Breaking the law in broad daylight – The Snowflakes’ first day of action
By Snowflake Foxtrot (Instagram: @snowflakefoxtrot)
In the late evening, the meeting point is communicated only to affinity group coordinators via Signal, an encrypted text-messaging app. Our crew forms a Signal group chat and we arrange kit for the next day – snacks, first aid supplies, water, warm clothing.
The next morning several different affinity groups turn up together at the meeting point. There’s around sixty people in total. We’re told something unexpected – all the affinity groups will be doing the first action together as one. Presumably it’s to help build confidence amongst a lot of first-time activists. Arrestables and support crew are split into two massive groups. Arrestables are taken off to one side, briefed separately by some coordinators, and disappear.
This time, support crew aren’t originally told what the action is or where. We prepare banners and placards, and wait at a safe distance. When we get the message actions have begun, we bolt towards our charges, following the sound of police sirens.
As I approach the flashing lights surrounding the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), I see officers positioned to block the entrances. The extinction symbol has been spray-chalked repeatedly all over the entrance; one affinity group I’d spotted at the meeting point, surrounded by banners reading ‘Christian Climate Action’, are locked together or glued to the doors, singing hymns.
Through the windows, I see that Bravo and Charlie have managed to make it past the doors and into the security gates, spray-chalking them with more extinction symbols, and have now glued their hands to the gates to prevent police dragging them away.
Another male activist, ‘Indigo’, is glued to the gate in between them. They are happily talking and smiling as security and police mill about, wondering what to do or waiting for instructions.
[Image by Tamsin Omond: Bravo, Indigo and Charlie set up for a long wait as they occupy the entrance gates of BEIS.]
[Image: Bravo and Indigo laugh at a joke made by a support team member]
[Image: Wellbeing support Oranges sticks close to arrestable Bravo].
I can’t get past the police to go inside and can’t hear what’s going on through the windows. But I’m reassured that two other support crew have made it in and are looking after the three of them. Bravo is with a female wellbeing supporter with glasses, ‘Oranges’ – the two seem excited and happy in each other’s company.
Moving on to the next entrance, I see six arrestables laid down on the pavement (image above), locked-on to each other in pairs. They’re surrounded by support crew holding banners. One reads ‘PNR’ in solidarity with the anti-fracking activists of Preston New Road, some of whom have turned up today to support XR’s actions in London.
Just around the corner by the second entrance, another dozen arrestables are locked on and blocking the main entrance to BEIS. Around half, including Echo and Veteran, have locked on to each other with arm-tubes (image above), forming a front line laid down on the floor between the police and the doors.
Another half, including two elderly women along with Snowflakes Delta and Gamma, are sitting or standing with a hand glued to the revolving doors, some with small pieces of paper on them that read: “Glued on – don’t try to move me”. One elderly woman, “Juliet”, has even glued both hands to the electronically-opening side door, forcing security to deactivate it.
I’m happy to find all the Snowflakes and proud of their first actions, but frustrated that in the fray they’ve been split up. I can’t get to Bravo and Charlie to support them. Despite the fact we’d agreed glueing hands wasn’t part of the Snowflakes’ repertoire for actions, the others are stuck…
Or are they? I take a closer look at Delta and Gamma. Their hands seem to have moved slightly on the windows. I catch Delta’s eye, and as I step in close I see the glue container still full, hidden behind his leg.
[Image: Delta smiles as he fakes glueing his hand to the revolving door.]
“I’m not locked on,” he whispers. “They’ve shut the side doors but the revolving doors still move. Me and Gamma are thinking of sneaking inside when they’re not looking.”
I look at him and grin.
“Do it, it would be bloody brilliant.”
I do the rounds of our locked-on arrestables, handing out snacks and high fives, joining in chants, helping rearrange banners and taking photographs.
[Image: Gamma holds up a banner reading “Non-Violent” as she pretends to have her hand glued to the electronic gate of BEIS.]
Later on, A PNR anti-fracking activist comes on the loudspeaker. He announces that on hearing the news of what XR are doing in London, Preston New Road’s activists have suddenly turned up unannounced and blocked the gates of Cuadrilla’s fracking site, bringing their operations to a standstill for the day. A great cheer goes up amongst the small crowd gathered.
[Image: Rebels hold up banners and media film as a PNR anti-fracking activist talks on a loud-speaker.]
Around forty police and several vehicles are present, but they’re mostly standing around, apparently not sure what to do next. As the day drags on, it becomes clear they’re reluctant to arrest the activists, especially with so many cameras around. They’re simply not doing anything violent or dangerous – they’re just standing up to make a point for our future. Some of the police, who likely have children to raise, appear to be on our side.
[Image: the small crowd of activists, media, police and bystanders gathered around the blockade at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.]
But more and more press and cameras are coming in. It’s time to up the game. Two older activists, locked together with an arm-tube, run from the first entrance and lie in Victoria road in front of BEIS, blocking traffic. At their feet, they lay a banner that reads “For my grandchildren” (image, right). Support crew and police surround them, but it will be a while before they get the right tools to cut off the plastic pipes shielding the chains around their wrists.
[Image: a crowd of activists and police gathers around the roadblock.]
In the meantime, out of the corner of my eye, I see Gamma using the distraction. She gets up and makes a run for it in her highly conspicuous long red cloak. The camera operators and I are laughing as she disappears down the street. Soon afterwards, I notice that ‘Sierra’ or ‘Si’, a tall man who was lying down in front of BEIS apparently locked on to another protester with an arm-tube, is also gone.
A few minutes later, we find out what they’re planning. A great cheer goes up as seemingly out of nowhere, Gamma suddenly reappears minus the red cloak in the middle of the activists. She climbs up onto the top of the entrance to BEIS, a can of spray chalk in hand. Police flock back around the entrance but the locked-on and glued arrestables are in their way.
[Image: Gamma raises a fist into the air and calls to the crowd below, with the Extinction Symbol and “<3 PNR” spray-chalked into the windows of BEIS behind her.]
As the officers watch helpless, Gamma brazenly spray-chalks the extinction symbol, along with “<3 PNR”, on the windows above the entrance to BEIS. Someone hands her up a loudspeaker, and she delivers a speech about why they’re here, and the government’s criminal subsidy of environmentally-destructive fracking across the country. As she finishes, there’s cheering and clapping from the crowd – including some of the press.
[Image: Gamma holds up a banner reading “Rebel for Life” and the extinction symbol up on the entrance to BEIS, as a crowd of police wait for her to come down.]
More activists pass up banners and placards, and she holds them up for the cameras to see why we’re here. Still protected by the buffer of lock-ons, she sits down atop the entrance with a placard reading “save our children”, and begins talking to reporters who hold their cameras above their heads to film her.
Eventually, Gamma comes down and is wilfully arrested by police the moment her feet touch the ground. Escorted by two officers, she walks without fuss, smiling wide as a horde of police and press follow her to the van (image above). I ask police where she’s being taken so I can meet her when she comes out of the cell, but she waves me off – “I don’t need anyone to pick me up, thanks.”
But Gamma’s arrest was another distraction. As I’m about to see, Si, who’d also disappeared from his lock-on, had his own plans to carry out…
More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the occupation of BEIS, and the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.