This Article has been influenced by my own opinions and perspectives, so it is undoubtedly biased, and should not be taken as a sole, or infallible, source of information; as always, I encourage you to perform your own, further research regarding the subject, using a variety of sources to do so, in order to develop your own opinions and conclusions. However, you have my personal assurances that I have made a conscious effort to avoid placing any deception or misinformation within this article, and you can find the sources, alongside other resources, that I used during my own research to write this article, within the ‘Sources and Resources’ section.
Before I begin this article, I want to delineate the fact that I support the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and its goals as a movement, as well as the individuals and many of the groups, who are participating within that movement. I do not wish to deter people from taking action to pressure capitalists and states to adopt environmentally sustainable practices in place of their currently harmful, exploitative and sustainable practices, and I am not directly calling for a boycott or avoidance of the Extinction Rebellion; the Extinction Rebellion as a movement has my full support, but I merely encourage a critical view of the Extinction Rebellion as an organisation for reasons that I shall attempt to explain within this article.
The Extinction Rebellion is a movement, originating within the United Kingdom, which has been initially created by fifteen individuals belonging to ‘RisingUp!’, an organisation that promotes activism and changes to current political and economic systems, with the intention to pressure the British Governments to meet three key demands in order to mitigate the harmful effects, as described by a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of Climate Change: the first demand postulates that the Government acknowledges that Climate Change is a threat to humanity, must work with the media to “communicate the urgency” for changes that will mitigate the effects of Climate Change, and cease any policies that are in contradiction to this acknowledgement and its implications; the second demand mandates that the Government enacts “legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions in the UK to net zero by 2025”, working internationally to do so; the third demand, demonstrating that the Extinction Rebellion takes a critical view of the Government by stating that it neither trusts it to effectively enact change nor intends “to hand further power to our politicians”, is a demand for the creation of a Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the implementation of the changes postulated by the prior to demands. The Extinction Rebellion proposes that the Citizen’s Assembly should exist separately to the Extinction Rebellion, and that its members should be chosen fairly via random sortition as to avoid the potential corruption and outside influence that could arise if the assembly was composed of elected representatives. It should be noted that, whilst originating within the United Kingdom, the Extinction Rebellion is an international movement and the various national groups have issued similar demands to their respective governments.
To pressure the government to meet these demands, the Extinction Rebellion has adopted. and performs, a variety of tactics based upon non-violent ‘civil disobedience’, which is often referred to as ‘civil resistance’ and involves illegal actions that often create public disruption. Such tactics include, but are not necessarily limited to, the blocking of roads, the vandalism of property, and the self-gluing of activists to doorways in order to bar entry to buildings. While individuals and groups within the Extinction Rebellion also perform legal actions that cannot be considered civil disobedience, such as protests, marches as well as political lobbying and petitioning, it is the actions of civil resistance that have garnered the most awareness for the Extinction Rebellion. This awareness can be largely attributed to the extensive media coverage of the Extinction Rebellion after it gained notoriety for some of its larger actions, perhaps most notably the blocking of five of London’s major bridges by thousands of protesters in the November of 2018. The garnering of awareness is a key, preparatory part of the Extinction Rebellion’s overall strategy, which seeks to gain a ‘critical mass’ of supporters and participants for a week-long period of major civil disobedience, which is planned to occur in the April of 2019, with the intention of forcing the government to cede to the Extinction Rebellion’s demands or collapse. The strategy of the Extinction Rebellion has been greatly influenced by the works and research of Erica Chenoweth, which suggests that non-violent civil resistance is the most effective strategy for inducing regime change and is almost completely guaranteed success when around 3.5% of a nation’s population participates in such resistance. Erica Chenoweth’s research has also helped to influence a particularly controversial tactic that is employed by the Extinction Rebellion, in which activists deliberately allow themselves to be arrested in order to further garner awareness and support for the movement; this tactic is purely for these aforementioned purposes, and, as a result, will not be employed, with arrests being avoided whenever possible, during the week-long period of major civil disobedience. While the Extinction Rebellion’s tactics are controversial, it is difficult to deny their effectiveness in garnering support and awareness as the Extinction Rebellion holds prominent attention in the media, and now has thousands of active participants in at least 35 separate nations. I, personally, am very interested in the potential success of their week-long period of major civil resistance.
