by Daniel Tarade
On December 15, the Toronto chapter of the nonviolent civil disobedience group Extinction Rebellion held its first general assembly and adopted a new demand — Justice for All — that places indigenous people and other marginalized groups at the center of its climate activism. XR Toronto elaborates that it “demands self-determination for Indigenous communities both in Canada and around the world. The response to the climate crisis must center the rights and needs of indigenous peoples, people of colour, the economically disadvantaged, people with disabilities, migrants, and people of all genders and sexualities. Solutions must be actively de-colonial and firmly safeguard the dignity of all.”
Extinction Rebellion began in London, UK with a public declaration of rebellion on October 31, 2018. The radical group debuted with three core demands: Tell the Truth, Act Now, and Beyond Politics. Chapters around the world voice these demands, but their exposition differs to account for unique historical, cultural, environmental, and material contexts. In September 2019, members of XR Toronto founded a de-colonial solidarity group that works with indigenous activists and other Extinction Rebellion chapters to address the colonial nature of Canada. As we all know, the Canadian Government repeatedly undermines the self-determination of First Nations people by building pipelines, clear cutting forests, and dumping toxic chemicals or instead allowing corporations to do the same with impunity. Can a people’s movement address climate change without addressing Grassy Narrows? XR Toronto says no.
Although the first three XR Toronto demands date back to the genesis of the group in the UK, members adopted the fourth demand by popular vote at the first general assembly held in Toronto. Over seventy-five self-identified members of Extinction Rebellion crowded into a classroom at the University of Toronto. Although several rounds of voting were necessary due to procedural confusion, a testament to Extinction Rebellion’s non-hierarchical structure and ability to engage with first-time activists, members adopted the fourth demand with 83.3 per cent opting for it. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like” greeted the result. In keeping with its third demand, Extinction Rebellion continues to eschew electoral politics and instead aims to host general assemblies to directly address the climate crisis. As the movement continues to grow, their vision for environmental, economic, and societal reform is one led by the people.
In adopting their new demand, XR Toronto shuts the door on Elon Musk and the technocrats who promise a free-market solution to what is just the most recent on a long list of environmental catastrophes. XR Toronto also continues to show capacity for growth. In the past, activists (rightfully) criticized certain elements of Extinction Rebellion including their cozy relationship with the police, shutting down public transit in impoverished neighbourhoods, and failing to address eco-fascism and environmental racism. The first demand to be adopted by general assembly highlights the need for any popular movement to continually self-reflect and evolve.
Socialists note that members of XR Toronto continue to see colonial capitalism as the root of the current ecological and environmental crisis. In responding to the crisis, XR Toronto renewed calls for true ally-ship. In future months it will be important to keep an eye on the active discussion within the group concerning its apolitical philosophy. Can a broad radical movement be apolitical about a fundamentally political problem? This is a question that Extinction Rebellion still needs to answer. But it is heading in the right direction. As XR says, our efforts are fueled by love and rage.