On Learning to Be a Rebel

Posted on October 9, 2019
Picture from NRC Handelsblad, Oct 8

Picture from NRC Handelsblad, Oct 8

As a fresh member of Extinction Rebellion, I am part of the Rebel Without Borders action week, with actions in major cities across the globe. If you haven’t heard about it, you are not reading the newspapers, and I advise you to check out Global Rebellion.

First a brief recap of my reasons for joining Extinction Rebellion or XR. After reading up on climate change from what I consider the most reliable sources, starting with the Wikipedia article on Global Warming and with the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, but also including activist writers like Naomi Klein, John Michael Greer, Jem Bendell, Bill McKibben, David Wallace-Wells and Paul Kingsnorth, I am scared stiff. And after finding out that the people who insist that there is no reason for worry (1) have not informed themselves or (2) are suffering from cognitive dissonance or (3) are deliberately misleading us, I am even more scared about what is in store for us and for our children. I am worried about the future of my own children. I am worried about the future of all children. So I decided to team up with people and with groups that share my concern, not necessarily because I believe it will save us, but because I want to be with people who have decided to live in truth.

Extinction Rebellion has three simple demands to our government.

The truth about climate change is that it is real, that it is man-made, and that it is caused by the way our capitalist industrial society pursues an impossible goal of endless economic growth. The truth is that we are in an ecological crisis that has put us in grave danger. The truth is that business as usual is leading us to the brink of disaster.

The current policies on greenhouse gass emission reduction are not working. Despite the agreement to reduce emissions, the emissions are growing at an alarming speed. In the Netherlands, instead of planting more trees we are cutting our trees down to generate “emission-free” electricity. This is sheer lunacy. The XR demand is to reduce greenhouse gas emisions to net zero by 2025. We accept that we have to seriously reduce our energy consumption.

Reducing our energy consumption, and doing it fast, will be a gigantic task. It entails that we all have to learn to curb our appetites and have to relearn how to share. We all will have to adopt a completely new lifestyle. This will need the support and cooperation of everyone. We demand that a Citizen’s Assembly takes the lead on establishing climate and ecological justice.

For me, last Monday’s Extinction Rebellion blockade in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was only the second time I was part of a civil disobedience action. The only previous occasion was in my student days, when I stumbled into one, in Paris. My French student friends took me to a manif which turned into a confrontation with the police. Indeed, the main aim seemed to be to provoke the police, which was not at all difficult. Shouting a few slogans turned out to be enough for them to start firing rounds of tear gas at us. When that happened, my friends dryly remarked “Il faut faire attention un peu. Ça pique.” For them, it was quite a routine thing, and maybe even the whole point of the manif. The police were perceived as the natural enemies of the students, and fighting them was a goal in itself.

I can only attest that the Dutch police these days is very different from the Paris police of the nineteen eighties. Dutch police officers are trained at de-escalation. And so were we. They made sure they had police women in their first ranks who engaged us in friendly conversations. And we were singing slogans at them like “Police, we love you, we do this for your children.”

Confiscated XR supply wagon at the Amsterdam fietsendepot

Confiscated XR supply wagon at the Amsterdam “fietsendepot”

One had to admire their tactics. Their first move was to cut the XR supply chain, by confiscating the XR kitchen equipment and supplies before they could be driven to the blockade site, and by preventing rebels to either leave or enter, after the blockade had started. As a fellow XR rebel remarked, this is taken straight from Sun Tzu’s Art of War: demoralize the enemy by cutting their food supply and by starving them.

When I got finally dragged from the action by four policemen, they were very calm and advised me to let go. “You have been given the chance to make your point. If you don’t stop resisting we will have to hurt you.” They did hurt me a bit, but I saw that as part of the game.

Also, maybe you could not call it a real arrest. The first fifty or so of us who got arrested in the morning were taken into police custody. But I was in the second wave of arrests. And all they did to us was take us in a city bus to a remote spot at the outskirts of the city and drop us there as a group. Interestingly, I found out through an internet link posted by somebody from XR that this is quite an old tactic, invented by an Amsterdam police officer called Koppejan, in 1966.

And I have not yet been able to recover my luggage. This may have been part of the police tactic. Without a backpack and sleeping bag, it is quite hard to keep a blockade going.