Twelve months ago just a handful of people had heard of Extinction Rebellion (XR). Now it’s nothing short of a global phenomenon.
Rebels will take the streets of London as part of a second International Rebellion from 7 October. Action is also planned in 60 other cities across the world.
Starting with a “declaration of rebellion” in October 2018, the group grabbed its first headlines with six arrests.
It emerged as climate catastrophe was big news. Just three weeks before, the International Panel on Climate Change declared that there were just 12 years to avoid the worst-case scenario of catastrophic climate change.The timeframe has since adorned thousands of homemade school students’ placards and climate strikers’ banners.
XR sprang onto the streets as it became increasingly obvious that “business as usual” was plunging society headfirst into climate chaos and ecological breakdown. XR and the global school strike movement is driven by frustration at decades of inaction from governments and fossil fuel companies.
XR has only three demands.
It wants the government to “tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency”. It calls on the government to “work with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”
Its second demand is to “act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025”.
And its final demand is that the fight against climate change must be “beyond politics”. XR calls on the government to set up a Citizens’ Assembly—a randomly selected group of ordinary people to “learn, deliberate and make recommendations” on the climate emergency. XR’s biggest test came in April, when thousands of people occupied some of central London’s busiest streets for ten days as part of an International Rebellion.
It brought parts of the city to a halt and presented a huge problem for the cops—and the Tory government.
Just a few days after the occupation ended, parliament voted to declare a climate emergency.
The latest rebellion seeks to push the government even further. One of XR’s central tactics is mass arrests to get publicity and overwhelm the legal system.
This doesn’t fundamentally challenge the system that keeps fossil fuel capitalism firmly in place.
Yet with over 1,000 arrests during April’s action, it grabbed media attention. And it showed how thousands of ordinary people can take to the streets to demand a radical transformation of society.
The threat of climate catastrophe can plunge some people into despair and inertia. But XR, the school student strike and workers’ action transform that despair into struggle.
The starkness of the scientists’ warnings is finally being matched by the rage—and love—of a mass movement.
The struggle for climate justice will continue far beyond 7 October. But for everyone fighting for a better world, it is a necessary next step.
Activists speak out - get involved in the fight to win real change
Olly, XR Hackney:
“We are facing the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced and with every day that passes the need to take action becomes more pressing.
About 18 months ago I had this conviction that the world was dying, people were killing it and there’s nothing we can do. It was a really desperate and depressing place to be. I started hearing about XR and initially I was really sceptical.
I thought, “Oh this is just another movement, it’s not going to achieve anything.”
What amazed me about the first International Rebellion was how effective it was at demanding attention and demanding a conversation about the climate and ecological crisis.
I thought this was a movement I could get on board with and I started going to weekly meetings. I firmly believe the best thing I can do to contribute to the fight for climate justice is dedicate my time to XR.
I’m not prepared to be arrested during direct action. But for every “arrestable” there are 20 non-arrestables. People can get involved in many different ways.
The arrests make everything else possible. It’s that process of non-violent direct action, that’s how the attention is gained.
A lot of people are uncomfortable about arrests or disruptions, but causing inconvenience has a long and noble tradition. I’ll be in Trafalgar Square and will focus on outreach—engaging members of the public, helping them to understand and encouraging them to participate.
October’s rebellion represents the biggest opportunity to take meaningful action since the beginning of XR.
It represents a massive opportunity. A lot of hard work has been done for a lot longer than I have been involved, and the mantle has been taken up by so many more people in the last few months.
The platform has been created and now is the time—but it’s only going to happen if people get involved and come on down.”
Joel Instone, XR Manchester:
“We’re at a unique moment in history—whatever we do, it feels historic.
In April the occupations lasted a lot longer than we were expecting. The police tried to clear Waterloo Bridge on the first night and it was still going a week later—that was a surprise to everybody.
XR is stealing, borrowing and building on everything that’s gone before.
This time we might have some mass action that’s a little more targeted—we’re going to up the ante and keep things fresh.
We’re continuing to draw people. Some people are “first time mobilisers”—people taking their first steps into activism.
When people occupy spaces it makes them a resister. It’s about physically getting together and being in a resistance space.
Whatever else happens, communally we’re coming together, doing this thing and breaking the rules—that has tremendous value. It creates a more radical and revolutionary consciousness.
I was born in 1990—we’ve known all we needed to know about climate change my entire life. We’ve known for 30 plus years what needs to be done, and what’s been done has been the opposite of that.”
Jules, XR Swansea:
“I got involved in XR when it occupied the bridges in central London. It got the numbers out and I thought, “This is what we need.”
In Swansea, the XR name makes people pay attention. For instance, we had a local group fighting an incinerator being built.
The council was meeting to give it the go-ahead, so we got a group of people together and blockaded the site.
It worked. Suddenly it was in the press, and the council rejected it.
We don’t know exactly what effect we had, but people are receptive to the idea we’ve got to do something.
They might find the idea of blocking streets and causing disruption a bit strong, but they know we have to do something.
The climate crisis is getting to the point where people can’t ignore it.
XR isn’t just the “usual suspects” so you’ll go round someone’s house and they’re a council worker or a social worker. They’re ordinary people who are working together.
Being part of XR has felt very exciting, there’s a lot of energy and a lot of younger people getting involved.
Movements come in waves and I feel this is a very big wave. It’s the one that could actually push us over the top and get things done.”
Ian Bray, XR Quakers:
“I’m a Quaker, and an XR co-founder. A lot of people who have faith come at the climate emergency from a slightly different perspective.
It was unbelievable how many people came out in April. I’m sort of slightly askance at how much we got away with—it was the top end of an optimistic prediction of what might happen.
This is an escalation campaign, so after October the theory is ‘bigger and more’. There’s a lot of work to be done—it would be foolish to congratulate too much at this point.
The growth of XR has been head spinning. Last summer we were at festivals and people were laughing at the idea—they were telling us it was impossible and it couldn’t be done.”
Julie Forgan, XR York:
“We’re occupying London because it gets the most publicity. It’s the centre of government. We’ll be in Westminster because people see councils, businesses and governments declaring climate emergencies but not actually doing anything.
We need to make them do something.
One of the best things about the International Rebellion in April was the sense of community. Everybody was working together and deciding things through peoples’ assemblies.
We’re a lot more organised now. So as well as being in affinity group—a small group who undertake direct action stunts—I’ve signed up for shifts to help the site run. In York, immediately after the April rebellion the meetings were a lot better.
The group that went to London was a more bonded central group, and they all brought friends and people they knew to meetings.
It was their experience, and coverage in the media that helped us grow—there are always new people at our weekly meetings.
I’ve been involved since November last year and it’s snowballing. For instance, at Unison union conference this year I was able to make contributions about what XR is doing and people know about it. It has changed the climate movement.
The argument about climate refugees is going to become more relevant as the Global South will be the worst hit.
After the school strike people are motivated and want to see things get bigger and bigger. This is the next step.
Activists get compartmentalised—for instance, as someone who works with trade unions, or does election work, or anti-austerity.
But XR is calling the rebellion a ‘movement of movements’. It’s a good tagline for the event.”