We do not glorify rebels who get arrested over those who do not choose to put themselves into that role. We work on having a regenerative culture of gratitude that values every contribution to the movement, especially since many rebels in various roles sacrifice a lot to it. For every arrested person, there are about 10 rebels who worked hard to make it possible! However, if mass arrest has been chosen as a strategy, then arrests need to be celebrated and made ‘cool’ in order for the strategy to be sustainable for the rebels themselves and for the movement (e.g. Serbian movement Otpor! that toppled Milosevic gave a special T-shirt to people having been arrested 10 times). Actually, the nastier the arrests, the more prepared the rebels must be, and the more empowering the experience must be before, and after, the time in custody. Being arrested is not a light matter, and we make it clear by preparing our rebels well with legal and psychological tips during our Non-Violent Direct Action trainings. However, it’s also a tactical choice to make it fun when arrests happen, by cheering and clapping, to enhearten the rebels, unsettle the police, and ultimately encourage more people to disobey.
Unlike many big profits, foundations and so-called climate communicators, we choose to be blunt about the scale of the problem. Fear is a normal and healthy reaction to the truth, and we do not try to protect people from it. Here are the reasons: first, with the truth, we give people the opportunity to face the facts and their feelings, and move forward productively. Without the truth, we deny them this chance. Second, while it is accurate that climate truth overwhelms some people, it helps others to feel the urgency and enter emergency mode as rebels. Some people might be “turned off” by climate truth temporarily, but will process it over time and then enter emergency mode later. To avoid being paralyzed by fear and helplessness, we do not only use fear, we also provide pathways to action, and empower people to fight for what they hold dear. We must remind people that social movements like the rebellion we’re planning can cause immense, rapid change. Of course it’s difficult. Of course people will feel afraid, angry, and grief-stricken. We encourage people to acknowledge these feelings and learn to see them as a call to action. The power of this truth-telling strategy has been proved by the explosive mobilisation achieved by the rebellion around the world through its standard conference, “Heading for extinction, and what to do about it?”
Some people have criticized the rebellion for its use of mass arrests, on the grounds that not everyone is equal in the face of an arrest. It is absolutely correct that some people will risk worse consequences than others, for instance if they have a precarious situation, no papers, or are more likely to be subject to police violence. It is our belief that privilege comes with responsibility to use it for the greater good, and that those who can break the law at the lowest cost to themselves have a duty be the first ones to do it. This means us in the West, and the most privileged of us within the West. However, it would be victimizing and disempowering to imply that those of us who have more to lose are unlikely to be brave enough to decide to risk it, for what is no less than the defense of everyone’s life on this planet.
What is critical is that everyone makes fully informed decisions about their part in the rebellion. The rebellion does its best at all times to ensure that no-one is accidentally arrested without being prepared and willing, and that people are supported before, during and after arrest.
Of course not. We do not take pleasure in causing perturbations in people’s daily lives, but we recognize the power of disruption to spark conversations, make people take a step back, and question their previously-held assumptions about the reality around them. When the theater is on fire, it is necessary to disrupt the play to sound the alarm.
Switzerland plans to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, thus meeting the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C when compared with the pre-industrial era. Beside the fact that this deadline is far too late in order to ensure a safe and sound future for us all (see Question: “Why 2025?”), Switzerland still has no concrete plan whatsoever on how it wants to implement and achieve the net zero goal of 2050. Not really reassuring, right?
One important tactic of the rebellion is mass arrest. It is following in the footsteps of many successful peaceful movements that used this tactic. Mass arrest serves two main purposes. First, it acts as an honesty signal: by this sacrifice, the participants prove they are not acting out of self-interest, and they demonstrate their strong commitment to the cause. This gains them the respect and trust of the public, and raises the importance of the issue in the public’s mind: it is actually so bad that people are willing to sacrifice their liberty to stop it. This is especially important when fighting against the climate and ecological emergencies in Switzerland: protesters are not specifically fighting against their own oppression, nor are they themselves the most affected by the crises. For their voices to be taken seriously, they need to demonstrate their absolute earnestness. Second, it serves to overwhelm the police and judicial system, and bring disruption to the courts. Once there, whether it is through hundreds of heartfelt testimonies, or acts of non-cooperation during trials, protesters bring the cause at the heart of the justice system. The targets of their activism become judges themselves.
The extinction rebellion’s strategy is based on momentum-driven organising: in a game of social dominos, we aim to be the initial push that sets society in motion, driving it to a social tipping point beyond which deep political change is inevitable.
