The Struggle For Justice Within Extinction Rebellion US
The Extinction Rebellion is a nonviolent direct action campaign that started in the United Kingdom in the Fall of 2018 to push governments to declare a climate crisis and to take action to rapidly cut net carbon emissions. It quickly spread to more than 50 countries including the United States where activists added another demand for climate justice to make sure that the government’s actions do not worsen the current crises of racism, inequality, and oppression. Little did US organizers expect that after decades of bringing justice to the forefront of the climate movement, Extinction Rebellion UK would work to undermine that. We speak with long time environmental and climate justice activists Cherri Foytlin and Bea Ruiz, national team members of Extinction Rebellion US, about their struggle to protect the progress they’ve made.
Cherri Foytlin is a longtime environmental and climate justice activist, mother and author from the South who is organizing the climate justice working group of Extinction Rebellion US.
Bea Ruiz is a longtime activist and organizer, formerly with Rising Tide North America, who is a national team member with Extinction Rebellion US.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the Forces Of Greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Clearing the FOG is a project of PopularResistance.org. You can find us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, Stitcher and Google Play. You can also find us at PopularResistance.org, and while you’re there check out our store where you can find Clearing the FOG gear like t-shirts, bumper stickers, tote bags and water bottles. So today we interviewed two climate justice activists, Bea Ruiz and Cherri Foytlin, and they’re part of the Extinction Rebellion US movement.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Both have been long-term activists and the Extinction Rebellion, which started in the UK and now is coming to the United States, and they’re helping to get that off the ground here.
MF: And I think the significant part of this conversation is the differences between the Extinction Rebellion movement here in the United States and the one in the United Kingdom, where it first began. And how in the United States, climate activists have been working for decades to center the voices and struggles of people on the front line who are facing environmental racism, climate racism, and bring their voices to front to make sure that climate justice is centered. And the UK movement is actually not including that component and is actively working inside the United States to undo that work… or that’s how they view it… undo the work of climate justice activists to center those voices.
KZ: That’s right. They described it as the UK Extinction Rebellion movement “colonizing” the US climate movement, which is a very interesting way of looking at it. And they’re causing divisions because most of the climate movement in the United States supports climate justice, because we have had racism on the front lines of environmental degradation and the climate for a long time. Climate justice has become a centerpiece. So it’s an interesting conflict and my hope is, of course. that the tradition in the United States continues and climate Justice remains a centerpiece of the climate movement.
MF: Right. So if you’re interested in the issue of climate justice, then definitely stick around for this interview so you can understand what’s going on and how to plug in. Before we get to that interview, why don’t we talk about some things that are in the news. Of course, the last two weeks have been somewhat bumpy for the stock market and Monday morning was no different.
KZ: Well the stock market has been propped up for longer than it should have been since the so-called recovery, by tax breaks and companies buying back stock and artificially inflating it. Anytime soon there was going to be a crash, but now they’ve hit a whammy, a multiple multiple front fight. The coronavirus is already having a big impact on volatility and stock market drops.
MF: And a big part of that is because of insecurity and the impact on global supply chains.
KZ: Exactly. And now we’ve had this weekend a new major issue, an oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Saudi Arabia wanted to prop up the price of oil. Russia refused. As a result, Saudi Arabia started pumping more oil. They are now fighting over who gets control of the oil market. Russia is doing this in large part because of the United States. They don’t like to see the US shale oil market profiting over high prices that are artificially inflated, and so they’re refusing to participate. And so we saw a dramatic drop in oil prices down to $30 a barrel… for some moments below that even. So you’ve seen the largest drop yesterday, on Monday, since 1991, in the price of oil.
MF: I think that this is actually kind of Russia sees an opportunity to show the United States a little bit of a taste of its own medicine. The United States has been imposing economic coercive measures on countries all around the world, including Russia. The United States, you know, colluded in OPEC to drop oil prices back in 2014, which had a big impact on Venezuela when their government was trying to recover from the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. And the US has played dirty for quite a long time and has taken over as the large largest producer of new gas and oil in the world.
KZ: And it’s also played dirty when it comes to the oil and gas market. The US has been putting pressure on Europe not to continue that pipeline from Russia to Germany, because they want the Europeans to buy US gas, not Russian gas. And so Russia sees that competition as well. And so yeah, this is part of the global struggle between the US and other powers, and Russia I think saw an opportunity with the coronavirus and the drop in oil demand. And now I think the oil war is… In fact, on Monday you saw the largest-ever drop in the value of the stock market, the Dow Jones market, ever in history. The largest drop ever, over 2,000 points never happened before.
MF: And that was early in the morning, at the beginning.
KZ: Well, no. That was at the end of the day. Early in the morning, in the beginning of the day the drop was so sudden they had to stop the markets for a while. But when they came back online, by the end of the day it was the largest drop in history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
MF: Yeah, so they put in place what they call a circuit breaker, where they stalled trading for 15 minutes, hoping to stem any kind of panic I guess that might occur when the market is dropping quickly.
KZ: I think the thing that really gets people confused about this whole crisis is that it’s not the oil war. It’s not the coronavirus. It’s an inflated stock market, inflated by very low money from the FED, which has really kept interest rates way low. It’s been inflated by the tax breaks that the Trump Administration, the Republicans, put in place. They allowed massive buybacks of stock. So this recovery, so-called recovery, has gone on longer than most recoveries have. And I think that’s because it’s been artificially inflated, and so now it was looking for a trigger. When was this recession going to happen? The Trump Administration really wanted it to happen in 2021, after the 2020 election, but the coronavirus and now this oil war are making it happen now. And so Jack Rasmus, an economist we have a lot of faith in, a labor economist who does excellent political economy analysis… He says that the financial crash is now underway and that’s a scary thought because people are saying this financial crash will be bigger than the last one.
