and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London relative to that Event
Following our fortnight-long Autumn Uprising, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement considers what to do while the next uprising is planned. Last night the Camden XR group began drafting goals.
Start with an assessment: what was achieved this autumn in terms of the XR grand strategy? Our strategy is mass non-violent civil disobedience. It ends in one of three ways.
- We break discipline and turn violent. The government wins because the Rebellion becomes a public-order issue, for which the general public will tolerate forceful repression. We recognise this danger. Our faces are set against it.
- The police succeed in containing the Rebellion as just-another-protest event until it runs out of energy.
- We overwhelm the resources of the state. Police commanders tell the Home Secretary the Rebellion can no longer be managed as a public-order issue, but must be dealt with politically.
Only in (3) does the Rebellion succeed. That is the outcome to which we must bend our efforts.
Consider the Rebellion from the point of view of government. We say we are rebelling; they say we are protesting. The difference matters. As protestors we are expected to protest, to have our concerns acknowledged, and to go about our business. The government’s declaration in April of a climate emergency, and in October of an interdepartmental climate task force led by the Prime Minister, are responses to protest: we have heard your concerns and taken them on board.
The last three decades have produced many such acknowledgements but no adequate action. As rebels, not protestors, we are demanding action, immediate action, before we stand down.
In demanding immediate action in the face of rebellion we are bypassing the channels of representative democracy. We are right to do so. Our cause is just, urgent, and our political system has failed to step up. We must also see it is natural and proper for government to resist. A democratic government should not bend to every breeze; it should not be hijacked by angry minorities. In a tyranny the police stamp on protest; in a liberal democracy the police facilitate it – and allow government to disregard it. Resisting our demands may be natural and proper. But not right.
In this light, how close have we come to overwhelming the police? At first sight, not close. There were plenty of constables. We saw officers from Kent, Wales and Scotland. We rebels were peaceful. The Met appeared solidly in control.
But then Dame Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, invoked her powers under §14 of the Public Order Act to ban any XR protest anywhere within London. Lawyers and legislators rushed to point out nothing like this was envisaged in the framing of the Act, and the High Court immediately approved a motion for a judicial review.
It’s not hard to read Dick’s declaration as a cry for help, especially as she justified it with reference to the expense of policing the Rebellion. Scotland Yard has since briefed the press that XR has sucked £37 million from her budget, with more expected to come. Dick is no doubt angling for more money from Whitehall, and senior officers are already quoted in the press as asking for more powers to limit protests. Dick can’t lose here. If her §14 declaration stands, she gains powers no one thought she had. If it falls in court, she can plead in Whitehall for more powers.
This ups the stakes in the dilemma XR poses to the government: repress or negotiate. Home Secretary Priti Patel must be polling the public mood to gauge support for repression. The recent actions disrupting the DLR and Jubilee lines appear to have lost us sympathy and enlarged her scope for repression.
In terms of XR’s overall strategy the Autumn Uprising was a success. It provoked the police into applying for more powers and (almost certainly) for more money. We made progress towards the end game.
In considering what we want to achieve before the next uprising, we need to look at what will get us to outcome (3) soonest. We don’t have years to spend locking horns with Westminster. What will bring us to the day when the Home Secretary advises the Prime Minister that the Rebellion can no longer be dealt with as a public-order issue?
Two answers spring to mind:
- Public sympathy We have a great deal of it, but it is vulnerable to misjudgements such as those at Canning Town. We have the capacity to avoid such errors – a Camden XR poll ran 73% against joining the action. We need governance that makes use of it.
- Numbers I know of three other rebels in my street. Our street is blessed with an email group with over 200 members. A dozen neighbours have requested induction and NVDA training, so we’ll hold one just for this street. That will triple XR numbers in this street.
In short: our primary goal for the period until the next uprising should be to recruit and train more rebels. Neighbourhood outreach might be the most effective way to do it.