‘Just Stop It’ new blockade at Exxon Yarraville, Vic

‘Just Stop It’ new blockade at Exxon Yarraville, Vic

Extinction Rebellion Australia, 5 June 2022

The art of non-violent direct action: rebels from XR Westside (Naarm) put principles into practice and tell the story.

Extinction Rebellion is continuing the targeting of Melbourne fuel facilities started in March 2022 to make sure that our message gets out: stop the exploration, production and consumption of fossil fuels. No more coal. No more gas. No more oil. JUST STOP IT!

On a bitterly cold night this week, with temperatures close to zero, XR rebels forced the closure of both gates of the Exxon Mobil Depot where tankers come to fill up with petrol. The livestream recording of the action was presented at COMbART, an international conference on Art, Activism and Citizenship a few hours after the action took place.

As they were also speaking to an international audience, rebels described in more than usual detail how the action was connected to the principles and practice of XR.

Tony (locked onto a pipe outside one of the main gates with Karen from Scientist Rebellion) explained that before all actions and most meetings, XR acknowledges Australia’s First Nations People.

“Their land was never ceded. It was stolen by the first colonisers, the British. They have fought oppression since the day white people arrived in this country. Their fight is our fight. We will never get climate justice until we have justice for First Nations People.”

Karin, retired meteorologist and mother of two, said:

“There is a good chance I'll be arrested. I’m doing this because I feel I have a moral duty to take a stand for the science which states that we need deep, sustained cuts to fossil fuel use to limit global warming to just above 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. I must do this because our major parties are not acting on the science. They are not doing their job to secure a future where societies are stable, and food and water security are not adversely impacted. I’m doing this because I want a liveable planet for our children.”

Tony and Karen locked on outside the Exxon Depot

Adam, social policy worker (locked onto pipes with two other rebels) said:

“It took us over three billion years to get here, and it feels crazy that we’re on the verge of knowingly throwing it all in the bin. Current trends indicate that in 50 years one third of the people on the planet will have their local climate become as hot as the Sahara. That spells absolute chaos and devastation. We have a responsibility to stop it. I know our effort today might seem ridiculous, but imagine if there were thousands of people doing the same, day after day. This would pause access to oil in Australia, and Government would have no choice but to endorse a rapid transition into genuinely sustainable alternatives.”

Explaining why XR felt the action was necessary, Kim said:

“Exxon Mobil is one of the world’s worst climate criminals. Exxon Mobil knew and Exxon Mobil lied. Exxon is one of the largest producers of fossil fuel pollution and of plastic products in the world. In the 1970s, the predecessors of this company commissioned scientific research which showed precisely the trajectory of global heating that we now find ourselves placed upon. They predicted the amount of heating that the globe would go through and indicated what the consequences would be.

“So they’re criminals… They and their fellow oil giants embarked on a campaign of lies and deceit. They discredited the science of climate change, they denied that global heating was happening, even though they had the proof themselves.

“In year Exxon Mobil made $56 Billion worth of profit and have paid NO tax. They have abrogated any responsibility to the community. But we’ve had enough. We’re standing up and we’re saying – Just Stop it, Exxon Mobil. Pay for the damage that you’ve done and pay for a just transition for your workers away from this damaging, poisonous industry.”

XR Westside have been in touch with all relevant unions to make it clear that Extinction Rebellion’s issue is with management, not the workforce, and that we are calling for a just transition for all workers.

Cat, Mark and Adam and Karen locked on outside the Exxon Depot

Susan talked about the place of art in Extinction Rebellion:

“Art is in the DNA of Extinction Rebellion. It’s organised around Affinity Groups. One of the first Affinity Groups in the UK was an art group. They developed XR brand resources with a colour palette, a custom typeface and a whole library of illustrations of plants and animals at threat of extinction. The XR Art Group were influenced by Situationists International, a radical art movement from the late 40s to the 60s that was very influential in the 1968 May rebellion.

“XR Art groups follow the principle of self organisation used by the Situationists International. Anyone can join the XR Arts group and the resources are available for anybody to use and anybody to add to. So we have our own local version of our beautiful koala which is at risk of extinction.

