July 20, 2019

An open letter to Extinction Rebellion North East (XRNE)

An open letter to Extinction Rebellion North East (XRNE)

On Tuesday July 16, Cal, a Red Fightback (RFB) supporter, found himself banned from Extinction Rebellion North East’s (XRNE) Facebook group, as well as from their closed organising group, which he had previously been a member of.

Cal has, to date, been very active within XRNE, taking part in numerous actions, including the XRNE Funeral for a Dying Planet, the events to Stop Opencast Coal mining in Dewley Hill, Throckley, and a march and demonstration at Newcastle Civic Centre. These are only some of XRNE events Cal has actively participated in. So, then, why this sudden turn of events? Why the ban?

As previously reported, Roger Hallam recently came to Newcastle as part of his “‘The Time is Now” speaking tour. At the event, Roger laid out his now well-documented strategy of getting activists arrested and sent to prison. Hallam was also collecting activists’ details, including forms detailing whether they’re “arrestable” or not. This is tantamount to doing the police’s job for them, namely, gathering intelligence on activists willing to engage in civil disobedience and collecting evidence for their prosecution at the same time.

In this meeting, Cal was rightly horrified by what he heard. Seeing how dangerous Roger’s actions could be for XR activists, Cal intervened, and was subsequently banned from the XRNE open group and the closed organising group.

We believe that these anti-democratic actions are not only damaging to the struggle which XRNE and RFB are part of, but, crucially, they are against the very principles and values XR claims to uphold. We will address a few of these values, available publicly on the XR About page:

4 – We openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system – Leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.

Surely, XR cannot be so naïve as to think the police are not part of the “toxic system” they wish to challenge. From the violent strikebreaking that the North East’s former mining communities can attest to, to the disproportionately numerous deaths in custody of BAME arrestees–themselves a symptom of the police’s institutional racism–it should be easy enough to observe whose side the police actually take when the people decide to take action. Add to that the calls by the Home Office and Met Police to review the Public Order Act, Sajid Javid’s promise to pursue the strongest legal consequences for arrestees, and the so-called “Extremism Rebellion” report released this past Tuesday, which draws a link between XR and “far-left” activism more generally, recommending more arrests, more prosecutions, and stricter laws to deal with “threats to the current order”.

These proposed measures represent attacks on everyone’s civil liberties and democratic rights. How is this not part of the “toxic system” you claim to oppose? With these facts in mind, Cal challenged the orthodoxy of the great Roger Hallam. The audacity! Are we not to challenge our preconceptions and leave our comfort zones, even the ones about “our friendly neighbourhood bobby”? Or, as Hallam is so fond of telling us, that prisons are a lovely, if not second rate, getaway, or a book club? Maybe for you, Roger!

5 – We value reflecting and learning – Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.

It does not bode well for the XR movement and its ability to learn from others’ experience when the XRNE response to an experienced activist sharing an uncomfortable truth that some clearly don’t want to hear is an immediate ban. The essence of a movement is frequently its democratic content: the ability to debate, challenge, make real and informed decisions about the movement we are all part of. Banning an active member in this fashion goes against this important element of our struggle, and XR’s self-claimed principle of reflecting and learning.

6 – We welcome everyone and every part of everyone – Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.

Much of this principle has been dealt with above in our comments on the democratic content of a movement. There is, however, an added dimension to Cal’s banning. We have been made aware that his being a socialist is being used to justify his ban. This is a disturbing continuation of the same anti-democratic tendencies of the XR national leadership, and must not go unchallenged. Cal has been involved in campaigns ranging from anti-deportation and anti-racism campaigns, anti-war, as well anti-cuts campaigns. Throughout these struggles, Cal has developed and deepened his analysis of the problems that humanity, in general, and the workers, in particular, face, and their solution – socialism.

We can almost hear some XR members tense up or even scream at the very mention of this. “No, we need to solve the climate crisis first!” We hear you say. Is capitalism, the system that stands as the primary cause of the crisis, not the very “toxic system” you wish to challenge? These kinds of questions are at the very heart of the climate crisis struggle. Cal being a socialist and a supporter of RFB is absolutely relevant to this struggle, and the main reason why we too see the importance of this issue for the future of humanity.

Whether you personally agree with what we have to say is beside the point. For XR to be open and to “welcome everyone & every part of everyone”, actions such as banning an active member of XRNE when they challenge XR leadership or because you don’t like who it is coming from can absolutely not be tolerated.

We call on:

  • XRNE activists to demand the lifting of Cal’s ban.
  • the XRNE leadership to stand by their own principles and values, and lift the ban.

Red Fightback recognises that human extinction is very real threat to us all – a threat from two fronts: great power competition and environmental destruction. We as communists are committed to fighting for better world, against every manifestation of tyranny and oppression and the ravages of capitalism. To this end, we will make common cause with those struggles objectively fighting capital.

We face a choice with two options: Socialism or extinction!