Meet the Suffolk Extinction Rebellion climate change rebels who say the world is doomed
- Credit: HAZEL STENSON
They have been causing quite the stir in the capital - but what makes Suffolk and Essex’s controversial Extinction Rebellion activists tick? Reporter OLIVER SULLIVAN finds out more about the region’s climate rebels.
To some they are heroes, to others they are a nightmare - but whatever you think of them, these climate change activists say that if you ignore them, you do so at your peril.
Extinction Rebellion has gained notoriety over recent weeks for its high-profile, disruptive protests in London - with members’ belief that ignoring climate change could lead to the biggest man-made disaster the world has ever seen.
The group, whose members are known as “rebels”, has three main demands - that the government “tells the truth” about climate change, creates a citizens’ assembly and reduces emissions to zero by 2025.
They pledge to be non-violent, instead using civil disobedience tactics to create disruption to encourage change - which have so far included occupying Waterloo Bridge and standing naked in the House of Commons.
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Many of those who joined the “international rebellion” in London were from Suffolk and Essex and were among the 1,000 protestors arrested and 71 charged by the Metropolitan Police.
The organiser for the Bury St Edmunds group, Robert Possnet, 57 of Nacton Lane, Bury St Edmunds, was one of those charged for involvement in the London protests, while Jason Pettitt, 44, of Manor Road, Colchester, will be another to face magistrates in Westminster.
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But despite causing much irritation at their protests - which locally have included a mock funeral procession through Colchester and blocking roads in Bury St Edmunds - Extinction Rebellion protestors from the region believe they can be a “real beacon of hope”.
Bury St Edmunds member Hazel Stenson, 55 and a full-time childminder, joined the group earlier this year - and even took a week off work to join the London protests.
“I have a 20-year-old daughter and it keeps me awake at night, the thought of her having kids in this world,” she said.
Now in its second week, disruption in the capital continues - with city workers and taxi drivers complaining about unnecessary delays.
“Our involvement is only a small disruption in the bigger picture,” Ms Stenson said.
“The Bury group worked as stewards in Parliament Square, making sure we weren’t obstructing cyclists or members of the public.
“It is heartbreaking to hear how people say they have been affected by the protests, but new measures need to be taken - it is a human issue that affects every part of society.
“We were being hugged constantly by people thanking us for what we were doing.”
Despite her fellow rebels facing arrest, Ms Stenson holds a positive view of the police - something she says all protesters do.
“The police were lovely,” she said.
“There was no antagonism, even when people were taken it was peaceful right to the bitter end.”
A group of activists dressed in red - known as the “red walkers”, including former Ipswich resident Brittany Louis - also joined the protest, singing: “Police, we love you. We’re doing this for your children too,” as they blocked their path on Waterloo Bridge.
She also added that her partner Max Clarke, a Labour borough councillor for West Suffolk Council, took time out of his campaigning to join the protests.
Members of the Bury St Edmunds group are subject to “non-violent direct action training”, where activists are taught how to protest peacefully and keep “good” relationships with police.
Tina Smith, a 38-year-old breakdown mechanic, formed the east Suffolk and Ipswich branch withfellow activists.
“Everyone has come together out of grief and anger,” she said.
“I jumped on board the minute I heard about it as it speaks to me. We can become a real beacon of hope.
“The suffragettes, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr all used similar methods to us.”
Both the Bury and Ipswich groups have confirmed they plan to cause more disruption closer to home through “swarm” street protests.
A spokesman for Suffolk police said: “When we become aware of any proposed demonstrations on any issue we will always look to engage with the organisers and other relevant partners to ensure any potential disruption is minimised as far as possible.
“Police will always seek to facilitate the right to a peaceful protest, balancing this right with disruption caused to the community and if necessary and, where appropriate, officers will make arrests using the relevant powers available to them.”