“Another important part of Extinction Rebellion is performance. The Red Rebels are an iconic performance group that are associated with Extinction Rebellion. There are Red Rebel groups around the world. They were developed by Doug Francisco and Justine Squire who were members of a theatre group from Bristol, UK. The theatre group had been around in the 90’s doing street theatre. They developed the procession style in the 2003 anti-war demonstrations. The red symbolises the blood of creatures, the blood that we share. The red rebels, walk as one, move as one.

“The Extinction Rebellion symbol was developed by street artist ESP. Anyone can use it but it’s not commercial. You can’t make any money from it. You can’t sell it on merchandise, you can only use it in the service of fighting against extinction.

“The Red Rebels act as a calming presence. In situations of law and order, we have the police coming along in their costumes. The Reds place themselves as witnesses between the people being arrested and the forces of the law, and disrupt the whole dynamic.

“For the people involved in being Red Rebels, it can be a very moving experience. When in costume, we are unrecognisable, blurring gender, social, age and racial differences."

Kim speaking to the livestream at Exxon

Brad described Extinction Rebellion’s three demands:

Our first demand is that the government tell the truth, and formally declare a climate and ecological emergency.

Our second key demand is that government act as though the truth is real, and that means they commit to net zero by 2025, which basically means to decarbonise the economy as soon as is humanly possible, to halt the rate of biodiversity loss.

Our third key demand is for Citizens Assemblies, which is direct democracy on a macro scale. For those who don’t know, it’s like a very large jury. People are randomly selected from the public - a process called sortition, and you try to get all demographics represented. They’re then presented with the alternatives, the best ways forward, and then the people decide. And it would have to be a legally binding citizens assembly.

“For people who aren’t aware (I was a little bit sceptical myself about Citizen’s Assemblies) - they actually have a really strong track record. In Iceland, they used citizens assemblies after the banking crisis, and got a really good result - they actually jailed bankers. They’ve used them in Ireland over the toxic abortion debate, and got a really good resolution. They used them in Texas, the home of Big Oil and since then Texas has become a bit of a renewable energy powerhouse. So we know that it works, we know that it’s a really an effective way to circumvent the political class who are predominantly in the hands of their political donors. Those donors unfortunately are largely fossil fuel companies, banks and others who don’t necessarily have the best interest of people at heart.

“XR’s theory of change (our original theory) is for mass participation in non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. We lean very heavily on the work or Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan who published a book in 2014 called Why Civil Resistance Works. They looked at 323 case studies between 1900 and 2004 from all around the world. The data told them unequivocally that non-violent resistance is twice as likely to succeed as violence and once in place it’s twice as likely to stay in place. They also found that non-violent civil resistance is 70% more likely to enjoy diplomatic support from other nations as well. So the data is strongly in our favour.

“It’s about creating a tension, it’s about creating a crisis, as you see here. And what we also know is that when it comes to non-violent direct action and civil disobedience there are three key ingredients: sacrifice, disruption and escalation

“There are two different ways you can escalate. You can escalate with numbers but since the pandemic hit, that’s become a bit of an issue because people are not inclined to join a mass gathering. So it leaves you with only one other form of escalation; you need to escalate your tactics. Hence we have people locking on. If we had a larger number of people we could have people just sitting here.”

Karen with police during unlocking process

Catherine spoke about some of the effects of disruptive actions:

“I’ve recently been reading about Sarah Ahmed’s concept of The Killjoy – someone who refuses happiness in the way that society wants you to take on happiness, and instead looks at the reality of the world. Once you see the reality, you can’t look away from it any more. You often do turn away from joy and sometimes you destroy other people’s joy as well.

“But every time you do that, you also pull back the veil and you make it easier for other people to see what needs to be done, what is important, what injustices exist and to start thinking about the ways in which these injustices can be counteracted and the ways we can build something new and better.

“Every time we come and we do one of these actions – even though we only shut this place down for a couple of hours, it’s still tearing away the veil over reality and showing people what we need to see. And that is, that every person who can, needs to be thinking about the climate crisis and taking action.

"We need to think about what it is that we truly value and what we can do to protect the things that really mean something to us.”

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