Remember why: A note from my past self in Extinction Rebellion

This post is time travel. It’s a message from the past.

Really. I am writing this in mid-August. The sun is hot. The days are slow and lethargic. The Czechs call this season “cucumber season,” because in our short growing season mid-to-late August is the only season when cucumbers are ripe and so many people spend their time pickling.

My pickling cucumbers all died of mold, so my children will go without pickles this winter. Such is life.

But the other thing about this season is anticipation. And this year that is more true than ever before. We’re working up to what we grandiosely call “the Autumn Rebellion.” It is supposed to be a massive worldwide uprising of people demanding truth, justice and action to avoid ecological disaster.

Creative Commons image by Carl Nenzén Lovén

Creative Commons image by Carl Nenzén Lovén

In London, Paris, Berlin and other western cities, it is supposed to bring transport and industry to a screeching halt. It is supposed shake the major state and corporate structures to their foundations and wake up their CEOs and legislators to the crisis. In smaller and less progressive places, like my own Prague, it is supposed to be the first major rallying cry, the days of love and courage with crowds of protesters, arrests and media coverage.

That’s the plan.

In the midst of a cucumber season with no cucumbers, I am filled with a bit of trepidation. Every day brings a fresh wave of new Extinction Rebellion volunteers. More than anything else, I fear they will be disappointed. They have finally risen, most for their first time doing anything even remotely activist. It’s the first real rising of public demand for change in a generation here. There were small protests, sure, but nothing that captured the hearts and minds of regular people beyond a committed (eccentric) few.

Beyond that, I am putting in far too much time and effort, more than is good for me. And I’ve already encountered some of the social ostracism I dread in any kind of group situation. I can’t help but look ahead with hope and anxiety side by side.

What will the first weeks of October bring? Will our dreams be realized? Will real change come at last? Will it be worth all the effort and sacrifice? Will anything happen at all?

That got me to thinking about sending a message to my future self. Because I know how hard it can be—in the midst of things—to remember the most basic reasons why we throw ourselves into something like this. I could so easily get caught up in worry, get freaked out over failures or be torn up over social rejection. So, if that’s the case, I hope this may help.

Here are the reasons I am doing this:

  1. All last winter I was so depressed I couldn’t move. Every day I took a nap for an hour and a half or two hours because nothing seemed worth it and my body and mind were saturated with grief and despair. When I found Extinction Rebellion that changed overnight. Finally there was something worth doing.

  2. I wasn’t in it to win. When I first joined in April there were ten active people in the entire Czech Republic. They were nice people, but I didn’t really think they could have hundreds or thousands of people active by the autumn. Neither did they. They just said that because it was a sort of goal to put out there. “A thousand people in the fall,” that’s what they said. But I was in it for the moment, for those ten and for whoever came each day.

  3. My role in Extinction Rebellion quickly became that of hearth mother. I am among the older members and that’s a new experience for me, the first time I’ve ever been considered “old” by any standard. I also know how to cook. It’s fun to bring cake, carrot sticks and homemade hummus to a meeting and hear the cries of genuine gratitude from a dozen twenty-something vegans who can’t get a decent meal most places in this city. All of my work has been about feeding the earth defenders, holding hands, nurturing, reassuring, even hugging, as well as teaching empathy and first aid. And no matter what happens in the end, that endless, nearly invisible work will have gone on the same way a mother’s nurturing work goes without guarantees, just because it is needed.

  4. We knew that a thousand people wouldn’t change government climate policy, even in one tiny little Eastern European country. We were doing it because it was the only reasonable and logical thing to do. We did it to be able to get up, look at ourselves in the mirror and not sob with shame and rage.

  5. So, now we have 250 active rebels and it’s August. While I was a raw recruit in April, I am now considered a hardened elder and as such I have to play politics and fend off criticism. But I still have to get up every morning and look in the mirror. So, my reasons haven’t changed that much.

Some people have great hopes for this fall. All around the world people are gearing up and hoping for a massive uprising to force governments and corporations into real action, so that we can survive climate change.

I am among those who hope. I cannot help it. But at the same time I know that no plan survives contact with reality and that things could go haywire in a dozen different ways. It could be far bigger than we expect. It could get ugly with police or football rowdies or impatient drivers. It could be depressingly apathetic and small. We don’t know.

I also know the foibles and imperfections of humans. Extinction Rebellion has built a structure meant to foster a regenerative culture with equity, inclusion and ethics at its core. But still the people running it are just as human as the rest, coming from and living in a society that is toxic, ego-driven and unethical. Will this structure, which looks so good on a flip chart, hold? Will we live up to our ideals?

This is my note to my future self. Keep to your values. Welcome each one. Defend the vulnerable. Stand in your own strength. Seek authenticity.

Remember your reasons. Remember that we do this beyond hope, not for what it might bring in the future but for our self-respect here and now. Don’t lose sight of empathy. non-violence and love.

I will publish this at the midst of it—just before the full moon—when I will likely be too busy to write. It will be a note from the past to myself and to all those working hard the same way.

P.S. This is present-day me again. I’m glad for the reminders. There are now 400 organizers. If they all bring a friend or two, we’ll have a thousand at the big event on Saturday. But the most famous Czech pop singer has died and his memorial service will compete with our actions for media coverage. A massive soccer match will draw six thousand drunk Brits and who knows how many drunk Czechs to the city. And the local Extinction Rebellion group is fractured by factions banning this or that person, including me, from key information channels. Much of it looks like utter chaos. And yet, I have vegan chocolate cake, a fresh batch of hummus, camping chairs, a tent and first aid supplies. Come what may.

You can't force focus, but you can nurture it

What would it take to realistically face the climate crisis?

I’ll tell you. Not that much and yet it would take a huge, unaccustomed effort.

It would take people who have a yard digging it up and planting vegetables. It would take going to massive protests demanding science-based energy policy after work instead of going home and kicking back in front of a screen. It would take riding a bike to work even in the cold autumn rain and sleet. It would take remembering to bring a cloth bag when you go shopping. It would take going back up the stairs to turn off the light you forgot… every time. It would take fixing that old heating system, not next week but right now. It would take researching new recipes that have more legumes than meat.

In short, it would take constant focus, a million small actions and talking about it with everyone all the time as our highest priority in all the small moments of the day.

This is our unavoidable reality. Only about a quarter of our personal carbon footprint (that’s basically your personal contribution to climate change from being alive in an industrialized society) can be influenced by our small daily actions. BUT constant focus on this crisis, talking about it and demanding systemic change does matter and does help.

Creative Commons image by Jumbero of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Jumbero of Flickr.com

In five short years, Germany went from being a major coal country to having a full 40 percent of its energy come from wind, solar and water, pushing coal into second place. That was only achieved by the incessant and fierce demands of regular people who never became famous like Greta Thunberg.

It can be done and we know what it will take. The tough part, of course, is that pretty much everyone has to focus on this for it to work. And that looks like a very tall order when a quarter of the people in a lot of countries still choose to believe ads by oil companies over scientists, and even those who “get it,” don’t get it because they don’t think about it unless a pollster specifically asks and they certainly don’t act on it.

