Tue 28 Apr 2020

Rebellions aren't easy: where do we go from here?

Douglas Rogers Public Seen by 68

Hey all! I've written a short article attempting to describe and reflect on XR's current situation. In very brief: I think we've been in a low moment for a while, and I think there are long-term structural tensions underpinning it.

I'm keen to hear people's thoughts on it, and to this end I've linked this thread in the article, so that anyone who'd like to can discuss it here. I'll confess I'm sort of new on Loomio, so let me know if that's not how things work!


Cliff Wed 29 Apr 2020

Some flashes of genius in the early days created very high expectations of XR and attracted lots of support. It isn't surprising that thousands of amateurs have ended up muddling along and getting into more of a muddle. As well as scale, there are issues of durability: what can work for three or six months may not work for two years. The pandemic may be giving XR UK an invaluable opportunity to pause and re-group. Fingers crossed!


Douglas Rogers Wed 29 Apr 2020

I'd be interested to explore in more depth what those flashes of genius might have been: seems essential that we learn the 'right' lessons from our successes, as well as our failures. As an example of that not happening, I think a lesson learned from the (mostly successful) Blood of Our Children action was that controversial actions always work, and/or that it's okay to proceed if the face of passionate interal opposition. Clearly a willigness to outrage was a crucial part of our original success, but there was more to it.

What were our original 'core competencies', in the lingo? It might seem a bit clichéd, but having this kind of conversation about April I've found myself thinking that a sense of unity was pretty key. Not so much on the tactical side of things (though also that), but for that 'secret sauce' of positive energy that did so much to sustain and attract. We knew who we were, and so did the public/press. By comparison October felt more impersonal and anonymous, more like a convergence of strangers - but that might have just been me (or the police conditions!)


Douglas Rogers Wed 29 Apr 2020

Thanks! Yeah, it feels less intuitively useful than organising teams etc. ('the real work'), but I think creating a space/climate for internal debate is seriously overdue; hoping to help that where I can!


Adi Wed 29 Apr 2020

Thanks for article. Should xr focus in on agents which process the fossil fuel subsidies until lockdown over? Seems like its about highlighting /educating us all on the exact routes/departments that money flows through and could be an exposure done from within locked down conditions. Then later those departments can be targets for in person protests.


Douglas Rogers Wed 29 Apr 2020

Thanks! I get the impression actions are keen to get some plans ready so that we're not starting from nothing when lockdown's fully over. Not something I mentioned in the article but I'm sure part of the answer to our current woes is a straightforwardly successful action to get our mojo back. Fwiw I thought the Durham stuff was part of that developing narrative, but obviously it all got stalled by C-19


Ben Burt Wed 29 Apr 2020

This thoughtful article gives me faith in the future of XR. It addresses the issues facing a decentralised democratic movement in a way that previous anti-establishment mass movements have failed to do, to their cost and ours. It is essential that XR remains a network of local and sectional groups rather than a centrally directed organisation, and we are fortunate to have people who recognise the contradictions this involves.


Douglas Rogers Wed 29 Apr 2020

Many thanks - positive feedback for this really helps me keep my faith as well! Part of me was worrying that people might be uninterested in / apathetic to this kind of abstract reflection, which would be a bad sign; I get the impression that the long-running opacity of UKS has done a lot to form a feeling that most rebels can't influence the status quo. Ironically similar to what we're trying to shake people out of w/r/t government policy; in both cases, it seems pretty mission-critical that we can build structures to make people feel heard (without collapsing into total consensus-rule)


Di Bligh Wed 29 Apr 2020

Thanks so much for clearly setting out the questions we need to answer. Locally, people are so pre-occupied with the plague it has been impossible to invite a focus on what next. I probably don't understand enough about self organising systems: but i find the lack of any kind of leadership painful: so useful to speak the reality, in this piece, for example,that not everyone can be consulted.

