Dozens of Extinction Rebellion activists blocked traffic and caused disruptions during rush-hour in Lewisham this morning.
The Lewisham branch claimed that around fifty activists gathered together to block traffic for seven minutes at a time along the A21 and A2 at three locations in Deptford, Lewisham and Catford.
The disruption was part of the ‘Let Lewisham Breathe’ campaign which aims to raise awareness of climate change and promote action from the local council.
In March, Lewisham Council declared a ‘climate emergency’ with plans to make the borough carbon neutral by 2030. The protests also follow the announcement last May that a new inquest will be held into the death of nine-year old Ella Kissi- Debrah who is believed to have suffered a fatal asthma attack linked to air pollution in 2013.
Mariam Aslam, a 24 year-old architecture student and general co-ordinator for Extinction Rebellion Lewisham living in Catford, told EastLondonLines: “Lewisham has six times the recommended safe level of air pollution set by the World Health Organisation, we think it’s a massive problem. In Lewisham alone there was 153 attributable deaths to air pollution in 2008 , that’s a massive number.”
“We want to draw attention to the problem in Lewisham, levels in places such as New Cross and Deptford are really high. We acknowledge and really appreciate that the council have declared a climate emergency but we need action on air pollution now. We need green screens, we need to make public transportable more accessible and cheaper to be able to use.” Aslam added.
Protestors were joined by school children in the early hours of the protest. This was despite complaints on social media of the protests causing disruption to students trying to attend GCSE and A-Level exams.
Activists handed out leaflets and cake to passers-by and commuters as an apology for the disruption. While campaigners from all three sites reported that the overall atmosphere and interaction with commuters and police were ‘friendly’, there were reported incidents of ‘aggression’ from some commuters.
Kate Shipp, 55 , a teacher based in Sydenham and activist for Extinction Rebellion told EastLondonLines that the protests went well and praised the conduct of police officers:
“The police have been great, there were a couple of motorists who were quite impatient and even tried to drive into the protest and the police went over to speak to them to stop them from doing that.” Shipp also said that the participation of children was “really encouraging”.
John Hamilton, a heating engineer and language teacher who campaigns for Excitation Rebellion, told East London Lines that the protests were not to “shut down” Lewisham but to make people aware of their local branch of Extinction Rebellion: “That was the main thing: talk to people, give them information, give out a leaflet, give them a cake if they wanted one but not to slow them down.” He acknowledged the previous complaints of the protests causing issues with students attending exams but that he believed that the protests didn’t cause too much disruption:
“Most people were not delayed that long and we managed to talk to drivers and lots of people were very supportive. A tiny little bit of wait for them was nothing to help save the planet.”
A spokesman for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, said: “The mayor recognises we face a climate emergency and shares the protesters’ passion for tackling this issue. But he is clear that causing disruption for Londoners in this way is unacceptable. The protesters’ actions caused problems for commuters trying to get to and from work.”
“The mayor is doing all he can to reduce the impact of climate change on Londoners – but it is up to the Government to take the bold action required at a national level.”