So you get to sit down with the government, what would you say?
Do you understand how bad things are? If so what is stopping you from making the changes that are needed? We are focussed on developing a mass movement of civil disobedience and we have no intention of stopping until we deal with the crisis we are in. The climate and biodiversity crisis requires urgent and drastic action to decarbonise the economy as quickly as possible. How can you possibly promote fracking in the face of that, using taxpayers money?! Or push for a third runway at Heathrow?! Or reverse the expansion of renewable energy?!
Why do you think you could succeed?
We don’t know if we will but we can no longer stand by and act as if the future doesn’t matter. World leaders have failed to adequately confront the emergency and polite lobbying, marching, voting, consumer- and shareholder-activism, have all failed to achieve meaningful change
We are now on the brink and the only option left is civil disobedience, to disrupt the ordinary working of things, so that decision makers HAVE to take notice.
We believe we have succeeded in increasing the conversation about the depth of crisis.
Why do you think nonviolence is important?
According to research on conflicts between non-state and state actors around the world between 1900 and 2006, it was found that 53% of nonviolent campaigns were successful as opposed to 26% of campaigns that used violence. Moreover, of the violent campaigns, 95% had descended into dictatorship or totalitarian rule within five years.
Others may debate this data and we do not judge those in struggles that have resorted to violence. Some of us are non-violent for tactical reasons and some for moral reasons.
“Some people seek to mobilize people around a general concern, like climate or war or poverty, but such mobilizations are like one-off protests—they don’t win anything”. Care to comment?
Our understanding (from This is an Uprising book) is that you can have both structural and prophetic demands and that both have their value. Structural demands (e.g. we want a 20 mile an hour speed limit here or we want to ban fracking) are more associated with the structure based organising tradition of Saul Alinsky, Ella Baker etc and prophetic demands (we want civil rights) are associated with mass mobilising traditions. In training from the Ayni Institute, we learned that a hybridisation of both of these is the most effective path to take. Our Extinction Rebellion demands take that hybrid approach.
How are you really different to Greenpeace? They do civil disobedience too.
They are a large NGO with a business model that probably limits their willingness to mass mobilise people in civil disobedience. The civil disobedience they feel able to undertake is limited to small teams of people. We believe that mass civil disobedience is the only way we will see vital and inspiring change on the scale that is needed.
Aren’t you taking energy away from the frontlines of environmental activism?
We stand in solidarity with all those fighting frontline issues. On our core team/main organisers, we have supported and/or organised actions related to Heathrow, incineration, fracking, HS2 and Pont Valley. We have been arrested fined, gone to jail, gone on hunger strike. We will support front line activism as much as we can, but we think it is also important that a whole systems approach is taken which is about mass civil disobedience aimed at the seat of power. Front lines keep opening up because the system is toxic.
Your demands are vague, why do you think you can achieve them?
This is probably because we have to write things down in short ‘soundbites’ that are communicable as headlines. There is much more detail underneath them. We are using cutting edge techniques to build a resilient mass movement. We know the task ahead is daunting and therefore that the likelihood of success may seem slim, but we are willing to do all we can to try and achieve this. Ultimately though, we are doing this because it is the right thing to do, in part we remain unattached to outcomes, meaning that although we hope we can save something of life on earth we try to stay motivated by action being the right thing to do (virtue ethics) rather than taking action because we think it will work (utilitarian ethics). However, the more of us that act on this basis in the face of the galloping global assault on our children’s futures, the more likely we hit the tipping point where the impossible becomes inevitable.
What does XR think about 5g, Veganism, Nuclear power, smart meters and so on?
Many people within XR will have strong views on all of the above and we want to welcome a variety of views, rather than adopting positions on controversial topics. We believe a social movement is best built as a “broad church” and that respectful discussions should take place within the movement on a variety of topics (honouring
our principle and value of no blaming and shaming). XR does not take a position on solutions to the ecological crisis- our third demand is for a Citizens Assembly to come up with a way to deal with the crisis focussing on climate and ecological justice based on being presented with facts from a variety of experts. We focus on the issues that have a clear body of mainstream science with a large consensus of opinion – for example, biodiversity loss and climate change.
