Extinction Rebellion comes to Kingston

Activist group makes first waves in Canada after significant impact in Europe  

A painted boat has become iconic to Extinction Rebellion protests.
Photo: 
Fake blood pools underneath the bodies of protestors heaped on top of one another as a eulogy for planet Earth echoes out over the spectating crowd—letting them know the world will soon be taking its last breath.
 
This spectacle, known as a “die-in,” is a protest tactic of Extinction Rebellion (XR), a group founded in England that promotes radical climate action through civil disobedience. As it’s grown into an international movement, the group’s presence in Kingston is beginning to take shape.
 
“If we don’t work together, we are going to die together,” Roger Hallam, founder of XR, said about the nonviolent climate activist group.  
 
Canadian XR has been mobilized since December 2018. However, it only gained traction this year, with Kingston’s own branch appearing on social media in February.
 
On Oct. 27, the Kingston branch of XR will stage a “die-in” at Memorial Centre Farmers’ Market. The market will become a mock graveyard as protestors pretend to be dead, symbolizing the inevitable extinction of humanity unless people take significant climate action.
 
A few days later, Halloween will mark one year since XR first assembled, standing 1,500 strong on Parliament Square, London, England, to announce their Declaration of Rebellion to the British government. 
 
The “reasonable radicality of their approach” is also what sets them apart from other climate protest groups, XR activist Jonathan Sendker, an ArtSci exchange student, told The Journal.
 
Roads have been blocked, fashion shows ‘swarmed,’ people glued to landmarks, bridges scaled, and that’s before the die-ins, funerals for the earth, and infamous XR boat come into the picture. 
 
A green—and sometimes pink—boat used at the protests in the UK is now banned in London because of Metropolitan Police safety concerns. It served as a platform for XR speakers, announcing hope from a symbolic lifeboat to a world sinking into environmental destruction, bearing slogans like “Tell the Truth” and “Planet before Profit.”
 
“Die-ins” go hand-in-hand with coffins containing the earth and mournful diners sitting at empty feast tables, their lack of food and drink representing the current experience of the world’s most impoverished and the future for everyone else.
 
Beyond symbolism, XR protestors have glued themselves to trains, spent days camped out on bridges, blocked entrances to government buildings, and even sprayed blood onto Westminster Treasury.
 
These acts of public disruption demonstrate XR’s core belief of achieving change through “nonviolent civil disobedience.”
 
XR sees the world as sleepwalking into disaster, and believes its visible, insistent strategies are necessary to wake the public and government.
 
It’s also working, as Sendker attested: “It just clicked. It’s going to be in my lifetime, and I think the danger of societal collapse is very real.”
 
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London may have been where their story started, but since then, XR has reached across the globe with self-titled rebels blocking the Bloor Viaduct in Toronto on Oct. 7, one of 60 bridges targeted across Canada. 
 
In Montreal, protestors climbed the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, remaining atop the bridge for several hours. Police were forced to close the road due to safety concerns. 
 
XR’s decentralized, autonomous structure is what allows for these separate protests to function. Anyone who follows their fundamental philosophy in the name of climate change can associate themselves with the group.
 
The goals of Kingston’s chapter are the same as those of XR globally—it’s just enacting them locally. 
 
“The Kingston group is quite small still,” Sendker said. The branch is in its mobilization phase, with six introductory events happening over the next two months. 
 
These events include induction meetings for new members and informational talks like “Heading for Extinction (And What to Do About It).”
 
Because of XR’s large youth demographic, some of these talks will be specifically directed toward students on Queen’s campus.
 
As of yet, the Canadian government has little to say in response to XR’s actions.
 
Meanwhile, the UK has surpassed the mobilization stage and has seen real results from the governments of Wales, England, and Scotland who all declared climate emergencies.
 
This announcement met the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands, laid out in their Declaration of Rebellion: “The government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”
 
Their other two demands, “Act Now” and “Beyond Politics,” are still waiting to be met—XR is now working towards these with “loud, peaceful, and colourful activism,” as described by Sendker.  
 
