Year on year, statistics show the deterioration of the climate crisis. In response, a group of environmental activists and understandably worried scientists came together to set up Extinction Rebellion (XR) in October 2018.
In line with their call to 'act now', the group went on to perform numerous acts of civil disobedience – including the occupation of five central locations in London in April 2019.
It was during the April rebellion that Extinction Rebellion began to gain the attention – and the momentum – that brought its aims into the mainstream. (It's hard to ignore someone when they're standing in your way with a giant pink octopus.)
From the initial group of around 100 activists and scientists, XR has since morphed into a popular movement for change. In October 2019, more than 30,000 activists took to the streets in London as part of the International Rebellion: a worldwide show of civil disobedience that called for governments and businesses to take urgent action on climate breakdown.
So, how has the group mobilised so many people within such a short timeframe? What is it that makes them different? The answer, at least in part, lies with the group's commitment to 'regenerative culture'.
The creation of a regenerative culture is one of Extinction Rebellion's core principles. According to the group's website, it is a culture that is 'healthy, resilient, and adaptable'. As part of this goal, XR strives to create spaces where individuals feel accepted, welcome, and valued. This is as true for international protests as it is for localised meetings, where regenerative culture workshops and activities form a central part of the agenda. For example, at XR York, each meeting starts with an optional 'active listening' session. People are invited to introduce themselves (and their gender pronouns), and share something that made them smile in the past week. There is always the option to remain silent, or to have a general chat, or to physically leave the space. The emphasis here is on creating environments where everyone has the space, time, and ability to be heard.
XR York's active listening activities
The various facets of regenerative culture – including 'active listening', of which Sunshine People founder Nahla Summers is a strong advocate – are closely linked to kindness. This explains why and how the movement has maintained its continual expansion.
During actions, XR supports the wellbeing of participants by assigning (voluntary) roles. There are people solely responsible for looking out for the mental and physical health of activists, whilst ensuring they themselves are appropriately supported at the same time.
In most local XR groups, there is a sub-group (AKA working group) entirely dedicated to the pursuit of regenerative culture. But, as with kindness, there is no formal check list. The ongoing appreciation and application of regenerative culture values (respect, care, consideration) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The kindness that underlies the XR movement is self-evident. The commitment to a regenerative and ultimately kind culture has driven the group's success, and serves as an example to all organisations.