Last dance for Kill the Bill and climate action campaigners?
The last 24 hours have seen a flurry of activism on the streets of Cambridge with the Kill the Bill protest against new police powers on Saturday, and two protests against the University of Cambridge’s links with giant Schlumberger as part of a ramped-up Extinction Rebellion campaign targeting the oilfield services giant’s presence in the city.
Kill The Bill demonstrations took place in major UK cities on Saturday including in London, Bristol, Coventry, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Plymouth, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Swansea and Cardiff. The movement emerged when it became apparent that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill – proposed in March 2021 and yet to be passed by the House of Lords – threatens the rights of marginalised people and will criminalise protest.
“The police have already abused the rights they have, such as stop and search,” said one of the speakers on the steps of Guildhall facing the market shortly after the event began at midday. “This bill is above anything an attack on free speech. It is a bill designed to silence people and to silence criticism of their evil regime. Only one side of the argument has the interests of free speech at heart – and that’s us here protesting.”
Meanwhile Extinction Rebellion has declared an ongoing campaign targeting the links between the Schlumberger Cambridge Research Institute and the University of Cambridge. The climate action group has protested the links since its first action at the Madingley Road site two years ago. On Friday (January 15) Extinction Rebellion Cambridge and Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge campaigners sprayed fake oil over the University's governing building, Senate House, and stencilled ‘Schlumberger – climate killers – cut ties now’ on it. On the same night, activists from Extinction Rebellion Buddhists stencilled ‘Climate Emergency Centre’ on the Schlumberger Gould Research Facility, located on the University’s West Cambridge Site.
Speaking on Christ’s Pieces as protesters gathered for Saturday’s protest, an Extinction Rebellion member said the new campaign could last for months.
“It will last until Schlumberger is off campus,” he said. “We have plans going in towards summer and the end of the academic year... until it succeeds.”
I asked why Schlumberger in particular is the cause of such ire.
“Schlumberger is actually the biggest planet killer of all but no one has heard of them,” he replied. “They work with every oil company and most of the petrostates, and it is a world leader in the technologies needed to get fossil fuels out of the ground. They get away with a lot in terms of damaging the environment, and they’ve not been held to account for that.”
A speaker on Christ’s Pieces listed three Extinction Rebellion demands: for Cambridge University to cut all ties with Schlumberger, to “kick them out” of their Cambridge site, and to “stop profiting from planetary destruction and make planetary reparations”.
It was at this point that a theatrical train of people comprising a trio of ghouls and men in white overalls passed by. When they stopped, the trio resembled a black moth. Extinction Rebellion has staged ‘oily hands’ protests before, with the participants depicting the malign influence of oil – but these figures were of a different order of sombre.
Part vampires, part ghouls, and part mourners, the troupe moved towards St Andrew’s Street and there, on Christ’s Lane, they coagulated into a congealed blob, a chrysalis from which they slowly emerged to music that resembled the knife scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho. (A more modern reference might be the weird black-clad priests in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, though if you’re a Billie Eilish fan you might recognise the Extinction Rebellion giant bat-wings in All The Good Girls Go to Hell...)
The effect is disarming, as though a group of bereaved angels has gathered from the future to pre-emptively mourn someone we are about to lose (in this case, the ‘someone’ is Earth as a habitable planet).
To make matters worse, the angels have hit on hard times, they are fallen angels, and they screech and wail and reek of bitterness and fury. Are they angry at us – the audience – or are they angry at Schlumberger? It’s hard to tell and I didn’t like to ask. Stiff upper lip and all that.
This was another sensational performance by the troubadours of Extinction Rebellion’s theatrical arm – who could, lest we forget, so easily be arrested if the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill is allowed to become law.
A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge said: “While we respect the right to peaceful protest, we condemn in the strongest terms any damage done to University property.”
Cambridgeshire Police and Schlumberger were contacted for the purposes of this article.