“Our demands remain the same”: A conversation with Extinction Rebellion UK’s national spokesperson, Zion Lights

Extinction Rebellion is calling for an international rebellion from its home base in the U.K., hoping that the group’s unique approach to civil disobedience and protest will spread far and wide.

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Starting on Friday, September 20th and scheduled to officially end on the 27th, the global climate strike movement started by Greta Thunberg has brought together students and many of those inspired by them, from parents to union workers, in cities and towns around the world. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the struggle to make governments address climate change and biodiversity loss are the unique ways in which a variety of actors, including but not limited to the student strikers, are bringing attention to the growing crisis.

On October 7th, another group that has exploded onto the scene in the last year, Extinction Rebellion, is calling for an international rebellion from its home base in the UK, hoping that the group’s unique approach to civil disobedience and protest will spread far and wide from Europe to Africa, Asia and the Americas.

In expectation of this, I reached out to the group and was able to interview its U.K. press and media national spokesperson, Zion Lights, and ask about Extinction Rebellion’s organizational structure and plans for October.

Already an activist before she joined the group, Lights is a writer and poet and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting, released by New Internationalist Publications in 2015. She has been helped in her environmental activism by her education and work as a science communicator. Lights also gave an interesting and personal talk on astronomy to TedX in 2018 that you can find below.

Derek Royden: Unlike most environmental movements in the past that have taken a top-down approach, you have said that Extinction Rebellion’s organizational model is holacracy, a decentralized system in which autonomous teams work toward their individual goals without a leadership or traditional management structure. In your experience, is this an effective system for organizing and movement building and why?

Zion Lights: We use a self-organizing system, which draws on the model of holocracy. It’s incredible really to see how well this works: we have different circles, for example, Media, Science, Actions, and they work as autonomous teams while feeding back information and decisions to other circles. No one will pretend that it’s a perfect system – it’s a work in progress – but in some ways, it’s more effective than having a small group of leaders or a single leader, as all voices are heard equally which means that it feels like an even platform. This is a new way of working for all of us, and in many ways, it’s also important because it’s part of the systemic change that we are calling for in society.

Sometimes things come together so perfectly that we call it ‘XR magic’… I think people are so used to having leaders that we underestimate the skills and abilities of ordinary people. It’s also important to be decentralized to keep the momentum of the movement going: this is not just a U.K. issue so we cannot be the only active group and if for some reason we fell apart here, XR needs to up the pressure for change globally. Thankfully XR now has a strong presence around the world and as groups in, for example, India and Malawi grow, we hope it will strengthen their voices in the global discussion on climate crisis too.

DR: What are the main goals of Extinction Rebellion in terms of the second International Rebellion’ beginning on October 7th?

ZL: Our demands remain the same, as they have not yet been met. These are:

1. For the government to tell the truth about the climate and ecological crisis. At present, this demand has not been met – although Parliament declared a climate emergency, the government has not done so.

2. For the government to commit to halting biodiversity loss and bringing emissions down to net-zero by 2025. A target of 2050 has been made by the government but this is too late, for various reasons including the increasing weather extremes, mass displacement, global thirst and other climate-related issues that are already occurring around the world. Generally, we apply The Precautionary Principle here which means acting sooner rather than later to prevent further mass suffering, death and extinction.

3. For the government to create and be led by Citizens’ Assemblies. Our current political system is broken; any system that fails to respond to a crisis as big as this and protect its people from looming mass death and suffering is broken. Establishing Citizens’ Assemblies would mean creating a form of true democracy where decisions are made by people who listen to experts and are not influenced by vested interests or what they think will please voters and so on. We also don’t blame individuals for the situation we are in and recognize that the changes that need to occur to address the emergency cannot fall on the shoulders of just a few politicians.

DR: Are there official lines of communication between XR U.K. and other branches throughout the world? If it won’t reveal too much, will there be any coordination between the original U.K. group and those in other countries during the upcoming International Rebellion?

ZL: We do communicate, but we don’t necessarily coordinate. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting coordinators from Spain and New York and found that we have learned a lot from each other.

DR: Without addressing tactics, do you expect that we will see the types of disruptions we saw in London in April of 2018 and in five U.K. cities in July?

ZL: The second International Rebellion will be bigger than April’s. Since April we have grown exponentially, in the U.K. and globally. At IR2 we have all kinds of groups getting involved and actions taking place, including a mass Buddhist meditation, a community of religious people creating a ‘Faith Bridge’, an area of healthcare workers, of animal rebellion activists, and so much more. There will also be something as memorable as, if not more memorable than, our boats!

For more info on this please visit this release, which came out earlier this week.

DR: I know you are busy with your preparations for October, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and inform our readers about the coming International Rebellion.

American readers can get more information on XR U.S. and get involved in their own community, here. Canadians can find the group’s Facebook page here.

 Watch Zion Lights’ TEDX talk, “Don’t forget to look up”.

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