'Die In Protest': These Young Aussies Would Rather Be Arrested Than Silenced
They call themselves Extinction Rebellion and their primary goal is to get arrested for climate change action.
The Extinction Rebellion march beside Sydney's Town Hall station on Friday was a modest mix of climate activists from various organisations.
There were members of the NSW chapter of Extinction Rebellion (XR), a handful of Greenpeace die-hards and a crowd of school-striking students who are now taking the time to hold their signs high again.
A cycle of impassioned speakers take to the top of a staircase -- they're met with enthusiastic shouts of "Shame!" whenever they mention the Liberal party's failure to enact what they believe to be meaningful environmental policy was mentioned.
A folk-punk singer takes to the stand and sings about how "f**ked" the world is.
While the display is heartening -- as another in a tide of rallies in support of addressing climate change -- it is not unique.
As an organisation, however, XR is absolutely unique.
"We either support or directly engage in non-violent direction action -- with the goal of obtaining as many arrests as possible," Holly Champion told 10 daily.
Rallies were also held in Melbourne's CBD. Thousands of activists took over the city streets "die-in" in a bid to pressure the federal government.
To XR, the arrests are a cornerstone of their ethos and the key to engaging mass social and political interest in order to see effective climate policy implemented.
While artistic demonstrations and small rallies like today's encourage community support and awareness on a micro scale, the group believes in "arrestable" behaviour, as Champion puts it, in order to further their message.
The concept is based on the work of Erica Chenoweth, an American political scientist, and XR cite her findings that 3.5 percent of a population need to engage in civil disobedience to bring true political change.
"It would be fantastic to get a million people out on the streets but it's actually a lot more efficient to get one thousand people arrested...because people respond to the idea that people are putting their livelihoods on the line," Champion said.
More than 1,000 XR protesters were arrested in London in April in what was described as the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.
The London protests were met with a certain amount of anger from commuters simply attempting to get to work and vitriol from conservative commentary.
Overwhelmingly however, they seemed to stir sympathy and ultimately resulted in London's Mayor Sadiq Khan meeting with the XR campaigners stating that he shared their "passion" and said his office was "doing what we can".
The movement has dispersed globally, with hundreds of chapters cropping up across the world and countless protests, artistic gatherings, and individual schemes unfolding under their banner.
To date there have been two arrests in Australia. In April, two young XR protesters chained themselves to coal trains in Queensland to obstruct the railways and live-streamed their experiences.
Caz Chattin was the original coordinator of the NSW branch and told 10 daily that their numbers have "skyrocketed" since the beginning of the international rebellion that included the London protests.
While the NSW branch only included six members five months ago, that number has grown immensely to at least 800 members and 4,800 people who follow them on Facebook.
"It just makes you feel so much better once you start to act," she said.
"You can feel so paralysed with fear but once you meet people that want to do the same things as you, you feel like you can actually do something about it."
Invariably, the protesters cite the re-election of the Liberal party as one of their primary reasons for turning up at this midday protest.
Champion declined to comment on when XR would be staging a mass "arrestable" demonstration but it's assured.
The climate change movement no longer rests on peaceful walks through CBDs.
"People realise it's not just a case of someone going out the door and waving their flag around. As useful as that is, it doesn't make as big a statement," she said.