil and Gas fiscal summit, XR Scotland rebels joined an XR Wales action at the BBC to demand they tell the truth, with two activists from XR Renfrewshire / XR Glasgow climbing to the top of the entrance roof for a banner drop, refusing to leave unless the BBC bosses agreed to meet with the XR representatives. They were eventually arrested after 12hrs on the roof!
Elsewhere in London, as XR doctors glued on to one entrance to the Andaz hotel, where the conference was being held, rebels from the North of England glued on to the other entrance in the early afternoon. Affinity groups (AG) swarmed with banners nearby, distracting police while rebels from Scotland and beyond locked-on in Bishopsgate. An AG from the Highlands and Islands locked themselves in the street to an oil drum filled with cement, representing the locking in of a fossil fuel powered future through continued licenses to drill granted by the government. They were supported by activists on the other side of the road who glued themselves to the road and locked-on to arm tubes.
There was samba drumming, dancing, singing, flyering and lots of outreach during rush hour at Liverpool Street station. One rebel climbed on top of a stranded G4S van and dropped a banner saying “Climate Emergency / Westminster Wake Up”. G4S are a private multinational company with a reputation for human rights violations making it a happy coincidence that this van was trapped by our roadblock! Another rebel joined the van occupation, and a team of climbers had to be brought in to arrest and take them down.
As the Oil & Gas conference attendees left through the staff entrance that leads into Liverpool St station, another banner was dropped in the station and rebels attempted to engage them in conversation.
As rush hour hit, the pavements that remained open were packed tight, but de-escalators did a great job of keeping the peace.
The hotel glue-ons unglued without arrest. Several rebels were arrested as police tried to clear the street and they refused to move.
The last glue-ons on the street were de-arrested on the condition they unglue and attend a police interview at a future date.
The rebels locked-on on to the oil drum were in place for over 7 hours before they were arrested, however not before an incredible downpour of rain washed over them.
Fortunately, supporting rebels were on hand with a large piece of tarpaulin to shelter them from the worst of the rain. The last rebel was arrested just after 10pm, with the road being blocked since 2pm and the dirty fossil fuel conference well and truly disrupted!
Saturday 12th October
Saturday had a more regenerative focus after a busy, tiring week for Scottish rebels.
With our new home at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, some rebels joined a meeting to discuss how to ensure a positive relationship with the local community after concerns of classism and racism were brought up: Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is located in a largely working class, non-white community, a demographic that XR has consistently failed in the past, and there were worries that our presence was making people feel uncomfortable in their own spaces, not least due to the fact that we had brought an institutionally racist police force into an area that is statistically more likely to be systematically oppressed by police.
A positive, well-attended meeting was held with rebels splitting up into working groups to focus primarily on community outreach, to listen to local residents to hear their experiences and concerns about XR and our presence there, and to try and plan an event to show our gratitude for the use of the site which had for the last few days been a safe haven for XR activists.
Read this open letter to Extinction Rebellion from Wretched of the Earth for a more thorough understanding of valid criticisms of issues of race and class within XR.
In the afternoon, Scottish rebels braved the heavy rain to join the Extinction March which saw over 20,000 rebels bring Oxford Street to a standstill for several hours. The march was joined by representatives from countless trade unions from across the UK, and featured artwork from more than 80 XR arts and culture groups including a giant human skull, a jazz funeral band and the skeletons of a variety of sea life.
Sunday 13th October
Assembled in front of New Scotland Yard, around 1,000 rebels stood in solidarity with disabled activists who, on Friday, after holding a peaceful action protesting the seizing of wheelchairs and other equipment, were arrested outside New Scotland Yard after demanding their equipment back.
Most of the disabled activists were towards the front and led speeches demanding “equal access to peaceful protest”.
There were a number of arrests, including wheelchair users, as well as speeches by various disabled activists. There was no PA, so the ‘mic-check’ system was used, meaning one voice was amplified by hundreds of others by repeating what they said so all could hear.
There were some great speeches, including stories of how the rights for disabled access have at times been gained by NVDA.
One woman who spoke was an ex-police officer who suffers from post-traumatic stress and said she was triggered having been shoved by a police officer earlier. She called upon the police to be aware of non-visible disabilities. Some speeches of those who couldn’t make it were also read out. This was a particularly powerful quote:
“Disabled people are far more at risk in the climate crisis. We are the ones who die when supply chains get interrupted, we are the ones stuck in our homes as hurricanes hit and we are the ones threatened by governments unwilling to fund our care and needs. The climate crisis will hit us worse than most. This is true all over the world and XR disabled rebels protest on behalf of all life, but particularly our disabled friends in the Global South.”
There was then a procession with samba band toward Trafalgar Square, where the road was blocked once again, with a few more arrests.