My Week At Extinction Rebellion, Is It Worth It?

This past two weeks has been a very very eventful time in London, and the world over, for the anti-climate change movement. the Extinction Rebellion, XR, movement called a two week rebellion in which they intended to occupy key locations to send a message to the government about the opposition to the perceived inaction to climate change and have their demands to address that fulfilled. Being a Londoner, and very much against climate change and the way the British state handles it, I headed down the the rebellion for a week straight and documented my entire time there for people as the days went on. I spent time in most of the camps that existed over the Westminster, and surrounding, area interacting with the people there and taking part in the actions going on through the week. here is what I have to say on what has been quite a divisive topic amongst the left.

on the Monday I came down and expected to not see much if I am honest with you. I was there in the previous rebellion and expected more of the same, but I was surprised to find much more going on. as soon as I came out of Westminster station everybody was stunned by these people dressed head to toe in red robes, faces painted white as ghosts, walking in a slow procession down Westminster Bridge. these were The Red Rebels, with a name like that I had wished something more leftist of them I will say but, the symbolism they try to evoke is one of the blood of all the species which we have already lost so far due to the human destruction of habitats and the fragile climate in quite a powerful manner. they evoke this feeling of defiance as they all raise their fists in the air together and provide a lot of people the morale needed in the dreary London October weather, I personally just bitched and moaned about it to people in a far too British manner. The Red Rebels were the first thing I saw of the rebellion week, and I think they really do set the stage for a lot of what was to come, theatrics and ‘the money shot’ for the press.

wandering down Westminster Bridge I saw an absolutely delightful display. there was a large crowd of people all surrounding this woman reading something out, which at first I assumed was some sort of speech. to the left of the crowd a van had been parked with two guys sitting on top, who had told me they’d been there about 5 hours at that point. I made my way through the crowd to get a view of what was going on, and to listen in. to my surprise there was a woman officiating a marriage, of two women. without realising it I had stumbled into a lesbian wedding of two lovely women, with a crowd who were extremely supportive. once more, this also set the tone for the week in two ways, firstly spectacle of events going on and secondly very much a push for inclusivity that I as a gay trans woman am extremely happy to see.

I took a mosey on down to Trafalgar Square, as you always know at things like this there’s going to be something going on there. as I came up the street you could see these colossal flags, they must have been 10 metres x 10 metres easy, being flown from the base of nelson’s column. Trafalgar square itself and the space in front of the national gallery had a few lovely art pieces and murals to the lose of people, species and climate. there was an atmosphere of excitement about it all. tents were going up all through the occupied roads, booths were going up to do all sorts of education, workshops, camp utilities, and this project was beginning to take shape. the Hare Krishna’s were giving out lovely vegan food, though I saw more than enough so called rebels sneak down the street to the MacDonalds.the scientists for XR had a tent filled with graphs about the science of climate changed, manned by nuclear physicists, climate scientists and more PHDs than you could swing a cat at. a community was beginning to form that all had a unified message and goal, to make themselves heard and to demand change.

on the Tuesday I visited more camps, including a small but lovely camp right at the foot of Westminster Abbey, by the second day there people had the time to set up better infrastructure and you could see bicycle generators powering the microphones and speakers as people gave speeches. I saw and listened to a group of queer XR people who held up pride flags of all types with the XR hour glass on it, and in front of them a large rainbow banner reading “NO PRIDE ON A DEAD PLANET”. all through the Westminster Abbey camp there were signs that spoke to the intersectionality of the movement, from the aforementioned pride to “DECOLONISE XR” and “CLIMATE STRUGGLE = CLASS STRUGGLE”. the message of inclusivity and the ways in which this affects different marginalised people was loud and clear. later that day I went to Saint James Park and sat down to listen to Global Justice Now as they spoke about the struggles in the global south, through the week they would go on to show indigenous films made about struggles in the global south, give talks about neocolonialism’s role in climate change and exploitation and also hold a visual, which I participated in, for those who have given their lives as Earth Defenders fighting for ecology and the rights over natural resources and land from exploitation and privatisation. That said there was very much also this feeling that actions, and the whole event itself, was just all for show. I heard many of the organisers there speak themselves about how you want ‘the money shot’, and how specific places had been occupied to provide that than actually attacking the infrastructure of industrial capitalism. the dress up, the blasting the road with fake blood, all these sorts of things had been done not truly to fight against climate change but because they were good in the eyes of marketing things to the press, and thusly to the general public. I see the sense in the propaganda angle, there’s not much interesting about people blocking the back entrances to places as opposed to outside the famous front entrance even if it has a tenth of the genuine impact of the operating of those business and institutions. many places, like the home office, were abandoned of their occupation because the marketing angle wasn’t as good as outside of places they could talk to people and provide those press shots, even if the home office is very very much complicit in the institutions of the state which is what we’re ‘rebelling’ against. and that use of ‘rebellion’ are any of these actions rebellious? yes sure we blocked the major roads and occupied key locations but did anybody dare raise a fist to the institutions of power themselves? did anybody fight back and attack the infrastructure? did anybody provide an alternative which intends to overthrow the old in an actual rebellion? no, no they did not but again it comes back to this marketing of it all

There was much good to be found at XR all throughout London. as I said, intersectionality was always a key thing wherever you went, with interest groups who tried to educate the typical cishet white person there about the struggles that they will never have to face and why they need to lend their privilege to help in these struggles. XR overall as a movement took people who had never thought of occupying the streets outside of the halls of power, business and tourism to stand up and take action in the streets which them became a way to expose them to the other struggles going on all related back to the grand climate struggle we all face. education is the way to radicalisation, we cannot just expect people to join us in droves without us trying to push back against the liberal conditioning of the press and of the messages Power spreads that we shouldn’t fight back. as a movement that gives exposure to this education, XR has been an amazing tool of radicalisation with Trafalgar Square having a booth distributing Luxemburg, Marx and Lenin to give people an answer of what the hell should we even do to stop climate change, and provide a clear explanation that it is profit and capitalists we’re fighting against here.

much has been said about XR and the police. yes, it is true that they very much push the idea in official propaganda that getting yourself arrested is a form of resistance. not everybody can afford to be arrest, sure some rich white middle class cis person is fine but what of the PoC? what of me as a trans woman? what of the people who might lose their jobs thanks to that? it’s inherently blind to the privilege of some saying that we all must throw ourselves into the arms of the police, when frankly not all of us can afford that fate at all. it’s also true that many people within XR aren’t antagonistic towards the police, striking up friendly conversations with them, while the same foot soldiers of the state throw people to the floor and drag them away, something I saw with my own eyes last week. however, I would also like to say that on the ground things are different to the pieces XR puts out about how getting yourself arrested is the best thing you can do, nobody is pressured into getting themselves arrested people delegate themselves as being able to be arrested and are used as needed. second of all I first handedly saw people slowly becoming radicalised against the police as they saw the boot heel of the state come down on them over, and over, and over while they stood up to the ecocide going on all around us. you can write off a singular incident here and there, but when the cops come in raiding camps stealing things from people and piling their loot up to them go and throw, seeing people thrown to the concrete and dragged away for nothing at all, seeing people get stopped and searched so the police could violate people to look for things like glue, away again and again drove many away from the police where before they’d have applauded the police for doing a fair job. the far more violent repressive action from the police this rebellion as opposed to the last has forced many to be on the other side of police brutality for the first time in their life, and it’s only driven them leftwards.

There is a major disconnect overall between the XR officials, the XR twitter accounts and the press releases they give to the media and that which takes place on the ground. on the ground you’ll see people calling our camps a commune, you’ll meet those who call for solidarity with armed resistance in the global south, you’ll see countless banners describing how it’s capitalism which has done this and the capitalist system that we fight against. ‘women of colour for the global women’s strike’ was a banner I saw when marching through London, and yet I doubt anybody who’s been following the coverage of all of these protests ever even knew things like that were being waved around. the media controls what you see, they have a narrative they want to push, and that means de-platforming leftist action and the large anti capitalist sentiment which exists within XR. along side this the XR organisation itself is run by middle class white liberals who don’t care for struggles against capital, they ARE capital in many cases. this is not to say that all of XR are a swarm of radical communists chomping at the bit to proclaim a Commune De Londres, yes most all of them are liberals, but there’s a lot more going on that the media and official XR spokespeople want to let you know about because of their own ideological biases.

