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Seven Extinction Rebellion arrests as Newton lawn fallout continues

An XR protester is led away from the Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre on the West Cambridge site, February 18, 2020. Picture: Keith Heppell
An XR protester is led away from the Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre on the West Cambridge site, February 18, 2020. Picture: Keith Heppell

Extinction Rebellion's week-long protest highlighting incoming climate change issues, which shocked the nation yesterday when the lawn around the Newton Apple Tree at Trinity College was dug over, continued at the Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre on Madingley Road today - resulting in Cambridge Police arresting seven XR activists.

At 2pm this afternoon (February 18) a group of Extinction Rebellion Cambridge and Extinction Rebellion Cambridge Youth activists prepared to move on to the site for the second time this year “to highlight university’s connection to fossil fuels”.

“It's a company that we want to disrupt,” said one XR protester of the oilfield services company as he prepared to begin the blockade, which resulted in one protester being led away by police (see video). However, events resulted in the first reports of arrests being broadcast at 5pm, and by 7pm the police stated:

"Seven people have been arrested today (18 February) on suspicion of criminal damage in connection with protests in Cambridge.

"Three of the arrests relate to an incident outside Trinity College yesterday. The remaining relate to additional acts of criminal damage in Charles Babbage Road, Cambridge, this afternoon.

"The five women and two men remain in custody and investigations are ongoing. A man and a woman included in this number have also been arrested on suspicion of obstructing a constable."

The protest at Schlumberger is part of this week's ongoing Extinction Rebellion Cambridge’s youth-led Rebel for Justice campaign. In January, Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge issued an ultimatum to the city council, county council and Cambridge University, stating that XR would create major disruption if the institutions did not agree to its three demands concerning climate and social justice.

Today’s blockade was part of a series of “satellite actions” during Rebel for Justice's week-long roadblock on the Trumpington Road roundabout.

Yesterday's defiant action at Trinity College provoked a national outcry and backlash including a petition calling for the roadblock to be scrapped. Today, however, Extinction Rebellion Cambridge was unapologetic.

Cambridge XR member Angela Ditchfield said of the action: "It's ironic that there's a petition against the roadblock because part of the reason that we have to do road blocks is that petitions don't change things.

"The thing is with the XR model we're trying out is that it does divide people - it brings people to the point where they have to make an emotional response because there's a gap between what is visible to us here in Cambridge and what is really going on around the world in terms of climate change. So actions like digging up a lawn which is honouring wealth and privilege shocks people into having to make a reaction, and it is difficult having to deal with people who are upset by that but I'd rather someone was upset by a lawn being dug up than that they have to deal with the land being under water.

"We're starting to see people trying to live off land that has been destroyed by floods, and in other parts of the world they're getting floods one month and drought the next and Trinity are contributing to that. We have to get people to decide what side of the fence they're on, there's no more time to lose."

"It has been polarising," said an XR spokesperson of the last 36 hours of scrutiny and debate. "Sometimes the public come up to thank us, others say we've gone too far and see it as vandalism but Trinity College didn't want the sale of Innocence Farm to be on the national news so it was always going to be controversial. It highlights issues of land equality as well as climate change."

Cambridge Police defended their overall strategy on a Facebook post, saying "simply a road being blocked does not make a protest unlawful".

Expect more XR "supplementary action" around the city during the week, including a family action with activities for children at the makeshift camp inside the roadblock tomorrow.

“We have a message for Schlumberger too," said Annie Rose of Extinction Rebellion Cambridge Youth. "If you really care about environmental stewardship, as you say you do, prove it. Stop all research into fossil fuel extraction today. Moving all your investments into renewable energies and help provide a just transition into the renewable energy for all of your workers. Restore the livelihoods of the people in places where your operations have destroyed nature and communities."

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