Sunday 3 March 2019

Lots of questions to be answered after Extinction Rebellion spoke at Willesden Green Library

I only heard about Saturday's Willesden Library Extinction Rebellion meeting when a friend picked up a leaflet a couple of days ago so it may have been lack of publicity that meant only 20 or so people turned up - not helped by transport issues on a Wembley Event Day of course. Of those only about a quarter were Brent residents.

The climate crisis is a major issue and Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been successful in publicising the climate emergency through actions such as blocking London's bridges. At the same time Greta Thunberg has galvanised school students across the world and there are already 500 separate actions planned for March 15th.  On the other hand our parliamentary representatives were resolutely ungalvanised with only a handful turning up for the House of Commons debate earlier this week. 

I hoped that XR would provide some answers about how to bring about the necessary changes if our planet is to remain inhabitable by humans.

The first part of the meeting set out the issue (see the video) at some length while the second part (not videoed - my battery ran out!) addressed XR's aims and methods. It was the second part where I began to feel disappointed. The evangelical zeal of the speaker did not make up for what seemed sometimes naive assumptions and an ignoring of the political and economic context in which we seek change.

The speaker, Dan Carpenter stressed the peaceful, non-violent, nature of XR's actions and their good 'respectful' relations with the police. He made links with the tactics of  Martin Luther King and the  Black civil rights movement in the US (the police reaction to that was far from peaceful) and Gandhi.  Carpenter set out the tactics as:


'Sacrificial' is when you agree to be arrested and 'Backfire' is when the effect of your arrest is to backfire on the establishment. I was concerned that slides of a neat, clean and modern prison cell was shown to indicate that prison wasn't so bad and British policeman were described as nicer than those in other countries. We have to be realistic and recognise that prisoners are sometimes beaten and there are deaths in custody in the UK - and this is particularly true of black people. I would not want young people to have an unrealistic picture of what is involved. Although it was mentioned that a criminal record may impact on the existing employment of participants it was not emphasised enough that for young people still at college or university, it might have an impact on their future employment.

It was clear that XR gave people the chance to make a contribute at different levels and that a willingness to be arrested was only one way of contributing alongside others presenting lesser risks, and that training was also offered in non-violent techniquesand other aspexts of the campaign.

It was when what all this action was meant to achieve was addressedf that I felt a sense of anti-climax. One of the key slogans of the climate movement is 'System Change: not Climate Change'. This indicates that climate change/chaos can only be combatted if the capitalist system with its emphasis on growth and every increasing consumption and exploitation of the planet's resources is changed. This means major social change, redistribution of wealth within and between nations and much more.

These are XR's aims:
  1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  3. A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.
I think this, to put it mildly, underestimates the extent to which politicians, industry and multi-nationals will resist giving up on capitalism, and the depth and breadth of the changes needed.  How exactly will the Government reduce consumption levels? How can the media be made to communicate the messages?  Citizen's assemblies, chosen on a jury/lottery type system, have been used to devise referendum questions and have been suggested by Caroline Lucas for this purpose, but to oversee massive societal change and create a new democratic system?  Where does this leave the very notion of government if a Citizen's Assembly 'oversees' the changes? Citizen's assemblies would be made up of individuals rather than political parties.

All these questions bubbled up in me and may, to be fair,have been satisfactorily answered, but no space was given at the event for questions or discussion.


DON'T dis US said...

no space was given at the event for questions or discussion. says it all, this 'organisation' is a best psuedo democratic and at worst sectarian and elitist which is sad because the cause is good.

one point to note is that their citizens' assembly is not supposed to be elected but selected by lottery

Martin Francis said...

This is Andrew's emailed response to issues raised in my post: Just some follow up to your disappointment about there being no time for Q&A afterward. The advice we are being given is the following:

"Don't do a Q&A. The purpose of the talk is to recruit activists, not to facilitate yet more discussion. The shape of the talk creates a very specific atmosphere and gets people to a place where they really want to be part of this movement. A Q&A dissolves that atmosphere into a lot of pointless whataboutery. Be clear. Be purposeful. Finish the talk. Hand out the signup forms. Collect them in again. Build this movement."

This advice has come about after Q&As have been hijacked and undermined the first objective - recruiting.

I'm giving a lot of thought to post-talk. I feel we didn't really give the attendees in Willesden Green support about what to do next (apart from sign up to XR). The intention is to invite people to XR Induction meetings and even hold them in your borough. That then means we'll get local people connected and the conversations which, you correctly suggest, need to happen, will be given the fertile ground to grow in the local communities.

Do you think people would be willing to support an Extinction Rebellion, Brent?