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The five elements of Extinction Rebellion's strategy

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Twitter photo by Extinction Rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion's principles & values statement highlights, "Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse."

Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently interviewed Roger Hallam, a leading figure in the Extinction Rebellion movement in the United Kingdom, to ask him about their strategy and the degree to which the movement is anti-capitalist.

In that interview, Hallam highlights the five key elements to the Extinction Rebellion strategy:

  1. You needs lots of people.
  2. You've got to go to the capital city -- because that's where all the bad guys are, the elites.
  3. You've got to break the law, there's no point in sending in letters and banners and all that stuff.
  4. You've got to be non-violent -- as soon as it gets tricky it's game over, you've got lots of angry white men, it's not good.
  5. It has to go on day after day.

Jones also talks with Farhan Yamin, an internationally recognized environmental lawyer who is now a key activist with Extinction Rebellion.

Yamin says, "I don't want to be arrested continuously, but I will be. I'm committed to do doing that because that's frankly, it's sad to say, it's a more useful use of my time than writing another report which would be ignored, doing another lecture, or having another briefing to politicians, who then just do a little bit and kick the ball down the road."

These comments echo previous statements by Extinction Rebellion organizers Tiana Jacout and Gail Bradbrook. "We have tried marching and lobbying and signing petitions," Jacout said, arguing that these haven't been effective strategies. According to Bradbrook, "only large-scale economic disruption can rapidly bring the government to the table" to address climate breakdown.

In Jones' interview with Hallam, he asks, "Doesn't there need to be more of a full-frontal assault on capitalism?" to which Hallam replies, "Absolutely."

On anti-capitalism needing to be a core tenet of climate justice organizing, Extinction Rebellion supporter George Monbiot recently wrote, "Our choice comes down to this. Do we stop life to allow capitalism to continue, or stop capitalism to allow life to continue?"

Furthermore, Extinction Rebellion co-founder Stuart Basden has argued "the climate's breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system" of colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, Eurocentrism, hetero-sexism/heteronormativity, class hierarchy, and other oppressions.

In a sympathetic critique of Extinction Rebellion mobilizing strategizing, Extinction Rebellion activists Cameron Joshi and Boden Franklin have commented, "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."

Joshi and Franklin also note, "The use of arrests to crowd out police stations and gain media coverage is innovative. However, the narrow focus on this form of protest inevitably elevates white middle-class British voices, for whom arrest isn't as big of a deal."

They are concerned that the approach of focusing on arrests "excludes people of colour, trans folk, anyone with a precarious visa status, and working-class people, for whom arrest is a potentially lethal and life-ruining prospect." Ellen Rafiqi, who took part in the occupation of Oxford Circus, tweeted, "Stop writing people of colour out of history." The hashtag she used with that tweet was "#notjustawhiteprotest."

In another tweet, Rafiqi said "there's been trend in historical writing where minority groups (women, people of colour etc.) have had to be written back into the narrative. Let's do our future academics a favour and not ignore/ deny that people of colour are part of this week's protests."

Still, this is an issue that needs to be addressed, particularly in Canada, given the critical need for Extinction Rebellion to be fully supporting frontline Indigenous struggles and understanding Indigenous nations as sovereign nations within the colonial construct of Canada.

This cannot be an afterthought.

We should also be exploring how Extinction Rebellion intersects with the approaches taken by environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and others calling for a Canadian Green New Deal.

Can we use the grassroots strategies theorized and implemented by Extinction Rebellion in the UK to exert pressure for a Green New Deal that is anti-capitalist and that has decolonization, migrant justice, racial justice, and reparations at its core?

How do we avoid our demand for a truly radical Green New Deal getting bogged down in legislative processes, electoral politics and compromise?

Can ENGOs move past the traditional approaches that have been critiqued by Extinction Rebellion and embrace the strategy of economic disruption?

These questions remain unanswered for now, but they could be the subject of lively movement debates in the weeks to come.

To find Extinction Rebellion in your community, check out the Extinction Rebellion Canada Facebook page.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada, a political activist, and a writer. 

Photo: Extinction Rebellion/Twitter

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