The climate strike movement has left the world on a new plateau of awareness about the climate crisis and the urgency to act on it. Now, it’s time to explore what this landscape looks like and ensure that the climate movement doesn’t go tumbling back down from its new perch on high.
It’s against this new backdrop that Extinction Rebellion began a week of protest and teaching around the world. That includes some of the group’s first major forays in the U.S. The group’s largest hub of activity on American soil is New York, and on Monday morning the city’s members and supporters took to the streets.
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Extinction Rebellion began in the UK and has made inroads there and elsewhere in the world. The group has laid out a series of core demands that include structural changes to government starting with officials telling the truth about the climate and ecological crises, declarations of a climate emergency, and the installation of a citizens’ assembly to advise governments on a just transition. But in the U.S. at least, it has remained relatively unknown—until this week’s actions, at least, which are meant to function as a kind of American unveiling.
The group began the day in Battery Park, creating a neat bit of symmetry with the September 20 climate strike, which ended there with Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg addressing some of the quarter-million people who turned out for it. The Extinction Rebellion crowd was much smaller, numbering in the hundreds, but its stunning iconography and jarring performative aspects allowed the group to occupy a significant space in that corner of southern Manhattan.
Figures dressed in red that, according to a flyer distributed by the group, “represents the blood of all species” moved silently through the crowd, which was otherwise largely dressed in black funeral attire. Pallbearers carried cardboard caskets draped in black cloths and labeled with “our future” in big block letters. A brass band played funeral dirges while an undertaker stalked through the crowd foreshadowing what was to come.
The group pushed off, headed into the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District—the source of so much distress in the world. Corporations and the banks that back them have fueled the climate crisis by funding fossil fuel exploration. By concentrating wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people, they’re also ensuring that when climate disasters do hit, the poor will suffer even more.
“We are at a point where we need radical change,” Sarah, a protester who only gave her first name, told Earther. “It’s no more about incremental changes.”
In another bit of symmetry, the march walked toward the Charging Bull sculpture that students had passed on the September 20 strike en route to Battery Park. Whereas the students strolled past, Extinction Rebellion protestors stopped. A woman mounted the bull’s back, waving a green flag with Extinction Rebellion’s hourglass logo that symbolizing the dwindling time to address the climate crisis.
Other protesters splashed the bull and themselves with fake blood, “dying” in en masse in front of it. Tombstones presided over the protesters splayed on the pavement and slumped against the bull, each noting a cause of death due to a climate disaster. Tourists on the double deckers buses that the prowl the city whipped out cameras to document the defiant display of carnage.
Farther into the heart of the Financial District, another group of Extinction Rebellion protesters splashed fake blood in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Towering above, the NYSE building stood adorned with a banner of the Golden State Warriors whose president rang the opening bell that morning to celebrate going public.
The fake blood flowed through the creases between the flagstones on Wall Street, running toward the sewers. My boots grew sticky, walking amongst the living dead.
Extinction Rebellion has taken off in places like the UK where the group shut down streets all around London in April. Its agitation helped drive the Conservative-led UK government to declare a landmark climate emergency, which is one of the group’s core demands. In Australia, conservative politicians have reacted differently, calling for draconian measures to share pictures and names of protesters to “shame” them.
Here in the U.S., the group has flown largely under the radar and has yet to turn the screws in either direction. Monday’s protests are part of a much larger of action, though, with an entire week of teach-ins and actions planned in New York’s Washington Square Park that could help grow the movement.
As Ayisha Saddiqa, a college student who is part of the youth strike and Extinction Rebellion movements, told Earther: “You can’t turn away because we’re here.”