Extinction Rebellion stages mass protest in central London

Activists call for end to fossil fuel investment at sit-down demonstration in Regent Street and Oxford Circus

Supporters of the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion have taken part in a mass sit-down protest in the heart of London’s shopping district.

Several thousand demonstrators with multicoloured flags bearing the group’s “extinction” symbol gathered near Marble Arch on Saturday morning as samba bands warmed up.

They then moved to Regent Street and Oxford Circus, where they sat down in the road, disrupting traffic through central London, and called for an end to investment in fossil fuels.

“A number of protesters in Oxford St & Regent St are sitting in the road, blocking traffic in both directions,” the Metropolitan police tweeted. “Traffic diversions are being put in place.”

Extinction Rebellion protesters take part in a sit-down demonstration at Oxford Circus
Extinction Rebellion protesters take part in a sit-down demonstration at Oxford Circus. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

The Metropolitan police said most of the demonstrators subsequently moved to Trafalgar Square, resulting in traffic diversions.

The protesters sat down in the road on the edge of Whitehall and stopped traffic while a band of drummers played near the base of Nelson’s Column.

Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, promised before Saturday’s protest that it would “grind the capital to a halt” over the coming week, with new tactics developed in response to increasingly harsh policing that limited the group’s attempts to cause disruption in protests last August.

In Hyde Park, police vans and officers on horses patrolled the periphery of the crowd, but the policing presence appeared low-key. The crowd moved off at about midday for the march through central London, staging roadblocks on the way.

Direct actions were planned on the fringes of the march against specific targets, but XR kept quiet on the details of what those targets were.

During the morning, protesters mainly milled about, joining with affinity groups, greeting friends who they had not seen since previous actions, and enjoying a burst of spring sunshine.

Nicky Goulianis, 33, from London, stood in the middle of the crowd with her nine-month-old daughter, Clio, in a buggy. Asked why she had joined the protest, she answered: “All the reasons.”

“I’ve been living away from the UK but I have been admiring the movement from afar, and I think it’s inspiring, the turnout here. I have been living in New York and I saw echoes of it in New York and I’m really excited to join today,” Goulianis said.

“I think we need radical action. I think often the oil and gas lobby does a good job of making us think it’s about individual consumption, but we need to change everything.”

On the edges of the crowd, with a small group, stood Marcelo Cervone, 28, who had adorned the peak of his baseball cap with XR stickers. He said: “I want to safeguard my son’s future … he’s four months old and I want to make sure he can dream but, as we were allowed to, dream big.”

Cervone said he had been protesting with XR for several years. “We are all hoping we can end the fossil fuel economy. That’s the number one goal: immediate transition out of the fossil fuel economy,” he said.

An Extinction Rebellion protester in Hyde Park
An Extinction Rebellion protester in Hyde Park. Photograph: Sabrina Merolla/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Dr Graeme Hayes, an academic at Aston University who studies social movements, was also among those who gathered in Hyde Park. He has observed, researched and analysed XR since its inception in 2018.

“This is not a different thing. This feels like the same thing it looked like three years ago but probably with fewer people, and obviously its corralled out into a less enclosed space,” Hayes said.

“The move from Parliament Square to Hyde Park is also that move from three years of interaction with policing and not being able to hold that public space.”

Hayes said he felt ideological barriers were preventing XR from evolving.

“I’ve taken lots of photos of all the different signs; so many are focused on children or your children’s children,” he said.

“There is always a sense of how justice is a relationship to the future. There is a displacement of justice. As usual there’s loads about justice and it’s about Africa, and of course that is really important, but it’s not about here and it’s not about now. I’m trying to look for things about capitalism, for example, and it’s hard to find.”


Damien Gayle Environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Extinction Rebellion stages youth protest at Heathrow airport
Activists all born after 1990 gather at main roundabout to highlight dangers of climate change

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor

19, Apr, 2019 @7:43 AM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion protesters force Lloyd’s of London to close HQ
Environmentalists block entrance to insurance market as they demand end to fossil fuel support

Joanna Partridge

12, Apr, 2022 @2:50 PM

Article image
Manchester Extinction Rebellion activists glue themselves to banks
Barclays and HSBC targeted on final day of protests against fossil fuel investments

Helen Pidd and Lucy Campbell

02, Sep, 2019 @5:08 PM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion: rights experts say peaceful protest in UK under threat
Liberty condemns ‘unworkable restrictions, fines and arrests’ used by police to stifle rallies

Matthew Taylor and Jessica Murray

03, Sep, 2020 @11:27 AM

Article image
Battle of Waterloo Bridge: a week of Extinction Rebellion protests
Group’s ongoing peaceful disruption in London is gaining it global attention and new members

Matthew Taylor and Damien Gayle

20, Apr, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion activists arrested outside oil conference
Protesters glued themselves to windows of central London hotel hosting industry event

Mattha Busby and Matthew Taylor

27, Feb, 2019 @4:05 PM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion activists cleared over London rush hour disruption
Jury decision over 2019 action is the latest acquittal involving a high-profile protest

Matthew Taylor

14, Jan, 2022 @1:52 PM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion activists glued to Science Museum site in Shell protest
Demonstrators attach themselves to railings in reaction to museum taking funding from oil firm for Our Future Planet show

Kevin Rawlinson and agency

29, Aug, 2021 @7:09 PM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion protesters call on BBC to 'tell climate truth'
Activists block entrance to headquarters of BBC, accusing it of staying silent on crisis

Mattha Busby

11, Oct, 2019 @8:22 AM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion protest at Gatwick and London fashion week
Activists aim to raise awareness of sustainable design and the need to reduce emissions from flights

Nadeem Badshah

15, Feb, 2020 @12:19 PM