Are things really that bad?
Yes. We are facing an unprecedented global emergency, the planet is in crisis and we are in the midst of a mass extinction bigger and faster than the one that killed the dinosaurs. Scientists believe we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown. The Earth’s atmosphere is already over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and the chance of staying below the 2°C limit set in the Paris Agreement is tiny. Projections show we are on course for 3 degrees of warming and probably much higher.
We and our children will face unimaginable horrors as a result of floods, wildfires, extreme weather, crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society when the pressures are so great. We are unprepared for the danger our future holds.
The time for denial is over – we know the truth about climate change. It is time to act.
Who is behind XR?
A group of activists that have been working together since 2016 in a group called Rising Up! have instigated the Extinction Rebellion but it is fast becoming a decentralised mass movement belonging to everyone who cares about our future.
Where did the idea come from?
In 2016, people from several groups (Like Earth First! Occupy Democracy, Plane Stupid and Reclaim the Power) were asking how to create a movement that stood a chance of successfully addressing the dire emergency we now face. Roger Hallam was writing about How to Win! and Gail Bradbrook had designed an online system for collecting “conditional commitments” as part of Compassionate Revolution, created in the wake of Occupy Democracy. Following discussions with many others, including Simon Bramwell and Rising Up!, a draft strategy was launched in the Autumn of 2016, during an action at Heathrow Airport.
Why do you think you could succeed?
There is no guarantee of anything. World leaders have failed to adequately confront the existential threats posed by climate and ecological breakdown, let alone the causes of the crises. Polite lobbying, marching, voting, consumer- and shareholder-activism, have all failed. We are now on the brink. If asking the establishment nicely doesn’t get them to act, then the only option left is civil disobedience, to disrupt the ordinary working of things, so that decision makers HAVE to take notice.
As Frederic Douglas put it,’ “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue ‘til they are resisted with either words or blows, or both.”
We are strictly and avowedly non-violent. But we can and will use our words and our bodies to disrupt the system that threatens us all.
That said, our aim was to always test out tactics, reflect on what works and then repurpose and adapt as circumstances change. Our goal has always been to build a mass movement. We have undertaken research and training to understand how things change (see this talk). We are training coordinators on how to mass mobilise. A list of sources of information are on page 19 of this document.
We know the task ahead is daunting and the likelihood of success may seem slim, but the stakes are so high, the risks of continuing down the ruinous path we are on so dire, with all Life hanging in the balance, that doing nothing, even doing only what we’ve done before, is unthinkable.
Ultimately, we are doing this because it is the right thing to do. Given the scale of the challenge, we remain unattached to outcomes. Meaning that although we hope we can save something of Life on Earth, we are motivated by action being the right thing to do, rather than taking action because we think it will work.
People are now waking up to the enormity of the crisis that we face. The British public has always displayed enormous empathy and generosity towards people facing environmental disasters overseas. People are not stupid. They aware that these disasters are escalating in severity and frequency and that increasingly they are approaching our own shores, with thousands dying in the recent heatwave across Southern Europe. And they are rightly angry that our Government’s response to this is to approve ever more catastrophic projects to exploit ever less conventional sources of fossil fuels, such as fracking, causing earthquakes in Lancashire in grim portent of the much larger scale calamities to come. They demand a brighter future, in which we and our children are free to live in a world where we are in harmony with the rest of the living world around us, and not in conflict with it. There is a growing will to be rid of the corrupt power structures leading us ever deeper into the abyss and to forge the beautiful future that we all wish for our children and their children’s children. The time is ripe, right now, and we are confident that this is the beginning of the movement which will finally turn the tide.
However, the more of us that act on this basis in the face of the galloping global assault on our children’s futures, the more likely we hit the tipping point where the impossible becomes inevitable.
What else have you done?
We have run a number of dynamic campaigns and protests such as Stop Killing Londoners and Toxic Bankers, as well as multiple successful Fossil Fuel Divestment campaigns. You can see some of the things we have done in our youtube channel and the final part of this talk runs through a few of our previous campaigns.
What is the relationship between Rising Up and Extinction Rebellion? (and Compassionate Revolution)
Rising Up! is the group that set up Extinction Rebellion as a project. Rising Up! has been around since 2016 and has run a variety of campaigns.
