Australian branches of the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion could shift tactics after its British division announced it will temporarily stop acts of civil disobedience.
The UK branch of Extinction Rebellion, where the movement originated, said on Monday that methods such as blocking busy roads and activists gluing themselves to buildings have not achieved the desired effects.
Extinction Rebellion South Australia spokesperson Chris Johnson told The New Daily that Extinction Rebellion wants to differentiate itself from “splinter groups” who used tactics that have polarised public opinion.
One such group is Just Stop Oil, which last year repeatedly blocked UK roads, causing rush-hour chaos, and who hit the headlines after two of its members threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery.
There was no damage to the artwork.
“The strategy from a lot of those splinter groups is usually around a core team of small people taking the same action again and again, almost in a whatever it takes kind of capacity,” Mr Johnson said.
“I think one of the things about [Extinction Rebellion UK’s] announcement is that it makes the differentiation between Extinction Rebellion, and some of these other splinter groups clearer.
“We are about mass participation in civil disobedience, and we want lots of people involved. And that means that we have to adjust our tactics to allow for greater participation.”
Unlike the UK movement, Extinction Rebellion in Australia has a decentralised structure which means organising takes place in small state and local groups rather than at a national level.
Strategies and actions are tailored to specific regions and the political contexts within them.
Spokespersons from two branches told TND that while approaches may vary across the country, all the groups are united in their demands, principles and values.
Mr Johnson said the UK decision will likely affect strategy discussions within state and local groups in Australia.
“Given [Extinction Rebellion] started in the UK, obviously our people are talking, and reflecting and thinking about those decisions and how that may impact our strategies as well.”
Brad Homewood is spokesperson for the Victorian branch of Extinction Rebellion and told TND that while the UK decision has sparked much reflection and conversation in closed Extinction Rebellion forums like Signal, his group won’t be abandoning its planned events.
“Our strategy in Victoria is pretty firmly in place for the next six months. That does involve some disruption of the public, undoubtedly, and it will involve some mass mobilisation to the best of our ability,” Mr Homewood said.
“We can cause a lot of disruption with a small amount of people, without giving too much away.”
He says he believes the UK decision is a response to governmental overreach.
“They’ve got much more draconian and tighter laws that have kicked in, in the UK. And the government is trying to make those laws even more harsh on non-violent activists. So my take is it’s a little bit of a response to that.”
There have been a spate of controversial civil disobedience actions by several protest groups in Australia over the past year.
In October two Extinction Rebellion protesters glued their hands to Massacre in Korea, a Picasso work on display at the National Gallery of Victoria. There was no damage to the artwork.
In December, Deanna “Violet” Maree Coco was sentenced to 15 months’ jail for a protest in which she blocked a lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April as part of a Fireproof Australia movement.
Ms Coco has been granted bail before her appeal against the severity of her sentence, listed for March.
Mr Johnson said that disruptive tactics have been effective up until this point but signals that change may be necessary to bring more people into the movement.
“We’ve seen a real shift in the public’s understanding of the urgency of this issue.
“We’re about being effective and I think at this particular time it’s really about shifting power, moving our focus to be more targeted on governments in the fossil fuel industry.
“The public has an increased understanding of the urgency of the issue and that came about because those actions that we did that were polarising and disruptive at the time. It brought a sense of the kind of disruption that is coming due to climate breakdown.
“That disruption is only going to get worse if we don’t take the critical action needed now to address the issue.”
Australian Religious Response to Climate Change president Thea Ormerod told TND that it’s encouraging to see “reasonable, rational and intelligent” action from the UK group. She hopes the Australian chapters take a similar approach.
“People who engage in [civil disobedience] should be getting much more respect in Australia,” she said.
“Gandhi and Martin Luther King and others who headed these change movements weren’t doing things only to be disruptive – they actually had strategies, targets and ideas on movement building.”