Climate Rush vigil commemorates suffragettes

By Anna Clark
20 Nov 2010

Environmental activists have demanded swift political action on climate change by holding a vigil on the hundredth anniversary of 'Black Friday' - when suffragettes were injured and arrested as they tried to storm parliament.

The event on Thursday (18 November) was organised by Climate Rush, who are committed to nonviolent direct action on climate change issues. They say it was inspired by the spirit and tactics of the suffragettes.

Helen and Laura Pankhurst – descendents of leading suffragettes Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst - were among those attending the vigil.

Around 400 people, predominately women, many wearing Edwardian dress, gathered outside parliament and listened to speeches from Green MP Caroline Lucas and Climate Rush spokesperson Tamsin Omond.

The speakers recounted the actions of the suffragettes 100 years ago, and reminded the crowd that seven out of ten people displaced by climate change are women. Lucas said: “The House of Commons belongs to us, the people. It is accountable to us, the people.”

Around fifty members of the group scaled a fence to reach the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens. Emmeline's great-granddaughter, Helen Pankhurst gave a short speech about the suffragettes' legacy, and the importance of it being “linked to a current-day cause which is not getting enough public or policy attention.”

Helen and Laura Pankhurst laid a wreath reading “Deeds not Words” at the foot of the statue.

Those on the vigil circled Parliament Square, many holding candles and wearing sashes that read “Deeds not Words” and “Well-behaved women seldom make history”. Outside the gates of Parliament, which were protected by a row of police, protesters chanted and Omond said, to cheers from the crowd, “It's tempting to say: 'Let's storm parliament!' We won't today, but we will be back.”

At a vigil in 2008, the group had rushed parliament, resulting in the arrest of several protesters.

Hannah Brock, a Quaker, said, "I think it was brilliant that someone took up the opportunity to mark Black Friday, a day when women were abused and injured for asserting their claim to voting rights. Now, Climate Rush are inspired by a similar passion: speaking out on behalf of those women and men who will suffer as a result of climate change."

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