Environmental action group Extinction Rebellion, or XR, is a decentralised autonomous movement.
Looking at the UK, XR’s demands are:
1. Tell the Truth
2. Carbon net zero by 2025
3. A Citizens’ Assembly
British Pollution is responsible for an estimated 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, as well as a host of serious health conditions such as asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. I support XR. I have been sent to A&E on numerous occasions over the last few years due to severe asthma attacks. Once I was found unconscious. My GP suggests I leave London. It is important for me to have my voice heard and truly feel included without any fears.
London was found to be the most polluted city in the UK in recent report released by the city’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
“It’s significant that XR is a much bigger movement in the UK than in any other European country as we have less representation in government as a result of our voting system… explains activist Morgan Hayes. “In Germany, for instance, the Green Party has some sway.”
It’s an important point. XR are trying to change attitudes – the disruptions are a creative way to challenge perceptions. Too few MPs and others politicians take this issue seriously. I am sick of waiting.
“The world needs to act now…” David Attenborough has declared. “We have 10 years until it is too late.”
I went on my first demo at 15 years old, with the London gay teenage group which I secretly attended without my Hindu family’s knowledge.
I’ve always loved demos, they make me feel good – I feel part of a community of like-minded allies. From the anti-racist marches to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, AIDS activism, the Age of Consent, Operation Spanner, Clause 28 and Section 25, the Bolton Seven, the Soho Bombing, the Iraq War, Palestine, the Pulse nightclub shooting, Russia’s propaganda law, the Brexit and the Dorchester hotel demos, to Black Lives Matter.
Queer people are no longer marginalised in the UK. Demos became safe spaces early on where equality was demanded before it became trendy. Visibility in the mainstreams of activism on issues that affected us all was important – “we care too” we were saying, “just as much as you”. I came as a package of more than one minority who was asking for equality, equally.
In the past, I found myself treated as an ambassador for my political identities. Many people I met knew few Indians or Gay men or people living with HIV. I learnt that the more of us who speak up and are visible, the more it enables us all to be the selves we want to be.
We as Queer people have a history of having to hide, or being made invisible or tolerated rather than being completely ignored. So, we raised our voices, becoming pro-blockading, active yet peaceful rebel protesters fighting for our own humanisation. Our courage was held by each other, we were no longer alone. We found allies, wherever we could, as homophobia was an accepted norm only 20 years ago alongside racism as the London bombings of 1999 made clear. It was always a pleasant surprise to find those who truly were not Queer-phobic at all. The actions we would join were often a continuation of our day jobs as artists, journalists, academics. For others it was a secret life, a passion, a raison d’etre away from pretend straight respectability. We were unlucky, there was just so much to fight for but at least our battles were clear. Our acceptability today is our hard fought for victory.
Queer activists today are a plenty. The self labelling amuses me – it is not for me to call myself an activist but if others wish to they can. I am just finding value to my life as a concerned citizen who finds strength in being engaged. Many of us have had little choice, we were thrown out of home, we struggled to survive and then we were dying. As a result, we were unwelcome in many places So we found and founded our own spaces and places and sought people who accepted us as we were, as we explored a way to live, as we learnt how to love without shame. They were exciting and painful times.
Today, I stand back and celebrate what we have achieved and am glad I found the courage and the strength to be a very small part of it.
My own personal growth makes me proud. I escaped my homophobic birth community but then found allies there too. I had my grandmother’s support. British society has advanced in its thinking and understanding – I no longer fear saying I am gay. Those who have an issue are fewer than those who do not in many cities I travel to, including Mumbai.
However, sadly nowadays, I find myself fighting new wars with fellow gay men against Rainbow Racism, HIV stigma, ageism and body fascism.
Also, I protest at how we – as a Queer community in the West – have forgotten the fight against AIDS, when fifty percent of 35 million people living with HIV do not access medications. No one needs to die anymore. Worryingly, there is also a creeping in of a white supremacist attitude from some.
Leading the #AIDSMemoryUK Campaign to establish a national tribute to HIV and AIDS memories, I’ve encountered my fair share of racism over the last two years: “Do you really think we’ll allow an Asian to run such an important project?” a well known HIV activist threatened me.
In achieving so much in terms of self-dignity, has Queer Activism become too much of a competitive, ego driven, social media personality led battle ground? It feels like it to me. There are some clear exceptions of course, but many are failing us all especially as we must remain vigilant with the rise of the far-right worldwide and the attack upon Queer equality.
So, how does this connect to Extinction Rebellion? Change does not happen in abstract and certainly not without a heartfelt desire for it. We learn from each other and we must continue to stand by each other.
XR will not die easily, no matter how much the politicians ignore it. It is growing, it is inclusive and it’s broad-based post-identity political. A truly modern forward-thinking movement. We are seeing a new future for activism which Queer activists today might learn from. As with all movements one ends up moving from being progressive and ahead to being followers as times change. We as Queer people are less woke than we once were and seriously need to examine what we are fighting for.
Photo: Ash Kotak
Photo: Ash Kotak