At the moment in the UK, there is significant disruption in London due to the protests of a group called Extinction Rebellion. Their website seems to be having trouble right now, but I’ve gathered some of their information and copied it at the bottom of this post. The Extinction Rebellion group basically plans to use nonviolent civil disobedience to bring the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse into the world’s agenda and force political change. My thoughts keep going towards the question of is there something better than protesting? I think there is.
Why protesting might not be effective
Protesting is a great way to bring an issue to the forefront and make sure everyone is aware of it, but I’m not sure this is the best way to tackle the real problem here.
My concerns about protesting are several;
- The Extinction Rebellion group could simply seen as a group of renegade “hippies” with nothing better to do
- Some of their protests will disrupt and affect many of the people they need to have on their side
- Large, powerful companies will go into action to crush them, or at least marginalise them
- These same large, powerful companies will lobby major politicians to stand firm against them
- Political change will become almost impossible
With large, powerful companies and major politicians mobilised against them, achieving their goals will become very difficult.
How the world really works
First, let’s consider how the world works. The most important things in the bulk of the world today appear to be money, business, trade, consuming and wealth. In a world like this, most of the power is held by the large corporations that have the most money, do the most business, trade the most to the consumers of the world and have become extremely wealthy in terms of all the assets they control.
This is a bad world.
These super-powerful companies are often more powerful than many countries in the world. That’s crazy. They are benefiting from the way the world economy has been constructed and they will do anything to ensure this won’t stop or be disrupted. They need all the people in the world to want what they sell, even if the people don’t need it, they have to buy it. They need a dutiful workforce to do everything for them so that the company can get more powerful and increase its wealth. To keep this all going, these companies lobby, pressurise, threaten and bribe worldwide politicians to keep the laws and conditions in their favour.
Even if these companies can see that what they are doing is unsustainable and is causing real damage to the Earth, they don’t want it to stop. Their only goal is increased profits and power. The system they are in does not allow for any other consideration and they think they’re doing the right thing.
Politicians in general have no power anymore. In general, they are puppets of large corporations and they don’t even know it. They (like almost everyone else – and I must admit me, to a large extent) are so engrained in “the system” they can’t see that they are being manipulated. And it’s an incredibly powerful system that has taken a couple of centuries to build and now almost looks natural and the way things are meant to be.
This is why I don’t think (but I hope I’m wrong) Extinction Rebellion’s protests will be ineffective.
What could be better than protesting?
The real power of the world as it is today is with the consumer. That’s right, us. The simple people. The problem is that we just don’t know it. First, we’re firmly brainwashed by large companies and the overall economic system, and we’ve reached the point where we think we have no power and politicians have to do everything for us. But politicians have no power either and the large companies are sitting back smiling and raking in all the money.
How can we hurt the large companies? Simple. Just change the way we consume.
Imagine this. The mini-cities called “malls” and “superstores” are some of the grossest symbol of the economic society that we’ve been thrust into. What would happen if consumers started to boycott malls and superstores? What if only half of the shoppers turned up, the carparks half empty and the takings cut in half?
Such a boycott would certainly hurt the big companies. Would it hurt us? Not at all. Ninety percent of the stuff we buy we don’t need. We’d have more money in our pockets and more time to do nicer things. Life would actually be better. And it would help the world because companies would have to start producing less (some companies would go bust) and hence stop using so much of the Earth’s resources.
Here’s something else to imagine. What if all of us consumers boycotted all stores and shops for a single day? What a powerful message that would be. All companies would be scared and really take notice. It would be a declaration that we know that the real problem is over-production of stuff and the over consumption of stuff, and that we, the consumers, are going to change the world by changing the way we consume.
I’d bet that a one day boycott of shopping would be better than protesting and would have a much more dramatic effect than Extinction Rebellion’s civil disobedience.
What can we do right now?
