From within the anarchist and autonomous anti-capitalist movement, there has been a lot of healthy critique aimed at groups like Extinction Rebellion – and for good reason. As we have highlighted on the It’s Going Down podcast, people have rightfully been critical of the new climate movement’s embrace of non-violence and moreover, reformist attempts to pressure the elites into acting. In some ways, this seems like a step back from the last few years, where people fighting pipelines and fossil fuel projects have utilized a diversity of tactics while attempting to physically blockade and shut down fossil fuel infrastructure.
On the other hand, others have pointed out that the upcoming round of climate actions are still largely being organized in an autonomous framework and represent an opportunity to make connections with the next generation of climate activists. In short, this could be a chance to push things in a different direction. Perhaps what is needed now is for our networks to engage with this emerging movement in critical and strategic ways, pointing a different way forward or at the very least, pointing out everything that might hold real revolt back.
Wanting to know more about these upcoming days of action as well as what we can expect from them, we caught up with someone in the Northeast who is active in the new climate movements to talk about the upcoming strikes.
IGD: In the broad sense, why or why not should autonomists, anarchists, and anti-authoritarians involve themselves in the upcoming climate actions?
As a general principle, I’ll say this. When millions of people pledge to hit the streets in protest, it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on. It’s a strategic question, not necessarily a moral one.
It has already become apparent that climate change will be the defining political question of the 21st century. I would argue that what happens this week with the Global Climate Strike partially sets the tone, partly defines a range of possibilities of how climate change will be addressed in coming decades. What concrete options, what political poles are available for people to rally around as climate chaos intensifies? This week might just give us more than a premonition of nascent political tendencies and polarities that will dominate the landscape in years to come.
I’d add that a new generation of political activists are coming of age in this critical moment, as the scientists remind us that we only have until 2030 to make gargantuan social changes to avoid total collapse. The government is watching these protests, as is capitalism – and, it should be said, so too are new breeds of reactionaries like eco-fascists. To not pay attention to the recent climate mobilizations is to risk abandoning this new generation to cynics and opportunists, and to cede the emerging political terrain in advance. It’s to lose out on an important opportunity to stake a claim in more radical visions of the future, to fight for what global transformations climate change truly demands of us.
IGD: Who are the big players mobilizing the different actions? Are these non-profits, activist groups, Marxist-Leninist organizations?
The Global Climate Strike is being organized as a coalition between a huge number of groups, both new and old. Perhaps the most interesting groups involved are the new youth-led organizations like Fridays for Future, the Sunrise Movement, EarthStrike, Youth vs Apocalypse, and Zero Hour.
Another major player is Extinction Rebellion, a “nonviolent direct action” group that exploded onto the scene last year in the UK. XR, as they are known, has grown rapidly since then and chapters are quickly spreading across the US and around the world. I’ll say more about XR later.
While it’s these new climate groups who have spearheaded the call for the Global Climate Strike, practically every large environmental organization has also endorsed the strike, including familiar names like Greenpeace and 350.org.
The Climate Strike is also timed to coincide with the UN’s upcoming Climate Change summit, set to begin on September 23.
IGD: There’s a lot of moving pieces, but if you can, break down for us what all is happening over the week of September 20th – 27th. We know that there are student climate actions, climate strikes, and also Extinction Rebellion rallies happening across the world and the US. Can you flesh these all out for us?
The Global Climate Strike will feature hundreds, and probably thousands, of globally coordinated actions from September 20 to September 27. Every protest movement has its rhythm: the Climate Strike takes its lead from Fridays for Future, the student-led movement in Europe that has seen tens of thousands of students on strike every Friday for much of this year.
The Youth Climate Strike on September 20 is expected to have the largest turnout, as most groups have been organizing around this specific date. It’s a big chance for the new climate groups to prove their scale and popular resonance. Marches, rallies, speeches, celebrities, music, festivities – the day may be reminiscent of the People’s Climate March back in 2014.
Throughout the week, there will be smaller, more targeted actions in many places. For instance, I’ve heard of planned marches to city halls, actions targeting energy companies, and so on. Major cities will likely see continued actions everyday, carried out by a variety of different groups and according to a variety of tactics.
On the following Friday, September 27, there will be another day of mass action. One thing to watch would be to see how turnout compares to September 20. Can the movement keep up its pace? Could it even grow in numbers? There’s some talk of more disruptive actions on this date, including attempts at blockades. For radicals, this could be a promising day to turn out.
XR has recently announced they are planning an International Rebellion beginning October 7. Given the group’s history so far, we can expect disruptive actions on a large scale – especially if they can capitalize on existing momentum. So, if all goes well, the week-long Global Climate Strike may not end next week after all.
IGD: How are these events being organized?
To the credit of the new climate groups, their call for a Global Climate Strike has spread – well, like wildfire. It has been taken up at incredible speed and at a massive scale, an impressive showing for any protest movement in recent years. According to a figure I saw this week, there are some 750 actions planned on September 20 in the US alone. Whatever you may think of the movement, the strike is set to be huge.
Once the initial call was spread, most of these actions were announced by existing climate groups and networks of activists who mobilized accordingly. As far as I can tell, some planned actions certainly did emerge organically from individuals or small groups of friends who perhaps had seen the climate movement online but weren’t already plugged to the usual activist circuit. globalclimatestrike.net has served as one popular aggregator for these events among others.
