Extinction Rebellion and the Undeniable Power of Non-Violent Revolutionary Change


Extinction Rebellion campaigners outside Downing Street on October 8, 2019 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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As the environmental campaigning group Extinction Rebellion begins the second week of its International Rebellion, it is worth reflecting on how much they — and the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who initiated a rolling global climate strike by schoolchildren that, last month, saw millions of schoolchildren and supportive adults take to the streets in 185 countries around the world — have shifted the terms of the debate on climate change over the last twelve months.

As the Guardian explained in an editorial last week, “Ipsos Mori reports that its latest poll found that 78% of Britons believe the planet is ‘heading for disaster’, up from 59% in 2013.” The actions of Thunberg and XR amplifyied the messages of doom put forward by scientists — in particular, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report, last October, in which, as the Guardian described it, “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years [now just eleven] for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people”, adding added that “urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target”, which they called “affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the [2015] Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.” Since then, the doomsday message has been reinforced by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, via his hard-hitting BBC documentary, ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, and the combined weight of all these actions has led politicians to acknowledge the scale of the unprecedented man-made crisis faced by the whole of humanity.

Under Theresa May, the UK government declared a climate emergency and committed to a 2050 target for zero carbon emissions, and last month the Labour party conference took an important additional step, adopting 2030 as the intended zero carbon date.

Obviously, politicians’ commitment to tackling the crisis is largely cosmetic. The UK government was the first to declare a climate emergency, and yet they have done almost nothing to address the urgency of the emergency. As Greta Thunberg pointed out so eloquently to British MPs last April, when it comes to our elected politicians, our so-called leaders, “nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises.”

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has also declared a climate emergency, and yet is committed to pressing ahead with the Silvertown Tunnel river crossing. If it goes ahead, this will do nothing but increase traffic, which is, of course, a major contributor to the crisis, and in addition, across the capital, councils, who have also been rushing to declare climate emergencies, have shown no willingness to actually follow up with any meaningful actions.

In Lewisham and Hackney, for example, both of the Labour-controlled councils declared climate emergencies in the same week — or in Lewisham’s case, on the same day — that they cut down trees as part of housing development plans, when everything that is possible should be done to avoid cutting down trees, and councils, if they were serious about the climate emergencies they are so breezily declaring, would also recognize that the building industry, and the entire process of wholesale council estate demolitions and lucrative ‘regeneration’ schemes is also appallingly reckless, and needs to be brought to an immediate end.

“Make do and mend” needs to become the motto of the entire building sector — and, obviously, of so many other parts of our throwaway consumer society, such as the monstrosity that is the “fast fashion” industry — and traffic needs to be significantly curtailed, but, as Extinction Rebellion recognise, these are issues that follow on from a position we have not yet reached, but which XR’s most visionary supporters are striving to achieve — which is actually a revolutionary change in the way that the entire global capitalist system operates.

In the Guardian’s view, critics who deride the organisation fail to recognise that “a radical social movement pursuing a strategy of civil disobedience is not trying to be some kind of government-in-waiting. The job of a movement such as XR is to be well organised, innovative and eye-catching and keep the climate crisis looming large in the imagination of the public and politicians. On those criteria, it is succeeding.”

As the Guardian also described it, “The movement’s three demands in these October protests are that the government does more to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis; that it legally commits to net zero carbon emissions by 2025; and that a citizens’ assembly be convened to oversee the changes. In the Guardian’s opinion, “Zero emissions by 2025 is surely an unrealistic goal”, but, as the editors add, “So what? The aim is to provoke and chivvy politicians and businesses, in the hope that the previously inconceivable becomes the far horizon of the possible.” As for citizen’ assemblies, they note that this demand “has already been adopted by President Emmanuel Macron in France and deserves serious consideration”, because “XR claims, with justification, that the adversarial nature of parliamentary politics inhibits the radical risk-taking that the climate crisis requires.”

