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”
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 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.
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.
All criticisms in full solidarity, with love and understanding.
Rage and Defiance.