Police arrested ten Extinction Rebellion activists in Lambeth on Saturday ahead of a fortnight of planned peaceful climate change protests in Westminster which began yesterday.
The Met Police said seven women and three men were taken to a south London police station on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.
The arrests took place the same afternoon that officers raided the former Lambeth County Court building in Cleaver Street, Kennington, where Extinction Rebellion rebels were storing equipment such as sound systems, batteries, bean bags, first aid kits and food supplies.
Secondary school teacher and Extinction Rebellion activist, George Francis, 27, said: “The police officers that were there were the Territorial Support Group, who are usually deployed for big riot events and football matches.”
Mr Francis witnessed the arrest of a mother who turned up with her family’s van to help move equipment.
He said: “Opinions range, I think most people are feeling like we know what we are doing, we knew we were risking arrest, and some people got arrested, whereas others feel a bit cross at the feeling of persecution.”
He added: “ To me, it’s all about the government and I think this gets lost in the framing of police versus protesters. This isn’t right, the police are just an incidental hazard to protesting.
“This is protesters versus politicians, they are the ones who are failing to act before the climate emergency ruins all of our lives.”
Mr Francis is part of the Lambeth Extinction Rebellion group, and he also helps the wider London faction manage their social media accounts.
Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent direct action protest group, now active in more than 40 countries around the world, which began in London with the declaration of rebellion and the blocking of five London bridges for a day in November 2018.
In April this year, ten days of protests saw more than 1,100 arrests as Extinction Rebellion campaigners blocked roads, climbed on a train and glued themselves together in London’s financial district.
The group demands that the government declare a climate emergency, commits to decarbonise by 2025 and holds a citizens’ assembly to guide the transition.
Locally, Lambeth council has met the three demands, except for the fact it aims to decarbonise by 2030. Its citizens’ assembly will likely be held in Spring 2020.
Mr Francis said: “I almost want to get the older generation back into school so they can learn the latest science and they can make the calls that young people are having to make on their behalf.
“All the getting rid of plastic straws and giving up your car stuff is good, but even if everyone did that we would still be in this mess.
“It’s the laws and government priorities that need to change. This isn’t about people, it’s not about individual choices, it’s about collectively shifting the shape of society and the economy into something newer that doesn’t destroy the planet.”
He added: “I don’t feel angry, because I intuitively know that it’s not constructive to feel angry.
“There are an awful lot of people angry at other people and it gets us nowhere in politics, it ruins everything.”
Mr Francis said police only confiscated bulky or heavy items which would have been used for roadblocks during the next fortnight of environmental protests in Westminster, where he said he would be striking alongside his pupils in an effort to encourage government action on climate change.
He said: “Clearly, children are an effective force. I think that their effects are already being felt, whether it’s in the General Assembly, or last week with the Royal Shakespeare Company scrapping a sponsorship deal it had with BP, precisely in response to children deciding that they were going to boycott the RSC otherwise.”
On 2 October, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) announced that it would be ending its sponsorship deal with BP at the end of this year.
Gregory Doran, RSC artistic director, and Catherine Mallyon, executive director, said: “Amidst the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message.”
To find out more about the Lambeth Extinction Rebellion position, visit the website.