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'I have no regrets': The ordinary women risking criminal convictions for Extinction Rebellion

PUBLISHED: 08:02 30 September 2019

Debbie Wright and Bryn Raven were arrested at the Extinction Rebellion protest in London in April 2019. Picture: Archant/PA

Debbie Wright and Bryn Raven were arrested at the Extinction Rebellion protest in London in April 2019. Picture: Archant/PA

Archant/PA

They have never been in trouble with the law before, but two women have done away with that to protest against climate change.

More than 1,000 people were arrested during the climate change protests in London in April 2019. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA WireMore than 1,000 people were arrested during the climate change protests in London in April 2019. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Debbie Wright, 44, and Bryn Raven, 76, were among the 1,100 people arrested in London during the Extinction Rebellion (XR) demonstrations in April.

They were carried away by police after campaigners blocked a road in Parliament Square causing disruption to traffic during the 11-day protest.

"I was terrified, I was laying on the ground and I realised I was trembling and crying," said Debbie Wright, an engineer from Eaton, Norwich.

XR activist Debbie Wright. Picture: Victoria PertusaXR activist Debbie Wright. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Ms Wright said she had no intention of getting arrested when she cycled to London for the protest in three days, but knew it was a strategy used by the XR movement.

Her feelings changed on the evening of April 17, when she decided to lie on the ground in Parliament Square with other activists.

"I felt like it was my turn, it felt right in that moment to be there," she said.

Debbie Wright (second from right) at the Extinction Rebellion demonstration in London in April 2019. Picture: Debbie WrightDebbie Wright (second from right) at the Extinction Rebellion demonstration in London in April 2019. Picture: Debbie Wright

Ms Wright was held overnight and charged with a public order offence for blocking a highway.

"It was a bit shocking walking in a cell with no windows or natural light," she said.

She appeared at the City of London Magistrates' Court on Friday, September 27, where she pleaded guilty.

XR activist Debbie Wright. Picture: Victoria PertusaXR activist Debbie Wright. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

She read out a statement to the judge before being handed a six-month conditional discharge and told to pay £85 court costs and £20 victim surcharge.

"I was nervous. I don't break the law - it felt alien and unfamiliar," she said.

Ms Wright said getting arrested was her way of helping create a safer world for her 18-year-old stepson and young nieces.

"I don't want kids to suffer because we are not doing anything to fix it. This is the only thing I know I can do.

"It was my first time being arrested. I don't do this kind of thing and I know I don't have to - I'd rather be at home with my cats."

Days after Ms Wright was arrested, grandmother Bryn Raven was at the same location and glued herself to a metal tube with other protesters on April 20.

Ms Raven, a retired English and yoga teacher, has lived a life free of trouble in the Suffolk village of Wenhaston.

But she said she was worried her children and grandchildren would not fare as well.

"It was the simple realisation that, at this stage in my life, anything I want to leave my kids will be completely irrelevant with the way things are going," she said.

Members of the Norwich Extinction Rebellion group protesting in London. Picture: Hayley PintoMembers of the Norwich Extinction Rebellion group protesting in London. Picture: Hayley Pinto

"I don't want to look at my grandkids and say that I've done nothing - I had a burning need to do something."

Ms Raven was arrested and taken to a police station, before being released pending further investigation.

She has not yet been charged with an offence.

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Bryn Raven. Picture: Ella WilkinsonExtinction Rebellion climate activist Bryn Raven. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Describing the moment she was arrested, she said: "I had no anxiety at all, I had no reason to feel anxious - the police were absolutely great.

"I have no regrets about being arrested."

The XR movement began in October 2018, with mass demonstrations attracting thousands of campaigners all over the world.

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Bryn Raven. Picture: Ella WilkinsonExtinction Rebellion climate activist Bryn Raven. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

It demands the government to put climate change at the forefront of its political agenda, and uses tactics of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to force local authorities to declare a climate emergency.

The group's website sets out the "legal strategy" for rebels who get arrested, stating: "If the courts keep hearing the same message from us, that message will get through and more people will demand the urgent and radical action that is required."

Another two-week protest has been planned in London from October 7, with campaigners encouraged to shut down Westminster by "blocking roads, bridges, transport links and more".

Extinction Rebellion demonstrators in Parliament Square, London, in April 2019. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA WireExtinction Rebellion demonstrators in Parliament Square, London, in April 2019. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

This so-called legal strategy has been practiced by environmental campaigner of 20 years Jenn Parkhouse, inset above left, from Mile Cross in Norwich.

She was involved in the Greenpeace anti-GM protests which ruffled the feathers of Bernard Matthews in the early 2000s.

Ms Parkhouse was questioned by police in 2000 after campaigners dumped three tons of GM-free turkey feed outside the Bernard Matthews headquarters in Great Witchingham, to disprove his claim that it was impossible to buy GM-free animal feed.

Climate activists at an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Parliament Square, London, in April 2019. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA WireClimate activists at an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Parliament Square, London, in April 2019. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

More recently, she was one of four XR protesters to be arrested in February this year after disrupting a county council meeting in Norwich.

She said the protest had been to put pressure on the council to consider its stance on the Western Link road, which she described as a "travesty for the environment".

She added: "I felt it was the only way to get the message across - I came to truly believe campaigning in the way I have been for 20 years proved futile."

Climate activists with police officers at an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Parliament Square, London, in April 2019. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA WireClimate activists with police officers at an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Parliament Square, London, in April 2019. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Extinction Rebellion activist Jenn Parkhouse, from Norwich, has been campaigning on environmental issues for more than 20 years. Picture: Jenn ParkhouseExtinction Rebellion activist Jenn Parkhouse, from Norwich, has been campaigning on environmental issues for more than 20 years. Picture: Jenn Parkhouse

In February 2019, Jenn Parkhouse was one of four Extinction Rebellion protestors to be arrested for disrupting a meeting at Norfolk County Council chambers, at County Hall in Norwich. Picture: Extinction RebellionIn February 2019, Jenn Parkhouse was one of four Extinction Rebellion protestors to be arrested for disrupting a meeting at Norfolk County Council chambers, at County Hall in Norwich. Picture: Extinction Rebellion

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