It’s been 50 years since New York City-born Martin Wolterding was arrested for protesting a proposed nuclear power plant in Miami, Florida.
Now, the 75-year-old university lecturer and self-confessed “geriatric rebel” from the Blue Mountains says he is nursing an injured wrist after being handcuffed and taken away by police from a protest demanding action on climate change.
More than thirty protesters from Extinction Rebellion (XR) were arrested in Sydney on Monday when activists carrying banners and signs blocked George Street from traffic, causing chaos in the Broadway area. Police confirmed six arrests were made in Sydney on Tuesday.
“My wrist was put in a wrist lock. Now, that can be done to someone who’s 25 years old, and who has a young body but I’m a geriatric rebel and the body has swelled up and I’m covered in bruises,” Wolterding told HuffPost Australia.
“I don’t want to place blame on the police officers...That’s the price I am willing to pay.”
As part of 60 planned acts of civil disobedience in the latest round of global protests calling for tougher action against climate change, Wolterding and other XR members spread themselves across Sydney’s George Street.
“I didn’t move on. I broke the law. I did what I felt I had to do given the seriousness of the situation.”
XR, founded in 2018 by a group of British activists, is demanding immediate action to cut carbon emissions and avert an ecological disaster.
A local NSW spokesperson for the group told HuffPost the local disruptions will “demonstrate the grief and fear people are experiencing as we face mass extinction.”
Wolterding, who has a PhD in Environmental Science from Sydney University and migrated to Australia in 1988 after meeting his wife in Tonga, has been a Senior Lecturer in Biology/Ecology since 1989 sans a 10 year break to be a stay at home dad to his two sons. He says he joined Extinction Rebellion for his grandchildren.
“I’m just an old guy that did something that other people might think is stupid or foolish, but that’s incidental to the point we’re trying to make that we have an environmental crisis,” he said.
“We only have a painfully short period of time before it’s too late and it’s taken out of our hands and we can’t rectify the situation.
“Not long ago, I realised that now that my sons have moved out and they no longer really depend upon me, I’m in a position to step in the situations where I put my body and maybe my life in order to help preserve the environment.
“I’m doing it for the future of my grandchildren. I have a three year old grandkid and 12-week-old grandkid.”
After three hours in the hospital on Monday, an X-ray showed Wolterding’s wrist was sprained, but holds no grudges against the police.
“I blame the system. The use of force is always the first option,” he says.
In London, police arrested 276 activists on Monday as they blocked bridges and roads in the city center, and glued themselves to cars, while protesters in Berlin halted traffic at the Victory Column roundabout.
Dutch police stepped in to arrest more than 100 climate activists blocking a street in front of the country’s national museum and there were similar protests in Austria, France, Spain and New Zealand.
Extinction Rebellion have more protests planned in Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, and Hobart for throughout the week.