MF: Right. And you know, the recovery, the so-called recovery from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, is actually kind of an artificial recovery. The people are still in very high debt. There’s high levels of poverty. A new study that came out by the National Center for Homeless Education found that over the past three years the number of homeless students has risen 15% to over 1.5 million students. And that’s just the ones they can count, the ones who are enrolled in public school. And it’s interesting that New York City was considering closing down some of its public schools over the coronavirus, but they were worried about doing that because over a hundred thousand students, homeless students in New York, rely on the schools to be able to wash their clothes, to get food and other basic services.
KZ: That’s right. This is a widespread problem. We’re talking about 16 states saw a 10% increase in their homeless population of children increasing. 16 States. So it’s a pretty widespread problem across the country. And this is now before the cuts in food stamps that the Trump Administration is putting in place, before the further cuts in social services, and before this economic crisis. So already the social safety net is not working. People are already suffering, and now we’re seeing this new economic collapse and the impact that’s going to have on people. So this is a serious impact for people who are already struggling Workers wages have not been increasing despite the so-called recovery. Homelessness is up. Poverty is up. All these issues are getting worse at a time when the economic crisis is just hitting again.
MF: Probably most likely it’s going to be a rough year. It certainly is starting out that way. We did our newsletter this week on Popular Resistance on the coronavirus. Covid-19. And really part of it was looking at the market, but also looking at how the Trump Administration is actually more concerned about the market than they are about the health of people in the United States.
KZ: And they’re trying to prevent the market from crashing by not telling people the truth, and people are seeing through that .
MF: So for example, the Center for Disease Control is not keeping accurate numbers of the number of cases. Johns Hopkins University is actually doing the best job right now of following the number of Covid-19 cases. There was a cruise ship that had people on the ship that tested positive for coronavirus, and the Trump Administration initially wanted them to stay on the ship so they wouldn’t boost the numbers in the United States, even though keeping people stuck on a ship together with some people who are infected makes it more likely that other people are going to get infected.
KZ: Japan made that exact mistake and found exactly what you described. It spread the virus among people on the ship and made the problem worse. And so not only don’t we know the number of cases, but the key thing is we don’t know the number of tests being done. The area where the Trump Administration has really been behind is getting testing kits out to hospitals, out to clinics, out their health centers, out to doctors. So tests are not being done. They’re being very restrictive in many states over who can be tested, and that’s the key to knowing how many cases we have. So the numbers are being kept artificially low because we aren’t testing. The Atlantic tried to figure out the number of tests. That’s another thing the CDC is no longer reporting how many tests are being done, and so the Atlantic tried, by going state by state to health departments and they tracked down just over a thousand tests throughout the entire United States. Italy does 10,000 tests a day, to give you an idea of how out of whack those numbers are. So we don’t know how widespread it is. We don’t know where it is. And what that means is it’s going to spread, because people don’t know where the problems are. They don’t know where they can’t go.
MF: So from a public health standpoint and this is something that China did extremely well. And other countries are doing very well and we have an article on Popular Resistance by KJ Noh about actually busting so many myths about China. You’ll be amazed if you read this article. So much of what you’re hearing in the corporate media about China’s handling of the coronavirus is out and out lies. But what they did and what other countries have done is… if you have anybody who has possible symptoms of the coronavirus, they get tested. They get held until they’re tested. They’re able to get the results of the test in about 4 to 7 hours. If they’re positive, they get quarantined, and then they start tracing out their contacts and quarantining their contacts. And this is how you do a public health approach. You find out where the cases are. It’s not about telling people not to go there. It’s about locating people who are potentially infected and isolating them. And that’s what we haven’t been doing in the United States for weeks, even though the coronavirus is clearly here. We have almost 700 cases now in the United States, but it’s probably many more than that. We just haven’t seen them because of the testing that’s not being done. Now, the administration does say, or the CDC does say, that they’re going to be getting millions of tests out to the states. So we have to hope that that’s going to be improving. I think it’s really important for folks to be putting pressure in your own community to say, “how are we identifying folks? How are we testing folks?” There shouldn’t be any barriers. That’s another thing that China did really well is that anything related to the coronavirus, if your insurance didn’t cover it, they made it free. I’ve been sick for a week now with a fever and viral symptoms, but I’m not able to get tested, so I’m trying to quarantine myself. But it should be that there’s a central approach to make sure that people can get properly tested and treated if they need it.
KZ: It all starts with testing. It all starts with rapid response by the government. This response has been anemically slow. You still are not getting testing out there. And what’s so interesting is, with Trump’s concern about the economy… in response to his concern about the economy and the coronavirus, Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chair, first said we’re going to cut the rate, the federal interest rate. Then the Federal Reserve cut the rate 50 points, and then you had a surprise victory of Super Tuesday with Joe Biden. That resulted in healthcare stocks, pharmaceutical and insurance company stocks, going up. All those were big positives for the market, and yet even before this oil war started, even before that, the market was going down. And so despite all that good news… lowering interest rates, putting in place a corporate Democrat as the alternative to Trump… Even with that good news from the market’s perspective, it didn’t stop the market from going down. And then you had the oil war on top of that. So it’s a perfect storm of an economic crisis, and the coronavirus is really showing the failure of neoliberal capitalism. The social safety nets threatened. People can’t get access to healthcare. People can’t take time off of work. It’s impossible to not come in contact with other people if you’re a working-class person who can’t take time off work. It’s just we’ve created a situation where this is going to be a catastrophe.
