I’ve been in a right futz over the festive period. I quit Extinction Rebellion (XR) again. For those rebels who are feeling sensitive to criticism, please understand that the following is not intended as an ‘attack’. I’m sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences in the spirit of solidarity and for the sake of mutual understanding.
I have been creating Extinction Symbol related content since before XR adopted it as their logo, so was involved with the movement before it began. When I volunteered to help more directly in October last year, I was delegated to help with the newsletter for which I suggested including items like the ‘Latest News and Data’ and Extreme Weather Reports.
“Tell the Truth”
A vital component of XR’s strategy is telling the truth: getting real on the extinction emergency. The reports I compiled summarised the escalating extreme weather events taking place around the world. The unvarnished true horror of the escalating crisis, in context. It’s been traumatic, cataloguing these events constantly. I had tried before under different auspices but it was too much to maintain regularly. XR gave me hope that there were others who might help carry the load, facing the horrors together.
The last three months have been the longest sustained period of staring into the abyss I’ve managed yet. I was struggling to keep it up. It hit me pretty hard then, when the rebel hivemind suggested cutting the “Extreme Weather” reports from the newsletter. (Eventually, they rowed back and decided to include the reports after all).
This recent experience wasn’t the first which left a bitter taste though and it wasn’t the last.
I had issues with XR from day one, some of which I gave voice to publicly, some privately, some of which I held back altogether. I quit once already but soon rejoined. How could I not? There are still no sidelines but I can’t stay on board a ship I see going in the wrong direction and which is apparently deaf to even friendly critics. This isn’t my first rodeo and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen these issues play out.
An inability to take criticism
Early on, back in August/September time the first local XR talk I attended was pretty rough. I contacted one of the core group privately afterwards to share the footage I took and offered to write up some constructive notes. I received warm words but zero follow up. I offered a useful, contemporary rationale for non-violence to counter the charge of revisionism, how XR and Rising Up! (RU) airbrush out the influence of Baghat Singh, Malcolm X and others in their accounts of revolutionary moments in history (see the Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests movement as a contemporary reference point for the sort of violent insurrection I’m talking about here). My point was that airbrushing out this aspect of the revolutionary cycle left people unprepared for the potential horrors ahead, the antagonists of which could just as easily be angry riots as mother nature’s fury. I received warm words but zero follow up. Fair enough, I thought. They’re probably busy. They don’t know me yet. Trust is a two way street.
The first national Yellow Vests demo in the UK is scheduled for the 12th January.
The XRblog site is supposed to function on ‘holacratic lines’. I was invited to help with the understanding that we would simply get a +1 before publishing anything. Every time I emailed the other admins for a +1 on anything I’d written myself, I was ignored. Meanwhile, all the design stuff I suggested and did on the site was warmly and gratefully received. Last I heard, there were still discussions taking place around the site’s constitution, including whether or not to actively invite right wing views.
I objected strongly to the ‘Jobs for the Rebels‘ debacle when it first reared it’s head in late October last year. My objections were twofold – that fundamentally, salaried staffers would introduce a toxic, anti-democratic hierarchy and that this would ruin the careful work that RU had done on finding a ‘third way’ to make funding accessible for people who need it – namely, the ‘compensatory budget’. I received warm words and 100% agreement on my points but ultimately they went ahead with it anyway.
I was encouraged to be invited into the core group’s discussion around Emily Apple’s article in the Canary, which criticised XR’s privileged, exclusive attitude to policing. Much of the private discussion I participated in was warm and encouraging, some of it was not. I invested a day or so carefully drafting a response which acknowledged the criticism and represented the responses I had heard. This draft was well received by some but the discussion stalled. As far as I know, there has still been zero public response, though a detailed FAQ was written up on the website which talked around the issues.
Honour the Sacrifice?
The bravery of the arrestables and imprisonables is what really compelled me to actively support XR. I had been keeping a rolling arrest count in each newsletter. Back in November, I pointed out how it was becoming harder to keep track of the number of arrestees and suggested it would be a good idea to develop a page on the main website for this purpose. I received warm words and encouragement. I followed it up with all the teams of rebels I was in touch with, for about a month. Warm words. 100% agreement. Zero follow up. Eventually, one rebel actually advised against it, saying “Tracking non-linear growth is cool. Tracking linear growth or a slow-down in growth is a little tedious“. I was shocked. This was in an email thread I started, entitled, “New page proposal for website – Honour the Sacrifice: Rolling Arrest Count“. There have been well over a dozen more arrests since that conversation. Another rebel said there was a spreadsheet, somewhere. It must be approaching, or have exceeded 200 now but sadly it looks like there’s still no official, public count to check.
