Newsletter 24 Plus - Extinction Rebellion UK

Newsletter 24 Plus

This post serves as an overflow for some of the slightly longer contributions to XR’s fortnightly newsletter. Enjoy these further explorations of some thought-provoking actions and events.

This time, it’s the Cannes Lions festival disruption, the Petroleo and Fueliet’ BP Screening action, RCA Fashion action, and the Natural History Museum alternative banquet.

Yes we Cannes!

XR France and UK rebels joined forces to disrupt the advertising industry festival, Cannes Lions. The group of 25-30 French, one German, and 7 UK rebels were elated at the actions they managed to pull off and the attention they brought to the climate crisis. Planning time was short, but that didn’t stop them from causing a scene.

UK (and even French) rebels were somewhat surprised by the security of the event. Police presence was insistent, firm and repressive. The police made it very clear they were aware of XR and would be all over any demonstrations.

Rebels arriving to the festival by bus were greeted at the bus stop by armed officers, who held them for ID checks. Later on, a group of 20 rebels gathering peacefully well outside the restricted zone were penned in and held for half an hour by about 15 armed officers, for no clear legal reason. Police intelligence officers even paid a special visit to the rebels’ campsite to let them know that protests do not succeed at the festival, despite many activists having tried in the past.

Rebels were a little daunted by these intimidation tactics, but nonetheless were determined to take up the challenge in high spirits.

The beginning of XR’s dialogue with the ad industry seemed almost too good to be true, as four rebels were invited to a meeting with the CEO of the festival, who made various offers to arrange a more legal platform for XR’s message. However, when these promises turned out to be as hollow as many suspected they would be, the group took the matter into their own hands and quickly got to work planning some showstopping actions.

‘Silence! Filming in progress’

Our first action on Wednesday was quite tame and symbolic, partly to probe the police response. 5 rebels stood outside a big mural celebrating Cannes festivals, holding ‘see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’ poses. This mural was down the road from a major regional newspaper, as the rebels wanted to draw attention to the repression of freedom of speech. To its credit, that paper responded and stepped up that day to cover the protests. To give an idea of the tension, there was also a ‘fake action’ planned, since the group had reason to suspect the police were listening in on their meetings.

Things really kicked off that day with a banner drop over the giant Cannes sign (at top of summary) and a red carpet sit-in in front of the ‘Palace’. French rebels jumped the barrier to run up and block the stairs to the main, red-carpeted entrance. They sat, linked together and chanting messages of truth, before being carried off by police down the stairs. Even photographers and onlookers were not safe from the overbearing gendarmes, as rebels were arrested under dubious legality for ‘showing solidarity’ for the protest. The lines between legal and illegal seemed to blur with the police’s efforts to keep XR out of sight of the festival.

On the positive side, the 14 arrested rebels report having a long, productive discussion with an equal number of police officers at the station, expanding on the climate crisis and why XR felt the need to act. French rebels note this as a real highlight of the week; they felt like they experienced a real breakthrough with the officers.

The following day, the group staged a dramatic ‘swim-in’: rebels swam under a jetty, holding their banners underwater, and emerged in front of Facebook’s private beach to chant and sing the message. At the same time, two English rebels infiltrated the event to give a speech before they were muscled off by security.

The week of actions closed in song outside the ‘Palace’, as the newly-formed rebel choir sang magnificent XR France chansons and (admittedly less poetic) UK numbers in alternation to an audience of people queuing along the red carpet. By the end, the police seemed to have been either won over or exhausted by the rebels, as they allowed the final protest to take place even though it broke the restrictive rules of the ‘Red Zone’.

As one of the first explicitly collaborative international actions, the group can happily report that strong bonds were formed between French and English rebels, with pledges flowing to support each other’s actions in the future.

‘Petroleo and Fueliet’ at BP Screening – 11 June, Trafalgar Square

Photo by Gareth Morris

An action by XR Lambeth to disrupt a BP-sponsored Royal Opera House screening in Trafalgar Square was a huge success and will inspire follow on actions.

The open-air livestream of the Royal Ballet performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was not itself interrupted, with the protest instead targeting the live preview event, where a presenter in Trafalgar Square was beamed to numerous screenings across the country.

Despite their efforts to frame the presenter against one of Trafalgar’s large fountains and not the protest, a group of brave rebels waded in to make sure their red banners were visible in the backdrop.

Rebels had been infiltrating the audience throughout the afternoon, trying to keep their choreographed red outfits and red banners hidden from security. They all stood in unison as the preview event began, chanting and holding banners about BP’s terrible record and reckless future plans. A declaration was read out about why BP sponsoring the arts was unacceptable, and then the rebels filed out as the opera began, with many in the audience applauding them as they left.

