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Thousands join Extinction Rebellion protests across London

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4/15/2019 Matthew Taylor and Damien Gayle
a group of people sitting in front of a crowd: ‘We don’t want to disrupt people, but our government’s failure over the last 30 years leaves us no choice,’ a spokesperson said. © AFP/Getty Images ‘We don’t want to disrupt people, but our government’s failure over the last 30 years leaves us no choice,’ a spokesperson said.

Thousands of people have joined a “climate rebellion” in London, blocking traffic and disrupting “business as usual” to demand action over the escalating ecological crisis.

Waterloo Bridge was blocked to traffic and turned into an impromptu garden bridge on Monday, with people bringing trees, flowers and setting up a miniature skate park.

Protests and blockades also took place at sites across the capital in what organisers hope will be a protest lasting days or even weeks.

Laura Sorensen, a retired teacher from Somerset, was one of thousands who had gathered on Waterloo Bridge.

“I am so worried about what’s happening to the planet. We are on a knife-edge now and I felt strongly that I needed to get out and show myself, rather than just talk about it in the pub,” she said.

Sorensen said she had not previously been active in the environment movement but had been given a love of nature by her parents. “I see this disaster unfolding all around me … it is terrifying and the government have done nothing despite all the warnings, so we have to act now.”

At 11 am on Monday, protesters set up camps and roadblocks at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. The roadblocks are planned to continue round the clock for at least a week in a protest reminiscent of the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in 2011-12.

The demonstrations are part of a global campaign organised by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion, with protests planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.

At Parliament Square about 2,000 people had gathered under a sea of flags, placards and banners for what is planned to be the political space of the protest.

An octagonal stage was erected on the green for speakers, compered by New Internationalist contributing editor Jamie Kelsey Fry. “This is not a political movement, this is a movement of humanity,” he said. “We are all backgrounds, all ages, all races, bound together in one wish, one dream, which is that we will have a good, decent, loving future, for generations to come.”

Towards the back of the crowd stood student Maria Jaramillo, 22, with her friend Liam Wilkinson, 20, who was waving a small extinction symbol flag.

Jaramillo said she wanted the government to “ inform the people of the true dangers of climate change,” rather than merely paying lip service to the problem.

“Everything is so watered-down and [the actions] the government takes are so contradictory,” she said.

The campaign cites the civil rights and suffragette movements as inspiration and is backed by senior scientists and academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

In London, organisers said they expected thousands to take part in peaceful acts of civil disobedience, bringing widespread disruption to the capital.

“We don’t want to disrupt people, but our government’s failure over the last 30 years leaves us no choice,” an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson said. “Governments prioritise the short-term interests of the economic elites so, to get their attention, we have to disrupt the economy.”

A total of 85 people were arrested in London in November when thousands of protesters, including families and pensioners, occupied five bridges.

The group is demanding immediate action over environmental destruction, after dire predictions that humans face an existential threat if climate change and the loss of biodiversity continues.

It is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war.

Participants in the protests are being forewarned they might be arrested for taking part in non-violent civil disobedience. Organisers have circulated legal advice to anyone planning to attend. They have also requested they refrain from using drugs and alcohol and asked that they treat passersby and the environment with respect.

A Metropolitan police spokesperson declined to comment, other than to say an appropriate policing plan would be in place.

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