There is certainly no conspiracy at the heart of XR to promote 5G and/or other technical solutions and such conspiracy theories are best seen in the light of usual attempts to divide movements and attack spokespeople, like the attacks on Greta Thunberg.
Is your movement just reductionist? Are you just advocating a technical solution?
We do not put forwards specific solutions – it is down to the Citizens Assembly to come up with solutions, having first heard from various experts. The way we frame the question for the Citizens Assembly will mitigate against narrow solutions that are ineffective for dealing with the wider contact and system-wide issues.
Do you not realise you are promoting an eco fascist agenda?
We are not promoting an eco fascist agenda, we think if society collapses, eco fascism is a significant risk. We seek a genuine democracy that dethrones the corrupt incumbent interests that continue to undermine democracy and that have held back change for so long – and with such lethal consequences. We proceed mindful of constant attempts by powerful interests to capture and hollow out movements for meaningful change. This is a key reason we are demanding a national Citizen Assembly, populated by ordinary people chosen at random, to come up with a programme for change.
I’m worried that you are asking Government to move to emergency mode. Will we not see the shock doctrine in action when that happens?
Our third demand is for a Citizens Assembly (CA) to define the changes, so that we aren’t handing more power to our Government. We understand that the structure of government in this country has the ability to implement the necessary changes, in partnership with local communities, but that our democracy is inadequate to overseeing this and so it needs changing. Hence the CA demand. A Citizens Assembly is a bit like jury service here in the UK. You get called up completely at random. The idea is that the group forming the jury represents a cross-section of society. The same goes for a Citizens Assembly.
A process called ‘sortition’ is used, where random people will get selected to be on the Citizens Assembly. Have a look at the Sortition Foundation’s website where they explain more about this process. Using a Citizens Assembly rather than getting our current politicians to try and resolve the issues of climate change will mean more transparency and real commitment to find a true solution, rather than one that will only work for the few.
Aren’t you just just going to get a lot of inexperienced people arrested, in prison, and with criminal records, so that you hit the headlines?
We do our very best to ensure that everybody taking part in non-violent civil disobedience in defense of the planet, whether experienced or not, understands the risks they are taking and the potential consequences. We run trainings in nonviolent direct action and have a legal team that provides arrestee support and access to supportive solicitors.
We understand that this is an important element of movement building and disrupting everyday life / perceived normal reality, to create a national conversation on the climate and ecological crisis. As George Monbiot put it in his inspiring speech on 31st October 2018 at our Declaration of Rebellion against the UK Government on Parliament Square: “The only time that people know it is serious, is when people are prepared to sacrifice their liberty in defence of their beliefs”.
Don’t you realise that if people get arrested who are black they will get far worse treatment? And aren’t you too nice about the police?
Yes, we are aware of the structural racism in our policing and legal system. We give people information about arrest and those of us who are white have acknowledged our privilege, in the likelihood that we will be treated differently / better than our colleagues of colour. People can take a variety of roles. We think it’s important for white people to use their privilege. People of colour (PoC) have been more at risk for generations in defence of the environment and their lands, both here in the UK and around the world.
It is time to for white people to take this risk too so that PoCs, who are threatened by structural racism, don’t have to. The ecological crisis affects PoC more than it does white people currently. Environmental activists of colour in other countries have been killed for defending their land. We also try to acknowledge the police as human beings and to be respectful during our protests, but this does not make us naive about what the police have done to activists and communities in the UK. Activists have been subjected to lies, assault, the spy cop trauma and worse.
Why do you talk to the police when they aren’t to be trusted?
We take a no blaming and shaming approach to the police and from our non violent discipline we agree to treat the police with respect.
We are making the strategic decision in some countries (including the UK) to liaise with the police, believing this will be more likely to support our goals. This is for specific countries to figure out, taking into consideration their own circumstances and the potential strategic opportunities that have been described.
Our vision for Extinction Rebellion puts love at the heart of change. In this way some people in Extinction Rebellion may choose to express gratitude and love towards police officers. We understand for those that have been victimised by the police that this can be difficult and alienating to witness. We especially ask white people to learn about white privilege.
Aren’t you just further enabling Agenda 21?
Agenda 21, like many other programmes, had no legal basis for change and therefore was ineffective. We seek a legally binding change, with a Citizens Assembly in charge.