When have people ever focused on something like this?

They did during WWII. In fact, a lot of the things we need to do now would be similar to those civilian wartime efforts—conserve resources, redirect industry, create jobs through planful programs and grow food in every yard. People talked about it every day and thought about it most hours of the day. It was stressful. Focus does that.

The Civil Rights movement was similar for those who were involved or directly impacted. Humanity pretty much hasn’t achieved anything massive or worth having without that kind of focus by at least some people. But it has occasionally happened. And it could happen now.

Except… except that the focus isn’t there. Focus is a kind of energy inside human beings. When it’s there we do amazing things. That whole thing about a mother being able to lift a car off of her trapped child—superhuman strength and all that? All that is is extreme focus. Every fiber, all the energy in a body, focused with laser-like intensity in one moment on one thing.

And this is a matter of focus too, though a bit broader and definitely longer lasting.

So how do we get people to focus on the climate crisis? Obviously, one of the problems with it is that because most of the threat is a decade or two in the future and realistic threats of apocalyptic scenarios are a generation away. What we have now is mostly theory with a few examples of major weather disasters, which are mostly someplace distant (and if they aren’t distant then you probably have a lot of very necessary survival tasks distracting you). It’s hard to sustain focus on something that is distant in time or place and it’s difficult to focus on something that it takes a chart to explain.

But there is also the despair factor.

One of the reasons I became particularly focused on the climate crisis this year was that I discovered a reason for hope—a very specific and concrete reason, a local Extinction Rebellion group. When I found that group and saw that the members were serious and dedicated to both responsible action to bring societal focus to the climate crisis and to the kind of social inclusion that will actually make it worthwhile, I essentially stopped needing to sleep.

I wasn’t forcing myself to focus. It was easy. i had to force my body and mind to relax in order to make the effort sustainable. But the actual focus, the effort involved, felt effortless for months.

Then a strange thing happened. Whereas this group had begun as an oasis of positive focus, a thread of infighting, egoism and social exclusion entered into it. It happens in groups all the time.

Extinction Rebellion has safeguards against this sort of thing—conflict resolution mechanisms and decentralization to avoid power trips, but there were those who argued our group was too small and too fragile for these things to be implemented. In trying to protect what we had built, the safeguards were sacrificed, first for just awhile and then for months. Authoritarian methods were allowed, as a “necessary evil” and conflict resolution was put off indefinitely with vulnerable people being sidelined.

Most of the group is still going strong and still an excellent group. But the abandonment of these safeguards in those places where problems arose took the wind right out of my sails. I can already see the cost and I know what the eventual price will be, if this is not turned around.

I’m still involved, still keeping up the responsibilities I took on. But it isn’t effortless anymore. I have to force myself to do it. My focus is broken. I’m not entirely burnt out physically, just unmotivated.

I still have my personal focus on the climate and ecological crisis. I still do my garden and all the other little daily things that need to be done. I still talk about it and think about it most of every day. But I can understand why others don’t have that focus. A lot of people see no hope in the climate crisis or at least nothing truly useful they can do personally.

And I don’t entirely blame them. This is a massive problem and there is a lot of discouraging propaganda out there, either confusing people about the very clear scientific conclusions giving us existential warnings or pushing crippling despair.

I look at the historical accounts of times when large groups of people truly did focus on something important. There were exceptions, of course. There were people who didn’t pitch in or who took advantage, but vast numbers of people did focus. And I know we can’t force that kind of focus.

Sure, we need to eventually legislate conservation rules and we definitely need public figures, institutions and the media to start intensively telling the truth about the crisis. But we also can and must nurture the kind of focus we need.

That means acting with integrity. It means practicing the good things we talk about and following through with commitments. It means supporting one another and putting aside self-serving motives most of the time. It means, in short, being the people we always wanted to be.

Islands at war: Strong women in a sea of patriarchy

Behind every community organization there is a strong woman… but usually only one.

I started noticing this uncomfortable reality once I got to be about thirty-five. When I was younger, I saw strong women as my mentors and leaders. I looked up to them, especially those who led groups, almost worshipfully and they usually responded with a bit of motherly advice and a job for me to do. But once I became clearly middle-aged, I started running up against their hard edges.

I was probably a bit oblivious in the beginning. It didn’t occur to me that we should be in competition. I had my plans and didn’t have any designs on their jobs or positions, but let’s face it. I’m opinionated, loud-mouthed and energetic. Wherever I got involved a hot friction quickly ignited between me and any strong women in leadership roles.

Creative Commons image by Tee Cee

Creative Commons image by Tee Cee

For awhile, I thought there must be something about me that simply irritates capable, educated and professional women, who I viewed as my natural peers and potential friends. But gradually I realized that if I was in an organizational role of authority above another strong woman, we were fine and often friends, and if I wasn’t part of their organization or social group, we were also usually fine. It’s only when I encounter strong women on a similar level or as a superior in an organization or social hierarchy that we run into trouble. And frankly, there aren’t any meek women in these roles.

I observe other women interacting. There are often smiles and hugs that quickly turn to vicious jockeying and betrayal that usually ends with all but one woman out the door and gone.

After I recently joined a group and quickly rose through the men to lead my city’s branch, the head of the national office (also a hard-working woman) called me to say we would be working together closely. But the close cooperation never materialized. A few weeks later, another woman started making waves in my branch with my support and the national head was telling her that she was the new “go to person.” And within a few days, the new girl was in tears and supposedly leaving the organization. I watched the same cycle happen with several others.

So many women leaders say they want to support other women, but they will only extend that support if the women near them have no opinions or gumption. Can we so quickly forget that you don’t get to be in leadership roles if you’re female and NOT strong, opinionated and feisty?

It is possible that we strong women rub one another the wrong way precisely because of the fact that we are pre-selected by the patriarchal system to be the competitive, enduring and assertive individuals of our gender. If we didn’t have these qualities, we wouldn’t be successful in a world run by men. And it is also these qualities that make us difficult to get along with.

But I doubt that is all there is to the antagonism between strong women. I see a lot of evidence that women in leadership tolerate opinions and challenge from male coworkers much more than they do from female coworkers. And apparently I’m not alone. When I finally decided to write about this, I googled “women leaders hostile to female coworkers” out of curiosity as to whether or not I’d come up with any random anecdotal hits. Instead, I got a flood of articles, studies and surveys including:

“Why do women bully each other at work?” a massively researched investigation from The Atlantic

“Female coworkers: Allies or Enemies” from Forbes

“The dark side of female rivalry in the workplace and what to do about it”

And even from the Yale Law Journal, “Hostility to the presence of women: Why women undermine each other in the workplace and the consequences for Title IV”

So, apparently this is “a thing” and not just my experience. Strong women fight one another, compete, undermine and bully one another and presumably also women who are not quite as tough.

