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Security removing protestor from County Hall on Tuesday 19 July. Photograph © Chris Jerrey

XR activists occupy County Hall two days running

On Wednesday 20 July, activists from Extinction Rebellion occupied the Lewes offices of East Sussex County Council (ESCC) for the second day running. HOT’s Erica Smith reports on the week’s climate protests.

Whilst XR activists were occupying County Hall, members of local campaign group Divest East Sussex completed a 60-hour fast to demand that the council stops investing local people’s pensions in fossil fuels. The fast started at midnight on Sunday night and finished at noon on Wednesday. Originally, there were plans for a vigil outside County Hall, but the declaration of a national emergency because of the heatwave led to people carrying out the fast in their homes. You can read more about the fast on the Big Issue website.

East Sussex Pension Fund member Kristin Sjovorr (centre) fasting for fossil fuel divestment outside County Hall, Lewes on Monday 18 July as part of a Divest East Sussex campaign to encourage ESCC to divest their pension scheme from the big fossil fuel companies.

On Tuesday 19 July, dozens of protestors disrupted the monthly ESCC Cabinet meeting after the council refused to put the climate emergency as an urgent item on the agenda. It followed a day of record-breaking heat, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees in some parts of the country.

The protest on Wednesday 20 July saw a focus on Council pensions, as ESCC’s Pension Committee met, and both Divest ESCC and XR demanded they vote for the Council to withdraw its pension fund from fossil fuels.

In a highly unusual move, pension committee members voted by majority to ban members of the public from attending the meeting.

As most protestors waited by the front steps of County Hall for the committee to announce its decision on divestment, several rebels slipped in through a back entrance. They swiftly occupied the foyer, unfurling a banner reiterating another demand – that the Council call a public meeting on the climate and environmental emergency.

XR protestors display a banner from inside the foyer of County Hall during their occupation on 20 July.

Speaking at the front of County Hall, Barcombe resident Mark Engineer said: “Some of our rebels are now inside the building, and they won’t be leaving until the Council agrees to a public meeting on the climate emergency so they can hear from their voters and be held to account as to why they aren’t taking the necessary action. Our rebels are in there and they’ve made it clear that they’re not going anywhere, and they are prepared to be arrested.”

The protestors were eventually carried out by security guards.

ESCC declared a climate emergency in 2019, but the Council’s own data shows that it has since done very little to lower its own carbon footprint – and has taken no meaningful actions to reduce emissions or stop ecological damage across the County.

XR accuses ESCC of “passing the buck, excuses and wishful thinking”, and is demanding the Council “steps up, shows leadership, and involves and inspires residents for the biggest task in human history.”

Climate campaigners from Divest East Sussex also condemned the decision by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to continue investing local people’s pensions in the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

Conservative Councilllors Gerard Fox (Hailsham New Town), Ian Hollidge (Bexhill South) and Paul Redstone (Northern Rother) all voted against a proposal to end such investments, which was raised at today’s East Sussex Pension Committee meeting. The remaining two councillors on the Committee – Georgia Taylor (Forest Row & Groombridge) and David Tutt (Eastbourne – St Anthony’s) – voted in favour of the proposal, which was therefore defeated 3 : 2.

A spokesperson for Divest East Sussex said: ‘Heatwaves such as the one that we’ve experienced this week are now happening more often and becoming hotter, due to human-induced climate change. Without rapid and drastic cuts in emissions from fossil fuels these and other impacts will get much worse, with potentially calamitous effects on food security and billions exposed to major heatwaves each year by 2040. Yet, despite declaring a ‘climate emergency’ over 2½ years ago, East Sussex County Council is still investing local people’s pensions in the giant oil companies – like Shell and BP – that are driving this crisis. Not only is this hypocrisy on a grand scale, but by clinging on to these investments the County Council is also providing a fig-leaf for these companies’ ongoing attempts to block effective climate action. By rejecting divestment yet again ESCC has failed us all.’

For more information about this week’s and future protests you can visit XR Hastings & St Leonards and Divest East Sussex websites.

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Posted 21:53 Wednesday, Jul 20, 2022 In: Campaigns

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