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Extinction Rebellion: Exclusive Interview

Ben Dolbear speaks to two spokespeople for the organisation taking the climate scene by storm.

Last Saturday, the Daily Echo published an article condemning environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion for their planned Youth Strike scheduled for Friday 15th February, which aims to take children out of school for one day to march on Southampton against what they see as the impending climate crisis. Schools have been faced with a tricky dilemma: allow young people to engage in the political process and risk setting a dangerous precedent of truancy, or set a hard and potentially alienating stance against swathes of young people concerned about their world. From Tru’s perspective, we feel it is encouraging to see movements enabling all types of people to engage with wider societal and ecological problems, but this is not the first time the group, formed internationally in October of last year, have caused a local stir - they have previously joined forces with other environmental campaign groups to march on West Quay in an unapproved flash-mob to protest against the impact of cars in the city. Much has been said about the group in local and national media, and we were curious about their motivation and thoughts behind the Youth Strike, so I went to meet two of Extinction Rebellion’s local spokespeople, Willy and Christelle, in Southampton’s Art House Cafe.

We are intrigued to know more about the organisation, and Christelle tells me it is a non-hierarchical movement of people who are taking a stand to protest against the state of the climate. It is a nonviolent direct action movement which demands that the government tells the truth about climate change based on the most recent predictions by the IPCC that we only have twelve years left to stop the planet heating up to devastating levels. As a comment from us, it is really encouraging to see nonviolent expressions of concern to attract attention to such important issues. The group is fundamentally apolitical, but challenges central government by proposing that democracy as it stands is not fit for purpose to challenge this crisis; it is short-termism that will make this planet cease to be habitable. I ask about the unconventional tactics of Extinction Rebellion, and Willy tells me that the research shows that nonviolent direct action is overwhelmingly more successful in achieving aims than more passive methods; though it may sound radical, the Earth is at a pivotal point from which there is no return. For Willy, it is essential that government bodies become aware that environmental issues should be taken seriously, and this will inevitably involve tactics such as dropping banners, distributing leaflets, and staging the kind of publicity stunts described above. Christelle says that, if we look at history, real change only comes about when real people are willing to sacrifice their liberty and dignity on a mass scale. Willy adds that this kind of action can no longer be deemed ‘radical’ if it is undertaken by the people; instead, it becomes the norm, and political leaders are forced into action. Although Extinction Rebellion may seem rigid in how they present themselves, we do hope that evolutionary movements such as this are able to be heard with more open ears; after all, the time for change is now.

It has been a pleasure interviewing two insightful and passionate individuals who genuinely, and quite rightly, care about our planet, its inhabitants, and the future. But some more conventional thinkers might still ask: why deny children of their education, and why risk criminalising parents by taking their children out of school? Willy is keen to tell me that this protest is not about criticising teachers or schools; teachers do an excellent job under difficult circumstances, and are often effective in imparting skills necessary to tackle the climate crisis to young people. He also disputes that this is denying children of an education; quite the opposite, he says - the event will be a lively day packed with educational activities from academic lectures to group activities and music. For Christelle, it will be an important supplementary form of alternative education, equipping young people with the knowledge, motivation, and drive to make their future world a better place. Yes, the organisation may seem radical, but it is radical change that is required if humanity is going to reverse its trend of destruction that has resulted in the wiping out of 60% of the world’s animal populations since 1970.

If anybody wants to get involved with Extinction Rebellion they should go to the main website and will be put in touch with their local group. The Facebook page for the Southampton branch is ‘Extinction Rebellion Southampton’, and anybody who gets in touch with the page will be notified about all upcoming events, which include the aforementioned Youth Strike on Friday between 11-2, and in the evening of the 27th February at an unconfirmed venue there will be a screening of Heading for Extinction and What To Do About It, and in the afternoon of the 3rd March at the Friends’ Meeting House there will be nonviolent direct action training. People can get involved on different levels, including the working groups which exist in the remit of lobbying, finances, science and research, outreach and training, and others.


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