Guest Post: Why I Have My Doubts about Extinction Rebellion (and where to go from here) @ExtinctionR @XR_MCR

by Isaac Hughes-Dennis

[A rare “non-petition” blog post on this site! The following is by a person who has been involved in XR Manchester. It represents the author’s views, not those of CEM.]

Photo credit: Jake Howarth

On the 2nd September 2019, I found myself in a hand-made Extinction Rebellion branded shirt with a squirty bottle of Gorilla Glue in hand, ready to smear it across my palm and cement myself to the double glazed window of HSBC, Manchester, in the name of environmental action and anti-capitalism. The revolutionary spirit was high and in that moment I genuinely believed that this was the solvent-based path to modern revolution. Somewhat coincidentally, a whole year on, I found myself publically displaying my withdrawal of support for the movement and frustration with its lack of action.

Firstly, Extinction Rebellion has worked in full accordance with the Metropolitan Police force, even going as far as to pass on details of activists on request and give detailed plans of protests days before they take place[1]. I was born into a family of Earth First activists, with both my parents being involved in radical environmental action since the 1990s. Because of such parental indoctrination, I have been wary of coppers my whole life. Having both my parents know Mark Kennedy (formerly Mark Stone, the notorious spy-cop) during his undercover investigations, this only cemented my concern. Extinction Rebellion are either being naive in their middle class privilege and unawareness of police infiltration, or this is some absurd deliberate sabotage of the movement. It shouldn’t be some grand revelation to people that the police are tools of the state and shouldn’t be seen in, any scenario, as allies of the protester. Yet even still, we see white dreaded yoga mums wielding banners with slogans such as ‘Metropolitan Police Force and Extinction Rebellion- BOTH WORKING FOR A SAFER LONDON’. They have even gone as far as encouraging demonstrators to get arrested for the sake of media reports, once again flaunting their racial and class privilege, as well as extreme naivety. Extinction Rebellion has been incredibly irresponsible.

Linked to police collaboration is Extinction Rebellion’s rampant apoliticism. On 1st September, XR put out a tweet condemning socialism and dividing their following[2] , as they have done consistently in the past. They have previously asked protesters not to bring ‘anti-capitalist banners’ or advocate for a political ideology. I’m not a socialist by definition, being opposed to centralised government and political hierarchy, but you bet your life I’m not a capitalist. Trying to depoliticise climate change when it is a direct consequence of consumer capitalism is the greatest act of stupidity I have witnessed. I’ve increasingly noticed the motives of XR to be combating the climate crisis within the confines of the current governmental and political structure we have in place. The trouble is, it’s the same political structure that has caused their problems, and so it shouldn’t seem like such a ‘radical’ idea to seek out a new one. By no means am I asking Extinction Rebellion to choose one specific ideology, however if you are not actively anti-capitalist, you are pro-capitalist. Personally, I want no affiliation with advocates of ‘green capitalism’, and the time has come for XR to pick a side. To me, this whole ‘apolitical’ act seems like a way to cosy up to Tory voters and a desperate attempt to be people-pleasers. This should not be the primary concern.

Thirdly, there is the issue of non-violence. I’m not suggesting that XR should only focus on hardcore direct action, but I do believe it must play a part in the fight against climate change.

I think a large part of the appeal of Extinction Rebellion is its ‘accessibility’, and it is great that we have a family-friendly protest movement and one that can be fun, light-hearted, and creative. That being said, throughout history, the majority of successful protest movements have used (to some degree) force and violence. Of course this isn’t an ideal, however we learn time and time again that governments laugh in the face of strictly peaceful protests and street marches. ‘Violent’ protest can be anything from property damage to physical resistance, and absolutely does not mean everybody has a scrap with a copper, but there’s only so much of revolution that can be won with potato stamps and samba bands. It is incredibly infuriating to me that Extinction Rebellion holds a great amount of power and has a large, devoted following yet refuses to act effectively. To quote Eldridge Cleaver’s popular slogan that can be seen on banners across XR protests, ‘If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem’.

To its credit, the movement has been a good introduction to activism for a lot of young people, as well as helping to bring climate catastrophe further into mainstream politics.

I don’t want to condemn everyone who works with XR, as I know firsthand there are a lot of brilliant, hardworking people who collaborate with them. Furthermore, there have been some highly effective sub-groups (e.g Animal Rebellion and HS2 Rebellion) who I am in full support of.

As a self-proclaimed pessimist, I appreciate that this article may seem largely doom and gloom, however this is not the note on which I wish to end. I believe it is important for any activist movement to be largely self-critical in order to progress, and so this is not so much a call for an abandonment of the movement all together, rather a call for reformation. In the event XR fails to progress as a movement, the climate struggle should not fade from mainstream politics nor public concern. When in the midst of XR activism, it easy to forget that other groups, such as the Green Anti-Capitalist Front or Earth First, are more radical and integral. However we move on from here, it is important to stay aware, angry, and cynical.

[1] Source- Metropolitan Police Force and Statement on Extinction Rebellion’s Relationship with the Police
[2] Full tweet reads “Just to be clear we are not a socialist movement. We do not trust any single ideology, we trust the people, chosen by sortition (like jury service) to find the best future for us all through a #Citizens Assembly A banner saying ‘socialism or extinction’ does not represent us”.


CEM says:  

We saw an earlier version of this as a Facebook book. We  asked Isaac if he would be up for expanding it, and he kindly said yes.

As per all our interviews and guest posts, the views of guest posters do not reflect the CEM core group view.

A few other articles on this topic may be of interest

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