Clare Farrell is a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and co-editor of the movement’s handbook This Is Not A Drill. Below, she responds to press criticism of XR following the group’s blockading of News Corp’s printing presses.
Since we blocked News Corp’s printing presses on Friday night, the right-wing media have been trying to place us firmly on one side of the culture war. But Extinction Rebellion has never been about being “woke” – at least, not in the sense weaponised by the right to stoke polarised conflict.
The claims made this week that Extinction Rebellion poses a threat to the UK’s way of life is a deliberate tactic to maintain a high fear environment. They aim to divide, leaving us unable to come together in collective determination to overcome the tyranny of those few who hope to cancel the future for short-term profit.
We’ve been hit with some highly absurd but predictable low-blows this week after goading one of the most powerful men on the planet, Rupert Murdoch. The press are closing ranks with the government and seeking to humiliate and expose XR activists, those beautiful, disobedient human beings, compared this week to the Suffragettes.
We did not set up XR to create a home for anarchists, communists, socialists or capitalists to debate their political ideology. In fact, we ask each other to keep our isms in our pockets and meet other human beings on a level we all understand: being alive and wanting to live, wanting everyone on Earth to be able to live.
The polarising propaganda technique adopted by elite-owned media empires is the very antithesis of Extinction Rebellion’s clarion call to unite across difference, to sit around the same table and engage in dialogue – as difficult as that may be.
We are preparing to collectively let go of old certainties – the belief that power can only be measured in units of control, not liberation. It’s wildly ambitious, but why be limited by what seems politically realistic when we could be so close to losing control of our biosphere and all that supports life on Earth?
The physics of climate science is not a matter for opinionated debate – how to go about getting our emissions down and reversing biodiversity loss is the debate. Extinction Rebellion want to give that responsibility to the most inclusive and democratic political mechanism, made up of ordinary citizens: a Citizens’ Assembly. The UK just ran one, but the scope was not in line with the scale of the crisis; four weekends to deliberate the potential collapse of civilisation doesn’t seem like quite enough time to me.
Check out the French Citizens' Convention for Ecological Transition if you want to see one done well. There, 150 ordinary citizens recommended that the government should come up with a fresh vision of how to run an economy, enshrine ecocide law and amend the constitution to guarantee protection of biodiversity and serious climate action.
We have to be for something, not just against things. In a Citizens’ Assembly, we have a political solution by which to make difficult decisions, and in the proposed Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill we have a means to make it possible. We have passed this to politicians to help them out of a tight spot, because in the face of this situation they clearly don’t know what the fuck to do.
Inequality, oppression, polarisation and the success of the divide-and-rule tactics of our corporate media, government and institutions must be overcome if our species is to stand a chance of beating the dire odds we’ve been given in the face of climate and ecological crises. Standing up for justice and equality does not mean standing for the silencing of others, or for the shutting down of debate and free speech. It means educating ourselves on reparatory justice and racial justice.
In my opinion, the right-wing papers and TV pundits are correct to question the risks of totalitarian world views and cancel culture, but those are not risks posed by Extinction Rebellion.
The call to go Beyond Politics describes moving into a paradigm where we are not fighting political battles for political parties, or arguing for what’s best on the basis of our personal beliefs, but are instead open to a process that is evidence-based, fair and representative. An emergency injection of democracy into our degraded Westminster bubble. Because our democracy is not in good enough shape to deal with this killer combination of crises.
We need to learn, be curious, be open to listening and transformation through grief. We must be willing to be vulnerable, to absolutely feel what it is like to face the reality of the circumstances we are in. We must be detached from the outcomes of our actions because we know we are doing all that we can – in peace and nonviolence, in joy and grief. Turning the rage at the horror of where we are now into the determination of stepping into our own power.
Our leaders are catastrophically failing us, and the systems they are a part of simply cannot do what is needed right now. We need very different leadership – and along with a functioning democracy, a truly free press.