Why I chose to get arrested with Extinction Rebellion

Apostrophe embarrassingly missing from ‘it’s’, but a pertinent sentiment from Dr Seuss non the less.

I’m going to tell you about why after wrestling long and hard with my conscience, I chose to get arrested at an environmental protest with the group Extinction Rebellion. Whatever your opinions, I hope we can find common ground over the need for rapid action to protect our beautiful planet and all of the species we love.

In a second article I will be covering the details of my arrest.

I have been involved in left wing politics since successfully campaigning in the 2015 election to oust Esther McVey (who was responsible for slashing benefits for the disabled during her time as the Minister for Work and Pensions) from my old constituency of Wirral West.

It took until my second year of university to truly make the link between the social values that I was so passionate about, and the overwhelming threat of climate breakdown. It is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who will be systemically killed by rising sea levels, heat waves, drought, extreme weather events, food shortages and the collapse of global infrastructure.

Flooding in York is set to become much more frequent and severe.

But it is not only those worldwide who will suffer. Rising sea levels will make catastrophic flooding in York much more frequent, with devastating consequences for local residents and businesses. Our much beloved local wildlife is also under unprecedented threat, and habitat loss has decimated many species – especially of insects, who play a vital role in supporting healthy ecosystems. Once these species are lost, they will never return. Our children might never see hedgehogs, red squirrels, or even butterflies. Personally, I find this devastating, as I’m sure you do too.

Yet our politicians are blind to this growing crisis.

I realised after the Labour party backed expansion of Heathrow Airport, which will massively increase CO2 emissions that are driving climate breakdown, that the necessary radical change needed to avoid mass extinction would  never come from within the main establishment parties. I despaired at the lack of meaningful careers in environmental advocacy ahead of me, traumatized by the scale of the threat and the audacity of inaction. In my personal life, going vegetarian and founding the University of York Gardening Society felt like meaningless in the face of these threats.

Then, by chance, in October I was invited by my friend to talk by the group Extinction Rebellion, delivered by two other Politics students, themselves inspired by a talk in Leeds only a month before.

They first set out the stomach churning science behind the existential threat of climate breakdown. They told the truth about the trajectory of global warming and mass extinction, and left a stunned audience faced with the hard consequences of the science we all thought we already knew.

Then, they asked us what we were willing to do in the face of the disaster. They explained their methods of Non Violent Direct Action, and it’s impressive record of achieving radical change. I knew that however depressing the odds of success, this was something I had to be a part of.

I am a white male, a student without family responsibilities, privileged in the UK with a police and legal system that will treat me non-violently and fairly. Others, in countries more urgently affected, do not have the luxury of safe protest. I therefore have a responsibility to act in every capacity I can to force our government to protect our people and our planet, even if that means getting arrested. There is a role for everybody to play though: from filming actions; being a legal observer; looking after the emotional welfare of protestors; or just good old fashioned sign holding. Nobody gets arrested with XR who isn’t fully prepared and planning on it.

My arrest



My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees people as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees people as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

My first and (for now) only arrest was on Saturday the 17th of November: Rebellion Day. After a 2am coach with my friends and fellow Extinction Rebellion members from York, we joined the occupation of Lambeth Bridge at 11am. After only an hour connecting with fellow activists, the police moved in.

After leading several chants, a group of officers approached me directly and asked me to vacate the bridge. I knew that I had been singled out for arrest, and sat down and locked arms with my friends and comrades. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and as an officer read me my rights I knew that I was doing the right thing. In a surreal moment, as the crowd chanted in solidarity and cameras snapped, four officers struggled to wrestle my limp body away. Arresting officer Ian grabbed my sandwiches from the scrum for me, for which I am very grateful.

Sat in a police van with a 16 year old in cuffs, I had an opportunity to engage with the police that I didn’t think I would get. They were angry at what they saw was a waste of police time that should be spent tackling violent crime, and I was sympathetic. I explained to them that their struggle for greater resources to ease the immense strain they were under was part of our struggle against austerity: violent crime is propelled by cuts to social services, preventative policing, and community projects.

I also urged them to see the inaction of our government as criminally complicit in the deaths of millions around the world over the next century, and to question why they did not or could not arrest the heads of corporations for the ecocide of our planet. Within the very city they serve to protect, 10,000 people die a year as a result of lethal levels of air pollution, and yet politicians do nothing.

I asked them to consider at what stage they would disobey orders and stand with the people against the elites: would it be when they were ordered to beat up peaceful protestors? Would it be when they were order to fire on crowds of climate refuges, when the situation deteriorates? By the time I was through processing and being led to my cell, the officers were silent. Ian shook my hand and told me I had given him a lot to think about. He almost sounded guilty.

I spent 7 hours in a cell, sleeping on and off and pressing a button repeatedly that make a friendly officer bring me ready meals. As the hours passed I knew my friends from York would have gotten the coach home by now and that I was stuck in London. The bed’s graffiti brought home the reality of the place I was in: carved under my pillow were the words ‘POLICE RAPEST’.

After a visit from the solicitor who’s number I had scrawled on my arm, I was (and remain) “released under investigation”. I could, but probably won’t be, summoned for further questioning, or charged and sent to trial. In practice this meant being shuffled out of the back door into the arms of a cheering and utterly brilliant group of XR members greeting arrestees people as they were released. They gave me an appreciated space blanket (it was freezing); bought me a pint; and someone offered to put me up for the night.

Reflections

The London Rebellion Day achieved exactly what it was supposed to. The arrests drew more media coverage than any other environmental protest in decades, and as of today 22 councils have declared climate emergencies and set meaningful carbon neutrality targets across the UK in response to our demands.

This is just the start. I am involved in my local group on the Wirral that I helped set up, as well as in York. We are determined to force both the local council and the University of York to divest from fossil fuels and set a date for going carbon neutral. Extinction Rebellion groups now exist across the world, and our sights are set on the social, economic and political systems that legitimate the destruction of the planet and its species for profit.

Getting arrested was the single most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my life. I made countless friends, found renewed purpose, and was inspired to run as a Green candidate in the upcoming local election.


I now feel hope for the first time in years. When people who care come together and take action with bravery and determination, we are powerfu

For more information about Extinction Rebellion, check out https://rebellion.earth
Try searching Facebook for your local group, and if there isn’t one, get some friends together and start one!

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