If there's anyone who could consider themselves a "regular reader" of this consciousness toilet I call a blog, then they may have surmised that I'm rather anxious about the environment and whatnot. It was this anxiety, combined with a sense of shame at how uncaring I had become, which led me to join Extinction Rebellion (XR) here in Belgium. It's been almost 6 months since I started getting involved in September 2021, so I thought it would be a good time to take stock.
First of all, it is refreshing to be surrounded by people who are just as afraid of the future as I am. In fact many are much more terrified than I am. This terror (anxiety is too soft a term), along with a lack of organisational capacity, means that burn outs appear to be quite common. For an organisation concerned with sustainability that's not great, but on the other hande it is not frowned upon at all if you take time out.
XR members also resemble me in many other ways - they are white and privileged. This is already an improvement coming from a Mechanical Engineering department, but still an obvious cause for concern. Other people have written better about this elsewhere, so I'll leave it at that for now.
XR Belgium also appears to be suffering from splintering, with several grassroots movements started by its' members. If I've understood correctly, Stop Alibaba, Tegengas and Ineos Will Fall are examples of these. A similar situation appears to be hoppenning with insulate Britain in (you guessed it) Britain. If you'll allow me to don my sociologist's hat (second hand, naturally), I would say that this is because XR's demands are not specific enough and leave people wondering exactly what they're fighting for.
Yet these demands are exactly what attracts me to XR. Broadly speaking, they are:
I find the refusal to demand specific actions (other than to stop burning fossil fuels) logical and commendable. It is logical because there are many ways in which to get to where we want to and it would be foolish to impose one path or another on a population; and it is commendable to do so in an age where everyone feels entitled to be right. I'm also more and more enthusiastic about the idea of citizen's assemblies.
While I'm enthusing about XR, I also find holocratic organisation fantastic as well as daunting, since I'm averse to decision making.
Enough about XR -what about me? I've found out that there a few activist activities I'm not cut out for. Shouting for one. I'm just not angry enough. Dressing up as well because I feel terrifically silly doing so, and yes I'm aware of the hypocrisy since I walked around Schuman dressed in an Ali G costume. Heck, I don't think I would block traffic either if it wasn't me and 20 other people.
My anxiety about the future is also a temperemantal beast, growing and retreating with the seasons. There are several reasons for this: recently, joining XR has made me feel OK about impending doom for example. I'm also privileged to have a comfortable life which I believe (rightly or wrongly) will shield me from the worst for a while yet. The bottom line is I can't count on my anxiety to motivate me.
So will I stay within XR? Yes, but I'm going to slow down a bit. Not that I was doing much before, but what I mean is that I want to be in XR for the long term, which for me means slowly ratcheting up my responsibilities rather than going all in straightaway. Being there for the long term also means making friends and becoming part of a community, since I'm convinced that that's the main factor for people leaving XR or activist groups in general. Moral outrage doesn't make for good social glue.
Do I think XR is effective? Yes, but. If I heard about XR, it was because they created a lot of noise and uproar through their actions, so in that way they're effective. I'm not sure that that translates into changing the public debate, but I have done little to no research on this. I have only heard XR members make the comparison with the suffragettes and the civil rights movement, but I'm only partially convinced. What I do believe quite strongly is that we need more people on board if we really want systematic change*. I hope to be around to see that, and to make sure that that change involves drum & bass being mandatory background music in all hairdressers, taxis and elevators**.
First published on 26/01/2022.
* "Systematic change" sounds much more respectable than "Change they system", don't you think?
** Because why not? Also because I couldn't think of a good ending to this article.