Breaking the law in broad daylight part 2: XR and anti-fracking activists continue the blockade of the Government Department for Energy, BEIS
By Fox (@SnowflakeFoxtrot on Instagram)
It’s been over five hours since several dozen of our activists locked on to and blockaded the Government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). As Snowflake Gamma is driven away in a police van under arrest for criminal damage, I turn and head back for the main entrance of BEIS to check up on the rest of my affinity group.
Suddenly Sierra reappears outside the main entrance. He had disappeared around the same time Gamma had – he must have faked his lock-on too, only pretending to attach the carabiner in his arm-tube. With police just metres away, distracted by the lock-ons around the corner and on the road, ‘Si’ cracks out another can of spray chalk. He starts with the message sprayed loud and clear in capital letters three feet high, on the windows of the building that face out towards the road: “FRACK OFF”.
Next he starts on an extinction symbol, even bigger. Another PNR anti-fracking activist has turned up with a camera; we’re both struggling not to laugh as we film. How can the police not have spotted him?
When the symbol finishes he moves straight on to the next message: it starts with a love heart.
A police officer finally clocks him and starts to run over.
“Watch your back!” warns the PNR activist filming him.
But Si ignores her – he’s not about to run. His message isn’t finished, and he’s here to make a point. He keeps spraying doggedly on, not even speeding up.
Just as he finishes the R of ‘<3 PNR’ a copper grabs his arm from behind and pulls it into a lock, shouting.
“You’re nicked, you’re nicked – put the can down, PUT THE CAN DOWN NOW!”
At this moment, I witness the most deft disarmament of police adrenaline I have ever seen. In the blink of an eye, Si switches from a spray-painting radical activist on a mission into an ordinary middle-aged white English pacifist in a chirpy mood.
To de-escalate the arresting officer’s shouting, Si matches the volume of his voice and then immediately drops it down to a normal conversational level.
“YEAH YEAH, alright, okay. Just be careful of this arm, it’s injured.”
Si gently drops the can, raises his other hand in the air, and acquiesces calmly. The tension in the officer’s shoulders eases visibly.
As another officer strides in, Si turns slowly to face him and greets the man with a smile, reacting as jovially and politely as if he were running into an old friend in the street.
“How are you doing, mate?”
The officer stops dead in his tracks, seeming a little chuffed someone asked.
“Very well, thank you, and yourself?”
“Lovely – if you’d just take this glove off a moment, I’d like to demonstrate this arm’s actually a bit injured, so if you could be gentle with that…”
The man does as Si suggests without a second thought.
More officers come over and surround him. But the body language of everyone there becomes so relaxed, that suddenly Si seems like he could be chatting to new acquaintances in a pub garden, rather than a group of police catching him red-handed and arresting him for criminal damage.
From an outside perspective, it seems to be an incredible display of how to use both privilege and de-escalation to disarm police repression. I can’t help but laugh as I run off to check on the rest of the Snowflakes.
[Image: Police stand guard at the windows in front of Si’s artwork chalked on the walls of BEIS.]
I catch the last few seconds of Charlie being escorted into a van by two officers. The Christian Climate Action group appear to have all been arrested and moved on by this point, along with Indigo.
[Image: Snowflake Charlie still in the gates, taken minutes before being arrested.]
[Image: Snowflake Bravo lies on her stomach handcuffed looking into camera, taken minutes before being arrested.]
Only Bravo remains inside the building; after discovering she had also faked glueing her hand to the entrance gates, the police have handcuffed her and moved her closer to the window. We still can’t hear each other, but we make some basic communication with gestures – she seems bored but okay. She’s been locked on since the action started six hours ago, so I can’t blame her.
As I gesture for her to pose in her cuffs for a picture, I’m surprised when her solemn expression suddenly bursts into radiant laughter. I turn to see why: Oranges is stood beside me, holding up a scrap of paper to the window. On it are scrawled the words “sexiest activist EVER”.
[Image: Snowflake Bravo, handcuffed, laughs at a message held up by Snowflake Oranges]
Now that the second entrance is clear, the message is relayed to those back at the main entrance, where the locked-on activists are getting restless. A few are still glued on clogging the main doors to the building as police works to pry their hands free with glue kits. Police are still hesitant to arrest them, and the blockade is dragging on – but now the second entrance is open, they’ve successfully diminished our disruption. After a painstaking process of cutting the drainpipe open, the two older Christian Climate Action activists blocking the road are finally freed from their arm tube and taken away for arrest. The cameras follow as one holds up his banner reading “for my grandchildren” outside the police van. Victoria Road is finally clear, and it seems the blockade is over.
[Image: an older Christian Climate Action affinity group member smiles and holds up a banner reading “for my grandchildren” as he is escorted away by police.]
But it doesn’t last. Minutes later, Delta, Echo, Veteran and the remaining arm-tubed activists silently get up and run in unison into the middle of the road, laying down and linking arms. Police look on in confusion at the change of target, and a ripple of hysterical laughter spreads through the activists.
The PNR anti-fracker comes back on the microphone.
“This just keeps getting better and better!” he booms happily.
Support crew again surround the arrestables with banners, blankets and snacks, followed by police.
I check up on the remaining Snowflakes. Delta is wrapped up warm and happily laid in the road, arm in arm in arm with the activist beside him. Veteran and Echo sit quietly locked together in the road, Veteran eating snacks, Echo tapping on his drum with the fingers of his free hand (image below). The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed.
As they settle, I hand my Wellbeing duties over to Quebec and say my goodbyes. After spotting my camera and seeing the footage of Si’s arrest, the XR media team have asked me to the office urgently to get my shots up online for the press and social media.
I later learn that the remaining activists continued to block the road for another two hours after I left, bringing the total time of the skirmish and roadblock to around eight hours. Police had painstakingly cut open arm tubes and arrested them one by one. They’d had to re-open de-commissioned cells in the city to accommodate the sudden influx of 22 arrestees at once, and we’d hit the news on several outlets across the country. A few hours later, Quebec sends a photo to our group signal chat: Veteran, Echo and Delta smiling and giving the thumbs-up outside the police station as they emerge from the cells (image below).
Another surfaces of Bravo sat on a bench in the police station next to two more XRebels from Christian Climate Action, all three grinning (below).
It was a triumphant start to Extinction Rebellion’s saga of actions over the next two weeks – but by no means the most spectacular. The rebels had bigger things in the works, and the Snowflakes would be at the frontline on many of the following days of action…
More to come soon on this blog. Keep watching to hear the inside story of the Snowflakes, and what happened next in the pivotal first weeks that the Rebellion captured the world’s imagination.
For people and planet.