Climate change is a national emergency that needs solving. But what’s protesting outside an empty parliament over Easter going to do? Extinction Rebellion (XR) have pretty impressive scientific backing, and rightly so. But is being a public nuisance in the name of climate change really the image we want to put across?
More than 1000 people were arrested over 10 days of protests, but to what end? This is enough to put a vast majority of people off activism, especially those with ambitious career goals, or families to care for.
While I understand the necessity to shout the message from the rooftops, why shout at the police? Riot squads have absolutely no political aims other than to keep the streets safe for citizens, nor do they have an agenda against protesters, climate related or otherwise. By making their jobs more difficult, we are taking vital services away from an already underfunded police force that has no control over climate policy, and bigger issues to face than civil disruption.
It takes a particular kind of person to be able to take action in the manner of XR. The work is tireless, and this is simply not accessible for everyone. It requires countless hours of preparation, and physical and mental energy that is just not abundant for people suffering with disabilities for example.
A common trope is that all XR activists are young, rich and white. In a way, I can’t help but agree. Students holding down jobs alongside their studies often don’t have the time to engage with activities that often take up whole weekends, and nor do parents or people with demanding jobs.
Protesting is also more risky for people of colour. Despite equality advances in the police force, BAME people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched. XR’s protests feel almost exclusionary. Considering alternative routes to increase diversity would help XR increase its numbers.
As a young activist, I prefer to align myself with the work of UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) and #youthstrike4climate. While the message is identical to XR’s, UKYCC ensures its action is appropriate for the children who founded the organisation. Some may say action appropriate for children is appropriate in the eyes of the law, and considerate of individual needs. It’s also what XR is lacking.
While I don’t doubt the need for occasional marches – a clear statement used for generations to convey the views of society – lobbying MPs and businesses is far more useful.
Extinction Rebellion is flawed, but I stand by their intentions. Activism throughout history has always been seen as problematic in retrospect, no matter how great an improvement it kindled. I doubt this will be different.