“Don’t cause trouble,” they said. “Just don’t upset people.”
These were words of wisdom by my parents from one of the first direct action protests I attended. But the point, I remember thinking, is to shake things up. The reason for direct action is to cause an upset to the status quo. “Should I stand there with a sign and not yell?” I asked them. “Should I look away and blush?”
On Monday, eighteen historic statues around London were given honorary, custom-built gas masks to commemorate the legacy of polluted, smoggy air of London town. It’s a time-honored tradition and one Londoners seem to bravely embrace (save the Greenpeace activists and their supporters who have a problem with legacy).
Two Greenpeace activists, Alison Garrigan and Luke Jones, ninja’ed through security and scaled a 17-story figure of Admiral Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Hilariously, the activists wore brightly colored vests reading “Statue Cleaning Department.” They spent several hours atop Lord Nelson affixing the gas mask, and watched by ground authorities for most of the time. Garrigan and Jones were arrested upon descent on suspicion of causing criminal damage. Six activists climbed Nelson’s bronzed likeness in all, but we’re guessing officers arrested the two most perceived bad-asses – probably the ones most instrumental in attaching the mask. Or maybe they were the two who popped off the most. One can never be sure with squirming authority.
Other targets of the activists included Oliver Cromwell in the grounds of the Houses of Parliament, Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Queen Victoria opposite Buckingham Palace, Thierry Henry at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium and Eros’s plinth at Piccadilly Circus. The masks were made of moldable material customized according to historic truth and lore. Churchill’s mask bore bowler hats as filters and Eros’ filters were in the shape of hearts.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Londoner Eadric Pankhurst, “I mean, they think our heroes have skin in this game? So-called activists are dishonoring our national heritage. Would Churchill care about this trivial shite? Would the Queen?”
49-year-old Greenpeace campaigner Paul Morozzo made a statement in response to various allegations the clean-air enthusiasts had disrespected London’s heritage.
“We were really careful not to damage any of the statues and we think it is a legitimate way of making a point. It was creative, nothing was damaged, and it’s not permanent,” Morozzo told The Guardian.
In fact, the Greenpeacers went out of their way not to damage the statues. The statue of Eros is, in fact, made of aluminum and bronze, and Morozzo wound-up balancing fellow Greenpeacer Sebastian Bock on his shoulders instead of scaling the cupid. “We didn’t want to bend it,” noted Morozzo. “Seb attached the gas mask without touching the statue.”
“Air pollution is an invisible problem these days unlike the days of smog,” concluded Morozzo. “9,500 people die early because of air pollution in London. So it was a really smart way of making what’s invisible visible and bringing more attention to it.”
Greenpeace campaigner Areeba Hamid added: “At schools across London children are being forced to breathe illegal, dangerous air. Londoners need greener and affordable public transport, along with air pollution alerts and an efficient and adequate system to measure air quality. The next mayor should begin a consultation on a clean air zone immediately after the election.” Sounds like trouble.