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OPINION: On The Ground With Extinction Rebellion In Amsterdam

The wave of public support for climate change action shows no sign of slowing. Hot on the heels of Greta Thunberg’s Global Climate Strikes is Amsterdam’s Rebel Without Borders; a non-violent, civil disobedience protest calling for governments to stop talking and take action.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll likely have spotted the Extinction Rebellion non-violent protests taking over your newsfeed of late. From the 7th to the 13th October, climate activists were out in force in cities across the globe with one common goal: to ensure governments across the world tell the truth about climate change and start taking action. We caught up with activist Johanna Lehmann who was on the ground in Amsterdam during the latest civil disobedience movement. Read on to find out what went down, what XR is fighting for, and how you can join the cause.

A first-time climate activist

A group of people protesting
Peaceful protesters out in force during the Extinction Rebellion movement in Amsterdam

A typical, rainy autumn week in Amsterdam has just come to an end. But in my household, this was far from the average week. Alongside my four-year-old daughter and husband, I’ve been busy for seven days in a row supporting a climate activist group called Extinction Rebellion. From re-posting its actions on social media and handing out leaflets and flyers, to attending events such as the blockade at Rijksmuseum or the “die-in” at Dam Square; it’s been an exciting week. The non-violent and peaceful protests allowed me to voice my concern in a bid to finally get governments to take action and meaningfully address the climate crisis.

This form of activism is new to me. I have always been super enthusiastic about living a conscious lifestyle and being as green as possible. But I have never been involved in any protests or activist groups. Part of the reason is that I always considered those groups as too extreme and negative. But for me, it all changed when I came across Extinction Rebellion. It’s an inclusive group that represents all parts of society, and I felt compelled to get involved upon meeting them.

What is Extinction Rebellion?

Extinction Rebellion, or XR for short, describes itself as “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse”. It comprises a diverse group of ordinary people like students, parents and teenagers who aim to protect the future of life on Earth. The team in Amsterdam explained that through peaceful, creative and disruptive actions, they attempt to halt the effects of the climate and ecological crisis. Founded in May 2018 in the UK, it’s growing fast with members in 54 countries and 631 cities worldwide.

What is it fighting for?

Governments around the world are not doing enough to deal with the climate and ecological crises, and rebels are concerned about the future of life on this planet. A local spokeswoman told me; “Extinction Rebellion wants the government to acknowledge the climate crisis and do more to protect its citizens and all life on earth. It’s important to state that we are a non-violent, social-political movement with people like you and me.” I felt I could relate to this sentiment and what it was trying to achieve.

Protestors outside a bank
Making our voices heard outside ABN AMRO

But it hit home when I witnessed a group of local rebels in Amsterdam standing peacefully outside of ABN Amro (the largest Dutch bank) singing and chanting. In 2017, ABN Amro still invested about 80% of its energy loans to fossil fuel companies. “How can this be possible?”, the spokeswoman asked me. While I don’t have the answer, I know that by supporting the movement, I can do my part. We must hold banks and governments accountable for their actions and policies. According to Extinction Rebellion, we no longer have time to spare to limit the damage caused by climate change and imminent loss of biodiversity to the planet. Rebels without Borders provides a platform for us all to speak up and reinforce the three XR demands.

Three demands? Tell me more…

The Extinction Rebellion movement demands action on three points:

  1. Tell the truth: Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency and work with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now: Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics: Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

How will Citizen Assemblies help? 

Citizens’ Assemblies are a new forum constructed to make essential decisions in a way that is fair and highly democratic. On its website, it describes the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice as a group of ordinary people who investigate, discuss and make recommendations on how to respond to the climate emergency. Those members will be randomly selected from across the country, reflecting a fair representation of different gender, age, ethnicity, education level and geography. Non-governmental organisations will run the assembly under independent oversight. The concept of these assemblies seems to work, and examples include countries like Ireland, Canada, Australia, Belgium and PolandIreland’s Citizens’ Assembly, for instance, was able to break the deadlock on two controversial issues: same-sex marriage and abortion. The output of a subsequent Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change was a series of recommendations which then got incorporated into the Irish government’s action plan.

A group of people protesting
Get involved and make your voice heard!

Sounds interesting, what’s the best way to get involved?

There are loads of different ways to get involved, but as part of the “Rebels without Borders” week, it asked for participation in the following ways: 

  1. Join as a concerned citizen and come with the whole family. Dress up and show up! Every little bit helps. 
  2. Support. There are many risk-free support roles needed for making the Extinction Rebellion actions a success, like providing warm food to the rebels or taking part in a performance. 
  3. Join introductions and training to get to know them better, and to participate actively in protests where you can.

Extinction Rebellion is active all over the world. If you want to check out how you can get involved in your local area, take a peek at its website and local groups in your city.