Our feminist mothers didn’t tell us about this when they told us we could be anything and we were as good as any man. When I was a girl, going through a rare rite of passage with a supportive circle of older women I felt that i had been given a promise: “We will stand by you. The world may be made for men and men may still hold most of the economic and social power but you are the generation that will push beyond the barriers and we older women will be here urging you on.”

I went out into the professional world completely unprepared for the backlash from women. I saw women as allies and supports and some early experiences seemed to confirm it, possibly because I was nerdy and not sexually attractive to most men and as a younger, disabled woman I didn’t seem like much of a threat.

A male colleague recently told me that at least one woman higher than me in professional authority expressed feeling terribly threatened by me.

Threatened? By me? I am not only almost blind, I have a disabled child and I am socially awkward. I not only couldn’t be a threat to anyone if I wanted to, I don’t have any competitive designs on anything. I’m happy to be barely hanging on to my little bits of work and social engagement and have no intention of expanding anywhere.

And yet, the fact is that some feel threatened. That feeling isn’t nothing.

My first reaction is to think it is a byproduct of patriarchy. The over-competitive world of men has taught us to be this way. Or maybe it is that the tokenism of a lot of disingenuous affirmative action has forced us to operate in a world where most organizations would accept one high-ranking woman and one high-ranking person of color and that’s it. Maybe it is simply that the Old Boys Network lets only those women with very hard edges through.

I don’t know exactly what the reason is or even whether or not I am part of the problem. I don’t feel like I am competitive with other women. I generally feel safer and happier when I’m working with a lot of women… until the fighting starts, that is. I don’t tend to have conflicts with women who are below me in any formal or informal hierarchy. I am known as a good mentor. But then again I do have some hard edges and I can’t say that I didn’t get them the same way other women did.

What I do know is that only strong women can solve this. If we can look at ourselves and see what we are doing to one another and how it feeds into a system that is still keeping women underpaid and disempowered, we should be able to find a way to change it.

Let’s look for healing—for ourselves and for other women.

The kind of rite of passage to womanhood that I had as a young teen is crucial and it is sad that it is still rare. Let us openly express support for younger women, tell them we support them and then do so, even when feelings of insecurity creep in. Yes, sometimes they will be “too much.” They will be louder, more entitled, less self-sacrificing than we were at their age. It’s a good thing that they don’t have to work three times as hard and juggle both work and family without a hair out of place, as our generation did. When they look like a million bucks, let’s not forget that we support them.

And just as crucially, the next time we feel threatened, criticized or bossed by an older women, let’s stop and really think out whether or not the same behaviors and words would seem threatening, critical or bossy if they came from a man. Let’s slow down our judgement of older women and err on the side of compassion. When they look hard-edged or overdressed or frumpy or bitter, take a moment to recall that we are culturally conditioned by every Disney cartoon about evil queens and by all the social expectations of women to see their exhaustion, stress and capability as negative. And let us remember how and why they got to where they are. These older women who made it from generations past had to be tough and even ruthless at times to fit in a male-dominated world. Their gentler sisters often had to sacrifice their dreams and their very selves to have a family or a basic non-career job. And the patriarchal world taught all of us to be harsher than we would have naturally tended.

I don’t know how to heal it, not exactly, but I’m trying.

Strong women, you are sisters and you are needed—without perfection, without being goddesses, without winning—you are enough.

Courage from wherever you stand

If there is one thing I wish I could give my readers these days it is the feeling that the climate crisis is like a war.

For some it is easy to see it as a war of us against them—us, the ordinary people who mostly want to do something about it, against them, the greedy one-percenters who run most of the industry and make most of the political decisions. But it isn’t at its core an us-versus-them war.

It’s an us-versus-ignorance war. Slowly the ignorance is falling away and we will focus more and more on fighting to mitigate the collapse of our ecological life-support system. But still it will be an us-versus-ignorance war. It will just be against the effects created by the ignorance of the past.

Even the wealthy have to eat and even if they may have bunkers, there is no possible future in which climate collapse goes forward unchecked and they don’t seriously regret not paying attention earlier. It is still primarily about ignorance. “Ignor-ance” has its roots in willfully ignoring and denying reality. That is what we are up against—the denial ignorance of the wealthy, the misled ignorance of the poor and the despairing and apathetic ignorance of everyone in between.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

Plenty of people are saying that we need to respond to the climate crisis the way we responded to World War Two. It’s true on so many levels. The climate emergency is already claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and it will soon claim millions and then billions, if we do nothing. The scale is at least as massive as the second world war was and it will reach into every person’s life just as that war did. It will require many personal sacrifices, political focus, economic manipulation and social solidarity, just as that war did.

It already requires a great deal of courage.

Of course, there is the courage of people protesting and putting their bodies in the way of fossil fuel extraction, processing and transport. There are the people chained or glued to government or corporate doorways. There are those sitting down in front of police wielding chemical weapons and people standing in the middle of intersections, demanding that other humans do indeed stop business as usual, stop driving, pay attention and treat science as a real-world matter.

Some people look at these protesters, often dressed up or in a excited, bonded group, and assume it must be fun or they must be in it for the adventure. And there may be some who are in it for adventure the first time around. But a lot of people are doing it again and again. They are willing to be roughed up by irritable police on extra shifts and willing to spend long, cold nights in improvised cells. They know what they are in for.

That is courage. I’ve seen a lot of people grasping courage these days, more than I think I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

There’s the courage of a young mother, so scared she’s trembling, who he accepts the role of press spokesperson for an action anyway, because all the people without babies are either on the blockade line or doing risky conflict deescalation work. There is no one else who can address the TV cameras. So she does it, even though she’s never been an activist before.

There’s the fourteen-year-old girl who signed up to learn to be a field medic with her parents’ consent, willing to wade into fields of tear gas and distribute clothes soaked in antacid to people gasping for breath. There’s the courage of those worried parents who know this is something she has to do.

There’s the woman who I watched stumble through a workshop presentation for new climate action volunteers in which two young men decided to pick apart her every statement. Walking to the subway together after I helped her lock up the office in the evening, she confessed that it wasn’t just her first workshop presentation but the first time she had ever spoken in front of a group of people in her life.

I have not chained myself to anything strategic or refused to move under police orders. Not yet at least. Some of my rebel friends are willing to forgive me this reticence because I have a disability and a disabled child. “Well, that’s why Arie isn’t out there getting arrested.” I’m the one teaching the medics and the deescalation teams. I’m the one holding the hands of new volunteers, giving a dozen pep talks a day.

But I’ve had to poke deep into my own reserves of courage. When I first signed up my family and close friends were all warning me to be careful, even asking me not to join Extinction Rebellion because whenever I have joined community organizations before it has always ended in pain, social rejection and deep depression. The fact is that, especially where I live in the Czech Republic, a disabled. middle aged woman with strange-looking eyes and awkward social communication is not well accepted. My family didn’t want me to go through all that again.