Compassionate Revolution was set up in 2015 to try to build mass civil disobedience through an online platform that could capture people’s conditional commitments – “I will do this if other people do”. The website and company (for reasons of legal convenience) were used to establish Rising Up! Our bank account is in the name of Compassionate Revolution as a result. Compassionate Revolution Ltd currently has two Directors- Gail Bradbrook and George Barda. Although it is a company limited by shares (which we were advised would be easiest to set up and run), the organisation is not for profit and HMRC has therefore agreed that we do not have to pay any tax.
Are you really grassroots?
Yes. We are ordinary people who care deeply about the world and want to do whatever we can to stop the destruction of Life on Earth and the deep injustices we see, and to push for the better, fairer and more beautiful world that we all want to see. We have had some funding but no one controls us or tells us what to do.
Who are your founders?
Rising Up! was founded by Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, Simon Bramwell and others. In Winter 2016 we were joined by Stuart Basden. Various people have come and gone and our current coordination team is formed of the people most committed to doing this work.
“Some people seek to mobilize people around a general concern, like climate or war or poverty, but such mobilizations are like one-off protests—they don’t win anything”. Care to comment?
Our understanding (from This is an Uprising book) is that you can have both structural and prophetic demands and that both have their value. Structural demands (e.g. we want a 20 mile an hour speed limit here or we want to ban fracking) are more associated with the structure based organising tradition of Saul Alinsky, Ella Baker etc and prophetic demands (we want civil rights) are associated with mass mobilising traditions. In training from the Ayni Institute, we learned that a hybridisation of both of these is the most effective path to take. Our Extinction Rebellion demands take that hybrid approach.
How are you really different to Greenpeace? They do civil disobedience too.
They are a large NGO with a business model that limits their willingness to mass mobilise people in civil disobedience. The civil disobedience they feel able to undertake is limited to small teams of people. We believe that mass civil disobedience is the only way we will see vital and inspiring change on the scale that is needed.
Your campaign seems to focus on mass disruption. Are you not scared about what damage you might do to people’s lives?
We have partially shut down Heathrow Airport on two occasions and carried out many road blocks. We are always concerned about causing inconvenience to people and it doesn’t feel good when you learn someone missed an important gathering like a funeral or a hospital appointment. We are doing it as we believe we have to look at the bigger picture of how many people are dying today and how dire our trajectory is (the extreme being that human extinction is a very real possibility). In the face of this we accept that we inevitably cause inconvenience to people. We sincerely apologise to them. We are firmly and collectively of the view that, given the dismal failure of world leaders to date, disruption is now necessary to get anything like commensurate change. If there was a better, less disruptive way of doing this we would do that instead! Many of us have faced arrest, fines, convictions for our actions; some of us have been on hunger strike and gone to jail. So we are willing to take the consequences of our actions and to make personal sacrifices in order to do them. Business as usual is simply no longer a viable option.
What if an ambulance doesn’t get to the hospital in time because it is delayed by you, and someone dies?
When there are traffic jams, ambulances are redirected by their HQs. If the ambulance is already very close to the roadblock, it is let through by the protesters. We usually advise of disruption before it happens, there are frequent traffic jams in London due to all kinds of things and the services have strategies for coping with them, we aim to give them the necessary advance warning so they can alert crews and re route on the day.
We could bogged down in hypotheticals that we have taken great care to prevent and will almost certainly never happen. But I’d rather talk about the reality that’s happening right now. Our planet Earth is in an ambulance, in critical condition and urgent need of help. But our Governments and the banks and corporations they serve have not merely blocked the road to the hospital, they’ve got control of the ambulance and are wilfully driving it in the wrong direction.
Your demands are vague, slightly confusing and perhaps even contradictory. Why do you think you can achieve them?
This is probably because we have to write things down in short ‘soundbites’ that are communicable as headlines. There is much more detail underneath them. We are using cutting edge techniques to build a resilient mass movement. We know the task ahead is daunting and therefore that the likelihood of success may seem slim, but we are willing to do all we can to try and achieve this. Ultimately though, we are doing this because it is the right thing to do, in part we remain unattached to outcomes, meaning that although we hope we can save something of life on earth we try to stay motivated by action being the right thing to do (virtue ethics) rather than taking action because we think it will work (utilitarian ethics). However, the more of us that act on this basis in the face of the galloping global assault on our children’s futures, the more likely we hit the tipping point where the impossible becomes inevitable.
