Journalist and author George Monbiot is trying to get arrested today as part of the Extinction Rebellion Climate Emergency protests in London. There have been over 1,400 arrests of XR rebels in London and the Metropolitan Police have now imposed a blanket ban on London XR protests.
A few hours after this column is published, I hope to be in a police cell. I don’t yet know what the charge will be, where I will be arrested or when, but I know that if I go home this evening without feeling the hand of the law on my sleeve, I will have failed. This may sound like a strange ambition, but I believe it is a reasonable one.
If I succeed, I will be one of many. In the current wave of Extinction Rebellion protests, more than 1,400 people have so far allowed themselves to be arrested. It’s a controversial tactic, but it has often proved effective. The suffragettes, the Indian salt marchers, the civil rights movement and the Polish and East German democracy movements, to name just a few, all used it as a crucial strategy. Mass arrests are a potent form of democratic protest.
They work because they show that the campaigners are serious. When people are prepared to jeopardise their liberty for their cause, other people appear more likely to listen to what they say, and more likely to recognise its importance. Those who founded Extinction Rebellion researched these histories and sought to apply their lessons to the greatest predicament humanity has ever faced: the gathering collapse of our life support systems.