Torri Superiore is a place where a village and a community have been reborn but, above all, it is a meeting place. People from all over the world come here as tourists, volunteers, friends, relatives. Whether you stay for a few days, for a few years or for a good part of your life you can’t help but make speeches, meet new people and discover, continuously discover, new and increasingly interconnected worlds. This summer it is precisely from the meeting with two volunteers, Davide and Giacomo, that I discover (but some people already knew about it!) the existence of the Extinction Rebellion movement, in which Davide and Giacomo actively participate.
What is Extinction Rebellion?
One evening after dinner, Davide and Giacomo organize a presentation of the movement open to all those present at Torri Superiore. We are invited to watch a video and participate in the resulting debate. I begin immediately to point out that the word “debate” is not really right. It reminds me of scenes where people interrupt each other while the air overheats in the urgency of communication. Instead, Davide and Giacomo introduce rules that have become familiar to me and that I have learned neither at school nor at work but from facilitation courses. This detail, in addition to the theme, intrigues me…
The three official requests
To be more precise about my memories I decided to do a simple search on the web Wikipedia, L’enciclopedia libera.//it.wikipedia.org/w/index.phptitle=Extinction_Rebellion&oldid=113731091 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_Rebellion
And then, to get to know it even more closely, a long phone call followed with Davide, who had meanwhile returned to Milan.
So what is Extinction Rebellion?
Extincion Rebellion, abbreviated to XR, is a political and social movement, nonpartisan, born to face the ecological and climate crisis and its causes. The actions of Extinction Rebellion are aimed at making the three official requests directly to all governments in the world:
1. To tell the truth about the situation: that the government declare the climate and ecological emergency and that the climate and ecological crisis be put at the centre of public and media debate.
2. Immediate action: that the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity be stopped and greenhouse gas emissions be brought to net zero by 2025 with legally binding policy measures.
3. Going beyond politics (party politics): that the government set up and be guided by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on measures to be implemented and on climate and ecological justice.
When, where and how?
Extinction Rebellion was founded in the UK in May 2018 with around one hundred academics signing an invitation to action in October 2018 and launched at the end of October by Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook, Simon Bramwell and other activists from the Rising Up! In November 2018, various acts of civil disobedience were carried out in London.
Drawing inspiration from local movements such as Occupy, Gandhi’s independence movement, the suffragettes, Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement, Extinction Rebellion wants to rally support around the world around a common sense of urgency to face the climate collapse. A large number of activists in the movement have agreed to be arrested and even go to prison, similar to the mass arrest tactics of the “Committee of 100” in 1961.
The logo used is the symbol of extinction: inside a circle, symbol of the planet, you can see an hourglass. The translation is simple: “the world has no more time” or, again, “time is up”.
The movement develops around 10 founding principles, which, going beyond a manifesto and a political programme, expose motivation, vision and objectives.
The Founding Principles
We have a shared vision of change: to create a world fit for future generations.
We model our mission on what is needed – mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change – using ideas such as “impulse driven organisation” to achieve this goal.
We need a regenerative culture – creating a culture that is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
We openly challenge ourselves and this toxic system, leaving our comfort zones to act for change.
We value reflection and learning, following a cycle of action, reflection, learning and planning for further action. We learn from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.
We welcome everyone and every part of it, working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
We are actively mitigating power, breaking down power hierarchies for fairer participation.
We avoid blame and judgment – we live in a toxic system, but none of us are to blame.
We are a non-violent network, using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to make changes.
We are based on autonomy and decentralization – we collectively create the structures we need to challenge power.
Anyone who follows these fundamental principles and values can act in the name of Extinction Rebellion!
Cit. Extinction Rebellion (16 June 2020)
While I deepen my knowledge of the movement (but I know I am just starting out!) I understand that I would like to learn more from those who already live it as an activist. Davide is leaving. After his period of voluntary work in Torri, he is preparing to return to Milan. I greet him with the promise of a virtual meeting. And here we are a few weeks later on the phone, I am on this side taking notes and he, on his bicycle, is telling and answering questions one after the other.
