After the Big One, what’s next?
After more than 60,000 people descended on Westminster in April (including many from Lewes) to demand an end to fossil fuels, has the government responded to the protest’s demands? If not, where does climate protest go from here? Mark Engineer of XR Lewes explores what’s in store.
The Big One in Numbers
Days of action: Four.
Attendees: Tens of thousands, peaking with an estimated 60,000 at the “Earth Day” march for biodiversity on Saturday 22nd.
Organisations involved: Over 200. As well as environmental groups (including big beasts like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth), this included many organisations, like Black Lives Matter, Debt Justice and Fuel Poverty Action, whose focus isn’t primarily environmental. There was also a significant presence from unions and faith groups, as well as businesses like Patagonia, Ecotricity, and Lewes-based Human Nature. (And, of course, Transition Town. We were particularly delighted to see the indefatigable Juliet Oxborrow!)
Laws broken: None. Not one. Zero. Zilch. Nada. We’ve never been so well behaved!
Friday 21st: The colour and energy of the “People’s Pickets” outside Government departments. Also (shameless self-promotion time!) having the chance to speak outside DEFRA about the Dirty Water campaign.
Saturday 22nd: What else but the Earth Day March? Huge, collaborative and joyous. The wonderful Barbara Keal, along with the legendary Coat of Hopes, was a stellar Lewes appearance!
Sunday 23rd: The marathon. So much blah, blah, blah before the race about how we would disrupt it. In the end we actively protected it from disruption! Spectators were hugely positive, sharing their thoughts and concerns, and we heard some really enlightened and positive comments from one of the key organisers after the event. You can read more and listen to his comments here.
Monday 24th: A brilliant, impassioned speech and song from the partner of one of the two Just Stop Oil activists who were jailed for the Dartford Crossing protest. (We can’t find the speech online anywhere. If anyone has a link, please send it to us so we can share it!)
The no-show by the huge, powerful conservation groups, including the RSPB and the National Trust, who had recently threatened to take to the streets. These groups have millions of members. They could have made such a difference. But where were they? Was it all talk? Why did they choose not to join us? If you’re reading this and you’re a member, please write and ask them!
The relative lack of response from traditional media. We expected this, but it’s still disappointing.
The absolute lack of response from Government. We gave them until 5pm on the Monday to respond to our demands. And we got nothing. Zilch. Zero. Diddly-squat.
It felt like a largely positive exercise, and well worth all the time invested. 60,000 attendees, though short of our target of 100,000, was still by some distance the largest single climate protest in UK history. That is a great thing in itself. But we’re most excited about the number of organisations that took part. We’ve talked for so long about needing a “movement of movements”, a “moderate flank” to the environmental movement. But it’s never really happened. Could this be what finally makes it happen?
The complete lack of response from Government (not even an acknowledgement!) was obviously disappointing. It seems ministers love to preach about the “right to legitimate protest” when they are upbraiding activists for non violent direct action. And yet when record numbers gather in entirely peaceful, lawful protest, they can’t even be bothered to recognise the fact.
Given the above, it’s clear that a new strategy is needed.
The central message from XR is “Go back to your communities and prepare for something even bigger.” There are currently three key areas of focus – supporting pickets and Union action, organising locally, and taking part in non violent direct action. You can find out more here or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The other thing – and this is really key – will be what the other organisations do next. Will Greenpeace, FOE, BLM, the Unions and all the rest of them really throw their weight behind this? Who else will get involved? If you’re a member of one of these groups, please ask them! And if you’re a member of a local group and would like that group to be involved, please email xrlewes@gmailcom
You’ll be hearing more for me on all this soon!
Until then, signing off with love, hope and solidarity.