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January 27, 2020

A Year Inside Extinction Rebellion

It’s been a crazy year. If you had told me last January when I joined Extinction Rebellion that 

the organisation would be the size and influence it is now, I’d have laughed at you. Never would I have believed what was about to happen over the next 12 months. 

In 2019, we shut down half of Central London, blocked intersections in 5 major U.K. cities with boats, surrounded the seat of power in Westminster, and had our protests outlawed in the whole of London. We pushed Parliament to declare a climate and environmental emergency, met with members of Government, made headlines around the world, and inspired a mass movement to form in 72 countries, with groups as far away as New Zealand, India, and Ghana. 

We’ve told the truth and many have listened. Conversations about what’s happening to our world can be heard in workplaces, schools, and households up and down the U.K. Our fervid and creative protests have seen farmers, bus drivers, electricians, rabbis, priests, grandparents, doctors and more, engage with the crisis, with nearly 4,000 arrests globally. 

It’s not been easy and we’ve made mistakes. Since we crashed onto the world stage during our first major International Rebellion in April, it’s been a rollercoaster of both physical and emotional challenge. Over a short period of time we grew to a size none of us expected, and all while the world was watching. Suddenly, every media outlet, progressive organisation, and member of the public were looking to us for answers. Since our challenging October Rebellion, the police are cracking down on us, the public is irritated with us, and activists face difficult questions about what to do next. Not to mention, we now have a newly empowered Conservative Government in the U.K., which outright refused to engage with the climate debate during the recent election. 

As we run out of time to act on the emergency, we face inaction and denial like never before.

So, in 2020 Extinction Rebellion has to be more ambitious than it’s been so far. We’ll need renewed courage to ramp up the pressure as our Government continues to ignore us. This will involve a period of stepping back, learning from our mistakes and changing our tactics. It also means we’re going to have to be controversial at times and take risks. Perhaps we’ll need to build in more specific, scalable demands to our strategy in order to galvanise communities, grow the movement, and put the Government on notice. We cannot carry on doing things as we have been and risk becoming just another arm of the green establishment. We can rise to this challenge if we take the time to listen and build a strong, unified, and resilient movement.

As a priority, there needs to be time spent empowering people in their own towns and cities to engage with local communities and demand changes themselves. As a record number of people in the U.K. expresses concern over the crisis, we have an opportunity to reach more diverse communities and bring them with us. We’re going to need to start doing some good old fashioned grassroots work like knocking on doors!

Perhaps most importantly, we need to change the story we’re trying to tell this year. Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers have put the emergency further up the agenda, but we can’t expect that to turn into government action. Our language and slogans are already becoming normalised and easy to ignore. There needs to be a new narrative - one that reaches people where they are and speaks to them on a personal level. We need to talk about the people being affected now - from the communities decimated by Hurricane Idai in Mozambique, to mothers huddling with their children on beaches in Australia as their homes burn - for what affects people on the other side of the planet affects us all. It needs to move hearts and minds, but also encourage people to take action and provide a compassionate and resilient vision of tomorrow. Every action we take should embody this narrative and offer more inclusive pathways into the movement. 

Our message - anchored in the truth - is the greatest strength we have. 

Looking ahead at the new year I feel both optimistic and anxious for what’s to come. The decisions made over the next 12 months will define the future of our world. We are at a crossroads as a movement and as a planet, and Extinction Rebellion has an incredible opportunity to learn and grow up. I feel confident we can meet the challenge, if we’re willing to accept that we can’t carry on as before. 

So, this new year, it's time to dig deep and face what’s to come with renewed insight and strength. 2020 is going to be big. 

Image: Gareth Morris (via XR)