Had it not been for the Coronavirus pandemic, next weekend would have seen potentially the most disruptive and widespread climate protests in UK history as Extinction Rebellion mobilised once again to push for real action and change.
Instead, protests are effectively suppressed by current legislation, and activists are mindful of the dire health consequences of congregating together, so those plans have been postponed.
With a government anxious to return to “business as usual” which will include the biggest road-building spending plan ever seen in England, local XR groups around the country took to the streets for family-friendly socially-distanced bicycle rides to highlight the need for clean air, lower private car and fossil fuel use, and for spending to be diverted to wider pavements and better cycling infrastructure.
The slogan for the rides was ‘No Going Back’, referring to the cleaner air, less congested roads, and increased bicycle use that has characterised our cities during lockdown.
Real Media followed the Hackney ride from Clissold Park to London Fields. Police announced at the start of the ride that they were there to monitor traffic flow, and to prevent any close congregating, but otherwise had no intention to interfere with the protest. This was in marked contrast to recent clampdowns at an HS2 protest in London, and Monday’s shoe protest in Trafalgar Square, where they threatened arrests under Coronavirus powers to disperse socially-distanced protesters.
Around 100 people took part in the Hackney event, wearing masks and keeping well-spaced as they journeyed along roads, many of which had been previously chalk-sprayed by activists using bicycle stencils. In London several more groups organised their own local rides, and road-markings and rides happened in several more cities around the UK.
As lockdown eases and society adapts to some new normal, now may be an opportunity for ordinary people to start shaping how that new normal might look.