Event Report: the diversity of #ExtinctionRebellion #Manchester

Early on Monday evening I attended my first Extinction Rebellion meet up in Manchester. Every Monday from 6pm a group of members meet up at Sandbar on Grosvenor Street. [Next week’s meeting, Monday 29th, is at the Breadshed, nearby. See here for details], I was nervous about showing up alone but as soon as I sat down the atmosphere was immediately welcoming with everyone chatting with each other, all sharing the same fear and passion while actually doing something about climate change.

When I imagine a group of “Climate Activists” what springs to mind is a group of young hippies who perhaps naïvely think they can change the world. There is nothing wrong with this stereotype, but what was really comforting to me was that the room was in fact filled with people of all ages and occupations, students, teachers, mothers, firefighters, film-makers.

The main topic of conversation that was bubbling throughout the room was the events in London over the past week. People who attended events were telling their stories and everyone was captivated with the same excitement that these people felt. Members described seeing others being arrested and some were even arrested themselves. Despite this, all those who attended the London protests agreed that it had been a very peaceful experience with one woman stating that the police are ‘on our side.’

However, another lady told the room a very different story. She explained how early on Saturday evening she was at Parliament Square with around six other protesters because everyone else had wondered off to get food and other supplies, when out of nowhere and with no prior warning around 200 police came marching towards them. She explained the pure fear she felt but how with shaking hands she linked arms with the people next to her and waited for the police to reach them.

These stories gave me confidence that I am not alone when facing the huge issue of climate change, in light of recent events it is clear that there are thousands of other people who think and feel just like me. However, when Marc Hudson [editor of Manchester Climate Monthly] noted that out of the 50 people in the room every single person was white, I quickly realised that Extinction Rebellion is not quite as diverse as I first thought. According to Government statistics black people are more than three times as likely to be arrested in comparison to white people 1 and so with all of this attention on getting arrested perhaps to view the police as being ‘on our side’ was a naïve statement, or at the very least a statement which could alienate black and working-class people.

Pippa Neill, new staff writer for Manchester Climate Monthly

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Upcoming Event: “What next for #climate action in #Manchester?” Thurs 23rd May, 7.30pm

In a month’s time, the evening before the next Youth Strike for Climate, there will be a public meeting at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St, on the question “what next for climate action in Manchester?”

More details are available here,

whatnextfor cliamte action square

[Full disclosure: the host organisation, Climate Emergency Manchester, was co-founded by Manchester Climate Monthly’s editor]

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Upcoming Event: Free showing of “This Changes Everything” 11 May #Manchester

This is organised by the GM Unite Community Branch‘s climate group. It’s free, but you have to book, and please bring your own mug (no plastic)

tce grabThis free film screening event aims to both inform the public, and to bring together climate change activists from across Greater Manchester to share ideas and resources, and to strengthen their existing networks. There will be a discussion and stalls after the film showing.

Participating groups supporting this event include: Greater Manchester Unite Community Branch, Campaign Against Climate Change, Frack Free Greater Manchester, Extinction Rebellion, Clean Air Greater Manchester and SERA (Labour’s Environment Campaign)

The film looks at seven communities from across the world, gathering the voices of those who have fought to expose capitalism’s systemic relation to climate change.

It builds towards the controversial and exciting idea that we can seize the existential crisis of climate change to transform this failed system into something radically different. The growing protests that we have seen recently in Manchester and across the globe led by young people #YouthStrike4Climate, shows the way forward. Please join us if you want to find out more.

VEGAN REFRESHMENTS – NO PLASTIC – PLEASE BRING YOUR OWN MUG

 

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Join the Land Army – #Manchester food growing volunteers required to help small organic growers

Join the Land Army! Inspired by the women’s land armies of the First and Second World Wars, The Land Army was set up to help small organic growers in Greater Manchester increase their yields and strengthen their businesses. We currently work mainly with new organic growers, supporting them at the beginning of their journey towards establishing viable and productive farms.