Photo by Hector Durham

As well as disrupting the screening, rebels also had a dazzling presence on its outskirts, with a veritable XR arts festival in a corner of the square. There was live classical music, a mesmerising display by the ever ravishing red brigade, and even an abridged and remixed performance of the Shakespearean tragedy being screened, this time renamed ‘Petroleo and Fueliet’. Banners and fliers drew in tourists and commuters, and a good time was had by all. More photos of the event can be seen here.

The action came the day after a protest outside the National Portrait Gallery by ‘BP or Not BP?’ where activists disrupted the BP sponsored Portrait Awards ceremony by blocking the entrance and painting their own portraits of BP executives as well as campaigners from regions ruined by oil extraction.

It also followed an audacious action by Greenpeace where 14 activists occupied a BP oil rig in the North Sea and tried to block its path, delaying drilling operations for 12 days.

The choreographed multi-pronged approach to stirring up the issue of BP sponsorship is starting to reap its first fruit. On Saturday Mark Rylance, arguably the finest stage actor of his generation, resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company over its BP sponsorship deal.

In his resignation letter he said, “I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare.”

Natural History Museum Petroleum Group dinner disruption – 20 June

It would be difficult not to notice the blue whale skeleton – nicknamed Hope – which hangs in Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum. It’s about as subtle as the irony of a Natural History Museum hosting the 30th Annual Dinner of the Petroleum group. Yet somehow this is still lost on Sir Michael Dixon, the Director of the Museum. Occasionally it requires you to reflect: are Dixon and the Museum board actively looking for ways to hurry more animals into history? Are visitor numbers that low?

This reckless hypocrisy is not lost on XR, who came together for their own banquet on the green below the Museum main entrance. Fat food-covered babies and flamboyant drummers composed the early atmosphere of the action. Aar Li Nu Bokk UK, the movement for protecting Senegalese common heritage, were an enlivening and dramatic presence too. XR stands in solidarity with them in their protest against BP-sponsored state corruption and cynical environmental plunder. Whilst the Senegalese population lives on less than £1.60 a day, the President’s brother Aliou Sall has received almost £20,000 a month to ensure BP can have their way with the gas fields of Senegal.

Later, the XR Art Group arrived, flaunting white flags stamped with images of endangered species: the hawksbill turtle, the common carp. Decorated with these and other banners, a large rebel group swarmed the road in front of the Museum. Meanwhile, XR Youth and other rebels had occupied the Museum.

The Petroleum group had planned to dine in Hintze Hall, beneath Hope. However, with rebels holding the hall for more than two hours after the museum closed – blindfolded, placarded and singing – the dinner was forced to move. A small, potent demonstration that XR is not going anywhere, and that it is institutions like the Natural History Museum which must adapt.

Fashion to die for?

Fashion is not only about catwalk shows, ever-changing trends and mass-produced clothes. It’s the toxic system that persuades us to buy what we don’t need, destroying arable land that is already a scarcity, at the cost of nature and human lives.

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. It is set to increase with 81% by 2030, and at the same time, newest report from ‘pulse of the fashion industry’ reveals that the sustainability progress within the industry has slowed by a third within the past year. Last week, the government decided, against clear evidence and advice, that they will not tackle the issues of the industry with bans and legislation. The responsibility, once again, has been left with the individual.

As a new fashion graduate from Royal College of Art, I can see how unrealistic this change is, coming from within. We focus on how to be ‘sustainable designers’, rather than sustainable human beings. Sustainability is reduced to a tool at our disposal, one that allows us to keep doing what we are doing: consuming the planet to death.

Photo by Terry Matthews

On the 7th June, Extinction Rebellion took over the RCA fashion graduate show in Cork Street Galleries, forcing prominent fashion people and press to face a side of the fashion industry that no one wants to talk about.

In the middle of the gallery, a trolley cage, heavily loaded with textile waste, served as a reminder of the sickening amount of waste produced by the industry. When seventeen XR rebels suddenly fell dead on the floor of the performance space, interrupting the choreography, the models had no other option than to walk around them.

The audience was left with the questions: Is fashion to die for? Is it worth it? As the models left the building, the XR rebels gathered around the pledge of the XR Boycott Fashion, that was launched on the same day, urging people to sign up to not buying any ‘new’ clothes for a minimum of a year.

We need to change our behaviour, not change our style. We need to break the cycle of overconsumption, and find a way out of this destructive system. We need to STOP BUYING!

This is not the end of fashion, but the beginning of a new way of operating. We must use what is already in existence and buy, share, swap and repair what we, collectively, already have. The future floats with creativity!

We are urging everyone to take part in this one year of not buying ‘new’ clothes by signing this pledge. Follow @xr.boycottfashion on Instagram, share your boycott story, and help us send a clear message to the fashion industry and our government: fashion is not to die for!

By Laura Frandsen

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