Regenerative culture in Extinction Rebellion

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.”

XR banner; 'Activism is Hope'.

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.

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4 Responses to Regenerative culture in Extinction Rebellion

  1. Ned says:

    I agree about the regenerative culture. I think we still have a lot to learn of course. The action at Canning Town was well intentioned but probably misguided. We are still a movement of predominantly white middle class people. But I am hopeful. Thanks for your positive article and sharing your experience.

    • Adrian Harris says:

      Hi Ned, Thank-you for your thoughts. I agree that Canning Town action was a mistake and was impressed that instead of getting defensive most people in XR accepted that and took it as a learning experience. I think that shows a lot of maturity. Unfortunately the environmental movement has always been very white and middle class. Again I think XR are doing better than most owning that reality and working to change things. That’s rare!

  2. Great article. I went to a Deescalation and NVC training organised by XR and was really struck by the embodied peace of the trainer. I felt regenerated afterwards! The police turned up towards the end but what could have been a negative confrontation turned into a moment of respect and human connection. It was obvious that the policeman was impressed by the peaceful response of our trainer; he turned his police recording equipment off and told us that he had been extremely impressed by the deescalation techniques he’d seen XR use to defuse potentially aggressive situations; he seemed genuinely respectful of XR. I know we need to be wary and certainly not sing love songs to the police, as this can upset and alienate people who have been traumatised by police brutality, but I do think that a regenerative attitude is one of the best ‘weapons’ this movement has. As Thich Nhat Hahn says ‘let compassion be your armour’. I saw it work right in front of my eyes. That’s not to say it always will, but it will ensure that we do not burn out and can keep going.

    • Adrian Harris says:

      Hi Kirsten, thanks for sharing that story! Great to see how respect and compassion can overcome conflict and subvert the damaging boundaries that our society creates. I’ve heard many stories of how members of the police force quietly supported XR activists. Many – perhaps most – of them appreciate how serious the climate crisis is.

      Paul Linden, a colleague of mine, has done some excellent work on what he calls embodied peace building – see I’m now curious to find out if XR know of his work – I think it would be a good fit.

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