A day out with The Land Army is quite a physical day’s work (though we’ll

IMG_20190323_102807973.jpg

look after you and make sure you get proper breaks!), but it’s really satisfying and a great way to get your hands

 

dirty, learn a bit about commercial scale food growing, and meet like-minded and interesting people like you!

You’ll need waterproofs, sturdy footwear such as wellies or boots, and drinking water. In return for your hard work we provide a healthy, home-made lunch and plenty of tea and biscuits – two things we find go hand in hand with working on the land!

Land Army days usually take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays and run from 10am until 5.00pm at Farm Start Woodbank, Woodbank Memorial Park, Stockport  SK1 4JS .

Our next dates are :

  • Saturday 27th April
  • -Wednesday 8th May
  • -Saturday 11th May
  • -Wednesday 5th June
  • -Saturday 8th June
  • -Saturday 22nd June

Our volunteers come from all walks of life and enjoy being part of The Land Army for many different reasons. You might be thinking about growing your own food at home or on an allotment, want to meet like-minded people, or simply have some spare time on your hands and fancy doing something totally different – either way, we’d love to hear from you!

landarmy@kindling.org.uk or visit https://kindling.org.uk/Land_Army

 

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The moment of maximum danger – What next for #ExtinctionRebellion in #Manchester? #unsolicitedadvice #oldfartclimateadvice

More and more talk of climate change in the papers, on the news. New documentaries that cut through the public’s lack of awareness. Soothing words come from the politicians, but the Prime Minister has become a weakened figure, everyone counting the days to the (long-promised) departure. Citizens fed up with the lies and empty words, move to take direct action, to the consternation and ridicule of the right-wing tabloids. But those citizens make tight emotional bonds, full of exhilaration, friendship, and that rarest of emotions for anyone who knows the facts – hope. Climate change is now on the top of the agenda, and surely will never go away again.

I refer, of course, to the summer of 2006.  I was involved in the first “Climate Camp,” held near Drax power station in Yorkshire.  The camp was to be the launchpad of a growing movement of citizens willing to take non-violent direct action on climate change, in solidarity with other peoples, other species, future generations.  And yet a fateful strategic error later that year holds lessons, I believe, for Extinction Rebellion activists and (therefore) the broader climate movement, such as it is. This article – and interviews I’m publishing on this website – try to help boost and contribute to crucial conversations.

But first, it’s crucial to acknowledge what has been achieved by thousands of ordinary citizens in this last week.  There has been a staggering beauty in what has been done.  The bridge, the square, the boat, the people stepping forward to be arrested.  It has been a huge relief, after the numbing psychotic silence of media for years, to finally see the issue talked about again for the first time in almost a decade, to see interviews – however stupid the questions – on maxr duckinstream news. It’s been beautiful to see the numbers swelling of people wanting to take action, of those talking about it. It’s been beautiful to see how the usual escalation to “property damage” and “resisting arrest” has been sidestepped.

Back to 2006.  We were all very knackered after the camp, which ended in the beginning of September. In October we met in Manchester, where the first public meeting had been, at the beginning of that year.  We were there to celebrate, to reflect and – obviously – to ask the crucial ‘what next?’ question, which had been drowned out in the rush to get the camp happening.

Other people will doubtless have different views, but my view at the time and still today, was that the discussion about what to do next wasn’t just bungled, but was actively facipulated.  Before you reach for your thesaurus, I’ll say facipulated is a portmanteau word (not one I made up, like smugosphere, emotacycle and ego-fodder). It’s a combination of facilitation (in the sense of trying to help a group reach a decision through proper deliberation) and manipulation.  Facipulation is fake discussion, where people are primed (especially emotionally) to reach the “right decision.”  In this case we were all asked to stand up if we’d had a really great time at the Camp, and cheer. We were then asked if we wanted to do it again.  A huge cheer went up, and a groan from me (and possibly a couple of other people).

