Interview with an XR Activist

By Amy King

Following the countless Extinction Rebellion protests, film festivals and multiple other activist platforms, a number of arrests have been made against these activists fighting for a declared climate emergency.

Emma*, a 19-year-old Extinction Rebellion activist from Bath, was one of those people. At the London Rebellion on the 9th October 2019, Emma was taken under arrest for causing disruption in the area by London Police and taken to a cell in Hounslow. To understand her motivations and the drive behind her activism, Quench interviewed Emma about her involvement in the movement.

When did you begin feeling passionate towards climate change?

I think my passion was kindled in existing and playing outside, in the woods, on the coast and in my wonder for all that we can learn through being and existing in nature. So, when I learnt about the holistically destructive impacts of climate change in Geography I was terrified by the science and the evidence of humans broken relationship to nature, through a system of failed governance and catastrophic economics. Because it’s really alarming to realize that you as an individual might be contributing to a global crisis, which is impacting and will impact millions of people’s lives, including future generations. I also happened to go to a workshop on ‘How to Tackle Climate Change’ which really led to me a ‘tipping point’ moment of my own, where I decided to start to try and act. Because what is so evident is that we need to change our behavior fast, so the perspective of a climate psychologist who I heard speak, enabled me to consider how to engage people with the natural ecosystems that sustain our lives.

Why do you feel that climate change is such an important issue in today’s society?

Because this issue will define all other issues, because tackling this climate and ecological crisis, brings us to question the system of capitalism, which depends upon inequality to persist. So, tackling the climate crisis means tackling sexism, racism and workers’ rights, to name just a few. The solutions to the crisis means we can re-evaluate our history and understand that the solutions must address the inequality embedded in the system that we have all got used too. The science is blindingly obvious, what we can realize through tackling this crisis is our own power, we don’t need to be victims to consumerism, we shouldn’t have to choose whether or not we buy into clothing, not knowing whether somebody has been involved in slavery/human rights abuses to produce it. Our needs our desires, are often primal and innocent, love, friendship, food, security, shelter, yet to access them we must enter this corrupt system where we harm others to get what we want-this is the fault of the system not the individual.

So, a collective empowerment, the realization that we are the society and our government has a responsibility to ensure we are safe, this is what in the long run, tackling the environmental and climate crisis means. Not to mention, avoiding human extinction.

How have you contributed to tackling global warming and other consequences of the wide-scale change in the Earth’s climate?

I don’t honestly know. Aside from making personal choices (and I’m definitely not perfect here) I’m veggie, moving toward veganism, which is the biggest individual change a person can make in regard to their carbon footprint (in many cases this is more significant than stopping flying). I have also decided to stop flying. But I don’t want all these things to alienate people, because that would play into a capitalist, individualist, competitive system. I probably buy plastic I could avoid; I get lifts, I have been abroad multiple times.

So, when it comes to change, it’s got to be collective. Extinction Rebellion is this movement, a community of people, open to everyone, who give what they can and provide a force to change the system the government struggle to tackle, because of its honesty, integrity and collective strength. The theory and history from civil rights and the suffragettes suggests that civil disobedience and creating a unified movement full of all different types of people, is essential to achieve the crucial aims we share.

Why do you think that today’s youth feel so passionate about climate change?

Because, if we don’t address this now, we may not have a future.  We are learning about this crisis, reading about it (I would recommend ‘This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein), it obvious that we are facing a catastrophe of a planetary and humanitarian scale never faced before. We want a future; we don’t want the next generation asking us ‘what have you done.’ We want to be empowered, this is how we do it, we demand change.

How many extinction rebellion protests have you been involved in?

Two: April and October, alongside local actions.

Describe the setting of the extinction rebellion in London on the 9th of October?

I have never felt so useful, so present, so engaged in what I am doing as part of a collective group, the science shines so clear and trust in this and kindness holds everyone together. Community sounds great but the actual feeling of total trust, as people genuinely look out for one another, is indescribable.

Regenerative culture enables the movement to be sustained, which I would recommend researching because it’s at the heart of Extinction Rebellion.

Were there any specific moments that were poignant to you?

I think that the immense sense of trust, people had in me, when I helped to facilitate an action to occupy an entrance, stayed with me. Because, people bring whatever skills they have to Extinction Rebellion, and when they all come together, performance, song or speech, which creates an intense emotional atmosphere, an intensity, which has not be carefully planned and organized, but relies on every single person contributing in some way, even if it’s just being there in physical presence.

At what point of the protest was it when you were arrested?

The Wednesday, I had however decided beforehand that this was a completely logical step to take. Logical in regard to the theory behind social change, the impact of getting arrested which I had read extensively about before deciding to get arrested. It is a proportionate response to the scale of the crisis, the violent destruction of life.

What was your initial reaction and how did it make you feel?

I think I was just very alert, and ready for each stage which I had been well-informed about thanks to amazing training from people in Extinction Rebellion and UK School Climate Network. Mainly a very surreal experience and I’m definitely still reflecting on it at points, even now.

If you could say one statement directly to Boris Johnston and our current government, what would it be?

I think many people have said much better, so to quote Greta Thunberg:

‘Change is coming, whether you like it or not.’

What would you say to people your own age who are on the fence with participating and engaging with extinction rebellion?

It’s much easier to criticize a movement for all its flaws, then to change it from within. Extinction rebellion isn’t perfect, but its genuinely de-centralized, if you have something to say or change, or if you want to support in any way, just being there, at a local protest or in the April rebellion, is enough. We as the youth have a duty to tackle global injustice, since it is people who are the most vulnerable in society who will be affected first. We also need everyone onboard, because this climate and ecological crisis will affect us all.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee.