Facing internal and external pressures, and the demands of a global pandemic, the group is revisiting its strategyby Eleanor Salter / October 9, 2020 / Leave a comment
Last month, Extinction Rebellion hit headlines for blocking the printing presses of a number of right-wing newspapers. While the movement was condemned from all sides as an attack on the free press, the group argued that it was protesting the newspapers’ suppression of the truth about the climate breakdown.
But climate activists are now vying against a pandemic for both coverage and action. Coronavirus has produced a dampening effect on climate activism: the urgency of the climate crisis has been seemingly downgraded against the present fears of a deadly virus. And with the additional backdrop of dwindling public support, activist fatigue and an increasingly hostile Conservative government, the future of XR looks more uncertain.
Almost two years on from the Declaration of Rebellion—an assembly of activists in Parliament Square which kickstarted the movement—and after thousands of arrests and numerous protests in the name of saving the planet, where does Extinction Rebellion go from here?
Changing the conversation
XR has been hugely successful in placing climate breakdown centre stage within the national conversation. The original campaign demands, announced in October 2018 included “Tell the Truth,” “Act Now” and “Declare a Climate Emergency.” After XR’s “Easter Rebellion” in April 2019, which brought major sites in London to a standstill, parliament declared a climate emergency that May.
The movement has also been a great accelerator for activism: the energy catalysed by Extinction Rebellion has mobilised thousands around the world to take non-violent direct action against rising carbon emissions—often older people and those entirely new to activism.
But October 2019’s Rebellion, which attempted to mobilise thousands of activists and to shut down 11 sites across London, failed to capture the public and the media in the same way as previous protests had. The controversial attempt to shut down the London Overground led to angry commuters dragging activists from the tops of trains at Canning Town.
With each action, the shock factor of blockades, “swarming” and mass die-ins has diminishing returns. “It’s got to a stage where certain types of action could just be normalised which could really kill off the movement,” says Adam Williams, a climate activist from Manchester. “There are some people who are always the ones getting arrested and as the convictions stack up, I’m…