I recently spent a couple of days as part of the Wellbeing Team for the London Extinction Rebellion (XR) and it strengthened my belief that this is an exceptional campaign. Most campaign organizations replicate the system they challenge. I used to work for Friends of the Earth and though the organizational structure had unique aspects, the overall framework was similar to that of the corporations they opposed.
By contrast, the UK road protest movement of the 1990’s were truly radical. But patriarchy, perhaps the most fundamental force of oppression, haunted the camp-fires. In a telling article a female activist wrote that all the women she’d spoken to agreed that “it was without a doubt, a patriarchy dominated environment” (Do or Die #7). That was back in 1998 and in some ways things improved. But the ‘man up and get on with it’ approach to activism was harder to shift and I saw several activist friends burn out. But gradually as the environmental direct action movement matured, we learnt that wellbeing isn’t a luxury – it’s essential. As the poet and activist Audre Lorde wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Extinction Rebellion not only has a deep understanding of the patterns of oppression at the foundations of our society; they – we – are actively dismantling them. This understanding has been hard won and it may never have been reached without the activists that came before. The direct action movement has matured, taking the lessons of the past and weaving them into a new future. Einstein realized that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. That understanding is in the DNA of XR. This new thinking is about creating a regenerative culture. This is a step beyond sustainability, which is basically a ‘business as usual’ vision. Regeneration isn’t about keeping things as they are, but creating something better. XR is constantly curious, questioning what happened yesterday and exploring that edge where positive change happens. The direct action you’ve seen on the streets this week is like the branches of an old oak. A sturdy trunk holds those activists up and the hidden roots go very deep.