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Joining the Rebellion: On the front line in London

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Blocking traffic in front of No 1 Poultry

I was all out of data, but it wasn't difficult to locate the nearest swarm after emerging from Bank station.

The junction at Bank is a symbol of our car culture, a seven-way behemoth clogged up with traffic on a semi-permanent basis. It presents a golden opportunity for Extinction Rebellion, who take direct action to highlight the Government's inaction on climate chaos.

Swarms stand in the road for seven minutes at a time, stopping the flow of traffic to draw attention to the impending crisis. By Thursday lunchtime, half a dozen swarms were circulating in the City of London, disrupting business as usual.

The scale of it was absolutely vast

I joined the nearest group and was soon standing in the path of a sightseeing bus. Our thirty-strong swarm sang 'We Shall Overcome' and held up flags with the movement's insignia.

Traffic backed up down the side of No 1 Poultry, a whimsical city-boy building that now looks laughably out of step with the times. Police officers watched from the pavement, talking to activists and making notes.

With some justification, Extinction Rebellion has faced criticism for its conciliatory attitude towards the police. Many believe the Met plays a key role in reinforcing inequalities in the capital. But tiptoeing along the thin blue line gave the group licence for a greater degree of civil disobedience than I've seen the police tolerate at other demonstrations.

If this was the theory behind the group's approach, it worked. "It's been a wonderful two weeks," said a smiling officer as we blocked northbound traffic at Bishopsgate. I've been on a lot of demos, and this was new.

The amiable atmosphere also denied the press the opportunity to dismiss activists as a bunch of anarchists out to cause trouble. They've had to find new and increasingly unconvincing lines of attack. Look at Brendan O'Neill's bizarre take on Greta Thunberg, for example.

Without condoning direct action, I heard police officers admitting to activists that the movement had a point. Whether the leniency is worth the price of co-operating with the Met is up for debate.

Either way, the Rebellion's organisational skills are impressive. Each swarm contained several 'de-escalators', who spoke to frustrated drivers and dealt with any tensions that flared up.

The age gap was also striking. Most people in our swarm were under 30 or over 60, the former doing most of the singing and the latter liaising amiably with the ever-present police.

After a few hours of roadblocks across the City, the swarm units merged outside the Bank of China. From there we marched down Princes Street to seize Bank junction in its entirety.

Climate change is dispossessing an enormous number of people

With every entrance to the junction blocked for seven minutes at a time, we forced the hand of the police. They started warning about arrests.

Activists agreed to walk to Marble Arch for the closing ceremony of the International Rebellion. An officer used his phone to show an organiser the quickest route on Google Maps.

Bing Jones from Extinction Rebellion Sheffield was in London throughout the International Rebellion. "The scale of it was absolutely vast," he told me. "When you are on the streets and basically shutting down London, it's the most fantastic experience."

The police arrested Jones, before releasing him without charge. "You have a massive empathy for dispossessed people around the world," he said of the experience. "Climate change is dispossessing an enormous number of people."

At the closing ceremony, thousands sat in a circle near Speakers' Corner and listened to poems and prayers. Activists from different faiths spoke about the urgent need for action.

Following the International Rebellion, the movement has entered a period of what Jones calls "consolidation". Maintaining the momentum gathered in London will be critical. There is no alternative.

Sam Gregory

Read our full interview with Bing Jones on manning the barricades, getting arrested and the need to take urgent action to avert climate breakdown.

Get involved with Extinction Rebellion Sheffield at their weekly planning meetings, 6pm on Mondays at Union St.

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