Rebel with a tentacle
This week, 30,000 concerned citizens descended on to central London streets to protest inaction in the face of climate emergency. It’s the second city-wide protest in London Extinction Rebellion have organized. But this time, police were more punishing, threatening arrests at peaceful, unobtrusive acts like leaflet distribution. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch even joined the fray to show support. But one rebel in particular rose to notoriety after being kettled by the Metropolitan police yesterday.
Moving between the three meter tentacles to free up a hand so he could take a call from the protest at Whitehall, Ben Hancocks, an artist from Brick Lane and one of the octopus’ makers, shared his reflections with New Internationalist about this week’s action.
How did the octopus come to be?
Well, Jeanne-Luc, it’s gender ambiguous, was built by six of us from the XR Tower Hamlets chapter. We diligently assembled the three by two metre frame over six days straight – using painted bowls for its piercing eyeballs, sewing on the velcro tentacles and everything. Finally we made it pink to hark back to last year’s iconic pink boat on Oxford Street.
The police are seizing all XR infrastructure from tea urns to gazebos. How did Jeanne-Luc make it into the heart of the protest?
We carefully planned a police-free route to get Jeanne-Luc to join the protests in Trafalgar Square, and then wheeled it via Whitehall to show support for those getting arrested. That was when we were told to return immediately or risk arrest. They kettled Jean-Luc, many were outraged – but it also made him into a bit of celebrity.
I’ve heard reports Jeanne-Luc is sitting deflated on the floor of a police station staff room. Can you confirm their whereabouts?
That’s not true. Jeanne-Luc is alive and active in Trafalgar Square. They’ve even been threatened with arrest multiple times. We’re told if his tentacles even touch Whitehall property we’ll be sent down. So we’re just on the border, hovering.
I suppose in any case it’s a bit risky for Jeanne-Luc to stray too far from the fountain in Trafalgar Square?
Well not really – it’s an urban octopus from east London so it’s pretty well adapted to the built environment, luckily.
It’s said the state always takes out charismatic leaders to quash rebellion. Why do you think Jeanne-Luc connects with the people?
Jeanne-Luc represents all sea-life: the destruction of the oceans and the threat to multiple species. It’s said 50 to 80 per cent of all our oxygen comes from oceans, so this is serious stuff really. People feel strongly about it.
This is Jeanne-Luc’s first rebellion. Do you have any reflections from your personal experience, Ben, as an XR rebel?
The police have been heavy-handed this time. We came across a woman handing out A5 leaflets who was threatened with arrest. I’ve lived at the top of Brick Lane for years where the National Front [an ultra-right racist group] have been allowed to distribute leaflets. These are unprecedented powers being used. And it was Boris Johnson himself who wanted to use water cannons to disperse protestors as Mayor of London.
Jeanne-Luc seems to have raised protestors’ spirits. Did you design it with that in mind?
It’s entertainment really, to keep tensions as low as possible. After 2.7 million tweets about Jeanne-Luc I suppose they [the police] can’t really be seen to attack it. Two were even on guard but burst out laughing as soon as they saw it.
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