I start by confessing that I knew nothing about Extinction Rebellion before the presentation in Torri, while I know, like many others, the Fridays for Future movement, very close to the principles and practices of XR. Is it just my ignorance or is XR little known in Italy?
According to David this movement, very famous in Great Britain, does not have (or still does not have) the same visibility in our country. Davide tells me that in Great Britain and in London in particular, many actions have been carried out, even of great scenic impact, culminating in arrests of demonstrators. Among these, he recalls a very recent demonstration against the British press. In the article in The Guardian a journalist, Steve Tooze, explains the motivations that led him to cling to a pole: “I feel that as a former insider, [these newspapers] hold a huge amount of blame for what we’re fed today by not telling the public what is really happening” he said. “If it’s not in the newspapers, people don’t worry about it and, if people don’t worry about it, there’s no pressure on this government to treat this as the emergency it is.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/05/climate-activists-accused-of-attacking-free-press-by-blockading-print-works)
In this testimony I acknowledge the action taken for the first of XR’s three requests: to tell the truth about the situation. In order to deepen the other two (simplified in: pressure on governments for the abatement of Co2 and a new form of policy) I ask Davide to tell me about his experience. When did he join the movement and why?
Jem Bendell and the Anthropocene
Davide joined XR in October 2019, mainly for two reasons: the first is that he wanted to be an activist in the ecological world and the second is that he had read Jem Bendell‘s article where the professor explains how ecological collapse is on the way. https://jembendell.com/2019/05/15/deep-adaptation-versions/
Jem Bedell’s words have given voice to David’s anxieties and, together, have allowed him to reach a new awareness.
Reading Jem Bendell David discovered XR. Bendell is not a member of the movement, but he supports it.
Finally, it was the coming out of the documentary movie Anthropocene (by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, Nicholas de Pencier) that brought Davide to the cinema and to a meeting with some of the boys from XR. It’s no coincidence that Davide found some XR activists right at the cinema exit that night. Anthropocene is a documentary, together with Manufactured Landscape (2006) and Watermark (2013), about the impact of human activities on our planet. The Anthropocene Working Group‘s thesis, which has been going on since 2009, is that the last 10,000 years constitute a true geological era that has profoundly and irreparably transformed planet Earth.
Irreversibility, paralysing anxiety
The documentary’s relentless images such as contemporary discourses urgently call for action against an already irreversibly ongoing climate change. But it is precisely the word “irreversibly” that anguishes and paralyses. How is it possible, then, to mobilise for something that is already lost? Davide’s answer was the pivot around which the debate that emerged at the ecovillage after watching the documentary video on XR, revolved. Admitting that the emergency is real, it is ongoing today, at this moment and we are all involved, that the stalling discourse “for our children and grandchildren” is already over, is the step we are called upon to take. For Davide it is also accepting that we will be victims of what will happen. This awareness is chilling but it must not be paralysing, on the contrary it forces us to unite, because this too is real: there are movements in action that unite more and more people.
What to do?
Acting and networking is the only wise thing left to do. Acting how and for what?
Despite everything, we are called to join forces to limit the damage to the environment and maintain the focus and pressure on governments to drastically reduce CO2 emissions.
And then it is also to prepare for ecological collapse.
Converting, limiting and solidarity are the key words. Ecological collapse is closely linked to the loss of rights, protection, humanity. The enormous risk that we are running, and which in reality is already dramatically taking place in the phenomena of mass migration, is an uncontrolled increase of fear, violence, distrust and indifference.
The themes are existential, local and global. So let us unite but also put pressure on governments to make shared decisions beyond purely economic interests binding.
Extinction Rebellion does not want to replace governments nor does it aim to focus attention on where to operate. XR calls on governments to adopt a democratic instrument that allows them to address emerging issues but remains outside of economic policy, supporting the government in collective decision-making.
What democratic instrument?
XR wants to promote Assemblies of Citizens. Through assemblies, citizens take decisions to be submitted to the Government. Citizens’ Assemblies are designed to be simultaneously a place for discussion, decision making and continuous training through the support of scientific research.
Which citizens can be part of these assemblies? Training is needed!
