Extinction Rebellion trains activists in civil disobedience

A group of roughly 200 activists gathered in the dilapidated Limehouse Town Hall last weekend to undergo civil disobedience training. The event was coordinated by the climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion.

The group Extinction Rebellion was established earlier this year in response to the “humanitarian crisis of climate change”.

On 31st October they issued a “Declaration of Rebellion” stating “This autumn there will be a rebellion against the British Government for its crimes against humanity.” The declaration pledges a series of disruptive actions, culminating in “Rebellion Day,” an act of civil disobedience in Parliament Square on 17th November. 

The declaration also demands the government commit to zero net carbon emissions by 2025 and a People’s Assembly to “oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.”

The training days– two this past weekend and another scheduled for this Friday— were provided to prepare activists and would-be activists for the 17th November protest and the events leading up to it.

Participants on Saturday were first welcomed and briefed by Extinction Rebellion administrator Stu (only first names were provided), who laid the groundwork for the day and warned of the likely presence of corporate spies. “We’ve built a plan that can hopefully survive infiltration,” said Stu.

“This is not a safe space,” warned another Extinction Rebellion representative. “I don’t think there are any safe spaces in capitalism.”

Group rules were laid out, starting with “respect everyone’s opinion–provided it’s not offensive.” Participants were also encouraged to use group communication signals, which included the raising of hands for silence and jazz hands to express agreement.

Activities included the creation of “affinity groups,” or groups of 5-10 activists with similar levels of commitment, ranging from a willingness to show up on 17th November to a willingness to go to prison. The newly-formed groups then selected a leader and a “Wellbeing Coordinator.”

Participants learned disruption tactics including sitting in the road to block traffic, supergluing hands to buildings, and how to safely damage windows. Administrators issued an action consensus, stressing “we will be strictly non-violent in our actions and communications with members of the public, workers, the authorities and each other at all times.”

The training also included role-play. Participants were divided into “activists” and “angry civilians” and practiced de-escalation tactics to be used in sit-in protests. Participants then divided into the roles of activists and the police and practiced being dragged away by cops.

Participants rehearse de-escalation tactics

Administrators told participants to prepare for harsh treatment from the actual police, warning of the possibility of unfair treatment toward minorities or the inappropriate touching of women when dragged. “If you’ve got a lot of face cutlery,” warned one, “you may want to take them off. I’ve seen the cops give a nose ring a twist.”

Police-Activist role play

According to Stu, over 500 activists thus far have expressed a willingness to be arrested as an attention-gaining tactic. Some in attendance, however, were uncertain, citing family commitments, loss of employment, and the inability to leave the country as reasons to not get arrested. One participant, a retired doctor who read about the movement in the Guardian, weighed his commitments. “I have upcoming travel plans to visit family. I also have Italian lessons on Thursdays. Is that more important? Not really.”

The group was also not without its skeptics. “I think the name Extinction Rebellion and the logo is very confrontational,” said one activist privately to LS. The green and black logo depicts an X-shaped hourglass, and flyers are printed with a series of Warhol-like skulls.

Others found the anti-capitalist rhetoric unpragmatic. One participant who works for a climate watchdog NGO found the establishment of a people’s assembly unrealistic. “I come from an approach that works within capitalism,” she said. “But I came because I wanted to see the other side.”

Yesterday, twenty-two people were arrested during a protest organised by Extinction Rebellion. The protesters glued their hands to the windows of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and one woman spray-painted the words “Frack Off.”

Extinction Rebellion protests, including a “Queer Party to Save the Amazon” outside the Brazilian embassy this Thursday, are due to continue throughout the week. “Rebellion Day” will take place from 10-3pm on Saturday, 17th November around Parliament Square.

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