I saw a document which "summarised" the SW input into the national strategy discussion.....except it didn't, it was, rather. a long, indigestible, under prioritised assembly of seemingly random ideas. Please would the chaps, of any gender, put together a set of common questions to seek something close to a consensus on where we go next? And I include the essential need to diversify our base, radically, if we are to carry the cause, as well as how, when and what we might organise to do now, and in the changed future. In love and solidarity.


Douglas Rogers Thu 30 Apr 2020

Thanks! I guess in true socratic style, simply understanding that you/we don't have enough information about organising structures is all we really need for now. Understanding that it's this (and not, for example, a lack of donations or numbers or a lack of zeal in crazy actions) that's doing the most to hold us back. (at least, so I reckon)

Yeah, the strategy process sounded... difficult. We wanted people to tell us what we wanted to do but not tell us what to do (unless it was what we wanted to do). Both the 'we' and the 'people' in question were pretty amorphous. I might try and catch up with where it's at at the moment, but might inclination is to believe that where we go next is more something that will be decided in practice than by any formal processes to settle it; which means it's down to us to practice reflection and more agile organising. (Again the 'us' being a bit unclear here - obviously it's a big ask for all local groups to spontaneously implement agile organising without support. I'm thinking I might try and track down the SOS team next to try and pass on some of their thinking on the education we need in order to be agile again)


Joe Taylor Wed 29 Apr 2020

Great piece - thanks. I also just read this sort of history of XR to date in the LRB - good accompanying piece to yours: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n08/jeremy-harding/the-arrestables

I feel that in the early days, there was a clear plan as to how XR was going to achieve success - essentially by bringing the state to its knees through mass participation in NVDA. While that didn't quite happen, we did make a sizeable contribution to something significant - a cultural shift and a change in the conversation. I would say we achieved that because we were aiming high, and had a clear guiding vision and strategy. I guess a lot of this came from Roger - "what I've just given you is the keys to social change" as Gail quotes him as saying towards the end of their first meeting. Since Roger has been sidelined (for saying things that I agree were both offensive and damaging to the movement), I feel that guiding vision and strategy is what has been missing from the movement, as was clear from the strategy document that came out earlier this year (I guess it was earlier this year - seems like a lifetime ago).

My wish for the next phase of XR is that we develop an ambitious strategy for how to win. And my fear is that we become just another NGO, doing the kind of things other NGOs do.


Douglas Rogers Thu 30 Apr 2020

Many thanks for sharing - I really love that LRB take, with one exception being that I think it continues the press-perpetuated myth of Roger's leadership. Not that I think this is a total fantasy - if enough people believe he 'leads XR', then of course that means he does in effect, and vice versa. And obviously it depends on what you mean by leadership - but in my own experience I haven't seen much actual reason for it (outside media treating him as such) since at least before April.

Whether or not that's a good thing... I guess I'd say that to me the lack of guiding vision and strategy is much more a symtpom of our lost cohesion than vice versa; and that whatever Roger's credentials as a 'progenitor', he is not capable of helping to bring the internal (or indeed international) cohesion that we need.

If it gives you any hope, I'd at least say that if we do start trying to act like an NGO (as is very much a possibility), we wouldn't manage: too many people would leave... It's quite a nice fear to hear, though, insofar as I very much share it.


Douglas Rogers Thu 30 Apr 2020

Thanks! Wonderful to read you here too!

Yeah, that sort of cultural reflection sounds really interesting. I've heard it described as desireable lots of times, but it seems in our emergency / resource-strapped culture it's pretty easy to just keep on deferring oppression workshops, and/or for them to be ill-attended or esoteric when they actually take place. Would/should we prioritise them above a local action?

I guess to answer that you've got to have a position on how essential it is for us to achieve that kind of reculturing. Perhaps we could remain repressed, authority-loving bouregouis subjects and still meet our demands? It didn't seem that big a problem in the opening months until and during April, but we didn't have such a big local scene then, and I guess our earliest members probably tended to be more radical.