When I go into groups, I can’t make eye contact or play out the little exchanges of non-verbal communication. Mostly people don’t realize this or understand what it means. They just get the feeling that I’m aloof or uncool, or most oddly, calculating and competitive. The inevitable result has been a lot of social isolation. I join groups enthusiastically, get a lot of confused reactions and soon find myself mysteriously dropped off the invitation list.

So joining Extinction Rebellion, I was so scared that I lay awake all night shaking after every meeting in the beginning. But I knew I had to go anyway.

I wish I could tell you those fears were entirely unfounded. I will say that Extinction Rebellion tries hard to be open to all—people with disabilities, older people and people with children included. It’s a real topic of discussion and those discussions matter. I’ve never found a group where I did feel this welcome. But I have run into people who reject me out-of-hand, even in the consciously inclusive culture of XR.

Facing fears doesn’t mean facing down only illusion. Much of the fear is real. Those protesters in France really did get viciously attacked by police while sitting calmly and quietly. Some people really did needlessly torment that first-time workshop presenter. And every time I play the role of social greeter at an XR event, I will get some hard looks and some cold shoulders, which cut deep because of the social context of long-term ostracism.

It’s a time for courage. Whatever terrors you have to face, now is the time.

And there is another part of courage we all have to seize together. Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me some version of the question, “Isn’t it too late and hopeless anyway?”

There are a hundred arguments why the key strategies to mitigate climate disaster won’t work. Most solar panels are made in China using minerals mined at great environmental cost and then there’s the methane in the arctic lakes, all the tipping points we may have already crossed, And that’s just the science part. We have only just begun to demand real political and economic change and those systems don’t want to change. We may well not be able to bring our society to change quickly enough. And if we manage it here, will we be able to get China and India to join us? The odds seem awfully long on stopping CO2 emissions in the time frame scientists have said we must, if we want to avoid global calamity .

In 1938, when the allies signed the Munich agreement with Hitler to allow the Nazis to take Czechoslovakia in an attempt to deny the inevitable, people who warned of the encroaching tide of fascism were called “alarmists.” And then when the allied forces did go up against fascism, it looked hopeless. It looked like we had waited too long.

That’s what Hollywood portrayals of World War Two don’t show. They say they’re showing courage, the heroic battles in which good conquers evil in the real world. But the reality is that those French resistance fighters, those nurses in Blitz-torn London, those teenage girls holding the Eastern front in some Russian town, those Romani prisoners rebelling in a concentration camp, those boys on the Normandy beaches, those fighter pilots over the North Sea and those victory gardeners on the other side of the Atlantic waiting for husbands, sons and fathers to come home did not have good odds. We look back at them through the lens of what did happen. They fought and they won, so of course they had the courage to fight.

But it wasn’t an easy choice for many of them. There were times during the war when it looked very bleak. In our struggle now, it looks bleak. It looks like the risks we take and the sacrifices we make may be for nothing.

In that too, we need courage—not because we know we’ll win but because the only way to live well now is to fight this war against ignorance,

We are sorry but we must break the law

A rugged start in Extinction Rebellion deescalation practices

On a rainy Monday in Prague, a group of activists met in a neglected park near a major traffic artery -- Nervous, skittish and just beginning to pump adrenaline, they unfurled their banners in a few practice runs, getting them upside down more often than not.

The people I had trained as a deescalation team, mostly at the last minute in a rushed explanation of psychology--the prefrontal cortex, the door to the panic center of the brain and the principles of active listening--were so dazed that they repeatedly forgot to even go into action at all during the practice runs. About half of the deescalation team had done a few role-plays in my kitchen. That was it.

Rebel for life - Photo by XR Praha

Rebel for life - Photo by XR Praha

A large majority of us were first-time activists, barely having been to a few quiet (and completely legal) political rallies. And here they were preparing to flagrantly break the law.

But we got our signalling system drilled to the point where I was reasonably sure we wouldn't be hit by oncoming traffic and then we went into action.

Unsuspecting drivers whizzed by us while we politely waited at a red light. Then the first signaler called, "Blue team into action!" The small group with me started across the intersection unrolling our large blue banner, which read, "You can't outrun the climate crisis." . A minute later I vaguely heard the call "Green into action!" as the group with the green banner blocked the other axes of the intersection.

My deescalation teams were darting out into the traffic backed up in front of them, offering apologies, cookies and informative fliers along with their hastily trained active-listening and non-violent communication skills. Someone gave a warning shout about a motorcycle and I went for him.

I barely had to think of my calming techniques. My shoulders were relaxed, my hands nonthreatening as I loosely offered him a flyer. He smiled back at me under his visor and I thought things were going fine.

Then a van broke ranks behind him, lurched forward with aggressive honking and swearing. It had become clear that we were there to stay for at least a few minutes--seven minutes according to plan.

I immediately left the motorcycle driver and approached the van, which had stopped but continued to jerk forward in little starts toward our people at the banner. "I can see that you're upset," I said, forcing a little volume into my unwilling voice. "Can I help you?"

I never got the chance to exercise active listening and calm the driver down. By this time, our signal guy was bellowing at the driver with a megaphone and the van was physically pushing a teenage girl and a photographer into the middle of the intersection.

I think I said, "Please stop! This is dangerous!" The driver yelled incoherent curse words. I was torn with indecision for a second and then the chance to act was gone anyway.

Our safety people managed to get the two endangered individuals out of the way and I managed to stop the stream of cars behind the van by the simple expedience of stepping behind its bumper and standing still, thus avoiding a rush that would have seriously put the lives of my deescalation team--back in the traffic with cookies and fliers--at risk.

In the end, the crisis was averted but other drivers were upset because of the scene. One woman got out of her vehicle sobbing that her child was at home and she had to get to him, as if our protest truly heralded an immediate collapse of civilization. Our deescalation team hurried to listen, apologize and explain that we were only there for seven minutes. The tone reduced from panic to sullen angst.

Photo by XR Praha

Photo by XR Praha

Why take these risks, you might well ask, for a moment with a banner?

Of course, it isn't for the banner. Most of the drivers can't even see it. This is one of the basic tactics of Extinction Rebellion, one I was very skeptical about when I first joined. I wanted to protest big polluters and corrupt politicians. But as I read more and came to understand the psychological and socio-political dynamics of the situation I became less reticent.

This blockade, like every other Extinction Rebellion action, is part of a wave of disruption that forces the climate crisis into the forefront of everyone's minds and onto the front pages of every newspaper and the first minutes of every news broadcast. Without this disruption of the lives of ordinary people--without a shit-load of such disruptions--there is no way we will see change fast enough to avoid massive famine and economic collapse.

As just about every literate person on the planet has read by now, the latest IPCC report, which is a very conservative consensus of a lot of different scientific perspectives, gave us twelve years to solve the climate crisis if we wish to have any real hope of avoiding a vast collapse of our civilization and food-production systems.

That's not to say we have twelve years to START working on it. We have twelve years to implement changes in the global industrial economy so vast that there is really nothing to compare them to, though the build up to World War Two and the Marshal Plan combined are often invoked as an example solution. And so far, there is not one government on the planet that is truly taking it seriously.