Roger Hallam and ‘Common Sense for the 21st Century’

However, for Roger Hallam, one of XR’s founders, the Guardian’s position remains, fundamentally, one of an outmoded belief in a “reformist” model of change, one involving “small incremental steps”, whereby advocates for the necessity of change “only tell the truth to the extent that [they] think people can cope with it and [they] only act on it to the extent that [they] think [they] can win (in a gradualist way).”

As Hallam points out in ‘Common Sense for the 21st Century’, his newly-published manifesto for urgent change, which I urge anyone interested in the environmental crisis to read, “the reformist political culture of both left and right in neoliberal society is now not fit for purpose. To put it bluntly, NGOs, political parties and movements which have brought us through the last thirty years of abject failure – a 60% rise in global CO2 emissions since 1990 – are now the biggest block to transformation.”

He adds, “They offer gradualist solutions which they claim will work. It is time to admit that this is false, and it is a lie. They therefore divert popular opinion and the public’s attention and energy away from the task at hand: radical collective action against the political regime which is planning our collective suicide.”

As he further explains, because “the world’s present political systems have facilitated a 60% increase in global emissions since the beginning of the crisis in 1990 and have no ability to stop a continued rise in CO2, let alone create the political will to massively reduce levels (40% in the next ten years according to the UN October 2018 report)”, “This leads us to the grave conclusion that the probability of organising a political revolution to remove the corrupt political class has a higher chance (if small/indeterminate) of succeeding than the chance that the political class will respond effectively to the climate crisis (zero chance, as evidenced by the last 30 years).” As he adds, “The penny has finally dropped – the corrupt system is going to kill us all unless we rise up.”

As a former organic farmer turned student of radical social movements, Hallam has learned from past failures and successes how a non-violent revolution needs to operate if it is to succeed, and it is in this context that XR’s “mass arrest” scenario developed.

The power of mass arrest

When this idea was first enacted last October, during XR’s occupation of five bridges in central London, there was widespread criticism, not just —predictably — from those on the political right, but also from those on the left, who derided the movement as consisting of a bunch of privileged, white, middle class, self-declared “rebels” who were colour-blind and class-blind, failing to recognise that there were substantial reasons why those who are not white, and working class people in general, might want to do all they can to avoid being arrested by a system that would punish them disproportionately.

Personally, I think that not spelling out from the beginning that there was no compunction to be an “arrestable”, and also not spelling out that there was a clear understanding, from white middle class activists, as to why many other people would not want to be arrested, was a major failure, although I also think that, as a result of actions over the last year, this lack of inclusivity should now be considered far less important than the reality of what has been achieved by those who have volunteered to be “arrestable.”

During the occupations of central London in April, the police were largely instructed not to give protestors what they wanted — which was to be arrested — leading to criticism from those on the right that the police were “soft” (and also, incidentally, leading to a a situation whereby the protestors were, instead, able to establish temporary communities that offered ample opportunities to ferment further notions of dissent, as well as to demonstrate what a traffic-free society might look like).

This time around, there have, again, been occupations that have ground traffic to a halt, enabling, yet again, room for people to realise the benefits of a city in which traffic is not dominant, but the police, responding to right-wing criticism, have also stepped up their arrests, with over 1,400 people arrested in London since the International Rebellion began last Monday.

This has, as intended, put a strain on the ability of the infrastructure of the political establishment to cope with imprisoning so many people, and has also shone a light on who exactly is being arrested — and while, as a Guardian profile revealed, many of the “arrestees” are young, many more are retired people, freed from the damage being arrested might cause to their work prospects, and also able to articulate, powerfully, how their generation has failed to address the crisis, and how they are concerned for their children and grandchildren.

Many of these “arrestees” held respectable positions in society during their working lives, and their example undoubtedly resonates with what we might call the political centre of the British establishment, those millions of largely home-owning “liberals” whose support is crucial to any notion that non-violent revolutionary change is necessary and non-negotiable.

