Other ideas


There has been a lot of criticism of Extinction Rebellion recently, that it is too white, too male, culturally unaware, cultish, monolithic in its perspectives, closed in on itself, naively “apolitical” and indeed too forgiving of fascists, undemocratic, disrespectful of previous activism, and so on and so forth. Some of this criticism is justified, and I have offered my own criticisms. My personal gripe is that, with XR proposing citizens’ assemblies, it should itself be more democratic in its own procedures, and should start modelling the citizens’ assemblies it proposes. Extinction Rebellion needs to open up and engage with all of these criticisms, and indeed they have started this process – not enough, but a start. But some of the criticism has felt bitter and divisive, rather than engaged and constructive. This is equally unwelcome, and harmful for the movement, in my opinion. For sure, it is deeply demotivating for many – including some highly dedicated and experienced activists – to see some of the ways XR has acted, and continue to want to engage and work with them. But I hope they will not disengage with XR, because like it or not, XR has become central to bringing about change – they have shifted the debate in the UK by getting thousands of ordinary people ready to commit civil disobedience to bring about radical change – as net zero by 2025 (though carbon neutral would be better) and citizens assemblies that Govt has to follow are fairly radical proposals if you follow through their consequences. With present levels of social and political awareness in the UK – and no doubt elsewhere – we will not get widespread support for anything more radical and wide-ranging in terms of social change. I really believe that the problems in XR are due more to a lack of awareness, particularly in some of its white and middle-class leaders and participants, than any deeply ingrained undemocratic or fascistic tendencies as some seem to be claiming. Engaging with XR, trying to raise its awareness of certain cultural and social realities they sometimes seem to be oblivious of, and to change some of its discourse and practices in line with that, is in my view the best approach. Everyone is on a journey and we all need help with this at times. We can’t afford in-fighting. This doesn’t mean we must have unity at any price – obviously we don’t want to unite with fascists or neoliberals – but if we don’t build enough unity around a message of climate and social justice, then we will not succeed, and will be condemning inhabitants of the global south – who are already being hit, and will be hit hardest, and our kids and their kids, to a climate hell of crop failure and food shortages, forced migration and war. Division is a luxury we cannot afford – but the unity we are seeking cannot (unlike that of the fascists) be a unity imposed from above: it must be one that we construct from below, by each of us going beyond our comfort zones and engaging with those we disagree with (within certain limits that only we can define) and being willing to modify our own ways of thinking and acting. It’s the responsibility of each one of us. Meanwhile here, from Ben Smoke of the Stansted 15, is an excellent article and an example of just how we can criticise in an engaged and constructive way, in a way that builds rather than threatens unity: https://www.huckmag.com/perspectives/opinion-perspectives/room-for-change-the-problem-with-extinction-rebellion/

Peter Coville