There is a climate revolution going on, and it’s being spearheaded by young people. How should we be contributing?
During Extinction Rebellion’s demonstrations, me and some Brummies headed down to London to join the movement for climate justice.
Our aims in joining? To show solidarity with protesters, to be extra bodies in the critical mass needed, but also to not be arrested whilst we were doing that. We wanted to start to understand what had gone into the organising of the globally coordinated rebellion and think about how Birmingham could join in with the movement.
Extinction Rebellion’s International Rebellion occupied and peacefully disrupted sites across London and the globe for nearly 2 weeks. They demonstrated for three demands to be met.
In the process they engaged thousands in their demonstrations, are predicted to have caused up to 100m pounds worth of losses to London’s businesses in the area, over 1,065 arrests were made, they received huge coverage from national media providers across the board and had one of their demands met when the House of Commons declared the UK to be in a state of climate emergency. They have kickstarted a mass movement.
What can we take from this? What should we leave behind?
What should and can Birmingham do to support the immediacy of the need to save the environment? Let’s do something!
We weren’t sure what we were walking into. What we didn’t expect was that what we did experience would be so creative in its methods, compassionate in its practice and so well coordinated. And the world didn’t expect the ripple effect to be so huge.
I think there are three takeaways we should carry through to our own work as a city, these aren’t limited to the nature of protest carried out by XR by any means, but they are key parts of their methods and values and these are some of the reasons why it will be a sustainable movement.
Creativity is necessary to sustaining activism. Whether it’s thinking up a unique way to get your point across over weeks, or getting your arts and crafts on to create a banner in 10 minutes, it’s a valuable tool to getting messages out there.
Over the weekend and across the sites XR were occupying, I saw creativity used to give moral support, to relay information, to negotiate with the police and to protect protesters. Songs to keep up moral in moments on tension, a giant pink boat as a raised platform, signs made out of cardboard and sellotape, performative theatre troops to create spectacle, bands to create mood, it felt like a festival. And this is what attracted the public to the cause, the creativity. It was the difference between walking past shouting and stopping to engage because people are singing, and it was the difference between predictable action and action which made newspaper headlines.
At Beatfreeks Collective, our mission is to use creativity to do the incredible. I think initiating a mass conversation around the reality of climate change is pretty incredible, and I really believe that if we’re to replicate something here in Birmingham then it needs to be creative.
At the centre of the Extinction Rebellion movement is a ‘Regenerative Culture’, asking the really important question – How can we sustain ourselves and each other as activists and organisers?
The aim is to encourage a culture of care and respect, “If we are to affect true change, having a regenerative culture is integral to everything we do.”
I was really struck by the compassion and care underpinning the demonstrations and organising; that ‘Regenerative culture’ and wellbeing were their own organising group, that those involved were organised into affinity groups providing legal and emotional support, there were regular meditation sessions, wellbeing huts, encouragements of water and food donation, and training on effective wellbeing. Of course, this regenerative culture does revolve around the advocating of voluntary and passive arrests a means of direct action that has kept the rebellion afloat.
Being politically / socially active takes its toll emotionally and physically, things can get on top of you and burn-out is a real thing. As an organisation, our office culture aims to keep the people running our organisation alive strong and supported, with the belief that to have support and wellbeing at the centre of a movement for any kind of justice is key to its sustainability. It’s the things that get forgotten, like checking in with yourself to make sure you have enough energy to be here, and making sure that every voice is heard that will keep people going.
*As a publicly funded organisation which makes space for young people to tell stories about themselves and the world, we do not promote these tactics.
More information: download the guide here
Climate Justice Now
However we feel about Extinction Rebellion, they are re-addressing climate change on a mass scale, they were demonstrating that the grassroots are willing to act, they called for politicians to have the conversation and though we may not yet know the consequences, their calls were heard.
It’s fundamental that we acknowledge the reality of climate change, that since pre-industrialisation the earth’s temperature has risen by 1.5% and more, and that global scientists advise that we are not on track to meet climate change targets, that these targets themselves are not enough. With UN reports telling us 12 years is our time limit to make change, we need to act now.
On site in London, members of organising groups from across the UK were running training sessions around the way they work and why, on Non-Violent Direct Action, and on community organising. We were surprised but not shocked to hear there had not been a lot of organising coming from the Midlands. This prompts us to ask firstly, why?
Then ask – how do we want to get involved now?
Echoing the concerns of our friends at Galdem surrounding the need for intersectionality and inclusivity within a movement, we acknowledge that the methods used by Extinction Rebellion regarding interactions with the police have different meanings for different young people. We call specifically to the increased stop and search measures brought in by police in the wake of violence in the city, the racialised profiling experienced amongst such measures and what this means for the dynamics between the police and young people of colour in Birmingham today.
We also call to the need for a movement contributed to by those whom will be affected, and to the wide array of cultural and global diversity that makes Birmingham so significant to explore these questions together.
Free Radical commits to supporting the immediate need for transparency and action on climate change. We also commit to supporting the members of our community to lobby for these.
We encourage Birmingham’s young people to participate in the global climate justice movement in the ways that they can.
We do not advocate for voluntary arrest and we acknowledge that everyone can participate in action and social change in different ways. We want to engage with the issues raised by Leah Cowan’s article for Gal-dem and we invite alternatives which embrace the intersectionality which will keep this movement alive.
We encourage Birmingham’s young people to use our resources in order to participate.
Fuel funding – We have pots of up to £500 available for reactive art-activism. Have an idea of how you could creatively spread awareness or respond to climate change? Apply now and know within 24 hours if you have been granted the funding.
Lates – Our offices are open every Wednesday evening 5-9pm for Lates. This is space for holding meetings, planning, studying and there are members of our team there to brainpick. Hold a meeting to organise a demo! Make banners!
Change 24 – Change 24 is workshop programme to go into the how-to’s of running a sustainable campaign. What is the change you want to make? How can we start to make it? How can we make sure it lasts?
And if you don’t know what on earth we’re talking about, don’t worry! Take a look through these links, give it a google and get back to us.
Occupying – of an army or group of people to move into and take control and/or possession of a place
Organising – The efforts which go into producing, managing and coordinating social action
Sustainable – able to be maintained at a certain rate or level, able to be upheld or defended
Written by Bethany Slinn
Photography by Bethany Slinn