After weeks of protests in London, the Extinction Rebellion North East (XRNE) held regional protests in Newcastle.
The Extinction Rebellion, abbreviated to XR, are a non-violent protest group with three main demands: they want the government to tell the truth about the severity of climate change, they want to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to have a citizens assembly to oversee the changes “as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose”.
An estimated seventy cyclists rode slowly across Tyne Bridge at 7:30 AM on the 26th of April. According to the group, the aim of the cycle was “to slow traffic, attract public and media attention [and] distribute leaflets”. The cycle ended outside of Gateshead Council Hall with hopes that this would provoke the council to declare a climate emergency.
Earlier in the week the group held a “die-in” at Grey’s Monument where protesters lay down on the ground to represent the deaths that would be caused by climate change. Many held up signs saying things like “killed by wildfire”, “died of hunger” and “death by drowning”. Meryl Batchelder, a member of XRNE, said that using theatre was the best way to promote the cause to the public.
The protests were polarising, with public opinions divided between admiration and annoyance. Many people understood why the protests were taking place, claiming that the disruptions were a small annoyance compared to climate change’s effect on the planet. Others were angered by the slow bike ride in particular with one Twitter user even arguing that the event “targeted the working-class" by making people late for work. Many people also pointed out that creating traffic on the Tyne Bridge would only increase carbon emissions.
Among XRNE’s supporters is Chems Deaibes, a Newcastle University student.
“Protesting for climate justice is important because this is the only tool we have right now to put pressure on the government. The government which has done nothing so far to prevent species, including humans, from going extinct. The more we are at the protests, the bigger the chance we have to make a change. Students are the first ones who have to ask for change, because they're also the first generation who will experience lack of drinking water, food, safe air, etc, due to climate change.”
When asked about the protests, Deaibes said that they felt like they were “part of a community”.
“It felt refreshing and reassuring to understand that I was not alone fighting for the planet and trying to make a change. XR activists are really creative, which makes their protests different from the ones I've seen in the past (the funeral march, the die-in, and the slow-cycle are not just simple protests). Overall, it's a lot of fun and participating in that kind of activity makes you feel like you've achieved something.”
Dawn Furness, a member of the group, urges students to get involved.
“There are many ways to help! Even if you decide Non-Violent Direct Action is not for you, each public action has a large support team from fundraisers, welfare officers to legal observers, to Police station support, who meet those of us who have been arrested. We have regular monthly/weekly planning meetings (depending upon necessity) and other training and workshops with guest speakers.
“The best way forward for any potential new members is to contact us via the website www.rebellion.earth/ and join the mailing list to see what is already going on in your local area.”