Extinction Rebellion action blocks rush hour Cambridge
Critical Mass came to Cambridge on Friday evening, with Extinction Rebellion campaigners apparently at liberty to bring traffic to halt in key congestion spots around the city including the East Road junction with Hills Road, and Regent Street.
The blockades by about 200 campaigners on bikes proved highly effective. After assembling on Parker's Piece, the cyclists rode along Mill Road, cut back into Norfolk Street, and on to Gonville Place towards Hills Road. At the junction, traffic was at a standstill for 20 minutes. The campaigners then cycled down Regent Street and created a second blockade outside the University Arm for another 20 minutes. Music, chanting, dancing and cheering accompanied the protestors.
The direct-action group's exasperation about the lack of progress in addressing climate breakdown at both international, national and local levels was recently expressed on the streets of London.
Extinction Rebellion protestors tend towards being resolutely friendly and enthusiastic, yet the group does have detractors. Some commuters caught up in Cambridge's city centre complained about the delays.
"You're just trying to **** up the way for people trying to get around the city," said one passing cyclist caught in the mayhem.
"Come join us," said one XR campaigner to a pedestrian.
"Yeah mate, I'm just trying to get home," came the reply.
However, many more share the concerns of protestors. The campaign continues to draw new participants horrified, bemused and outraged by the increasing evidence that points to climate breakdown and the mechanisms that enable it. I spoke with one of the first-time protestors, a semi-retired Cambridge teacher, and asked whether she had heard criticism about the 'middle-class nature' of the group.
"Yes - as if being middle class is something to be ashamed of," she replied. "I try to do what I can in terms of recycling and sustainability, but the point is that without a middle class societies are open to predators and dictators, and it could also be that perhaps the middle classes can afford to come out. Austerity has bitten so hard in this country - I see it as a teacher, it's absolutely devastating - that maybe people are more concerned about getting through the next week or the next month rather than what is coming down the line in a few years.
"The other thing is that this has been whipped up by the press, and the UK press is the most biased in Europe. They're trying to find things they don't like about us so they can shoot us down, which ensures the status quo remains the same."
In the UK, the Daily Telegraph is owned by the Barclay brothers, who have been accused of attempting to 'skew democracy' on Sark. The Times and The Sun are run by News International. The Daily Mail is owned by the Rothermere family, and often seems inclined to keep the fossil fuel-driven economy going. The accusations that the press is inclined to broadcast propaganda have come from all sides of the UK political spectrum, but avoid alerting the public to the dangers of climate catastrophe takes the debate into uncharted waters. Nor is it just the press: many organisations - including the National Trust and the University of Cambridge - are still struggling to divest their investment portfolio of unsustainable activities. Others, including the nation of Ireland, have responded with the urgency that Extinction Rebellion say is needed.
"It's increasingly obvious to people that we need to move on from the fossil fuel era to tackle the climate emergency and create a better world," said an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson.
Future developments include a meeting with the city council on Monday (May 20) and a People's Assembly on July 6.