LONDON – Providing a megaphone for a rally of protesters blocking the main road to Parliament last month, Dr Bing Jones was arrested for the fourth time since joining the ecological protest group, The Rebellion.
The arrests did not deter him. however – in fact, Jones now wants to take an even more destructive approach.
"I will be arrested again and ready to go to jail because what are the alternatives?" Says Jones, 67 years old. "It seems kind of childish, but the fact that he was polite just didn't work."
He's not alone: A coordinated series of demonstrations in 60 cities around the world last month grabbed headlines. About 1
London became the natural home of these protests: More than 1,000 people were arrested during an 11-day campaign in April.
But instead of simply marching on the streets, the disappearance rally, also known as XR, aims to force governments to respond to the climate crisis by using non-violent civil disobedience. The group's uncompromising tactics include blocking traffic, landing flights and sticking to public buildings and each other.
Despite the risk of arrest, XR has spread around the world and includes some unlikely supporters – including the elderly, doctors and religious leaders.
But as the group's tactics have stirred, questions remain as to whether society will accept its ultimate goals and disruptive behavior.
The XR began its first major demonstration in the UK in November 2018, when hundreds of activists closed bridges in central London to spread the key message that climate change not only threatens environmental collapse, but human extinction.
The movement requires governments to "tell the truth" about climate change, ensure that net zero emissions are achieved by 2025 and create a civil assembly to inform how the transition should happen.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, in one of her last acts, before retiring in July, promised that Britain would reach net zero emissions by 2050, one of the most ambitious targets of any leading economy, showing how bold is the demand for XR.
Following a 2018 United Nations report warning of the consequences if the planet warms above 2.7 Fahrenheit and Friday for future student climate strikes, promoted by Greta Thunberg, the scene was set in motion as XR for takeoff, said Alexander Hansby, a sociologist at the University of Kent in South East England.
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From India to Chile, people around the world have embraced a decentralized, leaderless movement by setting up local chapters to coordinate demonstrations.
"The very fact that we are still talking about a riot of extinction, the fact that we have this ongoing period of mass protest, is a testament to their ability to sustain climate change quite high on the media agenda," Hansby says.
Arrests are not a nuisance for XR activists – they are part of the plan, Hansby said, explaining that mass incarceration has been used throughout history for calls for social change, including the US civil rights movement, through 'Creating a crisis of law and order that the state can
John Bets, a retired child welfare worker, was arrested a second time while blocking access to the City Airport on October 10, as other protesters. I managed to get on planes.
"I feel like I'm doing the right thing," he said. "I can't imagine sitting and watching the world collapse."
Bets received parole and is awaiting trial. While he worries about what a potential prison could do for his health, if convicted – among charges he faces violating airport regulations – Bets said he is not concerned about having a criminal record at 69 years old.
Other retirees share his view. Last month, Ursula Petik, 83, was arrested at a port in Dover after a group of protesters got stuck on the road. Most recently, dozens of grandparents staged a protest in front of Buckingham Palace to send their message on the Queen's climate change.
Police responded to the protests on October 14th by issuing a ban banning XR members from gathering and protesting "in order to help us move to London again. "But rebels, legal experts and even the mayor of London have criticized the move, calling it a violation of rights and freedoms.
The ban failed to stop the protests and, even though it was lifted four days later,
The XR faces probably a greater challenge in countering
The London Underground Station became a turning point for public perception of the XR, when a handful of activists took over three subway stations in a traditional work area in east London on October 10 during a morning commute: Travelers retreated by throwing a protester from the top of the train in images that went viral on social media.
XR stated at the time that the majority of its members were against subway disruption, but added that the action was not contrary to the principles of traffic and that participants considered it a necessary step.
Public perception is not aided by the drain on police resources. The staff had to work 12-hour days and failed to meet other priorities, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lawrence Taylor. "Another crime is being committed in the capital but officers in central London have been hired to manage these large-scale protests when they can and should work in their communities," he said in a statement.
XR Co-founder Claire Farrell told NBC News that the movement wants to emphasize how vulnerable various systems – food supplies, transportation networks and energy – are to the effects of climate change.
But she added that there was also a need to win over the hearts of people, "Trying to encourage people to support making very big changes in their already stressful lives, I understand that it is a challenge that we face," he said she.
She defends the protests despite causing delays and frustrating travelers because they send the message to the XR
The basic principle of the movement is to persuade 3.5 percent of the population to join the cause – a figure researchers studying social movements throughout history have found all that is needed to inspire social changes.
"The reality is that you will not be there and you don't need everyone to be on your side," says John Barry, a professor specializing in green political theory at Queen's Belfast University. "Not everyone in British society was for the abolition of slavery."
A group of protesters in New York poured fake blood on a Walling Street statue of Charging Bull on October 7 while holding a die-in spread of protesters lying on the ground with tombstones. Last week, protesters in California blocked the entrance of the Aliso Canyon facility into Southern California Gas Co., the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history.
Despite the noise, XR still does not see governments taking meaningful steps to meet their demands. The British Parliament, along with a number of municipal governments around the world, have declared a climate situation, but this has not turned into a policy change.
Experts say this is not a sign of failure.
"The fact that an emergency is called but you don't see action for weeks and months is a normal part of how the government runs," Barry said.