What that meant was this. There was no consideration of

  • whether switching from being an organisation that was building a network to take action on climate change  to becoming one which held annual camps,might suck all the energy, oxygen and time into annual jamborees

  • what the alternatives might be (e.g. camps every other year and local action in between)
  • how the camp could (would) get captured by those dreaded reformists and NGOs.

And so it all came to pass….

Why was it so, and how does all this connect to Extinction Rebellion?
Well, let’s put aside all the free advice  (some of it reasonable – here  and here, some excellent) and think about what might still be the same. Yes, we now have the talismanic IPCC 1.5 degrees report, and Greta Thunberg, and far more hands on deck than we did 13 years ago.  Mother Nature may keep providing the long hot summers which are supposed to be a wake-up call.  But social movements are still the same,with the same individual emotional dynamics, the same possibilities of the tyranny of structurelessness, and the same blinkers.

That’s something the mainstream commentators don’t seem to grasp. Not their skill set, not their history.

So here’s my contribution. Besides the active facipulation, I think there were also collective emotional and cognitive factors at play. On the emotional side, I mean this:

Climate change is absolutely bloody terrifying and exhausting.  It’s an extremely rare day when there is any good news, any smell of victory.  If you understand that renewables are not replacing fossil fuels but are merely an adjunct to it, if you understand that emissions have climbed by 67% since 1990, if you understand that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (and trust me, you’re gonna start hearing the word methane a lot more soon) are climbing remorselessly… well… you don’t have to be a GuyMcPhersonite to believe we are in very deep shit indeed.

So, when you find a place to drink hope, you want to drink deep from that well, and you want to keep taking your bucket back to that well.  It is, surely, a very understandable response to the dread we feel (we need grief resources, but that’s another issue).

On the cognitive side, I mean this –  if something ‘worked’, why innovate?  Why switch what got lots of attention for something else that won’t feel or smell like winning – the drudgery of trying to get Members of Parliament [see interview with Rebecca Willis] and – god help us – local councillors – to be less shit on climate change.

Meanwhile, the status of the Extinction Rebellion London crew will be sky high.  They will have a status as experts in rebellion that the Bolsheviks had after the Russian Revolution. Because they were the ones who had been successful in having a revolution, that prestige meant the Bolsheviks  could ride roughshod over objections that situations were different in other countries and that different methods were needed. (Some will say that is an inflammatory analogy. To be clear, I’m NOT saying they will behave as Bolsheviks, just that the same dynamic is in play as back then). It would be extraordinary for them NOT to plan further actions in London, and even more extraordinary for local XR groups to say “nope, we’re gonna do local stuff, good luck.”

Full disclosure – I’m not at all sold on XR’s demands or necessarily its methods. XR’s repertoire so far seems to consist of a set-piece powerpoint (And yes, I’ve sat through it. It comes in at almost 100 minutes, and is extremely problematic, imo), and the large set-piece public order situations.  The former won’t get more people onboard. The latter is harder to do than it looks, if you don’t have very large numbers of people. Also, the police forces of the UK are probably already game-planning this stuff. They will adapt.  (And who knows, it may be that the Met has thought a few days of disruption in London would put them in a very solid negotiating position the next time their budget is up for discussion…)

My assessment of XR is irrelevant at this point.  I am an avid (rabid?) climate campaigner, and my life will be a lot less shit if XR sticks around, or at least doesn’t go up like a rocket and down like a tumbling stick. That’s why I’ve started encouraging Manchester activists involved in the Extinction Rebellion activities to start answering the following questions, and publishing them on manchesterclimatemonthly.net, inspired by the great answers given by youth climate strikers, their parents, and some very smart academics.  We need to air the possibilities and the dangers, before meetings (and details of XR Manchester meetings are at the bottom of this post).

So back in 2006 we were facipulated- but we were also not ready to think through the alternatives, the costs of doing more of the same.  I think there is an opportunity to do some better thinking than we did back in Sept-Oct, and at least make more eyes-open decisions. I’ve come up with some questions,  already answered by some  people  on a website I run.

