Activists from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement for climate justice are busy preparing for the next steps.
Thousands of XR rebels have blockaded and occupied roads, bringing whole sections of London to a grinding halt. Hundreds marched from Marble Arch to Parliament Square on Tuesday.
And on Monday—the eighth day of rebellion—hundreds broke into small groups in the evening to debate the future of the rebellion. This was a “citizens’ assembly”—a key demand from XR.
XR wants a group of ordinary people to guide and oversee the necessary political and economic changes needed to take action on climate change. People with roles and responsibilities within XR addressed the crowd from the stage in Marble Arch.
Stephanie, speaking from the “self-organised working group”, promised that XR members would be consulted on critical decisions. These included when to call off the rebellion, when to negotiate with the government and how to present XR’s demands.
Each smaller group was asked to consider the question “how do we as a movement want to move forward—what are our next steps?”
Sarah from the political strategy team asked everyone to consider “how do we move on if the government refuses to engage with XR?”
She said activists could stay at Marble Arch or withdraw from the occupation and continue with action in their town and cities.
In the feedback session, a huge variety of ideas came from each group. Some wanted to leave Marble Arch “strong and on our own terms”.
Others wanted to stay—there was loud applause when one XR member from Bristol said their group wanted to “continue to escalate” and “keep up the momentum while we’re strong and united”.
One group wanted to put a deadline on government negotiations.
“If a minister has agreed to speak to us by Thursday we will leave voluntarily—if they don’t, we escalate the action,” they said.
One of the most well-received contributions was the suggestion that XR in Britain should embrace a demand used by the US group.
It calls for a just transition that prioritises indigenous communities, black people and the poorest. Many groups wanted to take the protests into the heart of the financial sector, while others called for attention-grabbing stunts in Buckingham Palace and other tourist areas.
Building XR nationally was also a strong theme, with many people giving their thoughts on how to fight back in their own towns and cities.
Some speakers emphasised the importance of individual actions such as tree planting. One activist called for everyone to “be a good example in ourselves while demanding systematic change”.
Organisers said they would feed ideas from the assembly into a database—but gave no sense of a timescale for decisions.
After the citizens’ assembly, Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) activists rallied to say “climate refugees welcome here”. Mario, a Chilean refugee and member of SUTR said, “Climate catastrophe will particularly affect poorest countries. The effects of Cyclone Idai have been devastating.
“The rich can raise £1 billion for Notre Dame but cyclone victims haven’t received enough aid.”
Ideas from the assemblies
Within a small discussion group Beth said she was “worried about how people will react after coming back to work after the bank holiday”.
Protester Jolly argued that “we need to find a different space. People are determined, they’re amazing and we have the space to celebrate that,” she said.
Jonah said that stopping the camp meant “the risk is the media move on. We have their attention and we don’t want to lose that”.
Discussion in the group moved beyond the immediate future of the rebellion and onto wider solutions to tackle the climate crisis.
“I believed there wasn’t enough money—but then I read what happened to Notre Dame,” said Emma.
“They were able to raise money for that—the money is there.”
Some in the group suggested dramatic stunts to show the reality of extreme weather. Others wanted to perform direct action in the City financial district to “create something the city decision makers can’t ignore”.
Debates over how to deal with our rulers
Some XR activists on Monday set out what had been achieved in such a short time.
Sophie from the “media and messaging” group said they had created an “international movement of truth tellers”.
A spokesperson from the political strategy team defended XR against attacks from some in the media.
“This is a movement for all of us, and we want a politics where we can all be heard,” he said.
Kofi from the XR international solidarity network said activists in Britain could “export the XR branding to indigenous communities”.
“They have their own information and have been resisting for hundreds of years,” he said.
Kofi called for citizens’ assemblies across the world that connect with each other. “We are not leaving change-making to corrupt financial institutions—we cannot leave our human family to them,” he said.
Ronan from the media and messaging team implored journalists to tell the truth about the ecological emergency.
“BBC—if you change, every other media organisation will follow you,” he said.
Someone from the police liaison team said, “We are trying to negotiate a line between challenging the government and the system but not challenging the police.
“On the contrary, we respect police.”
Big cheers erupted through the crowd when he said that there had been “over 1,000 arrests and no reports of any injury to police”.