Sofia was arrested at the Animal Rebellion occupation of the McDonald’s outlet in Leicester Square in August 2021, then at the protest at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) building in London in April 2022.
McDonald’s – No Love In It
The McDonald’s action was Sofia’s first ever rebellion and her first protest of any kind. “I hadn’t actually planned to be arrested, I just went to see what it was like and intended to leave afterwards, but then my mind kind of changed halfway through!”
She joined in the occupation of the branch, part of Animal Rebellion’s calling out of McDonald’s for its part in destroying the environment and demanding it switches to a fully plant-based food menu by 2025. Inside, there was lots of colour, noise, plant-based snacks, games and theatre.
While there was spontaneity about her involvement, Sofia was well prepared. “I had been to Extinction Rebellion’s know-your-rights and other training. You never know really, just walking down the street as a protestor you could get arrested, they always have an excuse, so I wanted to make sure I was properly briefed just in case. So I did attend all the training beforehand thankfully.”
Inside the branch that evening, there was a great team spirit, she says. “You get two very different views – when you read about it and when you are there. You do start to realise how much unity there is, it is just lovely.”
However, as other arrestees at the action have observed, the reaction of the police was anything but lovely. They came in large numbers and blocked anyone from leaving. “It was completely overkill, way too many for the number of people there. It was ridiculous, they were treating everyone as if they were, essentially, terrorists. There were people who wanted to leave and weren’t allowed to.”
She adds: “There were people who had glued on, they just ripped them off, they didn’t even try to be gentle, I was really shocked by that. They don’t treat you as human any more.”
She was taken to Wandsworth police station. “I was probably one of the lucky few, I was there for about 21 hours and for the first few hours they totally ignored all requests. Then they found that I needed an appropriate adult [as she has mental health conditions] and their mood changed completely towards me. I guess that’s more because they don’t want to be sued but it shouldn’t need to be that way.”
On release, Sofia found a waiting team of support volunteers outside. “It was so lovely to see friendly faces on the way out. Coming out of that, it really does help, people to give you food and water and just give you a hug. It just makes up for it all to be honest.”
Sofia’s second arrest was in April 2022 outside DEFRA, with a few others, pouring fake oil onto the floor. Animal Rebellion is demanding an end to government subsidies for meat and dairy in a protest against climate change.
This second arrest was different in that, while she was expecting it this time, she was handcuffed. “There were two officers and I am such a tiny person, it was extreme measures!” She was taken to Charing Cross police station and, having said straightaway this time that she needed an appropriate adult, the treatment was better. However, even then, the custody sergeant was obstructive, rejecting her basic rights such as a phone call until shown them in writing.
Having been arrested at around 9am, she was released at 4am the next morning (inconvenient releases seem to be part of the police tactics). “Thankfully there were still people outside waiting and happy to greet us, it is incredible the dedication of those doing police station support.”
For the first arrest Sofia was released under investigation but there was no action taken. For the second, a hearing was scheduled for Sofia and the other two arrestees on 9th May. “Again, everyone has been very helpful, I am definitely going into it knowing what to expect. It should all be fine and it isn’t going to stop me, regardless.”
“I’ll still keep getting involved, I am very much a part of this.”
What motivates Sofia to take such brave action? “I had wanted for a few years to join the rebellion but I always had an excuse. But last year it felt so pressing, so important that I ran out of excuses. There was no excuse in the world that could justify not going.”
Originally from Portugal, Sofia is studying psychology and is trying to persuade her university (London Metropolitan) to introduce a psychology of climate change module. “My lecturers are very keen, they love the idea, but it is much harder to get the university board to support it, for them it is all about money.”
She is also part of the plant-based university campaign and, when time allows, is a member of the Animal Rebellion arts team.
The arrest experiences haven’t put her off. “I’ll still keep getting involved, I am very much a part of this.”