By Anna Fitzpatrick and Katy Barker
Photo: Gabrielle Miller
Monday this week saw the start of the International Rebellion, a week (or more) of non-violent direct action at various sites around the UK and the world, organised by the decentralised socio-political social movement Extinction Rebellion (ER). The plan, it seems, was to ‘shut down’ London. Would they? Could they? How will people respond to this inconvenience? And how long can this shutdown be sustained?
As we headed to our office at Oxford Circus so too did hundreds of activists waving colourful flags with the ER symbol and carrying signs emblazoned with slogans about climate change, nature and the urgency of timely action – symbolised by ER’s stylised sand timer logo. In the middle of the crossroads was a pink boat, flags flying up the mast, rigged with an impressive sound system. Various groups took to the stage to play music and talk about their motivation for being there. The sun was shining and music played as inquisitive shoppers and workers came to find out what was going on: why the traffic had stopped, what the party was about. Where the group had blocked off roads people held up large signs apologising for inconvenience to Londoners, handed out information and attempted to explain the importance of the disruption: an attempt to protect us all from the worst outcomes of our increasingly unstable climate.
The aim of Extinction Rebellion’s coordinated actions is to highlight the urgency of climate change. The group have three core asks:
- TELL THE TRUTH about the seriousness of the situation. This is with particular focus on the government and their current environmental policies.
- CARBON NET ZERO BY 2025. Urgency is a key message of ER and they are stressing the need for legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions in the UK to net zero by 2025 and for the government to take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases.
- Finally, A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY. Challenging our political system by calling for the use of a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes required. A citizens’ assembly is a group of people who are brought together to discuss an issue or issues and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen. The people who take part are chosen so they reflect the wider population (e.g. in terms of demographics). A citizens’ assembly is a more direct form of democracy and is suggested by ER due to the need for bold and long-term changes that are difficult to make in our current political system.
We work in fashion and sustainability, so it is important to us to show our solidarity with those who are also active in the pursuit of climate justice. All of our work at CSF is framed by acknowledgment of our ecological limits and planetary boundaries. We recognise the urgency in the need for systemic change. Change towards increased political agency, recognition and celebration of difference, understanding sufficiency and what that means for ourselves in and beyond a fashion context.
As a group Extinction Rebellion are highly organised. Action has been taking place across London: Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch, Parliament Square and Waterloo Bridge – where while this blog post was being written; plants, trees, a skate park and a music stage on the now pedestrianised bridge. Cyclists were being let through, with many ringing their bells in support. Volunteers were ready in all locations with information, clear about the message and the need for drastic action (some members of ER are willing – controversially – to be arrested in order to ‘occupy’ these spaces in central London).
With a government in a Brexit deadlock and the IPCC report warning us all of the importance of the next 12 years in order to bring about real and lasting change, action and mobilisation is timely, exciting and urgently needed. The Centre for Sustainable Fashion team have been able to show our support by popping out during the day and even holding our meetings in this newly created temporal public space just outside our office. At Piccadilly Circus, young people read out their ‘letters to the earth’ and chalked up messages on the floor.
One of the interesting things about ER is their stressing of responsibility. Design as a decentralised organization or polyocracy, each person is responsible for their own decisions and actions, yet the role of the collection, of us joining together to address a problem that is bigger than our individual selves exists in parallel. The organization embodies the importance of an approach to sustainability in which the individual is valid, has agency and yet at the same time knows they cannot act alone and that the support and collaboration of others is vital.
If you are interested in learning more about these issues and ER, CSF are hosting an LCF STUDENT ONLY Extinction Rebellion talk on the 24thApril. Details here.