Whatever the details, it makes me think we'd benefit from a more intentional approach to culture: at the moment most of it seems to be a sort of by-product of other areas of emphasis (including regen), but your account (and others) makes me think it's pretty crucial, especially when (as ever) thinking of our April high water-mark. We can't just hope something emerges that makes people feel happy and empowered, we have to actually create conditions that encourage this.

As a sort of side-note, I guess the Milgram experiment is a pretty pertinent point of reference


Claire Duc Thu 30 Apr 2020

Hi, just joined and no idea how Loomio works but hope to find out as I go. Your article really resonated with me, I've been having similar thoughts.


Douglas Rogers Fri 1 May 2020

Thanks! I guess the next step is for those of us who have these worries to work on some steps for addressing them


Eileen Conn Sun 10 May 2020

I'd love to have a response to my posting on 2nd May.


Douglas Rogers Wed 13 May 2020

Hi! Sorry, I had a busy period!


Eileen Conn Sat 2 May 2020

I also am glad to have come across this conversation, which is raising the right kinds of issues. I have 45 years of street level community organising experience in Peckham, SE London. Spent much of that time pondering on the issues raised in this exchange and been involved in many sub journeys around the issues. My latest street level role is coordinator of active citizens group Peckham Vision - http://www.peckhamvision.org , social media @peckhamvision (please follow us). I have spent many years studying in action the dynamics of street level organising and how to interact effectively with the institutions and the corporate world. Please see my thoughts on this in these two links:

Youtube interview - http://goo.gl/Fs6f73

My published paper - https://bit.ly/2yIoS7b

I have been pleased at the emergence of XR groups organised by borough in London, and assume and hope that is happening also in other parts of the country. Teaming up the newly attracted energy of XR in local areas with the existing widespread thousands of activists already working on local community issues is a key to developing effective sustainable community structures. We are doing this in the London borough of Southwark through the Southwark Planning Network (SPN) which brings together activist groups on planning across the borough. We are working with XR Southwark on the issues the climate emergency and now the public health emergency raise for planning and redevelopment issues, that many of us are already grappling with as an, as yet unacknowledged, emergency.


Claire Duc Tue 12 May 2020

That is happening in Lewes too Eileen. XR Lewes works with Transition Town Lewes, Plastic Free Lewes, Sustrans, Divest East Sussex and Lewes District Council among others. We had a big joint event planned for this summer which had to be cancelled sadly. We're hoping to put it on one day.


Eileen Conn Tue 12 May 2020

That's good to know that the linking of networks is happening in other places as well. This must be a stronger part of the new normal.


Douglas Rogers Wed 13 May 2020

Hey Eileen - thanks so much for this!
I really love your energy/matter point - I think it has loads of general relevance, and to XR still more so. This sort of conceptual agility seems key to understanding our dyanmism, strengths and weakness: I think it's easy on the UKS teams (especially for those having spent a year or more building 'matter' structures) to think only or primarily in these kinds of concrete terms, to the likely detriment of our local (i.e. entire) membership which lives as much in terms of fluid energy.
I guess something that this and your paper ('s abstract - I'm planning to read it when I have time today or tomorrow - looks really helpful!) begs as a question is where and how to rebalance or reconcile the energy/matter or (related but presumably distinct) horizontal/vertical tradeoffs. Do we accept that UKS needs to walk and talk like an institution to be most effective, complete with a clear verticality? Should local groups admit any verticality? Should UKS and 'local' even be treated as separate entities?

In any case, it's great to hear about that kind of community cooperation. Not without its own complexities, of course, but it seems a crucial part of maintaining/regaining an understanding that we aren't disrupting the public, but that we are the public; among so many other benefits!