In addition, they have been joined by other high-profile “rebels” — I’m thinking, in particular, of the many retired police officers who have joined the movement, and are willing to be arrested. Last week, the Daily Mirror featured profiles of several of them, with John Curran, “a 49-year-old retired detective sergeant who spent more than a decade tracking violent criminals in Nottingham”, and who was arrested in April, explaining that he “went to London with the intention of getting arrested because I felt powerless as a normal person, and getting arrested is one of the few weapons that we have to show the government how we feel about their inaction.” He also said that part of the reason he planned on getting arrested for a second time during the International Rebellion was “the encouragement he got from active police officers.” As he explained, “When the tapes were turned off in the station one of the police officers said to me, ‘you and the people like you will considered heroes one day.'”

Another former police officer, Richard Ecclestone, who spent “13 years in the Devon and Cornwall police force and five years in the second royal tank regiment”, and is “motivated by a sense of duty”, also said that he “has confidence in Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick — his one time teacher at the College of Policing.” As he put it, “I trust that she understands that this has to remain very, very sensitively managed from a policing perspective, whatever instruction she has from the Home Office. Nobody wants any violence, on either side.”

Despite some own goals on the part of the police — most notoriously involving the targeting of disabled protestors — Richard Ecclestone’s claim that neither XR nor the police want violence is, in the UK at least, largely true. XR’s commitment to non-violence, and the rigorous training in empathy, “de-escalation” and not “othering” those it confronts, which permeates all the regional groups that have sprung up over the last year, is working, because it directly tests a crucial truth about civil society: that disproportionate violence cannot be used on non-violent protestors, or we cross a line into dangerous authoritarianism.

I’m no fantasist, however, and I recognize that the police, if ordered to do so, will become violent, As the author of a book about The Battle of the Beanfield, in 1985, when 1,300 police engaged in the most violent peacetime repression of civilians in living memory, “decommissioning”, with shocking brutality, a group of around 400 dissenters (travellers, anarchists and peace campaigners, including men, women and children), who were travelling in a convoy of live-in vehicles, and were trying to make their way to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival, I know how the police can be used to violently suppress dissent.

At present, however, it is significant that we are not seeing, in the UK, the violent use of tear gas and water cannons that have been the state’s response to Extinction Rebellion events in, for example, France, where, in June, young people were pepper-sprayed at close range while sitting peacefully on a bridge, and Belgium, where on Saturday, as XR explained, “Using water cannons, pepper-spray, batons and shields, police tore through a crowd of approximately 1000 people, wounding and traumatizing with an air of mockery and spite … In the space of an hour and a half, hundreds of people were pepper-sprayed in the face, including a 2-year-old girl. The police used the water cannon three times, pummelling the seated protesters with ice-cold water. They wrestled non-violent rebels to the ground, pressing their heads into the cobbles, and they laughed as they did it.”

The International Rebellion continues

While the arrests continue this week, it is also noticeable that XR activists, having realised that they have had to be more nimble in their response to a stepped-up police presence, have, instead of standing still, been hitting an impressive array of targets, and continue to do so. Last week, they staged a demonstration at City Airport, where partially-sighted Paralympian James Brown climbed on top of a plane, and this week they are targeting the City of London, “disrupting the system bankrolling the environmental crisis”, as they put it.

As the Guardian described it, “The protest outside the major finance institutions bankrolling big oil comes after the Guardian’s polluters investigation, which found that the world’s three largest money managers had a combined $300bn fossil fuel investment portfolio, using money from people’s private savings and pension contributions. The Guardian found that BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, which together oversee assets worth more than China’s entire GDP, had continued to grow billion-dollar stakes in some of the most carbon-intensive companies even after the Paris agreement, which set out the urgent need to drastically scale back fossil fuel expansion.”

