Five Early Lessons From Extinction Rebellion

How the new movement for ecological justice is reimagining the world by reimagining the art of protest, protection and healing.
By Chris Taylor / filmsforaction.org
Apr 25, 2019
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Five Early Lessons From Extinction Rebellion
Photo: Ruth Davey/Look Again - Photography for the Wellbeing of People and Planet (www.look-again.org)

Like many in the UK I have jumped feet first into the Extinction Rebellion movement. It has captured something in the zeitgeist, bringing together people across cultures and generations in a movement for fundamental global change. It’s not just about climate change. It’s about a revolution of love, deep ecology and radical transformation.

There is a long way to go. Victory will be secured over years rather than months. This is the struggle for the heart and soul of the human species, not for a quick fix climate solution. But even at this early stage we are starting to see trends and approaches that are making the difference – and that show how world-changing movements will operate in the coming global transition.

  1. This is a Self Organising System. XR is based on careful study of mass movements for civil disobedience and disruption. Local groups are free to plan and implement their own actions so long as they stay within the movement’s guiding principles. The sites occupied in London had the same freedom – to organise actions, events and activities as they saw fit.

The whole movement runs on self-organising interlinked circles connected through virtual platforms including Basecamp, Google docs and WhatsApp.

The focus on self-organisation releases untold amounts of energy and creativity. It builds agency and ownership and avoids the traps and delays of hierarchy.

  1. There is a very strong set of guiding principles. Rebels are able to navigate how to act because of ten core values. These include a shared vision, absolute non-violence, welcoming everyone and every part of everyone. Because these values are upfront and out there, they build a shared culture, which mirrors the world we are trying to create.
  2. XR’s organizational culture is “regenerative”. It aims to be nourishing and sustaining for all members. There were “welfare” tents at all London action sites offering space to relax, recuperate, meditate, practice yoga, as well as providing medical care as needed. This regenerative culture avoids burn-out and is attractive to the general population. The police were at a loss as to how to deal with such friendly protesters. Commuters grew to value the calm brought to the city, the festival atmosphere and the decrease in traffic.
  3. The movement is paying attention to its ultimate vision. XR publicly declares three concrete short term demands: governments should tell the truth about the climate emergency, they should go carbon net-neutral by 2025, and there should be a citizen’s assembly to explore and devise solutions.

But this is just the short term. Alongside this is a much longer term transformational vision, which takes its map from “the map of the human heart”. This is a vision of radical social transformation and a rebalancing of humanity’s relationship with nature. That’s the ultimate goal.

5. At its core this is a profoundly spiritual movement (with a small "s"). It is jam packed with muslims, sufis, christians, jews, quakers, buddhists and people of no faith, all exploring thier common beliefs, beyond religion. What we have found is a yearning for deeper meaning, for the magic and mystery of life, for a felt connection to the entire eco-system of this Earth. XR is alive with ceremony, contemplation and a careful, conscious action in honour of life, love and abundance. We are becoming nature protecting itself, experiencing its own beauty and evolving into its higher self.

How this will all play out is not easy to see. The movement in the UK is taking a pause, to regroup, recuperate and shift to some serious political horse-trading. What tactics will be needed to bring about both short-term policy change and long-term global transformation, only time will tell. But for sure, we’re off to a great start.

As one activist friend of mine, Nikki Levitan, put it:

“At the core of my experience this last week I see that this is the first ever activism that is heart-led, no blaming or shaming, just taking action from a place of love and collective responsibility. 
A community of all generations who care and are able to self organise. 
It is amazing when humans step out into the world and really do something and be the change, it unleashes so much creativity, possibility and courage.”

Mao once said “The Revolution is not a dinner party”. XR is showing it might just start with a street party instead.

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