The Extinction Rebellion movement is occurring all over the world. It’s making big waves in the news and is attempting to pave the way for big social changes. However, recent events have led people to consider whether the primarily white, college educated image of Extinction Rebellion is sabotaging the initial goal of the group.
Extinction Rebellion is fundamentally a movement for a good cause. The push for sustainable solutions to climate change and governmental restructuring is a noble mission and one that we desperately need. Yet, within this movement there seems to be a disparity between what Extinction Rebellion wishes to achieve and how it is actually achieving it.
“…there is an element of truth to this suggestion that Extinction Rebellion is, unintentionally or not, gatekeeping the working class from joining its cause.”
Recently, as part of their rebellion week protest, Extinction Rebellion stormed a Penneys and a Brown Thomas store in Dublin. This was a daring move for the organisation and one that was widely discussed and berated. Extinction Rebellion has been painted by some media outlets as a barbaric movement, targeting the working class by entering a Penneys while conveniently leaving out any counterpart to the story. While this stance doesn’t wholly represent Extinction Rebellion’s mission statement, there is an element of truth to the suggestion that Extinction Rebellion is, unintentionally or not, gatekeeping the working class from joining its cause. Penneys is not necessarily an ethical corporation, and it is not environmentally sustainable. These facts have been demonstrated historically. Yet, the choice made by Extinction Rebellion to go into a Penneys, or even into a Brown Thomas for that matter, which is primarily staffed by minimum wage workers, and cause a disturbance does not seem the most effective method of targeting the corporation. They are making more work for the people who they wish to recruit and are further alienating them from their cause.
Extinction Rebellion perhaps fails to consider their chosen demographic in how they propose solutions to climate change. “Fast fashion” companies such as Penneys and H&M are labelled as such for a reason, namely because of the constant turnover of supply and purchasing. Charity shops and vintage shops are good in theory, but pose certain problems. Vintage shops are frequently overpriced and can often stock clothes that focus heavily on aesthetics rather than functionality, while the contenders on the high street have multiple variations on work shirts or trousers which are fit for purpose perfectly. Charity shops are a great option in terms of pricing and sustainability, but their range often makes it hard to find specific items, especially in the shopper’s desired size. The luxury of having responsibility for only yourself is one that not everyone has.
While students can benefit greatly from charity shops, often parents have very little time to leisurely stroll around Dublin in search of clothes for their children. More often than not, the pricing of charity shops may even match those of shops like Penneys, leading people to shop for new rather than secondhand, due to the perceived value for money. In the same vein, vegetarian and vegan diets aren’t always an accessible option for larger families. Often, vegan and vegetarian options can be more expensive, especially in terms of purchasing milk, egg and meat substitutes.
The time constraints some people face may also work against the Extinction Rebellion agenda. The Extinction Rebellion school strikes have played a vital role in forwarding their movement on to the younger generations and it was amazing to see so many young people engaged. Nonetheless, this can often discourage people who are unable to take time off work to participate and at worst, may even make them feel guilty for not being able to take part. This has unknowingly created a feeling of resentment with some people, who consider it a privilege to be able to take time off work to protest, and miss out on pay which may otherwise be used to support their families. It seems that Extinction Rebellion have not communicated this inclusivity widely enough, and have effectively encouraged Extinction Rebellion-based guilt and resentment from those who simply cannot take time from work. The motivations of Extinction Rebellion are strong, but its actions seem to signify a mission statement which is inaccessible to the socio-economically disadvantaged.
“Extinction Rebellion should accept the responsibility of ensuring that they are approaching issues from all angles, as opposed to pushing the very specific and often inaccessible viewpoint of some members.”
For something as important as the push for climate change action, there should be more done by Extinction Rebellion to promote intersectional inclusivity within their movement. Extinction Rebellion should accept the responsibility of ensuring that they are approaching issues from all angles, as opposed to pushing the very specific and often inaccessible viewpoint of some members.
Education seems to be another challenge which Extinction Rebellion is failing to address. I cannot speak for everyone, but I heard of Extinction Rebellion primarily through college and as far as I can tell, they don’t seem to be making a big enough effort to market themselves to everyone. Climate change is not just an issue for college students – it affects all of us. Not everyone is aware of the prominent issues of climate change and the way Extinction Rebellion is failing to spread information to all demographics could be playing in to the negative public opinion on them.
“The only way that real change will happen is uproar from the general public, but right now it seems that Extinction Rebellion are becoming the recipient, rather than the instigators, of such public outcry.”
No form of public protest that achieves change can be one hundred percent peaceful, and Extinction Rebellion is no different. The only downfall to this is that by perpetuating an effectively ‘middle class’ image of themselves, they are swaying public opinion against them. In reality, Extinction Rebellion aren’t a classist, violent movement. However, the public is beginning to see them that way. The only way that real change will happen is uproar from the general public, but right now it seems that Extinction Rebellion are becoming the recipient, rather than the instigators, of such public outcry. Often, outside of certain circles, the mention of Extinction Rebellion is greeted with sighs and general disapproval. Extinction Rebellion want to achieve sufficient action on climate change and that is a good and admirable goal. However, it is evident that they need to do more to promote inclusivity, not just for themselves but for the sake of the planet.