Rebel octopus

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Rebel octopus

The story about Jeanne-Luc, Extinction Rebellion’s pink Octopus.


Credit: Twitter/@afsanehgray

This week, 7 October 2019, 30,000 concerned people went to the central London streets to protest that the government is doing nothing about the climate emergency. It’s the second city protest in London that Extinction Rebellion (XR) have organized. But this time, police were harder. They threatened arrests at peaceful acts like giving out leaflets. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch joined the protest to show support. But one rebel was very famous after the Metropolitan police surrounded him yesterday.

Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) October 9, 2019:

Police surround an Octopus as it tries to make its way down Whitehall in Westminster, central London. Captured by c4news producer @Liam_O_Hare

Ben Hancocks is an artist from Brick Lane and one of the octopus’ makers. He talked to New Internationalist about this week’s action.

How did the octopus come to be?

Well, six of us from XR Tower Hamlets built Jeanne-Luc (it could be male or female), the octopus. We made it carefully in six days. It is three by two metres. We used painted bowls for its eyes, and sewed on the tentacles and everything. Finally we made it pink because of last year’s pink boat on Oxford Street.

The police are taking all XR infrastructure including tea urns and gazebos. How did Jeanne-Luc get to the heart of the protest?

We carefully planned a police-free route to get Jeanne-Luc to join the protests in Trafalgar Square. We wheeled it through Whitehall to show support for those getting arrested. That was when they told us to return immediately or risk arrest. They surrounded Jeanne-Luc. Many people were angry but it also made him a kind of celebrity.

I’ve heard that Jeanne-Luc is sitting on the floor of a police station. Is that true?

That’s not true. Jeanne-Luc is alive and active in Trafalgar Square. The police have even threatened to arrest us many times. They say that if his arms even touch Whitehall property, they will arrest us. So we’re just very near Whitehall.

I suppose it’s a bit risky for Jeanne-Luc to go too far from the fountain in Trafalgar Square?

Well not really – it’s an urban octopus from east London.

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 many species. It’s said 50 to 80 per cent of all our oxygen comes from oceans, so this is really serious. People feel strongly about it.

This is Jeanne-Luc’s first rebellion. How has it been for you, Ben, as an XR rebel?

The police have been heavy-handed this time. We saw a woman handing out leaflets and they threatened her with arrest. I’ve lived at the top of Brick Lane for years where they allow the National Front [an ultra-right racist group] to hand out leaflets. These are powers not used before. And it was Boris Johnson himself who wanted to use water cannons to stop protestors as Mayor of London.

Jeanne-Luc seems to have made protestors feel better. Did you make it with that idea?

It’s entertainment really, to keep stress as low as possible. After 2.7 million tweets about Jeanne-Luc I suppose the police can’t really attack it. Two even laughed as soon as they saw it.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)