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Extinction Rebellion Comes to Calgary

TRAction Art Group performs a live processional theatre piece walking down Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. The art piece is in support of Fridays for the Future and Extinction Rebellion, and features a funeral procession for a tree ending in a die-in at Calgary City Hall. Photo by Mark Wiseman.

One of the bigger headline-grabbing global environmental movements of the past year, Extinction Rebellion, recently made its way to Calgary.

Extinction Rebellion is an international environmental movement that uses non-violent protest as a means to force governments to take drastic action to halt climate change and avoid ecological breakdown.

Started in 2018, Extinction Rebellion is a leaderless and decentralized organization.

The group has staged a number of acts of civil disobedience in the UK and across the globe, using tactics such as blocking transportation routes and mass arrests to draw attention to their cause.

While many environmental groups have used similar techniques to raise awareness, Extinction Rebellion differs from these groups in a few key ways.

How is Extinction Rebellion Different?

“The target and the strategies of Extinction Rebellion is completely related to the social contract and the relationship between the citizen and the state,” said Carrie Alison, member of Extinction Rebellion.

“What Extinction Rebellion is saying, is the state has failed to uphold its side of the bargain.”

By focusing on government inaction, the group hopes to avoid divisiveness increasingly used by politicians such as Donald Trump to incite anger and halt opposition.

“To me the narrative of Extinction Rebellion is, we’re facing a terrifying reality together, so how might we come together in better ways?” said Alison.

To Alison, another key difference between Extinction Rebellion and a group like Greenpeace, is avoiding a blame narrative, which could ultimately turn people against climate action.

“I think the tactics of other environmental groups in the past have been using that blame and shame narrative,” said Alison, “it frames you up for a really good action movie, but maybe not a really great future of the planet.”

Rebellion’s Demands of Government

Extinction Rebellion has three demands of government, and the group says it will continue staging acts of civil disobedience until the demands are met.

The group demands governments declare a climate emergency, act now to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2025, and create a citizen’s assembly that will direct governments on ecological action.

The group came to Calgary at a time when the city’s main industry, oil and gas, is facing a number of economic challenges due to depressed global oil price and reduced pipeline access, while also encountering significant political pressure for being the country’s number one emitter of GHGs.

“I think for the average citizen this seems extreme and radical, and the way I position myself in relation to that is I remind myself that as a woman, I would not be voting today if women of previous generations had not engaged in civil disobedience to change the culture and to change the laws around that,” said Alison.

“For me Extinction Rebellion is a continuation of that tradition.”

In one of their first demonstrations, Extinction Rebellion collaborated with TRAction Art Group, a local performance art group, in support of Fridays for Future, as they performed a live processional protest during the YYC Climate Parade and Expo on Sept. 20.

Live Processional Protest during YYC Climate Parade

The procession, which had performers dressed in formal wear and gasmasks, had participants carry a large tree in a funeral-style precession down Stephen Avenue from Banker’s Hall to city hall.

“It acts as a metaphor for what needs to happen in terms of climate action, it can’t be just one person making change,” said Kevin Jesuino, member of TRAction Art Group.

Camas Lilley-Kloetzel looks over her mother Melanie Kloetzel, as she performs a die-in in front of Calgary City Hall on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. The die-in was a performance by TRAction Art Group in support of Fridays for the Future and Extinction Rebellion. Photo by Mark Wiseman.

To Jesuino , the intent is to bring the performance outside of the theatre to the street, to provoke questions and to show that everyone needs to be part of the climate solution.

“If we can get Calgarians to really start to think about this, then hopefully we’ll start to see those changes happen,” said Jesuino.

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