Today, in the City, Andrew Medhurst, a former City trader turned full-time activist, told the Guardian that “the financial industry needed to realise that some of the projects it was financing were ‘essentially leading us to destruction.’” As he described it, “We have no more time left in terms of taking action. We haven’t got 12 years. We should have started yesterday. We have to decarbonise our economies, so for the banks to be lending money to fossil fuel companies – it’s just barmy. It doesn’t make sense. It basically means there’s a disconnect between those emotional family connections [between City workers] and their future children and grandchildren, and making money, which is morally repugnant.”

In addition, on Saturday, another group of unlikely climate rebels — climate scientists — “endorsed a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing governments to take rapid action to tackle climate change, warning that failure could inflict ‘incalculable human suffering’”, as Reuters reported. In a joint declaration, nearly 400 “climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others from at least 20 countries broke with the caution traditionally associated with academia to side with peaceful protesters courting arrest from Amsterdam to Melbourne.” Today, the number of signatories is over 700.

“Wearing white laboratory coats to symbolise their research credentials”, a group of about 20 of the signatories gathered outside the Science Museum to read out their declaration. Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster with a PhD in molecular biology, read out the declaration on behalf of the group, stating, “We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non-violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law. We therefore support those who are rising up peacefully against governments around the world that are failing to act proportionately to the scale of the crisis.”

I don’t mean to suggest that we are, as yet, anywhere other than in the very early stages of the non-violent revolution that Roger Hallam and XR are calling for — and whose logic Hallam outlines so compellingly in his book — but I am more reassured than ever, not just by the events in London, but also in around 60 other cities around the world (see XR’s daily reports here), that there is a compelling momentum to this movement for non-violent revolution — although let’s not forget that, fundamentally, this isn’t because of its organising principles, but because of the urgency of its message — that, as Hallam describes it, we are “heading into a period of extreme ecological collapse”, and, if we don’t effect far-reaching changes to the entire way our capitalist system operates, with immediate effect, we will not be able to avoid a global catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale, in which, as he also describes it, we are “looking at the slow and agonising suffering and death of billions of people.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

28 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    As the second week of Extinction Rebellion’s International Rebellion begins, I report on the success of the group’s disruptive tactics, as part of their dedication to revolutionary change, as opposed to the “reformist” model favoured by politicians, which has failed to do anything meaningful over the last 30 years.

    I draw in part on XR co-founder Roger Hallam’s new book, ‘Common Sense for the 21st Century’, which I recommend to anyone interested in the environmental crisis. As Hallam says, “the probability of organising a political revolution to remove the corrupt political class has a higher chance … of succeeding than the chance that the political class will respond effectively to the climate crisis.”

    There’s been a lot of criticism of XR, not least because of its advocacy of mass arrest as a tactic, which overlooked those with very good reasons not to want to be arrested, but, as this week has made clear, it turns out that many of its “arrestees” are retired, and, as I put it, “freed from the damage being arrested might cause to their work prospects, and also able to articulate, powerfully, how their generation has failed to address the crisis, and how they are concerned for their children and grandchildren.”

    They are also very clearly part of the fabric of mainstream society, and their involvement — as well as that of more than 700 climate scientists who issued a statement at the weekend in which they declared, “We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non-violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law” — is, as I put it, “resonat[ing] with what we might call the political centre of the British establishment, these millions of largely home-owning ‘liberals’ whose support is crucial to any notion that non-violent revolutionary change is necessary and non-negotiable.”

    I hope you agree.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Zoe Young wrote:

    most if not all of us in XR don’t *want* to be arrested. many of us *need* not to be arrested. we are all equally welcome, valued and able to participate.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Zoe. Good to hear from you – but I hope you appreciate my efforts to assess how the “mass arrest” aspect of XR has been perceived, and how, right now, it is having a noticeable impact.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    As I was publishing my article last night, the Metropolitan Police moved to, as the Guardian described it, “ban Extinction Rebellion protests from [the] whole of London”, issuing a revised order, under Section 14 of the 1986 Public Order Act, which allows them to impose restrictions on any “public assembly” (an assembly of two or more people in a public place), if they claim that it poses “serious disruption to the life of the community.”

