5 things I have learned from Extinction Rebellion
During the International Rebellion Week which started on the 15th of April this year Extinction Rebellion set up their rebel camp base at Marble Arch. It was a hub to connect, learn and be creative. I attended a non violent direct action training during one of my visits because I was curious and I wanted to find out more about what non violent direct action actually means. We were huddled underneath a makeshift gazebo to find shelter from the boiling midday sun. I joined the training mid way through one of the facilitators whispers in my direction "But you are very welcome to stay if you think you can benefit from it." And I did. Very much so. Here's what I learned:
You can't convert people and you shouldn't
XR has successfully blocked several major sites and all across London one of which was Oxford Circus. A busy junction on a normal day which lies at the heart of every shopper's dream. Whilst many people joined the protests and road blocks happening there, some were angered by the fact that their shopping spree got disrupted. And rightly so, says one of the facilitators. Really? To me it seems incomprehensible that you'd find shopping at Primark more important than the fact that we are facing a climate catastrophe but I am willing to learn. "If someone is angry with you because you are blocking the road then let them be. Let them have their emotions. They might not be aware yet and that is okay. You can't convert them and you shouldn't. All you can do when you encounter someone that is angry at the fact that you are blocking a road to raise awareness is that you tell them why this is important to you. How you feel about it and why you are doing this. Explain why it matters to you and only you. They might be able to empathise or they might not. But that is all you can do really. Stay non violent. In the way you act and the way you speak."
Creativity will save the world Rarely have I seen so much creative output in one place than during the XR week all across the different sites. There were papier maché skeletons, huge models of bees, a massive pink 'Tell the Truth' boat, costumes, mock funerals and marches, face paint, wonderfully inspiring protest signs, stickers, manifestos, speeches, songs, a skate ramp, trees in the middle of the road and so many more things. It felt like a creative revolution. And what it did was it drew in passers-by, made them curious about the cause and encouraged conversation. It was inviting and awe-inspiring and most importantly, it wasn't perfect. It was perfectly imperfect which made it even more welcoming and accessible. It was art for everyone who wanted to be a part of it. It was inclusive and there were workshops all over the place, to make skeletons, to print t-shirts, to write songs etc. It wasn't reserved to an elitist group of 'creative' people. Everyone could contribute.
Non-violence is the only way to go
The reason why XR worked for me was the fact that they were strictly non violent and they didn't just say it and print it on their banners – they lived it. At every action there were stewards and we were reminded to not engage in any violent behaviour. Most of the time we were sitting down during roadblocks and at one of the sit ins at Oxford Circus we were asked to tell each other that we loved each other and that also meant the police. Some would find that very hippie – I thought it was lovely. Alcohol and drugs were strictly forbidden at all actions as well as the camp in Marble Arch. People who were drinking were kindly asked to leave. The fact that people weren't just getting pissed in the streets while holding up a banner made it clear for me that while they make it look fun and light hearted it is still a revolution that they are asking for and they are dead serious about their demands.
Practice what you preach
What also really impressed me was the fact that rebels were cleaning up after themselves the entire time. There was a dedication to leave the sites in a better state than they found them in and – from what I could tell – they stuck to it. After accusations that Extinction Rebellion had left all their rubbish lying around in Hyde Park (it later turned out it was the crowd from the annual Cannabis Fest that had nothing to do with XR) - a group of rebels went to clean up that mess regardless of the fact that they haven't caused it. It gave me a reminder to do more of these things myself. Pick up rubbish in the streets. Very often when I see litter in the street I get angry and just walk by. Or tell myself I don't have time to pick it up. Next time I'll do something about it. It sends a signal to others. We all need to lead by example.
At every gathering I attended we were encouraged to hold citizen's assemblies in small groups to discuss important topics and come up with solutions together. Decisions were always made by the many and everyone who wanted to have a say could do so. The way we held citizen's assemblies was by getting together in groups of usually 7-8 for a set amount of time. One person volunteered to be the facilitator of the group. This person made sure everyone has enough time and space to voice their opinion and guide the conversation in a constructive way as well as deal with any conflicts that may arise (which rarely happened). Another person was tasked with note taking so we could easily feed back our ideas to the other groups. We were encouraged to use hand signs to show if we were agreeing or had a point to make to keep us from shouting over each other. It worked incredibly well. After the time was up the note takers would walk up to the podium (if there even was one) and present the findings of the group back to everyone else. They would also be recorded digitally so everyone had access to them afterwards as well. This was a wonderful experience as I found myself talking to people from completely different walks of life, age groups, backgrounds and cultures.
This was my own personal experience with Extinction Rebellion. I loved every second of it. The climate crisis is a scary looming monster for me most days but attending the International Rebellion and seeing how many people are willing to fight and stand up for our planet gave me the hope, inspiration and empowerment I needed to keep going.
Thank you for reading this far. If you had your own experiences with Extinction Rebellion, I would love to hear about them. And if you want to join one of your local XR groups check their website or consider donating directly.