It’s impossible to be woke enough — and that’s a lesson extremist climate activists “Extinction Rebellion,” best known for disrupting traffic in major cities with “climate strikes,” grinding urban transit to a complete halt, is learning the hard way.
The organization, which aims to prevent the world from collapsing in an firey apocalypse in just over a decade by demonstrating with parades, puppets, and contemporary art installations, has been around for just over a year, but it’s now fallen afoul of woker critics who contend that “Extinction Rebellion” or “XR” for short, is just too white, too educated, too middle class, too privileged, and too “first world” to be adequate spokespeople for radical environmentalism.
In a CNN article published Sunday, reporter Aimee Lewis asked the all important question: is Extinction Rebellion just not woke enough?
The criticism stems, most pointedly, from a protest XR held last month in a working class neighborhood of London. Privileged white, upper crust youth and XR’s established elderly jumped on trains and chained themselves to the public transit cars in London’s subway, disrupting the morning commute of many people who told organizers that they could hardly afford to miss a day of work. The demonstrators could not have cared less, telling the commuters that saving the planet was more important than getting to work on time, even if that job was the only way those commuters could afford the basic necessities.
“Their protest — which disrupted thousands of people’s journeys to work — was rapidly criticized as wrongheaded and out of touch by members of the public, across social media and in the press,” CNN reported. “While it’s not clear who made the decision to protest at Canning Town on October 17, the negative response has helped to spark change and self-reflection within one of the world’s highest-profile environmental movements.”
CNN points out that XR considers itself “decentralized,” meaning that anyone can act in its name. But the organization’s heirarchy expressed support for the commute disruptors.
“[T]he disruptive nature of the actions are supported by the overwhelming majority of us,” XR’s spokemsan told reporters in a statement at the time. “This is a rebellion and this an attempt to make people aware of the far worse lethal disruptions that are going to happen when there is societal collapse. We have no apologies to offer for the disruptions, but it is how these disruptions are organized and the lack of local community involvement, because of the gross inadequacies within XR, to doing local community work properly.”
The lack of empathy for working class people is endemic, apparently, within the entire environmentalist movement.
“A 2014 University of Michigan study that looked into 293 mainstream NGOs, foundations and government agencies found that the ‘current state of racial diversity in environmental organizations is troubling,'” CNN says. “It concluded that the percentage of minorities employed as staff or on the boards of the organizations studied did not exceed 16%.”
Worse still, if ethnic minorities work for environmental organizations, they tend not to move up, leaving the upper eschelons of management overwhelmingly white.
XR tries to explain the problem away on its website, adding, in its “frequently asked questions,” that it’s “made up of people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world. From under 18 to over 80 year olds — there are thousands of people willing to put their liberty on the line to fight the climate and ecological emergency and protect biodiversity and atmospheric health.”
“We are working to improve diversity in our movement,” it claims.
It may not get the chance. CNN is far from the only outlet that’s notice XR’s wokeness problem. The Guardian published an account by a young minority environmentalist that critiqued the movement for its lack of diversity, but also for its “glorification of arrest,” pointing out that upper-class, educated, white youth can be arrested and jailed and not face long-term consequences, whereas ethnic minorities may end up in jail for the rest of their lives, thanks to inequalities within the criminal justice system.
“The tactics of Extinction Rebellion are designed by and for middle-class, white Britain. Their central rhetoric about a dystopian future fails to cut through for those of us already faced with a nightmarish present, surrounded by poverty and austerity,” Athian Akec wrote, adding that “[t]he tactic of being purposely arrested strikes an uncomfortable note for many people of colour, given the adverse experiences people in my community have had with the police,” and then blames XR for failing to be as intersectional as possible — a key element of modern wokeness.
“The climate movement’s failure to stand in solidarity with our political struggles adds to this sense of disconnect,” Akec says.
Grist, an environmental outlet at the forefront of anti-climate change activism, recognized the problem, as did the New Statesmen, both of which commented on XR’s seeming inability to adapt to progressivism.
XR, of course, doesn’t seem to mind. More protests are planned and it doesn’t much matter who is in the way.