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Re-evaluating success of Extinction Rebellion (XR)

Mike McCartney

8th September 2021

Interesting article on XR in the paper

This is a quick follow up to a relatively long blog post earlier in the academic year.

See here: Pressure Group Activity - Focus on Direct Action | tutor2u

In the blog post, I wrote:

"I have lost count of the number of stunts pulled by XR in recent days, and this is not, therefore, an exhaustive list...

Blocking a thoroughfare in Covent Garden:

Similar activity, this time at Oxford Circus:

Glued to Science Museum in anti-Shell protest:

Though I do wonder if these types of activity are counter-productive since their actions might put people off who might be generally sympathetic to their cause?

I am thinking in particular about dousing a statue outside Buckingham Palace with red paint. See here:

I'm not saying that The Sun is the voice of the people, or it is a bastion of great journalism but it is in the business of selling papers and to an extent prints what its readers want to read. And with regards to the Palace protests, it described XR several times in its report as "shameless' eco warriors. See here:"

And this dovetails neatly with what's in the Guardian at the weekend:

"The XR protests have been heavily criticised by some commentators, but Sara Vestergren, a social psychologist at Keele University who specialises in protests, said: “Regardless of what you think about the tactics, I don’t think anyone can deny that they’ve done a fantastic job in raising awareness. If we didn’t have any active groups fighting for the environment, God knows where we’d be.”

She agreed with accusations the protests may alienate some: “But I don’t know if those people would be interested in environmentalism in general.”

Leo Barasi, a campaign consultant and author of The Climate Majority: From Apathy to Action, agreed XR had transformed the debate around the environment. “But they’re running into diminishing returns,” he said. “Climate change is already the second-top priority for the UK public, ahead of the economy, immigration and crime. Media coverage of climate change is more widespread than it was before the 2019 protests, and what XR are doing isn’t so novel now.”

There are also significant questions about how much XR has been able to influence real policy. Currently, as one protest speaker pointed out this week, the most significant XR-inspired piece of legislation making its way through parliament is a bill to severely curtail protest.

XR’s activists know change is needed. “There’s definitely been a contraction in XR,” Gail Bradbrook, the movement’s co-founder, told the Guardian. “But I see it stabilising and getting stronger.”

Support for the group remains strong in other ways. XR point out that ahead of the latest actions, they raised £100,000 from supporters in just 24 hours. A recent poll showed 81% of people in the now UK regard the ecological situation as a “global emergency” – the highest proportion the world.

Bradbrook sees XR as undergoing a shift in emphasis. “A really important pivot that we have done this year is from talking about there is an emergency and sounding the alarm to talking about why there is not an emergency response, that that pivot has been about focusing on the political economy,” she said.

Now it was time to get out into communities, she added. In the social interregnum of the Covid pandemic, local XR groups had morphed into mutual aid networks. “It’s what we build from that,” Bradbrook said. “What do you do that’s part of the change you want to see?”"

See here for the article details: Extinction Rebellion eyes shift in tactics as police crack down on protests | Extinction Rebellion | The Guardian

See below for an XR produced video on their two weeks of action in 2021.

Dream the impossible dream??

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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