I find this mixture interesting from an organizational point of view: a combination of spontaneous calls and legitimate channels, with existing groups lending their credibility while also leaving room for decentralized groups to easily and clearly plug in to a global movement. It’s neither top-down nor entirely horizontal, but an effective mix of the two.
IGD: Greta Thunberg, a teenager has been in the spotlight a lot lately, going on the Daily Show etc, what is her role in all of this?
Greta, a 16 year old Swede, has become quite famous in recent months. In many ways she is the face of the new youth-led climate movement. She began a lone protest against climate inaction by striking from school on Fridays, holding her iconic “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” sign outside. Her decision wound up kicking off the Fridays for Future movement and has since catapulted her into international fame, bringing her into conversation with everyone from Pope Francis to Naomi Klein.
I’m not so interested in her personally so much as the symbolic role she plays in the current moment. As a figure, Greta has on one hand galvanized many towards protest and collective action as necessary means to address climate change. She is, for many young people, a source of inspiration and even of hope for the future. On the other hand – as could be expected – she has united countless reactionaries in fury, earning her nasty insults from spooked fossil fuel executives and the remaining climate denialists, down to run-of-the-mill misogynists and the usual haters.
IGD: To what degree are young people, like high schoolers getting involved in these actions?
The influence of newly mobilized young people, students especially, on this new surge of climate action cannot be overstated. They are absolutely the core of the current wave, and they are the ones who will determine what happens next. The Global Climate Strike has all the hallmarks of a paradigm shift in public discourse and climate politics. Now it’s up to the kids to redefine the possibilities of the future, the shape of the world we will live in.
IGD: There seems to be a split within anarchist and autonomous groups, both in Europe and the US as to whether to support these actions. Some groups are getting involved in some of places, while others seem very critical. What are your thoughts?
There is something of a split. Some radicals are earnestly engaging with the new climate movements, inspired by the energy and momentum they’ve demonstrated, as well as by the seriousness with which they grapple with the enormity of the problem. Other radicals are sitting the protests out, writing it off as the latest manifestation of liberal environmentalism – or worse.
A number of important critiques have been raised, shared even by those who are sympathetic to the emergent movement like myself.
Common criticisms include the charge of political naivete, in that governments or capitalism itself would ever be able – much less be willing – to embark upon the myriad changes demanded by protestors. Many radicals have also voiced concerns that by framing the solution to climate change as a purely legislative or policy issue (as the Green New Deal tends to), the new climate movements have defined their scope too narrowly to address the underlying problem. I would describe this as a classic kind of “reform versus revolution” situation, dividing those who believe the State and capitalism can be squared with the habitability of the planet, and those for whom the only possible way to avert climate chaos is total revolution.
Another major critique is of the explicitly non-violent approach of the movements, which of course strikes most radicals as a dead-end. Relatedly, the most serious issue that has been raised so far has been XR’s police-friendly approach. XR’s troubling relationship with the police is simply a dealbreaker for many radicals who might otherwise engage with the climate movements – and I don’t blame them.
The list of critiques could go on. I think these are serious concerns, and I worry they may prove insurmountable for the new climate groups as they’re currently articulated. Nonetheless, the situation remains what it is. The Climate Strike is almost here. Movements are messy – either radicals will be there to help shape this one, or we won’t.
IGD: A big critique seems to be, that instead of making spectacles in order to get the attention of government and industry heads, we should instead be thinking about collective action that could put on us on a path towards shutting down the fossil fuel economy. Should we think about these actions as a way to build to there, or how to intervene in order to make this a reality, or are they instead a possible roadblock?
This is certainly one of the main shortcomings of the movement, one of its primary contradictions that has yet to be overcome. If you really believe the government has utterly failed to save the planet, then why is the solution… to demand the government save the planet? Why are we asking the idiots who have practically killed all life on earth to spare us from their own onslaught? It’s a huge flaw in the logic of the new climate movements and potentially one site of useful radical intervention. Could we help draw out the contradiction between believing the government is the solution and believing the government is the problem? Could we turn demands for the government to save the planet into demands to save the planet from the government?
Despite this faulty framework, one of the most interesting aspects of the new climate movements – XR in particular – is their combination of mass mobilization and direct action. XR, for all their shortcomings, have helped legitimate in the popular imaginary tactics that were formerly the daydreams of radicals – thousands blockading intersections, taking over bridges, and so on. Their style is more festive than combative; nonetheless, the shut-down is real. Could we help the movements take it a step further, shedding the overly symbolic in favor of the overtly material?
This is a crucial point. It’s not such a leap of the imagination to envision, mere weeks from now, a direct blockade of fossil fuel infrastructure by thousands of spirited, courageous new climate rebels. Perhaps this is the primary intervention to be made within the current situation. The new climate movements know full well that every day we burn more fossil fuels, the closer we come to our own destruction. Targets are everywhere. Perhaps we should be thinking less how to strike, and more how to strike back.
Upcoming Days of Action:
September 20th: Youth led Climate Strike kick off, largely on Friday, September 20th. Check the map on this page to find one near you.
September 27th: Climate Strike actions being planned. Check map here for local groups organizing.
October 7th: Extinction Rebellion holding actions across the world. Check map here for local groups organizing.
Some Big Mobilizations:
September 25th: Mass mobilization in San Francisco
September 27th: Mass mobilization in Atlanta
September 27th: Climate Strike in New York
Green Anti-Capitalist Front
Some suggestions to climate strikers - a printable flyer adapted from a text first published on North Shore Counter-Info.