activism

Three little XR stories you won’t read in the papers

With Extinction Rebellion‘s two weeks of action over, the movement will take a moment to recharge and reflect. I’ve been doing the same, and one of the things that has struck me is the the kindness of Extinction Rebellion. This isn’t something that gets mentioned very often in the papers, what with all the fretting about anarchism and people who are late to work.

So here are three things I saw during the October Rebellion that I wanted to share, that show a different side to the movement.

1. No shaming
Among the 10 principles of XR are that ‘we avoid blaming and shaming’. The climate crisis is a systemic problem, which means we are all complicit to one degree or another. So XR doesn’t shame individuals. I saw this in action in Trafalgar Square, when an artist turned up with a large and grotesque caricature of Boris Johnson and set it up amongst other artworks. It’s the kind of thing you would see by the dozen at an anti-Brexit march, but not here. Within two minutes a steward had politely informed the artist that this wasn’t how we do things. The painting was turned against the wall, and then taken home.

2. Everyone is welcome
That’s another of the ten principles, and I saw this when I went to the campsite at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. I had gone to visit my XR Luton friend who was staffing the welcome desk, and he was working alongside another man to show people where to go, answer their questions and be a first point of contact for any problems. As I was chatting to them, I learned that the other man was homeless, and usually slept in Victoria Coach Station. He had come down to the XR site out of curiosity, and was given a tent and a sleeping bag and invited to stay. He’d been given a job and a steward’s vest, and had made himself useful all week. “It’s been the best week of my life” he told me.

3. Respect
When I arrived at the Vauxhall site, I walked past an area of the park that had been roped off because bulbs had been planted. When the park informed the camp that they were due to put the flowers in that day, XR moved their tents, scrupulously tidied up, and then helped with the planting. As Vauxhall Gardens tweeted, “not a speck of rubbish. I wish all our visitors would do the same and put the rubbish in the bins.” A group of XR Gardeners came back to the park after the camp was cleared to check the site and plant grass seed where it had got trampled.

Those are all little things, but they indicate the kind of movement XR is, the tone of the protests. People may be disrupted by XR’s actions, but there is a kindness, welcome and respect to the way XR protests that you might hear about unless you see it for yourself.

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