But there is one that has at least pledged to do so, and that is the British government, where Extinction Rebellion really got started in April. The tactic of massive disruption achieved its first stated goal. The British government was forced to declare a climate emergency.

But more than that, it created an unprecedented storm of media coverage and public concern over climate change. Most of it wasn't even in support of Extinction Rebellion initially. But the more the media looked into it and the more people paid attention and read about the crisis, the more everyone realized how serious the crisis is.

We activists are not in a popularity contest. We are not out in the road risking our lives because we think that will convince someone to agree with us. We are an emergency siren. We are simply a wave of disruption that forced British society to wake up and pay attention and which will do the same in every place we can.

We are sorry. Really I am sorry. I want to apologize to the frightened woman with her child at home and to all the others who were just tired and heading home from work. We do not want to do this. I would apologize if I had to wake you up at night to warn you of a fire in the building, but I'd still do it. We have no choice but to disrupt life as usual and even to break the law. This is an emergency.

The unbreakable bonds: Who says animals don't adopt?

Three ducks and a pubescent hen waddle and peck their way around my yard. As I approach, one of the ducks--the black one--stands up straight and hisses at me. The other two ducks close ranks around the hen, which they consider to be a child, though she is quickly out-sizing them.

It all started last spring, when I surreptitiously deposited a few chicken eggs into the nest of the very broody black duck. I didn't have a drake, but I did have a rooster.

I also wanted baby chickens, but my hens are Australorps, which are perfect and wonderful in all ways, except motherhood. Somehow when their robust size, toughness and prolific production of large, pale eggs was bred into them, the mothering instinct was bred out. Most Astralorp chicks are raised in incubators.

Ducks%2Bchickens%2Bhen%2Battachment%2Bin%2Badoption%2Bgarden%2Bgreen%2Bbeauty%2B-%2Bmy%2Bimage.jpg

I tried to buy chicks. I searched all over the country. My husband drove many miles, grumbling loudly about his wife's obsession with pale eggs that can be colored in the spring. No one was selling this year. I finally agreed to get a different kind of hens, which despite proper security measures managed to get out of the chicken run. And then they were too stupid to come back before a fox ate them, leaving neat little piles of feathers in the woods behind our house.

Hence my egg plot. And it worked amazingly well. The black duck not only sat on them and hatched them, but also became a viciously protective mother, keeping cats, hawks and humans away from "her" babies. Her gray sisters were indifferent initially but as time went on, they became her vehement hench-ducks.

They did eventually lose two of the chicks, however, through no fault of their own. The chicks simply got bigger and gained more independence than survival instinct. My large yard, which the ducks live in is not exactly chick-proof. It has a fence only around part of it. About an eighth of the perimeter is nothing but a short drop off of a rock wall to the road.

Some ducks have managed to fall or fly off of this wall into the road and if not rounded up in time, they have been run over by cars or eaten by neighborhood dogs. But these three ducks have proved smarter than most and thus have lived happily in our yard for a year and a half without falling off the wall.

Two of the chicks were not so lucky. First one and then another disappeared, once they got old enough to wander a few feet away from their adoptive mother.

So, my husband and I finally decided that we had to save the last chick before he set off for a three-week trip with the kids and left me home alone with the ducks and chickens. The place for the hen is in the chicken coop with her own kind. Clearly.

Not according to adoption law, it isn't.

We spent an afternoon securing the chicken run in every conceivable way and then herding poultry by scrambling through brush and facing down the angry, pecking adoptive mother. Finally, we managed to get the chick inside the chicken run with the ducks outside and close the small door between the chicken run and our yard. I herded the remaining two adult hens and the chick inside the coop, With a sigh of relief, we closed the hens into the coop for the night.

Whew! At last. We went home in the dusk and fell into bed, exhausted. The ducks were up all night though, crying, calling mournfully into the darkness.

I lay awake in bed wracked with guilt. I am an adoptive mother after all. The cries of the duck mother were heart-rending. My own children were away at grandma's at the moment and glad as I was to have a much-needed break, the old fears always lurk around the edges.

Once while I was in the middle of my battle with unexplained infertility, I adopted a stray cat, who promptly had six kittens on my porch and then disappeared as soon as the kittens were half grown. I found homes for five of them and kept the weak runt of the litter, a beautiful little female kitten. When she was old enough, I got her fixed. I had used up every friend and acquaintance I knew who wanted a cat and that IS the responsible cat-owner thing to do.

My cat was devastated. She mooned after the young of other animals and even tried to adopt a neighbor's kitten. I was consumed by guilt and fear that a kind of karma would ensure that I would never have children. Miscarriage followed miscarriage and in the end, I never did have biological kids. A little part of me still wonders.

But my cat had never successfully adopted a kitten and I read a few pseudo-science pieces during our own adoption process, claiming that adoption is unwise because it is "unnatural" and while humans pretend to ourselves that we "love our adopted children just as much as we would a biological child," we are just deluding ourselves and setting ourselves up for a lifetime of heartache and family conflict. These articles point to the high degree of marriage breakdown and attachment disorders in adoptive families as evidence.

And as my family struggled and foundered with first one kid with attachment disorder and then another with significant neurological disabilities, a small part of me sometimes wondered about those articles in the dark hours of the night. Was all this, our adoptions, our whole family, just doomed from the start? Was I fated to be forever alone without any children that were truly mine? Or had I somehow jinxed it by getting that cat fixed all those years ago?

If you've never faced hard family choices or built a family out of rubble and ashes, you may think I"m silly. But these are the things we don't talk about out loud very much.

My husband and I hung on through storms that do, according to statistics, tear the vast majority of families apart--infertility, attachment disorder and having a neurologically and behaviorally disabled child -- to name a few such rocks and shoals.

And now this. The crying mother duck in the night. By the next morning she was hoarse and exhausted but still crying out for her disappeared, last-surviving child.

I went up the hill and let the chickens out of the coop and into their enclosed chicken run. We had put a roof on it and secured every corner and nook. I was sure the chick was far too large by this point to fit through any of the little holes in the wire.

I went back down the hill to have breakfast. And after breakfast I went out into the garden, only to find the happy family, the mother duck, the overprotective aunties and their wayward adopted child, all pecking around the raspberry bushes.

Somehow--that chick had gotten out. That afternoon my husband and I grimly worked on the chicken run again, We closed pieces of mesh wire into the gate, so that even around the hinges there would be no way out. I also got a large pair of heavy sheers ready in my pocket.

We then herded the ducks and chick again. This time was much harder. They knew what we were doing and they protected the chick valiantly. It took a lot of scratches and pecks but we finally got all of them into the chicken run. Then, I grabbed the chick, while my husband herded the wildly squawking ducks out again. I then handed the sheers to my husband and let him clip the chick's wings to be on the safe side.

Again, we left the chick inside with the hens and again the ducks spent another miserable, grief-stricken night. The next morning, I let the chick and the hens out into the chicken run and watched for awhile as the chick tried to force her way into the space around the gate. Sure enough, that was how she'd done it last time. Well, with that mesh stuffed in there, she wasn't going anywhere.

