'Tell The Truth': Extinction Rebellion shuts down Edinburgh’s North Bridge

Climate protest attracts hundreds and brings the capital’s city centre to a standstill

  • Environmentalist direct action group demands world governments commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025
  • At least five arrests made as protestors are forcibly removed from the road after blocking both ends of North Bridge
  • Edinburgh action joins similar protests in capital cities around the world during an ‘international week of rebellion

EDINBURGH’S North Bridge was today [16 April] vacated by traffic after being successfully occupied by a sizeable protest action organised by the environmentalist direct action group Extinction Rebellion Scotland.

The act of mass civil disobedience brought to Edinburgh Extinction Rebellion’s ‘International Week of Rebellion’ – which has seen similar actions take place in capital cities around the world in an effort to spur governments into action on reducing carbon emissions.

As of 3pm this afternoon, Extinction Rebellion Scotland activists and hundreds of sympathetic protestors succeeded in their previously stated plans to block the historic bridge that joins the Royal Mile with Princes Street, refusing to allow through vehicles other than non-police emergency services.

While Police Scotland were liased with by protest organisers prior to the disruption, the event has reportedly nevertheless seen at least five activists arrested after being forcibly removed from the road, and placed on Lothian Buses to be transported for custody. However, Extinction Rebellion Scotland intends to keep the road blocked until 9pm.

The protest achieved significant attendance, with crowds numbering well over the direct action group’s early hopes of 500 attendees.

“You know when times are special when the use of civil disobedience comes back up amongst normal citizens, and this is definitely a special time – it’s just sad that it’s an especially dangerous time.” Extinction Rebellion Scotland activist Thomas Widrow

In a statement released to the press prior to the occupation, Extinction Rebellion Scotland made the following demands of the UK and Scottish governments: “1. tell the truth about the climate and ecological crisis and reverse any inconsistent policies; 2. commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025; 3. create a Citizens Assembly to decide what needs to be done.”

Richard Dyer, a former GP participating in today’s action, commented: “I am not advocating violence, we have to do all we can to bring this serious problem to the attention of the world and if that means that I run the risk of being arrested and fined, then so be it!”

On 15 April, Extinction Rebellion Scotland dropped banners over Victoria Street in Edinburgh, from Finnieston Crane and across City Chambers in Glasgow’s George Square, reading “Tell The Truth” and “Welcome to the Rebellion” in Edinburgh and “Science not Silence” and “When the last tree has fallen, Humanity can’t hide, Money won’t solve it, What’s your alibi?” in Glasgow. No arrests were made.

Thomas Widrow, a French-American Masters’ student at the University of Glasgow and a steward at today’s protest explained to CommonSpace: “The amount of work that needs to go into an event like this is absolutely huge – I didn’t realise how much you need to work to pull this off, especially because none of us are paid to do this.

“You know when times are special when the use of civil disobedience comes back up amongst normal citizens, and this is definitely a special time – it’s just sad that it’s an especially dangerous time. The turnout today does give me hope.”

Though not directly involved in Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s communications with Police Scotland, Widrow confirmed that the authorities knew that the bridge was going to be blocked and for how long: “Basically, we have a working relationship with police liaisons, so we can guarantee not only the safety of the general public, but also our safety as well.

READ MORE: Extinction Rebellion campaign reaches Scotland as activists occupy UK Govt department

“The fact that we are a disruptive group means that the police obviously know that there will be some level of disruption on the street. That’s where we come in as stewards – we patrol the area and make sure everyone in it knows what’s happening and feels at ease. We are not targeting other people; we are trying to tell the government to listen to us.”

Commenting on the international nature of the protests, Widrow said: “The point of the International Week of Rebellion is to focalise all of our efforts into this one week in capital cities around the world, but our movement doesn’t stop here. So long as governments decide to put climate change at a lower priority than it should be – which is the number one priority – we will continue and tell them: ‘Listen to us and listen to what scientists are saying around the world, because we just don’t have the time’.”

Asked if the arrests which have occurred at previous Extinction Rebellion protests were an unavoidable consequence of activism or part of a larger awareness-raising strategy, Widrow responded: “There is a strategy of arrests. The reason is arrests are extremely salient with the public – people pay attention to others who get arrested, and they pay attention to the reasons they get arrested. It resonates within cultural norms profoundly. So that is why arrests are an integral part of Extinction Rebellion’s strategy. But it is not the sole strategy – it’s a very small part.”

Gesturing to the protest going on around him, Widrow continued: “There’s two front-lines, who are ready to get arrested if need be; then after that, there’s a lower risk of arrest; and in the middle, there’s all these other activities going on.”

READ MORE: Extinction Rebellion calls on Edinburgh Science Festival to end relationship with EDF Energy

However, Widrow confirmed that Extinction Rebellion Scotland provides both legal and emotional support to those members subject to arrest and detainment: “We have little bus cards – every single person on the action should have these with them. It will have our tracker - who tracks where everyone goes all the time – and our solicitor. There’s also guidelines for [dealing with] the police. And if you are arrested and brought to the police station, we have people from Extinction Rebellion who will come and greet you outside when you are released. There is a whole system in place to make sure that the trauma people might go through when they are arrested is dealt with appropriately.”

Describing Extinction Rebellion Scotland’s place within the global environmental movement and its recent high-profile exploits, Widrow continued: “I think what distinguishes it – at least for me – is the very clear message that Extinction Rebellion seems to have. Although it’s autonomous and decentralised, we all feel that there’s an urgency that is not heard by the government. That’s what brought us together and that’s probably what makes Extinction Rebellion so popular. I never considered joining those kind of [environmentalist] groups before, but Extinction Rebellion made it absolutely clear that together is the only way that we’re going to get the government to listen to us, and to act.

“We are part of the wider environmental movement – that’s something we all recognise and all welcome – but we play a specific part within it, and our part is mass civil disobedience.” Extinction Rebellion Scotland activist Thomas Widrow

“We are part of the wider environmental movement – that’s something we all recognise and all welcome – but we play a specific part within it, and our part is mass civil disobedience, because that is one way of focusing everyone’s attention on climate change.”  

On April 17, activists will be travelling to London from Scotland to block traffic over several days at five high profile central locations – Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus – in the hopes of causing large scale disruption, and forcing the UK Government to take urgent action on address climate change and its related ecological emergencies.

Picture: CommonSpace

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