August Rebellion: Night at the Museum

XR Scotland rebels help occupy Science Museum in protest at museum taking funding from oil company Shell.

Quiet Sunday afternoon, the city feels lulled, on the cusp of the evening before the working week. I’m sitting in a room in Central London waiting for a meeting to start.

The XR digital channels spring into life. Site take at the Science Museum. On Twitter, there’s a live stream of the occupiers inside the museum: XR families, children dancing about having a great time, scientists in white coats and doctors in scrubs. Priti Patels’ hardened criminals the lot of them, the justification for the blasting away at protest freedom. XR Scotland rebels are also amongst them. The only ones who don’t seem to be there are the Christians, busy trying to cleanse the temple of the fossil fuel investors at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Five minutes later, as my meeting starts, the police sirens start their relentless wail, scrambled to stream and scream through the streets out west to South Kensington. For a week they’ve been chasing XR’s apparitions on the streets.

This action shouldn’t have to happen. Museums are sacred institutions, bastions to culture and knowledge, rainy day escapism, childhood excitement. Of course they can’t escape the culture wars and no-one wants to see them under more pressure. But this is the thing – a science museum, the Science Museum, a place of education and such importance in our lives, taking money from a fossil fuel company for a climate change exhibition. And signing a gagging clause just to add to the insult.

And not just any oil company but Shell. Of all the rotten companies in the world you had to go with Shell. Climate-denying, science-suppressing, government-owning Shell. The same Shell who openly boasted about knobbling the Paris Agreement. The same Shell who ignored the warnings of their own scientists decades ago. The same Shell who should pay for what they’ve done but instead seem to have skin in the climate game and a reputation being greenwashed by the Science Museum.

The August Rebellion’s one simple demand is that the UK government stops all new fossil fuel investment immediately. Everyone knows that’s the least that needs to happen. Its demand is based on science and research. How did the Science Museum get it so wrong?

An hour later I arrive at the Science Museum. There’s that crackle of energy in the air when XR are on manoeuvres. The samba drums are rolling, the overhead helicopter is churning. A forlorn looking tensile is collapsed on its side, its triumphant ascension abruptly halted by the in-rushing Old Bill. It may have lost its iconic defying gravity purpose of hoisting rebels high into the night air, but it’s serving a purpose as an object of both absurdity and significance lent to it by the straight-faced police standing on guard around it, eyeing it up like you do a collapsed marionette that has a malevolent air of springing to life. I don’t trust the tensiles either, there’s something unnerving about them.

Lines of police, lines of banners. Some cricket is being played on Cromwell Road but before I have a chance to join in, the police clear the street, there’s a brief flare of friction and then it calms down. It’s a little pointless considering a large truck is stranded across the street with a rebel glued on. A cherry picker arrives and the crowd disperses once the rebel is brought down to cheers and applause.

Now the battle has moved online with trolls attacking the Science Museum action. Climate denialism is increasingly losing spaces. The new tactic is desperately trying to discredit the messengers, as if by doing so you can make all this climate problem go away.

The night of the museum occupation continues with about 60 rebels bedded down for the night. May they have a restful occupation. There’s still a week of this Rebellion to go.

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