‘Cardiff was a practice run for this’ say Welsh protestors at the centre of XR Westminster blockade
The Extinction Rebellion protest in Cardiff last month was a “good practice” for the much harsher policing conditions around Westminster, according to Welsh XR protestors.
Extinction Rebellion protesters begun their attempt to shut down central London for two weeks on Monday.
The organisations had planned to ‘take’ twelve areas across Westminster, and each location has its own theme.
The Welsh affiliate groups were tasked with blocking the street a stone’s throw from Westminster where the Home Office is located.
“The protests in Cardiff [in July] were a good practice run for this,” said John Hudson. “Cardiff was a fun chilled atmosphere to have an introduction to Extinction Rebellion, and this helped us prepare to engage with the police and the public.”
“It feels like we are affecting everyday people’s lives in the smaller cities and towns, so we want to concentrate on the capital because the government will ignore us otherwise,” said Debbie*, a protester from near Cardigan about the decision to protest in London.
“Cardiff was a lot more chilled than the protests here… it also helped that the police took a very soft approach, so there wasn’t any of what’s going on here now with the Section 14s,” said Neil, another of the protestors from Wales.
The police have announced a city-wide declaration of Section 14 of the Public Order Act of 1986, meaning they can arrest anyone demonstrating in London. This is a change of tactics from the summer protests, where police only issued these warnings to individuals making the process of making the arrests a lot slower.
The police stopped Extinction Rebellion from entering London with their now-iconic symbol, a big pink boat, so instead the group parked a lorry across the street and have camped around it to make it difficult to remove.
“I was part of the coordinating crew for the pink boat that arrived in Oxford Circus In April, those protests were a lot less frantic,” said Neil, a founding member of Extinction Rebellion Neath and Port Talbot.
The protests are typical fare for Extinction Rebellion. The Red Brigade are silently wandering throughout the city, and the streets are as full of people in tents and wearing waterproof coats as a mountainous camping spot in Snowdonia.
The difference this time is in the choice of location, with buildings and areas used by Westminster’s politicians and civil servants specifically targeted.
“We have to get the politicians to listen,” said Jim, one of the protesters from North Pembrokeshire. “When we were here in April, we got a lot of feedback from the people that we should focus on the politicians, so that’s why we’re in Westminster.
“The fact that more and more people are with us, more people understand the position that we are in. They understand how desperate the stakes are, and the goodwill is just overwhelming more and more each time.”
It’s hard to tell if more people are here compared to the last Extinction Rebellion event in London, where they blocked off five areas during Easter weekend this past spring. The group claims there are, but it is difficult to get an accurate headcount as the number is well into the thousands.
“There are people that really care all over the country and all over the world. If people can congregate in one place it is a really strong statement, there is power in numbers also this is the capital city of the UK, so it is very symbolic,” said Lucy.
“Last time [in April] we chose to disrupt really prominent areas I feel like everybody was like ‘go tell the government’. So now we’re doing what the people have asked us to do and focusing on Westminster.”
Lucy is an arrestable, what Extinction Rebellion call people who are willing to go to jail for the movement. Arrestables have received specific training on what to do when arrested, and they often write the number for solicitors on their arms so they can call for legal support from jail.
Each location has a committed number of arrestables to slow the police down when they attempt to clear a site. Arrestables use padlocks with chains and sometimes even glue to make it difficult for the police to remove them.
As of writing this article, approximately 600 protesters have been arrested with many more expected in the coming days.
Other protesters were not quite as eager to make the trip into London.
“I think if something had gone on in Cardiff, I would have considered that strongly because I wouldn’t have to ask people to look after my children and dogs and I wouldn’t put my work colleges out who are supporting me in this,” said Wendy.
Despite the inconveniences, most protesters who have travelled to the Extinction Rebellion event are firm believers in what they are doing.
“It’s disappointing that we have to keep doing the same thing,” said Johnny, a protester from Swansea. “When a government commits to a climate emergency, they need to make massive changes.”
*Some names have been changed and others have had their surnames omitted to avoid further prosecution.