This Thursday evening (23rd May) there is a free public meeting at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St, Central Manchester (behind the Central Library). The meeting is called “What Next for Climate Action in Manchester?” Come to mingle from 7pm, the meeting starts at 7.30 sharp. There will be five panellists, from Extinction Rebellion Manchester, Youth Strike for Climate, Unite the Union Community Branch climate group and Climate Emergency Manchester. Already Climate Emergency Manchester and Rising Up! Manchester Families have produced responses
Below are both a video kindly made by Claire Stocks of Extinction Rebellion Manchester (she will be their panellist on the evening), and also written answers to the questions we put to her.
Claire is a campaigner and writer working with a number of groups in Manchester. Here she writes in a personal capacity about her involvement in Extinction Rebellion Manchester.
When was your group founded? What does it do/how does it do it?
Extinction Rebellion (XR) in Manchester was set up last September after a public talk given by three XR speakers called ‘Climate Change: Heading for Extinction and what to do about it’ .
About 45 people went along – and a handful of people stuck together afterwards and decided to set up a group here in Manchester which grew slowly over the following months. There are now about 2,000 members on the mailing list and about 100 people – never the same – come along to our meetings every Monday. They come from all walks of life – I’ve met people I never would have done through any other circumstances. A number of new local groups are also forming as a result of a big upsurge in interest since April.
The group supports XR’s 3 core demands and wider aims – and how they relate to local issues.
I see our main purpose here in Manchester to be to move what is deemed as possible/doable to more ‘appropriate’ albeit ‘radical’ place – a place from where we enact the bold and systemic changes required to address the climate and environmental emergency we face in this city region and grow the kinds of communities we will need to cope with the challenges ahead.
What have been the group’s major successes and failures over the last year or so?
In the seven or eight months since XR MCR started, it’s played a key role providing ‘people power’ to protests in London which seem – finally, after decades of hard work by many, and along with a variety of other things – to be changing the public discourse about this existential issue (hundreds of people from here travelled to take action on the streets of London in April).
We’ve created a community of people who support each other in Manchester and who enjoy being together – I think both are key to any group that’s asking people to give up their free time to take bold action. XR has a big focus on regenerative culture and wellbeing and so that’s something we are constantly working on – there’s no point working to change a system unless you change it to something better and one way to do that is to make sure that the way you operate as groups is true to the new values you want to see across all of society. We’re learning all the time about that.
The group has experimented with different types of actions – all have taught us stuff – eg what works and what doesn’t – as well as giving people confidence.
Standing up to ‘the system’ can take guts – it can be so ingrained to do what we’re told – so giving people ways to take small steps and feel what it is like to stand in a street to stop a car, march with a placard, or grab a megaphone, for the first time are all useful.
Many of us want to make sure XR is representative of wider society – I think XR acknowledges it has been driven by those who’ve felt able to get involved/felt included – and that’s not everyone, which is in part due to the same system I believe has got us into this mess.
Climate breakdown and wildlife devastation are consequences of the capitalist, economic growth-driven system we’ve let rule the roost for too long – one where forests are valued for their economic contribution only once they are cut down, fish only once they are caught to be eaten. But so is social inequality within the UK and between the global south and ‘wealthy’ north.
That is what I think is meant when people chant ‘system change not climate change’
Speaking personally, the climate and environmental crisis is what woke me up – but it’s my desire for a just and equitable society that values living in harmony with earth and each other above all else, that keeps me going – because it not only solves our current problems but it creates a world of which I’d no longer feel ashamed, but proud.
If people got involved in your group, what sorts of things would they find themselves doing?
XR is fundamentally about taking action – to be a catalyst for change by showing that people want more significant change than has been so far proposed.
Anyone can take action in the name of XR – you just need to be in support of it’s 3 core demands and operate in accordance with the principles the most important of which is non-violence/peaceful protest.
However – there are a myriad of ways of getting involved – including on protests when everyone is free to decide how much risk (if any) they are personally ready to take.
There are working groups based on what people like doing – for instance there are the creative arts team who like making banners or block prints, or playing in a samba band; a media group making content whether it’s video or blog posts or helping manage and moderate our social media accounts; we’ve got people with technical skills helping develop our website or messaging systems; people who reach out to other groups and are good at talking to people, those who are good at admin stuff like finance and organising meetings and people who like the political side – researching the hot topics and how we can hold authority to account.
