Activists who are part of the movement to stop catastrophic climate change are engaging in new arguments about the way forward. Recent weeks have seen a more clearly defined “moderate” and radical flank.
Direct action group Extinction Rebellion said it would temporarily halt the use of tactics that disrupt the public in a statement headlined “We Quit”. To some, this will have been a retreat motivated by state repression and attacks from the right wing media.
In reponse, at a meeting entitled “We won’t quit” on Thursday of last week, activists in Just Stop Oil (JSO) vowed to “step up” civil disobedience this year. But instead of seeing themselves in opposition, some in these two groups say that combining the direct action tactics of groups such as JSO with more moderate protest and lobbying is the way to win.
James, from JSO, told Socialist Worker that whatever happens, disruptive action has to be part of this plan. “The most important thing to say is we aren’t going to stop,” he said. “The situation is so dire. We’re at a really critical point in human history, and if we don’t get a handle on this, we’re screwed.
“Fundamentally we live in a flawed democracy where all major parties are beholden to the same financial interests that are going to kill us. So we need to put our bodies into the gears of power and grind this thing to a halt.”
James added that JSO would continue to build links with workers this year. “Building links with strikers has been important to us since January last year,” he said. “We’ve got teams who are in charge of liaising with trade unions.
“We try to show our support in terms of visiting pickets. We want people to go and have conversations and create personal connections. And, so far, we’ve been received well on pickets.”
“We must come together with strikers in whatever capacity we can. We need to do everything possible to pressure the government.”
One reason Extinction Rebellion may have retreated from disruptive tactics is because the public perception of the group was wholly negative. But James argued that he thinks those in the climate movement mustn’t believe that, on the whole, ordinary people are against them.
“I think people know how serious the situation is,” he said. “Every poll of ordinary people you see shows that awareness about the climate crisis and concern has gone up massively.
“There was a trial of Insulate Britain supporters last week where the courts ordered the defendants not to mention the climate crisis or insulation. They had no defence, and the jury still acquitted them because they knew what they were doing. People get what’s happening.
“And there is support for our tactics. Last year a poll found that 66 percent of people supported non-violent direct action to protect nature.”
But James also argued that even if ordinary people were against climate protesters, they still couldn’t give up. “This isn’t a popularity contest,” he said. “None of us are running for X Factor. What we are doing is forcing an issue to the forefront of public consciousness.
“We are getting people to think about the climate crisis and cost of living crisis that are caused by the same thing. Sometimes when you take part in civil disobedience, you feel your small action isn’t doing anything, but it’s important to think about the bigger picture.
“That action could mean someone writes an article or posts a video on social media. This could lead to more discussion on the climate crisis. And maybe even more people joining the movement.
“And so we don’t care about being liked. We care about ensuring our food systems don’t collapse.”
James is right to say that we need a more militant climate movement that doesn’t bow to state repression or attacks from the right wing media. But it has to be a mass movement linked to working class power.
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