Eileen Conn Wed 13 May 2020

Thanks Douglas. I know the feeling about busy periods so that's fine. I am in an extended one myself! I followed up because I seemed to have missed the boat at the time as you had replied to all the other responses. I really wanted to make a link as I'd like to be connected to XR emerging thinking about the way XR's special nature works at local level with all the community actions there are already there. Huge potential but it won't be realised well enough without thought and reflection. I just ask that you link me in when this point comes up. And if and when you get time to read my paper I'd be glad to hear your thoughts on how it might help to think through some of XR's issues. Thanks.

My personal email is changing in the next couple of months and now needs to be changed on this site as at some point I will not get messages in my inbox. I don't know how to do that so I will give here Peckham Vision's email address - info@peckhamvision.org - which will still get to me so ask if you would email me as well on that when you are ready to make a connection on this site .


Adi Mon 11 May 2020

 I think xr could lead a transitional action. do'able in or out of lockdown. The concept is that "climate INCOME" tax is a critical part (BEST? ) of how we transition and subsidising fossil fuels is the  worst (WORST? ) of the fiscal directives out there (worse than banks conceptually). By withholding our proportion of tax that goes to fossil fuel subsidies and starting a voluntary climate income fund which we try to donate to government (maybe at each local level ), we cause PR by both withholding (eg. news articles ) and by donating (eg. event presenting funds ) whilst leading by example and demonstrating this willingness. The undertone is everyone becomes more familiar with "climate income" See: 

https://citizensclimatelobby.uk and the end of this video 


What do you think?

Regards, Adi


Douglas Rogers Wed 13 May 2020

Sounds cool! I'll admit, I'm no tax laywer, so I find it hard to evaluate that side of things. I guess my main concerns would be that from a movement/momentum-building perspective, it might further confuse our collective understanding of action strategy: at one point we had a very clear focus that change happens on streets, and that all else was in support of concentrating on this pressure point. My impression is we've diffused from this a bit, with many good results but perhaps also a deeper of loss of identity or clarity, to the extent that there (rumour has it) entire local groups that don't believe in taking direct action(!).
My other concern would be PR - there'd be a risk of being painted as 'privileged tax-dodgers'. It'd need really sensitive management (I can imagine certain tabloids would do everything to get a photo of a rebel with a Starbucks coffee or an iphone, or a scoop that they had tutored kids or something) but I'm sure this could be done.

I think in both cases the main factor would just be timing. Pre-October I think this would have been great; as is I'd see this working best after we've got a less tendentious public narrative. Hopefully that won't be too long!
In any case, I think it's already in the works! https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/extinction-rebellion-plan-to-withhold-taxes-czg0f5d60


Adi Wed 13 May 2020

Hi. Thanks for reply. Yes I think this tax refusal on link you sent - at a time when NHS etc needs funds and recession could be perceived wrong and give xr bad press. To withhold only the proportion which is used to subsidise fossil fuels is micro and so wouldn't damage government coffers or individual landlords but would make a point and show government how redistributing resources ought to happen. Still, it's underway now so maybe next time...


Ian Hugh Mana Thu 14 May 2020

I like the idea but .....when XR's main strategy is expecting the government to react to its

demands and get on with sorting out the CEE the Gov will need funds to do it. Its possibly also a privileged action (for self employed people ) as most working , tax paying, people have their tax deducted by HMRC via PAYE before they have a chance to even consider not paying it.


Adi Fri 15 May 2020

Good point about PAYE. Maybe it'd have to come our if council tax, then almost indiscriminate.


Paul Sousek Sun 14 Jun 2020

Sorry to be rather late to this discussion, but thank you for the article and to everybody for the comments.

My main point will be 'Doing what is necessary'.

1. We should be far less concerned about public reaction to our actions and once we decide on an action, we need to press it to its maximum.

Example: The protest on Parliament Sq, masked and at 4m apart, but still being arrested for no apparent reason. XR is too worried about articles in the papers accusing us of spreading Covid and similar nonsense. All the recent demos are now showing just how responsible our approach was and the contrast regarding damage and violence both at the BLM and the latest unfocused anti BLM demos is enormous. But also a wasted opportunity.

