Extinction Rebellion Packs Central London
London’s largest ever public protests for climate and Earth justice have come to a close.
An estimated hundred thousand attended the four-day event, organized by Extinction Rebellion and other UK groups, rallying around the theme, “Unite to Survive.”
“People are angry. People are fed up. People can’t believe the injustice,” says Marijn van de Geer, External Coordinator for Media and Messaging, and Internal Coordinator for Citizens Assemblies with Extinction Rebellion UK.
“People are standing there saying, ‘We are here to say we are willing to do the work, we know what needs to be done; we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and muck in; why isn’t the government?” van de Geer told the Green Planet Monitor.
The London protests were the first and largest of their kind.
Founded in the UK in 2018, in response to rising air pollution and the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport, Extinction Rebellion has broadened its scope to the climate and global ecological crisis, and the movement has been taken up elsewhere around the world.
It’s a movement, not an organization — a movement that’s come to be known for its tactics: non-violent direct action, civil disobedience and mass disruption, targeting pillars of power: the justice system, fossil fuel and finance industries, and the media.
By refusing to report on the substance of the climate and ecological crisis planet Earth faces, mainstream, corporate media is a major part of the problem, says van de Geer.
Media trivialization of the crisis can be exploited.
“The media only likes sensationalism,” says van de Geer. “If we want to have the climate and ecological emergency in the media, then that’s the game we have to play.”
Armed with pails of mashed potatoes, cans of soup and super glue, Extinction Rebellion activists have played that game well.
But, this past weekend, Big One organizers shifted their approach. They asked police for permission to gather en masse. This way, families would show up, with their kids. So would the elderly, and others who might be wary or disapproving of the movement’s reputation, or just scared about getting arrested.
At least 60,000 attended events over the course of the four-day event, organized by over a hundred climate, nature and social justice groups.
People’s pickets were held outside the government department of their choice, responsible for health, education, transport, education and energy.
As if to highlight government inaction on the very real emergencies facing Britain and the world, in the middle of protests, tens of thousands of smart phones started to ping – the trial run of the Sunak government’s emergency alert system.
Big One protesters put forward three demands: For the UK government to “tell the truth” about the climate and ecological emergency Britain and the world face, as it promised to do at the 1992 Rio Summit; for the UK government to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and for Citizens’ Assemblies on climate and ecological justice to be established, to chart a path forward.
Citizens’ Assemblies are as old as ancient Athens. Founded on the notion of participatory, deliberative democracy, they rise above party-based or partisan politics.
In recent years, popular assemblies have gathered in South America, Asia and Africa.
Citizens’ Assemblies and other popularly constituted deliberative groups have also convened across Europe – in Ireland, Belgium, Paris and Milan – and in Canada.
Their emergence is a response to what many consider a crisis of democracy, and the shallowness of partisan, electoral politics.
A hundred or so members are selected randomly from a large pool of people who respond to a given call, based on age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background and regional location. They constitute a “mini-public” who meet over several weekends; get informed; learn about issues; about how to recognize bias and think critically.
Then they come up with recommendations that governments are expected to implement.
Ideally, Citizens’ Assemblies are best set up by governments themselves, in search of guidance from the public, rather than by NGOs that may appear to have a narrow aim or interest, says van de Geer.
In the UK, three major charities organized their own Citizens’ Assembly on the future of nature in Britain. With no role or financial buy-in of its own, the government had little incentive to implement its recommendations.
Likewise, a UK-wide Assembly on climate change set up by six parliamentary committees, rather than the government itself, ended up getting ignored by the government, van de Geer told the GPM.
Given the current government’s position on climate change matters (Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a former investment banker, is unelected), public pressure will be required in order to get his government to set up a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
If he does, its members will likely want to broaden the scope of their mandate to include social justice, fair immigration policy and racism.
“Everything is part of that same system of exploitation of our planet, of nature, and exploitation of human beings,” says van de Geer.
Listen to our conversation with Marijn van de Geer. Click on the SoundCloud link on the top of this piece.