through the the week I saw countless people there who blamed us, the every person who works to feed ourselves, who struggles to live, who can barely find reprieve against the alienation of capital as the cause of this. if only we were vegan, if only we just stopped buying things, if only we refused to go on holiday. it’s not me who’s killing the environment, I don;t own a jet, I don’t run a mega corp that pollutes countless tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, I’m not a company draining aquifers in water vulnerable regions. the working class didn’t cause this, and we shan’t be the ones to take the blame either. it’s the capitalist class who did this, but this individualistic shaming is rampant through XR. and offshoot of XR is the Animal Rebellion who are specifically focusing on industrial agriculture and the likes. rather than talk about sustainable methods of farming and how things like fertilisation cause eutrophication, or how logging leads to desertification of fertile areas, they instead shout at the working class at protests that it’s them who must change, their consumption of these goods rather than those who produce them in such ways are to blame. once more we see the spectre of middle class privilege over XR, not everybody can just ‘go vegan’, and nor should they be shamed into that as the true avenue to save the climate when they’ve not caused this situation at all. this is a symptom of the infinite need for growth and profits under capitalism, not consumers causing the death of the ecosystem by being ‘bad people’.

it was more than frustrating having to spend the week seeing signs saying ‘beyond politics’ as thought his is not inherently a political issue, showing how detached from reality the middle class is allowed to be with their privilege shielding them from the impacts of all this. this is further shown in those who have pushed this message of giving yourself up to the police, not even understanding how this can be legitimately life threatening for some who can’t afford to be in those situations. there was a sentiment among many that we need to merely elect in The Good People, read Corbyn, and all The Bad Things will just stop, completely misunderstanding the power which capital has over electoral politics and the spineless of liberal ‘democracies’ to fight capital, they are capital. many brought up how the police had been seen crying knowing that us protestors were on the right side of history, ignoring the fact to be an officer for the state is a conscious choice and you can refuse to follow those orders at any damn time. the message of non violence was all consuming, even self defense as the police used violence against us was seen as a slight, as though the moral high ground will give us enough room when the sea levels rise another metre or two. the focus on individualism to solve the issues at hand, as though we’re the cause of all of this some how and must be the ones to solve it in flagellating ourselves while we vow to consume ethically to make some tiny dent against the monumental pollution of the capitalist class and industrial capitalism. my god, was it a pain in the ass to deal with I can say. this disconnect with what we’re truly up against and the fact every institution is our enemy in the climate struggle is ignored for the liberal concepts of using the system for our own ends and taking control of it via the ‘correct and fair’ means of power. we cannot play fair, we do not have the luxury of playing nicely and we do not have the time to either. direct radical actions and alternative systems are the only ways which we can get through this, and many in XR just cannot see that due to this thick layer of liberal conditioning.

so is XR worth it? as a mean of change right now? absolutely not. XR itself is a centralised organisation that operates as a dictatorship handing down the party line to people, and yes people don’t always follow it but that institutional legitimacy means something to people and is able to sway the ways in which people act. the biases of those who run XR and their own ideals means they can never solve the climate crisis, nor would they truly want to if they understood what it takes. can we use XR however? absolutely, the XR Youth are well aware of the evils of capital, and that seed is spreading within the movement as a whole as I have spoken about. XR shan’t be the revolution which saves the collapsing ecosystem, but it’s a start to push people in that direction and we should exploit the hell out of it to do so. education is the key to building a population ready to throw off their chains, and organisation from large movements into something more radical is the turn we must take here. there’s something here, a grass roots ground swell of people ready to take action who understand the position we’re in with climate collapse, many of them would go so much further down the radical alternative if we can just be there to explain the how and the why of this all.

3 thoughts on “My Week At Extinction Rebellion, Is It Worth It?”

  1. Thanks for your report, it was well written and flowed nicely! Did you happen to see anyone there handing out political manifestos or material? While XR can be used, their stated goal is clearly focused on preventing more/mitigating the effects of climate change, and focuses less on establishing a better system afterwards that does not allow our current errors. To this end, I’ve been thinking of how useful some actual manifestos from youth passionate about environmentalism, maybe even in XR, would be in decentralising the concentration of narrative power from the top of the movement while giving the media actual praxis and theory to dissect instead(if they choose to engage with it). Do you think manifestos and texts like these would have been accepted or promoted among the people you met over the week? Would they engage with it, or would it get lost in the noise of the itinerary?
    Thanks again for your writeup. 🙂

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read it! XR themselves have short leaflets here and there, but nothing like a full on program, just 3 demands and all that. there were people distributing socialist literature there, and I am sure the Communist Manifesto was likely among what they had, but, no there really wasn’t a specific program or means of action being called on further than the XR demands.people were very open to learning and engaging with new ideas I very much saw when it came to things like workshops on privilege and oppression for instance, so I think people would definitely be receptive to it. something written with terms for the everyperson who can engage with the ideas would be an important part of writing such a manifesto. I personally thought of doing so before hand, but I had too poor mental health in the prior weeks to really be able to. next time there’s a rebellion week I really do intend to do that though, and it’d be great if other people did that too

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