Extinction Rebellion announces move away from disruptive tactics

Robert Booth
Extinction Rebellion protesters in London in October. The group is calling for 100,000 people to surround parliament on 21 April. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images

Jan. 1, 2023

Climate protest group says temporary shift will ‘prioritise relationships over roadblocks’

The climate protest group Extinction Rebellion is shifting tactics from disruptions such as smashing windows and glueing themselves to public places in 2023, it has announced.

A new year resolution to “prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks”, was spelled out in a 1 January statement titled “We quit”, which said “constantly evolving tactics is a necessary approach”.

The group admitted the move would be controversial. Other environmental protest groups, such as Just Stop Oil, have stepped up direct actions, notably throwing paint at art masterpieces.

Activists throw tomato soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at National Gallery – video https://youtu.be/LTdquzu-BXg

New legal restrictions on protests were introduced by the government after a wave of direct actions by climate protesters closed motorways and other infrastructure. The introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act in 2022 gave police greater powers to restrict protests that cause disruption. The new public order bill is due to introduce offences of “locking on” and “interference with key national infrastructure”, which can both be punishable by imprisonment. There could be new “serious disruption prevention orders” targeting protesters “determined to repeatedly inflict disruption on the public”.

Activists with XR, which launched in 2018, became known for civil disobedience, from planting trees on Parliament Square to superglueing themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Some smashed windows at bank headquarters and at News UK, the publisher of the Sun and Times newspapers. But the group became disliked by more people than liked, according to polling by YouGov.

Extinction Rebellion activists glue themselves around Speaker's chair in parliament – video https://youtu.be/i5znLva2bhM

“In a time when speaking out and taking action are criminalised, building collective power, strengthening in number and thriving through bridge-building is a radical act,” the group said.

“XR is committed to including everyone in this work and leaving no one behind, because everyone has a role to play. This year, we prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, as we stand together and become impossible to ignore.”

Meanwhile, dire warnings about global heating continue: 2022 was the warmest on record in the UK, the Met Office has said, and the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2003. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has warned: “We are headed for economy-destroying levels of global heating.”

XR is calling for 100,000 people to “leave the locks, glue and paint behind” and surround the Houses of Parliament on 21 April.

“What’s needed now most is to disrupt the abuse of power and imbalance, to bring about a transition to a fair society that works together to end the fossil-fuel era,” the XR statement read. “Our politicians, addicted to greed and bloated on profits, won’t do it without pressure.”

The government has said that “over recent years, guerrilla tactics used by a small minority of protesters have caused a disproportionate impact on the hard-working majority seeking to go about their everyday lives, cost millions in taxpayers’ money and put lives at risk”.

XR also called for greater collaboration between different protest groups while admitting this may be “uncomfortable or difficult”.

“The conditions for change in the UK have never been more favourable – it’s time to seize the moment,” it said. “The confluence of multiple crises presents us with a unique opportunity to mobilise and move beyond traditional divides.

“No one can do this alone, and it’s the responsibility of all of us, not just one group … As our rights are stripped away and those speaking out and most at risk are silenced, we must find common ground and unite to survive.”

[Top photo: Extinction Rebellion protesters in London in October. The group is calling for 100,000 people to surround parliament on 21 April. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images]