Critics of Extinction Rebellion Prove the Power of Protests

Photo courtesy of Gizmodo

Update 11/10/2019: This article did not credit the featured image to its source. It has been credited to the source, Gizmodo.

Climate protests by the peaceful activist group Extinction Rebellion have rocked London’s transportation network since Oct. 5. Extinction Rebellion has led an environmental movement by blocking roads and railways as well as tying themselves to government buildings and the tops of transportation vehicles. In doing this, the group aims to bring awareness to the climate emergency and they encourage government officials and citizens alike to take immediate action. 

Despite the group’s peaceful methods, London’s general public and police have attempted to force the protestors out of the city. On Oct. 14, London’s police banned Extinction Rebellion from protesting and threatened to arrest any activists who remained on the streets ⁠— over 1,400 protestors were arrested. In spite of these efforts, the demonstrations continued. 

Members of Extinction Rebellion fastened themselves to the tops of trains on Oct. 16. This brought London’s underground tube to a grinding halt. Enraged, commuters seized the protestors and then proceeded to drag them off of the train. Some went as far as kicking an activist as he lay on the ground. 

These responses brought Extinction Rebellion into the international spotlight, with many global networks picking up the story. Though many have responded critically to Extinction Rebellion’s actions, this same media attention proves the continued effectiveness of civil disobedience. 

Even though the police intend to enforce silence through bans and arrests, the group has only gotten louder. BBC continues to post live updates on the protests including videos, interviews and links to their website. Thousands of individuals who would have never heard of Extinction Rebellion now have direct access to the group’s list of objectives. 

Many critique the group for causing disruptions. London’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor claimed the group poses an “ongoing serious disruption to the community.” However, these individuals miss the point. The group cannot hope to change the minds and attitudes of Parliament simply by blocking a major road; by disrupting the community, they can expect to ignite a nationwide conversation about the dangers of climate change and unchecked carbon emissions. This conversation becomes the first step on a long road to concrete policy change. Historically, it takes the mobilization of thousands of passionate individuals to raise awareness for a cause and eventually bring about change. Women’s suffrage would have failed without the suffragette protests shaking the community until policymakers listened.

The inherent strength of civil disobedience combined with  media coverage on protests should force London police and citizens to rethink banning the protestors. Bans cannot silence the group, rather they amplify the group’s message and have the effect of nullifying the ban. So is it worth it to punish a peace-loving group when their message is unavoidable? After all, the group makes a conscious effort to show kindness and respect, even to the police officers who have tried to silence them. They have gone as far as sending flowers and a “thank you” note to an arresting officer. Because of their intentional kindness and respect towards law enforcement, law enforcement ought to extend a mutual respect toward the group as they exercise their human right to express political opinions.  

Regardless of the questionable ethics behind the ban, police action has done nothing but further Extinction Rebellion’s aim. With today’s fast-paced media, protests have only increased in strength. Through journalism and social media, demonstrations can start new conversations and highlight the passion with which citizens regard certain issues. Such a massive response to the actions of Extinction Rebellion demonstrate the relevance of civil disobedience and the importance of vocalizing concern in order to make this world a better place.

Emily Anderson is a second- year English major. She can be reached at enander1@uci.edu.