Organisations like Extinction Rebellion are seeking a radical alternative to government inaction. Is there any way to rebuild trust?by India Bourke / December 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
“People gonna rise like water; shut this system down,” sung activist Eliza Kenyon during the Extinction Rebellion protest in Whitehall the other weekend. Her voice was so lyrical that it drew comment from the line of police guarding the Downing Street gates. “She was quite a good singer!” one officer commented to his colleague as Kenyon passed by, holding her placard.
A far cry from the blazing protests against fuel tax rises in France, Britain’s new resistance movement is reassuringly gentle. Over the course of November, London’s road blockades have been accompanied, not by fire, but by performance art and marching bands.
Yet Extinction Rebellion’s soft approach to direct action belies a radical core. Their central demands stretch from averting climate breakdown to political reform. The most interesting, perhaps, is the demand to introduce a randomly selected “Citizen’s Assembly” to oversee the transition to a green economy.
“By necessity these demands require initiatives and mobilisation of similar size and scope to those enacted in times of war,” states an accompanying declaration, “We do not, however, trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve this.”
The potential here for an outright rejection of the current system of government seems real. At an Extinction Rebellion press event in early November, one speaker painted the climate crisis as a crisis of democracy: “Politicians will probably lead us down the fascist path into elitism,” said Stuart Basden, a 36-year-old former web developer turned full-time activist with a taste for colourful trousers.
When we met again last week, Basden expanded on the reasons for his extreme pessimism. “Trust is entirely broken in the current system,” he said, pointing to the influence of corporate lobbyists and the British government’s complicity in the crisis in Yemen. “We don’t want to allow [MPs] to make the decision about how we get to carbon neutral, because they could do atrocious things with it.”
Basden’s views are perhaps at the acute end of opinion even within the Rebellion Extinction movement (he has already gone to prison for protesting a third runway at Heathrow). Yet the climate crisis is also arguably helping spread a more general disillusionment with mainstream politics.
As nations prepare to meet at next month’s…