Membership in the Extinction Rebellion is defined by adherence to its ‘Principles and Values’, which it shares with RisingUp!. There are ten of these principles, and an in-depth discussion and evaluation of them is beyond the scope and intention of this article. I do not believe that there is any major flaws within any of these principles, which I, personally, find admirable, but I believe that a contradiction exists within the Extinction Rebellion as an organisation as result of its seventh principle, which claims that the Extinction Rebellion aims to eliminate “hierarchies of power for more equitable participation,”, and its tenth principle, which claims that the Extinction Rebellion is “based on autonomy and decentralisation”. This contradiction is not a fault of these principles themselves, but rather of the organisational structure of RisingUp! and, by necessary extension, the organisation of the Extinction Rebellion. The majority of the groups within the Extinction Rebellion are, indeed, decentralised, following the official recommendations of the Extinction Rebellion, with decisions being made via consensus and direct democracy, alongside the use of holacracy, in which self-managing roles, which are grouped into a succession of broadening ‘circles’ that contain roles, and smaller circles, with similar goals and responsibilities, that have autonomy over their own decisions within that role, but must receive input from any relevant parties, and remain accountable to the group as a whole; individuals are also not constrained to performing a single role, and may perform multiple roles that have no direct relevance to one another. However, the Extinction Rebellion as an organisation is controlled officially by RisingUp!, which is, itself, governed in a centralised, hierarchical manner by a small group of people.
This small group of people is called the ‘Holding Group’, and, although anyone is technically eligible to become a member of it, its members have direct control over the membership of the Holding Group, causing the group to be a bureaucracy. As the result of being a bureaucracy, the Holding Group can be considered as contradictory to the principle of decentralisation, but the contradiction that it creates within the Extinction Rebellion is enhanced, and made especially problematic, by the power and control that the Holding Group has within the Extinction Rebellion; the Holding Group decides what is officially part of the Extinction Rebellion, and is, thus, able to exclude individuals and groups from the movement. In addition, this power enables the Holding Group to overrule decisions that have been made by other groups within the Extinction Rebellion, and to make decisions for the entirety of the Extinction Rebellion without requiring any approval or consent from members of the Extinction Rebellion outside of the Holding Group. The Holding Group is supposed to act in accordance with, and to protect, the shared principles and values of Rising Up! and the Extinction Rebellion, but there is no current mechanism to hold the Holding Group accountable for its actions in order to ensure that it does so, and the Holding Group also holds the power to change these principles and values according to its needs and desires. I am only aware of anecdotal evidence regarding any malpractices of the Holding Group, but the nature of such a group is contradictory to the tenth principle, and gives it the power to perform such malpractices with potentially devastating effects. In purely hypothetical scenarios to provide an example of such potentially devastating effects, and how they might arise, members of the Holding Group may have a personal dispute with another member of the Extinction Rebellion, and influence the Holding Group to exclude that member from the Extinction Rebellion, or a member may become corrupted by bribes by a wealthy corporation, and use their power as a member of the Holding Group to disrupt the Extinction Rebellion, and to mitigate the effects of the movement’s actions, which potentially threaten the profits of that corporation, in return for such bribes. The small size of the Holding Group makes it easier for corrupted or ill-intended members of the group to negatively influence its actions; the Holding Group is intended to have no more than 10 members, and, at present, has only two members, Gail Bradbrook and Stuart Basden.
A group has been planned and scheduled to be created with the purpose of holding the Holding Group accountable. However, this group, which is referred to as the ‘Advisory Group’, is an unsatisfactory mechanism of ensuring the Holding Group’s accountability, and will not decentralise power effectively, as it will only be able to prevent the actions of the Holding Group in the event that a full consensus of its 15 members is achieved, and because the Advisory Group will, itself, be bureaucratic, with its members voting alongside the members of the Holding Group on the membership of both groups, and will hold many of the same powers and control over the Extinction Rebellion, albeit on a weakened scale that will often require the approval of the Holding Group. As a result of these issues, the Advisory Group will not resolve, and may even enhance, the contradiction between the principles of the Extinction Rebellion and the organisational structure of the Extinction Rebellion. The contradiction within the Extinction Rebellion should be resolved by the abolition, or complete reform and decentralisation, of the Holding Group and not any abandonment of the seventh or tenth principle, because, whilst the Holding Group is intended to guard the principles and values of the Extinction Rebellion, and to support the movement, it, in fact, endangers the entirety of the Extinction Rebellion by allowing a small group of individuals, with motivations and intentions that may conflict with those of the movement, to directly control and disproportionally influence the movement without any approval or consent from the other members and participants of the Extinction Rebellion; the Extinction Rebellion would be far more secure if the seventh and tenth principles were truly adhered to, and upheld, as this would prevent any small group, within the movement, from holding any degree of power that would allow them to oppose, hinder or exploit the decisions, beliefs, actions and ideals of the majority of the movement.
