A University of Sheffield student has said she won’t be put off protesting despite her arrest for obstructing traffic during the Extinction Rebellion climate protests in London.
Eve Merral, 23, a Zoology Masters student and member of the Students’ Union’s Sustainability Committee, was arrested last Thursday night at the Parliament Square protest site.
Speaking to Forge Press, she said: “[The police] were very friendly and nice, and they were actually quite sympathetic. I ended up in a police van with four other protestors and six police officers and we just ended up talking about climate change for the hour we were there. And Game of Thrones!
“I think it’s an experience that for me was absolutely fine. It was a choice I made, and I had people around me who were really supportive, but I can see how if you were really distressed or police were unkind it could be really horrific.”
More than 1,000 people have been arrested at the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. They started on Monday 15 April, stopping traffic at Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and the area around Parliament Square.
“All the police stations are full of people being arrested, and they’re having to ship people out to further away ones because they’re all full of protestors. They still put you in an individual cell, you don’t really see anyone,” Eve added.
She said she had been prepared for arrest by Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, who provide non-violent direct action training which informs protestors of their rights and how to interact with police.
The experience hasn’t put her off protesting in the future. “For me there isn’t a greater issue. We’re really lucky to live in a country where we can protest, and be arrested and go through the justice systems without for the most part experiencing violent or being completely safe,” she said.
She was joined by other members of the Sheffield branch of XR, seven of whom were arrested including Lottie Hopkins, 27, an assistant psychologist.
Lottie said: “It took quite a long time because they arrested a load of us at the same time and I was put pretty much straight into a van but a lot of people were out on the side. We were waiting for like two hours before they could find a police station to put us in.
“My feeling is [that] they probably won’t [charge] but I am prepared for the fact that it is a possibility and I work in the NHS so I’m subject to an enhanced DBS check. If that did happen there is potential there could be repercussions for my job, but I guess for me at the moment climate issues are something that transcends all other issues. If they’re not tackled first then there not much point in engaging in anything else so I felt that it was worth taking that risk.”
She said when she originally went she had no intention of being arrested but her mind changed whilst at the site.
“It wasn’t until I was there and experiencing it that I felt like it was important that I do stand up and be counted and do as much as I can to make this protest as effective as possible.
“It was such an amazing experience being there and it felt so important and different to how a lot of other protests have worked so I suppose I just felt that I needed to do as much as I can to be a part of that and help bring the movement forward.”
Both Eve and Lottie have been released without charge pending investigation by the Metropolitan Police.
Nathan Strathdee, 19, a first-year engineering student at the University, was also at the protest last week but avoided arrest.
He said: “It’s inspiring that there are so many people out there who not only care about the planet but are willing to commit so much time and even get arrested and sacrifice their liberty even if only for a short time to really draw attention and try to force government to act on the issue.”
According to The Guardian, support for XR has quadrupled since the protests started last Monday as public concern about the scale of the ecological crisis grows.The environmental activists group said 30,000 new backers have offered support.
The Labour Party has backed the protesters, with shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott addressing demonstrators in a speech on Wednesday, while Environment Secretary Michael Gove has agreed to meet representatives of the group.
Nathan said: “I’m wary of being too optimistic; we haven’t had any firm commitments from government yet but I do think it has changed the tone of the debate.
“We’re no longer discussing the fact around climate change as we were a year ago, we’re discussing what the government is going to do now to tackle the crisis.”
The protests ended today, Thursday 25 April, at 5pm with a closing ceremony held in Hyde Park.
In a statement, XR said: “We will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world. The truth is out, the real work is about to begin. The international rebellion continues.
“It is now time to go back into our communities, whether in London, around the UK or internationally. This movement is not just about symbolic actions, but about building the necessary resilient and regenerative culture that the world needs now. Expect more actions very soon.”
Extinction Rebellion Sheffield are holding a fundraising event at DINA Venue on Friday 26 April.