Extinction Rebellion protesters have begun blocking Manchester’s Deansgate in protest at the “huge contradictions” of a city region that has declared a climate emergency planning to massively expand its airport.
A yellow boat bearing the words “Planet Before Profit” was parked at the John Dalton Street junction and a tipper truck arrived packed with straw bales. Soon, guerrilla gardeners had set up a nursery of plants on what is one of Manchester’s most polluted streets, and a camp kitchen began to be erected.
As the demonstration got under way, Richard Katsouri was ready. His deli, Katsouri’s, is famed across Greater Manchester for its sausage paella and huge hot roast meat baps, carved as customers wait. He had tweaked the menu to capitalise on the four-day environmental takeover of the road outside.
“We’ve ordered in loads of vegan sausages for a vegan paella, we’ve made sure we’ve got a vegan soup option and we’re experimenting with falafel too,” he said.
Staff were dancing behind the counter as they served up breakfast barms at 8.30am. They appeared to be enjoying the drummers who were banging away outside as dozens of Extinction Rebellion protesters worked to block all access routes on to a key section of Deansgate, one of Manchester’s busiest shopping and eating streets.
Securing the southern picket was 19-year-old Jessica Agar, who is awaiting trial after being arrested in April on Waterloo Bridge in London. She was one of more than 1,000 people detained during Extinction Rebellion’s mass action in the capital, and said she was charged with a public order offence “after sitting on the bridge and singing protest songs when the police had asked us to leave”.
She admitted she was concerned about getting arrested again, but deemed the risk to be worth it. “Of course it worries me. I was 18 when I was arrested, I’m 19 now and it’s not what I want to be doing. I worry about how it’s going to affect my future job opportunities. But it worries me more that we are facing nothing less than the extinction of humankind if governments do not act fast, so I am willing to make sacrifices in order to make change.”
Extinction Rebellion had announced plans to shut Deansgate from John Dalton Street to St Ann’s Street from 10am on Friday but activists arrived early, just after 8am.
Many of the businesses on Deansgate affected by the closure seemed cheerful about the occupation. Chris Seville, of Forsyth’s music shop, said they would just get their deliveries round the back – “and maybe we will sell a few more drums this week”. Like Lee Scholes, the manager of the Sofa Workshop next door, he said he supported the aims of the protesters. Seville was worried about the Amazon rainforest, while Scholes said he would get behind “anything that is about reducing carbon emissions”.
But not everyone was happy. Joe Connor, a self-employed tiler working on a refit of a shop just off Deansgate, found his deliveries stuck on the wrong side of the cordon. “We’ve got 50 boxes of tiles over there and a whole pallet of adhesives. We’re self-employed and if we can’t work we don’t get paid. These protesters can’t put working people’s lives on the line like this,” he said.
He said he didn’t necessarily believe the warnings from the United Nations and others that there are only 12 years left to limit global warming to 1.5C to avoid a climate emergency. “I don’t think it’s a proven fact to be honest. Yes we have had a rainy summer but I used to live in Los Angeles, where we would have big downpours in the summer too, and that was years ago.”
He was not comforted by the pink leaflets being handed out by protesters apologising for the disruption. “We’re sorry,” they said, explaining that the inconvenience was necessary because “for the human race to survive, we need big changes fast. There are solutions that are economically and culturally possible in a short space of time. But we need the government to make changes now, and they are not listening.”
Greater Manchester police said their aim was to “facilitate the protest, whilst trying to minimise disruption to all those who work, live or who will be visiting Manchester over this period”.