MF: Right and just as you said, it’s going to be people in low-wage jobs, service sector jobs, that can’t work from home like many professionals are able to work from home. They can’t afford to take off of work. And then you’ve got President Trump out there saying, “oh, yeah, go ahead take off work.” Well, there was a study done in Australia looking at the potential number of deaths globally. They did seven different scenarios from low severity to high severity based on past epidemics and they found a range of between 15 million to 68 million deaths worldwide from the coronavirus.
KZ: 15 million is the low estimate of the seven scenarios they examined. 15 million deaths and 2.4 trillion dollars in GDP losses. This is the low estimate, and this is based on previous epidemics and the impact they’ve had on health and on the economy. So this disaster is just starting. I know some people think that it’s a great exaggeration and we’re just people getting all excited about something that’s just another flu. Well it’s not. This is different. This is new. And the potential impact is significant. Take it seriously.
MF: Well, let’s talk about that. Why this is different. This has a higher mortality rate than the typical flu that we see every year in the United States. And particularly in this case, it’s elderly people and people with underlying health conditions that are dying from coronavirus. For the majority of people who get coronavirus, you’re going to have viral symptoms. But I think it’s our duty not to infect other people, knowing that our infecting another person could lead to another person getting infected who might be elderly or sick who could die from it. You know, we really need to do our best to stay in if we can, wash our hands. If you have a cough or you are sneezing or whatever, put a mask on so you’re not spreading germs wherever you go.
KZ: The CDC just put out an advisory before we started this discussion today, and what they said was that people over 60 need to prepare to stay inside. They need to stock up on their food. They need to stock up on whatever necessities they have so they don’t have to go outside, because this virus is going to become so common that going anywhere is going to put you at risk of catching the irus.
MF: Yeah. I wanted to mention two other things that China did… well three things that they did that we need to learn from in the United States. One, when they quarantined people they changed a lot of their healthcare to online healthcare so people were able to access their prescriptions, get those filled, get them delivered to their house. They also were able to deliver food to people’s houses. They could order their groceries and get those delivered, and then they put a freeze on rent during the quarantine. So if a person wasn’t working during that time, they didn’t have to worry about losing their home because they couldn’t pay their rent.
KZ: Can you see any of those things being done in the United States? And that’s what’s so sad about our neoliberal approach. It’s a sink or swim mentality, and when you have an epidemic like this people are going to be sinking.
MF: And then just one final point. I know we’ve spent a lot of time on this but another point that KJ made is how interesting it is that this virus occurred in China, and instead of people in the United States showing solidarity with the Chinese who are going through this difficult time… It’s not their fault that the virus started there. It could have started literally in any country, anywhere in the world. But it’s being used to attack China instead of you know, having like a “We are Wuhan” solidarity moment with the Chinese. So it just shows I think as we’ve talked about before on this show the real racism that occurs in the United States against China.
KZ: It’s also part of the mistaken foreign policy. The “great power conflict” rather than “great power cooperation.” If there had been great power cooperation, we might have had a different outcome than we’re having with this great power conflict, where we treat China as an enemy.
MF: Right, so now that we need to move on to a few more news stories quickly. We don’t have much time. Sunday was International Women’s Day. There were protests all around the world calling for an end to violence against women.
KZ: That’s right and International Women’s Day has a long history. In fact, it came out of the Socialist movement in 1909, organized by the Socialist Party of America in support of the garment workers, honoring them. And it developed in 1910, the International Socialist Women’s Conference. And you had a big role in Russia in 1917, when they actually, the women’s march actually helped to remove the Czar and get him to give up power and make the revolution. And it wasn’t until 1977 that it became a non-socialist event. Prior to that, it was pretty much a socialist activity, lifting up women. In 1977, the UN finally took it on and it’s been International Women’s Day since 1977.
MF: Let’s talk about the news that the International Criminal Court is going to investigate Afghanistan for crimes committed by the United States, by the Taliban and by the Afghani government.
KZ: I’m sure the ICC had to add Taliban and the Afghani government, not just focus on the aggressor, which is the United States, because the ICC was threatened by the United States. If they investigated the United States, they would cut their funding. They would put sanctions on ICC officials. So those threats were made. Even after this announcement was made the Secretary of State said he’s going to do everything he can to stop this investigation from going forward.
MF: And it would looks like there was some good news recently when the United States and the Taliban negotiated an agreement to withdraw some US troops. It was not the best agreement. It had a lot of weaknesses to it. But unfortunately, the US couldn’t even keep that for very long.
KZ: Well, they’re already back to battling. It’s hopeful that at least there’s some conversation going on. But the reality is the United States has lost the war in Afghanistan. It’s time for the United States to leave. I know there are trillions of dollars of precious minerals in the soil of Afghanistan. We can no longer expect to steal that from the Afghanistan people. It’s time for the United States to get out of Afghanistan. Get out of Iraq. Get out of the Middle East.
MF: Right. Before we get to our interview, let’s talk about some climate victories that have happened recently. First off, Wells Fargo, the bank, says that they’re going to stop investing in oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.
KZ: That’s right. And Warren Buffett said he’s not going to invest in a Quebec pipeline because of the protests going on against the pipelines being developed in Canada.
MF: And in western Colorado, the Trump Administration had allowed for coal mining to go into national forests, and a court overturned that and said that bo the government cannot let coal miners go into the national forests.
KZ: And one other victory was the Constitution Pipeline between Pennsylvania and New York has also been stopped, and so people are on the front lines fighting these battles and are winning, and even if they don’t win they are delaying and increasing the expense. And this is coming at a time when this crash is happening, directed at US shale oil and gas, which are already at very weak positions. You’ve had lots of bankruptcies of shale oil and gas companies. This oil crisis is going to lower the price of oil and cause more economic crisis for the shale oil companies.
MF: Well, this is where, you know, Russia has real leverage over the United States, because Russia only needs to make $20 per barrel to cover their costs, and so they can tolerate the price going down very low, but the US cannot tolerate that for a long time.
KZ: Especially the shale oil market, because they are so heavily in debt. They have debts to repay. They need much more expensive oil. So the price of oil dropping is going to put more shale oil companies into bankruptcy. I know many people think that’s a good thing. I do too. I hope that we use that dropping of the shale oil market as an opportunity to transition to clean sustainable energy, and not rely on fossil fuels in the future.
MF: Well, hat’s a good point because we often talk about this. Crises are opportunities for transformative change. You know, when there’s a crisis, something’s got to change. Whatever the system is, whatever the result we’re getting it’s caused by the system that we’re using, and so if we want a different result… if we want to deal with the economy, if we want to deal with the climate crisis, we need to change the system. If we want a government that’s actually responsive to the needs of people, then we need to change the system. So I hope that while it’s going to be a potentially very difficult time over the next few years, I hope we can use it as ways to really be clear about what it is that we as people want. For instance, the whole DNC really getting behind Joe Biden to take on the threat of Bernie Sanders, someone who advocates for things like National Improved Medicare for all, you know, lowering student debt. Even if the DNC is successful in taking Bernie Sanders down, we have to remember that we’re not tied to a certain political leader. We as people need to remember that our power resides with us and no matter who is elected or is in power, we need to keep building and pushing for the things that we need.
KZ: That’s right. The country is facing multiple fronts of crisis. Housing, healthcare, education, never-ending war, a budget that’s spending way too much on the military. I mean these are crisis situations. No matter who is the next president, the movement has to continue to grow and put pressure on all those who are in office.
MF: Right and the Extinction Rebellion hopes to be part of that catalyst for addressing the climate crisis in the United States. So let’s take a short musical break and then we’ll come back with our interview with Cherri Foytlin and Bea Ruiz.
MF: And now we turn to our guests. Cherri Foytlin is a longtime activist and author living in the Gulf Coast, and Bea Ruiz is a national team member with Extinction Rebellion US. Thank you for taking time to join us.
KZ: We want to focus on Extinction Rebellion in this half-hour, but let’s start by talking about the two of you. Cherri, why don’t you tell us how you got into working on this issue and Extinction Rebellion?
Cherri Foytlin (CF): Yeah. Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time. Back in 2010 they had the big oil spill, so I went out on a boat and I saw the oil, and it really changed my perspective about things, on how fragile things are. So one thing led to another and I did a big march on DC, and I’ve been in it for a while now. You know how it works out. One thing leads to another and you end up in a spot. So that’s where I am.
KZ: And how about Extinction Rebellion. Why’d you get into Extinction Rebellion?
CF: Yeah, I got into that for the fourth principle. I don’t know if anybody’s real understanding and knowledgeable about that, but you can read through it on the website, ExtinctionRebellion.us, but I got into it because of that. Now back in 2016 there was a major flood in south Louisiana where I was at, and our house took on a foot of water, which basically ruined everything we had. And then the very next year, another flood happened that gave us a few more inches in the house, which ruined the things that we had collected during the year we had, and so we were pretty much out of the house at that point. And the house still doesn’t have plumbing. And so when I talk about climate change or I talk about climate, this is because I’m coming from a place of a person has had to deal with the climate coming into our house. My little girl says I stepped out of my bed and into climate change. And it’s true. It’s true. The scientists were very clear that that flood was caused by climate. And that really really pushed me into the side of climate justice. Where I live there’s a football field of land an hour. Every 45 minutes actually it goes underwater. And so that precious wetlands is sinking and being lost and that’s what soaks up the water when we have big major floods because it’s not unusual to have a lot of water in south Louisiana, but what’s unusual about it is we’re flooding in places that we never flooded before. When I read the Fourth Demand, it felt like it was speaking to me.
KZ: Tell us Bea how you got into this and what your background is.
Bea Ruiz (BR): I joined XR in the US when it was just forming in November 2018. I found out about a conference call to invite people to help start XR, and I volunteered on the spot. I had already been hearing about XR and started reading articles and basically researching about XR, and what called me to XR was the Rebellion part, the understanding that without civil disobedience on a mass scale, we would not have a chance to change things the way that we need to. And I also really appreciated the messaging regarding the emergency that we’re in. It really spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t been spoken to by a movement, this broad-based movement. People of color groups and radical groups had been raising the alarm for a long time but a group that was trying to reach thousands in a new way with the fact we need courage not hope. And my background before that had been in the Rising Tide North America Collective, which is a wonderful group that also has decentralized groups around the country. And I worked with one of those groups in the Bay Area as well doing direct action, and then I’ve been organizing since I was 15. I’m 48 now, so I’ve been in it a long time, and hoping to find something that would have enough leverage to try to change things on a larger scale. That’s been my overall goal.
MF: Can you talk a bit more of a specifically about Extinction rRebellion in the US. We’ll start with you Bea, about how it’s been going here. You know, how is it growing?
BR: When we started in the US we were riding this wave from the actions happening in the UK. So the movement in the US Started in a way that movements would never normally start. I mean it was like jumping into a river that was flowing really fast. People were banging down the door that they wanted to start groups. We were, we got instant media attention, all based on the excitement from what was happening in the UK, where the activists in XR UK had blocked bridges, and really created a sensation within the movement and in the press. What happened in the US s people were inspired who had never been inspired to be in the movement. People who had never been to a protest, never been to an organizing meeting, were contacting us and saying, “we want to start an XR local group.” And so a lot of the work at least for the national team has been trying to bring along completely brand new activists, which is very difficult work in many different ways, helping people with just, you know, how do you facilitate a meeting? But also political education. How should we relate to the police? How do we deal with surveillance culture and dealing with all these issues that activists deal with. But because they’re brand new people, you’re really starting from scratch. It takes a lot of time and work to try to bring people along to a whole new whole new world of organizing. That all takes a tremendous amount of time. And since we’re a small national team, you know, the local groups have been learning all this. It is so inspiring to see… people taking this up, and they’re in their local areas working together and learning about how to do organizing. But that all takes them a lot of time. It’s a lot of hard work and there’s a lot of mistakes and learning as you go, and so in the US there’s been a lot of that kind of base building. And then also XR’s approach in the US is to know that the we’re not the Rebellion on our own at all. I mean no one group anywhere could do what’s needed in order to force the government to meet demands on their own. So a lot of what the local groups are doing in the US is also doing coalition work. So reaching out to other groups locally and doing actions together and working together. And that was something that we encouraged from the very beginning, especially because folks are so new. Right? So go reach out to people and say, “can you please help us? Can we work together?” So that’s all been happening and the groups have been doing actions and slowly have been building up in scale and scope. And now we’re getting to a point where we’re trying to do even more, more coordinated actions where we have some common messaging. We have some common targets, trying to do actions on a broad scale, like in the same week or the same day, to try to maximize the impact of what groups are doing on a smaller level. And then in addition, one of the things we really want to get to is to have regional actions that are coordinated. So having regional hubs. For example, in the UK, that’s one of the ways that they had so many people come out to do their actions where they were able to be in the streets for days, for I think 10 days one time, if I recall, is because what they did is they had people from all over the UK come to London. So in the US we want to try to build up to having regional hubs. Let’s say Chicago for example. People would come from all the surrounding states to Chicago so that we can increase our numbers and stay out longer. So we’re slowly building up capacity and skill and education by the local groups. This is not the national team doing this. The local groups are a decentralized movement. So the local groups are all working through all this.
MF: Great and Cherri, how has being part of the Extinction Rebellion… how has that contributed to the work that you’re doing in the South, that you’ve been doing for a long time already on climate issues?
CF: Well, I think that having this network that’s across the country and in other places, and having some kind of name recognition is really helpful. And then also in bringing people in, like Bea said. You know, we have a lot of new people out there that really want to get involved. They’re alarmed. They’re frustrated with the way things are going and they want to take action. And having a place for people to come and to learn and to get themselves prepared, that has been very useful or helpful.
KZ: Bea can you talk about the four principles, the organizing principles of Extinction Rebellion US?
BR: Yeah actually there’s four demands, and there’s ten principles. And those things form the basis of the identity of the movement, the basis of membership in the US. The first demand is that the government tell the truth and work with the media to really inform the population of the seriousness of the emergency. This is a demand because we don’t think that that’s happening on the scale it should happen at all. For example, we think that the climate and ecological crisis should be front page news every day. Every day 24/7 there should be discussion and information being given out to the public, kind of the way the coronavirus is being talked about now, because that’s the seriousness of the emergency. We think people should be made aware of. The second demand is that the government pass legally binding policy to lower greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. And that demand is also a parameter for the third demand, which is a citizen’s assembly. So in our view, we, meaning movements in general, need to create a crisis that’s so large through a civil disobedience rebellion, that the government will be forced to tell the truth on the scale that needs to be told, and to reduce emissions on the scale that needs to be reduced. But we don’t trust the government. We think Congress has lost legitimacy. Governments around the world have lost legitimacy. So we’re not trying to empower them with more power to do this, because we don’t think that they’re going to do it. The third demand is a citizen’s assembly, which would be a body that would have legal power to create policies to reduce emissions down to net zero by 2025, and actually set concrete policies to do that. Another key part here is let’s say we have a civil disobedience rebellion right? Lots of movements get together and really create enough crisis for the government to pay attention. Without the third demand, they could just say, “okay everybody, please go home. Stop what you’re doing. We will address the emergency.” And then we all go home and finally get some rest. Then after we go home, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do, or they do some watered-down version of it. That’s what the third demand is about. The third demand is like we’re not going to trust you to make the decisions. We’re going to have a citizen’s assembly that’s going to make the decisions about how to deal with this problem. So that’s the story of the demands that came from the UK, but in the UK, that’s where the story ends. But in the US, we think that that’s really not adequate. It’s really actually quite dangerous on its own, if you all you have in our those three demands. In the US, we wanted to set parameters for the citizens assembly beyond net zero 2025. We wanted to set parameters regarding indigenous sovereignty, regarding repairing the land, reparations for people who have suffered environmental injustice, rights for mother nature. Because otherwise we’re essentially saying the citizens assembly can do whatever it wants as long as it reaches net zero by 2025. That’s completely unacceptable. Without the fourth demand, there’s no parameters for the citizens assembly to do its work in a just way, in a fair way. There’s nothing to stop the citizens assembly from closing the borders and deporting people, or building nuclear reactors, for example. So in the US, that’s why we have a fourth demand.
KZ: And that fourth demand is what we call climate justice. Cherri can you talk about climate justice in the US climate movement?
CF: You mean in the larger movement?
KZ: Right. I think climate justice has been part of the US climate movement for a while. Indigenous people played a big role. Communities of color played a big role. And climate justice has become part of the mainstream language of even white groups. So to talk about why climate justice is important.
CF: Well, first of all, we need to talk about how we got there, because when I first started doing this it wasn’t on the mouths of anybody. In fact, it was kind of a killer. People would tell me when I go down to south Louisiana, “don’t bring up climate because if you do people are going to stop listening.” And damn they were right. Like, if you brought up that word people would say that’s a hoax, and turn the opposite way. When I would go to activities and it will be like a mostly white crew, indigenous people and black people had to assert, insert themselves in order to get acknowledgement. Not just acknowledgement but in order to get our strategies even heard. That took years of work on behalf of indigenous people and bi-people, and LGBTQ+ people, and people who are non-binary. And it took years of work for us to be able to get in there. And then when you did see that, you saw it explode. When finally we got people to look at us and not just give us a seat at the table but also hand us a plate, you saw that things changed here in the United States. Climate did really become a talking point. There was some kind of beauty and spirituality and stuff that was brought in. And that’s why I can’t understand having a white movement that doesn’t include everyone. You know, it’s more like I think people are trying to figure out how they fit in to Extinction Rebellion, and after all these years of fighting to try to get into the larger movement, and then we saw that flower, how can this smaller group see and understand things that they weren’t even here for. You know, that they don’t understand. We don’t want to have to replicate that. We don’t want them to have to go back through this whole thing, but that’s our question. The question the larger movement of has right now is, we want people to be engaged and involved, but the truth of the matter is we’ve all been in this together for the last 10 years and we’ve had a lot of growing pains and how do we bring people in now who didn’t necessarily have that opportunity. That’s our question.
KZ: So Bea, your job basically is outreach and bringing people into the Extinction Rebellion movement. How has the climate justice issue played when you’re doing that kind of outreach. Does it help? Does it hurt? Has it enlightened people? What’s the impact of that demand in the XR movement?
BR: Well, you know, we live in a thoroughly unequal, unjust racist society in the US, and so everything that we do, whether it’s organizing or not, is influenced by that; And so there are folks who come to us who want to start a local group in the US, and very rarely, but occasionally people will say, do we really need to have that demand? Isn’t it going to alienate people? And of course, what they mean is alienate white people. But those are rare cases. For the most part, people who come to Extinction Rebellion in the US read the demands and the principles and they join because they want to be part of a movement that has climate justice at the center.
KZ: A lot of the people you bring into the movement, because we are a white dominant society, are white people, and they’re joining. You know, equal justice for all is kind of the American mythology. That’s that’s how people in United States see themselves. And so climate justice would seem to be part of that kind of viewpoint of ourselves. Has that been a hindrance to bringing white people into the movement, into the XR?
CF: I don’t think so. In fact, a lot of people say that that’s why they joined. I’m not doing local organizing. The local groups or building up their groups. I hear from the local groups all the time. I’m in touch with them a lot. And I don’t hear people saying that it’s holding them back. What I hear people saying, some people within XR US are influenced by XR UK, or by one of the cofounders of XR UK named Roger Hallam, who are really putting out a different vision for Extinction Rebellion, who are really trying to undermine climate justice within the movement. And that unfortunately impacts people in the US. Roger is seen as a leader by people around the world. And so sometimes we have people in the US who are starting to take up this kind of framing. This is a small minority of folks who think that in order to reach everyone, we need to undermine the communities of color who have been doing the organizing and the sacrificing and the dying in the US for these movements, who have been leading the way… as if to recognize them and acknowledge them and center their needs is somehow going to take away from our work. And so to be frank there’s an internal battle within XR as a movement I think to try to decenter the influence that XR UK has over the movement as a whole, and to try to center justice in the movement as a whole. And so in the US, partly through Cherri’s leadership, the local groups have some members, and some members of the national team including Cherri and me, have decided to create a working group within XR US called XR Justice. XR Justice is like a center of gravity of support teams for XR groups around the world to work to center their work in justice and in their actions, to really be a counter to the kind of framing that exists in XR over all that comes from people like Roger Hallam. Cherri actually… I don’t know if you want to talk to how you’ve just recently left the national team in the US so that you can work with XR justice. Cherri just put out a blog that everyone should read about this.
MF: Cherri do you want to comment on that?
CF: Yeah. I put out the blog because I just felt like I really had some concerns. About where XR was going on, and this small group of people who are just very loud were driving another group called XR America. And in that group, the fourth demand has been changed to… I can’t even remember it’s something about net zero. That fourth demand has been changed. And so when I was reading that, it’s an insult to my sensibilities, because it is about a moral issue of people who are literally going underwater right now. But besides that it’s a strategic issue, because that fourth demand… How many people that I’ve I talked to, dozens at least who said that the reason that they came into XR at all was because of the fourth demand. And so keeping that fourth demand seems imperative to me, to the strategy of XR, but also to the movement itself, to the larger movement, as Bea has outlined. And so yeah, I wrote this blog about XR America, about the changes in the fourth demand, and how we’re starting XR Justice, which is the working group. And I’m hoping that anyone who is really into that fourth demand, who really sees the importance of it, will come to the XR Justice working group and want to work together on actions specifically devoted… and not just actions but building a relationship with environmental justice and climate Justice movements or people that are in your area because I had somebody ask me not that long ago, “well how do I know where the EJ group is? “I said well find the nastiest thing in your town and then right next to it is a neighborhood and there’s your EJ folks. And so go there and talk to them, because that’s in pretty much every major city, right? So that’s where I’m at with it. You know, it is just a matter of morality. It’s a matter of strategy, and it’s a matter of bringing people together who want to work on this in a good way together so that we can move forward.
KZ: You know, it’s interesting that Roger is playing the role in the United States of causing this division over climate justice because even in the UK, he’s been criticized. Nafeez Ahmed did a fantastic analysis of Extinction Rebellion in the UK, which we published on Popular Resistance. He did this analysis after the protest when they shut down the subway system and there was a big backlash among working-class Londoners. I mean London’s 44% people of color, and a lot of those are working class people, and they take the subway and when the subway got shut down, the backlash came from that working-class community. And so Nafeez wrote a really, excellent analysis of Extinction Rebellion strategy, and why they’re misreading the history of protest movements. And specifically focused about the importance of centering climate justice and working people and communities of color. So it’s so bizarre. He’s being criticized in the UK for this, and now he’s bringing it to the United States where we as a movement of the climate justice movement, have worked so hard to center it. He’s now trying to erase that. It just doesn’t seem to make much sense to me. Either of you have any comments on that kind of analysis that’s criticizing Extinction Rebellion even in the UK
CF: From my perspective, it feels like because we’ve discussed this with Roger, you know, we’ve had conversations with Roger, and he just feels like, you know, he has the right way to do things, and honestly to me as a native woman, as a woman, as a person in the climate justice movement for a long time, it feels like Roger is coming to colonize, in some way, our movement, because he just cannot get into his head that we actually know what we’re doing over here too. And we’ve actually have a pretty strong climate strategy that we’ve been using for a long time, and have made amazing progress with. It’s not a situation where it’s like we want to do things our way because we’re Americans and it’s apple pie and baseball. It’s more of a situation where, we know what our people need, you know, like we’re in touch with all sorts of native folks, you know, all kinds of folks got in the EJ/CJ movement, and we know what they’re asking us for too. And for him to come in and just plant his flag and say this is the way it’s supposed to be done..; this is the strategy and I’m not even going to listen to old time organizers who are telling us that this is not going to work here, seems a lot like trying to colonize a movement that’s been moving for a long time.
MF: Bea do you anything to add to that?
BR: I think that we haven’t provided any background yet on the issue regarding Roger’s interference in the US and XR America. So I just want to provide some of that background. So I think I’ve been saying XR US has from the beginning tried to do everything we can to not follow the lead from XR UK about not centering justice. But there are other differences as well. So XR UK has a framing called Beyond Politics. One thing that means is that XR, as a movement, doesn’t do electoral work, and doesn’t take positions on politicians. And that is one thing that all of XR, including the US, does uphold. We do not do electoral work. But XR UK also uses Beyond Politics as a framing regarding not being left or right. In the UK there’s an explicit criticism of leftists in general, and being leftist is actually like a pejorative, that it’s a hindrance to the movement. And so in addition XR UK goes out of its way to make sure that conservatives feel welcome and also being very friendly with the police. And they see this as a way to include everyone. But actually we see it as a big problem, a horrible way to organize. I mean people literally say it’s like a gut punch, for people to see XR people in the UK being friendly with the police and you know, showering them with love, sending them love notes and things like that. We think in the UK that’s completely wrong too. But in the US it’s absolutely poison. And we don’t take this framing in general… I’m not speaking for all groups. This is a decentralized movement. But overall, this is not the approach we take to the police in the US. So these are some of the differences. And Roger is a big proponent of all of these things, all of these ways of organizing, and Roger who has been highly controversial abroad, not only in the UK for the action in the tube, in the subway there, but also regarding horrible Holocaust comments that Roger has made, which caused a scandal. Rightly so. But now it’s like he doesn’t have enough to do with the problems that he’s causing abroad. He’s decided to directly intervene his position in the movement. He’s seen as the most visible leader. He has the access to the most donors, big donors. He has access to major media. Using his status and position to come to the US and organize a splinter group. He’s directly helping a splinter group form in the US Called XR America, and XR America is a movement that is really shocking, where they are actualizing a climate movement where they are telling people that if they want to work with XR America, they should not be doing social justice work. I mean they say this explicitly. They also say that they are leaving racial justice and indigenous justice to other movements to do. So we’re talking about a movement that’s actually explicitly organizing against climate justice, an attack on climate justice. And this isn’t just harmful to XR. We think this is harmful to the movement as a whole. They’re using the XR name in the US to try to attack climate justice. There are other groups in the US, not XR, and they are really concerned about it as well. And to give a very specific example, there are activists in Portland who have done climate justice work, you know, for many years, but who now have started to work with XR America and somehow worked it out in their heads that it’s acceptable to work with a group that is specifically removing climate justice from its framework and vision, from what it’s advocating for. This is dangerous. Roger is trying to help fundraise for this XR America and he’s promoting XR America.