1. Who are you, why did you get involved, what have you done in Mcr and in London

2. How can XR be more inclusive, address legitimate race/class concerns

3. What skills, knowledge, relationships do you think XR ppl need to cultivate in the short term?

4. Given that intense activity is unsustainable (emotionally, physically, practically), how does XR Mcr plan to sustain radical action over the summer?

5. What can so-called “non-arrestable” people do?

6. How does XR plan to cope with the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” identified by Jo Freeman?

7. Anything else you’d like to say.

Ppl can skip qs, and I won’t edit answers (unless there is libel etc). People can also be anonymous (not every employer will be delighted to know how people used their annual leave).

I hope other organisations (and to be clear Manchester Climate Monthly has been a one person band since my co-editor was demoted to working for Al-Jazeera, back in June 2013)  do this in other parts of the UKl. I believe that it perhaps will get us all thinking a little more carefully

There’s an old joke among venture capitalists that “This time it’s different” are the four most expensive words in the English language. Well, we also (I suspect most people reading this are not venture capitalists)  can’t afford them. Someone, I forget who, said that history happens twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.  Someone else said she doesn’t repeat but she rhymes. It’s the rhyme that worries me…

See also

 

Details of XR meetings

On Monday 22nd April (today!) there is an informal social for people who want to come and chat, learn more (i.e. this is not an offical XRMCR meeting). It’s at the Sandbar, 120 Grosvenor St, just south of the city centre.

On Monday 29th April from 6pm there will be an official meeting of Extinction Rebellion Manchester. The venue will be announced shortly.

And yes, I am aware of a recent email within XR about where things might be going. That doesn’t change the deeper dynamic, the deeper danger. Thus this post, written last week and checked by various friends and friendly critics, is still worth posting, imo.

Disclaimer

[Manchester Climate Monthly, running since 2011 and preceded by Manchester Climate Fortnightly (2008-2010) is an independent news source, not affiliated to any political party or particular pressure group, including XR. The editor has recently co-founded Climate Emergency Manchester, a campaign to connect concerned citizens and get 4000 signatures on a petition calling on Manchester City Council to declare a climate emergency. Anyone who lives, works or studies in Manchester can sign that petition, and get involved in the campaign at whatever level they wish, learning new skills and making new friends.]

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Interview with a #Manchester #ExtinctionRebellion activist 03

Another interview with an Extinction Rebellion activist, this time, Zoe.

  1. Who are you, why did you get involved, what have you done in Mcr and in London?

I’m Zoe. I’m a self-employed coach, and Mum to a wonderful teenage daughter. I got involved in XR because I couldn’t not do. I’ve been trying to tread lightly on the planet since I went vegetarian at 12 years old and have been involved in animal welfare/green/sustainability and low carbon stuff for many years. I chaired a community energy company for 3 years and I’m proud of what we did, as a small group of volunteers, but always felt that although it was great, there was so much more that was needed. I am a big picture person and I’ve become increasingly aware that our whole capitalist, consumerist system is totally broken and is incapable of being ‘the answer’. I became aware of XR at the end of last year and was really inspired by the London bridge blocking. I went to my first Manchester XR meeting in January and immediately felt at home. I quickly became a volunteer giving the ‘Heading for Extinction’ Talks around the North West. I’ve also been doing lots of social media for the movement, both for XR and more generally, and building my online networks to help amplify the messages, because it’s so important to raise awareness of the climate and ecological emergency we’re facing – especially as Government and mainstream media haven’t been telling people the truth.

I arrived in London on Sunday and went straight to Hyde Park to get trained up to be a ‘Street Inductor’, ie, someone who can run a condensed training session for new arrivals in London who aren’t yet part of a group and want to get involved. Then I took part in the meditation and vigil with the Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams outside St Paul’s Cathedral. I am not religious, but I am a spiritual person, and this was a beautiful thing to be part of.

