MADRID – Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few months, you’re likely to have heard about the climate. Starting with the Amazon forest fire, the urgency of our climate crisis has recently grabbed the spotlight it deserves (yes, your “Save the Amazon” Instagram story may have helped generate awareness). 16-year-old climate activist, founder of Friday’s for Future and the fury of old men, Greta Thunberg stoked the fires of climate activism with her impassioned UN speech, although it generated as many negative reactions as positive ones. However, in London, taking up her mantle as the most divisive climate activist personality or group is Extinction Rebellion(XR).
You may have heard of the group’s attempts to bring the climate issue to the attention of people on the streets on London through civil disobedience actions like stopping traffic at peak times or climbing on top of (yes that’s right, on top of, not in) a stationary airplane. Their actions have drawn praise but also criticism from Londoners who have grown tired of their relentless autumn protests. The Metropolitan Police effectively banned the group earlier this week, not that it’s likely to deter XR from protesting. They’ve already had upwards of 1700 members arrested due to their non-violent protests in London.
The Extinction Rebellion’s demands to all governments are 3-fold: tell the truth to the people by declaring a climate emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025 and the creation of a Citizen’s Assembly that will make decisions on the climate and ecological justice. XR is now a global movement, with branches in over 100 cities, one of which is in Madrid.
I spoke to XR Madrid’s public relations officer and youngest member, Momo (16) to get a better idea of XR Madrid’s potential and activities. She is currently studying a technical education course in social work called Grado Medio en Atención a Personas en Situación de Dependencia at Instituto IES. She joined XR in May after attending a protest she had heard of through her friend. She’s always been conscious of the issue of the environment and had attended a few marches organized by the student-led group Fridays for Future, but she felt their actions were passive compared to the robust methods of XR and she became a member soon after her first event. Her rise to public relations officer is indicative of the rejection of hierarchies the organization strives to maintain.
XR Madrid membership is small compared to London, but it is the biggest and most active branch in Spain with over 500 active members. It’s most prominent action has been a camp-out in front of the Ministerio para el Transición Ecólogica near Gregorio Marañon on October 7th. The camp out was coordinated with XR events throughout the world with protests in more than 60 cities occurring on the same day. Around 1000 people were at the camp on the 7th with group members travelling from other parts of Spain and Portugal to take part in the protest.
“The Metropolitan Police effectively banned the group earlier this week, not that it’s likely to deter XR from protesting. They’ve already had upwards of 1700 members arrested due to their non-violent protests in London.”
The action was divided into two groups, one that would start the camp and one group that blocked the bridge on Nuevos Ministerios to draw attention to the camp. There were however disturbing incidents of police aggression on the bridge with 5 protesters leaving the area with broken wrists and several others (including Momo) nursing bruises due to beatings by the police.
Momo recalls that the press was moved away just before the incident occurred. “This is the main difference between London and Madrid police”, she tells me. “London police will arrest you, but the Madrid police will beat you. They arrest more people there, but they are more violent here.” Despite the repression suffered on the bridge, the camp protest endured as they stayed outside the Ministry building until the 10th of October, ending the protest with 800 campers.
When speaking of Greta Thunberg, Momo admits that she is an inspiration for her personally. She identifies with a young girl who wants to be given the same opportunities in life like her parents. However, when asked whether she believes economic growth is incompatible with comprehensive climate reform (a belief that many have assumed Greta holds as a result of her famous “fairytales of eternal economic growth” quote), Momo insists that XR is not fighting to revolutionize the entire economic system.
“The economic politics of Spain are incorrect because they aren’t working for the people, they are working for the government. If a certain few things are changed, the politics will work for the people and strong climate policy can be achieved,” she states.
She connects this idea with XR being non-partisan but not apolitical. She admits people on the left are generally more receptive to their message, but they don’t want XR to be defined by the left-right political spectrum, as “the climate affects us all equally, regardless of ideology.” It’s apparent from their sources of inspiration (Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi) what they want their image to be: a non-violent grassroots movement that fights for the people.
“London police will arrest you, but the Madrid police will beat you. They arrest more people there, but they are more violent here,” – Momo, the 16-year old Extinction Rebellion PR officer in Madrid.
XR’s Madrid’s current objective is to get their message to more people and grow their movement organically within the city. Momo admits that there will be fewer big protests and more speeches in the coming weeks to inform people on who XR are and what they stand for. So, don’t expect to see your morning commute to be affected just yet. However, XR is growing and if their London autumn protests are anything to go by, they will make themselves heard.
If you’d like to take part in some good, old-fashioned civil disobedience, or just find out more about XR, check them out here: https://www.extinctionrebellion.es/portal/ or follow them on their social media pages.