by Jess O’Dwyer
The Earth is our nurturer, inspirer and protector, yet we are actively and consciously driving ourselves towards her (and our) oblivion. Extreme weather is the new normal: we’re chopping down trees faster than we’re planting them and we’re still burning fossil fuels despite the common knowledge that they are damaging to the atmosphere and are causing our own children to struggle to breathe.
Extinction Rebellion, or “XR”, a new “non-violent, direct action” environmental movement demanding government action on climate change, have been making the news lately following a number of protests in London. They operate under a series of principles including “Breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation” and a need for a “regenerative culture.” I recently spoke to Tina from the Norwich sphere of XR, who is studying for an MA in International Social Development at UEA. She stressed from the outset that she is not part of any hierarchical structure and that she was willing to act as a spokesperson for XR because she “agrees with their principles” and has been active in their protests. She became involved because of other “activist networks” and said she had “itchy feet”, not wanting to sit idly by. She also saw the appeal in a new movement and liked their slogan “Rebel For Life.”
This interview was never going to be formal because I believe that is contrary to how we’re supposed to approach issues like climate change, which affects all of us. It should be a conversation that starts between individuals, growing to the wider community, until we eventually touch every corner of the Earth.
Tina started by explaining that Extinction Rebellion is “calling on the Government to admit its inaction towards the climate change catastrophe and [is] attempting to turn away from the idea of individual burdens, which originates from neoliberal structures in Government.” These structures – enforced privatisation, the fetishisation of profit – are the targets of XR’s “economic disruption” tactics because they are seen as complacent, aloof and exclusionary. The aim is to “hit them where it hurts” most – in the wallet. This, XR believe, is the only way we can ever make the powerful listen.
We both agreed that climate change is too often seen as an “intangible problem”, something that is too big and too scary to be tackled or even understood. Tina is used to hearing apathetic sentiments along the lines of “What’s the point, we’re all fucked anyway.” Our biggest enemies in this fight are apathy, misinformation and our capitalist, consumerist culture that is still assumed to offer the only way to live. We are apathetic for many reasons, chiefly because we are so disconnected from Nature as a concept. We are less likely to see ourselves as part of it because we have convinced ourselves that we have dominion over it due to our evolutionary advantages – advantages that were granted to us by the very force we so easily exploit and neglect. As Tina puts it, “We forget Nature’s power.” Nature is no longer a part of us, it is “out there” in the few so-called “green spaces” we are afforded, treating the natural world like a separate part of our lives.
We all have a stake in this. Without Earth, we’re dead.
Tina also described scenes from the 17th November protest “vigil” held at Parliament Square, the symbolic heart of our democracy. Three trees were planted: plum, apple and evergreen. People sang and linked arms to prevent the police from getting through. Unfortunately, the trees were gone the next day, which is emblematic of Westminster “turning a blind eye”, preferring to preserve their precious artificial Square instead of the trees that keep us alive. This symbolic choice provides more evidence, as if it were needed, of the government’s insistence on maintaining the status quo of complacency.
In terms of overall tactics, Tina said there is a need to “diversify to keep people energised” and to keep the media engaged. One of XR’s preferred tactics is called swarming, which involves blocking roads using smaller groups of people for a maximum of seven minutes at a time. Protesters then engage with commuters by requesting they turn off their engines and answer any questions they may have. The action is intended as a “trade-off” and a “small nuisance”, an example of “short term pain for long term gain.” Those who are unable to participate in these kinds of direct actions for any reason can still make their mark, Tina pointed out, by sharing Extinction Rebellion’s events on social media to “keep the name alive.” They can also contact their local MP to see what they are (or aren’t) doing about climate change and the impact it is having on their constituency, or attend local council meetings to hold their representatives to account.
We all have a stake in this. Without Earth, we’re dead. I have hope that the momentum won’t die down, and that this isn’t just another movement that fizzles out before it has a chance to grow. That in itself is a success for XR – I have hope this time, which is a welcome change from my own apathy and sadness. And I’m not the only one. We can do this. We just have to refuse to surrender.
Extinction Rebellion groups are appearing across the country. Find out about actions near you through facebook or at https://rebellion.earth/events/. Norwich XR can be found on facebook here or on twitter here.
Featured image credit: Extinction Rebellion
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