Why haven’t you got more tangible winnable stepping stone goals that would build moral as you win?
We have. We say the Government must reverse current policies inconsistent with acknowledging the climate emergency – there is much to be achieved there. For example banning fracking and dropping plans for a third runway at Heathrow. And reversing their decision to crush renewable energy investment while doubling down on fossil fuels. A massive Green New Deal is absolutely vital, possible and necessary.
Aren’t you just just going to get a lot of inexperienced people arrested, in prison, and with criminal records, so that you hit the headlines? 'get as many people arrested as possible, get us as much media as possible'
No, everybody taking part in non-violent civil disobedience in defense of the planet, whether experienced or not, understands the risks they are taking and the reasons why, of their own free and informed will, they are choosing to take them. We understand that this is an important element of movement building and disrupting everyday life / perceived normal reality, to create a national conversation on the climate and ecological crisis. As George Monbiot put it in his inspiring speech on 31st October 2018 at our Declaration of Rebellion against the UK Government on Parliament Square: “The only time that people know it is serious, is when people are prepared to sacrifice their liberty in defence of their beliefs”.
Where does the money come from? Who are your funders?
We have a crowdfunder online and with this and direct donations we have been given about £20,000 (you can see the names of some of the donors of larger amounts on the Fundrazr unless they choose to be anonymous). We have had money from LUSH, from Guerilla Foundation and Passionists. A Christian network has given us money but they asked not to be named. We spend money on materials, leaflets, travel, room hire, equipment and we also have made a few payments as part of a compensatory budget approach we are trialing.
Are you a registered company? What kind? Do you file audited accounts?
Yes, for historical reasons our company is called Compassionate Revolution Ltd. Its Directors are Gail Bradbrook and George Barda. It is a company limited by shares but we state clearly online we are not seeking profits and we are understood to be a not for profit by HMRC. We had legal advice that this company structure was best and simplest and it has enabled us to open a bank account (with Triodos). We file accounts, they are not independently audited because that isn’t necessary – we are not a charity.
Are you a charity?
No, charities are limited by law in both what they can campaign for, and the strategies permitted them; such as civil disobedience, which has been central to most chapters in the inspiring story of social progress.
You are advertising for staff. Aren’t you just like a charity in its initial stages?
We are not advertising for “staff”, we are asking for people to step forward and support the work. That is and feels quite different. We are trying to create a process to involve other people in running this movement, because as it grows we need more capacity. We may not have money to support people involved – finances come and go, so this isn’t about a career! We have tried to find a middle way between charities / NGO’s with staff and how limiting that model is, as opposed to trying to rely purely upon volunteer energy, which also has limitations.
You advertise for people to work for you, have a nice thing called ‘compensatory budget’. Does this just mean you don’t want to pay minimum wage? Or pay tax/benefits?
The Compensatory budget is explained here. Basically we are trying to find a middle way between expecting to run this purely on volunteer energy and time and creating a formal business structure where people are relying on us for salaries and therefore we become focussed on fundraising for that. We think there are problems in either way and so we have created an alternative pathway, which is for there to be an ability to ask for money to pay bills if money is available and if the person is offering work that is most needed and fits our strategy. Obviously there are various ways that could go wrong! We will see how it works and change it if needs be. This kind of thinking fits to new forms of running organisations as explained in Frederick Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations. Many of us are working long hours for free, some of us have reorganised our lives to have time for this, but we still need to eat and pay the bills.
What is your structure?
Rising Up! has a “Holding Group” and informal “Advisory Group” (those that come to strategy meetings). This is explained within this document. However since we established Extinction Rebellion as a campaign the Holding Group has not met because all of our energy is going into the Extinction Rebellion.
Is your organisation horizontal? Why not?
We are a decentralised organisation – anyone can do things in the name of Rising Up! / Extinction Rebellion if they agree with and adhere to our principles and values – people don’t need anyone’s permission on that basis. We use holacracy as a decision making tool – people are empowered to get on with jobs without everyone agreeing on outputs. Good holacracy includes taking advice and feedback from at least two people and being responsible for outcomes. We have learned from previous movements and groups that consensus can really clog things up and drain energy so we wanted to try a different model to empower participation. Strategic decisions are made by the coordination team, those who are putting in the most time to make this thing happen. That said we are currently investigating ways to improve this.
