At first glance, vegans and cattle breeders have very little in common - but many have been protesting side by side as part of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement.
The protest movement, which uses a strategy of non-violent struggle and civil disobedience to draw attention to the climate crisis, was born last year in the UK and has since spread to over 70 countries.
Together, its activists have climbed on top of trains and planes to paralyse public transport, planted trees outside parliament, and got arrested on purpose.
But what many may not know is that it is composed of different sub-groups — XR Doctors, XR Policemen, XR Rainbow, XR Farmers, XR Lawyers, and XR Jews.
The movement is very adept at grabbing attention and encourages its activists to get arrested on purpose as a tactic to draw even more spotlight on protest actions.
"Ending in handcuffs is a fundamental part of XR's strategy because it shows how important this issue is," the group's political strategist, Ronan Harrington, told Euronews.
"London prisons are now too full to cope with the number of people being arrested," he added although this version is disputed by the Metropolitan Police, which reported that local prisons had not reached maximum capacity during the last series of protests.
In April, XR paralysed entire strategic areas of London for 11 consecutive days and the police carried out over a thousand arrests. Some demonstrators even undressed in parliament to call attention to the "elephant in the room", ie, the climate crisis.
The idea is to open a dialogue between citizens and governments on the climate. In the UK, XR has put forward a bill that incorporates its three main requests to the British government:
- to declare a climatic and ecological state of emergency;
- to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025;
- to create a citizen assembly for climate and ecological justice.
The decentralised organisation is led by volunteers that actively encourages people to form local groups in their cities "as long as they respect the common stringent code of conduct," one of the press officers told Euronews. The protests are then organised on a large scale through WhatsApp and Telegram.
Policemen, doctors, and XR's many, small spin-offs
Dagan James, 48, runs a buffalo farm in Hampshire, in southeast England, with regenerative farming methods. Along with another group of farmers, he took a pink biodiesel-powered tractor to the heart of the British capital last week. He is part, with 40 of other professionals from the agricultural sector, of XR Farmers: a group also mobilised to challenge the prejudice that XR activists are only "hippy vegans".
"We talk to Animal Rebellion, the vegan boys, and we collaborate with them. Of course, we have our differences, but in the short term we both want the government to act to declare the climate emergency and so we put aside our differences," James told Euronews.
"We also have points of contact, such as the support for a regenerative culture and the condemnation of intensive farms that depend on soy: we must coexist, we find common ground thanks to XR, and it is the most important thing," he added. At the moment, given the small size of the group, the priority of XR Farmers is to convert fellow farmers to their cause rather than being handcuffed.
Among the unexpected members of XR there are also former policemen who never would have thought, a few years ago, that they'd end up arrested by their former colleagues.
They are at least eight, retired, and say they do it for their children and grandchildren. Among them are Richard Eccleston, a former inspector; John Curran, former Metropolitan Police detective sergeant, recently handcuffed at Waterloo Bridge; and Rob Cooper, now retired Chief Superintendent who also serves as a spokesperson for the environmental group and police contact agent.
There is also the Extinction Rebellion Jews group which unites the British Jewish communities and say they have no connection with XR Israel. This week, the arrest of 77-year-old Finchley Synagogue rabbi Jeffrey Newman for blocking traffic in London's financial district, made headlines. One of the active rabbis with XR Jews, Shulamit Morris-Evans, stated that "the Jewish bloc" was established to create "a space where Jews can feel at home and at ease [in the context of climate protest] and be able to use their own voice to join the rebellion ".
In April, XR Doctors was also born, which today has more than 500 members, mostly in the United Kingdom.
"The climate protest is also a health emergency, we believe it is an added value to see the participation of different professional groups within Extinction Rebellion. It shows that we are all part of XR, even the professionals," Rita Issa, 31, an NHS doctor in London. explained.
"During the rebellion, we set up a tent to provide information in which we host high-level speakers, such as the editor of The Lancet magazine. We work closely with a group of doctors who only deal with first aid during demonstrations," she went on.
Like the rest of XR, the group is decentralised and meets regularly online. The actions are organised locally, from Scotland to Bristol, and all converge "towards the centre of power or the capitals" like London.
"Medical practices are usually conservative professions, but awareness is growing," Issa added. "In the coming months we will encourage professional bodies, such as the British Medical Association, to support us by declaring the climate emergency."
"Fear of repercussions at the professional level? There is always, we hope, employers and the bodies in charge (who) understand us," she continued, stressing that there is no "alternative, we must do it."
Lawyers and law students have also converged into a group, XR Lawyers, whose primary task is to assist arrested activists.
Finally, an LGBTQIA+ group was also created, also comprising "migrants, disabled people, trans and people of colour", they wrote on their Facebook page. It was born "to reconcile our fight for equality with the fight for climate justice, and to reaffirm the messages that climate change will impact minoritised groups the hardest".
_Correction: This article was changed on October 21 to reflect that the Extinction Rebellion Jews group does not have any connections with XR Israel. _