In December, a couple of rebels asked if I would be able to livestream again, this time for the “XR Reclaim the BBC” demo. I said I’d love to but would need my travel and data expenses covered in advance, because I was (still am) skint. Two rebels from the compensatory budget team got back to me saying yes this would be fine. I cancelled my winter solstice plans and prepared myself for a day standing around in what was forecast to be inclement weather conditions. The transfer didn’t come through though. They got somebody else. It bears mentioning here that previously, the comp budget team had been in touch voluntarily, offering to reimburse my travel and data costs for livestreaming the Declaration of Rebellion (Oct 31st), the Swarming actions (Nov 22nd, 23rd) and Rebellion Day 2 (Nov 24th) which they did.
Additionally, I had been helping out with; livestreaming, video editing, creating graphics, making animations, web designing, copywriting and those most vital and glamourous of tasks, archiving and proofreading. I had given myself over 100% to the movement; heart, body and mind.
It wasn’t any one of the bad experiences I’ve mentioned here which made me quit, it was the cumulative effect of all of them and those which I’ve left out for the sake of kindness and understanding.
I was considering what to do about it all, whether to join the basecamp group to make my voice heard more clearly. I’m probably on ‘their’ database now anyway…but then, the day after the BBC action, I came across this repost, which was the straw which broke the camel’s back.
” Extinction Rebellion is controlled opposition, stop funding a few thousands of pounds a month for a “entitled feeling few”
—- edit this is my post from 2 weeks ago —- financial doc link still at bottom
My RisingUp email adress has now been closed if you mail me there u will get the following auto response
Hi all this mail box is no longer monitored or logged in, regretfully i am no longer working within Rising Up and by extension Extinction Rebellion, while i feel the message is very important we have gone a very very long way from being an Activist campaign, i would question the moral involvement of anyone who feels they need to be working in “the office” and “paid a wage” other than expenses.
The security implications of XR have been a joke we have been and are fully infiltrated i believe the group has now become controlled opposition, we have very quickly helped the Met police build a database and profile of thousands of activists, there have been officers witnessed in plain clothes in the office camera crews left recording confidential phone calls and people going about there business it is complacent and disgusting.
I can only stress that our current political climate you have seen with Right and Left wing groups being banned and branded as terrorism that any assistance to the police and any descaling of security is a joke and people suggesting such should be looked at very carefully.
Even now there are a lot of unsecured databases critical documents with personal information anybody willing to put themselves as DPO should consider the legal responsibilities very very carefully you will at current state be going to prison, i would also like to point out to the “DIRECTORS” of RU currently George Barda, Gail Bradbrook, Rodger Hallam, that because RU is set up as a company you three are currently legally liable.
The fact that there has still been no public statement put out via XR on our various social media accounts shows how back handed and dirty and non transparent it has become.’ “
Ian R Crane is a contentious figure and I’m not sure XR is ‘controlled opposition’, at least not yet anyway, (more on that shortly). There is also a certain irony in criticising XR/RU for not being transparent, then linking to their transparent, public spreadsheet as evidence…For me though, the criticism detailing expenses claims of between £800-£1400 pcm is entirely valid.
I’ve been surviving on £400 pcm ESA, sofasurfing with friends and family for nearly a decade now. Where’s my ‘Soros cheques’? Oh yeah, I didn’t ask for them, because I recognise that in spite of my disadvantages I’m privileged to have food, shelter and (basic) technological tools and skills to offer.
‘Pcm’ denotes effective salaries. For a ‘grass roots’, ‘leaderless’, ‘holacratic’ movement. Who claim to recognise their privilege. Who have already raised in excess of £100, 000…
I’d be a mug to keep helping XR for free now, while a privileged few claim a monthly salary to not count how many people they’ve persuaded to get nicked.
I shared the repost above with the link to the spreadsheet and quietly announced that I was leaving XR again. I quit the xrblog and newsletter hiveminds but decided to just shut the fuck up and meditate on it all over Christmas and New Year while I decided what to do, whether or not to share all this publicly. After much agonising, I figured that I owe my rebel and non rebel friends, supporters and subscribers an explanation for my reasoning and where I’m at with it all now.
