assessments

How a Climate Activist Group Is Following the Occupy Movement's Footsteps

4 MINS READJun 3, 2019 | 10:00 GMT
Extinction Rebellion and Planete Amazone activists stage a
(-/AFP/Getty Images)
Highlights
  • Since its first Extinction Rebellion protest in November 2018, the activist group Rising Up has continued to stage small demonstrations across the United Kingdom, and has increasingly targeted major cities across the world given that its ideology has found a receptive audience online.
  • Its mid-April 2019 London occupation resulted in 1,130 arrests, and is estimated to have cost retailers $86 million in lost revenue and thousands of dollars in property damage.
  • This success makes it highly likely the group will stage additional major protests in hopes of matching or exceeding the London occupation, and may try to hold simultaneous demonstrations in several major cities worldwide.

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Rising Up, a left-wing activist group based in the United Kingdom, launched its first Extinction Rebellion protest during November 2018, blocking four bridges in London. The group was reportedly founded by former members of the Occupy movement and is managed by Compassionate Revolution Ltd., launched in 2015. It is seeking to replicate that campaign's occupation and direct action tactics. Since that first protest, it has continued to stage small demonstrations across the United Kingdom, and it has increasingly targeted major cities across the world as its ideology has found a receptive audience online.

The Big Picture

There is no disputing that climate change will have a profound impact on the world's weather, from warmer temperatures to more extreme storms and droughts. For those pondering how best to manage a changing Earth, mitigation or adaptation remain the two possible (though not mutually exclusive) paths: what can be done to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and what can humans do to better adapt to a new and less predictable environment? In the face of what some activists have deemed insufficient action on the issue, groups or individuals increasingly have turned to sometimes-disruptive protests.

These protests were a precursor to the 11-day occupation of central London and smaller sympathetic demonstrations across the world in mid-April 2019. The London occupation resulted in 1,130 arrests and is estimated to have cost retailers $86 million in lost revenue and thousands of dollars in property damage, including $7,000 to Royal Dutch/Shell's main London office. Other costs include the millions of dollars and man-hours lost by Greater London governments and the Metropolitan Police in dealing with the protest. Extinction Rebellion (XR) also used well-known entertainers to draw worldwide attention to the protest. After this apparent success, it is highly likely that it will stage additional major protests in hopes of matching or exceeding the London occupation, and it may try to hold simultaneous demonstrations in several major cities. 

The London protests put its tactics on display. Demonstrators established themselves at multiple choke points in the city and set up occupation camps at Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus. Then they moved heavy objects into the road to slow traffic. At Waterloo Bridge, this was a truck, and in Oxford Circus, it was a boat on a trailer. Protesters also glued or chained themselves to these objects to make them more difficult to remove. In trying to clear the sites, police had to carry off the protesters, who refused to move under their own power, further slowing the effort.

By establishing multiple occupation camps at the same time, organizers were able to stretch out police resources, and groups of demonstrators didn't remain at a single protest site; they moved freely around the city. They also targeted a number of other sites for direct protest, including the offices of Shell, Goldman Sachs, the BBC and various governmental bodies; the London Stock Exchange; main roadways and bridges; Heathrow Airport; the Natural History Museum; and the home of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Additional major Extinction Rebellion protests aiming to match or exceed the mid-April 2019 London occupation are likely, possibly simultaneously in several major cities.

Understanding whom the protesters are targeting and how is the first step in devising effective countermeasures to minimize the financial and reputational costs of their actions. XR broadcasts most of its plans on its website and on social media; however, these directions should be treated as general guides about where protesters will strike and not as concrete plans. Security teams are advised to use social media and web posts as an intelligence tool to gauge the general level of activity and the geographic focus of the protesters. Foiling direct action, especially banner hanging and event disruption, requires strong physical countermeasures, as well as diligent countersurveillance to keep an eye out for activist pre-operational planning. 

XR looks to become a growing concern across the world. It and other climate change protest groups will likely continue their disruptive protests targeting major urban centers and specific organizations. While the main XR movement will likely remain committed to nonviolence, targeted organizations should nonetheless watch for signs of splinter groups willing to use harsher tactics.

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