After the hectic London Tube protests, Extinction Rebellion have found themselves on the wrong side of public opinion, and comparing themselves to civil rights activist Rosa Parks during Black History Month isn’t going to help anyone.
In 1955, Parks became the ‘the first lady of civil rights’ after refusing to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Alabama.
Extinction Rebellion (ER) have caused somewhat of an uproar online after comparing their plight and position in the climate change crisis to that of Park’s in the freedom movement.
You can see the (since deleted) tweet, captured in a screenshot by Twitter user @Steph_C__, below:
Coming from ER’s official account, the tweet read:
Rosa Parks refused to move from the white section of the bus and our rebels refused to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to #ActNow.
Our #InternationalRebellion against the complicity of our governments in the climate and ecological emergency continues.
The remark has attracted fierce criticism from those both pro and anti-climate change, with users writing it discredits the cause and is ‘insulting’.
Extinction Rebellion comparing their middle class white led movement which mainly targets working class, poor, diverse areas of London to ROSA PARKS during UK Black History Month may be the worst take of the year, you can’t hide your deleted tweets from me, cowards
— xavier laflamme🍊🏒⚜️ (@djgr1892) October 17, 2019
One tweet read:
Rosa Parks was part of a sophisticated network of black activists who built inclusive strategies for resistance to build *with* people, not against them, not speaking over them. Maybe learn from them? Your leaders are open about their choices + they *are* choices to be ignorant.
Twitter user @jessbowy wrote: ‘Disruption as a form of protest: good. Targeting working class workers using a green form of transport: bad. Invoking Rosa Parks whilst ignoring critique of your very white and racist tactics and rhetoric: truly awful.’
Disruption as a form of protest: good. Targeting working class workers using a green form of transport: bad. Invoking Rosa Parks whilst ignoring critique of your very white and racist tactics and rhetoric: truly awful.
— jess BOO-yer 👻 (@jessbowy) October 17, 2019
Extinction Rebellion told UNILAD they are a ‘decentralised movement’ and after posting the Rosa Parks tweet they ‘appreciated very quickly’ the response was negative, so in accordance with the feedback they took the tweet down.
According to ER’s website, they are ‘an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse’.
Their encouragement for people to join them and ‘rebel for life… for the plant’ almost ran concurrently as Greta Thunberg’s mission to raise awareness of climate change – similarly, the 16-year-old promoted peaceful strikes to spark substantial policy-making change around the crisis.
However, ER’s – probably incredibly hasty – comparison to Parks is both an egregious attempt at encapsulating their purpose, and a heinous invocation of history as a means of context.
Both the issues of racism and climate change are, indeed, societal. In order to make progress on climate change, the world needs to reframe their attitudes on certain hot topics like recycling and meat consumption (I’m not vegan, nor do I intend to be – but it’s essential to recognise the problems).
With racism, it’s more simply a case of people being tied to a discriminatory, awful outlook that has no place in today’s lexicon – but it still remains a societal epidemic.
However, the history of the movements are vastly – and critically – different.
Climate change is routed in global government’s dismissal of science – with research often conflicting with itself, until recent years where discourse has (thankfully) shifted more in favour of tackling it. People are right when they point out XR is a mostly white-led, middle class organisation too.
The civil rights movement stems from the US’s indelible treatment of African Americans as an economical, faceless commodity – and their fight back, simply, to be treated like equal human beings. Climate change is a planetary movement, civil rights was and is all about humanity.
Their comparison to Parks, a non-violent icon of American history, feels particularly inept following the London controversy this morning (October 17).
Commuters in the UK’s capital turned on ER protesters attempting a co-ordinated disruption on three London Underground stations, pulling them off the top of carriages into the furious crowds.
Have a look at the footage recorded at Canning Town:
Meanwhile Extinction Rebellion tried to block Jubilee Line trains in Canning Town and this is the commuters’ reaction… it’ll be another loooooong day. pic.twitter.com/vVgqsoeVTe
— Antonello Guerrera (@antoguerrera) October 17, 2019
Four people were arrested at Canning Town and Stratford and a further four were arrested at Shadwell where protesters had glued themselves to an electric DLR train – this included 83-year-old Phil Kingston, taken into custody today for the 13th time this year as per the MailOnline.
This morning a number of @XRebellionUK affinity groups peacefully disrupted the London Underground because there is an Emergency. This move was taken to alert people to the inaction of their government in the face of the climate and ecological emergency. https://t.co/dauQ4KXZHQ
— Extinction Rebellion ⌛️ (@ExtinctionR) October 17, 2019
MP David Lammy condemned the protesters, writing on Twitter: ‘Please guys take a leaf out of the Gandhi and Martin Luther King book of peaceful protest. Upsetting the general public travelling to work in an environmentally sound way is plain stupid. Are you going to disrupt cyclists next?’
LBC broadcaster James O’Brien echoed the complaints, calling it a ‘staggeringly stupid move’.
I only started coming to work by tube because of Greta Thunberg. And now I run the risk of the train being hijacked by the lunatic fringe of Extinction Rebellion. Would they rather we all drove? Targeting commuters on public transport is a staggeringly stupid move.
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) October 17, 2019
It’s important to know the circumstances under which the protests took place – apparently, they weren’t favoured by the majority in the organisation.
According to politician Mark Boothroyd, this was a small part of the movement taking matters into their own hands. He wrote: ‘They had a vote on the issue and the majority of the movement voted against carrying it out. The minority who did this self defeating action should respect the democracy of the movement next time.’
Writer Joey Ayoub also highlighted the misreporting around this morning’s incidents, writing on Twitter:
XR voted *against* doing this. I hope those covering the event will be honest enough to mention this. It was an anti-democratic action against a democratic movement’s decisions. There is no good rationale to stopping the tube. That’s not where the problem lies.
What if…it’s all true at once that Extinction Rebellion are making an important point, their targeting of the tube misses the mark and violently dragging a protestor to the floor is an absolutely atrocious look for anyone ….
— Vicky Spratt (@Victoria_Spratt) October 17, 2019
In a statement following the violence on the Tube, ER wrote they ‘would like to express our sadness that events escalated this way’.
The statement, published on ER’s website, reads:
To those that engaged in violence, we acknowledge that we disrupted your life today. Rather than let this incident divide – at this moment of heightened attention – we think it is right to reach out to you, to invite you to have a conversation about what happened today. 
In light of today’s events, ER will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division. We are aware that this action was divisive. We are a broad and diverse movement with a wide range of views, and are aware that many people were not for this action.
Those that acted this morning planned their action autonomously, within ER’s principles and values, centred around nonviolence and compassion.
The Extinction Rebellion, like many movements looking to upset the status quo, has drawn controversy for a variety of reasons, as highlighted above.
What cannot be argued, whether you deny climate change or want action to stop it, is that science has proven human consumption of the planet’s resources will eventually f*ck us all, and we must work together to stop it if we want to survive.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.