Who are the rebels fighting extinction?

By Iraide Ibarrondo

Extinction Rebellion is an environmental group that has become famous over the last months for its non-stop and pacific civil disobedience protests. In London 1309 activists have already been arrested. Their main goal is to make the government take immediate action on the Climate and Ecological emergency. XR is active in 72 countries all around the world and has 485 groups across 473 cities and towns. Inside Extinction Rebellion there are many different subgroups: scientists for XR, XR families, XR grandparents, XR women…etc. As Extinction rebellion is an apolitical group, many completely different people come up together to fight against climate change. Ricky´s and Ben´s story is just one among many.

Ben (22) and Ricky (52) met each other in 16th October 2019 in Trafalgar Square´s protest organized by Extinction Rebellion. The protest was denominated by XR as an emergency people’s assembly to decide how to respond to the Government’s silence on climate and ecological emergency.   They both ended up being activists for this organization, but they arrived at XR- as it is called-  in very different ways.

Ben was an illustration student in Liverpool when he first heard about XR: “ I had to meet them to do a class project. I went to some meetings to know how they work and I felt that what they were doing was very important. I kept going to the meetings and little by little became part of them.” So after joining his local group, Ben found his place in the art department. “ I’m an artist and that’s what I know to do. So I thought I would be more useful there. I design banners and pamphlets”.

On the other hand, Ricky is a mother who owns her own business in Woorthing. She has already been a member of Greenpeace and she has been worried about the planet for a long time. She got more concerned about the planet when she became a mom and with the boom of  XR she felt it was time to show her commitment: “ I´m a worker, I´m an autonomous and I a couple of employees work for me. I have never taken off more than a couple of days from work and now I have taken two weeks of holiday to come to London and protest”.

Ben also states having a big commitment to Extinction Rebellion, to the point of getting arrested: “ I don´t mind getting arrested because I’m not doing a bad thing. I´m just using pacific civil disobedience and I don’t hurt anyone. The thing is that as I got arrested in April, I can´t get arrested again in 6 months. Otherwise, I will get into  trouble”.

When an activist gets arrested it has two options. Police will ask him or her to confess that they have been participating in the action or protest. If they do so, they will have to pay a 90 pound fine and they will have to be in conditional arrest for six months. If they don’t confess, they will have to go to court and have a trial. They have to hire lawyers and in the end, it gets more expensive. Also, if they lost the trial they could go to jail.

Ben and Ricky believe that this commitment is actually what makes extinction rebellion different from other environmental groups. Becky: “What made me change from Greenpeace to XR was that I needed to take action. In Greenpeace, you paid a bunch of people to do actions and they take the risk to go to jail. And that’s okay. I´m not saying that we have to stop doing that. But I feel that it’s not as effective as XR´s way of protesting”.

XR has organized actions such as taking over London City airport climbing into a British Airways plain, blocking London’s tube trains, climbing the Big Ben, painting governmental buildings, occupying oxford circus and transited bridges in London…and so on. Ricky: “ I understand that for some people the actions can be annoying. But we are not fighting for our own benefit. This is something that concerns all of us, we are fighting for all inhabitants on the planet”.

In fact, XR has three principal demands for the Government in London. The first one is that they must tell the truth by declaring ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change. The second one is that government has to act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025. The last one consists on listening and making decisions along with the city assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Although she is fighting for the wellbeing of the planet, the main reasons for Ricky to stay protesting in Trafalgar Square are her three children: “ I want them to be worried about the little things. It frightens me to think the reality they will have to face hunger and extreme weather conditions”. Ben doesn´t have children but he is also concerned about the future: “ I´m scared that if the natural resources begin to scarce how is going to affect politics. We will start fighting for natural resources and we will have new wars”.