I’m not a member of Extinction Rebellion and it’s a movement I have mixed feelings about. There are a lot of people I like and admire who are getting involved. There are a fair few people co-opting it for self promotion purposes, or to further other personal projects. That it is getting attention for climate crisis is important. That its means do not align reliably with its intended ends is a problem for me.
I am absolutely in favour of gathering in Trafalgar Square to speak truth to power. Protesting in the right place, in the faces of those in power whose minds need changing, is a good idea. Not all of it goes this way, which I think is counter-productive. I’ve seen a lot of it locally and there have been too many actions that alienate people rather than engaging them.
To radically change our cultures, our behaviour, our laws and politics, we needs as many people persuaded as possible. That makes the question of who to inconvenience, and how, an important one. An inclusive movement draws people in and persuades them. There is going to be discomfort for people whose lifestyles are not sustainable, and there will be pushback, but if people feel too uncomfortable, they’re more likely to dig in and resist change, which does not help.
I worry about the way in which many Green activities look like middle class hobbies. It suits certain areas of the media to push that message, because persuading most people that it’s snobbery and hypocrisy and not for them is an effective way of maintaining the status quo. Activists need to think carefully about this because we need more people engaging, not being put off. It is important not to price people out of participation. Protesting in ways that hurt people who are already struggling isn’t an appealing look.
I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I was the youngest person in the room, as a middle aged person, conscious that an even younger person might have had a much harder time of feeling comfortable there. The assumption that you are retired and can afford the time is a big assumption, and a common one. I’ve been in so many spaces where the assumption of middle class affluence was a real problem for me, and I’ve heard people say some pretty awful things about ‘the poor’ in those contexts.
It isn’t easy for people who feel themselves to be normal, to see who is missing from the room. All-male spaces don’t notice the lack of women as an issue. All-middle-class spaces don’t notice the lack of working class people. All-white spaces don’t notice the lack of ethnic diversity. Able bodied groups do not notice the lack of disabled people. And so on. Invariably, it becomes the job of the first person in the room not to fit to try and make that space. Which is exhausting and difficult and thankless. We should not be making disadvantaged people fight to get into the room and fight for a space at the table. We should be smoothing the way whenever we can.
If you think ‘those people’ aren’t in your movement because ‘they’ don’t really care about that sort of thing, please rethink this. If you’re treating a demographic as all being the same, you are going to be making terrible mistakes. If you’re participating, and seeing someone else’s lack of participation as them not being the sort of person who would, you won’t change anything. When you ask what you can do to be more inclusive and to enable more people to get involved and see green movements as for them, in their interests, and spaces where they would be welcome, you can make changes.
A non-inclusive revolution won’t work. A revolution for the middle classes won’t tackle many of the ways in which poverty and environmental problems go hand in hand. A revolution that isn’t for everyone, isn’t going to work. It will take maximum engagement to really change things. It should fall to those who are most able to help people get involved. If something is easy for you that doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.