These groups are still really just getting going – so now is a time when people who come along and get stuck in can really shape how this movement grows in Manchester.
The thing that will determine the success of what happens here – are the people who come forward.
What has your group got planned between now and the end of September (and how might it contribute to maintaining morale and momentum in the climate movement in Manchester)
As a group, XR MCR is in a phase of reviewing, planning and growing.
April took a lot out of individuals and the group – some people are moving house, moving city, moving country; some people have been in court; some have exams; most have day jobs and families. And then there are hundreds of new people eager to get involved, which is brilliant.
So watch this space…
What would you like to see the “climate movement in Manchester” do more generally, both to maintain morale and momentum, but also to increase its effectiveness?
I’m told that before Andy Burnham became mayor he asked various groups what they wanted in terms of walking and cycling policy and they came back with a single set of clear asks – which is how we ended up with Chris Boardman as walking cycling commissioner and £200m for better infrastructure.
I know there have been lots of very committed people here acting on climate issues for a long time – we’ve kept out fracking for instance and despite the flaws in the Manchester Environmental Plan (that commits us to carbon zero by 2038, except it doesn’t really) it is in advance of many places in the UK. Those people deserve credit for those good things that have happened.
I think it is also fair to say the climate movement hasn’t had a united front – so perhaps it’s been too easy for politicians, policy-makers and corporations to dodge the real issue and focus on other things.
We have to make it harder for anyone to ignore this – or looked at in a more positive way, easier for them act – with a clear set of ‘asks’ that we all get behind as a ‘movement’ and don’t let go til change is forthcoming, like a dog with a bone.
However it’s crucial these asks start from the position of what’s needed to get out of the emergency we’re in – not what is ‘doable’ according to the status quo; as XR puts it – to tell the truth – and then act like it is real.
Because, it is all too easy for well-meaning people to become part of the system they once sought to change and end up going along with moderate, incremental change even though they know it’s far from what is needed. I know I’ve done that in the past in other fields.
XR seeks to blame or shame no-one but to acknowledge this is the fault of our system – and to give people a way to discard the incremental approach for the bolder measures and systemic overhaul that we all know is required.
How can the colourful disruption of XR help with the nitty gritty work of not just declaring a climate emergency, but also making sure policies are implemented?
XR MCR is formulating its future strategy and this is my personal opinion.
Firstly, I believe the way to get policies that we need on all of this is to acknowledge the politicians need help.
We need to take the issue out of their hands for a bit – and put it back in the hands of everyday people.
(It is hard for them: they rely on popular votes they can’t predict so why would they take a risk on a public opinion they aren’t sure of? Indeed, research from Lancaster Uni has shown that to date many MPs thought climate change massively important but simply didn’t believe people had any appetite for significant change).
And besides, it’s business who wield the real power, whether it is wealthy fossil fuel companies lobbying for subsidies (how else would we have 5% VAT on petrol and 20% on solar) or wealthy housebuilders persuading the government to drop plans in 2015 to make them build carbon zero homes, or wealthy landowners enabling peatland destruction in favour of grouse shooting.
So – many of us think our politicians should commission a Citizens Assembly – one here in Greater Manchester – one that asks 100 citizens to plot the way the city region can become a truly carbon neutral city region, and far sooner than 2038 – as Ireland did with great effect to solve the political deadlock on abortion and other issues.
The recommendations that the Assembly came up with would give politicians the mandate they need for bolder action – as well as creating a mass conversation about what climate change means for this city region; panel sessions could be streamed, submissions from the public sought, mini votes held, experts called to make their case.
It could be the central focus of a huge campaign to help the region’s 2.7m inhabitants understand the challenges we face and engage in discussion about the changes we need to make.
Secondly – the people who come to XR MCR all have different views but one thing that unites them is a desire to see greater action here.
Some of the key issues that come up time and time again are air pollution; transport including the airport, roads and buses; renewable energy; greenbelt; wildlife; construction and housing.
Thousands of people do not think we are doing enough, nor is it happening quickly enough.
XR MCR is in a phase of renewal and reflection now but that won’t always be the case.
It’s growing, as are other groups; and people are no longer going to settle for the status quo.