    The order on Monday night that said that “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ … must now cease their protests within London (MPS and City of London Police Areas)” by 9pm, and police immediately began clearing the remaining protestors from Trafalgar Square.

    Kevin Blowe, the coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), “said the order effectively amounted to a ban on XR without going through the due process that would usually be required”, as the Guardian put it. “A ban has to be made by the home secretary”, he said, adding, “Our reading of it is that the section 14 powers are supposed to be used with caution because people still have a right to protest and potentially this is unlawful, and there is no other way to put it. Take a look at what section 14 says: it’s about restricting a number of people for a particular duration of time. My feeling is that this has to be open to some form of potential legal challenge.”

    At the time of writing, it seems that the XR camp in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is not being targeted by the police, but it’s worth keeping an eye on developments.

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/14/police-ban-extinction-rebellion-protests-from-whole-of-london

  5. Damo says...

    Hi Andy I’ve a Weeks FB ban for bawling out a tories trol on the labour page so I can only comment here,.. Was reading this morning that the police have banned ER from the entire London area?? But on a more sinister note when people are being arrested the police are checking to see if people have any ccj or are on benefits if so they are being reported by the police to the DWP and having their claims sanctioned.. How snide is that really really vile

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Damo,
    Sorry to hear you’ve been put in Facebook jail by Zuckerberg’s unaccountable police bots.

    Yes, I posted a comment about the alleged London-wide ban, which seems slightly – shall we say – draconian. Waiting to see if the police make a move on the last encampment at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and very much hoping that they don’t.

    I hadn’t heard about the persecution of protestors on benefits, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. The state has horrible, largely unaccountable power over anyone on benefits in a way that it doesn’t over protestors who, for one reason or another, are more self-sufficient. It needs reporting, however. The Guardian should pick up on it.

    On a related note, the Guardian had a good, in-depth feature yesterday on the global drive towards making benefits AI-driven, and therefore almost completely unaccountable. Absolutely disgraceful.

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/oct/14/automating-poverty-algorithms-punish-poor

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    But what if you want to protest about climate change but are not a member of the Extinction Rebellion? x

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    No problem, surely, Neil. There have been, and will continue to be many ways of protesting, but in terms of numbers and public profile XR clearly has quite a significant platform.

    That said, the triumph of protestors against fracking is an example of how focused direct action against polluters can effect real change in a way that could make XR look nothing more than aspirational. Maximum respect to the ‘nanas’ of Lancashire, who have seen off Cuadrilla’s fracking operations! https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/dont-frack-with-us-the-vivtorious-nanas-of-lancashire-activism

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    The protests continue despite the police ban! XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook has been arrested this morning after climbing onto the top of the entrance to the Department for Transport in Westminster. Other protesters glued themselves to the building. The Press Association reported that “activists were calling on the government to explain its plan to meet its net-zero emissions target within the carbon budget of the UK.”

    What we clearly need is to replace the Department for Transport with the Department for Transport Reduction. People need to think long and hard about how much they fly, and how much they drive, and should all be aiming to do less of both.

    PA report here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/15/extinction-rebellion-activists-defy-london-wide-protest-ban

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    Shades of SOCPA Andy, and that ended really badly for BLiar.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I think the police’s approach feels like, “OK, you’ve had your fun, but a week is enough”, Neil. “Off you go back home now.” I imagine they’re worried about XR and this coming Saturday’s anti-Brexit march combining, but more particularly I think they’re determined not to let the occupations become permanently disruptive. What if two weeks rolled into three? What I fear, though, is that, as in April, the momentum will be lost once everyone goes home and actions devolve once more to the localised actions of the regional groups. How can the momentum be sustained?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Nobuko Tensi wrote:

    Roger Hallam does not care about activists getting criminal records.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    He thinks it’s a crucial part of overwhelming the system to force change, Nobuko, and I do think he may be on to something, but, as I explain, I also think XR failed to recognise from the beginning that there are many, many people for whom arrest would be nothing short of a disaster – working class people, and protestors who aren’t white, for example. In many ways, it seems that the continuing success – or not – of XR depends upon more and more of the relatively secure middle classes opting to be arrested, and I’m not sure that enough of liberal centrist Britain is up for it. We shall have to wait and see.

