Extinction Rebellion target Murdoch and other big corporations as they take their fight against climate change to the next level
— 5 minute read — By Will Jones
“WE WANT TO LIVE” was the stark message of choice as climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion carried out numerous protests around the country in their ‘Love. Rage. Rebellion’ week. Starting on 1st September, XR aimed to target industries that are environmentally damaging, as well as powerful individuals and corporations that actively oppose or are not outspoken about the climate crisis.
Extinction Rebellion have divided the nation over their methods of protest. Their previous large-scale work has caused major disruption to the lives of thousands with blockaded roads and poignant displays.
In October 2019, the ‘International Rebellion’ received substantial backlash in the UK when a total of 30,000 activists engaged in protests designed to cause mass inconvenience. Westminster roadways including Whitehall, the Mall, Westminster Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Victoria Embankment were all shut down for varying periods of time by XR members. On 10th October, protesters held a sit-in at London City Airport just outside the bustling business transport hub’s DLR station. Activists superglued themselves to the floor, climbed atop the terminal roof, and former Paralympic cyclist James Brown summited a British Airways aircraft. Demonstrations at Bank Station, Google HQ, YouTube HQ, Canary Wharf and Canning Town Station followed, before the fortnight culminated with a blockade of Oxford Circus and a banner on Big Ben, unfurled by a daring free climber.
The action at Canning Town Station disrupted a working-class community trying to commute to their place of employment and unearthed a problem with Extinction Rebellion. In order to tackle the climate crisis, they needed the broad support of the public – but they were not winning it. The activist was instead dragged from the roof of the carriage and beaten by angry commuters.
This month’s protests revealed a slightly new-look Extinction Rebellion. The group predominantly focused on inconveniencing governments, assemblies, and big corporations – thus forcing them into action rather than inconveniencing the people.
Activities were centred around the cities of London, Cardiff and Manchester. On the first day of the month, protesters descended on London’s Parliament Square to demand that the government support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which was tabled by Caroline Lucas (Green Party). On the other side of the River Severn, in the Welsh capital, activists engaged in a socially distanced beach party outside the Senedd. Cardiff is critically at risk from the sea-level rise associated with global warming, hence the depiction of a coastal scene outside the Welsh Parliament. Other protesters glued themselves to the new BBC Wales building in Central Square.
Both of these demonstrations were upstaged by XR’s most notable action during their September rebellion. On the fifth day of the month, Extinction Rebellion blockaded the private roads leading to the multiple printing presses operated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. As a result, distribution of the Sun, the Times and the Daily Telegraph were severely disrupted. News Corp also print the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard – these, too, were affected by XR’s actions. People turned up to the newsstands expecting to be greeted by a copy of their chosen morning newspaper. They were instead greeted by empty shelves. In place of some newspapers stood front pages mocked-up by XR (under the name Dire Times) that demanded for News Corp to ‘free the truth’. Extinction Rebellion themselves were greeted with 72 arrests and major backlash.
XR issued the following statement as the news (quite literally) broke:
“Our free press, society and democracy is under attack – from a failing government that lies to us consistently… Our leaders have allowed the majority of our media to be amassed in the hands of five people with powerful vested interests and deep connections to fossil fuel industries. We need a free press, but we do not have it.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel led the charge as people exhibited their disapproval of XR’s actions. Taking to Twitter and inverting the statement released by XR, she condemned that the protest was “an attack on our free press, society and democracy”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also concluded that Extinction Rebellion’s actions were “completely unacceptable”. In an email to staff, Telegraph editor Chris Evans stated that he’s “very concerned – and I hope you are too – by the attack on free speech”. The Chief Constable of the Hertfordshire Police, who responded to the incident at the Broxbourne Newsprinters plant, also damned the protests, affirming that “the inconsiderate actions of a few people have prevented businesses from operating.” One has to question whether Extinction Rebellion can succeed in their mission whilst they have such a huge and rapidly growing array of opponents.
So, the question remains – were the XR September protests a success? On the one hand, the group were able to fill the front pages the day after they barred them from being released. They trended heavily on social media and got the nation talking after experiencing a lockdown period in which they seemingly disappeared. Yet – once again – the majority of the response was largely negative. Extinction Rebellion acknowledge the inconvenience that they cause for the people, but state that it’s a minor impact in comparison to the dangers posed by a climate and ecological crisis. A large percentage of the population do not quite see it in this way.
Thus, Extinction Rebellion find themselves in a place that isn’t far away from where they were post-October 2019. Worryingly, global warming and climate change are not issues that stand still and wait for the world to tackle them.