Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam stumbled badly with his insensitive remarks to a German newspaper in which he relativized the Holocaust. In essence he equated the deaths of millions in the Holocaust with the future deaths he believes will happen due to climate change. This was insensitive, like speaking to a grieving family while failing to take into account their grieving.
In response, the call from XR Regenerative Cultures, the arm dealing with the internal culture of XR, called for Roger to step down and away. It also called for the existing leadership within XR to be replaced with a less centralized and more participatory structure. And it asks for a Social Justice agenda within XR too, though it doesn’t call it that. It says, “The dire situation we face is an inevitable outcome of the parasitic, corrupt economic systems in our world that exploit nature for profit and use oppression as a tool to benefit the minority. A regenerative culture can only flourish if we first identify and name what sickens our cultures, then move actively to change those conditions.“
This aim is far beyond the three demands of Extinction Rebellion: 1) for government and media to tell the truth about the climate situation, 2) to have zero net emissions by 2025, and 3), a Citizen’s Assembly to work officially with government to oversee these changes. The three demands are plenty big too but they’re clear and measureable. The Social Justice agenda is in a different category. It would redo social relations and transform society when there’s no social buy-in about what the solutions might be. According to this study posted in Atlantic magazine, only a small minority, about 8% of people, favor the identity-politics driven perspective of the woke radical left. Social Justice is not sellable to the public. Roger Hallam himself called it a “catastrophic disaster” to have the climate be associated with the left because a mainstream movement is required to get action on the climate.
Social Justice is an expressly partisan project of the radical left whereas XR has been effective because it transcends partisanship and focuses on something everyone can get behind: survival.
If there’s to be radical change within the organization’s fundamentals, and changing the core demands of XR for a social justice agenda certainly qualifies, these need to be on the table. They’d need to be discussed and explored by every member.
If a leader like Roger who’s touched many thousands and given clear vision to the movement must go, let’s talk about that. Free and open conversation and welcome is the heart of regenerative culture. And ironically this is what Roger Hallam does so well: he explores and speaks his brilliant mind.
He made a mistake, but the ability to make a mistake is the necessary corollary of free speech. We’re all going to say something foolish sooner or later if we’re in the business of saying something we really believe in, rather than reading from the party manual.
“A radical, free and open discussion of thoughts and feelings is the heart of regenerative culture.”
Roger has been a clear and eloquent exponent of saying what he believes in, that we keep the eye on the climate crisis and not be distracted. Indeed his recent blunder with his Holocaust statements was an attempt to be “in your face” about this focus.
The Social Justice agenda can only be accomplished by imposing a solution on the many with respect to privilege, whiteness, racism, patriarchy, decolonization and who can talk. It would require force and the suppression of free speech because the majority don’t want it. The suppression of free speech by Social Justice activists is already widespread in the culture from Social Media to allowable speech on campuses and media.
It’s never too late to speak honestly and frankly. A radical, free and open discussion of thoughts and feelings is the heart of regenerative culture. It’s where respect and the ability to work together come from. Free expression means knowing that others and ourselves are going to say things stupidly sometimes, as Roger did. But the human challenge is to risk it anyway and work through our differences.
Roger’s the messenger, not the problem. He’s doing what more of us should do, risk speaking up for the change we want.