Extinction Rebellion

New Orleans    Extinction Rebellion is an interesting burst of energy and protest pushing governments, initially in the United Kingdom, to act immediately to avert catastrophic climate change.   Bursting onto the scene less than a year ago with actions in the fall and now calling for non-violent civil disobedience during the final two weeks of April, they have been front page news in London.  Their hallmark has been hard hitting, disrupting and innovative actions, which I find interesting and worth following.

More than 1000 have been arrested in London so far.  The Mayor of London mobilized more than 2000 additional police to deal with the disruption.  Attempts to confine the demonstrations to the Marble Arch in London have been unsuccessful.  Demonstrators have blocked politicians from entering the House of Parliament.  Others disrupted Parliament by disrobing there with messages printed on their bodies.  Some have super-glued various parts of their bodies, including their rear ends, to public areas to make their point.  Bridges, roads, and the London Underground have all been blocked at various times.  With Extinction Rebellion’s encouragement, actions have been joined in several other countries as well.

Their website lays out their objectives, structure, and principles:

At the core of Extinction Rebellion’s philosophy is nonviolent civil disobedience. We promote civil disobedience and rebellion because we think it is necessary- we are asking people to find their courage and to collectively do what is necessary to bring about change.

We organise in small groups. These groups are connected in a complex web that is constantly evolving as we grow and learn. We are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised, and inclusive.

All are welcome who want to adhere to our principles and values

  1. we have a shared vision of change

  2. we set our mission on what is necessary

  3. we need a regenerative culture

  4. we openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system

  5. we value reflecting and learning

  6. we welcome everyone and every part of everyone

  7. we actively mitigate for power

  8. we avoid blaming and shaming

  9. we are a non-violent network

  10. we are based on autonomy and decentralisation

It’s easy to critique this kind of Occupy-lite effort for the climate.  They avoid any economic or political analysis adopting a “make the government act” program rather than going after polluting businesses or policies.  They are oblivious to class and gender.  They don’t worry with sustainability, staffing, or membership.  They focus on the Chenoworth 3.5% notion as if it were a biblical guarantee, rather than a shaky post-Leninist notion.

So what?  Climate change is disruptive to the future, so it needs disruptive tactics to meet the peril and make it immediate, rather than in the by and by.  I’m not saying, let a thousand flowers bloom, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to have Extinction Rebellion and some other hellraisers taking action to stop business as usual and increase the heat on policy makers and politicians by demanding – and acting on their demands – until they force a response.  Some may take potshots at Extinction Rebellion, but for now count me in the stands cheerleading and leading the applause.  Their actions are important and make a difference.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Obama is Wrong about Social Movements and Activists

 “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting with young people in London. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting with young people in London. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

New Orleans   President Obama is on his farewell tour. Speaking to a young, university audience in London while trying to drum up some support for Britain to stay in the European Union, he offered what has to be seen as totally gratuitous advice to them – and of course all of the rest of us – about what he sees as the proper, underline “proper,” role for social movements and activists. And, not surprisingly, he is totally wrong, but here was what he had to offer:

“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then to start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable, that can institutionalize the changes you seek, and to engage the other side, and occasionally to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s going to be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment.”

In the New York Times story about his remarks, they predictably added that something that they felt, equally gratuitously, would help give an extra dose of credibility or street cred to the President of the United States, arguably – and temporarily – one of the powerful people in the world. They offered that,

Mr. Obama began his career as a community organizer working on local initiatives in poor neighborhoods in Chicago. Sometimes, he said, solving a problem means accepting a series of partial solutions.

Now, certainly if you are a big whoop, or the biggest whoop of them all you, want the rowdies out there to get the message that if you lean down from your perch and deign to listen to them for a hot minute, they are supposed to understand that they are supposed to behave, thank you, and then go and shut the heck up. But, as Obama surely must really know, regardless of the claptrap he’s selling right now, the role of social movements, and many activists, is exactly the opposite. The role of social movements in fact is to speak “truth to power,” not to make the deals and settle for the incremental changes, but to chant, “more, more, more,” keep the heat on that continues to create the pressure and push to create the space for the deal-makers to do their thing to get closer and closer to the mark, and not stop until the job is done.

Obama knows from his time in Chicago that an organization has to accept “half a loaf” frequently to deliver to its members. Good organizations get more, and weaker organizations get less, but it’s a social movement’s job to continue to raise the banner for truth, justice, and the whole loaf. There’s a different between seeking power and putting on the pressure. The Alinsky tradition, that Obama shared, was always uncomfortable with social movements because they were too easily appeased by applause, rather than being thankful that social movements enlarged the space to allow organizations to win even greater victories. Sadly, but once again not surprisingly, Obama knew this seven years ago when he challenged activists to push him – and the country – if they wanted more change, but now that he’s more worried about his past legacy, than his future accomplishments, he sitting too comfortably on the throne.

It’s worth respecting his position, but for the sake of all of us working for change, when it comes to social movements, we need to adamantly decline to follow his advice.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail