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This Is Not a Drill: 700+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Fights Climate Crisis with Direct Action

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More than 700 people have been arrested in civil disobedience actions as the group Extinction Rebellion kicked off two weeks of protests in 60 cities worldwide, demanding urgent government action on the climate crisis. Its members have superglued themselves to government buildings, occupied public landmarks, shut down roads and taken to the streets to sound the alarm about the impending catastrophe of global warming. Extinction Rebellion, a nonpolitical movement, launched last year in the U.K. and rose to prominence in April, when it disrupted traffic in Central London for 11 days. For more about the significance of the coordinated global protests, we speak with Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “This is not a drill.” That’s the message of thousands of activists who took to the streets of major cities across the globe Monday to raise the alarm about the climate crisis, gluing themselves to buildings, blocking roads, occupying public landmarks and being arrested by the hundreds in the first day of a two-week protest led by Extinction Rebellion. The group reports more than 700 activists, from Brisbane to New York City, have been arrested in just the first day and a half of protests.

Nearly 300 were arrested in London after shutting down major streets and taking over 11 sites in Westminster. One group superglued themselves to a parked hearse in Trafalgar Square as hundreds occupied the area. Other demonstrators shut down Westminster Bridge long enough for a couple to get married before the crowd. This is protester Jake Lynch speaking from the streets of London.

JAKE LYNCH: Well, it’s now five months since Parliament declared a climate emergency, and yet we’ve seen no emergency legislation brought forward to take effective action to stem the climate crisis. So we’re still subsidizing fossil fuels more than any other country in Europe. Globally, carbon emissions are still increasing. We’re heading in precisely the wrong direction. We here at Extinction Rebellion are taking action to interrupt the flow of normality, because it is that flow that is carrying us towards disaster.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Extinction Rebellion launched in London last year and has since grown into a global movement. Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked the group’s protesters Monday night, calling them “uncooperative crusties.” Climate activist George Monbiot responded, tweeting, quote, “I’m proud to be an #UncooperativeCrusty. #ExtinctionRebellion continues. Come and see why Boris Johnson hates it so much, and how it challenges the life-destroying system he defends.”

AMY GOODMAN: In New York City, nearly 90 activists were arrested after staging a die-in on Wall Street, pouring fake blood on the iconic bull statue outside the New York Stock Exchange. Dozens were also arrested in Amsterdam, Vienna and Madrid. In Brisbane, Australia, an activist hung from Story Bridge in a hammock for six hours. Activists also took to the streets in Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Brazilian protesters held a die-in on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Protesters shut down the street in central Paris near the Notre-Dame, and hundreds flooded the streets of Berlin to demand action to combat global warming. This is German climate activist and migrant rescue ship captain Carola Rackete speaking from Berlin.

CAROLA RACKETE: [translated] As Extinction Rebellion, we demand that net emissions be reduced to zero by 2025 as part of an emergency program, as well as an immediate halt to the loss of biodiversity. What we also demand, and this is the interesting part, is that there be a citizens gathering which votes on the necessary measures. Extinction Rebellion will never make concrete policy proposals. We are saying the issue has to be handed back democratically to the citizens, who then decide on the measures together.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests continue today in cities around the world. In London, Extinction Rebellion plans to plant at least 800 trees outside of Parliament.

For more, we go to London to speak with Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the scope of the protests? And once again, remind us how Extinction Rebellion was founded and got its name.

GAIL BRADBROOK: Yeah. Good afternoon, Amy. And I just wanted to say what an honor it is to be on Democracy Now! You asked how this started. I think the first thing to say is this movement stands on the shoulders of our elders across the world who have been protesting about the environment for many years. In many countries, that means death. I mean, 200 environmental activists die each year across the world. And I would include Democracy Now! as one of our elders. You have many fans in the U.K., so thank you for your broadcasts over these years. You’ve kept us going, actually, with your truth and ability to forward the voice of ordinary people and of activists across the world.

We got going because we did quite a lot of research, actually, into social movements. We looked at social science. We also looked into our hearts about how we were feeling. And we said that a movement would need to be driven both by some techniques called momentum-driven organizing, and we had some training by a fantastic organizer based in the States called Carlos Saavedra from the Ayni Institute. And we also did a lot of research into people like Gene Sharp, the father of civil resistance.

And we welcomed people to feel how these times are for them. And I think the fuel of grief is important to our movement, and the fuel of fear, in all honesty, because what that means is that people are willing to open their hearts up and feel the love for life on Earth and say, “Actually, I am not willing to put up with this anymore.”

I guess the thing to add to that, in a way, is, especially for Westerners like myself that sit in a degree of — quite a degree of privilege, is that there’s something about consumer capitalism that both traumatizes us and then offers us a lot of comforts to stay quiet and silent and to just keep our heads down and keep sort of slightly stressing about keeping our jobs going and so on. And somehow, I think this movement has helped break through that mold by welcoming grief and feeling, and then encouraging people to get on the streets and take risks with the possibility of getting arrested.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gail Bradbrook, what are the immediate demands of the Extinction Rebellion movement?

GAIL BRADBROOK: So, we have three demands. The first one is for government and other institutions to tell the truth. And also, in that way, it is not just a lip service by declaring emergencies and then carrying on with business as usual. That also means reversing policies inconsistent with that truth, so stopping immediate harms that are happening. In the U.K., what that means, for example, is that we have fracking happening in this country. We’re opening up new coal mines. We have the planned expansion of the railway system, but through what’s basically an aviation shuttle service called HS2, that’s going to deforest Britain bigger than has happened since World War I. So, tell the truth and reverse inconsistent policies.

The second demand is for net zero carbon emissions by 2025 and halt in biodiversity loss. And the reason we have such a tight target there is that this is definitely and absolutely an emergency. And what we need is for governments to act like it’s an emergency. If Britain — again, I know the U.K. situation more — carries on as it’s doing with very, very minor reductions in its emissions, it will have run out of its so-called carbon budget — I don’t believe there are any carbon budgets myself, actually — within a few years’ time. And they keep missing targets. So this idea we can have a 2050 target is nonsense.

The third thing is, then, how do you go about seeing these changes. What policies should we have? Should we have carbon budgeting or carbon taxes? Should we put pressure on people to stop flying or go vegan or whatever? Should we look at the farming community and how they could farm differently? Well, within all of that are loads of great ideas and loads of debate, and Extinction Rebellion is very clear it’s not up to us to have a position on any of that. Within the movement, there have been lots of opinions and so on and lots of debates.

We want a citizens’ assembly. It’s a form of democracy that comes from the older times, from Greece, from Athens, and it was actually how democracy used to be. It wasn’t all about voting, by a long way. Most things were done by citizens’ juries. So, you select, through a lottery system, like a jury, a demographically representative sample of your citizens, and they’re given critical thinking skills. And they are given lots of information by experts and well facilitated. And they tend to come up with really good policy solutions. And it’s a really good way to handle these kinds of issues, that, frankly, our current democracies are just not able to deal with.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the things you mentioned earlier, consumer capitalism and its ability to basically disarm the population in dealing with the climate crisis. You’ve talked about the relationship between the mushrooming debt in the world and the climate crisis. Could you expand on that?

GAIL BRADBROOK: So, yeah. What I would say is that in its first iteration, Extinction Rebellion is really about democracy, by calling in for these new democratic forms for people to have their power. And frankly, in many countries of the world, democracy is in just absolute shambles. It certainly is in the U.K. As people understand that there’s an emergency, there’s — this democracy is not working. There’s going to be two directions of travel. One is in the direction of more democracy, and so that means people’s assemblies and really understanding how we can work together. And the other is in the direction of less democracy, which is the very great risk of ecofascism. So that’s the focus on democracy.

What some of us are looking at, and it’s an early focus, and as a movement we will write papers and share ideas for feedback, but we’re talking about how we’re going to take on the finance system. So, we have an economic system that essentially is killing life on Earth. Let’s put it that way. It’s very simple. As one economist once said — Kenneth Boulding, he said that to expect that you can have exponential growth on a finite planet, you either have to be a madman or an economist.

And I think, increasingly — and I’ve spoken to members of the elite really recently, to investment bankers and so on — people are frightened. And actually, their children are putting a lot of pressure on them. And they know some kind of change has to come.

And in Extinction Rebellion, we are generally not — well, I’m not speaking for everybody personally, but as a movement, we’re not ideological. We’re not taking a position against one kind of economic system or for another. We’re saying, basically, this is not working. We need to have a grown-up conversation about what kind of system do we need, both politically and legally and culturally and economically, that will stop this ridiculous, outrageous harming that we’re doing to ourselves and the planet. And obviously, there’s some people absolutely on the frontline of the crisis. And it’s an intergenerational injustice. And how do we then move into a situation where we can repair the harm that we’ve done?

So, what I think we’re going to need to move into is a mass debt refusal, where we say we’re not going to pay the debts that we have, and some of us with some privilege might take on some debts and actually give the money to people at the frontline of the crisis. That’s the kind of direction I’d like to see us move into.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Bradbrook, we played the clip of the German climate activist, the migrant rescue ship captain, Carola Rackete, who makes that link between immigration and climate. Since this is such a key issue all over the world, the issue of migrants and the industrial, polluting countries blocking migrants from coming in, can you talk about that link, climate refugees?

GAIL BRADBROOK: Yeah, and I think this is this issue of ecofascism. Up to one in 10 people will be on the move, without wanting to be, due to mass drought, due to places becoming too hot, due to flooding. And the idea that we can sit in our racism and close our borders is simply not going to work for us. Obviously, it’s a moral issue. Also, there will be mass migration within countries. So, in the U.K., 10% of the population will be on the move by 2050. That’s the predictions. Actually, the recent IPCC report, which was about the cryosphere and the ocean sea level rising, yet again said that things were worse than thought and that flooding events that were once every hundred years are going to move into being every single year in many locations. So there’s going to be mass migration, and that’s already happening. We’ve already seen some of that. And what we need to do is have a very compassionate approach to how we tackle that issue and how we look after a planet that is destroying places so that they become uninhabitable. And obviously, the people on that frontline, as well, who are doing the migration, tend to be the people that did the least to create this damage. And so we have a moral responsibility to take care of people.

I’m very in favor of, and I’d like to see it actually placed in some international demands — again, the movement needs a conversation about that — with the law of ecocide, which is a law that the lawyer Polly Higgins was working on, and she has a team taking it forward — she died, unfortunately, earlier this year — which would put a fifth crime against peace in at the Rome Statutes level, at the U.N. level. And what that would do would be to criminalize mass damage and destruction of the environment, so many of these damaging actions that are happening in indigenous lands and elsewhere, created by corporations, would literally be criminal.

And then, secondly, what that law also does is it bakes in the insistence that there’s a repair of the harm that happens, which includes compensating people, finding homes for people. And actually, in order to do this repairing of the harm, that needs to happen, you’ve got Sir David King, the former chief scientist of the U.K., who’s setting up a climate repair center and saying that, actually, we can’t even go to one-and-a-half degrees C. You know, the ice is already melting. We’re already over 410 parts per million. What really needs to happen is we have to go into drawdown. We have to be bringing carbon out of the atmosphere, and we can’t wait for these magical technologies that are somehow going to suck the carbon out of the atmosphere in the future and mean we can do business as usual. And so, what we have to do, what we’re going to need to do, is really work with nature to repair the climate. And that’s also going to tackle this evil twin or evil triplet, you know, of biodiversity loss. We’ve got the evil twin of ocean acidification and how we’re wrecking our oceans. All of this has got to be cleaned up.

