Rebels Without a Clue

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

 

Extinction Rebellion’s activities are over at last – for now anyway. Their Autumn campaign ran for two weeks, but by the second week they’d lost the support of the public. Boris called them “un-co-operative crusties”. Few people corrected his choice of words.

I don’t normally work Monday or Tuesday, so I went out with trepidation on Wednesday in the first week. My strategy was to keep out of trouble; which meant keeping out of the West End and Westminster. I pretty much managed it on the first day by restricting myself to account work on ComCab. I’d never covered so many Taxicard jobs in one day. The success of my strategy was limited: I avoided the worst excesses of disruption; but through picking and choosing my jobs my earnings suffered on a week where there was clearly the potential to make money.

On Thursday I took a job from Goldman Sachs to Westminster City Hall. I needed to take a detour, but my passenger knew the score. On my first job on Friday I had a similar experience with a Taxicard customer going from West Hampstead to Waterloo. My lady had to change her train ticket en route as I had to drive quite a long way off the usual route and she missed her ticketed train. She wasn’t happy, but cheered up when I pointed that it would only cost her £5 whatever happened.

On Saturday I was pulled into the West End. With relief, I noticed that Trafalgar Square had re-opened. It was drizzling and I passed the grim scene of protestors camped in tents in the square. Tourists photographed the forlorn sight. It reminded me of watching the DVD of Woodstock when the rains came. It was if they were waiting for Hendrix to come on and set fire to his Strat.

Things still weren’t back to normal with parts of Westminster still closed, and there was more aggro on Sunday when a running race added to the misery.

on my next working day the following Wednesday the worst was over, but there were still areas to avoid. As I swung around Trafalgar Square I watched the Polizia holding back a mob of crusties on Whitehall. I’d had a week of listening to all the debates on LBC, but I still found their aims and objectives unclear. I wanted to know what they actually wanted us to do. The millennial on LBC who started every sentence with “So” didn’t tell me anything; and the bloke who shouted at listeners to stop driving cars and stop eating meat was unrealistic and annoying. They were all saying that disruption is necessary to get their message across, but I’m sure they would get publicity if they spent their time doing something positive like planting trees.

They’re clearly a half-baked and disparate group. I wonder how many of them have any clear idea of what they are aiming to achieve, and how many are just anarchist-types attempting to bring down the government. I think many just want to belong to a group. In a society where actual human contact is becoming rarer, people have a need to belong. Whether it’s being part of a football crowd, wearing silly blue EU hats in Parliament Square, or sitting in the roads; you feel you have a place in society.

I believe around 1800 protestors were arrested in the end. That’s 1800 people who don’t much care if they get a criminal record. They are either out of work, or they don’t care if they continue to work. Are they claiming benefits?

I started to wonder how many of them actually lived in London. Why not stay in your own town and stop people getting to work? Stop the taxis, re-route all the buses, and force delivery drivers on zero-hours contracts into unscheduled days off.  Let’s see how their townspeople react when they can’t make hospital appointments.

The protestors had much of it their own way – until they hit the East End. Here they weren’t entertaining tourists, or annoying motorists from a safe distance; they were up close and personal with real people who were late for work and weren’t shy in showing what they thought of their tactics. Watching protestors being pulled off of the roofs of trains was a joy to see as I turned on the BBC News. But something was missing from the TV footage: where were the TfL station staff in yellow vests, or the police? Why was it left to commuters to handle the situation and restore order? Perhaps TfLs remedy to train overcrowding is to allow passengers to sit on the roof like in India?

A bystander commented that when he heard the station announcement apologising for delays he thought it was something to do with terrorism. It was. Terrorism isn’t necessarily about violence; it’s about the threat of violence and stopping normal activity.  Extinction Rebellion aren’t killing people but they are disrupting people’s lives and stopping society from functioning normally.

By the second week of the Uprising, people were thoroughly hacked off with Extinction Rebellion. By the time they reached Canning Town their message had been lost. It was no longer about what they believed in, or what we could do to help the very real fight against environmental damage; it was all about the pros and cons of disruptive protest generally, and how we deal with eco-terrorists. I’m expecting a better thought-out strategy next time.

 

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