As of this second, every one of us can simply start consuming less. It’s easy. We don’t need most of the stuff we buy, so let’s not buy it, or just buy less. Every time we do this we’re helping the world as we’re putting it under less stress. This is far better than protesting and will have a rapid effect. If enough people start consuming less, it will quickly hurt the large, powerful companies and there will be little they can do about it (they’d increase their advertising effort – brainwashing – and we’d have to stand firm). This would attack them at their Achille’s Heel and would be the start of getting life going in the right direction again.
As part of this initiave to consume less, I’ve been writing in another blog called “Use 10 Percent Less” because if everyone in the world started using just 10 percent less stuff, that would have such a dramatic effect and be a great start to allowing the natural world to recover. A global 10 percent reduction in using and buying stuff would be far better than protesting.
Information from the Extinction Rebellion website
Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
On 31st October 2018, we assembled on Parliament Square in London to announce a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK Government. We were expecting a couple of hundred people. Instead, 1500 came to participate in peaceful civil disobedience. The energy was contagious! The next few weeks were a whirlwind. Six thousand of us converged on London to peacefully block five major bridges across the Thames. We planted trees in the middle of Parliament Square, and dug a hole there to bury a coffin representing our future. We super-glued ourselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace as we read a letter to the Queen. Our actions generated huge national and international publicity and, as news spread, our ideas connected with tens of thousands of people around the world. The XR project was resonating with a deeply felt need for community and solidarity. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” we chanted! Dozens of countries now have groups springing up, from the Solomon Islands to Australia, from Spain to South Africa, the US to India.
So what’s next? We are working relentlessly, building our movement in preparation for phase two, an international rebellion that will begin on 15th April 2019. So come and join us. Rebel for life. For the planet. For our children’s children’s futures. There is so much work to be done.
At the core of Extinction Rebellion’s philosophy is nonviolent civil disobedience. We promote civil disobedience and rebellion because we think it is necessary- we are asking people to find their courage and to collectively do what is necessary to bring about change.
We aren’t focussed on traditional systems like petitions or writing to our MPs and more likely to take risks (e.g. arrest / jail time). We don’t want or need everyone to get arrested – for some this is not a good idea – but we do want everyone involved to support civil disobedience as a tool.
We are promoting mass “above the ground”, or in other words- in full public view, civil disobedience. This means economic disruption- to shake the current political system- and civil disruption- to raise awareness. We are deeply sorry for any inconvenience that this causes.
We have made some decisions about security and our interactions with the police. We have made a strategic decision to communicate with the police about what we are doing when we believe that is more likely to enable things to go well (which we can’t always be sure of). Except for the case where a small group is trying to do a specific action that needs the element of surprise, we generally don’t try to be secure in our communications about plans. We expect that we have been infiltrated by those without our best interests at heart and suggest people bear this in mind.
We are about political change, not personal change (though we welcome the latter).
We are completely nonviolent, our actions are done in full public view and we take responsibility for them. We have an Action Consensus which outlines how we work together on actions.
We organise in small groups. These groups are connected in a complex web that is constantly evolving as we grow and learn. We are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised, and inclusive.
The structure aims to empower anybody to act as part of XR, so long as they agree to follow our ten core principles (see below). You can read our Self-Organising System (or XR Constitution) for more information. We are seeking a balance between being able to act quickly in response to fast-changing situations and being able to integrate the collective wisdom of multiple perspectives when needed.
Our Principles and Values
All are welcome who want to adhere to our principles and values
- we have a shared vision of change
- Creating a world that is fit for generations to come
- we set our mission on what is necessary
- Mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change – using ideas such as “Momentum-driven organising” to achieve this.
- we need a regenerative culture
- Creating a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
- we openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system
- Leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.
- we value reflecting and learning
- Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.
- we welcome everyone and every part of everyone
- Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
- we actively mitigate for power
- Breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
- we avoid blaming and shaming
- We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
- we are a non-violent network
- Using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
- we are based on autonomy and decentralisation
- We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power. Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion.
Related Links – Better than protesting
- This is a short video that is well worth watching – The Story of Stuff
- Another article I wrote a few months ago that is very relevant to this discussion – Anti-Consumerism – is it time for a new direction?