Baby with the bathwater
I’m choosing my words here very carefully, because there are too many positive ripples coming out of XR to just slag it off. They’ve (we’ve) done an incredible job in terms of raising the alarm on the extinction event – even if the movement is now starting to show signs of being railroaded, watered down, infiltrated and co-opted as previous iterations of the global struggle against injustice have been.
The XR expenses are voluntarily transparent and public, or we wouldn’t be able to criticise them. They did voluntarily refund my expenses, which did save me from a couple of week’s fasting. As far as I can tell, they are still good, compassionate people, doing their best to bring about a peaceful revolution to save what’s left of the planet.
There are now hundreds, if not thousands of brave folk all over the world facing the challenge of mass extinction together. The fact that so far the majority of them are privileged, “white/middle-class/rich” doesn’t change the fact that they are trying to use their privileges to help unfuck the world. They are prepared to listen and think and discuss and learn. It’s my hope that they will take this explanation in the spirit it’s intended and learn from it, in time to make a success of the international action, scheduled to begin in April.
I’m grateful for being given license to simply acknowledge the extinction event. To break the insufferable silence. In this respect, XR have been a beacon of truth and sanity in a post truth world driven insane by deceit and fake news.
Even if the grand ambition does fizzle out into fake NGO slushfundery and talking shops, at least now we all know that we’re not facing the horror alone.
Privilege as a tactic?
It seems to me the biggest schism is a tactical one. XR/RU encourage everybody taking action in their name to add their ID to their database, to take responsibility for their actions together, visibly. They have been mostly organising transparently and are evidently comfortable with these tactics and the risks they entail.
From one perspective, it’s been an overwhelming success. From the other, it’s an unfolding disaster.
The ‘open organising’ and the databases, (like all databases) are a gift to the increasingly Orwellian, corporate police state. Hundreds of activists volunteering to participate in GCHQ’s surveillance programs, JTRIG, #SpyCops operations and other psychological warfare. The next global wave of first time activists tagged and neutralised before they even get started. The last sparks of positive energy gone. It’s a massive risk.
In sufficient numbers though, the databases also become a Trojan horse – a difficult decision dillemma for the power structure: Whether or not to arrest and incarcerate hundreds of mostly privileged white, middle class people. The sacrificial spectacle proved to be a newsworthy item during previous mass actions, if nothing else.
Both perspectives are correct. I can’t fault the logic in assuming that the surveillance state holds all the cards anyway, so why not behave accordingly? Why not just all put ourselves up for incarceration if there’s only 12 years left? For me personally, the stakes are too high for such a gamble ‘en masse’. We can’t afford to risk sacrificing the last of us to the clunking fist’s mercy. How could I not support those who are making this sacrifice though?
We will see how it plays out over the coming months, as the rebels’ cases start to go through the courts. I don’t know what’s going to happen next but to my eyes and ears the signs aren’t good. Dispersed, horizontal, accessible, leaderless organising could save the day but so far I’ve seen very little effort to actually institute any of these ideas in practice, beyond using the word ‘holacratic’ lots. Introducing salaried staff was the last nail in the coffin of that idea as far as I’m concerned. You can have paid staff, or you can have leaderlessness. You can’t have both, in my humble opinion. Hopefully there will be some funds left to administrate mass prisoner support if and when it becomes necessary…
I genuinely hope I’m wrong and the rebels continue to be succesful in their efforts to bring about meaningful change. Who knows, all these issues might be properly dealt with soon and I might find myself back ‘in’.
For now though, as much as it pains me, I’m out. If any rebels want to discuss any of this feel free to email privately, or comment below.
Fare thee well Extinction Rebellion, good luck.
I hope we all make it.
since you’re here,…
…the grauniad has a massive great box at the end of their articles, asking for regular contributions towards their operation. There’s a similar size ‘ask’ cut and pasted into most media and NGO’s blurbs too, even grassroots movements are doing it now… Pretty much every other site on the internet does it, while carrying advertising. Many have paywalls for some, if not all of their content. Exclusive little filter bubbles for rich people’s views.
If it’s not accessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary, so all content on this site is offered free and with no paywalls. #AdvertisingShitsInYourHead so this site suffers no advertising on it’s subscribers either.
Ann Narkeh is currently so skint that they’re talking about themselves in the third person. This laptop’s on it’s way out again and the wordpress subs are due soon. IF YOU’RE ABLE to make a regular, (or a one-off), micro (or macro) paypal contribution towards keeping this website online and productive, please do.
If you’re also skint, any help sharing this stuff is equally appreciated, cheers.