On 21st May, many Oxford residents gathered to participate in the “Rebel Against Rivercide” protest at Port Meadow, which was organised by the activist groups Extinction Rebellion, River Action and Windrush Against Sewage Pollution . This marks the second protest against the dumping of sewage in rivers, with many participants appalled at water firms for discharging sewage into English waters 400,000 times last year.
The protest began with a silent performance by the Red Rebel Brigade; an activist art group which originally formed in response to the global environmental crisis. Donning their unmissable red attire which represents the lifeblood that connects the population and stern faces coated with white paint, they began their procession at the Natural History Museum. Once they arrived at Port Meadow, the brigade divided into two, onto either side of the river. Half the brigade submerged themselves in the river, while the other half silently looked on with their arms raised.
The Brigade was joined in the water by students from the Oxford University Wild Swimming Society, other local swimmers, and an assortment of rafts and kayaks. Amongst those in the water was Angela Jones, dragging a coffin labelled “Death of the Wye” and leading the flotilla with chants like “shame on the water companies”. Later in the protest, Jones remarked that she does not want to take such action, but realises “nature hasn’t got a voice, but we do”
The latter half of the protest was filled with speeches from local politicians, including James Fry (the newly sworn-in Lord Mayor of Oxford), Anneliese Dodds (MP for East Oxford) and Rosie Pearson (councillor for Brize Norton and Shilton). During her speech, Anneliese Dodds stated that “Progress is going backwards. We’ve not seen the commitment to legal change that we need to see”.
There was a discrepancy of opinion about the protest’s impact, with one student attendee noting that they “understand what they’re trying to do, but don’t understand what this will achieve.” On the other hand, Sue Spencer-Longhurst, a local resident who swims in the river daily, felt the grave importance of the protest, stating that “there are no trout in the river anymore, we need to look after our world. I have grandchildren and I really want them to have a future.”
The event also coincided with other Extinction Rebellion protests across the country, including the blockade of Farnborough Airport in Surrey. Although bright Extinction Rebellion flags dotted the banks, the protest was also organised by River Action and Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (W.A.S.P). When asked about the gathering of multiple environmental groups, Ashley Smith (founder of W.A.S.P) remarked that it represents the recognition that “the government is intent with keeping pollution profitable for the water industry and it is up to the people to say no.”