I went down the hill again.

And when I came out to check two hours later, there was not a duck nor a chick to be seen. The adult hens were still there, but not the rest. I checked everywhere in the chicken run and coop. The chick was gone. And so were the ducks from the yard.

I was panicked, realizing that when their family was threatened, the ducks had done what any of us would do in the last extremity. They had gone on the run.

I started a desperate search of every inch of the yard and garden, including the street below the rock wall. Finally, in the last place I could think to look, I found them, all hiding together under the kids' trampoline.

I was just about ready to give up, but my husband was leaving for the three-week trip in the morning and the fact was--I will remind you--that our primary reason for trying to put this chick in with the hens was the untimely deaths of her two siblings. This adoptive home had not turned out to be safe.

So, one last time, we checked the entire chicken run, made a new and better roof and made sure that there was no way in the world an animal larger than a golf ball could escape from it. Then we herded the ducks and the chick with grim finality until we separated the chick and locked her inside the chicken run.

Then, I got my tablet with some work to do on it and sat on a rock near the chicken run to watch. I was taking no chances this time. She spent an hour on top of the chicken coop, trying to fly through the new roof and she wandered around to every corner of the chicken run, trying to get out. After another hour, I was convinced that she was stuck and I finally went home.

The next morning... You guessed it. The chick was back with the ducks and my husband was gone and herding unwilling poultry alone is a losing battle.

So, the unnatural laws of adoptive family solidarity have won for now. The chick has now grown into a young pubescent hen, ready to lay her first eggs. She follows the ducks through rainstorms, while other self-respecting chickens hide in their coops. She doesn't go swimming in the duck pond, but she watches from nearby.

She cannot physically survive this way much longer. Cold, wet autumn winds would give her pneumonia if she lived like a duck in the wet and rain. Someday, she'll have to get in touch with her trans-species adopted roots, just as my children will no doubt need to go their own way someday, but for now she is still convinced she's a duck.

Conflict Resolution: A manual for inclusive resistance, social justice and environmental defense groups

Conflict resolution is a process using the principles of non-violent communication in which we explore the competing needs that lead to arguments, tension and conflict among people.

In Extinction Rebellion, we are working together toward the same goal. But we may have different ideas of how to do that. Some of us may be focused on our particular tasks and not realize that our actions somehow interfere with the tasks of other rebels. We may find ourselves in a situation where resources we need are scarce. Sometimes another rebel may cause another’s needs to go unmet, usually unintentionally.

Creative Commons image by charlieCe of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by charlieCe of Flickr.com

This is how conflict arises in all activist and volunteer groups. It is inevitable. We have learned from generations of civil disobedience and non-violent protest movements around the world that internal conflict is the single greatest threat to our movements, much more destructive than any outside hostile force. Most non-violent protest movements that fail collapse or gradually decline, due to internal conflict.

And yet, we have also learned from experience that suppressing conflict, pretending it isn’t there, smoothing it over or forcibly shutting it down do not work. In the long-run, suppressed  conflict returns in one form or another and the longer it simmers, the more disruptive it becomes.

Therefore, we must find ways to resolve conflict which actually mitigate harm to all. The key to that kind of resolution is recognizing and meeting everyone’s needs to the best of our ability. Conflict resolution is the process of understanding and then meeting those needs, so that conflict dissipates rather than simmering or disrupting.

What standards guide conflict resolution?

We developed this guide for Regenerative Culture workers in Extinction Rebellion in the Czech Republic but it can be used effectively by anyone working in community, social or volunteer organizations. Here are some principles and standards that will help.

  • We recognize that conflict is inevitable. There is no need for shame or blame when conflict arises. Non-violent communication is the primary tool in conflict resolution.

  • If it is necessary to intervene with someone who is behaving in a disruptive or abusive manner, we do not confront this person in public online spaces. We use the non-violent communication process to address the problem directly and openly either in person, if at all possible, or in private messages, if a personal meeting is impossible.

  • If a conflict between two or more rebels affects the group or threatens to harm a group, the conflict resolution process is open to the group. Conflict that affects the group’s functioning is not a private matter. It affects us all.

  • Conflict resolution can be carried out within a local group or a working group autonomously using this handbook and non-violent communication skills. If a conflict resolution team is available to mediate, mediation may be called for.

  • We are committed to confronting elements of the toxic system which cause harm to vulnerable groups. If a conflict involves social exclusion, bullying, racism, misogyny, ableism, nationalism, homophobia or other manifestations of toxic social systems, we take this into account and confront these systems and their residues in ourselves.

  • Mediation will favor more socially vulnerable persons, if there is an accusation of harassment or bullying.

What practical guidelines will help ensure these standards?

  • Review and renew your group’s principles and values against discrimination/oppressive behaviors and for inclusion, equality and ethics. Hearing this announced to the group periodically has been proven in studies to decrease incidence of harassment as well as social exclusion in groups. It also makes vulnerable demographics feel welcome and safe.

  • Make clear at the start of trainings and intermittently in meetings that non-violent communication ought to be used and is part of your commitment to non-violence.

  • Review and renew your shared vision. In Extinction Rebellion, we are all fighting for our lives. When we have conflict between us, it is crucial to take a moment to bring forward the awareness that the person or people standing on the other side of the tension from me are fighting for their lives as well, possibly in a different way or with different priorities or communication/work styles.

  • Encourage short feedback loops in listening - feeding back in real time something that you had a reaction to, e.g. ‘It sounded to me as though your tone was a little tense just then. Is that correct/is everything OK?’ or ‘I don’t like it when you call me that - I feel very uncomfortable when this interaction happens,’ as long as these remain within the non-violent communication structure of observation without evaluation and statements of feelings in reaction.

  • Encourage a “step forward/step back“ attitude - taking personal responsibility and self awareness, making space for others to speak/be seen when one has been prominent for whatever reason OR challenging ourselves to speak up if we don’t usually.

  • NO GOSSIP policy: NO conflicts to be taken on social media at any point.


There are two processes for conflict resolution

  • Process ONE is for situations in which all participants in a conflict can meet.

  • Process TWO is for situations in which participants cannot meet because it would not be safe and there is a risk of harm to someone.

Process ONE

This is a Clearing Process for dealing with conflict--mutual or highlighted by one party. This requires both parties and a facilitator to be in the same space and only works if all participants agree to follow the process and bring good intention and a listening ear.

Agree a time and comfortable space to meet, agree on length of process and make sure you have everything you need, e.g. water, tissues etc 

Use I statements and allow time for reflection and pauses in process. 

Step 1: Setting up the atmosphere and intention

  • All participants to share some element of gratitude, e.g. ‘the sunshine on my walk here’

  • All participants to share their intentions - how they will conduct themselves through the process and how they’d like to feel at the end, e.g. ‘I will try and listen with an open mind and I’d like to feel at peace with you/this situation and be able to work well together’

Step 2: Seeking unity on the Facts:

  • One or the other party in a conflict may volunteer to go first. If an accusation is at the center of the conflict, the accuser should generally go first. If it is difficult to agree who should go first, flip a coin.