MF: I find that really interesting because the Extinction Rebellion UK and I think Roger himself refers a lot to movements like the civil rights movement in the United States, and says, you know, XR is trying to replicate a mass movement like the Civil Rights Movement. But of course the Civil Rights Movement came out of people who were directly impacted by the policies that they were fighting against. The structural racism in the United States. The structural violence. These are people who were being oppressed and then found allies in other communities that joined them in that struggle. And so it feels like what Roger is doing is actually trying to take the heart out of the movement of the people who are most impacted. And after all of the decades of work that have been done in the United States and around the world, to finally center those voices of the people who are directly impacted, and to center climate justice, I find I agree with you. This is a very dangerous precedent.
KZ: I think the idea of describing it is colonizing is a really good analogy. And when they use the term XR America, I know a lot of people in the United States who are activists recognized as America, Latin America, South America, Venezuela, Canada…. America covers a lot of area. It’s not just the United States. And so just using that terminology is part of the colonizing. It’s really interesting that that’s what they call themselves and I’m sure totally unaware of how that is a colonizing term. This is a really important debate and I’m so pleased that you guys and others are working on this aspect of the issue. We’re running out of time, unfortunately. Can you tell us a couple things? Where can people read about XR US and the justice group that’s working on climate justice, first.
BR: Yeah, the website for XR US is ExtinctionRebellion.us. And the XR justice working group has only just started, so we don’t have a website yet, but you can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/xrjustice. If you’re interested in joining the working group, you can email us at XRjustice@protonmail.com. And if you go to the XR facebook page, you can also sign up to our e-mail list. The email list is just for folks who want to be informed and find out about events and things like that, not if you want to join. I mean obviously you can sign up on the email list too. But if you just want to get informed you can sign up on the email list. If you want to try to join the working group, then email that proton mail address.
KZ: And are there any upcoming events that you want to let our listeners know about that people should be aware of?
BR: Well, if you look at the XR US Facebook page, and also if you look at the ExtinctionRebellion.us website, you’ll see the effect our US local groups are doing solidarity actions with the Wet’suwet’em, the indigenous people in Canada who are fighting the coastal gas link. There’s a lot of actions happening. There’s a lot of actions is happening around the world by movements broadly to support that struggle, and so if you want to get involved in tthat would be great. That’s I think the most recent thing I’ve heard of what XR groups are doing regarding actions.
I was just going to reference what Margaret was saying about Roger and the Civil Rights Movement. Roger prides himself in having done PhD work on social movement research, but Margaret, I just want to agree with you that Roger really misunderstands social movements in general and really uses the civil rights movement in a very utilitarian way, and in a very incorrect way. There’s a lot there for example regarding the issue of arrests and focusing on arrests. It’s like for Roger this is a formula, right? So in the Civil Rights Movement 300 people got arrested and then some change happened, as if the goal is like a formula. 2 plus 2 equals 4. You know, he literally says we get this many people arrested and then we’ll get what we need. Yeah, in the US, we of course are focused on civil disobedience, but we are not focused on arrest in that kind of formulaic way that isn’t about relationship building. People don’t go and try to get arrested specifically. We are doing the actions that we need to do in order to raise the alarm about the issue and unfortunately the government tries to arrest people. They do that. But the goal isn’t to get arrested, and we don’t want to create a movement where the idea is, like, in order to be in the movement you have to get arrested. People of color in the US. Black people in the US, you know, getting arrested could be very dangerous. And so we want to create a movement that has a diversity of tactics, and arrest is just one of those things.
KZ: I found Roger’s writing on the 3.5% get active and you win, to be kind of amateurist. He may have got a PhD for it. I’m not sure of his experiences in movements. But the reality is if you look at the methods of people getting active to achieve a mass movement, arrest is not the only measure. There are boycotts. There are strikes. There’s marches, there’s so many things you can do to do activism. Even outreach is activism. Talking to neighbors is activism. He has a very, I’d say, childish analysis the way he does this. He looks at the writings of people who talk about this from a perspective of US policy, you know, how to change governments the US doesn’t like with nonviolent movements. He looks at that without looking at it from a more complex [perspective]. That article by Nafeez Ahmed mentioned earlier focuses very heavily on that. Cherri do you have any final thoughts for a while you wrap up here?
CF: Not really.[laughter]
MF: Well Cherri can you comment on that you’ve been working on? You’ve been fighting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Did you have any quick things folks should know about the work you’re doing?
CF: Well, the Bayou Bridge has gone through, but it didn’t go through our lands. We will be able to keep it, and so that area right now, that 11 acres is turning into bayou food forest so we are using it to feed people in cancer alley, people across the nation that are on these front lines. And so I’m really excited about that. And we also have another place in Northern New Mexico now that’s for refuge for people who are escaping the trauma of fighting in the area, like I had to. So we kind of go back and forth between here and there but great things are happening and I’m really excited about this next year moving forward and the opportunities that are available to us inside and outside XR.
MF: Great. Well, thank you both of you for taking time to speak with us and for the important work that you’re doing.
BR and CF: Thank you. Thank you for having us. All right. Thanks. Thank you very much.