Extinction Rebellion is polite and inclusive. It must take that approach out from London where the contrast with the British establishment’s spite is an even greater asset.
Extinction Rebellion protests in London have ended prematurely as the Metropolitan Police were sent in to shut it down – even arresting an MEP who tried to defend the right to peaceful protest. The protest, however, has proved to be something of a delight.
Even civil servants disrupted by the protests in Parliament Square have commented on how civil and polite the whole thing was, and how the bright colours and carnival feel of it all was somewhat enjoyable.
For the most disrupted people to hold little animosity towards protestors is a direct result of the apologetic tone of the protests. Handing out leaflets with “SORRY” on them is a clear message that the protest is not about “us v you” but about a wider sense of “us” being everyone – an attitude now almost revolutionary in its threat to normal divisive political practice in Westminster.
“Crusties”, “Warmed up Communists”, “Middle Class”, “a death cult” – the establishment took to name calling when Extinction Rebellion showed politics can be decent rather than divisive.
This is the standard practice of the UK’s establishment now. Newspaper editors, MPs and the Prime Minister divide every issue into “us v them” and throw ever more emotional insults at “them”. That is just how the UK operates politically because it stirs emotion among those affiliated with “us” and closes ears to the case being made by “them”.
Climate Extinction, however, affects everyone who won’t be dead in twenty years time – and most who will be dead by then have loved ones who will still be alive when the extinction takes hold. So Extinction Rebellion has good cause to be kind. The contrast also wins around people like me in another way too – which needs to be shared nationwide.
Perhaps it is easy to be polite and inclusive when, unlike much of the political establishment on most things, Climate Extinction is motivated by the knowledge it is right.
The other side of the “Sorry” leaflet was informative in this regard. It pointed out the fact that science and the UN have concluded that humanity – along with many other species – is facing extinction if we continue on our present path.
I might not have read that detail had it not been for the very polite apology for disrupting my journey. Many others might not either. So inclusivity and civility works and maybe politicians should learn from that.
The Establishment Plan
Margaret Thatcher once said that if your opponents call you names, they don’t have an argument left*. That isn’t always true, but it feels as though it is. So when government starts to throw insults people switch off or pick their side, which in the case of climate change is a rather odd thing for the present government and its friendly press to want.
The present government has committed the UK to zero carbon by 2050. It has also announced a ban on the sale of new petrol/diesel cars from 2040. Such moves might be too slow, make too much of a trade off towards business continuity, or may simply not happen – being decades from fruition – but they are a debatable position.
So to name-call and pit oneself against those who believe and promote the truth (that climate extinction is real) rather than agree but suggest there are different opinions about how to tackle it, is a sorry position to take. It suggests the government does not believe it’s own policies or feels the facts simply make it all too little too late. Yet if it believes that it would surely have different policies.
The insults and spite from the establishment appears motivated by a desire to close ears to debate. That will prove successful if few people experience direct contact with the campaign. It will likely fail, however, if Extinction Rebellion takes its polite inclusivity further.
Extinction Rebellion should continue its friendly impossition on daily life. It has right on its side and it is managing to be listened to by those who might not have even heard of climate extinction until the protests started.
If its motivation is to help more people understand it, then it needs to look well beyond London in its efforts. The remain campaign has run well-behaved protests and street stalls in towns and cities across the country – and Extinction Rebellion would do well to reach out in the same way with its polite messaging based on truth and evidence.
In doing so, a wider “us” will be harder to insult and turn into “them”.
After a week of protests in Parliament Square, the writer notes that within one day of disrupting the banks (by moving part of the protest to Bank) police forcibly moved in and shut the protests down. Hmm…
*I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”