Inside Extinction Rebellion – Rested Rebels Prep up for Spanish Adventure

16th November 2019 / United Kingdom
Inside XR - Rested Rebels Prep up for Spanish Adventure

By Danny Halpin: After three weeks of regenerative slumber Extinction Rebellion (XR) is waking up. With the news that the UN Climate Change Conference has been rescheduled in Madrid, rebels from at least 19 countries around Europe are stretching their limbs, regrouping and moving to support their Spanish sisters and brothers. 


For most of us, the last three weeks have been a necessary breather in what is a never-ending fight. There is a dreaded term in the activist world known as ‘burnout’ – when the young, sparkly-eyed activist corrodes into a disillusioned state of nihilism and hopelessness. On my first action with XR, a cycle swarm through Brighton, we were waiting to begin when a middle-aged man walked past and shouted: “We tried all this 30 years ago!”

A classic casualty.

What sets XR apart from many other activist organisations is its focus on regenerative culture. It is one of the most fundamental aspects of the movement yet one of the least talked about in the wider public sphere. Regenerative culture is bold. It seeks to change what some people would ascribe to human nature, and therefore unchangeable – our capacity for self-destruction. 

How many people smoke despite the knowledge that it will eventually kill them? Most smokers brush it off with an expression saying it is a problem for the future, when their lungs are rotten and they are kissing their children goodbye from a hospital bed with emaciated lips. This is what we are doing to our planet, and until we learn to look after our own health, we will be incapable of preserving the health of the Earth. 

Regenerative culture is about more than a physically healthy lifestyle. It is about our general well-being, including the emotional and spiritual. That means not taking on too many responsibilities, not blaming and shaming others or neglecting the love and companionship of those close to us. It means grounding ourselves and reconnecting with who we are, whether that comes through self-meditation, prayer, watching football, hiking up a mountain, whatever it may be. Even returning to our jobs can reestablish that sense of normality (and make up for lost wages). 

The big rebellions are what catch the eyes of the press and the public but they are just one part of what is called the regenerative cycle, which is modelled on the daily and yearly transitions of day to night, summer to winter. Now, we are emerging into the dawn with fresh ideas and a renewed hunger. 

I feel the excitement building again. It is the time for rebels to unleash their creativity. We are organising, building, forming new relationships and new teams. I see rebels meet for the first time and instantly trust each other, agreeing over instant messaging to spend two days travelling down to Spain in a small car together. Because they are XR. 


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Now, we are emerging into the dawn with fresh ideas and a renewed hunger.


We are all crew, as our saying goes, and we are always in rebellion. 

It is difficult to focus on my day job. It feels insignificantly small compared to my role in XR and I find myself monitoring the communication channels at every available opportunity. We move fast, fuelled by the urgency of the climate crisis. Every action feels like the last chance and so we throw everything we have into them. This is why burnout is such a real threat. 

Being in Extinction Rebellion is the greatest adventure I have ever been on. It feels like anything is possible. All are welcome (as long as you are not a police spy or an agent provocateur) and you can find a place for whatever skills you want to use. If your role doesn’t exist then you create it and you do it and you don’t ask for permission. It is the vehicle by which we can transform our vision of the future into reality. 

Having said that, there are inevitable setbacks. One day you might see something unprecedented, like a national newspaper giving an entire edition to the climate crisis after ignoring it for years – you are elated and it feels like all the grinding work is really making a difference – then in that paper you read of children choking on exhaust fumes in cities so polluted they look like the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Centre and the insurmountable weight of the challenge reimposes its authority. 



It is this rapid swing between emotional states that causes mental exhaustion and can be hard to recognise. Symptoms express themselves in ways unidentifiable at the time – a short temper perhaps, or reclusiveness. That is why we have ‘check-ins’ at every meeting. At the beginning, each person says how they feel and the group is then aware of that. If someone says that they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed then the others understand why they weren’t able to follow up on the points of the last meeting and they won’t ask them to take on any more. Like everything with XR, it is not a perfect system, but it is part of a wider effort to protect the well-being of its members against the corrosive effects of activist life. 

In Madrid, we will have the chance to meet face-to-face with rebels from across Europe, strengthen our networks and learn from one another. Online communication has facilitated boundless growth, allowing us to spread to more than 60 countries in one year. But there is a deeper psychological need for physical interaction. It is hard to say you know someone when you have only seen their words on a screen, they don’t seem real. Millions of years of evolution can’t be usurped by 20 years of internet culture. 

Our movement is becoming truly international now. XR groups that have formed and solidified in the past year, the past few months even, are collaborating for the first time. All hands on deck, goes the broadcast. The alarm is ringing. We are scrambling, hoping it is not too late, with love and fear and rage.


Danny Halpin is a reporter for Extinction Rebellion’s Rebel Radio and is studying for his MA in journalism at Birkbeck, University of London. His work has featured in the Journal of Popular Music Education and Lippy Magazine



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