‘The Big One’: Why are Extinction Rebellion, NGOs and NHS workers gathering outside UK Parliament?

‘The Big One’: Why are Extinction Rebellion, NGOs and NHS workers gathering outside UK Parliament?

Tens of thousands of people are set to gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London next month to protest the UK government’s failure to act on the climate and related crises.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists will be standing alongside health workers and anti-racism campaigners for a four day demonstration starting on 21 April, dubbed ‘The Big One’.

It’s been four years since XR brought parts of the English capital to a standstill, parking a pink boat in Oxford Circus and resulting in the UK parliament declaring a climate emergency.

But, says Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Mel Evans: “The UK government is failing to deliver the kind of wholesale action needed to avoid full-blown climate breakdown.

“That’s despite the stark warnings of ‘act now, or it will be too late’ from the global scientific community just this week.”

Releasing their synthesis report on the latest climate science yesterday, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the carbon budget for 1.5C of global warming will be exhausted by 2030 if we keep on emitting at our current rate.

‘Impossible to ignore’: What is happening at the Big One?

Parliament Square is a frequent site of the protest in the UK. Thousands gathered here on 13 March to protest against the Illegal Migration Bill.Victoria Jones/AP

Since bursting onto the global stage a few years ago, Extinction Rebellion has been doing some soul-searching of its own. In a New Year’s statement titled ‘We Quit’, the protest group famed for its disruptive tactics announced it would now “prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks.”

The Big One is the first major event since this resolution. Pitching up outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster from 21 to 24 April, it promises to be family-friendly, accessible, welcoming, creative and engaging.

“Awash with colour and culture, the politically powerful streets of Westminster will be transformed with People’s Pickets outside government departments and a diverse programme of speakers, performers and workshops,” Extinction Rebellion UK says on its website.

The invitation is open to everyone and if the co-host list is anything to go by, it promises to live up to its name. XR is calling on 100,000 people to attend, making them “impossible to ignore.”

Which organisations are behind the Big One?

Actress Emma Thompson atop the pink boat in Oxford Circus, used as a stage during Extinction Rebellion’s uprising in April 2019.AFP/Tolga Akmen

An unusually broad alliance of environmental NGOs, trade unionists, anti-racism campaigners and climate activists are co-organising the event next month.

More than 30 organisations are listed as supporters, from single-issue protest groups like Right to Roam and Don’t Pay UK to older, broad-based NGOs Earthday.org and CAFOD.

Euronews Green spoke to a few organisations about why they’re championing the collective approach.

Friends of the Earth: The Big One aligns with how we work

“With the cost of living and climate crises escalating and government action failing to match the scale of these emergencies, we think it’s vital to be part of this demonstration bringing together diverse organisations from across environmental, health, housing, workers and social justice movements,” says Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth.

The NGO has a long history of supporting non-violent, lawful actions to protect communities and the environment, he says. It has a less radical reputation than XR or Greenpeace; its official position does not, for example, endorse “indiscriminate and purposeless damage to property.”

That hasn’t always made FoE the easiest bedfellow for other activist groups whose members are willing to get arrested. But the Big One is a collaboration it can get wholeheartedly behind.

“Extinction Rebellion is clear that they are designing the protest to be peaceful, safe and inclusive and are in regular contact with the police in order to facilitate the event taking place,” says Timms.

“It’s also an important time to be defending and supporting the right to peaceful protest as it’s increasingly under threat from multiple angles, including the use of anti-protest injunctions, and draconian legislation like the Public Order Bill.”

Global Justice Now: The idea is to foster a generational movement

Praising the “vital role” that XR has played in the past, director of Global Justice Now Nick Dearden says that the Big One’s potential lies in its inclusivity. April’s mass action can help foster a “generational movement.”

“The desire to make this broad doesn’t mean we’re any less radical in our demands,” Dearden says. “We need to fundamentally transform the way our economy works, nationally and globally, and we’re in no doubt about the scale of the challenge in front of us to achieve that.”

Greenpeace: We win as a movement

“It’s clear that only through working together will civil society defeat the vested interests intent on putting profits over people and the planet,” says Mel Evans, head of climate at Greenpeace UK.

“We either win as a movement or lose as individual organisations. That’s why The Big One promises to be such a key moment in the fight for climate justice and why we’re getting involved.”

Fossil Free London: A moment to recall our power and unity

Fossil Free London’s raison d’etre is to make the capital as inhospitable as possible to the fossil free industry. It is very much disruptive to oil and gas bosses – crashing former Shell CEO Ben van Beurden’s leaving party, for example, and interrupting a speech by BP head Bernard Looney in London last month.

Spokesperson Robin Wells explains why a big turnout for the Big One is so important.

“The climate crisis can be easy to ignore because it is continuous. It exists in the periphery of our attention all the time – in the weather when we wake up in the morning, the prices of the food we buy at the shops, and on the fringe of the news reports that we watch when we get home.

Robin Wells

Fossil Free London

“The climate crisis can be easy to ignore because it is continuous. It exists in the periphery of our attention all the time – in the weather when we wake up in the morning, the prices of the food we buy at the shops, and on the fringe of the news reports that we watch when we get home.

“But there are moments that cut through and grab our attention. One is the release of scary warnings from scientists like in [yesterday’s] IPCC report. Another is freak temperatures beyond what we’d have ever imagined, and another one, that we campaigners can make happen, are moments in which we are brought together and reminded of our power and unity in shaping the world we want to see. The Big One will be one such moment.”

How can you get involved with the Big One?

More than 18,000 people have so far RSVP’d yes, according to Extinction Rebellion’s official count. All the main information is on its website, including ways to volunteer and donate.

Supporting organisations – also including PCS Union, War on Want and Women of Colour Global Strike – will have guidance for their members too. Or you can simply turn up on any of the four days between 20 and 24 April.

“If we connect with each other, we can make changes in society that amount to so much more than sorting our glass from our paper,” adds Wells.

“People who feel the scale of the crisis we face and find themselves thinking that recycling can’t be enough action should come to the Big One and find out how they can make powerful change.’


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