Earth Day climate action organisers promise family-friendly protests

Coalition of groups behind Big One demonstration intend focus on collective expression, with disobedience on hold

People do not need to glue themselves to anything in order to protest about the climate crisis this weekend, say the organisers of a large-scale planned climate emergency action.

The Big One, planned by a coalition of groups brought together by Extinction Rebellion to coincide with Earth Day on Saturday, will be four days of protest and events that they say will be “family friendly” and “engaging”.

But XR has also issued two demands: that all licences, approvals and funding for fossil fuel projects must end, and that the UK government must create emergency citizens’ assemblies to lead on fair, long-term solutions. The organisation says the government must engage with the demands by 5pm on Monday, and that if it does not, “unprecedented” civil disobedience will follow.

The organisers say the main focus of this weekend, however, is creating a welcoming space for people to come and protest about the climate crisis, with no disruption.

“We want to bring people together, to create a space where people feel they can make their voices heard,” said a spokesperson for XR. “This is not going to be about disruption, it’s about bringing more people and more big groups together – unions, social justice groups, environmental groups, some of whom have never worked together before. People don’t need to glue themselves to anything, just come and join us.”

There were particular concerns that the London marathon might be interrupted, but the organisers of both events say they have agreed to coexist peacefully, although it is still possible that smaller activist groups or individuals may choose the marathon as a target.

Environmental groups in the UK have struggled with a reputation for being dominated by white, middle-class people for a couple of decades, but XR has been partially focused on improving the diversity of the movement in the last few months. The coalition includes unions, environment groups, social justice groups and some businesses; among the signatories are Keep Britain Tidy, Avaaz, Friends of the Earth, Ecotricity, Patagonia and Cafod.

On Friday there will be pickets outside various government departments in Westminster, and on Saturday a large family-friendly march is planned. Sunday will see action at the Home Office, and on Monday the groups plan to hold a “What’s Next” assembly.

Dave Timms, the head of political affairs at Friends of Earth, said the organisation had been delighted to sign up. “We’ve had huge amounts of interest and enthusiasm from our members and local groups for this. There is a real appetite to get out there.”

He said the timing was important, coming in advance of the latest Public Order Act, which has raised huge concerns about the right to protest. “The powers to stop and search that are included in that bill could potentially have a real chilling effect on protest. We need to show we can still get out there in the face of an unprecedented assault on our civil rights,” he said.

Jemima Hartshorn, of Mums for Lungs, one of the organisations that has signed up to support the protests, said: “We know that the majority of people feel very passionately and strongly about the climate crisis. And our pollution and health crisis is a microcosm of the climate crisis more broadly – too much transport, not enough biodiversity, burning trees.

“So many people are angry because we are worried sick about the climate crisis and the lack of political action that we see from our own government. That’s why we want to create this space for people to come and be heard.”

XR’s weekend of protest is just one of a number of environmental activist campaigns kicking off globally around Earth Day.

In Italy, Ultima Generazione started a week of action on Tuesday, blocking roads and causing disruption with similar tactics similar to Just Stop Oil, a sister group. In New Zealand, Restore Passenger Rail, another JSO sister organisation, on Wednesday began a new phase of actions. And in New York City, disruptive climate street protests are expected on Saturday under the banner Rave Revolution.

Big protests are also expected in France over the weekend, where Les Soulèvements de la Terre, a federation of environmentalist groups that fought pitched battles with police last month around a new reservoir project, will camp out at the site of a proposed new road project close to Toulouse.


Bibi van der Zee and Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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