  • Person A shares their perception of the facts of what happened, the time, context, content etc. What would a video camera have observed? (No interruptions beyond reminders to avoid evaluation or judgmental terminology. Time limits may be set and may be amended if there is need.)

  • Person B does the same.

  • Facilitator: Observe where the facts are the same and where they are different. Acknowledging that two different perceptions may both be honest and authentic. We perceive differently from different perspectives.

Step 3: Awareness of feelings

  • Person A shares when they first felt negative emotions in the interaction, e.g. “when you said, xyz I felt angry.” Ask person A to try and go deeper into what is under the initial reaction ‘under the anger, I felt undermined/afraid.’ Get to the most basic feeling. 

  • Remind participants that the fact that someone feels something is a fact. The feeling is indisputable and does not imply blame. We are ultimately responsible for our feelings ourselves. Empathy lies in acknowledging the difficulty others experience when they feel negative feelings.

  • Peron B reflects back, e.g. “I hear that you felt angry when I said xyz and below the anger you felt that I was undermining you and you were afraid.”

  • Any clarification needed?

  • Peron B can then share how they feel in that moment in regards to what A has shared and how they felt during the triggering interaction.

  • Person A reflects back what they have heard. Any clarification?

  • Ask both participants to reflect silently or openly if they wish on previous experiences when they felt the same difficult emotions they experienced in this interaction. How is the situation different this time?

  • Ask both participants if they want to ask for forgiveness for any hurt that was caused, any action that was out of alignment with that person’s good intentions, any ripple effects that came from that person's words/actions.

Step 4: Awareness of needs

  • Both participants now reflect and share needs, e.g. “I need time and attention to take a breath before responding in the heat of the moment, I need reassurance that my work is valued, I need to clear boundaries to feel safe in interactions.”

  • Guide participants to break down their needs to universal human needs, rather than requests for specific actions at this time. “Reassurance” is a universal human need. “For you to reassure me” is a specific request.

  • Each participant reflects back what they have heard the other participant needs. The needs are statements of fact. That a person has a universal human need isn’t disputable.

  • Needs may conflict. It is not automatically the responsibility of the other party to meet the needs spoken. Solutions may begin to become apparent at this stage though. We resolve conflict by first developing empathy by understanding each other’s perceptions and feelings and by finding creative solutions in which everyone’s needs are met.

Step 5: Making requests

  • Personal A may have requests of the other person, eg “Would you be willing to…” Requests may attempt to find a way to ensure that needs will not conflict.

  • Person B may agree or say, ‘No, but I could do …’ also with meeting the needs of all in mind. Note that self-sacrificing so that one’s own needs are overly delayed will likely not be sustainable.

  • Person B may have requests, also begining with the word, “Would you be willing to…”

  • Person A may agree or offer a different solution. 

Step 6: Finding resolution

  • Review action points that A and B are taking away.

  • Agree on times for A and B to check in again soon.

  • A and B reflect on how they feel at the end of the process and what they take away from it. Give gratitude as appropriate.

  • Check in with A and B later to make sure the follow up check in between them happens. Some issues may require another cleaning process, if something new has arisen.  

Process TWO

 In case of individual feeling unsafe to go through Clearing Process with other person present this procedure for dealing with cases of harassment, bullying or unwelcome behavior is in place.

 If a complaint of harassment, bullying, ostracism or unwelcome behavior is brought to the attention of the Conflict Resolution Team, prompt action must be taken to investigate the matter and action taken to remedy the complaint.

Anyone who wishes to make a complaint of harassment, bullying or unwelcome behavior is encouraged to first discuss matters with someone who they trust, ideally a Group Coordinator or someone from the Regenerative Culture Group. This is to take some time to get clear on what happened and how to engage with the process, e.g. finding a facilitator to hold the Clearing Process and approaching the other person to see if they will engage with process

If the person feels unable/unsafe to sit in the Clearing then the advocate can approach them on the complainant’s behalf. The complainant does not need to prove they are unsafe. However, complaints should be clear and specific, when brought to Process 2. Counseling may be sought from the Regenerative Culture group in order to clarify complaints.

It may be possible in this way to resolve the issue by getting the individual(s) in question to see how their behavior could be classed as harassment or bullying and to agree to desist from that behavior. Very often people are not aware that their behavior is unwelcome or misunderstood and an informal discussion can lead to greater understanding and agreement that the behavior will cease. Complainants are therefore encouraged to try, if they feel able to do so, to resolve the problem informally by making it clear to the alleged harasser that their actions are unwanted and should not be repeated.

An individual, who is made aware that their behavior is unacceptable, is asked to:

  • Listen carefully to the complaints and the particular concerns raised;

  • Respect the other person’s point of view; everyone has a right to work in an environment free from harassment, ostracism, intimidation, discrimination and social exclusion;

  • Understand and acknowledge that the other person’s reaction/perception to another’s behavior (the impact) is more important than the intention behind the behavior;

  • Agree the aspects of behavior that will change;

  • Review their general conduct/behavior when working with others.

  • Confirm that they actively want to follow respectful and inclusive principles and values. Failure to do so could result in them being asked to discontinue association with the group, regardless of what seniority, authority or responsibility they have attained in the group.

If, between the complainant and the supporting individual the issue seems too complex or serious to handle alone, a meeting of some members of the Conflict Resolution group and those trained in non-violent communication and Peacemaking can be called to look at the details of what has happened and decide on appropriate course of action.

When dealing with a complaint of harassment in this way, 

  • Full details of the incident(s) should be taken in writing from the complainant and their supporting person (if appropriate). Complaints need to be as clear, objectively-worded and specific as possible to enable specific resolution.

  • Full details should be taken from any witnesses/other complainants who come forward and may have witnessed the alleged behavior

  • The alleged harasser should be informed of the complaints against them. They should be invited to a meeting in order that they can comment on the allegations against them. 

  • People’s involvement with the group could be frozen whilst investigations are being made.

  • All parties need to be kept informed of expected timescales for how the situation will be dealt with.

  • All parties should be fully informed of the outcome and any action that may be required.

A decision will be reached collectively by appropriate members of the Conflict Resolution Group, and any appropriate Coordinators as to the best course of action, working with the complainant to ensure they find the course of action acceptable to their sense of safety and peace of mind. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • Making clear to the harasser that they are no longer able to work with the group (in sufficiently serious cases).  

  • Giving a warning that the harasser will only be able to continue working with the group if their behavior does not revert, at which point they will be asked to leave.         

  • Finding a way for the complainant and harasser to work in different groups where they will have little overlap. The complainant should be given priority in where they want to work.

  • In more serious cases: The group may announce publicly that they are not associated with the person in question or a restraining order may be placed.

  • False accusations of harassment or other inappropriate behavior—found to be false through investigation—may also result in the group distancing from the complainant.

