Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists protested outside the Brazilian Embassy, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus on Wednesday as they continued their two-week “Impossible Rebellion” campaign to lobby the government to halt investment in fossil fuels.
Demonstrators descended on the Oxford Circus intersection between Oxford Circus and Regent Street and erected a 2.5m-tall pink table with a banner reading “Come To The Table”, while other protesters danced and heard speeches led by women.
The occupation came shortly after protesters gathered at the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus for a female, intersex, non-binary and trans protest. The group later marched towards the Oxford Circus.
Hester, 41, a mother of three, said: “We know that women and children are on the frontlines of this crisis, and at the same time women all over the world are rising to the challenge of this moment.
“I am small and insignificant; I have no power, influence, wealth, title or celebrity. But when we take action together, in great numbers, we can be powerful.”
Paul Sheehy, 46, was one of four demonstrators holding a banner reading “Act Now” near the entrance to the Microsoft store at Oxford Circus. He told The Independent he had travelled from Warrington to attend the midweek protest and was “willing to go to prison” to stop climate change.
Mr Sheehy, a call centre operator who has been part of XR for two years, said: “I came here because I’ve given up all hope. Lots of people think that it’s pointless to even protest now, there’s so much political apathy in the world.
I am small and insignificant; I have no power, influence, wealth, title or celebrity. But when we take action together, in great numbers, we can be powerful
Hester, XR protester
“But once you run out of hope you have to try and change things. In this case it means reducing fossil fuel use rapidly – which they say is impossible, but we are here to make the impossible inevitable.
“The pandemic has been so difficult for us. This is to kick-start the movement again. I’m prepared to go to prison for this and I know many others are as well.”
Mr Sheehy said that demonstrators “want to jar people out of their ordinary lives. We want to show that breaking the law is proportionate to the level of crisis we’re facing.”
The Metropolitan Police later tweeted: “Officers intervened when protesters were building a structure at Oxford Circus.
“Some individuals have glued themselves to the structure. Specialist officers are working to support their removal. There will be some disruption to traffic in the area as roads are currently blocked, which we are working to reduce.”
Earlier, demonstrators had amassed outside the Brazilian Embassy in Cockspur Street in central London, where activists demonstrated against ongoing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the country’s treatment of indigenous tribes. Activists played samba music and carried placards reading “Down With Bolsonaro”, the Brazilian president who has been accused of disastrous environmental policies.
Rowena Fields, 66, was one of many protesters flying an XR flag outside the Brazilian Embassy. She told The Independent she had travelled from York to attend the protest to help highlight the “awful suffering” experienced by indigenous tribes in Brazil.
She said: “I’m here because I want to support indigenous people and highlight the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
“This is my fourth XR protest. I think there’s a lighter touch here now compared to before, and it almost feels the police are more sympathetic to our cause.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had with them – it appears as if they feel ‘this makes a lot of sense’. You can’t look at the IPCC report and not think something urgent needs to happen,” she added, referring to a recent landmark study into the dire state of the planet’s climate.
Alan Measures, 71, said he had travelled to London from Peterborough for his second XR protest. He told The Independent his career as a farmer had opened his eyes to the climate crisis.
“I spent the last 30 or so years as a farmer and I’ve been looking at the issue of the Amazon rainforest and soy production for years. It is aligned with the issues faced by indigenous people.”
He has been campaigning for years for the UK to reduce its use of soya products.
Mr Measures said the public appeared less hostile to protesters compared with two years ago, adding: “I walked here from the South Bank yesterday flying my flag. I was worried I’d have to take it down and pack it away – but it was quite reassuring how many people stopped to greet me and talk to me.”
Activists later gathered at the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus and Martha Krumpeck, a member of XR in Austria, told the crowd of her 30-day hunger strike in opposition to the government’s plans to build new motorways.
“I lasted for 30 days – then the minister finally conceded and launched an evaluation of the plans to build new motorways,” she said.
“If they say they can still construct this s**t, I will go on hunger strike again. Our governments are refusing to give up the old system. They are continuing to use fossil fuels.
“The planet is f****d up more badly than any of us can imagine. It is time for us to put ourselves in harm’s way.”
Jamie, a 22-year-old marketing intern who spent the afternoon handing out leaflets to passersby at Piccadilly Circus, said he felt the public was “more radical” on climate change than politicians thought and wanted to see urgent action.
Jamie, who did not want to give his second name, told The Independent: “I joined XR two years ago as I realised we need to act now on climate change.
The government, fossil fuel corporations and the media are still slightly unaware that the public is more radical than they think on the climate crisis
Jamie, XR protester
“I’ve lived a comfortable life but this directly impacts my future survival. However, it’s also killing lots of people right now.”
Jamie added: “The government, fossil fuel corporations and the media are still slightly unaware that the public is more radical than they think on the climate crisis. When you talk to people on the street, they feel worried about the climate.
“Most of our direct actions – even controversial ones – get people’s attention and shift the agenda even if some of us get shouted at in the street.”
Wednesday’s protests were the third day of action in XR’s new two-week “Impossible Rebellion” campaign, which aims to disrupt “business as usual” in London. More than 100 people have been arrested since Sunday, the day before the start of the official action.
It follows a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month, which warned that the target for limiting global heating set out in the Paris Agreement is slipping beyond reach.
According to the most comprehensive assessment yet from the IPCC, some of the impacts of warming, such as global sea level rises, could be “irreversible for centuries to millennia”.