I’m sure you have all heard of Extinction Rebellion and already have formulated your opinions on it. XR is a global movement, fighting to get our governments to take meaningful action against our climate crisis.
In April 2019, XR occupied five popular sites in London- Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. They blocked the roads and protested peacefully with 3 demands for the government.
To tell the truth and declare an ecological and climate emergency.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
To create, and be led by a Citizens Assembly for climate and ecological justice.
What’s this to do with travelling? Well the experience certainly wasn’t a traditional vacation but I hopped on a bus and spent two beautiful days away from my normal stresses of my life. I met new people, ate new food and learned more about a city I love. The experience also had me thinking a lot more seriously about my actions and future travel plans, which I will delve into later.
My first impressions
Probably similar to most people, the first time I paid attention to XR was when they held they held these road blocks back in April. My family, who are slightly more radical than I, immediately hopped on buses to London with their placards and zest. I was not so quickly on board.
Although I agreed with the cause and message, I was not convinced with the methods. My view was that in order to fight climate change you need to get every single person doing their bit. Blocking the roads and pissing a whole butt load of Londoners off isn’t exactly going to get them on board with the Rebellion.
Days passed and XR were still standing united at the London sites. It had also been explained to me that they actually have clear demands, as mentioned above, and the havoc wasn’t just for the sake of getting peoples attention. These demands were simply not going to be listened to through petitions or letter writing that can be so easily ignored.
I came round to the idea that maybe these road blocks were crucial to XR. Also, to the hopeful thought, that XR is the proud, stubborn and passionate movement we have all been waiting for since we first started silently panicking about global warming back in the 1970’s.
Oxford to Marble Arch
Lets fast forward 24 hours to the 20th April. My decision was made, my backpack was once again packed and my £20 tent was purchased and I stood at Gloucester Green bus station waiting for the X90.
Ironically there was a sign at the bus stop saying to expect delays on this service. They have had to reroute-due to the road blocks of Extinction Rebellion. This both made me feel proud and excited as I was heading, solo, to my first protest of this scale.
The bus stopped at Victoria bus station and so I only had a half hour walk to Marble Arch. A half hour walk via Hyde Park at 4:15 pm on the 20th of the 4th month… I was both slightly confused and intimidated by the great mass of young people sprinting towards Hyde Park. It took me until I got just outside Hyde Park and smelled the.. we will call it ‘green’ air.. that I realised 420 is a holiday celebrated like any other. I decided to walk around the park instead of through as I felt that breathing in the air alone was enough to get me more buzzed that I wanted to be.
When I arrived at Marble Arch I automatically relaxed (not because of the green air next door). My godmother, who had arrived a day or so before, told me that Marble Arch was a sort of safe space. With little police presence and no ‘arrestable’ action it acted as a secure base camp.
The roads around Marble Arch, that previously have caused me many near misses with aggressive drivers were now fully pedestrianised. The island in the middle was filled with tents and there was camps on each entrance creating a sense of a protective circle.
It took me a while to find a spot to pitch my tent. There was a stage that had live music playing and would later be the host of Greta Thunberg. There was a family tent for children to have fun and play games, a kitchen, a toilet tent, information tents and an induction tent. It felt more like a festival than a protest. Except no one was drinking and everyone was friendly.
Still struggling hard to find an inch of space, I saw a lad whose tent was laid out flat on the ground. I asked him if he was arriving or leaving and luckily for me but unfortunately for him, he was leaving to get back to Uni. He had travelled all the way from York University to London, in his short break, to join XR.
So finally, I pitched my tent. I made my extremely inadequate bed. I organised my stuff between things I didn’t mind losing and will leave in the tent and stuff I cared for and would keep with me in my bag. Then I headed to the induction tent to find out how to get involved.
The following two days brought samosas, a Waterloo sunset, sunbathing and dancing.
Carry on reading to part two!