FAO: Extinction Rebellion. ‘Jobs for the Rebels?’…(a gentle word)

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After careful consideration, I’ve decided to share these thoughts publicly, for what they’re worth. All criticisms are in full solidarity.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been informally helping out with some back office stuff for Extinction Rebellion (XR). Mostly it’s just been correcting typos and grammar but more substantially, I’ve been contributing to the newsletters. By keeping my relationship with XR informal, I’ve been able to test how accessible and democratic the movement is. Up until now, it had ticked all my boxes for being genuinely anti-hierarchical and grassroots. I was really impressed and excited. I had been planning to go to London tomorrow for the Declaration of Rebellion but have been having second thoughts over the last couple of days.

I’m been on the knife’s edge of going all in or all out for a while. Mostly, I’ve been torn by the courage of the arrestables. How can I not support so many brave folk? I’ll certainly still be in full support. I’ll probably still go to London tomorrow, even though I can’t really afford to. Still, I have to share these thoughts with as many rebels as I can as soon as possible, hence publishing this here now.

In the most recent edition of the XR newsletter, there was a typo-laden section originally entitled ‘Work for XR’. This was renamed, ‘Work With XR’ but fundamentally is still what it says on the tin. It links to an application form for full and part time staff. With set hours. If you’re not familiar with leaderless organising, this idea runs completely counter to everything I know about the principle. As soon as you designate staff with salaries, you introduce a toxic hierarchy. This should be understood as a basic principle.

Rising Up! had done a fantastic job of finding a ‘third way’ to help people out with what they call the ‘compensatory budget‘. It’s slightly complex but basically it boils down to ‘if you need help with something, you apply to the budget for help’.

The ‘Work with the Rebellion‘ document completely upends all the careful work that Rising Up! had done to get the compensatory budget idea right. It looks and reads like a standard corporate NGO’s recruitment drive but with added typos and mysterious, nebulous sentences which make no sense or completely contradict each other.

“Apply for this extremely narrow role with set hours”
“Practise self care and only do as much as you’re able”
To add to the confusion, the compensatory budget is linked to in this document.
It’s a generally confusing set of mixed messaging, doubtless borne out of the frustration of not being able to organise conventionally. The principle responsibilities described are web and social media, which is not encouraging to be frank. If the movement is delegating roles, I would have expected more focus on streets campaigning, stalls, occupations, innovative action design, legal etc. It suggests a lack of forward thinking, which until now had not concerned me, because I thought everybody was on the same page regarding scalability.

It reads to me like what I think it probably is, activists burning out (some for the first time maybe) and panicking at the precise moment they need to be calmly debriefing shitloads of brand new people. Tomorrow and the next few weeks are a critical juncture in the movement’s PRAXIS cycle. The ‘action’ phase.

I made it clear to the rebels driving this idea that it was a red line for me, that I would sadly have to withdraw my help if it went ahead. Initially, I was encouraged to receive warm words and ‘100%’ agreement on the points I raised, but no real discussion was forthcoming. I resumed work on the newsletter. Then out of the blue, a rebel got in touch to say it looked really good but they’d put the offending section back in. I made the same case against doing this and received more agreement but then yesterday the newsletter went out with the offending section included.

I understand where it’s coming from because I’ve seen all this before with aspiring radical social movements, more than once. What’s different about XR is that there are so many people explicitly up for going to prison. That’s a radical angle which hasn’t been explored in this country for a long time. It’s well overdue this revisiting which XR has gifted us.

Regarding the anti-hierarchical nature of ‘Jobs for the Rebels’ idea though, there’s a gardening analogy here which might be useful. When you first get an allotment, or a garden, most people’s first inclination is to try to organise it but nature has a mind of it’s own and probably has better ideas than you. Eventually you realise that all you can do is encourage it to grow the way you think it should. That’s what social movements are like. If you start investing all your compost’s nutrients in potatoes, you ain’t gonna get no peppers…

Introducing paid staff is neither scalable, nor sustainable. Not for an international movement. Instead, I would have loved to have helped develop a clear call to action which empowered actual leaderless holocracy, incentivised by righteous anger and moral fortitude.

All XR’s core group should be doing is developing simple systems for effectively and dynamically delegating roles. I bet there are loads more people like me who want to volunteer their time and skills pro bono, simply because it’s the right thing to do. If there are funds kicking around, surely they should be prioritised for upcoming court support primarily and for clever NVCD actions?
I had been really enjoying working with the rebels directly, albeit informally. I’m glad I kept the relationship informal though because it means I can now walk away without causing too much disruption but I am gutted. I’ve seen this before. I tried to warn them against it. It’s a real shame.

I’ll still be supporting the rebellion. Fully. How could I not when hundreds of people are going to risk going to prison together? I need to be true to my convictions though. I think this was the wrong decision to make and I really hope it gets properly sorted out imminently.

Feels good to get that off my chest. I’ve taken as much care as I can to be kind and helpful here. Apologies if this offends but I think it’s really important if the movement is to become the movement it needs to be.

I will most likely be attending the Declaration of Rebellion tomorrow to livestream for Occupy News Network.

All criticisms in full solidarity, with love and understanding.

Rage and Defiance.

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