The pros and cons of Extinction Rebellion’s protest style

CBC Kids News • Published 2019-10-08 11:38

The ‘good outweighs the harm,’ teen says

Another major Canadian bridge was closed following an environmental protest today — on Day 2 of Extinction Rebellion’s two-week #BridgeOut campaign.

Members of the climate change activist group, which formed in the U.K. in October 2018 and now has chapters all over the world, starting climbing Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier Bridge early Tuesday.

A similar scene played out across the country on Monday when group members blocked major commuter bridges in a number of cities, including Halifax, Toronto, Kitchener, Ont., Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria.

The fear of “not having a future” convinced 17-year-old Harmony Eisenhuth, from Victoria, to take part in her local protest.

“If I’m being completely honest,” she said, “that’s what scares me.”

Harmony Eisenhuth speaks into a microphone.

Grade 12 student Harmony Eisenhuth did a speech at the Extinction Rebellion protest in Victoria on Oct. 7. (Heidi Eisenhuth)

David Tindall, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia who studies social movements, said protests like this “could backfire a little bit” in the short term because they annoy people instead of winning them over.

In Edmonton, some drivers took to yelling at the protesters on Monday when they were blocked from using the Walterdale Bridge.

"I think there are definitely channels that would be more suited to doing this and not interrupting people's lives," said Jack Haworth, who’d been waiting in his car for an hour to get through.

But Harmony said she thinks it’s worth disrupting lives in order to get the message across.

“The good outweighs the harm,” she said.

Tweet from Lydia Neufeld shows chain of people holding hands to block bridge access with text: 10 protesters blocking access across Walterdale bridge. Man laying on his horn trying to get them to move.

Another possible drawback to the Extinction Rebellion message? It’s very gloomy, Tindall said.

“For a lot of people, when things are framed that way, it kind of leads to inaction,” he said. “You have to give people some good news” so they don’t give up.

But Harmony doesn’t see it that way.

Extinction is a “pretty strong word, but I think it best fits with what’s going to happen,” she said.

And don’t forget that the word “rebellion” is in the name, too, she said. “It’s the rebellion of extinction, so I think there’s positivity in that.”

Instagram post from ExtinctionRebellion says The global rebellion is in full swing.

In the long term, Tindall said, having protesters “doing disruptive stuff” can help in the push for change because it forces political leaders to pay attention to what the more moderate protesters are saying.

“These more radical groups sometimes put the pressure on governments to take more action than they otherwise would,” he said.

Of course, doing disruptive stuff can have consequences — such as getting arrested.

Tweet from Extinction Rebellion Nova Scotia says arrest update: 18 people were arrested day and been let go without charges.

Extinction Rebellion relies on a protest style called “civil disobedience” to get its point across.

That means group members are willing to break some laws in the name of their cause and accept the consequences — as long as their actions aren’t violent.

Harmony said she has chosen not to engage in any civil disobedience in her role with Extinction Rebellion because “I think my mom would have my head,” she said.

Harmony said she tries to participate in other ways, including doing speeches and working behind the scenes.

With files from CBC News

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