Senior figures in Extinction Rebellion (XR) admit it was a mistake to target London’s public transport network at rush hour, a move that has split opinion within the movement. Future strategy is now being reassessed, they say.
At the end of the two-week global “uprising”, members of the movement’s political circle announced that it needed to learn from the angry scenes at Canning Town tube station last Thursday when commuters dragged protesters from the roof of an underground train and set upon them. Eight XR activists were arrested during the disruption, joining a total of 1,768 held during the fortnight of demonstrations.
British Transport Police confirmed it was also investigating and looking to acquire evidence against a number of commuters who appeared to embark on a vigilante-style attack on one of the Canning Town protesters.
Sarah Lunnon, a member of XR’s political circle, said: “There is absolutely no shrinking away from the fact that we have got to learn from what happened around the Tube, most especially within our own internal decision making.
“Obviously we did not get that right. People have given up their jobs to join XR, for them to be so upset and so dismayed by the action is an absolute pointer to us that we have to look again at how we make those decisions.”
Among the provisional plans is a move away from the fortnight of disruption that is scheduled to take place twice a year. Instead the movement will look at how to build a high-profile platform for experts on subjects such as food security to try to shape global debate on the climate emergency.
The two-week action has also seen criticism of policing tactics after officers implemented a London-wide ban on the protests last week. New reports yesterday suggest that the government and police have already discussed strengthening public order laws to allow a tougher crackdown on future XR demonstrations.
Despite the controversy over some XR tactics, many believe large-scale disruption remains effective in applying pressure on the government to tackle the climate emergency.
Lunnon said: “There is a really fine line for XR and it is something we are having to learn. Nobody has launched a peaceful rebellion against a government before in this country. But we do have to consider how the rebellion is going to move forward.” Many also feel the XR campaign has been successful at drawing attention to the climate emergency with analysis of the “uprising” indicating that the movement was mentioned more than 70,000 times in online media reports. Of these, 43.5% of online coverage was in the UK followed by 15.2% from Germany, 14.6 % in Australia and 12.1% in the US.
The campaign drew 30,000 activists to London including Ben Atkinson, a 43-year-old tree surgeon from Rydal in Cumbria, who scaled Big Ben’s tower on Friday and unfurled banners calling for action on climate change.