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Churchill College statue of Winston Churchill daubed with paint by Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge

A group of Extinction Rebellion (XR) Youth Cambridge protesters threw paint on a bust of Winston Churchill as part of the global ‘Debt for Climate’ weekend of action on Tuesday (June 28).

The aftermath of the attack on the bust of Winston Churchill at Churchill College, Cambridge
The aftermath of the attack on the bust of Winston Churchill at Churchill College, Cambridge

The early-morning action was a part of a bid to persuade G7 leaders to cancel the billions of dollars paid each year by global south nations to service their debts. Debt for Climate is a global mobilisation during the G7 Summit in Germany which saw over 40 actions from groups in 28 countries over the three days of the summit. The majority of actions are taking place in the global south, with others in the G7 countries, “which have disproportionate power over the World Bank and IMF”.

The global south is historically responsible for just eight per cent of climate breakdown but suffers 82-92 per cent of the costs and 98-99 per cent of the associated deaths. The IPCC has emphasised that ‘present development challenges causing high vulnerability [to climate breakdown] are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many indigenous peoples and local communities’.

One of the protestors, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ​​“When respected institutions like Churchill College glorify the leading perpetrators of colonialism, they are actively concealing not only the evidence of historical harms, but the urgent need for current accountability from Global North countries in the face of the climate emergency.”

The Churchill statue is on permanent display at the University of Cambridge’s Churchill College.

Winston Churchil with wife Clementine in 1925
Winston Churchil with wife Clementine in 1925

The attack marks a new line of protest for the climate action group. While Churchill endures as a much-revered figure for the crucial role he played in the defeat of Nazism in WW2, his well-documented views on race and colonialism are linked by the climate action group to the threats faced by the global south today.

Estéban Servat of Debt for Climate said: ​​“Debt is the knee on the neck of global south, fuelling the advance of the fossil fuel industry, colonial exploitation and environmental destruction. In the midst of the climate crisis – and as the world is headed fast toward a global debt crisis where the global south will be the most affected – we are building a global movement that can answer both crises from the perspective of those most affected, and turn debt into climate action.”

An XR Youth Cambridge protester said: “Our government is desperate to protect Britain’s national mythology because the truth demands justice for the millions of people harmed by the consequences of British colonialism.”

This mobilisation is taking place at the same time as multiple provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act come into effect in England and Wales. Among other things, this allows someone who damages a statue to be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison, which is double the minimum sentence for rape.

The University of Cambridge and Churchill College were contacted for comment.

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