We needed to have defied the authorities and repeat exactly the same dome every Saturday right up to now and into the future. That would have beautifully demonstrated and contrasted our thoughtful approach against the largely disorganised chaos and lack of preparations of the others, improving again our public image and thus recruiting members and attracting finance.

We are unlikely to make the necessary impact by occasional distributed protest around the country. If we cant mount a mass protest, then we should be organising repeated protests regardless of the police reaction to it. Fridays for Future comes to mind.

2. We should do what is necessary and also STOP doing what is not necessary.
That, in my view is the main cause of the exhaustion you speak of and also of member disengagement.
Glaring example of that is this displacement activity (in my view for activities sake) of the major effort and destruction of changing our software systems. I wish nobody ever thought of Mattermost. I don't see the numbers, but it appears pretty inactive in comparison to what we had before. In any case, I find it less user friendly, less informative, most messages are people just joining and leaving some of the hundreds of silos created on it.

Our obsession with secrecy is misplaced. I am sure the police have informers in the inside of most of our groups and are probably better informed of our plans than most of us, ordinary members.

Similarly, I think we must have surely reached peak documentation - another XR obsession. Procedures, documents, presentations etc are being for ever invented, modified, updated, improve - as if that made any measurable difference to our final goals.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that all previous movements on which we model ourselves have not had even 1% of the documentation and administration we seem to generate - and still managed to achieve their goals.
Please let stop this avalanche of displacement activities, most of which stop us doing what is necessary.

3. My final point is on leadership and consultations.
I have noticed that XR now seems to be lead and controlled by mall cliques of mutually supportive officers, who allow discussions and ideas to come through mainly only when they agree with them. I have experienced that first hand, but see it happening everywhere I look within XR.
All the consultation I have been involved in and seen happening are highly constrained and manipulated to ensure that ideas not in agreement with the current local leadership are either not discussed at all, dismissed at an early stage or just left out of the summary.
The PA system is almost designed to support group think and exclude new ideas that may require fair amount of explanation and discussion before they are properly understood.
We need something else in addition.

I suggest that for all future consultations, art from the formal distributed methodology you also explicitly encourage the membership to submit specific proposals, bypassing the normal process, commit yourself to emailing the membership with such proposals and then run a second wave of consultation, including such new ideas.

Or maybe there is a better way of bypassing the XR hierarchy, but a short cut of some kind needs to be found.

I think that will do for now
Love and Rage


Claire Duc Sun 14 Jun 2020

I agree with some of your comments Paul but regarding Mattermost and the UK Hub the reason you don't find much going on there is that many people are not properly aware of it yet. My local group and another nearby are only just starting to get tech champions sorted out and to roll it out to all the group. At present there's no point in me putting much in our town square as there are not many people using it. Give it 2 or 3 weeks and ours will be quite busy I hope. These things take time.


Adi Sun 14 Jun 2020

I like the idea of a regular repeat action.. It'll build and people will join from all over country if its, regular enough. Along the same lines, there could be an ongoing action. Eg. Walk around coast of Britain continuously (or more radical version like in middle of motorway central reservation or less radical.. just town to town plan of a crowd continuously walking/campaigning ramble/hike.. ongoing and Web monitored)


Paul Sousek Sun 14 Jun 2020

Yes, submitted some proposals a few days ago

Hope it makes some difference


Paul Sousek Wed 17 Jun 2020

We have abandoned a functional system (Basecamp) for an unproven system, which I for one find less intuitive, more spam ridden, much more difficult to navigate and find documents/ information on - and at the same time losing hundreds of members. So far over 6 months wasted on it for zero gain and great losses. My prediction is it will never be as popular or useful as Basecamp and that means the loss of activists will be permanent. What a disaster!
We should be working on what is necessary, not on what maybe good to have.