Monday morning at 6:30am was loading huge amounts of kit and supplies at the XR HQ into a van heading for Parliament Square and then helping unload it with a group of other XR folk, including some from my own ‘affinity group’ – everyone just mucks in with everything – the power of such a strong shared purpose.

zoe pictureThe rest of the time til Thursday morning was spent road blocking, leafleting the public, or doing Street inductions – and getting arrested in Parliament Square on Wednesday evening. This was the first time I’ve ever been arrested for anything in my life – when it came to it, I felt I had no choice, I am a Mum and I have to do whatever I can to protect my daughter – as well as to help other people around the world and the plant and animal species that are under threat and disappearing fast.

There were so many arrests that everything took a long time – and so I had a good 9 hours to spend talking to the very lovely Met police officers about why we we’re doing what we were doing. They were pretty supportive of our actions.

  1. How can XR be more inclusive, address legitimate race/class concerns?

My experience has been that there is more diversity than has been portrayed in the media. Certainly, in terms of age, gender, background, disability. For example, at the police station after I was arrested, our queue of XR folk ranged from a 20-year-old male student to a 76-year-old grandmother. I truly hope that broader engagement of more people from BAME backgrounds will follow soon as the movement becomes more and more known.

  1. What skills, knowledge, relationships do you think XR ppl need to cultivate in the short term?

XR welcomes everyone and every part of everyone, so I don’t think there are skills which aren’t important – everything we have can be employed to help – from organising skills, to creativity, to meditation! In the short term we need to be reflective and learn from what we’ve done so far; we need to be resilient because this is a marathon and not a sprint; and we need to look after ourselves and each other. I think wider communications skills will become increasingly important as will political and public engagement – as we enter different phases of the movement and hopefully enter dialogue with politicians and others about the demands required to address the crisis we face. We will need to keep challenging ourselves and each other as we move forward.

  1. Given that intense activity is unsustainable (emotionally, physically, practically), how does XR Mcr plan to sustain radical action over the summer? 

I think this will emerge through reflection, learning and working together – it also depends in my view what emerges from the London actions

  1. What can so-called “non-arrestable” people do?

Lots! There is an enormous amount of behind the scenes work to do, at local and national levels, which doesn’t involve arrest – from strategy and fundraising, to social media and communications. At local group level there’s also plenty of practical support that’s needed, eg, organising venues and meetings for ‘Heading for Extinction’ Talks to be given, and promoting these to the public; or making banners. And of course, when there are actions like in London and locally, there is plenty of practical and emotional support needed too. A small but important thing that everyone reading this can do (if they don’t already) is make sure they are having conversations about the climate and ecological emergency with friends, family, work colleagues etc – we have got to get, and keep, everyone talking about this – it’s been unspoken for far too long. And of course, anyone in a position to can also make a donation via https://rebellion.earth/donate/ – everyone in XR are volunteers and so everything done happens through donations…

  1. How does XR plan to cope with the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” identified by Jo Freeman?

I think that XR are working very consciously to think through how we deal with power and mitigate for the potential negative side effects of any form of human organising. In fact, my experience is XR founders such as Gail Bradbrook are giving this more intelligent, reflective and honest thought than any large ‘normal’ organisation I’ve ever worked in or with! There’s regular video sharing from XR for anyone to see – an example of Gail talking about Power, Decision Making & Strategy in XR is here

 

  1. Anything else you’d like to say

Some people have been critical about the disruption caused to Londoners etc – but I believe that blaming XR for disruption is like blaming a fire alarm for waking you up! We must all wake up very soon or it will be too late to prevent a 2 degree + world, and all the horrors that will surely unfold, so many of which are already showing themselves…

Please come and get involved! We’re an incredibly friendly and supportive bunch – whether you live in Manchester or further afield there are a number of local groups – look them up on Facebook and come along. After all, we’re all in this together

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Video: Rough history of UNFCCC process 1988-2019 #climate

So, this is off the top of my head – probably should do a powerpoint-y style thing?

Is this useful to anyone?  Comments, critiques welcome.

Other topics that should be covered? Maybe something on UK and esp Manchester? Something on the smugosphere, emotacycles?  Something else?

 

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