The environmental movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) is training specific teams to provide post-arrest support for its activists ahead of the next uprising beginning 7 October.
Their tactic is to raise awareness about the climate emergency by using non-violent civil disobedience and creating maximum chaos in the judicial system. And it is working.
With more than 20 police stations involved in London alone and an estimated cost of £16 million for the Metropolitan Police, last April XR caused the largest British police operation in modern history.
During marches, strikes and road obstructions over 1,000 protesters were arrested for breaching section 14 of the Public Order Act.
For their next action, Extinction Rebellion’s volunteers are organising Arrestee Support Training in London and offering legal advice, as they anticipate even more arrests.
Alice, an XR activist who prefers to be known only by her first name, held training in Kennington, in South London, last Saturday.
“Everybody taking part in actions should know the potential risks,” she said, “we want to ensure that people know that they have someone around to communicate with.”
The activists can rely on the XR Arrest Welfare network for support which offers assistance and legal counselling to arrestees from the moment of the release to the eventual trial.
The environmental group has also started fundraising to cover the legal costs. “Those pleading guilty, received a six-month conditional discharge and £85 court costs plus a £20 victim surcharge,” explained Zoe Blackler from XR Press Team.
“Those found guilty after going to trial are getting a twelve-month conditional discharge and higher court costs of several hundred pounds,” she added.
Quercus Seahorse, the code name for an XR who did not want to reveal his identity, was among the arrestees last April.
“I knew I was breaking the law,” he said, “but I was doing it out of my heart, so I did not care what the law says.”
He was sitting down in Parliament Square during one of the climate protests, singing with friends and obstructing the road, when the police came.
“I had a feeling that told me not to move,” he recalled, “but I’ve never been a lawbreaker, I’m used to receive help by the police, so it felt weird to be on the opposite side.”
They arrested him on the spot, and he was kept in a custody cell for four hours. “I heard of people held up to 24 hours,” he said, “and a friend of mine was handcuffed for no reason.”
Seahorse feels that the post-arrest support system, which was still in early stages when he got arrested, is very important to prepare the activists for potential arrests and it might facilitate legal aid.
He was released under investigation and then charged, but this experience did not discourage him. He is now getting ready to go back on the streets of London for the next rebellion.