Climate protests have roots that go deep into the rich history of British social changeRoundup
tags: climate change, British history, protests
Lucy Robinson is professor in collaborative history at Sussex University.
The criticisms of Extinction Rebellion fit a well established pattern: indulgent, middle-class crusties slumming it; naughty children revolting for their own entertainment. Then there are the takes on its tactics – too disruptive, too naive or too disrespectful and miles away from the actual concerns of “real people”.
Extinction Rebellion will be assessed and evaluated against criteria its activists did not ask for. Its tactics will be compared and contrasted one against the other, with different strands of the movement categorised accordingly. Good tactics will be those that are lawful, unobtrusive and polite and don’t really get in the way of other people’s daily lives. Whereas lobbying for reform, politely asking politicians to change their priorities, will be judged respectable, but pointless.
In a hierarchy of need, worrying about the environment is framed by some as a luxury compared with poverty, homelessness and the cuts that austerity has brought across communities. The radicals will be set up against the realists. For some, Extinction Rebellion activists will lose support at the point they transgress the law. For others, the moment that the mass arrests began turned Extinction Rebellion into civil-rights heroes and heroines.
Perhaps instead of this mania for categorising, we can allow all the flowers to flourish.
History shows us that it takes many different approaches to make change happen. The tactics that each group chooses are not a matter of personal taste but solutions to a particular problem. Too many years spent failing to make radical change happen can turn energies to smaller, achievable, single-issue campaigns. Conversely, the limits of reform push people and movements to revolt.
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