As a movement Extinction Rebellion has consciously used the power of nonviolent civil disobedience as an embodied practice of love asking for the needs of the Earth and all its living splendour to be safeguarded.
The work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication or peaceful communication, are nourishing reference points for Extinction Rebellion.
Modern politics, religious dogma and culture at large have bred a tremendously violent language. We have become trapped in moralistic judgements implying wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values. In focusing our attention on classifying and diagnosing the behaviour of ‘the other’ to then blame and shame, we have become lost to our feelings and needs and thus our ability to respond to each other with honesty and integrity.
This way of being in the world has created a fortress around our hearts to enable us to cope with the consequent feelings of disconnection, dis-ease, separation and powerlessness. Essentially, we are in constant inner and outer conflict, suffering under micro-violences day after day.
We have hardly noticed how the language of war dominates our ‘peaceful’ campaigns. Let me confess to the struggle and vulnerability within our fledgling movement. We have at times described our collaboration work as building ‘allies’, but then through exploring our truth we have discovered our need for the re-weaving of the whole human family so that actually we are building relatives and embracing our relations.
The roots of the language of our conditioned separation run as deep as the chemicals poisoning our soil and water.
As we shift the Overton window, as per XR strategy, we also seek to shift our current dysfunctional paradigm (encased in a violent language) because in reality there is no fragmentation between the natural, the spiritual and the social. They are one integrated whole.
We cannot shift our value systems for the natural world without moving normal political discourse, and we cannot shift political discourse without shifting the spiritual and moral discourse. We can then no longer act as arbiters of right and wrong and instead we become peacemakers between all that divides us.
What feels as beautifully clear as a dawn chorus, within and around XR today, is that in nurturing our capacity for nonviolent language or compassionate communication as an internal and external process we have been able to cultivate relationships that have opened doors to people’s hearts, including the hearts of policemen and policewomen during our 11 days of mass rebellion.
Not only this, but we also have liberated individual and collective curiosity, imagination and creativity and thus our desire to co-create a language fitting for our transition to what Joanna Macy describes as ‘The Great Turning’.
Whether as witness or arrestee, we are changed by the experience of XR’s nonviolent civil disobedience in both word and deed. The edge of transformation and the nonviolent language this requires are now in sight.
A good example of this is our description of the ‘heart lines’. The rows of people at the edge of disobedience on our sites in London were not the front lines. They were hearts in unison – our heart lines.
When we attached ourselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s fence with our chocolate Easter egg and flowers, we were love-showering, not ‘occupying’ or love-‘bombing’, and as we induct people into the movement and we train our rebels in direct action we learn about the values, principles and practice of nonviolent communication in all we do and say.
Together, we are exploring and ushering in a more comprehensive language of nonviolence. The further construction of this language for disobedience will require a presence of heart intelligence from where we can source our courage to choose to speak this language.
The tipping point, paradigm shift or full turning will involve a profound adoption of nonviolent language.
In this moment as we grieve for being at the edge of the collapse of this civilisation we can also celebrate our joy at reaching the edge of transformation. We are at the edge of the abyss between paradigms and we have started to build the bridge.
Today XR, along with our relatives, has the permission to act as a bridge maker. With nonviolent language as an essential tool, we can accelerate the realisation of our interconnectedness and our remembering of our instinct to protect and nurture what we love and that which loves and sustains us.
Skeena Finebaum-Rathor is Vision Coordinator for Extinction Rebellion and is a Labour councillor. This article was first published in Resurgence & Ecologist magazine.
Image: Sarah Cresswell.