There is potential to criticize XR for being too idealistic, given they have a 2025 goal for net zero greenhouse emissions and want a recognised, representative assembly of citizens to hold each nation’s government responsible.
 
XR wants their anger at what they view as irresponsible corporations, unreliable governments, and an absence of media coverage, to be shared by the world so everyone can move forward together.
 
Not everyone is as keen about it as they are.
 
On Oct. 17, several XR protestors climbed a London tube train, preventing anyone from boarding. Commuters were quick to pull them off the trains and injured protestors badly with kicks to the head before police could intervene.
 
In other incidents, it has been the police who have caused the damage. Tear gas was used against peaceful protestors in Brussels and Paris on Oct. 14, and excessive force used in arrests made in Prague. 
 
In response, XR said “governments must ask themselves […] whether they will speed up that process with repression, or speed it up with genuine democratic dialogue.”
 
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XR’s three demands were originally drawn up for the British government. However, the group is looking to every government to make the changes the organization considers necessary. 
 
They’ve made their presence heard all over Europe, but in North America, it’s been a different story. “Canada and the US […][are] obviously a bit behind Europe. You can see that in the scale of the actions,” Sendker said. 
 
Vancouver’s Oct. 18 march saw 100 protestors while—on the same day—several thousand protestors marched through London. Yet for some reason, XR fail to make Canadian headlines in the same way as Greta Thunberg.
 
Sendker attributes the difference between Europe and North America, in part, to its geography.
 
“The population is so spread out that it’s difficult to mobilize and, to be honest, the physical remoteness from Europe and Britain means that it’s not as easy for the movement to tide over,” Sendker said. 
 
According to XR’s Canadian website, there were more than 1,000 Canadian rebels as of March 2019. This may seem like a large number, but it doesn’t match the turnout at the UK’s very first event on Oct. 31, 2018. 
 
It’s also fewer than the number of people arrested in one week in London as a part of XR’s International Rebellion movement, which began on Oct. 7. The Metropolitan Police said 1,112 arrests had been made, with 50 of those occurring at London City airport alone.
 
Comparatively, the same week saw only 20 protestors arrested in Toronto and 30 more in Montreal, with releases occurring after one night in jail.
 
Arrests loom large for XR because they believe if courts keep hearing the same message, it will increase the need for a more urgent dialogue, which can lead to the radical climate action they consider necessary.
 
Willingness to get arrested isn’t a requirement for anyone who wants to rebel with XR. For those who are arrested, the group doesn’t let them fend for themselves—XR provides strategies prior to protest days, in-the-moment advice from on-site lawyers, and also later on in court. 
 
Sendker admitted he would be willing to be arrested for XR. While on academic exchange, arrest carries the risk of deportation from Canada—however, he said he’s planning to get arrested for the cause once back home in the Netherlands.
 
“Activism […] is something extremely personal, almost like a coming-of-age, personal growth experience,” said Sendker. To Sendker, the risk of a criminal record is worth the reward: all arrests—their coverage and subsequent trials—further public awareness about the severity of the climate crisis.  
 
Sendker said he thinks XR is “absolutely, urgently, hysterically” necessary. He felt he could not take a break from protesting even on exchange. 
 
The movement may be smaller in Canada, but it is undoubtedly growing. As the International Rebellion concludes, XR has made an impact in Canada.
 
Bridges have been climbed, arrests have been made, flags waved, streets blocked, blood thrown, and funerals held—all of it under the name of public disruption for the Earth’s sake.
 
Perhaps, at first, Canada was just unsure about XR, as was Sendker when he was first introduced to it: “Isn’t that just going to piss people off?” he’d asked his friend.
 
What his friend pointed out—and what XR has been driving home for the last year across the world and now in Kingston—is that “it’s way too late to worry about pissing people off.”

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