The Extinction Rebellion has been a successful movement, as demonstrated by its large and rapid garnering of awareness, support and participants, as well as its successful pressuring of governing bodies to act against Climate Change, which, as a single, but not necessarily unique, example, occurred in Cambridge, where the local council declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ after a large march and successful petitioning by the local Extinction Rebellion group. This success has occurred largely in absence of any intervention of the Holding Group, and, in fact, many of the participants and supporters of the Extinction Rebellion many not be aware of its existence as no information, regarding, or mention of, the Holding Group is directly on the Extinction Rebellion’s website, although it is indirectly present in a document that can be found via the website. In the aforementioned march in Cambridge, which helped to pressure the Council to declare a Climate Emergency, there were, according to the participants of the march, no organisers, demonstrating that the Extinction Rebellion functions well and effectively without needing any hierarchy or centralisation that would threaten the movement by concentrating power to small groups and individuals. In addition, the Extinction Rebellion has helped to spread awareness to many people of the problems that face our society and that are inherent to our current political and economic systems, and it has empowered many people to take action against such problems, giving them confidence in their ability to work and co-operate to cause effective, beneficial changes to our World and Society; the adherence of the vast majority of the Extinction Rebellion’s participants to principles of decentralisation and the rejection of hierarchy also serves to prefiguratively prepare and introduce them to more equitable forms of social organisation, demonstrating to these people that alternate, non-hierarchical, decentralised forms of society are viable, beneficial and effective. The Extinction Rebellion has already proved, with the aforementioned successes and benefits, to be a popular, effective and successful movement, allowing it to be able to pressure governments to take actions to mitigate Climate Change, and, if successful during its week-long period of sustained civil disobedience, may be responsible for some of the most important changes in climate policies in history, as well as demonstrating the power of the people and their movements, both against the state and as a force that brings about effective changes; for these reasons, I do not believe that we should oppose the Extinction Rebellion as a result of its flaws, and I believe that we should support and give our solidarity to the individuals, groups and actions of the Extinction Rebellion.
However, the Extinction Rebellion should not be exempt from critique, and people, both within and outside of the Extinction Rebellion, should act to achieve reforms and solutions that would address the source of the critiques. Due to the dangerous, corruptible nature of the Holding Group, which holds an unjustified amount of power, influence and control over the Extinction Rebellion, I believe that we should not support the Extinction Rebellion as an organisation, until the Holding Group is abolished, or its power decentralised and more fairly distributed, and the titular contradiction within the Extinction Rebellion is resolved by the true adherence to its seventh and tenth principles. We can support the Extinction Rebellion as a movement, whilst avoiding such support for the Extinction Rebellion as an organisation, by supporting individuals and the non-hierarchical groups within the Extinction Rebellion, and by supporting and participating in its actions, whilst avoiding any reinforcement of the validity of the Holding Group, maintaining critiques of the Extinction Rebellion, and emphasising the fact that the success of the movement and participants of the Extinction Rebellion is their own achievement, which has been striven for and attained largely in absence of the potentially harmful elements of the Extinction Rebellion’s organisational structure. By working alongside the Extinction Rebellion as separate individuals and groups, we can avoid undermining, and directly support, the movement, whilst avoiding participation and support in practices and organisations that we believe to be harmful, and whilst better representing our own beliefs and ideals.
An interesting example of a separate group, which intends to function alongside, but not as part of, the Extinction Rebellion, is the newly-formed ‘Green Anti-Capitalist Front’. The Green Anti-Capitalist Front recognises the success and merits of the Extinction Rebellion, but intends to operate alongside it as the result of their criticisms of some of Extinction Rebellion’s tactics and its failure to properly address the role of the capitalist system in Climate Change; an Open Letter has been published by the Green Anti-Capitalist Front to the Extinction Rebellion, explaining the former’s position regarding, and intentions to work alongside, the latter. I believe that the formation of groups, such as the Green Anti-Capitalist Front, are a viable method of addressing the flaws within the Extinction Rebellion whilst participating within, and otherwise supporting, the movement, but I still believe that it would be beneficial for individuals to campaign and act for the true decentralisation of power within the Extinction Rebellion itself, as such a decentralisation would benefit and protect its many members, remove the potentially adverse influence of the Holding Group on the Extinction Rebellion’s own, likely dominating influence on the movement, and would allow many of those, who currently hold critiques of the Extinction Rebellion, but may find it difficult to act as an individual, or to find or organise another, separate group, to participate comfortably within the organisation and movement.