How do you make decisions?
We use holacracy as a decision making tool – people are empowered to get on with jobs again without everyone agreeing with outputs. Good holacracy includes taking advice and feedback from at least two people and being responsible for outcomes. Strategic decisions are made by the coordination team, those who are putting in the most time to make this thing happen. That said we are currently investigating ways to improve this.
Are you democratic?
People have a variety of views of what democracy means – it tends to be associated with voting. We don’t have a system where everyone votes on everything – we haven’t set ourselves up as a consensus based organisation. Our experience is that this clogs things up and can hold back effective action. Those willing to do the work decide how the work is done through our holacracy process (so long as it fits with the principles and values and the agreed strategy of the project). Strategy meetings have been advertised in our basecamp organising platform to date. As we are growing we need to change how we do things. We are currently consulting about this. We have been using something good enough for now and doing our best to empower participation, while allowing ourselves the dynamism and flexibility to evolve and thereby avoid petrification or stagnation.
Isn’t it selfish to demand that the government completely change its policy for the whims of a few radical activists?
This is not a political movement in that sense. This is not left nor right, not beholden to one tribe. This is a movement for humanity, to offer our children, and their children, and their children, a better world, one where they are not facing the same existential threat that we are today, a world we can be proud to hand over. The change we demand is vital for everyone, rich, poor, left, right. For a world that doesn’t see our planet as a resource, but a home. We represent Life, for those who have been kept in the dark, and whose voices have been silenced.
How are these decisions transparent and accountable?
People have access to our organising documents, proposal process, etc through our campaign overview document and through conversations on Basecamp.
I’ve heard XR described as a con, a trick. How do I know you are the real deal?
We assume that attacks on us as a network and on individuals will increase as we gain more publicity. Look up the people behind this online and make up your own mind. We all have our own journeys towards trust. Organise with us and we will earn yours.
Do you not realise you are promoting an eco fascist agenda?
We are not promoting an eco fascist agenda, we have worried about that as a possibility and taken steps to mitigate for that possibility. We seek a genuine democracy that dethrones the corrupt incumbent interests that continue to undermine democracy and that have held back change for so long – and with such lethal consequences. We proceed mindful of constant attempts by powerful interests to capture and hollow out movements for meaningful change. This is a key reason we are demanding a national Citizen Assembly to come up with a comprehensive blueprint for transformation, that can sidestep the norm of backroom vested interests dominating real world political policy. It is largely this yawning democratic deficit, nationally and globally, that accounts for the life-as-we-know-it sized gulf between political rhetoric and actual policy.
I’m worried that you are asking Government to move to emergency mode. Will we not see the shock doctrine in action when that happens?
Our third demand is for a Citizens Assembly (CA) to define the changes, so that we aren’t handing more power to our Government. We understand that the structure of government in this country has the ability to implement the necessary changes, in partnership with local communities, but that our democracy is inadequate to overseeing this and so it needs changing. Hence the CA demand. A Citizens Assembly is a bit like jury service here in the UK. You get called up completely at random. The idea is that the group forming the jury represents a cross-section of society. The same goes for a Citizens Assembly.
A process called ‘sortition’ is used, where random people will get selected to be on the Citizens Assembly. Have a look at the Sortition Foundation’s website where they explain more about this process. Using a Citizens Assembly rather than getting our current politicians to try and resolve the issues of climate change will mean more transparency and real commitment to find a true solution, rather than one that will only work for the few.
Is your movement just reductionist? Are you just advocating a technical solution?
We do not put forwards specific solutions – it is down to the Citizens Assembly to come up with solutions, having first heard from various experts. The way we frame the question for the Citizens Assembly will mitigate against narrow solutions that are ineffective for dealing with the wider contact and system-wide issues.
Your movement seems a bit woowoo to me, what’s with the shamans and all that?
Many, though not all of us, have a “spiritual” orientation and we welcome anyone regardless of their beliefs. We think that people protect the things that they love and that embracing our love of life and the natural world is not something we should shy away from. That said, we are not naive or uninformed about social and economic justice.
Don't you realise that if people get arrested who are black they will get far worse treatment? And aren't you too nice about the police?
