Notes from an Old White Man

I was fortunate to spend the week in London in November when Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched its campaign of Non-Violent Direct Action.

Finally, people committed to forcing our governments to take real steps to stop the climate changes that now threatens all life on Earth. I was truly inspired and am now working to help bring the Rebellion to the USA.  I also have a concern…but first the inspiration…

The first action I followed was on November 14. In Jubilee Gardens several hundred XR activists gathered in front of the monument honoring the women and men that joined the International Brigade to fight fascism in Spain back in the ‘30s. I was struck by the fact that the ‘affinity groups’ XR are forming were first created by the anarchists’ struggle against fascism in Spain…the gropes de afinidad.

The group I followed blocked and then some were arrested at #10 Downing St. Here’s the video I made… https://vimeo.com/300905742.

The next day, folks at the XR office were very positive about the November 14 video I made, so I asked what was on next. Nothing that day, they said, unless I was interested in a queer dance party to save the Amazon…at the Brazilian Embassy! As I headed over there, I was thinking…”How’s this possible? The recently elected Jair Bolsonaro is openly homophobic and going to hand over the Amazon to exploitation. Maybe he hadn’t taken control of the foreign service yet?” When I got to the Embassy I found out the “the dance” was in the street, blocking the entrance to the Embassy– of course! In this short video of the street party, you can see that those arrested were pretty much all white, which prompted me to interview people of color that were standing by watching…https://vimeo.com/301180369.

Again, I got good feedback on the video, although a couple of the XR  folks wondered if raising the question of diversity in XR served the urgent goal of getting the global XR message out to media, politicians and the public. That was when my inspiration was joined by a spark of concern.

XR’s main non-violent civil disobedience action was scheduled to take place on Saturday, November 17th.  Thousands came out to block 5 of London’s bridges. The civil disobedience was militant, peaceful, and well covered by the media…a brilliant, inspiring political action.

And yet, at the very same moment that this XR action took place, just blocks away thousands of others had taken to the streets for a different political action… the March Against Racism.

Clearly people at both actions would support each other, so why on the same day? The March Against Racism is an annual event that attracts many people of color, some of whom told me they would have joined the XR event…but had to choose.

I have no doubt that this was a simple snafu of scheduling. No blame, no shame…but it’s also a chance to ask who, how and when we call our supporters into the street. We have to reach out not only to people of color, but to the poor and working people left behind by neo-liberal capitalism who are in fact the most vulnerable to the degradations of our biosphere.

As Sunita Narain of the Center for Science and Environment told Naomi Klein… “If you’re talking about climate change, you’re talking about sharing a common atmospheric space. That common atmospheric space has already been filled up with emissions by a piddle little population of the world. That is inequality. If that is not fixed, we don’t fix the problem of climate change.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rqw99rJYq8Q

And as another XR blogger wrote: “Our enemy is not the rich any more than it is the poor –it’s the fact that we have rich and poor. Our lack of community (democracy and equality) is tearing us apart, physically, mentally and spiritually”. https://xrblog.org/author/nicolerussell333/

We need a society-wide global mobilization, similar to the commitment that defeated fascism in WWII, if we are to avert worldwide disaster. To do that we’ll have to reach out well beyond our own ranks and join not only with the poor, with people of color, but with some Brexit Leavers, religious true believers, Trump supporters, the Yellow Jackets…and even some of the .001%. While it will not be easy to overcome the alienation and distrust that has been used to divide and conquer, it is now a moral and politic necessity to do so.

-Paul McIsaac, USA