I hope that this article has benefited you in some manner by providing a brief overview of the Extinction Rebellion, the Holding Group, the problem that the Holding Group poses, as well as the potential solutions to that problem, and I welcome and am grateful for any potential critiques, or other forms of feed-back, that you may have regarding this article. You have my sincerest of gratitude for taking the time to read this article, and my hopes that you enjoyed doing so!
Sources and Resources.
https://rebellion.earth/ The Website of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’.
https://rebellion.earth/who-we-are/ The Webpage of the Extinction Rebellion explaining its goals, organisation, tactics, principles and values.
https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/ The Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
https://rebellion.earth/demands/ The Demands of the Extinction Rebellion.
https://rebellion.earth/who-we-are/#principles The Principles and Values of the Extinction Rebellion.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1l3h6R4kWJGYGxJd3sLbQdG8zjV4sj5bmlM4Z-9Tk5X8/edit#heading=h.ehsirwva6nn9 An Overview of Rising Up!, including information regarding its Holding Group.
https://medium.com/@plaosmos/extinction-rebellion-isnt-about-the-climate-42a0a73d9d49 An Article by Stuart Basden, a member of the Holding Group, regarding his views and ideals for the Extinction Rebellion.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HDU8fMFpa0 A lecture by the Extinction Rebellion explaining their beliefs and intentions regarding their tactics and strategy.
https://rationalinsurgent.com/2013/11/04/my-talk-at-tedxboulder-civil-resistance-and-the-3-5-rule/ A talk by Erica Chenoweth explaining her research and beliefs regarding the effectiveness of civil resistance.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/147Gv-Bl4M-7CAPqrVoAnVP_IxHqHNGQ8b0YiYjAedlk/edit Resources of the Extinction Rebellion, include instructions and advice on how to provide NVDA Training and a lecture that is intended to introduce and recruit people into the movement.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjuNJbO9TGA A video by the Extinction Rebellion explaining their desired organisation and functionality of their proposed Citizen’s Assembly.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tS3kNkq64d8&list=PLnzA40Blbb2kiECebMMSPOjg8pBGdnf2A&index=13 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQEytmdKexk Two videos explaining and discussing the directly democratic methods of organisation, including the use of holacracy, within the Extinction Rebellion.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/17/thousands-gather-to-block-london-bridges-in-climate-rebellion https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/27/extinction-rebellion-activists-arrested-outside-london-oil-conference https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/extinction-rebellion-protest-climate-change-campaigners-block-roads-in-bid-to-disrupt-london-fashion-a4069001.html https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/17439900.extinction-rebellion-protest-causes-long-tailbacks-on-highly-polluted-swindon-road/ https://leftfootforward.org/2019/03/extinction-rebellion-our-spring-uprising-will-make-the-government-sit-up-and-listen/ https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6747871/Climate-asks-trial-moved-shes-planning-rebellion-day-before.html http://www.jomec.co.uk/intercardiff/science-environment/local-environmental-activists-still-short-forcing-climate-change-debate-welsh-assembly?fbclid=IwAR14E3_Ih9zRz4Ax5-PDA2FbycpPrk-DZQvVNI72aTgHQO6TF8iHgnfNZNc https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/10/extinction-rebellion-goes-global-international-civil-disobedience-climate-talks-poland A Selection of Media Reports on some of the various actions of the Extinction Rebellion.
https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/extinction-rebellion-marches-through-central-cambridge-9057047/ https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/extinction-rebellion-petition-handed-in-to-cambridge-city-council-9062199/ https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/cambridge-city-council-declares-climate-emergency-9062728/ https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/news/2019/02/22/cambridge-city-council-declares-climate-emergency Articles regarding the Extinction Rebellion’s actions within Cambridge and successful petitioning of the Cambridge City Council to declare a climate emergency.
https://greenanticapitalist.org/ The Website of the Green Anti-Capitalist Front and its manifesto.
https://greenanticapitalist.org/2019/03/01/open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/ The Open Letter of the Green Anti-Capitalist Front to the Extinction Rebellion.