This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in an Extinction Rebellion (XR) march from Hackney Downs to London Fields in east London, as well as to visit the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery in north London.
A little compare and contrast reflection is bound to happen.
First of all, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the disruption XR is planning in London and other cities around the world this coming October 7 to 19.
It reportedly will be larger in scale than the disruption that took place this past April. That’s when about 10,000 people occupied four sites (including Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus) in London for 11 days resulting in more than 1,150 arrests.
XR Berlin says, “Politics and conventional approaches to political engagement such as voting, lobbying, petitions and demonstrations fail to address this crisis. History shows us a promising, democratic means to bring about social change: nonviolent, civil disobedience.”
That’s a refreshing departure from the traditional NGO approach of campaigns based on symbolic protests and e-petitions targeted at indifferent politicians.
But our struggle needs to go further than that.
Last December, XR activists Cameron Joshi and Boden Franklin wrote, “So far, the [Extinction Rebellion] movement hasn’t focused on neo-colonialism and capitalism as the engines of climate breakdown, and it has actively chosen to disassociate from Leftist thought.”
They highlighted, “Anti-capitalism, decolonization and anti-oppression work cannot be an afterthought — shoved into a five-minute window between speeches or tucked away at the end of an action.”
And then this past May, The Wretched of the Earth wrote in an open letter, “We commend the energy and enthusiasm XR has brought to the environmental movement, and it brings us hope to see so many people willing to take action.”
The grassroots collective continued, “The strategy of XR, with the primary tactic of being arrested, is a valid one — but it needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as well as the reality of police and state violence.”
It adds, “XR participants should be able to use their privilege to risk arrest, whilst at the same time highlighting the racialised nature of policing.”
The amount of friendly chatting between XR organizers and the police that I witnessed in east London suggests that analysis is still lacking.
The Wretched of the Earth letter then notes, “Though some of this analysis has started to happen, until it becomes central to XR’s organising it is not sufficient. To address climate change and its roots in inequity and domination, a diversity and plurality of tactics and communities will be needed to co-create the transformative change necessary.”