[WSMDiscuss] Fwd: Debate on Extinction Rebellion, cont'd (Tadzio Mueller and John Sinha)

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Thu Apr 25 21:10:29 CEST 2019

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Movements in movement…, Climate in movement…, Ideas in movement…

[Apologies for this flood of posts from me today, but it's because something’s in the air… / there is so much going on !

[Here is a very interesting response by John Sinha on the CJN! list to Tadzio Mueller’s post titled ‘Debate on Extinction Rebellion’ that I tagged on to my post last night (April 24) my time titled ‘Letter to Extinction Rebellion and the environmental movement (UK)’, on the dynamics of the two movements that have irrupted – and seem to have caught public imaginations so widely - over the past some months, XR and F4F, and especially on how and why they have succeeded in irrupting on the scale they have.  Tadzio’s original post is below.

[For those not familiar with the two movements, XR (Extinction Rebellion) is at https://rebellion.earth/ <https://rebellion.earth/> and Fridays for Future, the name that the ‘students strike’ movement seems to have come to have, is at https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/ <https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/>.

            Thanks, John Sinha, for this very interesting comment; and thanks again for kicking this off, Tadzio. 



> Begin forwarded message:
> From: "John Sinha" (via cjn Mailing List) <cjn at lists.riseup.net>
> Subject: Re: [climate justice now!] Debate on Extinction Rebellion
> Date: April 25, 2019 at 7:45:43 AM EDT
> To: "Mueller, Tadzio" <Tadzio.Mueller at rosalux.org>
> Cc: "Eduardo Giesen A." <cjn at lists.riseup.net>
> Reply-To: sinha.john at gmail.com

Tadzio raises points we are all asking. Why have they been so effective in such a short space of time? I myself have been involved as a participant so have been able to observe things at close hand. 

I think the most perceptive “hot take” on this subject has come from Seth Wheeler’s posting on FB. He correctly draws a  distinction  between civil disobedience and direct action. Extinction Rebellion does both, whereas the movements me and - I dare say- Tadzio  are most familiar with are direct action movements attacking the root causes of climate change, such as Endegelande or oppositional in nature such as the COP counter-mobilisations in Copenhagen or Paris.

So, what is the big difference between civil disobedience and direct action?
The key difference is that civil disobedience movements accept- at least nominally- that the state is a legitimate actor. If you read their Declaration of Rebellion (a beautiful piece of prose IMHO), they state that the social contract between state and citizen has been broken by the state’s in action on climate change. I do not think  many anarchists  and autonomists, could sign up to such a declaration as they do not accept the legitimacy of the state to begin with. And since such an approach would never be acceptable to a significant section of our movement,  we have eschewed such an approach in the past. I myself, take a more flexible (or dialectical) approach to their stance on the state as I see the potential for large numbers of ordinary people to be radicalised through such a process.

In this respect they have more in common with historic social movements such as the Chartists in England (who produced their own set of demands with a petition ), the Civil Rights movement in the USA and the early anti-nuclear movement in Britain in the form of CND. Roger Hallam has been  explicit about this

In taking this approach they are breaking a number of taboos long held in our networks. Firstly, they have abandoned consensus process in decision making, so they don’t get bogged down in endless “process issues”. They are more transparent in terms of leadership, as the Rapid Response Team (aka Roger Hallam) is responsible for making on the spot tactical decisions during the blockades. And they are raising demands on the state.

I think their demands are have been carefully crafted . They interlock and  reinforce each other. Their first demand is for the government to declare a climate emergency in order to communicate threat posed to society by the climate crisis; to  admit the “house is on fire” as Greta put it. Their second demand is for zero carbon by 2025. It is something that cannot be realised under capitalism. I don’t think even Labour under Jeremy Corbyn would put this in a manifesto. It is what  Troskyists would describe as a  transitional demand. And their third demand is for a citizens’ assembly chosen by sortition to realise the second demand. This means they can’t be accused of wanting to make the country go vegan, for instance. All such decisions will be made by a citizens assembly.

