Within a question of race and class, I feel it is important to first layout my positionality. I am white. I am middle-class. I am male. I never used to feel the need to identify myself by these labels but have since learnt that this itself is part of the privilege that is awarded to such categories. I am 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.
I do, however, whole-heartedly recognise and resent that such marginalisation is experienced with XR. I likewise despair at the lack of attention given to the plight of the Global South, lost to an over-glorification of arrests and ‘arrestees. I was also left disillusioned by the ignorant Canning Town tube action; and when I am left subsequently pondering my involvement in all of this, l can feel despondent at the failings to adequately address these issues of class and racism. However, when looking at my practical everyday experience within XR, there is a dissonance with this; one that offers me hope and purpose, which I hope I may share with you.
This hope stems from the undercurrent of groups within XR working on changing its course. XR is not one homogeneous bloc but is instead a decentralised web of groups varying in vision and focus. During the October Rebellion at the Global Justice Rebellion Site (GJRS), some of these groups – such as XR Internationalist Solidarity Network (ISN), XR Youth and XR Universities – were part of a Movement of Movements addressing global justice issues, along with the problem of race, class and decolonisation within XR. The site brought together groups from inside and outside XR, across the globe and across intersectionalities. It focused on disrupting the narrative and opening reflective critique; as opposed to disrupting the city and opening police cells.
Whilst holding many important, well-attended workshops and people’s assemblies, it did not however attract the attention of the press. This more nuanced, more patient rebellion – addressing both internal and external power structures – was not deemed eye-catching enough for our sensationalist media. Now a lot of fault lies with the initial media, messaging and methods behind XR. This has fueled the appearance of a campaign unapologetically driven by headlining grabbing arrests and white, middle-class privilege, which the media feeds off; gushing over an ever-increasing arrest tally, and further reinforcing this image.
Yet these groups working under the radar are making a difference. It was in fact through XR and groups such as XR ISN that I was able to connect with and learn from activists and indigenous peoples long fighting for global climate justice. Subsequently, it’s helped me to reach greater clarity on how vision within the Global North (and myself) is blinded by what feminist scholar Donna Harraway labels as the “White Capitalistic Patriarchy”; an insidious colonialist social conditioning that has permeated deep into the national psyche. But I’ve also come to recognise that this has become so normalised and entrenched over many centuries, that many find it seemingly impossible to see. Those with privilege barely recognise it due to never being 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 is often easy to forget XR only established itself as a movement just over a year ago. Subsequently, many involved are not experienced or well-informed activists, but simply grandparents, parents, and youth naturally concerned for their real or imagined children and futures. This by no means excuses ignorance to issues of class and race in our society, or to the historical plight of the Global South at the frontline of the environmental crisis. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the need to give space and time for re-education and unpicking this encrusted conditioning; for learning about the true roots of these global and social justice issues, and how we (the white, privileged, middle-class) actively reinforce and uphold these structures, often unconsciously.
Within XR Universities we are trying exactly that – exploring disruption through education, with alternative (non-arrestable) actions such as ‘Guerrilla teach-ins’: claiming open public spaces to discuss decolonisation and diversification of environmentalism, education and XR. This was done with success during the rebellion at King’s College London – again unmentioned in the press due to its (purposeful) lack of arrestability. We’ve since been working with a new group that emerged from the GJRS called XR Youth Internationalist Solidarity, developing workshops and other modes of collaborative learning in solidarity with local and diaspora communities, and resistance groups in the Global South. The early results of this being the launch of the Radical Alternative Education Series and it’s upcoming pilot event ‘Exploring Decolonisation: Education and Environment’.
The connected and widespread structural web of XR along with its workshop culture has the potential to take this around the country, offering the opportunity to take this education to people who previously would never have had the opportunity or thought to engage with it. This is by no means romanticising the possibilities; there will of course be resistance by some, with some key figures within XR still dragging their heels over integrating social justice issues into the core focus. But XR is not predicated on its co-founders, and fundamentally it has no leaders – if enough people and groups decide that this is important, then it becomes important. It doesn’t need a stamp of approval, it just needs to be created.
Ultimately, at a year old XR is far from set in stone, the dye is far from cast. It is still developing and learning, its visions still emerging – and I hope this will be perpetual. These critiques of XR given are therefore vital; drawing responses that reveal work within XR that you may feel more solidarity with, whilst offering those attempting this work the opportunity to express their own disillusions. Whilst the responsibility of ensuring inclusivity within XR should never fall upon those who feel marginalised, the movement nevertheless needs these critiques to open space for conversation and reflection, in which we can all learn and work towards common ground. So, I thank you J. Simons, and please feel welcome to get in touch.
Jonathan Hyde, XR Universities and XR Youth Internationalist Solidarity