Extinction Rebellion

Yes, it’s terrifying. Climate change will lead to changes in the composition of the planet, which will set in motion irreversible changes to the climate, making life on earth for humans and the other creatures with whom we share this beautiful planet immeasurably difficult, if not impossible.

In light of this, the critiques I’ve seen on here and elsewhere of Extinction Rebellion over the last couple or so of weeks have made me pretty angry. I’ve been working up to writing something properly on this, but haven’t had time to do it yet (I will). Here’s a preview:
XR is not diverse enough – it’s just white people/middle-class people.
I’m afraid this is prime BS. Diversity is important (of course it is – and I know a few things about that being a brown woman from a ‘non-traditional’ social background in a field dominated by middle-class white men. I got stories. I’ll save them, ‘cos I digress). But XR isn’t an institution or a field of employment or similar. It’s a spontaneous movement of people trying to force those in power to make the changes necessary for us all to have some chance of a viable future. Moreover, it’s pretty reductive to think that something’s being a thing that white people, or middle-class people, or white middle-class people, are concerned about in-and-of-itself means that it’s something not to be taken seriously. Ask about the cause, not just the type of people supporting it.

XR employs tactics (mass arrest) that not everyone can employ.
True. There are various groups of people for whom this isn’t a viable strategy – black and brown people, disabled people, people too financially impoverished to be able to risk the disruption to/destruction of livelihood, etc. But this doesn’t, as some sort of matter of principle, make the strategy morally bad in some way. All it means is that (i) no-one should be pressured into adopting it; (ii) those who can’t employ this strategy and who want to be involved should get together with others and work out what they can do instead.

XR needs to centre those in the Global South who are most affected by climate change.
I’m not entirely sure what this is supposed to mean. Yes, we should all be aware that the poorest people of earth are those who are initially going to suffer most from climate change. But what this seems to have boiled down to in a lot of discussions I’ve seen is that people are being scorned for not using the right form of words. “If you talk about climate change, be sure to mention the people in Mozambique who’ve recently lost their lives in the devastating floods.” Yes, we should remember and care about those people, but the net effect of this criticism is to turn this into an assessment of moral purity. Are your motives pure enough for us to endorse your action? Do you know the right form of words to utter when asked about your protest (like it’s some kind of liturgy)? Woe betide the uninitiated soul who says they’re simply doing it for the grandkids.

Headline news: political change requires political thinking – best tactics, best strategies, and willingness to work with different people. ‘The Left’s’ current approach of unforgiving moral scrutiny and fixation with navel-gazing internal reflection ain’t it.

Those XR activists don’t do anything to support refugees/black deaths in police custody/DWP assessments/etc. etc.
Yes, people should care about those things and do more about them.
But I’ve literally no idea whether or not those XR activists do anything about those issues because I don’t know them all personally. And even if it turned out (implausibly) that they don’t, it strikes me as a bit odd to criticise people who are trying to do something about an issue they care about that affects ALL of us, on the grounds that they don’t care about something else. This is another form of moral scrutiny. Not useful in political organising.

XR isn’t radical enough.
Show me your more effective, more radical movement currently attracting large numbers of support from ordinary people, and I’ll buy this.
And – I’m sorry to have to bring this up – but I’ve observed on a number of occasions, seasoned activists, for whom the Radical Activist Identity is baked into their soul, getting pissy when members of the general public get onboard with some issue. The only thing I can conclude (amateur psychoanalyst hat on) is that part of what it is to be a Radical Activist is to have values, take actions, live one’s life in a way that is different to the general masses, so it’s a threat to your identity when the general masses get involved. I get it. It’s a bit like when you’re into some really obscure band and then suddenly they’re playing the main stage at Glastonbury and even your best mate’s dad is listening to them. But when it comes to XR, you just gotta get over it. I’m not accusing anyone. But is this you? Be honest.

I met some people in XR and they were idiots/full of themselves/had a saviour complex/were mean to my cat.
Yeah – I’m sure you did. There’s nothing like a bit of political action to swell some people’s heads and give them a sense they’re some sort of superhero saving the world, and it’s annoying. Some of the people taking part in XR right now will be horrible people. But that’s so wherever you go, and focusing on this is taking your eye off the ball – the increasingly hot, increasingly hostile ball of rock our home is fast becoming unless we do something pretty damn quickly. Political organising involves working together with people who are not like you. And sometimes they’ll be downright objectionable. Get used to it.

Here’s a simple template for political thinking. Ask yourself and others:
– What’s the goal?
– Is this goal a good one?
– What are the best ways to accomplish it?
Pretty much anything else is white noise.

If you don’t like XR, then quit kvetching and start your own group or join one that’s more in keeping with how you want to do things. Think how much progress we might have made if all those critiquing XR had poured that energy into developing new ideas, strategies, and tactics for dealing with the problem in hand.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave this here for now. If any of you got to the end of this screed, I’ll say what I’ve said elsewhere before:

Don’t criticise, organise.
Someone doing something that could be done better? Get involved, fix it, collaborate, make it better.
Tact is a tool – use it.
Be sensitive to others.
Work with difference.
Allow yours and others’ efforts to be imperfect.

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