It is because they have taken such an approach that they are able to recruit hundreds of ordinary, law abiding citizens. People who in normal times would never consider themselves to be “activists” or “political”. The Declaration of Rebellion provides an intellectual and ideological justification for ordinary people to participate in civil disobedience as I have described above.

These thousand or so “arrestables”, as they are known, have been the rocket fuel of the protests. They allow the movement to go far and fast. But just like a rocket engine consumes  rocket fuel  at a prodigious  rate so the XR protest gets through arrestables quickly. So now they have run low they are having to scale back the protests.

The big question now is how can they sustain this movement over the long term? I think it will be more difficult to repeat this action again now the police know their tactics and will have counter measures in place next time. But I think the demands they raise and their Declaration of Rebellion is something that could appeal to millions of people in this country

Finally,  I think timing is also important. I don’t think this protest would have been possible in the U.K. in pre Brexit Britain. Firstly, the clear and present reality of climate change has become clearer to millions since 2016 and the political stasis in Parliament caused by Brexit makes the idea of a citizens led assembly more appealing to millions.

John Sinha

> On Wed, 24 Apr 2019 at 14:57, Mueller, Tadzio <Tadzio.Mueller at rosalux.org <mailto:Tadzio.Mueller at rosalux.org>> wrote:
> Friends and comrades,
> there’s a spirited debate on some lists about the CJ-politics of XR (or lack thereof), and I wanted to get it going on this list, too.
> Here’s an opening salvo:
> I've been watching XR in germany quite intently, and would summarise their potential (whatever their actual reality, which varies a lot, even between local base groups in different cities): in northern countries where there is a tradition of more or less legitimate climate disobedience (UK: climate camps; Germany: Ende Gelände; etc...), XR can play the super-important role of expanding the space of disobedience to include a far larger sector of society than had previously been open to a politics that breaks rules. in other words: whereas ende gelände (like climate camp) managed brilliantly to organise 'activist social movements', and bring their powers to bear on climate change, the majority of society remained spectators. this was partly due to the fact that the folks who started climate camp and ende gelände came out of years of activism organising in radical subcultures, complete with discourses and cultural practices that give us coherence, but leave many outside of our cultures with a sense of 'i'd rather not play with them'. 
> then came the epochal change that is our saint greta (i'm not being sarcastic, i'm being vaguely hegelian ;)) and f4f: a call to the rest of society to also get its asses in gear, and not leave protecting the climate to a small set of activist specialists.
> and THAT's the space that XR can step into: tactically low-level blockades (as opposed to tactically much more challenging pit- or digger-blockades) in urban spaces (so no need to travel out of town to shut down a pit), that concerned but not overly radical folks can join for an hour, a day, or however long they see fit.
> and secondly, they can connect their practices with the discoursive radicalism that F4F have injected into the debate, whereas us old-school CJ-folks tend to remain stuck in a climate discourse from a time before F4F.
> to be honest, and this is where i'd really like to pick up the baton of what tetet said: are we sure that we're not just defending our own business as usual? what is it that F4F and XR have ahead of us, why, if it's so 'superficial', 'catastrophist', unaware of the all-important justice dimension or whatever other traditional critiques of XR we might articulate: why are they sweeping the floor with us in terms of mobilisation and media attention? and what can we learn from them?
> i lived and was 'an activist' in the UK for many years, but last year in november, seemingly out of the blue, XR managed to pull something off that no other group had managed in about two decades: to mobilise some 5000 people for a blockade of london's bridges. the tactical planning seemed to have been awful, but the important thing was: totally new people joined the blockades, people who'd never done such a thing.
> and today, much of the coverage (whether in the FT or the guardian) of XR focuses on this 'totally normal people are doing this'-dynamic.
> what can we learn from them, then, seems to me the more interesting question than 'what are they getting wrong?'.
> best
> tadzio
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Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

Current associations : www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/> / http://www.openword.net.in

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Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?, Indian edition. New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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