Just Tell Me What to Do
[Listen to this as a podcast.] Discovering Extinction Rebellion (XR) meant I no longer felt utter despair when looking at the news. Other people cared. Other people weren’t numbed out. They were stepping out of their comfort zones and interrupting business as usual in London (and, eventually, elsewhere).
Sometimes, before XR, I would let myself feel the utter terror of what climate and ecological breakdown might bring. Would bring.
And so I was seduced by the idea of a simple answer to the question: what should I do? XR seemed to have an answer. Recruit as many people as possible to get arrested at the same time, thus overwhelming the government, thus forcing the government to act.
And then I started listening to criticism of XR. The majority of people in XR were white, middle class, English people. As a mixed-heritage Latina, I found myself listening quite hard when immigrants / refugees, women of colour, and non-Westerners began questioning and criticising XR. I also began listening to members of XR Youth, our young people who have much fresher thinking than we do.
I understood that we needed to apply critical thinking to what was going on. When a co-founder of XR was insistent on carrying out a particular action that was getting a lot of pushback, a member of XR Youth and I went to a meeting to talk to some white, middle-class rebels who were still convinced by what the co-founder was saying.
After we shared our thinking, and those of others, as to why this action would likely backfire, one woman said to me:
“I don’t want to have to think. I just want to be told what to do.”
Yesterday my daughter asked me why I continue to share this story after two years. What’s the big deal?
To be perfectly frank, the more I think about it, the more this story terrifies me. I used to be terrified of climate and ecological breakdown and now I’m actually more terrified of people who are vulnerable to cult dynamics, which can lead us into fascism. So many examples from the past and present point us towards the dangers of people who are not open to reason, who just want someone to have the answers, someone they can follow and who makes them feel better.
This woman was speaking within the context of climate activism, grateful that someone else (a Western, white, male leader) had come up with a plan to handle the climate emergency and she could just do what he told her to do.
Pause. Pause. Pause. (as Resmaa Menakem reminds us to do so often through his somatic abolition work)
So many layers.
I get the pull. That is, I understand why it’s attractive to hand over thinking to someone else. I get the pull as a woman (internalised oppression), and as someone afraid of climate and ecological destruction, someone who used to be driven by the collapse narrative.
But my new pull is to keep getting more and more literate around cult dynamics so that I don’t fall into so-called easy solutions and responses. Would you like to do this work with me?