And what that means is we need, like, a lot of human labor. So, humanity has to rise up in a really beautiful way and tend to the damage that we’ve done. And that needs all of us, and it needs all of us together in the places of the Earth that’s going to sustain life, working together to rewild areas, to restore ecosystems, to clean up the rivers, to plant trees, you know, to basically sort the plastic out in the ocean and so on. And I actually think that there’s so many beautiful innovations out there, and humanity could do that together. And it needs all of us. And, for me, this is part of reweaving a human family back together again. It’s part of dealing with systemic racism, white supremacy and the wounds of patriarchy that want to separate us, make us feel powerless and, you know, destroy our togetherness and make us think that the whole planet is kind of scarce, when actually nature is abundant and it replenishes itself.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask you about those who — your response to those critics who agree with the goals of Extinction Rebellion but oppose your tactics. For instance, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she supports the right to protest, but, quote, “Blocking people from being able to go and do their day-to-day job doesn’t necessarily take us any closer to the climate action they are calling for.” London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has said something similar. Your response?

GAIL BRADBROOK: Well, when you look at the results of the protests, if you look at the graphs of how much people are talking about the ecological crisis, it absolutely spikes when the protests happen. So, there’s like two data points here. One is how many people are active in our social movement. And we know from the research of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan that you need between 1 and 3.4% of the population to come together and to be willing to support people to get on the streets and be on the streets themselves. And that, by the way, means that people can be part of Extinction Rebellion without being willing to get arrested, because it’s not right for everybody, for many people. They might have caring duties. We can’t guarantee that black people will be treated in the same way as white people and so on. So, this is a movement for everybody. There is a space for everybody.

Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody likes our tactics. And people don’t have to like us in order to start talking about the crisis. What happens if you stand passively by the side of the road with a placard saying, you know, “Stop climate change” is you just get ignored. When you get on the street and block it, people start to have a conversation about this existential situation that we’re in. When we say “existential threat,” what we mean is we’re in an apocalyptic situation. You have to use biblical language to talk about what it means to be in a sixth mass extinction event. And that’s the only way to get that information over to people — that I understand, anyway — is to be disruptive.

And when people say, “Well, we agree with your message, but we don’t like how you’re doing it,” my my general answer is, like, “If you’ve got a better plan, tell us.” Because, literally, we’ve tried all the other stuff — writing to our MPs and our politicians and doing petitions and going on marches. I don’t see what else there is, other than getting on the streets.

And frankly, as this crisis worsens and we face things like food shortages — you know, the academic term actually is “multi-breadbasket failure,” when across the planet either droughts or floods mean that the farms can no longer produce enough food. When we’re facing that, and, literally, people are fighting over tins of beans in the supermarket, people are going to wonder why more of us weren’t on these streets in these times, when there was still the possibility of two things. One is making the harm less. The other is, you know, starting to repair the harm.

And the other thing that we have to do is professor Jem Bendell’s agenda, which is to start to adapt to the conditions that are going to meet us and are going to meet our children in the future. We have to start planning for, for example, the flooding of nuclear power stations and what that means, planning for localizing food systems and food crises and that kind of thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Bradbrook, we just have 10 seconds. Your response to your prime minister, Boris Johnson, calling you “uncooperative crusties”?

GAIL BRADBROOK: I’m sending him a lot of love. He actually met some Extinction Rebellion people recently, who sang to him a Taizé song about listen to your heart, let love lead the way. And he actually started to cry and to shake. So, I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption. His father is interested in ecological crises, as well. So, we have to reach out to everybody and say, “Join us, because you know this is real. Stop messing about, Boris, and get on the streets with us.” Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gail Bradbrook, we want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, speaking to us from London, England.

When we come back, workers at General Motors have entered their fourth week on strike, the longest national strike at GM by the United Auto Workers in almost a half a century. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Your Capricious Soul,” a new song by Michael Stipe, his first solo recording since the breakup of REM eight years ago. Michael Stipe is donating proceeds from the song to Extinction Rebellion.

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