Thank you for criticising Extinction Rebellion, J. Simons: You’ve helped those working to make the movement intersectional
I feel it’s important to first say this: I’m white. I’m middle-class. I’m male. I never used to feel the need to identify myself by these labels. But I’ve learnt that this itself is part of the privilege that comes with such categories. I’m also a part of Extinction Rebellion (XR), and therefore will never experience the marginalisation that J. Simons, and many others, have encountered. Thus, I apologise in advance for any insensitive oversights that may occur within this piece.
However, I whole-heartedly recognise and resent that anyone has experienced such marginalisation with XR. I likewise despair at the lack of attention given to the plight of the Global South. It’s lost to an over-glorification of arrests and “arrestees”. I was also left disillusioned by the ignorant Canning Town tube action. When I’ve, subsequently, pondered my involvement in all of this, I’ve felt despondent at the failings to adequately address issues of class and racism. However, when looking at my practical everyday experience within XR, there’s a dissonance with this. My experience in XR has also offered me hope and purpose. I hope I may share it with you.
This hope stems from the undercurrent of groups within XR, working to change its course. XR isn’t one homogeneous bloc. Rather, it’s a decentralised web of diverse groups. During the October Rebellion some of these groups – including XR Internationalist Solidarity Network, XR Youth and XR Universities – joined a movement of movements addressing global justice issues, race, class and decolonisation within XR. They created the Global Justice Rebellion Site (GJRS) at St James’s Park in October. It brought together groups from inside and outside XR, across the globe and across intersectionalities. This focused on disrupting the narrative and opening reflective critique; rather than disrupting the city and opening police cells.
A side of Extinction Rebellion the media never tells us about
Whilst holding many important, well-attended workshops and people’s assemblies, the GJRS didn’t attract journalists’ attention. This nuanced, more patient rebellion – addressing both internal and external power structures – wasn’t prioritised by our sensationalist media. Nevertheless, much fault lies with XR’s initial media, messaging and methods. This fuelled the appearance of a campaign unapologetically driven by headline‑grabbing arrests and white, middle-class privilege. Reports of ever-increasing arrest tallies further reinforcing this image.
Yet, these groups working under the radar are making a difference. For instance, it was through XR Internationalist Solidarity Network that I could connect with and learn from indigenous peoples who’ve long fought for global climate justice. Subsequently, it’s helped me understand how the Global North (and myself) is blinded by what feminist scholar Donna Harraway calls the “white capitalist patriarchy”. This is the insidious colonialist social conditioning that’s permeated deep into our national psyche. But I’ve also recognised that this has become so entrenched over many centuries that those with privilege barely recognise. They’ve never been at the oppressive, hard brunt of such power relations. Many have never stopped to truly think about this, simply because they have the privilege of never having to.
It’s easy to forget that XR established itself only about a year ago. Consequently, many members aren’t experienced or well-informed activists. They’re grandparents, parents and youth, concerned for their real or imagined children and futures. But this doesn’t excuse ignorance about class and race or the historical plight of the Global South at the front-line of environmental crisis. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the need to give space and time for re-education and unpicking this ingrained conditioning. Space to learn the true roots of global and social justice issues, and how we (white, privileged, middle-class people) actively, and often unconsciously, reinforce these structures.
Creating space to learn within the movement
Within XR Universities we’re exploring disruption through education, with alternative (non-arrestable) actions like “guerilla teach-ins”. We claim public spaces to discuss decolonising and diversifying environmentalism, education and XR. We did this successfully during the rebellion at King’s College London. However, the press didn’t mentioned this due to its (purposeful) lack of arrests. We’ve since worked with a new group that emerged from the GJRS called XR Youth Solidarity Network. Following this, we’re developing methods for collaborative learning in solidarity with local and diaspora communities and Global South resistance groups.
XR’s network structure and its workshop culture have the potential to replicate this education around the country. That’d offer opportunities to take this education to people who’ve previously never been able or thought to engage with it. We can’t romanticise the possibilities; some key figures within XR still drag their heels over integrating social justice issues into the movement’s core focus. But XR isn’t predicated on its co-founders. Fundamentally it has no leaders. If enough people decide this is important, then it becomes important. Hence, it doesn’t need approval; it just needs to be created.
In the end, XR’s dye is far from cast. It’s still developing and learning. Its visions are still emerging, and I hope this’ll be perpetual.
J., the critiques that you’ve given are therefore vital. They draw responses that reveal work within XR that you may feel more solidarity with. You’ve enabled those attempting this work the opportunity to express their disillusions.
The responsibility of ensuring inclusivity within XR should never fall upon those who feel marginalised. Nonetheless, the movement needs these critiques to open space for conversation and reflection. That’s where we can all learn and discover common ground. So, I thank you, and please feel welcome to get in touch.
Jonathan Hyde studies MA Climate Change: History, Culture, Society at King’s College London and is an activist with XR Universities.
The XR Global Justice Rebellion tweets at @gjrsite.
Photo credit: David Dahlborn and XR.
Would you like to write a reply? Email the opinion editor at david.dahlborn.13 [at] ucl.ac.uk.