October 18th, 2019
On Thursday morning highly distressing footage emerged on social media of the public pulling down two Extinction Rebellion protesters from the roof of an underground train at Canning Town Station in London.
The disruption at the metro station affected commuters trying to get to work so they can support their loved ones. It impacted those already suffering the hardships of a toxic system – those who are the most at risk from the effects of climate and ecological collapse.
The action had been announced on Tuesday and was received with overwhelming opposition and consternation from Extinction Rebellion (XR) members. Following this feedback, some of those involved in the planning chose to step back from the action, but some continued with their plan.
As an XR activist, this action left me feeling frustrated and upset. There is a real risk that XR will be perceived as part of an ‘elite’ unless we direct our power against the elites.
Through our actions, we need to show the public that we are on their side, that the greater burden of change needs to fall upon those who bear the most responsibility for the situation that we are in.
We need a laser-like focus on the kinds of actions most likely to generate active support and wider sympathy across all communities and to strike a balance between non-violent disruption that is noticed by all and resolutely non- violent disruption that falls more heavily on the rich and powerful.
That’s why during rebellion week, XR Ireland made the focus of our protest on our elected representatives in Dáil Éireann who continue to fail to act on the climate emergency they declared six months ago.
This is the right target as it demonstrated to the public that we are on their side and highlighted the hypocrisy of the Government for their lack of meaningful action. Imagine if we get to a level of public support for our civil disobedience whereby on budget day it becomes impossible for the Government to enact a Budget that isn’t a climate and biodiversity proofed.
Of course, a potential danger of such an approach is that Governments start acting more dictatorially in response. So, we need to target oil and gas elites too and put elite material interests in the balance. We need to make it clear that neutering our democracy with their lobbyists will not stop us from being effective.
The proposed Shannon LNG gas terminal that will most likely be supplied by fracked gas is a prime example of our target needs to be in this regard. The built-out of the terminal would lock Ireland into dependence on a fuel that can be more damaging than coal for decades to come.
It means horrific greenhouse gas emissions and a crippled Irish renewables industry. We need to get as much of the public behind the Stop Shannon LNG campaign as possible to maximise our chances of preventing this from happening.
As XR approaches its first anniversary we’re still clearly figuring out how to work together to prevent or mitigate catastrophe. Our fifth value is “that we value reflecting and learning”.
I hope a positive outcome of the failed London metro action is that we make a commitment as a global movement to show the public we are with them and that the chief burden must fall those with unearned wealth and power.
Only by doing this can we hope to achieve the mass mobilisation we need to reach net-zero emissions and achieve a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and repair the effects of ecocide to prevent the extinction of humanity and all species.
Let’s keep our eyes on that prize and help to maintain a livable, just planet for all.
By Dr Ciaran O’Carroll
Ciaran is a member of Extinction Rebellion Ireland and lives in North Dublin. You can find out more about the Irish branch of Extinction Rebellion here: www.extinctionrebellionireland.com