Yes, Davide explains to me, training is fundamental. A sample of citizens involved in the problem, statistically representative and trained, will be selected at random. Each city assembly will revolve around a specific problem on which it will be called to deliberate. This level of decision making will be reached when the first fundamental objective of XR will be achieved, i.e. when the media will speak daily about the climate and ecological crisis (as happened for Covid).
which new methods?
For example, the consensus method.
In ecovillages and often in small communities (10-15 members) this method is known and used…and in the coming months we will deepen it with articles by Lucilla.
It is a matter of arriving at a decision, binding for all, which accepts unanimous consent. In other words, the system of majority and minority voting is overcome. Why? Because the potential future conflict unleashed by an unhappy minority coalition, boycotting if not openly oppositional, is recognised. Recognized the danger of a disengaged and opposed coalition, following the consensus method, each member of the group is required to express an opinion (with respect to a decision to be taken). It may be either favourable by actively supporting the decision, neutral or not opposing or even supporting it, or unfavourable. Those who are unfavourable must argue their opinion (it is not enough to say “I am not in favour”) because this means blocking the whole decision-making process. This will be resumed in the light of the negative argument, discussed again in the search for a new consensus that is valid and binding for all.
The criticism that is put forward against this decision-making process (in turn derived from the experience of groups like the Quakers) and that I submit to Davide, is that it takes a long and potentially exhausting time. However, its solidity makes it a method to be taken seriously, limiting “side effects” through the division of the group into smaller groups that elect a delegate or representative who will bring the decision taken to the larger group.
“Davide, but this is democracy!” I exclaim thinking about the role of delegation to the representative through the vote “No” he replies “This is the evolution of democracy!” In fact, alongside the decision-making processes, there is a further group with the task of taking care of the relations between the members. For us in the ecovillage, these figures are not new and the definition comes spontaneously to me: we would call it “facilitators group”. Davide confirms that often, the participants in this movement are people who have undertaken self-education in different areas such as, for example, non-violent communication in the management of group dynamics. These are “contaminations” drawn from different cultures and environments from which new reflections and new actions can be triggered.
Acting to generate
XR, after all, is not only decision making, it is also action in the field. The “facilitator group” also has the task of taking care of the sphere of the participants’ actions.
The human element still emerges as a fundamental element. Who joins this movement? What is it driven by?
Davide answers me that the composition is very heterogeneous even if the group of young people from 25 to 30 years old, often recent graduates, emerges. There are also very young people who are approaching activism for the first time and adults who have not found satisfactory solutions from previous political activities. The reasons that can push a person to join Extinction Rebellion movement are certainly personal, but there is, to a different extent, a commonality: there are people who live this historical period with what is currently called echo anxiety, the widespread fear of a rapidly declining social-economic-political-relational future.
Then there are those who, in the awareness of the ecological collapse currently underway, choose a pragmatic dimension and take action both to work on the causes of the problem and to experiment with alternative practices, as the last reasonable choice to make.
In general, those who choose to face the current world crisis try to network and at the same time put pressure on those with political and economic power, aware that what can concretely arise is a generative culture that revolves around the relationship with the other, together with the other.
Whether we want it or not this crisis involves each one of us and even if we cannot stop it or even reverse it we still have the chance to try our best.
We are already observing what comes out of the violence. What can come out of this scenario of active solidarity?
My last question to Davide is about what is being done in Italy through XR movement. Although the movement here is still young, the means used is, as for Fridays for Future, the action of civil and non-violent disobedience:
To know more and make contact!
Roma, 15 March 2019 participation in the global climate strike (italian) https://www.facebook.com/XRItaly/posts/1059576537577210
Bologna, 25 September 2019 students pretend to be dead on the stairs of the Municipal Building (italian) https://www.dire.it/25-09-2019/371454-bologna-si-fingono-morti-per-suonare-la-sveglia-ai-politici/
Venezia, 23 February 2020 blocking of the Academy bridge (italian) https://extinctionrebellion.it/azioni/press/2020/02/23/extinction-rebellion-italia-blocca-il-ponte-dell-accademia/
For information and to join the XR movement (Italy): https://extinctionrebellion.it/unisciti-a-noi/contatti/
Facebook XRItaly https://www.facebook.com/XRItaly
Facebook XRUK https://www.facebook.com/XRebellionUK