The system relies on people working for it. The pillars of power will collapse when people refuse to participate any longer, and withdraw their support from murderous projects. This means that most of our actions are, directly or indirectly, addressed to the public, daring our fellow citizens to disobey in their turn.
The main truth we want to get out to the world is that climate breakdown and ecological collapse are universal threats. We also recognize that we are not all equal in facing these threats, nor do we all bear the same moral responsibility. Recognizing this is the key to global justice and a future for all. Yet, it is often when they realize they are protecting what is dearest to them personally that people become ready to make sacrifices, and rebel. Collectively, we must therefore make space for every form of grief, rage and worry. We connect in empathy, without establishing a hierarchy of suffering. We come as we are and meet people where they are. The reasons to join the rebellion are as numerous and diverse as the population of Switzerland. We speak from our own experiences, and together, we embody a multi-faceted truth, made of a myriad of lived realities.
There are different strategies. The Rebellion’s strategy is based on momentum-driven organising: in a game of social dominos, we aim to be the initial push that sets society in motion, driving it to a social tipping point beyond which deep political change is inevitable. Our main goal is therefore to target the public to bring them to take sides on the climate and ecological crisis. Our job is then to maximize the chances that they join the side that fights against extinction. It’s also the reason why we always stick to a minimal set of 3 broad demands, which happen to speak to a lot of people.
The rebellion aims at getting thousands of ordinary people to take the streets. Its goals, messages and methods are compatible with a wide range of people. The task is to empower them to come together, in order to protect whatever matters most to them against the universal threat of extinction.
The Rebellion’s goal and strategy is to tell the truth. We are here to communicate on what is necessary (as per our first principle), not to try and second guess what is politically feasible or not. Based on that logic, our demand could have been ‘carbon neutrality by 1975’, but this becomes physically impossible, not only politically impossible. The next best thing is 2025. A scientific justification, explanation of carbon budgets etc., can be found here.
The rebels don’t want power for themselves. They don’t want to impose specific policies on others. They want the whole society to decide in the quickest, most democratic way possible, how to conduct emergency decarbonization and steer humanity away from extinction. The third demand of the Extinction Rebellion is that governments (at the local, cantonal, federal and international levels) create and be guided by citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice. Social studies have shown in the past that this is an effective way to break political deadlocks, like the one we are currently in. It allows ordinary citizens, representative of the population in its diversity, to have a real influence on the decisions related to the exit of the ecological and climate breakdown. Studies have shown also that those mini-publics usually come up with more creative and bold proposals than politicians do. Last but not least, when following a strict set of rules, they increase the likelihood that proposed measures take social justice into account, and get accepted by the broader population. It brings people together, healing fractured societies, by making sure everyone gets to meet and hear everyone else (city - countryside, young - old, left-leaning - right-leaning - apolitical).
What we do is constitutional, legitimate and proportionate in face of the climate catastrophe we’re now entering. Based on our 4th principle, we are an open movement and consider that openness and transparency is what allows the growth of a mass movement. Our actions are not covert and we act in full public light and we accept the consequences of our acts. In case of individual repression, we will organize the support, massively publicize and not complain about it but show our determination and fearlessness.
We take a no blaming and shaming approach to the police and from our nonviolent discipline we agree to treat the police with respect. We are willing to be arrested as part of our truth-telling strategy: as far as our campaign is concerned, the police are playing their role, we are playing ours. In Switzerland, we made the decision, for the rebellion in October 2021, to liaise with the police early and openly communicate about our plans. This increases safety to all involved and creates interesting dilemma for the police which we can exploit. This is for specific countries to figure out, taking into consideration their own circumstances and the potential strategic opportunities that have been described.
We are afraid of the violence that climate chaos and ecosystem breakdown will bring to humanity and our communities. To avoid that, the rebellion aims at bringing people together and establishing citizens assemblies - one way of decreasing the likelihood of civil wars. In that logic, the rebellion is strictly nonviolent and will always remain so. Moreover, treating our opponents with respect is also a tactical choice, as it increases the likelihood of their defecting. By causing disruption in a peaceful way, we present the government with a dilemma. Letting us carry on will encourage others to join. Repressing us will undermine their own legitimacy, and drive more people onto the street. Our strategy is based on classical nonviolence and the tactics that led so many people around the world to historical victories, in struggles as different as decolonisation (Gandhi…), ending racial segregation (Freedom Riders, Martin Luther King…), toppling of dictatorships (Otpor! in Serbia…), getting governments to act on the AIDS pandemic (ACT UP!), or, in our own Switzerland, ending compulsory military service (conscientious objectors).
We admire the hard work by people and organisations trying to put together coherent policy proposals and do think they are absolutely necessary as a force of proposition to our society. But the rebellion fills a different strategic niche in the ecosystem of movement: our main goal is to target the public to bring them to sympathize, change their minds, and rebel. To allow maximal participation, we had to align behind a minimal set of 3 demands: to tell the truth, act now, and establish Citizens’ Assemblies on climate and ecological justice. They seem to us eminently respectable and legitimate as human beings. We reach out of our social bubbles and meet people where they are, independently from their personal views on specific policies. As a self-selected group of people, rebels have no legitimacy imposing policies on anyone - however, we demand that citizens assemblies, representative of the people of this country in their diversity, get to decide the best path forward.
We focus on what is necessary. Nothing else has worked and we’re racing towards extinction faster than ever before. So if this is what it takes, we are going to peacefully sit on the road in the largest city of the country, causing mass disruption, and refuse to move for as long as it takes for the government to stop ignoring our basic, perfectly sane demands, or for all of our arrestable rebels to be in custody. Nothing else will do when you are threatened with the collapse of your civilization and the loss of everything you hold dear.
The level of disruption achieved by an action is quite independent from the number of people involved. 100’000 on a legal march do not disrupt anything, one person sitting alone on a highway does. Rest assured that our rebellious crews are capable of causing just as much good-natured mess as they think is necessary to reach their goals ;) However, disruption is only a means to an end - we will not win unless we create a whirlwind in society, inspiring large numbers of people to join this fight for their lives, overwhelming the system. This is where numbers come into play: the more people we are at the start of the rebellion, the more people we are likely to inspire and attract over the next few days, building momentum and becoming truly unstoppable. One person sitting on a road is very moving and has the power to inspire others to find their courage. Our strategy is based on momentum-driven organising: in a game of social dominos, we aim to be the initial push that sets society in motion, driving it to a social tipping point beyond which deep political change is inevitable. Come join us, add your weight, and together we’ll be unstoppable!
A saying goes: “Once a nonviolent civil disobedience action is in place, it has already won”. This is because of the “dilemma” nature of this type of action for the authorities. If the authorities let it happen, they lose face and new people join the action and increase the scale of the disruption. If the authorities repress the action, they allow the protestors to demonstrate the strength of their determination and fearlessness, earning respect by maintaining nonviolent discipline, and facing the consequences. This raises the importance of the issue in the public debate, and brings new people into the fight. This classic strategy of non-violence has had great success in many different contexts in history. In case our three demands are not met after the rebellion in October, the challenge will be more about making the absolute most of the momentum we’ve built, so victory comes quickly afterwards, because time is running out to turn things around! Finally, it may be cheesy but it’s true: doing what is right can never be a failure. And with our governments steering humanity towards mass death and suffering, rebelling has never been more right.
30 years ago was the time to rebel. The next best time is NOW.
Political power might be in Bern, but Zurich is simply where the most people live. First, large-scale disruptions in the largest city in Switzerland cannot possibly be ignored by the government, i.e. who we address our demands to. Second, this is where the rebellion will impact the most people, and the people are who we are addressing rallying cries to. We do not take pleasure in causing perturbations in people’s daily lives, but we recognize the power of disruption to spark conversations, make people take a step back, and question their previously-held assumptions about the reality around them. When the theater is on fire, it is necessary to disrupt the play to sound the alarm.
In Switzerland, Extinction Rebellion has been raising money mainly from small donors. It publishes a yearly financial report openly available.
We are a decentralised organisation – anyone can take action as part of the extinction rebellion if they pursue our common demands while following our principles and values – people don’t need anyone’s permission on that basis. Large groups of rebels work together using self-organising systems, which is the case of XR-CH. Power is invested in roles through the use of mandates rather than held by people, and people are autonomous in fulfilling the purpose of the roles they energize. It is a creative system that grows in response to the organisation’s needs. Extinction Rebellion Switzerland organise in circles focussed on Action and Strategy, Outreach and Mass mobilisation, Media and Messaging, Finance and Fundraising, Regenerative Culture, Self-Organising Systems, Liaison with German-speaking and italian-speaking part of Switzerland, and Legal affairs. An overall anchor circle meets to improve information flow between teams and resolve organisational issues that lack clarity. An overview is to be found on holaspirit.