April 24, 2019
Dispatch from the Extinction Rebellion protests in London
Mass arrests are part of Extinction Rebellion’s strategy to raise the profile of the climate emergency. “The action itself is not actually that important. It’s the going to prison that’s got cultural relevance,” Roger Hallam, an XR founder, said in a short documentary made by The Guardian. Just a few days into the protest, hundreds of arrests have already been racked up: there are reports of activists being booked as far away as Brighton, Luton, and Essex because London jails are overwhelmed. When the police decide to arrest XR members, they usually do so by issuing Section 14 notices, which can be done if officers believe that a stationary protest “may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.” Technically, the police monitoring the XR actions are in their power to declare this at any time they see fit, but in reality, for reasons of optics or understaffing, they often choose to watch how things progress from the sidelines. The rhythms of the protest are strange: long periods of calm punctured by sudden moments of drama when the police decide to move in on one area or another in a coordinated attempt to clear it.