Letter to fellow rebels


21st August 2019

Dear Fellow Rebels,

I hope you are all well. These are not the easiest of times in which to keep oneself on an even keel.

I am sharing here some of the thoughts that have occurred to me over the summer. Some of my thinking has benefited from exchanges with others. I have also read through Dr Read’s pamphlet, which can be found online.

I realise we all wish to have our tuppence worth so I will keep this reasonably short. I am afraid I couldn’t make the People’s Assembly being held in Bath last week; the best I could do was send a short list of suggested activity on Thursday evening. I think I have also missed a deadline for submissions – the 18th August 2019 – suggested by Extinction Rebellion, due to other commitments, including my plea hearing following my arrest at the International Rebellion in the Spring. This is as soon as I have been able to get something more detailed down.

First of all, I am glad strategy is being discussed, and input sought. I think it is important to keep aims, objectives, and strategies under review, and to take an analytical approach. This goes for the ‘centre’ of the organism, as well as for regional and local groups.

I was not entirely persuaded of the aims, objectives, and seeming strategy of Extinction Rebellion at the outset: I did feel though that the cause was just and that a useful, identifiable channel for direct action had been opened. Over time, some concerns have fallen away, whilst others remain. That said, I felt able to take part in the International Rebellion, and had come to see it by the Spring as a way of doing my moral duty as regards the emergency situation, as was indicated by the likes of Dr Rowan Williams, Satish Kumar, and numerous others I hold in high esteem. I have been pleased at some developments. Much, I think, has already been achieved; much remains to be done.

I am not going to discuss here the three main demands of the movement. Instead I will describe our general task, as I see it, and where Extinction Rebellion may fit in.

I think of the human system as a set of institutional and physical structures. The set of all our institutions can be broken down in a number of ways. There are institutions and there are households, for example. We are in the UK, which is a particular set of institutions and households. Institutions and households can be thought of in terms of classes. In the institutional structure, responsibility and power tends to be found at the top of hierarchies, in the hands of elected officials (MPs in the House of Commons), unelected officials (senior civil servants, senior judiciary, senior armed services) and unelected officers of corporations (Chief Executives and Executive Directors). The people in these roles tend to come from the two most materially wealthy classes of households (ultra high net worth, and high net worth) whereas the majority of the public in the UK – and worldwide – do not (they are of middle, low, or ultra low net worth). We might call this – the commanding heights of our most significant institutions, the occupants of elite roles, and the households they come from – the ‘head’ of the human system, such as it is. The body, following that analogy, comprises the rest of the institutional structure, which tends to be staffed by the members of medium, low, and ultra low net worth households.

We are trying to achieve the implementation of appropriate public policy in the UK, as elsewhere, within a necessarily short time frame : in a matter of months, rather than years. Nature is playing its part. I like to ask myself which institutions and households need to do what, when, and, if appropriate, in what order?

I think the XR organism and rebels can help by : (i) continuing to communicate the emergency situation, including its relevance, our capacity to respond, and moral duty (at once delegitimising offending actors, structures and behaviours) through a number of means (see below); and (ii) non violently building what is required and/or blocking offenders and offences, causing moral dilemmas for members of both head and body.

I believe (i) could be achieved through leafleting/door knocking/telephone calling every household, everywhere, as far as possible, combined with leafleting at key city centre and transport hubs; and by publicly engaging and challenging publicly named officials and officers (members of the ‘head’), and trade and student unions and professional associations including, for example, the Magistrates Association (members of the ‘body’). People need to be educated as to their (world-historic) moral duty, and called to it, particularly those in certain positions in the structure (e.g. the police).

I think (ii) ought to include both ongoing, decentralised activity, and ad hoc pulses of more centralised activity, as has roughly been the case.

In urban areas, I believe (ii) could include recurrent pedestrianisation of city centres, allowing walking, cycling, and emergency access, in London and the regions (as I think was done in Cambridge this summer). As for particular sites, key headquarters and operations of offending institutions should be targeted.

In rural areas, similarly, key offending institutions and physical structures should be targeted. Uninvited protection of nature (rangers) might be more straightforward than rewilding in the first instance. Perhaps agroecology could be attempted in places (modern day Diggers).

London obviously has a disproportionate share of the headquarters of the most significant institutions. In addition to targeting key headquarters and operations, I wonder whether there is merit in a programme of publicised warrants and citizen’s arrests, focusing on key offending officials and officers, for use in non-household spaces.

Across the country, urban or rural, I wonder whether some of our most urgent social needs could be met through action : e.g. housing stress, hunger, poverty. Robin Hood remains popular for a reason. Perhaps something could be done about the ‘school run’ too.

The ad hoc, centralised activity may have the role of precipitating moments in the life of the nation in which the head and the body are challenged to, like the school strikers, do something extraordinary. What becomes possible when resources are focused in London, rather than diffused around the regions? What is London’s place in the structure of the country and global society? I have thought less about the centralised activity at the time of writing, but in thinking about these two things, there are clues to appropriate action.

Last, I think rebels need to recognise the contribution of other parts of the system – beyond Extinction Rebellion. In particular, I have been concerned at the failure so far of Opposition Parties to form an electoral alliance of some kind, minimising the chances of another or an even more dangerous government being returned in the event of a General Election, which will be held under the First Past the Post System. I believe mass participation in what might be called full spectrum politics is required, including NVDA, rather than a retreat from conventional structures and practices. I recommend the work of Compass in this regard, at the moment; I have today contributed the letter I sent a few weeks ago to Wera Hobhouse MP, in Bath, to their discussion, on that score. I still regard Extinction Rebellion as an additional – much needed – channel in the spectrum, and not an alternative to others.

So much for a short letter. I hope it is useful.

Yours faithfully,

Jonathan Oates