Yes, we are aware of the structural racism in our policing and legal system. We give people information about arrest and those of us who are white have acknowledged our privilege, in the likelihood that we will be treated differently / better than our colleagues of colour. People can take a variety of roles. We think it’s important for white people to use their privilege. People of colour (PoC) have been more at risk for generations in defence of the environment and their lands, both here in the UK and around the world. It is time to for white people to take this risk too so that PoCs, who are threatened by structural racism, don’t have to. The ecological crisis affects people of colour more than it does white people currently. Environmental activists of colour in other countries have been killed for defending their land. We also try to acknowledge the police as human beings and to be respectful during our protests, but this does not make us naive about what the police have done to activists and communities in the UK. Activists have been subjected to lies, assault, the spy cop trauma and worse.
Aren’t you just further enabling Agenda 21?
Agenda 21, like many other programmes, had no legal basis for change and therefore was ineffective. We seek a legally binding change, with a Citizens Assembly in charge.
I don't believe the welfare of the less experienced people is likely to be very important in your group. What measures have you got in place to protect people?
We have an approach of what we call ‘regenerative culture’ in Extinction Rebellion, where we ask people to look after themselves as part of being involved. We have a team that aims to ensure support is in place, before, during and after actions. We ask affinity groups to assign a well-being person to each group. However, there is limited capacity and we work very hard to make people aware of the risks they are taking. So this is an important issue to us.
I can understand the rationale for civil disobedience to stop fracking, but your targets just seem nebulous. Convince me I’m wrong.
We will support front line activism as much as we can, but we think it is also important that a whole systems approach is taken, which is about mass civil disobedience aimed at the seat of power. We have thought carefully about our targets and our tactics. We have learned from historic movements about how things change and we have learned that mass mobilisation in this way is crucial. Also, we demand that the Government reverses policies that are inconsistent with the ecological emergency – so this would include things like banning fracking.
Are you professional lifestyle activists?
We are are not doing this to be cool, though it is good to associate with like-minded folk who care enough to devote themselves to the cause. Many of us have made significant personal sacrifices in order to follow our convictions and help others, so the accusation that this is done in order to acquire an advantageous or desirable lifestyle is baseless and quite misses the point.
Professional imples someone is paying us to do this, which isn’t the case. We care deeply about the situation we find ourselves in and many of us have oriented our lives in service to making things better. However if by professional you mean organised and committed then yes in our attitude we try to be.
Aren’t you alienating a lot of the people that you should be working with?
Yes, we may be. There is far less awareness than we need in the public around just how bad a situation we are in, though there are signs that this is finally and rapidly improving. This goes to the very heart of the problem. And so, yes, people who do not understand, or who through denial reject the gravity of the situation being laid out by scientists, may find it easy to disagree with the actions and find us alienating.
The aim is not to alienate people, of course. The aim is to make these most critical and urgent issues of our time finally unignorable to decision makers. If they want less disruption, they must act.
Yes, this is an uncompromising stance to adopt, we accept that. We do because we have clear sight of the utterly uncompromising nature of the situation we are in.
Are you part of a conspiracy to destroy the environmental movement in the UK?
Ha ha ha ha ha (hopefully that didn’t come across as maniacal)
Aren't you taking energy away from the frontlines of environmental activism?
We stand in solidarity with all those fighting frontline issues. On our core team / main organisers, we have supported and / or organised actions related to Heathrow, incineration, fracking, HS2 and Pont Valley. We have been arrested fined, gone to jail, gone on hunger strike. We will support front line activism as much as we can, but we think it is also important that a whole systems approach is taken which is about mass civil disobedience aimed at the seat of power. Front lines keep opening up because the system is toxic.
Are you funded by Soros or a rebranded Occupy to usher in the need for death squads? Or some sort of fascist death cult?
No. Though some of us were part of Occupy the first time around, many of us weren’t.
So you get to sit down with the government, what would you say?
Do you understand how bad things are? If so what is stopping you from making the changes that are needed? We are focussed on developing a mass movement of civil disobedience and we have no intention of stopping until we deal with the crisis we are in. Our first demand is that you reverse policies inconsistent with addressing our ecological crises. The climate crisis requires urgent and drastic action to decarbonise the economy as quickly as possible. How can you possibly promote fracking in the face of that, using taxpayers money?! Or push for a third runway at Heathrow?! Or reverse the expansion of renewable energy?!