How Extinction Rebellion Inadvertently Stoked A Class War

Extinction Rebellion protests on Thursday.  (Photo: Screenshot)

There’s no other way to say it, the Extinction Rebellion protests at Canning Town, Shadwell and Stratford tube stations were a total failure. The activists’ decision to block trains in areas that are historically poor, and with large migrant and diaspora communities, reeked of the privileged class’s lack of consideration for working communities. These groups should never have been the target, and yet these protests have disproportionately affected them.

Many zero-hour contract workers and manual labourers will have their pay docked or be sent home if they turn up late for work or miss a shift. That hard-earned money is used to support families, both in the UK and abroad – often in places where climate change is devastating lives. Did the activists consider this when they planned their action?

A couple of weeks ago, floods in Bangladesh put four million people at risk of food shortages and disease. Bangladeshi nationals living in the UK – 70% of whom live in London – will be commuting to work in order to raise funds to send back home. Why should they have to pay the price for inaction of global governments?

The climate crisis is an urgent issue that we need to face – action needs to be taken. Despite our “well, we’re all going to die soon anyway!” jokes, there’s a current of pain underlying it, because it’s no longer a joke. The reality is that our planet doesn’t have long left to survive us.

The global crisis of climate change affects our individual lives, the lives of the working class and immigrant communities – it’s not just a fight for the planet, it’s for humans. 

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Yet, the irony of middle class, predominantly white activists gluing themselves to an electric tube train is not lost on me. One 83-year-old man who participated was captured in a video circulating on social media saying he wanted to “wake up people and say: ‘Please open your eyes – see what’s happening to you and your grandchildren’.” The sentiment is there, but the action is misguided.

Gluing his hand to an electric train in a working class and migrant area doesn’t send the message he clearly hoped for. And that’s a huge blow for all of us because we do need people to stand up and notice what’s happening to our planet. But all targeting public transport did was create class division and it has created misdirected anger.

The real problem with climate change sits on the shoulders of the elite – the focus should be put on them. If direct action needs to be taken, then it should be with the rich, the government and the large companies who are hedging pension funds. 

XR has been known to take missteps in their action, which has been pointed out by groups such as Black Lives Matter UK and Wretched of the Earth. The group has previously sent flowers and a card to a police detention centre after their release, with critics accusing them of lacking awareness over police brutality among the black community. And we can’t forget that race and class are intrinsically linked.

XR has helped raise awareness of the climate crisis we’re facing and are fighting to be heard. So much so that they have clogged up news channels around the world. The BBC building I’m currently sitting in has raised security because someone glued themselves to the building last week. But now I fear that we’ll talk just about the group’s actions instead of the urgent message behind the protests.

If XR begin to take on criticism and work with the working class, this can change. Just as white people can no longer sideline black and asians voices in their discussions about diversity, we cannot allow for the working class to be left out of conversations about their very survival.

There’s a very real risk that future climate protests in London won’t be taken seriously if they continue to cause clashes within communities. This would give those in power the ability to mock the actions of the few and throws a blanket statement of negativity over this important conversation.

The biggest issue we face with climate change is the use of fossil fuels, corrupting our lands and directly affecting indigenous communities. Rising sea levels, natural disasters and oil crises are affecting countries that don’t reap the rewards from people gluing themselves to various objects. XR must change its strategy if they want all of us on board.

 Sharan Dhaliwal is a writer and editor of Burnt Roti magazine

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.