  14. Damo says...

    Yes Andy I’ve read many accounts of disability benefits claimant being arrested at dwp assessment protests and jsa protesters being arrested and reported to the dwp who then sanction them.. VILE.. The completely digitising of the benefits system will be the death knell of the most vulnerable by design this is eugenics by AI.. As for being arrested which I have been before many years ago it’s not an option this time round for people like myself the stakes are to high we don’t have the tools and safety nets that the middleclass have hence when I’ve attended ER I’ve always kept on the move.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I had quick search, Damo, which turned up this article from the Disability New Service from July this year – it’s the second topic: ‘Police force admits agreement to share information about protesters with DWP’, dealing specifically with Greater Manchester Police, who admitted that they have “a written agreement to share information about disabled people and other activists who take part in protests with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).”

    As for AI and benefits – “eugenics by AI”, as you so powerfully put it – the Guardian’s running an ongoing series, ‘Automating Poverty’, which is worth keeping up with: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/series/automating-poverty

    And as for being “arrestable”, as I say in my article, I wish XR had made it clear from the beginning that its organisers understood why the last thing so many people want is to be arrested, an exclusionary list that includes everyone who, in a variety of ways, is vulnerable to punishment by the state. The omission alienated a lot of people from the beginning, and it’s hard to claw back credibility when it looks, instead, as though it’s just a white, privileged middle class playground.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Tuesday wrote:

    Andy, it’s being sustained continuously by grass roots networks – networks on the ground. I know XRIE is in continuous conversation, with debriefs and analysis of actions, NVDA, legal observer, and de-escalation training all happening in churches, community centres, etc. And every time I attend something, there are more and more people there. Twitter & Teargas – there’s no point in sticking to social media for momentum. We know we have to keep building on-the-ground networks. So in between cycles of actions of disruption the localised actions of regional groups are absolutely imperative. Just like during the feminist actions for choice over here – local groups are going day to day, week to week, building on the ground networks that use social media to plan national actions. The people are on the ground, ready to respond to wider events, pre-organised, well-informed, experienced, constantly organising, and ready to go. That’s my experience anyway – and XRIE is much younger than XRUK

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    That sounds like a very thorough analysis of a fully-functioning movement for change, Anita. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    Andy, I think this move by the state was stupid as we now drift into the wider freedom of speech issue. Is it all opposition to climate change, however sedate, that they are against, or more specifically XR branded activism? I’m about to test that in Westminster, and may have to resurrect my old ‘Not Aloud’ slogan. Perhaps see you there. x

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s a question that needs answering, Neil. As I say, I suspect they’ve simply had enough, and want it wound up before the big anti-Brexit demo on Saturday, but I guess it needs testing. I came down with a cold after being out cycling in the atrocious weather while still wearing shorts, but as it’s sunny today I’m tempted to pay a visit to central London. It would be good to see you!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    The entirely peaceful and non-disruptive XR camp at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is now being cleared out by the police. It seems the establishment really has had enough of the rebellion now, as though protests about the unprecedented environmental crisis we’re all facing can only legitimately be tolerated for a week: https://twitter.com/sohoprint/status/1184054433807814659

  21. Damo says...

    The state would punish someone like me Andy that’s why I don’t want to be arrested I used to follow ER on Facebook but unfollowed as I called them out a few times as I thought their responses to posts were very poe faced I answered a post about global human overpopulation which is happening I wrote the human population explosion is unsustainable there are to many people.. Which there are I talked about family planning globally and I was attempted to be shut down by Giles whatever from Somerset I nosed on his Fb profile a retired architect live a splendid comfortable retirement in Rose cottage.. Lucky him.. He screeched accusing me of eugenics and playing god.. WITH THE POOR.. I explained that I was talking global family planning global for all I then told him he had outed himself and that was.. HIS.. Way of thinking in regards to the poor.. ER.. Didn’t like that

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    You old school rebel, you, Damo!

