Saturday, February 12, saw a Super Saturday of protests for Bristol with six demos, some large, some small, happening across the city centre.
Anyone would have been pushed to make it to all six (this intrepid reporter had to jog on more than one occasion during the day!). But if you missed out, below is a round up of all the action, and a look ahead to some of what’s coming next.
Bristol Airport Expansion Condemned
After the decision by government planning inspectors to approve the expansion of Bristol Airport last week, hundreds of furious Bristolians rallied on College Green from 10.30am.
Organised by Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), who have spearheaded the campaign against the expansion since 2019, the rally included speeches from West of England metro mayor Dan Norris, Green Councillor Lily Fitzgibbon as well as campaigners, doctors and local residents.
Norris called for the expansion decision to be overturned, saying that it would ‘drive a coach and horses’ through the West of England’s net-zero plans.
Fitzgibbon said the decision was ‘a kick in the teeth for democracy,’ referencing the fact that the objections of thousands of local people and all local authorities to expansion were ignored by the planning inspectors.
Fitgibbon’s remarks were echoed by people in the crowd who also felt like their voice had been ignored by the decision. Many people are angry about the decision, and some are now considering what they can do to resist it, including direct action. As one man in the crowd put it: ‘We continue to fight. What else is there to do?’
BAAN are now exploring the possibility of a judicial review of the inspectors’ decision, which would take the issue to the High court. Meanwhile, the weekly meeting of XR Bristol at the Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls, on Thursday (February 17) is likely to see discussion of possible future protests.
A full report of the BAAN rally can be read here.
Opposition to Borders Bill Grows
The Nationality and Borders Bill continues its way through Parliament and is now sitting with the Lords.
Bristol has long protested against the Bill with demos beginning in July last year. Saturday saw the third such demo take place at the Fountain Steps on St Augustine’s Parade where around 100 people gathered from 11am for speeches and music organised by Together With Refugees and Bristol University Amnesty International Society.
Amongst other things, the Bill seeks to criminalise refugees who arrive in the UK by “irregular means” such as sailing across the Channel and gives immunity to border agents should refugees die at sea during “push-back” operations.
Organiser Jo Benefield said that resistance to the Bill has been slowly growing in Bristol, but this has taken time because the Bill is ‘so outrageous and so cruel that people don’t really think it will happen.’
With a Conservative majority in the House of Commons, Jo said the likelihood is that the Bill will pass into law. Together With Refugees is therefore lobbying opposition MPs to vow to appeal the Bill when they are in power and have the opportunity.
A full report of the demo can be read here.
Youth Climate Activists Swarm City Centre Roads
Youth Climate Swarm continued their campaign of civil disobedience with another round of swarming on the city centre’s roads for two hours from midday.
Following a similar action in January which passed relatively unnoticed, Saturday’s action targeted busier roads and consequently was significantly more disruptive.
The young activists involved say that they are taking action because they believe it is the only way to bring attention to their cause and to bring the government to enact the changes in law they wish to see.
The specific demands of the group are an end to all fossil fuel extraction, the insulation of all of Britain’s homes and free public transport for everyone.
A full report of the action can be read here.
Cost of Living Crisis Rally
From 1pm people once again gathered on College Green, this time for a rally against the recent rises in cost of living and energy bills. The rally was organised by People’s Assembly Against Austerity and Bristol COP 26 Coalition.
The crowd was perhaps smaller than hoped for but there was representation from unions including the Bristol TUC and ACORN.
The demo is to be followed today (Tuesday, February 15) by a protest in the lobby of City Hall from 1pm as councillors vote on the annual budget, in which funding for many services is being cut as part of cost-saving measures.
It has already been announced that Bristol Museums will have their funding cut by almost £500,000 and sports centres, including Kingsdown, have lost their funding altogether.
Demo For #BoycottPuma
Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaigns’ #BoycottPuma demos are always colourful affairs and Saturday’s was the brightest yet thanks to the appearance of the Easton Cowgirls football team who enjoyed a kick-about outside Sports Direct in Broadmead from 2.30pm.
The event was part of the international #BoycottPuma campaign which aims to pressure sports apparel brand Puma to cease its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association, which includes teams who are based on occupied Palestinian territory.
Sooz, a member of Easton Cowgirls, a community football club that is heavily involved in social activism, said: ‘Having played football in Palestine we have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects the illegal occupation has on the daily lives of Palestinians, including the simple act of playing football.
‘In most countries travelling to a football ground, stadium or even your local park for a kick-about is an everyday occurrence. In Palestine where checkpoints and roadblocks inhibit movement and freedoms daily, this is not the case.
‘We fully support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement and call on Puma to end their sponsorship of the Israeli IFA, which includes teams in Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.’
The Cowgirls had a few games of football and campaigners leafleted the public for around half an hour before play was called off due to rain.
XR Buddhists Target Fossil Financiers Barclays
Providing a quiet and dignified close to Super Saturday were six members of XR Buddhists, who held a vigil outside Barclays bank in Broadmead to highlight the funding Barclays gives to fossil fuel extraction.
Some sitting on chairs, others on the ground, six buddhists meditated outside the bank whilst a seventh member of the group, himself part of Christian Climate Action, another faith-based offshoot of XR, spoke to the public about ways to switch to another bank.
Dave Mitchell, from Christian Climate Action, said: ‘By our presence we are stating that we really want to say to Barclays with all their investment in fossil fuels they are really causing huge problems for the earth,’ and that they ‘are really continuing the downward spiral into [the] climate emergency that we’re in.’
What people do with their money is ‘absolutely fundamental’ to tackling the climate crisis, said Dave, adding that switching to a more ethical bank, one that invests in renewable energy, for instance, can make a big difference by targeting the ‘big people that’ve got all the money.’.
Accepting that the vigil isn’t going to change the world Dave said: ‘It just feels good to be out here doing what you can. Rather than just sitting at home and watching TV and getting very depressed about it. I’d rather be out here, in the rain and the freezing cold. You’ve got to do something.’
It was revealed this week that Barclays is one of several European banks to have given £24bn to oil and gas companies, inducing Shell, BP and Saudi Aramco, despite Barclays’ pledge to become a net zero bank by 2050.
XR groups in Bristol have previously held colourful protests against Barclays, including one in October involving dinosaurs that resulted in the branch being closed by staff.