Four Faces of
Meet four very different hands-on activists behind the direct action environmental movement which wants to save the world.
Before they shut down five bridges in London last November, nobody had heard of Extinction Rebellion.
Since then, they have quickly established themselves as today’s most interesting direct action environmental group, with the hallmarks of all great civil rights and resistance movements embossed on all of their activities.
Byline Times spoke to a mix of the group’s members to find out who they are and why they decided to take action…
Fox, wildlife biologist and science communicator
‘Fox’ has spent the past six years as a working biologist. Although he felt he was making a difference protecting wildlife, he became increasingly convinced that he was only dealing with the symptoms of a bigger problem. There are many scientists like him in the field making observations and trying to repair the damage where they can, but things are still going from bad to worse.
So, it seemed to Fox, he needed to do something more drastic.
For Fox, the strength of Extinction Rebellion – or XR as insiders call the group – was its ecosystem-like structure. Small cells decide on their own actions and, as long as they sense-check them with another group, they have autonomy.
“XR developed its tactics based on research of previous social and resistance movements and saw that many violent revolutions fail because they end up becoming dictatorships, whereas non-violent direct action tends to succeed.”
Paolo, veteran of radical and protest groups
Paulo is a veteran of radical and protest movements. His group tried to shut down the BBC with non-violent action last December. He was drawn to XR because he felt it was kinder and more caring than other radical groups he’d been involved with in the past and had a well-thought-out strategy.
When he joined his first action in front of the Houses of Parliament, he was instantly given a steward’s vest. XR goes public with all of its planned protests and liaises with the police, although it will never take any direction from them.
Paulo feels a responsibility towards a younger generation, who he feels his generation has betrayed. He thinks people like him should put themselves on the line and risk arrest, not youngsters who have their whole lives and careers ahead of them. Paulo expects to spend time in prison for XR.
He is pessimistic about the possibility of reversing climate change, and believes that the estimates in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report outlining the effects of climate change are too conservative.
“Even if we manage to limit the increase in temperature to two degrees, millions of people will die of hunger. My worry is that, just because many of them will be in Africa or far away, many people will think they don’t count.”
Sara, fashion business owner
Sara studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins, with the dream of starting her own fashion brand. Concerned about the environmental impact of producing clothes and how much clothing is discarded to landfill, she instead set up the fashion rental company, Higher Studio. This allows clothes to be shared between multiple users and repaired, re-made or recycled when necessary.
To fund her new venture, Sara worked for a luxury fashion brand in Paris, but when the IPCC report was published, it affected her so deeply that she walked out and joined XR.
She coordinated an action at London Fashion Week in February, which involved blocking the roads outside the Victoria Beckham and Burberry shows. Activists chanted “no fashion on a dead planet”, while some dressed in grass coats, carrying signs proclaiming “Ethical is always on trend”.
Sara continues to run Higher Studio, but she is convinced that we will have to drastically change the way we live if we are to save what is left of the planet.
She feels at home with XR: “It feels good to have found a community that is willing to face the situation head-on.”
Ruth, community artist
As a grandmother, Ruth is really worried about the future. Until recently, she was part of a community art organisation called ‘Encounters’ based in Sheffield. But, of late, she has become increasingly involved in the environmental movement.
Last summer, Ruth read Deep Adaption by Professor Jem Bendell, about climate-induced collapse and the need for deep adaption.
Ruth is convinced we can only limit the damage to the planet if we all work together. She watched the 31 October XR declaration live on social media and felt XR could really make a difference. She is sad that some level of extinction is inevitable, but was inspired to set up an XR group in Totnes and over 100 people came to the first meeting.
Ruth’s first action was a die-in near Downing Street, where she was arrested, but because of the support from XR, this was a much better experience than she expected: “When I was in the police cell I did cry but not because I was afraid, but because of what was happening to the world.”
Photos by Sebastian Davis