Mark Rylance joins Hackney's Extinction Rebellion group in two-week Trafalgar Square takeover - and doesn't rule out getting arrested
PUBLISHED: 15:30 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:55 09 October 2019
"I wish there was a better way and I wish the government would listen."
These are not the words of an Extinction Rebellion activist, but one of the police officers on duty yesterday at the launch of the eco-group's two-week shut down of Trafalgar Square.
Thousands of XR members have taken over 12 central London sites as a result of the government's lack of action over the climate crisis.
The Hackney group has been instrumental in curating the site around Nelson's Column dubbed 'Burning Earth', which has become a monument to the burning Amazon, wildfires and global warming.
Oscar winning actor Sir Mark Rylance mucked in with members of XR Hackney to assemble a makeshift stage in the road nearby last night.
Activists locked wooden boxes together to create a platform, and despite a couple of police officers confiscating a few of them, they managed to jump on top to secure the platform for bands and speakers to use.
Rylance held up his hands as a peaceful gesture as a police officer swooped in to grab a box, and told the Gazette afterwards that whether he was willing to be arrested was a "moment by moment decision".
"I'm sure I'm as willing as the rest of them, but we'd prefer not to be arrested," he said, adding that he was there for the "same reason everyone else is".
"We want the truth, we want more action now, and we primarily want citizens' assemblies to consider the many positive actions that could be taken on many fronts to help us prepare us for what's happening. We aren't going to avoid it now, because 90pc of the heat is in the oceans, but we are looking at pretty serious evidence at the collapse of society because of the climactic things that are going to happen to the environment," said Rylance, who was inspired by Greta Thunberg to resign from the Royal Shakespeare Company in June over its sponsorship from oil giant BP.
"This protest is to get everyone more conscious of what's coming, so it won't be such a shock to society. Although this may sound shocking, this is nothing to what the environment is going to do," he warned.
Some 215 protesters were arrested in the capital yesterday, including someone from the Hackney group who locked his neck onto the front seat of a hearse he'd parked up to block a road.
Two others locked themselves underneath a trailer to block another street - and another man spent the night on top of it and was still there, as the Gazette went to press.
"He's our favourite protestor," a police officer joked with the Gazette yesterday.
"He's locked himself on and the people we can get out to release him have prioritised him low down the list because there are a lot of people locked on," they added.
"He's a committed individual," said Tiranth Amarasinghe, who helps run the Hackney XR group.
"I just went to ask him if he wants some support, and he said no because he's been given a lot of food. He can't move around much but he's being looked after by the policemen around the trailer as well.
"There are a lot of people looking beyond their personal discomfort," added Tiranth.
"We are doing this because this is a crisis, and we have a window of opportunity. Climate is not just a matter of opinion.
"There were over 1,000 arrests in April and it will go much higher this time if needs be. This time around there are a lot more people who are willing to put their own liberty and freedom on the line for the cause.
"We encourage people to come down, and don't just leave it to hearsay and what some aspects of the media are thinking."
Today there has been a citizens' assembly, a dance performance, a samba band and an army of hoola hoopers. There is a family tent, and an art tent where people can get their clothes block printed with the XR logo. Induction meetings are being held for people to sign up to join the movement.
Although police have confiscated the kitchen sink, cooking pans, batteries and solar power, there is still vegan cake and food being shared with anyone who wants some.
Maria joined the Hackney group a few months ago, because she had the feeling that 'I've got to do something'.
"I got here really early on Monday, and initially I was like, 'Oh god there won't be enough people'. It only started at 10 o'clock, but when it went down it was impressive. People just suddenly appeared and it fell into place, and ignited," she said.
"We've been working in our groups and there's always a sense of chaos and all of a sudden it starts to organise."
A man who told the Gazette he is homeless had joined in to help run the art tent.
He had already helped out at the Easter protest, and believes in the cause because he has to breathe in so much of the central London pollution every day.
"I was helping then by chopping the salad, washing the dishes, and picking up the litter, and I heard the drums today and I was like, 'no way - they're back'.
"I've told them all I'm actually homeless, and they are like 'no worries'. They've got food and I've just had a nice cup of earl grey tea. For the first time in months I've felt like I'm not homeless. I'm normal. No one is judging me or looking at me. I feel liberated."