  23. Damo says...

    The thing is Andy we still live in a backwards regressive obsolete and redundant class based society and middleclass people always seem to bring.. That.. Attitude with them and ER is no exception people are generally behind climate change protests but their turned of by ER and the middleclassyness of them.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    I think there are some middle class people who carry that attitude with them, Damo, but the majority of the people I meet are not really any different from you or I. I think it’s dangerous to erect too many barriers between the middle class and the working class because barriers are divisive and rigid class definitions are, in any case, nothing more than generalisations.
    But I agree that XR is having a problem communicating that to the wider world, and I don’t know how it can be addressed. If there’s a feeling amongst self-identifying working class commentators that XR is an exclusive middle class club, it’s hard to challenge it effectively.

  25. Damo says...

    But Andy there is a feeling of not being included and it’s not just myself who feels that way, yes there are very cool people at the protests .. BUT.. ER.. needs to work on their profile a bit and reach out a bit more I’m just being honest Andy from experience iv had from their FB page and in person at the events.. They need to do a bit more reaching out

  26. Damo says...

    Andy the sad thing is that in the 21 century we still in this country… HAVE.. A class system if only we didn’t and people were judged on talent and merit it would be a better society and maybe a level playing field.. It goes both ways Andy mutual suspicion a them and us.. Which is kinda sad I don’t want to live in a society were people like me are being judged and I’m judging back.. It’s boring it’s limiting it’s regressive.. But unfortunately we live in a class system.. This is the reality of life were we will be judged on our social educational financial material status.. It’s so tiny really it is.. Tiny.. But it’s the reality.. Dxxx

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    I completely understand what you’re saying, Damo, and it’s genuinely quite disconcerting that, whether through arrogance, indifference or just an inability to reach out, this largely middle class movement is alienating so many working class people. I think some of that centres on the generally middle class acceptance of the founders’ focus on arrest as a vital tool for the disruption necessary to effect major change, which, almost entirely, relies on those who are privileged enough to be able to cope with the potential damage that being arrested can cause – and, accordingly, I retain my admiration for the retired people who are driven by an understanding that they are privileged and essentially have nothing to lose – but the alienation of working class support is very real, and is only reinforcing the class divide that is already so damaging, and which, in some ways, is tainted by Brexit-related issues, and in other ways focuses on resentments related to, for example, housing issues and the increasing gulf between those who are better-off and those in increasing poverty. What we need is to find some common ground, but it does seem that it’s difficult to see how we can get there at present.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    But not everyone is trapped by class, Damo, and it’s those who can cross class barriers who are really needed in taking these struggles forward.
    I’ve noticed often, in discussions relating to gentrification in Deptford, that it’s the lack of engagement, the lack of connection on the part of middle class people who are actively involved in projects that require engagement with the community that is frequently complained about by working class campaigners, and that’s a middle class problem, which often involves a lack of confidence outside their specific comfort zone bubbles rather than any deliberate aloofness. And on the other other hand, some working class activists start from a position of suspicion, which is off-putting to anyone outside who doesn’t have the confidence and the skills to stand their ground.
    But how do we create a classless sense of solidarity? I think that what we really need is more people secure in themselves, who don’t want to be distracted by feelings either of superiority or inferiority, and in my experience that comes from being equals in a world in which the solidarity of a cause and a sense of community are the dominant themes – a cause that is bigger than us as individuals, and the realisation that solidarity and community makes us all stronger than we are alone. I’m sure many of those involved in XR feel this, but are not aware enough that so many other people don’t get this nat all, and simply feel excluded.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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