Rebellion is a documentary about the climate protest group, Extinction Rebellion (XR). Available to stream via Netflix, the documentary follows the group from their inception all the way through to the Police, Crimes and Sentencing bill, which was debated in 2021.
Rebellion takes an honest look at the inner workings of XR. We meet the co-founders Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook early on, and watch as this small organisation gains international attention for their activism.
Extinction Rebellion started with three demands:
- Tell the truth (and declare a climate emergency)
- Net zero carbon emissions must be reached by 2025
- Form a citizen’s assembly to chart a path forward – the results of which should be legally enforceable
The tensions seemed to be quite high amongst the team, and this wasn’t helped by some strong-minded views, which split the organisation. A primary one being that of Roger Hallam, who was great at coming up with ideas and pushing them forward. But sometimes these ideas went against the grain of what the other members felt the organisation should be doing. Thus it seemed inevitable watching the documentary that at some point things would boil over and potentially engulf the group.
April 2019 Rebellion
One of the first significant events XR carried out was the April 2019 rebellion in London. This event is the one that become synonymous with the image of the pink boat in central London. Farhana Yamin, a legal expert who joined XR glued herself on at Shell’s offices, and this brought home the sheer courage it takes to participate in non-violent direct action. Greta Thunberg also made a speech at the event. By the eighth day, 1,130 people had been arrested.
But it was the outcome of the April 2019 rebellion that are most surprising. XR met with Michael Gove and explained what they were trying to achieve. And the government seems to have listened. The UK became the first country to declare a climate emergency. The government agreed to a net zero emissions target by 2050 (as opposed to the 2025 date proposed by XR). They also announced a citizen’s assembly on climate change. It would seem then that two out of the three demands were met. Soon climate emergencies were being declared around the world.
October 2019 Rebellion
This rebellion was different to that of April. The government wanted XR to go away and according to the documentary, it’s believed there was more political pressure on the police this time. As such, the energy around the protests was completely different and the police were more forceful. London became the first city to ban protests linked to XR – such was the anger against the group. The XR offices were also raided this time round.
However, probably the most damaging moment of the rebellion came when protesters climbed aboard a tube at Canning Town station. At the time, this felt quite nonsensical as we should be encouraging people to use public transport where they can in order to help reduce emissions. So the act of targeting the tube seemed to be completely backwards. I believe this was a moment that possibly changed and lost public support for the group. It showed a lack of cohesion and a lack of thought by the group. XR would later admit that the Canning Town protest had been a mistake.
There was a poignant comment at the start of the documentary, which seems to summarise the lack of direction, “I think the biggest questions XR should have been asking itself was so what if this works out… what if this gets a platform and a voice.” If there had been an answer to this question, perhaps the group would have followed a slightly different course.
Another moment that split the group was the idea to fly a drone over Heathrow airport. The documentary also shows Roger setting up a drone (although a location isn’t given), before he was arrested. The tensions which had been building for a long time finally came to a head. The senior leaders in the group took a vote where they agreed to remove Roger from the organisation.
XR managed to gain national and international coverage. Not only that, but they shifted the dial on political action – making progress with all three of their demands and getting two of them enacted. As an organisation, it brought together people from different backgrounds, but in the early days there was a feeling they hadn’t incorporated more cultural diversity into the group. The group also faced enormous headwinds with the police ban on XR, which was later ruled unlawful by the High Court, as well as facing down the Police, Crimes and Sentencing bill.
They’ve faced an uphill journey from the start. Some of their actions have alienated people from joining. While others see them as one of the few organisation around who carry out non-violent direct action. That we even have an organisation like XR when the scientific, economic, social, security, moral and ethical cases for acting on the climate crisis all align, is down to political failures. Whatever people’s views, it therefore seems like XR will remain part of the climate movement for some time to come.
Where to watch Rebellion
Rebellion is available to stream on Netflix.
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