On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the UK Parliament as part of a four-day event called “The Big One”. The aim of the event was to draw attention to the government’s environmental failures. The protest was organised by environmental group Extinction Rebellion (XR), which promised that the event would be less disruptive and more inclusive than previous blockades. On Friday, thousands of people protested outside government departments in London to highlight the environmental and social failures across them all. Saturday’s protest coincided with Earth Day and focused on nature and biodiversity. Attendees, many of them children, wore animal costumes and masks. The march ended in Parliament Square with a mass “die-in”, where participants lay down in silence to mourn the 70% decline in wild animal populations since the first Earth Day in 1970.
Jenny O’Hara Jakeway, who travelled six hours from Wales with her two children, said: “It’s an emergency. Everybody needs to pull together so the future generations can enjoy our beautiful planet. Being passive is not an option any more because of the urgency of the situation.” Many protesters made banners for the occasion, with one reading: “We defend the climate but police arrest us” and another “Extinction is forever”. Others warned that a third of UK birds were “at risk of extinction”. XR member Joseph Young attended with community worker Laura Churchill and their two children – Jurno, five, and Fox, 10. “We are here to save the planet from people who destroy it,” said Fox, who was wearing a tiger costume. Jurno, wearing a cheetah costume, added: “They are my favourite animals, I want them to be protected”.
XR has in recent years caused huge disruption, hitting roads, airports and other public transport networks with direct action protests against climate change. However, in January, it called a temporary halt to its high-profile demonstrations and instead promised to mobilise huge numbers against what it sees as government inaction against global warming. XR spokesperson Zoe Cohen said: “The climate and ecological crisis aren’t something that is going to happen in the future, it is already here. It’s time that the government took this seriously and listened to the people here.” The group hopes that 40,000 to 50,000 people will attend Sunday’s event, which coincides with the London Marathon. Discussions have been held with race organisers to reduce disruption. Greenpeace UK’s executive director, Areeba Hamid, said the four-day event would “act as the catalyst of a new united fight against the vested interests putting profits over people and the planet”.