The arrests in Southern California were not an isolated incident, but part of a much larger wave of nonviolent civil disobedience across the globe around Earth Day meant to raise alarms about climate change.
Organized by a new activist group called Extinction Rebellion, the events resulted in hundreds of arrests. In London alone, 1,065 individuals were arrested Monday, in what organizers are calling “the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history,” according to the Guardian. Similar demonstrations unfolded in New York, Paris and Berlin, CNN reported.
"We’re hoping that the political class wake up, because if they don’t the next thing that will happen will be much more dramatic,” Roger Hallam, an Extinction Rebellion co-founder, told the Guardian on Monday.
First popping up late last year, the group splices together energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the street theater of an older generation of activism with a sense of urgency born out of forecasts about the perils of climate change.
According to the group’s website, the movement began Oct. 31, 2018, with a demonstration at Parliament Square in London. “We were expecting a couple of hundred people,” the group wrote. “Instead, 1500 came to participate in peaceful civil disobedience.”
As the Guardian reported in October, more than 1,000 demonstrators sat down blocking traffic while speakers addressed the mass of people.
“The disruption we are causing today is nothing to the destruction that our governments are unleashing by not taking serious steps to stop the ecological crisis,” one demonstrator told the newspaper at the time. “I have never been to prison before but I feel I have to try and do something.”
Extinction Rebellion has since earned backing from nearly 100 prominent academic figures in England, including the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The group says it has factions “from the Solomon Islands to Australia, from Spain to South Africa, the U.S. to India.”
As the BBC reported this week, among Extinction Rebellion’s main demands are that governments “tell the truth about climate change”; zero carbon emissions by 2025, and citizens’s assemblies to oversee climate policy.
“This is not the time to be realistic, this is the time for humanity to completely change course,” Gail Bradbrook, a co-founder, told the BBC. “This is not about fiddling around the edges, and adding a few solar panels to a few roofs; we have left it so late that we have to step up in a semi-miraculous way to deal with this situation.”
The protests ramp up as new evidence on the dire condition of the climate continue to mount. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that a study shows Greenland has lost ice at faster pace than previously thought during the past decades — from 1 billion tons of ice between 1980 and 1990, to 286 billion tons between 2010 and 2018. The increase is expected to dramatically contribute to rising sea levels.
Whether Extinction Rebellion’s goals are within reach, the group’s ideas have mobilized thousands.
Beginning last week, demonstrators converged in London, shutting down busy traffic arteries near areas like Oxford Circus, the Marble Arch and Waterloo Bridge. According to CNN, some demonstrators also glued themselves to trains and even to the fence surrounding the home of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
On Sunday night, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who has become among the most prominent voices of the next generation of climate change advocates, addressed London demonstrators.
“We are now facing an existential crisis, the climate crisis and ecological crisis which have never been treated as crises before, they have been ignored for decades,” Thunberg said, according to the Guardian. “And for way too long the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything,” she said, adding that activists would work to ensure politicians “will not get away with it for any longer.”
Events continued this week. On Monday, about 100 Extinction Rebellion demonstrators piled into London’s Natural History Museum, where they held a die-in, the BBC reported.
Authorities in London, the epicenter of the Extinction Rebellion action, have not been amused with the continuing public demonstration. Speaking to the BBC, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said 9,000 police officers have been dispatched to handle the protests since April 15.
“I’m extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime if they continue any longer,” he said.
Authorities in Los Angeles are also taking the Universal Studios protesters seriously. According to the Times, police plan to charge the four individuals with felonies.