Stop asking people of color to get arrested to protest climate change

We understand climate violence not as a threat of a future apocalypse but as the wind that fans the flames of existing injustices. It is already here—in the Cyclone Idais, Typhoon Haiyans, Hurricane Katrinas, and other, slower disasters that beset communities in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East (the global south) and marginalized people in the global north. We don’t need to read the latest scientific reports to know that those least responsible for causing the climate crisis are usually the most vulnerable to its effects, including displacement. And that those people are overwhelmingly poor, Black or brown, and in the global south. Yet XR, in its attempts to gain widespread appeal, is abandoning the people of the global majority. In Europe we already face frenzied anti-migrant rants from senior politicians and media figures. Now these attitudes are being further legitimized with the brush of environmentalism: we’ve both heard old white “climate activists” saying that we have to stop climate change so that crowds of poor brown people don’t come looking for shelter in Fortress Britain. It hurt when, in a recent video, XR activist Ronan Harrington encouraged others in the movement to learn from xenophobic politicians and avoid taking “lefty liberal” positions such as “no borders” to not alienate potential right-wing allies. If the comment section is anything to go by, his notions have widespread support, including from XR co-founder Roger Hallam. Hallam sees our anti-racist, feminist, and global justice politics as “chronically overcritical, radical, and hard left” – a strategic flaw and a barrier to success. Instead he advocates putting “scientific fact” before political ideology in shaping XR’s strategy. But this itself is an ideological position. What kinds of people do you think get to set the strategic priorities? Why aren’t they people like us? XR’s primary tactic – mass arrests – has also left other activists baffled. Many of us already live with the risk of arrest and criminalization by virtue of our background. As we said in the open letter, XR’s strategy “needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as well as the reality of police and state violence”. White people in XR, however, assume that if they are polite and reasonable, the government will listen to them and protect them. Racialized communities and marginalized people know better.

Tatiana Garavito and Nathan Thanki in Stop Asking People of Color to Get Arrested to Protest Climate Change (Vice)