The Brexit debacle, with its associated protests is in something of a pause at present: the resulting space has been filled during the school and university vacation by (mainly) young people asserting the need for urgent action on climate change.
Arriving in Fleet St, we came across a group of Extinction Rebellion protestors who had glued themselves to the tarmac all the way across the roadway, with their un-glued colleagues squatting in depth on the pavement beside them. Police and a large group of spectators hemmed them in on all sides. They were outside the offices of Goldman-Sachs, a bank that they link to funding activities worsening climate change. A long line of buses, vans and cars was backed up in both directions along Fleet St.
Gluing themselves to things is a major element of their method of demonstrating: non-violent, peaceful disruption of the pattern of activities that they say is contributing to severe climate change; they are convinced climate change is threatening their future, and the future of life on Earth.
The police used solvents to un-glue the protestors, who were then led away to rounds of applause from their colleagues and cries of "We love you!" In one instance, two of the gluees had also joined themselves together by their arms by wrapping them with a Swiss-Roll of layers of cardboard and chicken wire: the police used a mini-circular saw to remove this.
The protestors had not converted many people that I saw to their point of view: various tradesmen whose vans had been blocked in the road, preventing them getting to work and earning a living, were furious with them. Otherwise, tourists and local office workers looked on at what was the best free show in town, very much in the spirit of the residents of Ank-Morpork gathering at the site of a cart crash.
Once the road had been cleared of protestors, traffic was allowed through once more, and the clouds of carbon dioxide/nitrogen oxides and micro-particulates emitted by the backed-up, stationary, but still running, vehicles could begin to dissipate.
At this point, the remaining protestors gathered themselves, and led by a drum corps, made their way across Ludgate Circus, past St Paul’s Cathedral and into Paternoster Square. Once in the Square, they formed a circle, sat down and had a break for lunch. As before, the local office workers and tourists greeted the spectacle with mild curiosity and then resumed their own lunches. One of the Rebels stood to one side with a sign saying “Feel free to ask questions :-)”, but he had few-to-no takers that I saw.
Lunch complete, the remaining group headed for Cheapside, where their drum corps attracted quite some interest from workers who came to their office windows to wave at them.
They then moved on to intermittently block traffic at the lights at New Change and Cheapside. Every so often, they would line up across the road and block the traffic for a couple of minutes. Occasionally, a passer-by would clap in support. They were extraordinarily polite: they apologised to all for causing delay.
We left them at this point, and pushed on down Cheapside towards the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, where we had heard there was another group. Sure enough, by Bank underground station, a small group was staging a sit-down protest in the road by the junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle St. A big green banner reading "Rebel for life" (geddit?) was stretched out on the ground in front of them. Again, a crowd had gathered for the spectacle. One-by-one, the police (I keep having the urge to call them the City Watch) picked them up and removed them.
I was left with the impression of the Extinction Rebellion as the most dedicated, sincere people you could ever meet. They clearly fear the effects of climate change very viscerally. They seem genuinely committed to non-violence, politeness, respectability and what I can only call "niceness". But their niceness only goes so far: they have an almost solipsistic attitude to pissing other people off, despite their well-meant apologies. Whether they move the political clock beyond the noises emitted in response to them by the most opportunistic and unscrupulous politicians remains to be seen, as does any lasting effect on public opinion.
Oh ... Terry Pratchett, where are you when we need you?