Instances of harassment, bullying and unwelcome behavior are rarely neatly defined, and processes dealing with them will require flexibility. As such, some flexibility from the above procedure is both likely and acceptable (i.e. doesn’t necessarily invalidate the entire process).

A line drawn in stone

What precisely separates Extinction Rebellion from Nazis, Stalinists and other massive, disruptive movements?

There once was a young man named Thomas who grew up in poverty and without hope, until one day a leader and a movement came and gave him hope and something to fight for.

He marched and demonstrated for a better future. He worked alongside others like him and felt the thrill of idealism and the bond of solidarity.

But his movement was the Hitler Youth. And as an old man he gave me a warning.

In another time and another place, there was a seventeen-year-old girl named Marie who followed a more decentralized, grassroots movement. She too had seen hardship and despair all around her. This movement wasn't just against something. It was for something--for equality and justice.

She knew hope and was willing to die for her cause. As an old woman living in the ashes and rubble of the Soviet Union, she showed me the Stalinist pins she collected that year she was seventeen.

Creative Commons image by Eric Wüstenhagen

Creative Commons image by Eric Wüstenhagen

After decades passed and the world changed, there was a young student of nineteen named Jan, idealistic, yet savvy. He'd studied all of the history and he knew to be on guard against power-hungry leaders. He beat the pavement and struggled none-the-less.

His band of anarchists and revolutionaries organized a few anti-globalization demonstrations, kept their independence and managed not to fall into the pitfalls of the past. But finally bickering and exhaustion took them down. Jan left his ideals behind and joined the exploitative world of unsustainable business-as-usual he had once raged against.

Again time rolled by and now there is a sixteen-year-old girl named Josefina wielding hope against despair. There is a movement and a stark black symbol on a flag.

This time the fight is not just against poverty, hunger and injustice, though it is about all that. It is a fight for our very lives, for the last hope of a future where our children will even be alive.

If there has ever been a worthy struggle, this is it.

All around the world, people are rallying and demanding change. I have been in activism for thirty-odd years and I have never seen a movement grow like this, doubling in weeks, raising people out of quiet backwaters in the middle of a sweltering, lazy summer to come to meetings and organize action.

i was sixteen when I met Thomas and I didn't judge him because he had never been in it for hatred and he regretted it. And because I too wished for a movement that would give me hope. I only knew I didn't want to fall for something corrupted as he had and idealism seemed a discredited thing for a lost generation.

I was twenty-five when I sat with Marie and I had been an activist but I didn't feel I belonged anywhere. A lot of my friends said they just weren't joiners, but I wanted to be a joiner. I just didn't see anything worth joining.

There were causes and activist organizations, but many of them had all the warning signs of cliquish social exclusivity, abuse of power, cult-like dynamics, unreliability, lack of accountability or demands that were either too watered down and vague or too specific and exclusionary. Even Jan's movement, though I personally liked him, had many of those flaws.

Now, I am forty-three and I stand in awe next to Josefina on the front line of an Extinction Rebellion blockade. This is where I make my stand.

Here in the Czech Republic an internet meme recently appeared showing the XR hourglass symbol with the caption: "The Nazis had the swastika. The Stalinists had the hammer. The climate-ists have this."

And most of our rebels just laughed at it. They made fun of it and passed it around on the internet as a joke. "Haha. How twisted!" But I didn't laugh.

What is it exactly that separates us from the early Nazis or Stalinists or other "idealistic" movements that went bad and turned to genocide?

We either answer that question unequivocally or we have no right to call the likes of Josefina to stand with us.

We are vast and incredibly fast growing. We are uncompromising in our convictions and we're willing to do almost anything to achieve our goals. We are willing to disrupt the lives of ordinary people.

We demand sacrifices for the greater good and for the future. We are done talking and discussing. When climate deniers come along and want to engage us in a long discussion about the science, we send them a few documents and then block them on social media if necessary.

Ain't nobody got time for that. We are in a fight for our lives and the lives of our children.

So, what is it? What makes us the good kind of massive, disruptive mob?

We are non-violent. Sure, we are, but not every climate activist is. And many an idealistic movement started out declaring non-violence. We like to talk about Gandhi and the US civil rights movement. And those are good examples but not every social movement that starts out non-violent ends that way and some end up simply being the non-violent wing of something that goes bad.

So, I don't think it is a laughing matter to ask this question. We ourselves say we are facing the very real likelihood of massive death, caused by climate change. Is it so hard to imagine that in ten years, as the crisis deepens and great numbers of people are thrown into desperation for survival, that our massive, coordinated movement could become a force for hurt?

It is not hard for me to imagine and that is why I am determined to put my energies into a safeguard.

Non-violence is a good start. But it is the concept of Regenerative Culture, developed over generations of activist experience, from the US civil rights movement to the anti-nuclear blockades in the UK, through the anti-fracking movement to today's Extinction Rebellion, that makes this movement different.

As my readers know, I'm mostly blind and I've seen my share of social exclusion and bad human behavior in my time. When I walked into my first Extinction Rebellion meeting, I had my doubts and skepticism. I'd seen enough examples of flaky, egotistical and/or slapdash activist groups to be wary.

And that first meeting blew my mind. Not only were they organized but there was a welcoming and friendly atmosphere that I have rarely encountered in groups of any kind. I didn't know it then, but that atmosphere was no accident caused by the people in the room just happening to be well-adjusted and nice.

It comes from a consciously developed and conscientiously implemented practice called "Regenerative Culture," which incorporates social inclusion, mutual support, conscious awareness, rigorous non-violent communication training, social sustainability and self care.

The concept of Regenerative Culture is not a nice, fluffy extra added onto Extinction Rebellion activities to make good atmosphere at meetings and sing songs during blockades. Instead it is the bedrock on which the foundations of the movement have been laid.

That is why we are different and as long as we don't ever lose sight of it, it will guarantee we don't go either toward tyranny or toward dissolution. At its core, Regenerative Culture is that line, a line that must be drawn in stone, not in sand.

The fact is that everyone thinks they are the good guys. Thomas thought he was just reaching for hope. Marie thought she was standing for justice. Jan was convinced that his activist group, not the one next door, was the only hope for social justice.

And in Extinction Rebellion we are equally convinced that we are right. We have now ninety-nine percent of climate scientists saying we are correct that human activities are destabilizing our climate, that this will have devastating and lethal effects and that we have a few short years to change course. We have reason to be staunch in our convictions.

The difference lies in how we treat one another first and second how we treat others.

The elements of Regenerative Culture are:

  • Non-violence in action

  • Non-violent communication

  • Respectful behavior toward all, including those who insult, jail, beat or kill us

  • Mutual support materially and emotionally

  • Acceptance of everyone and every part of every one

  • No shame and no blame

  • Rotating roles of power

  • A focus on amplifying the voices of underrepresented population groups

  • Self-care and prevention of burn-out

It is impossible to convey the entirety of Regenerative Culture in one post. I will be posting more about this, including this week’s post on conflict resolution in groups for inclusive resistance, social justice and environmental defense here.