Alan became an Animal Rebellion activist at an early stage and his first – of two – arrests came in September 2020 in a protest outside the BBC headquarters in London.
He was then one of the Animal Rebellion activists arrested in August 2021 at the occupation of the Leicester Square branch of McDonald’s. And his image, as Ronald McDonald in the stocks, went viral across the globe when Animal Rebellion simultaneously blocked all four of McDonald’s UK distribution centres.
“I attended a talk quite early on in Animal Rebellion’s existence in Manchester and immediately decided to get involved,” recalls Alan. A small group was set up here and it has been involved in all of Animal Rebellion’s actions since then.
The BBC action in September 2020 called for the Corporation to tell the truth about the climate emergency. It was part of Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Autumn uprising’, with Animal Rebellion alongside XR. Hundreds of activists marched to the BBC HQ at Broadcasting House in central London and several activists glued themselves to the main doors.
Alan was involved in the planning, which included a mock interview at the end of the march, on the lawn in front of the HQ. The idea was to dig a hole and bury a sign saying “Truth” against a backdrop of chanting – “They’re burying the truth”. “It was a bit of pantomime!” says Alan.
Alan was one of those dressed as a reporter. An irate security guard stood around while the protestors tried to dig a hole. When the police arrived, they lay down and were arrested. They were put into police vans and taken to Walworth police station.
“They were nice to us, we saw some of them around for the rest of the rebellion and got on first name terms. Some of them sort of got what it was all about.”
While this was not Alan’s first arrest as a protestor, it was his first for Animal Rebellion. “We had a lot of good communication about what to expect, how to act, what to say and not to say, what to carry. No mobile phones, for instance, as these would be confiscated.”
Alan was held for around twelve hours and released at about 3am. He feels that releasing protestors at these sorts of times is part of the tactics, to make it as inconvenient as possible. Nevertheless, there was a welcoming group of supporters outside the police station, with smiles, hugs, vegan snacks and help with getting back to where he was staying.
He did not expect to hear anything after the arrest, believing that the BBC would not want to draw attention to the action, and that was duly the case.
McDonald’s – No Love In It
For Alan, the McDonald’s arrest was a less happy experience. There was initially an offer from one police officer for those who did not want to be arrested to leave the Leicester Square outlet. A conga started up and headed for the door but the police would not then let them go, arresting everyone. “I have one particular image, of the person at the front of the line, being handcuffed while making the peace sign.” It had been deemed a low-level arrest action and the police reaction was “quite shocking”.
This time Alan was held for around ten hours and released at 8am.
Animal Rebellion is calling out McDonald’s for its part in destroying the environment and is demanding it switches to a fully plant-based food menu by 2025.
As part of the wider campaign against the fast-food giant, Animal Rebellion had earlier closed down McDonald’s only burger-making factory for three days, disrupting the supply of nine million Big Mac patties and gaining international press attention including featuring in a documentary by the Guardian. Alan was involved in the action a few months prior to this where they shut down all of McDonald’s distribution centres for a total of 96 hours, although here he was not arrested.
Again, there was an emphasis in the planning on colour, noise and theatre. Alan was dressed as Ronald McDonald and placed in the stocks. “It was a big event, a big action against a big actor – McDonald’s… the image of me [in the stocks] went around the globe.”
“The arrest experience has not deterred me from doing it again,” says Alan. His motivation comes from the urgent need to raise awareness. The climate crisis might make the news cycle for a day, then it is gone again, he points out. “It is the scale of the problem, there really isn’t enough awareness about how soon we will have lost control and will not be able to claw things back.”