LONDON, U.K. - London witnessed one of its most coordinated environmental protest in decades after thousands of people blocked five key bridges across the River Thames in central London in a massive and significant act of peaceful civil disobedience.
Protests over the looming climate crisis, dubbed 'Rebellion Day' was coordinated by a newly formed group that calls itself 'Extinction Rebellion.'
The group called on Londoners to participated in the mass civil disobedience campaign in a bid to voice their concerns over climate change and pressurize the country's government to treat the threats of climate breakdown and extinction as a serious crisis.
Organizers also pointed out that they wanted the government to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
Thousands of protesters, including families, children, students, pensioners and several others from various walks of life, answered calls by the group and staged a day of rebellion on Saturday.
Demonstrators across central London blocked the Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo, Westminster and Lambeth bridges starting from 10 am on Saturday and within the first hour of the protest, the organizers declared that all the crossings had been blocked.
The protests were largely peaceful, as several people holding colourful banners with messages like "Stop Climate Breakdown", "Fossil Fuel Era Over" and "Rebel For Life."
Others sang songs, delivered speeches, chanted slogans as they continued to block the five bridges for several hours.
However, as the day progressed, the blockade of Southwark Bridge was abandoned and by 2 pm, protesters from the area moved to the Blackfriars Bridge and subsequently to the Westminster Bridge.
According to the organizers, over 6,000 people had been involved in the protest through the day.
By the end of the day, the British police announced that over 70 people had been arrested at the environmental protest that disrupted traffic across central London.
While the Metropolitan police did not detail the exact charges, officers said that demonstrators had mostly been arrested for obstructing roads.
A police spokesperson said, "There have been over 70 arrests for obstruction of the Highway Act and Bail Act offences."
Meanwhile, Metropolitan police superintendent Supt Waheed Khan told reporters, "The demonstration is having a direct impact on others across London who wish to go about their daily business – and the emergency services from using the bridges to travel around London. Given that the organizers failed to engage with police prior to the event, we were unable to work with them around their plan and to make considerations for other Londoners."
'Social contract is broken'
Saturday's protest by 'Extinction Rebellion' came as a culmination of a week of action by the group.
Calling on the government to establish a "citizens assembly" to devise an emergency plan of action to tackle the climate crisis, the group has led its campaign of "respectful disruption."
Over the past week, at least 60 people have been arrested for taking part in acts of civil disobedience organized by the group, which has involved activists blocking the U.K. energy department and roads in the capital and some even glueing themselves to government buildings.
Despite the arrests, the group claimed that through the week of action, it had raised around 50,000 pounds in small-scale donations.
A member of the Extinction Rebellion group, Gail Bradbrook told reporters, "This is an act of mass civil disobedience. This is the start of an international rebellion protesting the lack of action on the ecological crisis."
Bradbrook said, "The 'social contract' has been broken … [and] it is therefore not only our right but our moral duty to bypass the government's inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty and to rebel to defend life itself."
Speaking of Saturday's blockages, Tiana Jacout, another organizer from the group pointed out, "It is not a step we take lightly. If things continue as is, we face an extinction greater than the one that killed the dinosaurs. We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions. Nothing has brought about the change that is needed. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be a worthy ancestor."
Organizers are now believed to be planning to escalate their campaign in a bid to cause widespread disruption in the capital.
Bradbrook explained, "Given the scale of the ecological crisis we are facing this is the appropriate scale of expansion. Occupying the streets to bring about change as our ancestors have done before us. Only this kind of large-scale economic disruption can rapidly bring the government to the table to discuss our demands. We are prepared to risk it all for our futures."
According to the group, it has now made international contacts and 11 events are already planned in seven countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia and France.
Between 1990 and 2016, Britain reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 40 percent.
The government has committed to a total reduction of 80 percent by 2050.
Extinction Rebellion has said that it is hoping that the group's campaign will change the debate around climate breakdown.
Experts meanwhile, noted that Saturday's protest was one of the biggest acts of peaceful civil disobedience in the U.K. in decades.