XR Cambridge activist says Extinction Rebellion leadership ‘crumbled’ by quitting disruptive protests
One of XR Cambridge’s most active protesters has called out Extinction Rebellion’s decision to “temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic”, saying: “We should be intensifying not slowing down our actions because we don’t have much time left.”
The climate justice group, which has been raising awareness about the speed with which the world is heating up since 2018, announced its decision to pull back in a statement headlined ‘We Quit!’ which was posted on January 1.
The activist group stated: “As we ring in the new year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic. We recognise and celebrate the power of disruption to raise the alarm and believe that constantly evolving tactics is a necessary approach. What’s needed now most is to disrupt the abuse of power and imbalance, to bring about a transition to a fair society that works together to end the fossil fuel era.”
The national announcement added that the future for Extinction Rebellion “is to work together with social, environmental, and justice movements”, adding: “As our rights are stripped away and those speaking out and most at risk are silenced, we must find common ground and unite to survive.”
Donald Bell, speaking to the Cambridge Independent in the market in the centre of the city today (January 6), retorted: “I know XR is recruiting but I worry we’re losing more people than we’re gaining.
“This group did what needed to be done to effect change. But we now have so many splinter groups – Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, Fossil Free UK…. All XR is doing is turning into Greenpeace or a wildlife organisation, but the only way to get change is to keep the pressure up. I think the leadership has crumbed under pressure from the public saying you’re stopping me from going work, but we should be intensifying not slowing down our actions.”
Climate activism has been under huge pressure in the UK since the government announced the Public Order Bill, which is currently being considered by Parliament. The Bill goes further than last year’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act by proposing to criminalise protesters locking on to each other and objects (such as aircraft or architectural infrastructure), and allowing police to search anyone near a demonstration, even without suspicion.
Hundreds of XR activists are already awaiting sentencing on charges relating to XR’s ‘civil resistance’ programme, with the group claiming there are now 12 individuals serving prison sentences for their activism. However, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain have vowed to continue using civil resistance tactics, while XR’s London leadership says that 2023 will involve “taking a different approach than before”.
XR’s UK statement says: “In a time when speaking out and taking action are criminalised, building collective power, strengthening in number and thriving through bridge-building is a radical act… This year, we prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, as we stand together and become impossible to ignore.”
“It’s not the right thing to do,” says Donald, a Cambridge resident who has been arrested on multiple occasions and has earned the ire of both then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. “We cannot take our foot off the accelerator because we don’t have much time left to reduce global warming.
“The public is not being informed about the crisis we’re in. The media has been putting the focus on Ukraine, but what’s the point of winning a war if we have no planet to live on?
“People talk about the nurses striking but the answer is very simple – stop HS2, use the money that’s being spent there to pay the nurses and it’s job done.
“If we upset public then so be it but we’ve got to carry on.”
The next major XR event in the UK is on April 1, when the group plans to surround Parliament with 100,000 protesters.
The mood at XR Cambridge is also to continue being disruptive. A spokesperson for XR Cambridge said: “The climate and ecological crisis is still happening, and XR Cambridge has no intention of quitting.
“As a decentralised movement, no one in XR Cambridge gets to tell anyone else what action they should and shouldn’t be taking, as long as it is non-violent. However, as far as we know, no one in XR Cambridge has any plans to disrupt the public. We have moved our focus to disrupting the rich and powerful.
“We will continue to put pressure on the university and other local institutions to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. In particular, the University of Cambridge must stop working with Schlumberger – or SLB as it is now called – the world’s largest oilfield services company.”